Newark, NJ – According to a new report (5.64mb PDF) by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Blacks in New Jersey were arrested for marijuana possession at 2.84 times the rate of whites in 2010, despite comparable marijuana usage rates. The report, Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests, released today, is the first ever to examine state and county marijuana arrest rates nationwide by race. The findings show that while there were pronounced racial disparities in marijuana arrests 10 years ago, they have grown significantly worse.
“The War on Marijuana has disproportionately been a war on people of color,” says Ezekiel Edwards, Director of the Criminal Law Reform Project at the ACLU and one of the primary authors of the report. “State and local governments have aggressively enforced marijuana laws selectively against Black people and communities, needlessly ensnaring hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system at tremendous human and financial cost.”
In New Jersey, the counties with the largest racial disparity in marijuana possession arrests were Hunterdon, Ocean and Monmouth. Statewide, police officers made 21,659 arrests for marijuana possession in 2010, and marijuana possession rates accounted for 43.4 percent of all drug arrests in 2010. In the past 10 years, marijuana possession arrest rates have risen 8.9 percent and the racial disparities among such arrests have increased 33.4 percent.
“This report confirms what advocates across the country have known for a long time: that the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ is a failure, and it needs to end,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. “The ‘War on Marijuana’ in particular has wrought tragic consequences for a generation of young Black men and their loved ones. That’s why advocates throughout our state have been pushing for legislation for years that would decriminalize marijuana and as a result curb the racially disparate punishment of low-level drug offenses.”
The ACLU-NJ supports two bills in the New Jersey legislature, S1977 and A1465, to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, punishable with a $100 civil penalty rather than the potential of prison time. S1977 designates 50 grams as the upper limit, while A1465 designates that limit as 15 grams. New Jersey legalized medicinal marijuana in 2010, but implementation of the law has been stymied since its enactment.
The ACLU-NJ continues to call on local and state police to stop the practices that lead to disparate enforcement of marijuana possession laws. The ACLU-NJ recommends that all police departments throughout the state focus on more serious crimes, end racial profiling and stop unfair use of stop-and-frisk tactics. The federal government should also stop providing incentives to police departments for making arrests, and instead encourage stronger transparency, data collection, and external oversight of departments. These incentives contribute to the disparate enforcement of marijuana possession laws.
Despite the fact that a majority of Americans now support marijuana legalization, New Jersey spent an estimated $127 million enforcing marijuana laws in 2010. Nationally, states spent an estimated $3.61 billion enforcing marijuana possession laws in 2010 alone.
“The aggressive policing of marijuana is time-consuming, costly, racially biased, and doesn’t work,” says Edwards. “These arrests have a significant detrimental impact on people’s lives, as well as on the communities in which they live. When people are arrested for possessing even tiny amounts of marijuana, they can be disqualified from public housing and student financial aid, lose or find it more difficult to obtain employment, lose custody of their child, and be deported. In addition, the targeted enforcement of marijuana possession laws against people of color creates a community of mistrust and reduced cooperation with the police, which damages public safety. Furthermore, despite being a priority for many police departments across the states for the past decade, the aggressive enforcement of marijuana laws has not even accomplished one of law enforcement’s purported goals: to eradicate or even diminish the use of marijuana.” Key findings from the report include:
“Many politicians treat marijuana as a punch line, even as the most vulnerable among us sit in prison cells, losing years of their lives for offenses that the powers-that-be all too often consider a joke,” Ofer said. “The criminal justice system in the U.S. and New Jersey must answer the call from the majority of the people to end anti-drug policies that for the most part target drug use among people of color.”
In the report, the organization urges lawmakers and law enforcement to reform policing practices, including ending racial profiling as well as unconstitutional stops, frisks, and searches, and also to reform state and federal funding streams that incentivize police to make low-level drug arrests.
Review New Jersey-specific data, view multimedia, and read the ACLU’s report: The War on Marijuana in Black and White.
NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) filed a petition with the state Department of Education against the Cape May County Special Services School District, a public school district, for segregating students with multiple disabilities based on sex. The petition was filed on behalf of Susan Coll-Guedes, an Atlantic County parent who wanted her son to be placed in a co-educational class because she believes he excels academically and socially in an integrated environment.
For the past several years, the district has provided co-educational classes in all grades for students with multiple disabilities, except for grades six through eight.
“Like any parent, I want my child to be in a nurturing learning environment that is conducive to his education,” said Coll-Guedes. “I believe my son should be in an environment that reflects society and prepares him to be comfortable and confident when interacting with others, including girls.”
Coll-Guedes’s 12-year-old son has attended Ocean Academy in the Cape May County Special Services School District since pre-kindergarten. When he reached sixth grade, she requested that he have classes with girls. The district refused and even rejected compromises, such as having time to interact in the hall with girls.
Coll-Guedes turned to the ACLU-NJ for help. The organization filed a public records request, seeking the district’s policies on single sex classes. The district claimed it did not have any polices segregating students based on sex and instead placed students based on “age, disability and level of functioning.” The complaint alleges that it is not plausible that the school district has made an individualized assessment of all sixth through eighth graders with multiple disabilities that has resulted in sex-segregated classes at Ocean Academy year after year.
“The law requires that all children should have equal access to educational programs, regardless of their sex,” said Frank Corrado, an attorney with Barry, Corrado & Grassi, who, along with ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero, represents Coll-Guedes. “Segregating students is a violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and it limits opportunities for boys and girls alike.”
Coll-Guedes decided to keep her son back in the fifth grade coeducational class for the current school year. The petition has been filed with the Department of Education, which is expected to transmit it to the Office of Administrative Law for a disposition.
On May 15, the ACLU-NJ withdrew the complaint and submitted a letter to the New Jersey Department of Education and New Jersey Division of Civil Rights, asking officials to investigate the segregation of students at Ocean Academy based on sex.
The ACLU-NJ today received a letter from the headquarters of Rite Aid, apologizing to Andrew Andrade, an ACLU-NJ client and Jersey City man who tried to buy the emergency contraceptive, Plan B, from the pharmacy in April. Staffers at the Jersey City store refused to sell the medicine to Andrade and erroneously told him they were not allowed to sell Plan B to men.
Rite Aid said in its letter it is investigating the matter and interviewing the store’s associates and managers. It also stated it is reviewing Rite Aid’s policy and procedure for dispensing Plan B, which follows FDA guidelines, with the pharmacy associates in the store.
“We are pleased that Rite Aid has responded swiftly and taken appropriate action,” said Jeanne LoCicero, deputy legal director for the ACLU-NJ. “It is absolutely critical that pharmacists not discriminate and understand FDA guidelines when it comes to dispensing medicines, especially when it is emergency contraception where time is of the essence.”
Andrade, 25, said he hopes this incident does not repeat itself.
“I’m grateful for Rite Aid’s response,” Andrade said. “I also hope that men out there now know the law and their rights when it comes to accessing emergency contraception.”
NEWARK — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) announced today that it has called upon Rite Aid to ensure that its Jersey City store cease its discriminatory policy of refusing to sell emergency contraception to men. The ACLU-NJ sent a letter written on behalf of Jersey City resident Andrew Andrade asking for the Pennsylvania-based national chain to apologize for refusing to sell him emergency contraception based on his gender and seeking corrective action for its employees’ violations of FDA guidelines and New Jersey’s anti-discrimination laws.
“This pharmacy’s refusal to sell emergency contraception to men flouts the FDA’s clear guidelines that anyone who is at least 17 years old and has valid ID can make these purchases and it amounts to discrimination,” said ACLU-NJ Deputy Director Jeanne LoCicero, who sent the letter on behalf of Andrade. “Couples who share responsibility for healthcare decisions should not face unnecessary obstacles. Pharmacists and other staff do not have the personal discretion to interfere with the fundamental rights surrounding some of the most intimate decisions a person can make.”
