Police Practices

Terrorism and the First Amendment

by Mat dos Santos, Legal Director

lone protesters faces line of police in PortlandMarch 7, 2017 - The United States government considered Nelson Mandela a terrorist until 2008. Mandela was a designated terrorist eighteen years after he was released from prison; fifteen years after he won the Nobel peace prize; and, fourteen years after he was elected President of South Africa.

Let that sink in for a moment.

In 1962, the US government considered Mandela to be “the most dangerous communist” outside of the then Soviet Union. It was subsequently revealed that a CIA agent provided the South African government with the information necessary to apprehend him and land him in prison for twenty-seven years.

The indignity suffered by Mandela during every visit to the United States—as a “terrorist” he had to get special clearance to enter the country—was finally wiped clean by an act of Congress just five years before he died. 

Nelson Mandela, and his organizing in South Africa, was not protected by the First Amendment, a freedom afforded by the U.S Constitution only to those in the United States. But we should not forget that Angela Davis, Malcom X, and yes, even the now-beloved Martin Luther King Jr. were at varying times labeled enemies of the state during their struggle against segregation in the United States. The First Amendment protected their organizing. But it did not stop our federal law enforcement agencies from watching, labeling, and arresting them. We are fortunate that these heroes of racial justice did not cower when faced with jail time, but instead spoke louder.

Late last week, we learned that people in Portland organizing against police killings of Black men, white nationalist politicians, and the countless systems of racism throughout our local, state, and federal governments are now considered “domestic terrorists” by Department of Homeland Security. Why? Because the Portland Police Bureau labeled the November 10, 2016 protest a “riot.” 

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#BlackLivesMatter Tracked by Oregon DOJ with Social Media Monitoring Software

by Kimberly McCullough, Legislative Director

privacy and tech imageMay 4, 2016 - As we’ve previously written about, analysts at the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) used a tool called Digital Stakeout to surveil people who used over 30 hashtags on social media, including #BlackLivesMatter and #fuckthepolice. Erious Johnson, director of the Oregon DOJ’s own Department of Civil Rights, was scooped up in this illegal dragnet and targeted for a threat assessment which included a review of hundreds of his personal tweets; a memo to Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum flagging him as a potential threat to law enforcement; and an internal investigation into the matter which found that the search was “not in compliance” with state law and revealed a culture of self-reinforcing bias in the Criminal Justice Division of the Oregon DOJ. 

Today, I want to take a closer look at Digital Stakeout, the tool the DOJ used to conduct these searches. Digital Stakeout is social media monitoring software (SMMS) that can be used to covertly monitor, collect, and analyze our social media data from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. It is part of a rapidly expanding industry that the public knows little about. The goal here is to answer a few basic questions about SMMS: What can the technology do? How widespread is the use of SMMS by law enforcement in Oregon? What privacy concerns does it raise? And how we can protect free speech and privacy moving forward?

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The Oregon DOJ Trains Agents on How to Break the Law

by Mat dos Santos, Legal Director

Mat dos Santos photoApril 13, 2016 - After about five months of waiting, the Oregon Department of Justice (“DOJ”) released its internal human resources investigation conducted by the special assistant attorney general looking into the surveillance of people on Twitter using #BlackLivesMatter. The report is damning. It paints an abysmal picture of rampant misinformation beginning with agents and analysts and running all the way up to the deputy attorney general, and shows how one mistake in judgment can lead to dangerous consequences for the public. 

If you’ve already read the report and exhibits, you know that the special assistant attorney general calls for changes in the DOJ's hiring to reflect a more diverse work force, as well as additional training on the laws DOJ agents broke when they collected information about the public’s political views. But you may have missed a critical piece of information that is buried near the very end of the over 150 pages of exhibits. DOJ’s very own training on this issue is fundamentally flawed. DOJ is teaching its agents how to break the law. 

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DOJ's Bubble of Bias

by David Rogers, Executive Director

public enemy logoApril 13, 2016 - The special assistant attorney general finally released the long awaited report on Oregon Department of Justice’s surveillance of people using the Black Lives Matter hashtag among others. The report and the 162 page appendix is disturbing and reveals a range of deeply troubling issues about the Criminal Justice Division of DOJ, so much so, that we decided we needed to tackle it in separate posts.

I want to take a moment to explore what we learned about the implications of law enforcement’s echo chamber of prejudice and shallow cultural knowledge.

You may have already seen the media delight in the fact that DOJ analysts mistook Public Enemy’s logo as a sign of an imminent threat to law enforcement. (Public Enemy was a hip hop group popular in the late 80s and 90s whose music infused commentary about the political and social experience of Black Americans. “Fear of a Black Planet” still stands as one of my top ten hip hop albums of all time.)

As the DOJ was illegally examining the Twitter feed of one their own employees snared in the DOJ’s electronic surveillance of people who used the Black Lives Matter hashtag in Salem, the agent saw the Public Enemy logo with words from one of their live albums: “Consider Yourselves Warned!!!” Apparently, this image stood out along with a range of other satirical, political cartoons, and images even though these images are easily found on social media sites belonging to hundreds of thousands of reasonably politicized People of Color. The next thing that happened was a threat assessment report was written and went all the way to the desk of Oregon’s attorney general. Wait! What?

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Internal DOJ Report Leaves Us with More Questions than Answers on the Surveillance of Black Lives Matter in Oregon

by David Rogers

David Rogers photoYesterday a report on the surveillance of Black Lives Matter in Oregon was released by the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ). The report confirmed what we learned back in November: that an agent who works for the Criminal Division of DOJ was testing a surveillance program, called Digital Stakeout, by searching various key words, including #BlackLivesMatter. The agent then mistook posts from DOJ’s own director of civil rights, including a post of a Public Enemy logo and political cartoons, as a threat to law enforcement and wrote a memo that was passed all the way up the chain of command to Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum before it was, finally, rejected as dangerous, racial profiling. The attorney general hired an outside attorney to conduct an independent investigation of the matter to determine if policies or laws were violated.

