Oregon Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police Issue Statement in Support of a New Approach to Drug Policy

September 26, 2016 - The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon applauds the Oregon sheriffs and chiefs of police for their statement today supporting a new approach to drug policy in our state, including a recommendation to charge drug possesion as a misdemeanor rather than a felony.

Kimberly McCullough, legislative director at the ACLU of Oregon, said:

“We are encouraged that Oregon law enforcement recognize that harsh drug laws have been a failure, wasting taxpayer money and disproportionately impacting communities of color. Criminalization does not help people struggling with addiction and often exacerbates their problems. There are more effective ways to use Oregon’s limited resources to address this public health issue.”

David Rogers, executive director at the ACLU of Oregon, said:

“Longer criminal sentences are not always the path to justice, safety, or solving challenging social problems. I am pleased to see Oregon law enforcement leaders promoting a smarter approach in our state. Policies that prevent people from rebuilding their lives are bad for Oregon. When someone is charged with a felony drug crime it can follow them for life, preventing access to housing, employment, education, and more.”

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Stand with Standing Rock

ACLU of Oregon Statement of Solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux

ACLU "Stand with Standing Rock" text over photo of gate and protest signsSeptember 22, 2016 - The ACLU of Oregon has long been committed to supporting and defending the rights of indigenous people and communities. We recognize the vital roles peaceful protest, nonviolent civil disobedience, and activism play in defending our civil and human rights. We stand with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and its allied indigenous nations and supporters across the globe as they speak out against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.  As such, we denounce any government suppression of the right to protest and militarized policing of protesters by the state of North Dakota. 

Help us stand with Standing Rock. Sign our petition.

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Oregon Supreme Court Ruling in Eugene Taser Case Strengthens Public’s Right to Records

ACLU Lawsuit Increases Transparency in Police Use of Force Inquiries

still from video of tasing incident shows man on ground with two police standing over himSeptember 15, 2016 – The Oregon Supreme Court ruled today that the City of Eugene must turn over records to the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon in their inquiry into the high profile use of force against Eugene protester Ian Van Ornum. In 2008, Van Ornum was twice tased while peacefully protesting against the use of pesticides in downtown Eugene.

The City of Eugene relied on an exemption to the public records law to deny the release of documents in the case. 

In the unanimous decision, the court said that the public has strong interest in police oversight.

 “Without mutual trust, the police cannot do their work effectively and the public cannot feel safe,” wrote Oregon Supreme Court Justice Martha Walters. “One way to promote that necessary mutual trust is to make police practices and procedures transparent and to make complaints about police misconduct and the discipline that is or is not meted out open to public inspection.”

The decision reinforces the strong public interest in disclosure of information about the use of force by officers, alleged police misconduct, and the process by which those allegations are reviewed. 

Oregon law says that when an investigation does not result in discipline of any public safety officer then the records will not be released except “when the public interest requires disclosure of the information.” 

With this decision, the court places significant value in the public interest exceptions in Oregon’s public records laws. This will be very important in future public records requests, particularly requests that relate to video captured by police body cameras or dashboard cameras on patrol cars.

Kimberly McCullough, ACLU of Oregon’s legislative director, said the case was a very significant win for Oregonians. 

“Today is a big day for police accountability in Oregon,” said McCullough. “In this time of national concern regarding what is appropriate police conduct, we are proud that Oregon’s answer is now to shed more light on the review process.” 

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The Constitution Doesn't Allow Businesses to Discriminate

by Mat dos Santos, Legal Director

No one should be turned away from a business just because of who they are. When Sweet Cakes co-owner Aaron Klein refused to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple, he broke Oregon anti-discrimination laws. Discrimination is degrading, and harms not only the individual or targeted group, but society as a whole. Our state has a long-standing tradition of protecting people from businesses that discriminate because Oregonians value fairness and equality.

sign that reads open for business open for all;

And let’s be real, selling a wedding cake doesn’t mean a business owner is endorsing a marriage, or agreeing with everything the customer believes. It simply means they are providing services to the public, and that their business is open to everyone on the same terms. For many of us, this is just the Golden Rule — treating others as we would like to be treated — but, it is also required by law in Oregon and elsewhere.

The Kleins have argued that they should be able to discriminate against same-sex couples and, presumably, anyone else their personal religion disfavors. They say that some of our most fundamental freedoms, the freedoms of speech and religion, give them a license to discriminate.

Freedom of religion and freedom of speech are fundamental rights protected by the Oregon and federal constitutions. But those freedoms don’t allow any of us to harm others.

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Oregon Motorcyclist Scores a Win in Discrimination Case

motorcyclistsAugust 19, 2016 - For 14 years, Ron Godwin worked as the chaplain, religious services coordinator, and volunteer coordinator at the Rogue Valley Youth Correctional Facility (RVYCF) in Grants Pass. Ron loved his work and was deeply appreciated by the youth he served, the volunteers he worked with, and his coworkers. 

By all accounts, he was a fantastic employee. Ron even received an award for his excellent service, which described him as “the glue” that held the facility together. However, three months later, he was abruptly suspended after being seen riding his motorcycle with members of the Vagos Motorcyle Club and wearing their logo on his jacket. After a brief investigation, the Oregon Youth Authority fired him. 

Freedom of speech and association for government employees is an important right protected by the First Amendment. A public employee cannot be fired because he spends his hours outside of the work environment associating with a certain group unless this association is disruptive to the workplace. In Ron’s case, he was fired because of his lawful expression and association related to the Vagos motorcycle club. Nothing suggested his activities did, or were even likely to, disrupt his work.

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New Laws Target and Punish the Poor in Oregon

By Heather Marek, Legal Intern

person with signIn recent years, poverty and homelessness have deepened throughout the country, and Oregon has not been immune. According to HUD, between 2014 and 2015, the number of homeless Oregonians increased nine percent, the third highest increase nationwide. In that same time, Oregon experienced the largest growth of any state in its chronically homeless population: sixty percent. Due to a severe shortage of affordable housing and the high number of residents with no place to call home, Oregon cities including Eugene and Portland have declared a housing and homelessness “state of emergency”.

In Oregon and elsewhere, the response to this crisis has been to further criminalize homelessness, making it against the law to engage in basic life-sustaining activities. Between 2011 and 2014, there was a spike in the number of cities nationwide that outlawed camping (60 percent), sleeping in vehicles (119 percent), sitting or lying down in particular places (43 percent), begging (25 percent), and loitering and vagrancy (35 percent). These laws have been the focus of national and international scrutiny, receiving condemnation by the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and the UN Human Rights Committee.

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