When Andrade tried to buy Plan B, an FDA-approved brand of emergency contraception, at his local Jersey City Rite Aid on April 23, the staff member behind the pharmacy counter refused to sell it to him. Another staff member claimed incorrectly that the law prohibited men from buying emergency contraception, and the pharmacy manager repeated this mistake and confirmed the store’s policy of not selling it to men. Immediately after the experience at Rite Aid, he was able to purchase it at a nearby pharmacy without incident. The ACLU-NJ’s letter requested Rite Aid’s corporate policy on emergency contraception, the steps Rite Aid plans to put in place to avoid similar situations in the future, and an apology to Andrade.
“I wanted to do whatever I could to prevent anyone else from going through a similar experience,” said Andrade. “I was aware of the law, but how many other people aren’t? In a stressful situation where time is of the essence, the last thing anyone needs is to feel demoralized by having their rights violated.” Andrade, a graduate student, decided to make the trip to the pharmacy that day because he has a more flexible daytime schedule than his girlfriend, who works full-time.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated occurrence. The ACLU has fought gender discrimination from pharmacies in other states that refused to sell emergency contraception to men, although this letter marks the first communication with Rite Aid. In January, the ACLU of Texas contacted CVS on behalf of a Mesquite-area man turned away when he tried to buy emergency contraception for his wife. The ACLU has also contacted Walgreens on several occasions, the most recent in March 2012, after stores in Georgia and Alabama refused to sell emergency contraception to men. As a result of pressure from advocates, Wal-Mart introduced a storewide policy requiring its pharmacies to fill valid requests for birth control, including emergency contraception after it had failed to fulfill them.
“Pharmacies must train their personnel to respect the rights of consumers. Blocking access to emergency contraception shows a disregard for the law and people’s rights,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. “Boyfriends and husbands who care enough about the women in their lives to help them at the pharmacy counter shouldn’t face these kinds of hurdles.”
|Harriet Bernstein & Luisa Paster|
NEWARK – A state administrative law judge has ruled (50k PDF) that the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association violated the state’s Law Against Discrimination when it denied Ocean Grove residents Harriet Bernstein and Luisa Paster the use of its boardwalk pavilion for their 2007 civil union ceremony. The association had allowed members of the public to rent the pavilion and had never before declined a permit other than for scheduling conflicts until it received Paster and Bernstein’s reservation request. The association rejected the couple’s application to use the space, stating that civil unions violated its Methodist doctrine.
“The Camp Meeting Association could have used the pavilion exclusively for its own purposes,” said Lawrence Lustberg of Gibbons, P.C., who represents the couple as a cooperating attorney for the ACLU-NJ. “The judge found, however, that the association opened the pavilion up to the public and thus was obligated to follow anti-discrimination laws.”
“We are pleased with the judge’s findings,” said Harriet Bernstein. “When we first started planning our civil union, we had no idea that it would come to this. We weren’t asking the association to change their beliefs. We just wanted them to give us the same opportunity to use a beautiful space that we had seen open for public use.”
Paster and Bernstein celebrated their civil union at a fishing pier in Ocean Grove, a quarter mile from the pavilion on June 30, 2007. By then, the community rallied around the couple, showing support by raising flags around town that symbolized LGBT equality.
“Fortunately, out of this painful incident, Ocean Grove residents have a renewed sense of community and have come together to support equality,” said Luisa Paster.
In his written decision, Judge Solomon A. Metzger of the Office of Administrative Law found that in March 2007, when Paster and Bernstein filled out a reservation form, the pavilion was a public accommodation. The judge determined that the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association breached its agreement to make the pavilion available to the public on an equal basis. The association was also required to make the pavilion public in exchange for a state tax exemption it received that requires equal access on a non-discriminatory basis. Metzger also noted that while the association is free to practice its mission without government oversight, it had never attached any religious ministry to the wedding venue until it received Paster and Bernstein’s application.
“(The association) was not, however, free to promise equal access to rent wedding space to heterosexual couples irrespective of their tradition and then except (Bernstein and Paster),” Judge Metzger stated.