After reading through the report and looking through the exhibits, we are left with more questions than answers. I honestly don’t know whether to laugh or to cry at the lack of awareness that was revealed of both the law and of what might constitute a threat. This is not only shameful, but also dangerous. Given the power that they wield, I am dismayed at the state of the Criminal Justice Division and afraid for the Oregonians that are supposed to be protected by them. Self-reinforced bias, against protesters, black people, and who knows who else, has left the agency ill-equipped to do their job.

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I Was Shot Six Times With Pepper Bullets and Beaten With Batons – and I'm Here to Say Thank You

Plaintiff Mookie Moss, who was shot six times with “pepper bullets” and unjustly beaten with police batons while protesting then-President Bush, penned this open letter to ACLU supporters and members:

Dear ACLU supporter,

Eleven years ago, hundreds of people had gathered in Jacksonville, Oregon to greet then-President George W. Bush. Most were there to protest the administration’s policies on the war in Iraq, the emerging torture culture, as well as, dubious and destructive environmental policies that greatly affected our local and national forest health.

It was a peaceful event, and many people had brought their children to participate in the democratic process. To have a sitting President stay in our small Southern Oregon town was an incredible opportunity to make our voices heard.

Despite our assurances of a peaceful demonstration to local and state law enforcement, things quickly turned violent when riot police marched on the 200 or so people on the anti-Bush side. The police, while obscuring their identities wearing balaclavas, marched with weaponry at the ready towards our assembly of children, grandparents, farmers, teachers, and community members. The riot clad officers ordered the large group to move, and proceeded to forcibly move us without waiting to see if the order had been understood and without allowing time for us to follow it. With the helicopters circling overhead and the general state of confusion and fear initiated by the police, chaos set in.

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Clatskanie Police Chief Engaged in Racist Mockery

With encouragement from the ACLU of Oregon, two Clatskanie police officers filed a formal complaint against their chief of police Marvin Hoover.

The complaint described a routine debriefing in June 2015, in which the Hoover referred to African Americans as animals and began acting like a monkey. Later, in the same conversation, Hoover again interrupted the debriefing by singing “Dixie” while acting as if he were punching an imaginary person. In August, with an investigation underway as a result of the officers’ complaint, the Clatskanie city council agreed to allow the chief to retire immediately and to pay him the equivalent of four months salary. Read the original news article.

By Executive Director David Rogers

The racist comments and actions attributed to Clatskanie Police Chief Marvin Hoover are appalling in their mockery and display of intolerance for black people. It is shocking that a chief of police would show such contempt and disrespect for people the police are supposed to protect and serve.

Chief Hoover’s actions erode the public’s trust that police will treat all individuals fairly and respectfully. Trust in police around the country has already been badly damaged by highly visible acts of targeted violence toward people of color and Chief Hoover’s actions add to the widening chasm between the police and the communities they serve.

We commend Clatskanie Police officer Alex Stone and K-9 Officer Zack Gibson for stepping forward with their complaints of the chief’s actions. Their actions took courage and are exactly what we need from police who witness hateful behavior from colleagues.

As tensions between police and communities intensify, members of the public desperately want to believe that there are good cops who can be trusted. Too often we are left to wonder how bad cops can operate unnoticed. Surely, fellow officers see indications of problem behaviors but too often turn a blind eye so as to not break the “blue wall of silence.”

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What's Ahead for Legalized Marijuana?

By Andrew Thomson, Lane County Chapter board member

On Tuesday, November 4, 2014, Oregon voters approved Measure 91, ending decades of marijuana prohibition in Oregon and legalizing the cultivation, possession, and use of marijuana for adults 21 and over. This is a significant and important step on the road to repairing the damage done by the failed war on marijuana.

Beginning January 4, 2016, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission will begin reviewing applications for licensed retail outlets. Taxes from the sales of marijuana will fund the schools, public health, and law enforcement. Marijuana sales will contribute funds to these important services rather than the diversion of funds caused by enforcing prohibition.

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Oregon's Privacy Laws Need an Update

by Sarah Armstrong, Outreach Director

Privacy Equals FreedomWe are asking lawmakers to update Oregon's privacy laws and we need your help! Join us for ACLU’s Privacy Day in Salem on Monday, March 16 to help strengthen Oregon's privacy protections and limit the use of dragnet surveillance. 

We have worked with bipartisan support on package of bills to curb mass surveillance. Help to ensure that these important bills have a voice in the legislature by joining us in Salem for ACLU's Privacy Day. 

REGISTER TODAY! 

Face to face meetings with legislators are incredibly powerful – and incredibly effective. We need your help to advocate for:

•    SB 639 - Strict guidelines for the use of automatic license plate readers (ALPR) 

•    SB 640 - A warrant requirement to access email, phone, and location records 

•    SB 641 - A warrant requirement to search cell phones


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Strong Mandate for Marijuana Reform Means Decriminalization Should Start Now

By Legislative Director Becky Straus

An edited version of this piece appeared in the Eugene Register Guard

Oregonians spoke loud and clear this election when they approved with over 55% of the vote Measure 91 to legalize, tax and regulate recreational marijuana for adults 21 and over. Higher tallies posted in Lane County and up and down the coast, and reached up to 71% support for the measure in Multnomah County.

We should interpret these numbers as a strong mandate: the War on Marijuana has failed and Oregonians reject prohibition. It is time for a new approach that focuses on eliminating the black market and the racial disparity in marijuana enforcement, on regulating the industry and on raising revenue for priorities like education, drug treatment and public safety.

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