Read current and past ACLU-NCA newsletters. The publication contains news, announcements, and upcoming events.
Authors: District of Columbia Office of Open Government/Board of Ethics and Government Accountability; Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press; Open Government Coalition; American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital; D.C. Police Union
Mayor Muriel Bowser, in April, proposed outfitting every patrol officer with a body-worn camera to record interactions with the public. She announced the expansion at her State of the District address, claiming “[a]ccountability is embedded, and will be embedded in everything this administration does.” The goals were to improve interactions with civilians, assist investigations of officer misconduct, and promote public trust of the MPD. The cost: $5.1 million in fiscal year 2016 and a blanket exemption denying the public access to the videos.
The proposed Freedom of Information Act exemption prompted overwhelming opposition from transparency and civil liberty advocates. In response, the Council removed the exemption before its first vote on the bill.
In a meeting with the Council Tuesday, the Mayor issued an unprecedented threat. If the Council does not enact the blanket FOIA exemption, the Chief Financial Officer might refuse to certify the 2016 budget as balanced. If that happens, the Council would have to reopen debate on the budget and add $1.5 million to the MPD appropriation or enact the exemption. These are costs that should have been contemplated before the pilot was launched.
Within the next week, the Supreme Court will rule if marriage equality is the law of the land! If the decision does not come down on Thursday, June 25, 2015, on Friday, June 26, 2015, and Monday, June 29, 2015, we will need loud and proud ACLU supporters on the Supreme Court steps early in the morning to wave flags and BE A PART OF HISTORY!
There are several upcoming opportunities to watch ACLU in court. These cases will be held in the United States Courthouse, located at 333 Constitution Avenue, NW. Please review the court rules here. Questions? Please contact us at 202-457-0800.
ACLU History: The Scopes 'Monkey Trial' [Originally posted on ACLU; the original site includes additional links to Oral Arguments and other historical sites]May 27, 2015
In March 1925, the Tennessee state legislature passed a bill that banned the teaching of evolution in all educational institutions throughout the state. The Butler Act set off alarm bells around the country. The ACLU responded immediately with an offer to defend any teacher prosecuted under the law. John Scopes, a young popular high school science teacher, agreed to stand as defendant in a test case to challenge the law. He was arrested on May 7, 1925, and charged with teaching the theory of evolution. Clarence Darrow, an exceptionally competent, experienced, and nationally renowned criminal defense attorney led the defense along with ACLU General Counsel, Arthur Garfield Hays. They sought to demonstrate that the Tennessee law was unconstitutional because it made the Bible, a religious document, the standard of truth in a public institution. The prosecution was led by William Jennings Bryan, a former Secretary of State, presidential candidate, and the most famous fundamentalist Christian spokesperson in the country. His strategy was quite simple: to prove John Scopes guilty of violating Tennessee law.
The Scopes trial turned out to be one of the most sensational cases in 20th century America; it riveted public attention and made millions of Americans aware of the ACLU for the first time. Approximately 1000 people and more than 100 newspapers packed the courtroom daily. The trial, which garnered extensive headline press coverage both nationally and internationally, was the first ever to be broadcasted live on the radio. A New York Times editorial pointed out that the case, 'gives scientific men a better opportunity than they have ever had to bring their teaching home to millions.'
Internationally Acclaimed “Shadows of Liberty” Documentary Makes DC Debut with a FREE Special ScreeningMay 23, 2015
On FRIDAY, JUNE 5, at 5:30 PM at the AFL-CIO (815 16th St., N.W. Washington, D.C. 20006) the Shadows of Liberty USA Screening & Media Reform Action Tour will come to town for a special FREE screening presented by the ACLU of the Nation's Capital, the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, DC Jobs with Justice, DC Labor FilmFest, Free Press, the Hip Hop Caucus, the Labor Heritage Foundation, the Media Consortium, MoveOn DC/Montgomery County Council, Progressive Democrats of America, Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press, Veterans for Peace DC, the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, the Washington Peace Center, and WPFW 89.3 FM.
The ACLU-NCA is an organization that balances the desire for police accountability with protecting privacy. With good laws in place, recording of police-civilian encounters will promote police accountability, deter officer and civilian misconduct, and provide objective evidence to help resolve civilian complaints against police without significantly infringing on privacy.
The ACLU-NCA applauds Mayor Bowser’s initiative. In the wake of serious concerns about policing in America, many police departments and government officials are calling for the adoption of body cameras. As of January 2015, at least 72 police departments in the United States have adopted body cameras or established pilot programs for their use. President Obama has announced federal funding to help purchase 50,000 body cameras for police. We are delighted Mayor Bowser has followed suit.
Body cameras are a mechanism to hold police accountable. The public requires assurance that MPD is being monitored just like any other District agency. However, it is important to remember that body cameras are only tools — whether they are helpful or harmful depends on how they are used. Strong policies and laws are crucial to ensure they further the goals of improved transparency and accountability, better policing, and greater trust in law enforcement. Video does not always capture the full story, and having video will not resolve every question. Many issues in policing that need addressing — from racial profiling and implicit bias, training on interactions with people with mental illness, limitations on surveillance, the availability of data on police actions and uses of force, transparency in officer discipline, and strong oversight and accountability mechanisms — require looking beyond individual incidents to patterns and practices. Body cameras may help police accountability, but they are only a small part of the reforms we need.
A U.S. Army medic stationed in Korea has asked a federal court in Washington D.C. to order the Army to discharge him as a conscientious objector. The Army refused to release Robert Aaron Weilbacher from his enlistment, according to the lawsuit, even though his claim was upheld by the Army Conscientious Objector Review Board, whose decision was final under the Army’s own regulations. Weilbacher is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital.
After a lengthy investigation and a hearing, the Army’s Review Board determined that clear and convincing evidence established that Weilbacher’s sincere and deeply held moral and ethical beliefs do not permit him to continue to serve in the military. Army regulations entitle sincere conscientious objectors to an honorable discharge if their beliefs have changed since they enlisted.
Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Fiscal Year 2016 budget proposal includes $5,063,702 to be spent over the next eighteen months for the purchase of 2,800 body cameras. This purchase would provide cameras for every on-duty officer with the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). Recordings created pursuant to MPD’s body camera program would be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The ACLU-NCA is an organization that balances the desire for police accountability with protecting privacy. As such, the ACLU-NCA is opposed to pervasive government surveillance of the public. A blanket FOIA exemption is one more tool to surveil the residents of the District of Columbia. There is no reason for this exemption if the recordings are redacted. If these are real values – police accountability, transparency, and open government – then MPD should develop a strategy to efficiently do so.