The administrative law judge’s decision is sent to the Director of the Division on Civil Rights who has 45 days to adopt, modify or reject it as part of the Director’s final decision; otherwise, it becomes a final decision. Once a final decision is issued, a party may appeal to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court.
Bernstein, 70, a grandmother and retired school administrator and Paster, 64, a retired academic librarian, met at a retreat in the Poconos in 2000. The couple decided to celebrate their commitment with a civil union in 2007, shortly after New Jersey passed a law allowing for civil unions. The couple, who live in the Ocean Grove section of Neptune, wanted their ceremony to take place at the Ocean Grove Boardwalk Pavilion, an open-air wood-framed seating area facing the Atlantic Ocean.
The pavilion was used for community and charitable events and the owners of the property, Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, received a tax exemption from the state Green Acres program, which provides exemptions to non-profit organizations who use their property for recreational or conservation purposes. An important condition of the exemption is that the property be “open for public use on an equal basis.”
In March 2007, the couple went to the office of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association and filled out an application to reserve the pavilion for their civil union. Days later, association officials denied their application and returned their $250 deposit. When Paster and Bernstein sought an explanation, they were told civil unions violated the group’s Methodist principles.
Paster and Bernstein filed a complaint with the state Division on Civil Rights.
In December 2008, the state Division on Civil Rights found probable cause that the association violated the state’s anti-discrimination law. The case proceeded to the state Administrative Law Judge for disposition.
“This decision affirms New Jersey’s strong protections against discrimination,” said Jeanne LoCicero, ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director. “When you open your doors to the public, you can’t treat same-sex couples differently.”
The case is captioned Bernstein et al v. Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, OAL DKT. NO. CRT 6145-09.
NEWARK - The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey today filed a Freedom of Information Act request with New Jersey's FBI field offices asking for records regarding the agency's collection of racial and ethnic data in local communities. Joining 31 other ACLU affiliates nationally, the ACLU-NJ seeks more details concerning the FBI's authority as described in the 2008 FBI operations guide to map businesses, behaviors, lifestyles and traditions considered "ethnic-oriented."
"The potential abuse that could stem from the FBI's mapping of America by race demonstrates exactly why transparency is so crucial to a democracy," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. "The public has a right to know what kinds of information the government gathers about ordinary Americans, and the public has a right to know how that information will be used."
The FBI's 2008 Domestic Intelligence and Operations Guide (DIOG) refers to agents' power to collect, use, and map racial and ethnic data to assist its "domain awareness" and "intelligence analysis" activities. The DIOG, first released with heavy redaction in September 2009, was released with fewer redactions this January in response to a lawsuit filed by Muslim Advocates. Still, the public has little access to information about the FBI's implementation of this authority.
"The FBI's mapping of local communities based on race and ethnicity, as well the ability to target investigations based on supposed racial and ethnic behaviors, raises serious civil liberties concerns," said Michael German, ACLU policy counsel and former FBI agent. "Creating a profile of a neighborhood based on the ethnic makeup of the people who live there for law enforcement or domestic intelligence is unfair, un-American and unable to stop crime."
In addition to New Jersey, FOIA requests for the same kinds of information were also filed in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Washington, DC, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Virginia.
The DIOG provisions in question are available online at:
Newark, N.J. - For five decades, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey has been a gale force in the most critical social debates of our time and a vigilant guardian of civil rights for all.
In June, the ACLU-NJ will mark the 50th anniversary of its founding and celebrate its standing as one of the largest and most active affiliates in the nation. Created to counter the growing pressures on civil liberties in the state, the affiliate's first official meeting took place on the night of June 16, 1960. Since its start, the affiliate, which has continued to keep its headquarters in Newark, has seen its membership multiply nearly 10-fold, from 1,600 people to more than 15,000.
