NEWARK – The New York Jets have responded (145k PDF) to an ACLU-NJ letter about employment discrimination by reaffirming its commitment to equality and welcoming anyone who can contribute to the team’s success on and off the field.
“In that regard, we wish Michael Sam, and every other draft-eligible player, all the best as they attempt to pursue their dream of playing in the NFL,” wrote Hymie Elhai, Vice President, Business Affairs & General Counsel for the New York Jets, who are based in New Jersey.
The ACLU-NJ sent a letter to the Giants, Jets and NFL on Feb. 12, to remind them that they must comply with the state’s Law Against Discrimination when it comes to drafting players.
The ACLU-NJ letter was sent in response to Sam’s revelation that he is gay. Sam, a top NFL prospect from the University of Missouri, may be the first openly gay player in the NFL. One news outlet, SI.com, quoted general managers anonymously saying they would not draft Sam because he is gay.
NEWARK – Newark Police officers use stop-and-frisk with troubling frequency and in a manner that leads to racial disparities, according to a report released today (4mb PDF) by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ). The report analyzes the first six months of data from the Newark Police Department, which releases the information on its website monthly in compliance with its new Transparency Policy. It is the first public analysis of the data.
“The police department’s data reveal disturbing patterns about the use of stop-and-frisk in Newark,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. “Newark police make a high number of stops, disproportionately stop black Newarkers, and stop innocent people in the vast majority of cases. These findings raise significant constitutional red flags for the City of Newark.”
Although the ACLU-NJ acknowledges that six months of data may be insufficient to draw definitive conclusions about the Newark Police Department’s stop-and-frisk practices, the organization believes the initial concerns raised by these data warrant corrective actions by the City of Newark now.
From July to December 2013, officers made 91 stops per 1,000 Newark residents—nearly one person stopped for every ten residents—exceeding the rate in New York City of eight stops per 1,000 residents over the same period in 2013. In all of 2013, the New York Police Department made 24 stops per 1,000 residents, still significantly lower than Newark’s rate. The ACLU-NJ chose to compare Newark’s stop-and-frisk practices with New York City’s because of its close proximity and because New York City’s practices have been the subject of much national attention and criticism. Although it is required under Newark’s Transparency Policy, it is unclear whether the first six months of reported data include stops of motor vehicles. New York City’s data does not appear to include motor vehicle stops.
In addition to the troublingly high frequency of stops, officers stop black Newarkers at disproportionate rates. Black Newarkers make up 52 percent of the population, but they represented 75 percent of all stops in the first six months of data. Newark Police did not report how many Latino residents were stopped last year, but at the urging of the ACLU-NJ, it began including that data in its January 2014 report.
The analysis also finds that of those stopped in Newark, 75 percent were innocent and walked away without receiving a summons or being arrested. The police did not disclose the nature of the arrests or summonses, nor did it disaggregate the two in its data reports. The ACLU-NJ recommends in its report that police provide this information in order to offer a more comprehensive picture of stop-and-frisk activity.
“The U.S. Supreme Court made clear decades ago that under our Constitution, police are permitted to stop people only if they have individualized and reasonable suspicion of a crime,” said ACLU-NJ Public Policy Director Ari Rosmarin. “When 75 percent of those stopped in Newark are innocent of any wrongdoing, it raises significant questions about what criteria officers are using when deciding to make a stop.”
The ACLU-NJ commends former Police Director Samuel DeMaio and former Mayor Cory Booker for making the police department more transparent and accountable to the public by releasing stop-and-frisk data to the public. The police department adopted the groundbreaking Transparency Policy in July 2013.
“Once fully implemented, the Newark Police Department’s transparency data policy will be a model for other law enforcement agencies in New Jersey and across the country,” said Rosmarin. “We look forward to continuing to work with the department and Acting Director Sheila Coley to ensure Newarkers have access to the comprehensive data and to address the concerns raised in our report.”
The ACLU-NJ is asking the Newark Police to release more information on stop-and-frisks, including the reasons for the stops, and whether those being stopped have limited English proficiency(in order to understand the impact of stop-and-frisk on immigrant communities), in accordance with the Transparency Policy. In addition, the ACLU-NJ also makes the following recommendations for the City of Newark:
“Our report’s findings about stop-and-frisk practices in Newark make a powerful case for robust and independent oversight of the Newark Police Department,” said Ofer. “A strong civilian complaint review board or inspector general’s office could provide long-lasting accountability and help usher in critical reforms to the department.”
