Witness For Justice #845 - 21st Century Race Matters

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Drug Policy Alliance and ACLU of California Sue City of Fontana Over Ordinance That Conflicts With Rights Granted by California’s Marijuana Legalization Initiative

Yesterday, the Drug Policy Alliance and ACLU of California filed a lawsuit against the City of Fontana challenging a city ordinance that is in conflict with Proposition 64 (also known as the “Adult Use of Marijuana Act” or “AUMA”). The challenged ordinance places significant restraints on an adult’s legal right to cultivate marijuana plants at their personal private residence. The lawsuit seeks to invalidate the ordinance because it is preempted by Prop. 64 and violates several state constitutional rights.

On November 8, 2016, the people of California voted in favor of Prop. 64, which allows adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and cultivate up to six marijuana plants at their private residence away from public view. While Prop. 64 allows local governments to regulate indoor personal cultivation, they cannot adopt unreasonable regulations or prohibit anyone from cultivating altogether.

Among other problematic provisions, the ordinance requires residents to register with the city, undergo a criminal background check, open their home to city officials, and pay an expensive fee before obtaining a permit that would allow them to grow marijuana plants in their private home. By the City Council’s own admission, this process is meant to deter its residents from engaging in legal conduct under state law.

“This ordinance is at odds with state law enacted by a majority of the voters in California, in San Bernardino County, and the City of Fontana,” said Joy Haviland, Staff Attorney at the Drug Policy Alliance. “Local officials cannot limit or undo what is now legally allowed in California. Prop. 64 allows adults to cultivate for their own personal use in their private homes without unnecessary intrusion from the state.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Mike Harris, a retired Fontana resident, taxpayer and homeowner since 1987 who seeks to cultivate marijuana at his residence.

“The ACLU of California supported Prop. 64, in large part because of our longstanding policy that possessing or cultivating marijuana for personal use should not be a crime,” said Jess Farris, Director of Criminal Justice at the ACLU of Southern California. “The Fontana ordinance – and other similar ordinances around the state – would criminalize the very conduct Prop. 64 legalized, particularly for people who are ineligible to obtain a permit because of their criminal convictions or their lack of funds to obtain a permit or to dedicate an entire room in their home to cultivation.”

Prop. 64 passed with 57 percent voter approval statewide, including a majority of voters in the City of Fontana (53 percent) and the County of San Bernardino (52 percent). The Drug Policy Alliance’s affiliated organization, Drug Policy Action, served as a co-chair of the Prop. 64 campaign committee. ACLU of California endorsed Prop. 64 among other diverse statewide stakeholders such as Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and other lawmakers, the California Democratic Party, and the California Medical Association.

Link to the release:


ACLU Executive Director's TED Talk: Democracy Must Not Be Spectator Sport

NEW YORK - American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony D. Romero's TED was published today. It issued a call to action for Americans to fight against the "bad government" of the Trump administration, as seen through the lens of a 14th century Italian painting by Ambrogio Lorenzetti.

"A painting that is 850 years old is holding up a frightening mirror to our democracy," said Romero. "Ambrogio Lorenzetti painted an 'allegory of bad government' in 1339 that eerily tracks many of the challenges we now confront under the Trump administration."

Surrounded by magnificent images of 14th century Italian art, Romero's talk takes viewers through an art history lesson that resonates today: a tour of the "Allegory of Good and Bad Government," by Italian artist Ambrogio Lorenzetti that hangs in Siena, Italy. The frescoes show the impacts of both good and bad government on the everyday lives of ordinary people in 14th century Siena. Lorenzetti contrasts the stark difference between good government, characterized by justice, concord, peace; and bad government, featuring tyranny, treason, and fury.

"Lorenzetti warns us that we must recognize the shadows of avarice, fraud, division, and even tyranny when they float across our political landscape. Especially when those shadows are cast by political leaders loudly claiming to be the voice of good government," said Romero in the TED talk. "And we must act.... We must disrupt the amoral accretion of power by those who would betray our values. We the people must stay in the streets. Disruptive, messy, loud -that is what democracy looks like."

The video and transcript of Romero's TED talk can be found at:

Details of Lorenzetti's frescoes can be found here: _Good_and_Bad_Government

This release can be found here:


ACLU sues the Madison County Sheriff’s Department

May 08, 2017 Today, the ACLU of Mississippi, the ACLU, and the law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP filed a federal lawsuit against the Madison County Sheriff’s Department to challenge its decades-old policing practices that employ unconstitutional, racially-motivated tactics that target the Black community.

The Madison County Sheriff’s Department routinely targets Black people through widespread stops, searches and arrests that are not based on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, but on race. These practices frequently use unjustified and excessive force. The extreme targeting of Black neighborhoods and individuals for these unconstitutional and highly intrusive stops, searches and seizures impacts peoples’ ability to go to work, run errands, visit friends, sit on the steps outside one’s own home, and even walk down the street. These are liberties we all should be able to freely enjoy.

Black individuals are almost five times more likely than white people to be arrested in Madison County. While only 38% of Madison County’s population is Black, 73% of arrests made by the sheriff’s department between May and October of 2016 were of Black people.

The plaintiffs in our lawsuit are 10 individuals who – absent any wrongdoing – have been illegally stopped, frisked, searched, arrested, pulled over, subjected to unjustified physical force, or endured home invasions. Their stories, along with historical evidence and statistical data, reveal striking racial disparities in the Madison County Sheriff’s Department’s practices. The lawsuit will show that the department treats innocent people as if they are criminals, tramples on the rights of the Black community in Madison County, and perpetuates fear and suspicion of the police. These actions hurt their ability to provide and promote public safety.

We hope this lawsuit will bring an end to the Madison County Sheriff Department’s unlawful, race-based policing practices in favor of policies that require accountability, transparency, and community involvement. The people of Madison County deserve justice that is long overdue.

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