"We believe that the liberties in the Bill of Rights belong to every American, to all the people in New Jersey regardless of their political beliefs, race, religion or national origin," ACLU-NJ founder and longtime President Emil Oxfeld said in the original press release announcing the formation of the state's affiliate. "We believe these freedoms must be exercised if democracy in our state is to grow and thrive."
Oxfeld went on to list issues that desperately needed attention at the time - due process, racial discrimination, the separation of church and state, and freedom from censorship - all principles the ACLU still defends daily.
"While some of the issues raised in our cases over the years seem archaic by today's standards, many haven't changed at all," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs, who has led the affiliate since 1999, including during the biggest membership spike in its history. "The law has advanced remarkably in areas like women's rights, lesbian and gay rights, and safeguarding personal privacy, but with issues like free speech, police practices and religious freedom, no fight ever stays won."
"The ACLU of New Jersey has been a leader in the crucial civil liberties battles of our time," said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the national ACLU. "While each new era brings a wave of assaults on freedom, the ACLU of New Jersey responds swiftly and decisively, protecting the rights of all Garden State residents. It has proven its value on the American political landscape."
Since opening its doors and springing into action - its first official undertaking was commending the Clifton Library's stance against banning books like Lady Chatterley's Lover - the ACLU-NJ has doggedly worked for justice and equality in New Jersey.
In its first decade the ACLU-NJ took strong action following the 1967 Newark Rebellion. Staffers took to the streets in the aftermath, painstakingly cataloguing police abuses to the ACLU-NJ would refer to in its demands for reform. The New Jersey affiliate also emerged even more progressive than the national ACLU, becoming one of the first state affiliates to take a stand against the Vietnam War.
Since those early years, the ACLU-NJ has grown into one of the country's largest and most active state affiliates, with a record of milestones that has earned it a role on the national stage. Among its accomplishments, the ACLU-NJ:
The ACLU-NJ is celebrating the clients, attorneys, leaders and volunteers - many involved in the cases highlighted above - who have built its legacy, from its founders to its future. The stories of these 50 Faces of Liberty can be found at the ACLU-NJ website, http://www.aclu-nj.org
"Society has changed dramatically since our founding, but we've never lost the fire that fuels the ACLU's advocacy," Jacobs added. "We can't always predict what challenges lie ahead for liberty in a changing world, but whatever they are, the ACLU stands ready to defend the fundamental rights of ordinary Americans."
The year-long commemoration will culminate November 4 at the NJ Freedom Fest: A night of laughter and liberties, hosted by comedian Jimmy Tingle and featuring faces from the ACLU past and present, to be held at the Heldrich Hotel in New Brunswick.
Newark - The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey sent an Open Public Records Act request Friday to the Rancocas Valley School District for documents that will shed light on the district's decision to remove the book Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology from the Rancocas Valley High School library. The book, which shares gay students' coming-out stories and reflections on identity, won the School Library Journal's Adult Books for High School Students Award in 2001.
"The ultimate decision of whether a book can be removed does not rest simply on whether a few individuals or students may be offended," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. "Decisions to censor literature should only be based on a standard set of neutral criteria unrelated to the political or social themes in the book."
The school district made its decision after a political group specifically singled out books with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender themes. The ACLU-NJ filed its request in order to learn whether the school district's policies were applied fairly, without discrimination.
"Educators and school librarians are the best qualified to determine what kinds of books and materials schools should keep in their libraries," said Jacobs. "Neither political groups nor parents have a right to impose their decisions, morals, or values on all students and families."
In 1982, the United States Supreme Court held that school boards have only a limited right to remove books from school libraries. "Local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books," the Court explained. Rather, removals should be based only on "educational suitability," with school boards taking the input of educators into account.
"If we started removing every book that one group or another objects to, our libraries' shelves would practically be bare," Jacobs noted. "The idea is to expose students to a diversity of themes and views, not to tightly restrict the information they receive."
TRENTON - Standing with the state's leading civil rights and minority rights organizations, the ACLU-NJ today called for the end of New Jersey's unequal system of civil unions and demanded the beginning of an era of equality where all people have an equal right to marriage, regardless of their sexual orientation.