In 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court sanctioned the use of stop-and-frisk in the case of Terry v. Ohio, but not without placing strict limitations on how and when police can use the tactic. Police officers may stop a person only when they have individualized and reasonable suspicion of a crime. They may pat down the outer layers of the person’s clothing following a lawful stop only when they reasonably suspect that the person is armed and poses a danger to the officer’s safety. In the decades since, stop-and-frisk has mutated in some large cities, particularly in low income communities of color, into a commonplace tactic that has been humiliating and unconstitutional.
The report was written by Udi Ofer and Ari Rosmarin. Data analysis was conducted by Sara LaPlante. The report was edited by Katie Wang, ACLU-NJ Communications Director, and Alexander Shalom, ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney.
NEWARK – U.S. district Judge William Martini on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit challenging the NYPD surveillance of Muslims in New Jersey. The lawsuit, Hassan v. City of New York, was filed in 2012 by eight Muslim residents who alleged the NYPD’s surveillance programs were unconstitutional because they focused on religion, national origin and race.
The Center for Constitutional Rights in New York and the California-based civil rights organization Muslim Advocates represented the plaintiffs.
The following statement is from Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey.
“The ACLU-NJ is highly disappointed in yesterday’s ruling by Judge Martini dismissing a challenge brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights and Muslim Advocates against the New York City Police Department’s surveillance program targeting Muslims living in New Jersey. For years, the NYPD conducted secret intelligence gathering activities in New Jersey targeting Muslim community members based on their religious beliefs. The New Jersey public was kept in the dark during these investigations, which targeted New Jersey residents who engaged in no wrongdoing. The ACLU-NJ disagrees with Judge Martini’s decision and will support the Center for Constitutional Rights and Muslim Advocates as they appeal this decision.”
NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) sent a letter to the Giants, Jets and NFL (4mb PDF) today to remind them that they must comply with the state’s Law Against Discrimination when it comes to drafting players.
The letter was sent in response to University of Missouri player Michael Sam’s revelation that he is gay. Sam, a top NFL prospect, may be the first openly gay player in the NFL. One news outlet, SI.com, quoted general managers anonymously saying they would not draft Sam because he is gay.
The ACLU-NJ letter highlights that employers who provide services in the State of New Jersey – such as the Jets and Giants – cannot judge people on their sexual orientation and doing so would violate the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.
NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) welcomes news reports that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) will place the Newark Police Department (NPD) under federal oversight in order to safeguard against future civil rights and civil liberties abuses by law enforcement. The ACLU-NJ was the first to ask for a federal monitor in September 2010 after submitting a petition to the DOJ detailing more than 400 incidents of abuse and misconduct by the Newark Police Department.
“The Justice Department’s decision affirms the findings of our petition that the problems in the Newark Police Department have been so widespread and grave that they warrant outside, federal intervention and oversight to help turn the department around,” said Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey. “But a federal monitor is just the first step, and not the last, towards bringing a permanently accountable police department to the people of Newark.”
In addition to the monitor, the ACLU-NJ is calling for the NPD to implement additional reforms such as a strong and independent civilian review board and inspector general to create permanent changes after the monitor’s period ends.
“In order to ensure that oversight of the Newark Police Department outlasts any one administration or any one federal monitor, any reforms must also include the creation of a strong and independent civilian complaint review board and an inspector general’s office,” said Ofer.
A civilian complaint review board will investigate complaints of misconduct against the Newark Police Department, and to be effective must have independent subpoena authority and the ability to discipline police officers who are found to engage in misconduct, as well as adequate funding and a fair and transparent process. An inspector general will have the authority to audit the police department and make recommendations for policies and practices.
The ACLU-NJ first called for federal intervention of the Newark Police Department in 1967, after rampant reports of police misconduct and abuse by the police during and after that summer’s clashes between residents and the police. In September 2010, the ACLU-NJ submitted a petition to the DOJ that documented 418 instances of police misconduct, including false arrests, excessive force, unlawful stops and searches, discrimination and retaliation, as well as a broken internal affairs system. The petition was based on a 2.5 year study that ended in 2010. In May 2011, the DOJ announced it would open an investigation into the reports of civil rights and civil liberties violations in the department.
“We thank Deborah Jacobs, the former executive director of the ACLU-NJ, for her persistence in making a strong, unequivocal case for the need for federal intervention,” said Ofer.
The DOJ has intervened in several other cities’ police departments since the ACLU-NJ filed its petition, including Seattle and New Orleans, where it issued consent decrees aimed at creating long-lasting changes in policing culture. The New Jersey State Police signed a consent decree in 1999 agreeing to changes designed to end racial profiling.
“This is a chance to change the future, and it’s imperative that the DOJ incorporate lessons learned from past consent decrees,” said ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom. “Whether a police department transforms itself or regresses into old habits depends on the commitment of its monitors to turning it around permanently.”
The ACLU-NJ will continue to act as a resource for the Newark Police, offering insights on how to uphold civil liberties and civil rights while also protecting public safety. In 2012, under the leadership of Police Director Samuel DeMaio, the Newark Police Department worked with the ACLU-NJ to craft policies to protect the rights of members of the public to record police officers on duty. The policy, which mandates officer training concerning the public’s First Amendment rights, came as a result of the ACLU-NJ’s representation of Khaliah Fitchette, a Newark teenager pulled off a city bus and detained by police for using her cellphone to record video of officers responding to an incident.
In addition, in July, the Newark Police Department, in collaboration with the ACLU-NJ, adopted a data transparency policy requiring the department to release monthly data detailing the number of stop-and-frisks it conducts and the demographic information of the person being stopped, as well as information on the disposition of the stop. The policy also requires the department to report on the number of internal affairs complaints it receives and its use of force reports. Also in July, the ACLU-NJ and other immigrants’ rights advocates worked with the Newark Police Department to stop honoring voluntary immigration detainer requests, thus ensuring that immigrant communities in Newark may contact the police without fearing deportation.
The ACLU-NJ’s petition to the DOJ was compiled by former ACLU-NJ Senior Counsel Flavio Komuves.
A copy of the ACLU-NJ’s petition and more information about the ACLU-NJ’s work to improve police practices can be found at www.aclu-nj.org/policepractices.
NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) applauds the enactment of a bill that would help end discrimination against pregnant workers in New Jersey.
New Jersey joins other states, such as California, Connecticut and Illinois, to address this issue.
The bill was passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Chris Christie on Jan. 21.
The following is a statement from Ari Rosmarin, public policy director of the ACLU-NJ:
We commend Senator Loretta Weinberg, Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, the legislature, and Governor Chris Christie for enacting legislation to help end discrimination against pregnant workers in New Jersey. The bill signed by the Governor, S2995, adds pregnancy status to our state’s Law Against Discrimination, requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant women’s needs, and prevents employers from penalizing women from requesting or using those accommodations.
We know that even in 2014, pregnant women across the country continue to face discrimination and suffer employment consequences due to their medical needs during pregnancy. This law will help prevent women from being forced to make the agonizing choice between their health and their jobs. Our state has long been a proud leader in ending discrimination and this law will honor our values of fairness and equality under the law. The ACLU-NJ is proud to have supported this bill and we look forward to its implementation in workplaces across New Jersey.
NEWARK – On Jan. 21, a bill that regulates the use of drones by law enforcement expired without Gov. Chris Christie’s signature. The bill was passed by the state Legislature and had bipartisan support.
The following statement is from Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey.
We are disappointed that Governor Christie has chosen to let the clock run out on a bill that would have given New Jerseyans some of the strongest civil liberties protections in the nation against abusive drone surveillance. The bill, S2702/A4073, passed by widespread bipartisan majorities in both houses, has sat on the Governor’s desk for over a week, and today was pocket-vetoed by the governor.
Drones will likely be flying New Jersey’s skies by next year. When they arrive, we will need laws that protect both public safety and the privacy rights of New Jersey residents. This bill would have done just that. Protections against government overreach should be a priority for all New Jersey officials. Yet Gov. Christie’s pocket veto puts New Jerseyans’ privacy in limbo as drones take to the skies. The ACLU-NJ will continue to work with allies and legislators in the new legislative session to ensure that the privacy of New Jersey residents is protected before drones arrive, not after.