"A separate system of rights for a particular minority group has once again failed to fulfill the actual promise of equality, as has been the case throughout history," said Vice Dean of Rutgers-Newark School of Law Ronald Chen, who authored the amicus brief in the case on behalf of the ACLU-NJ and seven other notable minority rights and civil rights organizations.
Although courts have allowed legislatures to enact separate systems of rights for minorities in the past, the ACLU brief explains that judges have always struck down those systems when they are shown to perpetuate disparities. Moreover, the ACLU-NJ argues that a history of excluding a minority group from access to rights is not in itself a public interest that can justify continued exclusionary practices.
The brief cites the evidence that civil unions have not provided the equal protection the court promised in 2006, when it issued a ruling in the first iteration of this case. Since then, couples in civil unions have learned firsthand that an institution so poorly understood cannot actually protect their rights. Couples have found themselves justifying their relationship to those with influence over their lives - from their children's public school teachers to the administrators of county hospitals - who understand marriage, but not the separate new structure created only for them.
"By devaluing certain families and setting them apart from others, it affects how those families are treated in schools, in hospitals, and in almost all daily transactions. And children are most harmed of all," said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas. "Civil unions institute inequality in ways both mundane and profound. Our state must end the daily struggle it imposes on our fellow citizens by having denied them the right to marry."
The ACLU-NJ joined the first filing of Lewis v. Harris in 2002 on behalf of seven same-sex couples seeking the right to marry. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled unanimously in October 2006 that granting lesser rights to same-sex couples violated the Constitution. However, the court entrusted the legislature to enact a solution, which resulted in the civil union folly that continues today. Two years later, in 2008, the state's Civil Union Review Commission found the institution fell far short of the equality the court had intended to provide. In January 2009, after an ardent campaign waged on the ground in New Jersey, the New Jersey Senate failed to pass marriage equality when the bill came up for a vote at the end of the legislative session.
The other signatories to the brief submitted today are the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Garden State Bar Association, the Hispanic Bar Association, Legal Momentum, and the National Organization for Women of New Jersey.
TRENTON — In a landmark victory for civil rights, the New Jersey Senate today passed a bill (S1866) revising a decades-old policy that had punished people more harshly for committing non-violent drug crimes within several hundred feet of schools, unfairly targeting city dwellers. Once signed into law, individual judges will be able to use their discretion to issue fair sentences appropriate to the crimes committed.
"This legislation is smart on crime, not soft on crime. It marks a major step forward toward achieving justice in New Jersey's criminal justice system," said Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the ACLU-NJ. "New Jersey's judges will now have authority to sentence people based on the severity of the crime, not the location."
This legislation overturns the drug-free school zone law, which mandated lengthy sentences for any drug crime committed near a school. As a result, people in New Jersey's more densely packed areas — for example, cities like Newark, Camden, Jersey City or New Brunswick — have been subject to a stricter standard of justice than those in the suburbs. Over the course of the drug-free school zone policy, 96 percent of those arrested for drug-free school offenses in New Jersey were black or Latino.
The Assembly passed the companion legislation, A2762, last year, and will need to vote on it once again to concur with the Senate version. Gov. Jon Corzine has said he will sign the bill once it reaches his desk.
This legislation promises fairness not only to New Jersey citizens relying on the criminal justice system, but to taxpayers. New Jersey's prisons and jails are dangerously overcrowded and many non-violent offenders are serving sentences much longer than needed. Judges will be able to decide the appropriate punishments, and New Jerseyans will know that everyone, everywhere across the state has a fairer shot at justice.
Changing this law has been a top priority for the ACLU-NJ over the past decade, in a broad coalition with organizations including the Coalition of Community Corrections Providers of New Jersey, Corporation for Supportive Housing, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, Hispanic Directors Association, Latino Leadership Alliance, New Jersey Association on Correction, Volunteers of American Delaware Valley and Women Who Never Give Up. In addition, cities like Newark and Camden have passed resolutions supporting S1866.