NEWARK -- On Jan. 13, Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would have revised procedures for amending the gender marker on birth certificates.The following is a statement from Deputy Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero:
Governor Christie’s callous veto today keeps transgender New Jerseyans at risk of discrimination. This bill would have provided a simple procedure for birth certificate amendments and would have aligned New Jersey policy with contemporary medical standards. Having access to basic identification documents that match one’s gender identity is a civil right. This is a clear example where the state should not be substituting its judgment over that of licensed healthcare professionals. The ACLU-NJ was proud to testify in support of this bill and will continue to work with allies and legislators to ensure basic fairness for members of the transgender community.
NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) applauds the passage of a bill that offers some of the strongest protections in the nation against drone surveillance.
This bill requires police to obtain a warrant before using a surveillance drone, except in certain extraordinary situations; requires law enforcement to discard information that is not relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation within 14 days; and prohibits the weaponization of drones in New Jersey.
The bill has been approved in the state Senate and Assembly.
The following statement is from Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey.
The legislation passed today by the State Legislature puts in place in New Jersey some of the strongest civil liberties protections in the nation against abusive drone surveillance. It does so by placing strong restrictions on when and how law enforcement agencies can use this powerful technology. Drone technology is growing by leaps and bounds, yet there are no meaningful rules in place in New Jersey to regulate this technology. We urge Governor Christie to sign this legislation into law immediately and protect New Jerseyans’ privacy rights.
Under the bill passed by the legislature, law enforcement agencies will be required to obtain a warrant before they use a drone and to discard content collected by drones if unrelated to an ongoing criminal investigation. As with other laws that require warrants, there are narrow exceptions for extraordinary situations. This bill is a significant first step in the right direction in regulating police drone use. The ACLU-NJ will continue to monitor the implementation of this bill and will remain vigilant in protecting the civil liberties of all New Jerseyans and ensure that drone technology is not abused by law enforcement.
NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) is asking the Christie administration (183k PDF) to take action to require public employees to use their government-issued email accounts to conduct public business and to maintain any emails or texts sent from personal accounts as government records in the event an employee leaves their position.
Additionally, the ACLU-NJ is calling for the New Jersey Legislature and Governor Chris Christie’s administration to work with New York officials to enact legislation subjecting the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) to the same open records and open meetings requirements by which all public governing bodies in New Jersey are bound.
The requests were made in a letter sent to the administration today in the wake of records released about the closure of several lanes connecting Fort Lee to the George Washington Bridge in September.
“We need to shine a strong light on public officials to ensure an open, transparent government that the public can trust,” said Ed Barocas, ACLU-NJ legal director. “An open, transparent government is a cornerstone of democracy. When public officials conduct business on private email accounts or via text messages, it lessens accountability and causes likely breaches of laws and regulations.”
The ACLU-NJ is calling on the state Attorney General to issue a formal opinion, as well as regulations, requiring that government employees use their government email addresses for all public business whenever possible, and clarifying that records custodians must have access to any private emails or text messages relating to public business. If any correspondence takes place on private accounts, it must be printed out or turned over to the records custodian immediately and retained as a government record. The ACLU-NJ is also raising concerns about access to personal emails and text messages once an employee leaves public office, such as the case with Gov. Chris Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly. Documents released by the legislature indicate that Kelly and former Port Authority official David Wildstein traded correspondence about the lane closures from their personal email accounts. Both Kelly and Wildstein are no longer public employees.
“No matter where one stands on the George Washington Bridge lane closure controversy, we should all agree that we cannot allow a culture of secrecy to fester in our government,” said Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU-NJ. “It is time to make the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey more transparent and accountable to the public and to prohibit the use of private emails and texts when conducting government business.”
The ACLU-NJ addressed similar concerns about private emails when, in 2012, it discovered that then-Mayor Cory Booker, Commissioner of the Department of Education Christopher Cerf and others corresponded about public business using private accounts. The ACLU-NJ successfully sued to obtain emails that then-Mayor Booker sent from his private email account.
The ACLU-NJ also calls upon the legislature and Christie administration to work with other states to bring any bi-state agency in line with open records and meetings regulations that apply to New Jersey’s municipalities and school boards. This would give the public equal access to documents they can obtain from other boards and the opportunity to seek a court review of a rejection of a document request.
“New Jersey should work with its other relevant sister states to ensure that all bi-state agencies are subject to the same robust transparency requirements,” the ACLU-NJ letter states. “Failure to do so will almost guarantee that the PANYNJ and similar multistate agencies will be permitted to operate in a culture of secrecy that is harmful to democratic governance.”