April 5, 2017 - Oregon cities and counties are making it a crime for people to be homeless. Our new report, Decriminalizing Homelessness: Why Right to Rest Legislation is the High Road for Oregon, shows that basic acts of survival are being criminalized all across the state.
Our research found that Oreogn's most populous cities and counties have 224 laws that criminalize necessary life-sustaining activities like sitting, lying, resting, or eating in public. When someone has nowhere else to do these things, fines, fees, and a criminal record only further entrenches them in homelessness. Oregonians living on the street are forced make impossible choices to go about their daily lives.
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.”
Do you know who your district attorney is? If you do, you are among a very small percentage of the public.
District attorneys (DAs) are arguably the most powerful people in the criminal justice system, but the public doesn’t know who they are. Why does this matter? In our latest report, Roadblocks to Reform, we identify district attorneys as a central barrier to criminal justice reform.
There is a growing national consensus that America’s criminal justice system has core problems. We lead the world in the use of incarceration, while prisons are the most expensive and least effective public safety intervention. Despite increased media coverage of deeply troubling criminal justice issues and attention from the public and other elected officials, the role of district attorneys gets little attention. Although police are responsible for arrests, prosecutors in district attorneys’ offices have a tremendous amount of responsibility in determining people’s fate once they enter the system.
April 12, 2016 - Yesterday 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.
February 11, 2016 - A new report reveals people of color are negatively impacted in greater numbers than whites at every stage of the criminal justice system in Multnomah County. The county's Racial and Ethnic Disparities (RED) report shows the disparity is greatest for black people.
The report reveals that black people are 320% more likely than whites to have their crimes accepted for prosecution, 500% more likely to spend time in jail, and 600% more likely to be sentenced to prison.
While we aren’t surprised to see this evidence of racism in our criminal justice system, we are disappointed. It looks like people are being punished in Multnomah County for being black.
Communities of color deserve a system that is fair, just, and unbiased. The data shows this problem is not isolated to one or two areas but is systemic. Over the years we have seen data related to specific aspects of the criminal justice system (such as traffic stops and drug exclusion zones) that also confirm that racial disparities exist in Portland and Multnomah County.
Yet there has been little or no institutional curiosity to find out why these stark disparities exist.
“How to File a Police Complaint in Oregon” compiles statewide information
August 7, 2015 - Just ahead of the anniversary of the shooting of Michael Brown, the ACLU of Oregon announced the publication of “How to File a Police Complaint in Oregon," an online resource for reporting police misconduct. The guide includes information on how to file a complaint with law enforcement agencies across the state.
“Reporting police misconduct is an important step for increased police accountability,” said Legislative Director Kimberly McCullough. “People may worry that filing a report will not make a difference, but complaints of police misconduct can reveal patterns of problematic behaviors and practices, making them harder to ignore.”
McCullough added that, while it is not required, people may want to consult with an attorney before submitting a complaint as it could affect future legal proceedings.
Most of Oregon’s law enforcement agencies have complaint procedures in place; however, there is no standardized way in which that information is made available to the public. While compiling the information for the guide, we found it often required multiple phone calls to law enforcement agencies in order to find out their procedures. The lack of a straightforward complaint process can be discouraging to complainants.
Reporting police misconduct is an important step that can lead to better police accountability. However, some people who feel they were mistreated or had their rights violated do not file complaints. Often it is because they don’t know how to do it, they think it won’t make a difference, or they are afraid of retaliation.
Even though an individual complaint may not result in any changes, over time, complaints can add up and show patterns of problematic behaviors and practices.
While most law enforcement agencies in Oregon have a complaint procedure, it is not always easy to figure out how to file a complaint or where to file it. To help make the complaint process clearer, we have created the “How to File a Police Complaint in Oregon” resource.
Travel guru Rick Steves launches Oregon Tour, October 7 - 12
Rick Steves is touring Oregon in support of Vote Yes on 91, the ballot measure to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana for adults over 21. You probably know him best from his radio and television shows on OPB. He also produces a syndicated column and revises more than 50 guidebooks a year from his hometown of Edmonds, WA.
In “Travel as a Political Act: Ending marijuana prohibition in Oregon,” Steves will share how travel has shown him how different societies tackle the same problems. Steves and the ACLU of Washington co-sponsored Washington’s successful 2012 ballot measure to regulate, legalize and tax marijuana. “One thing I’ve learned in 30 years of travel is that treating marijuana as a crime does not work,” he said. “A better approach is to regulate it, legalize it and tax it. I’m an advocate for better policy, and that’s what Oregon will get once Measure 91 passes.”
June 5, 2013 - A report issued this week by the National ACLU, based on state crime reports provided to the FBI, shows that Oregon law enforcement agencies increased the rate of citations and arrests for possession of marijuana by 45% between 2001 and 2010. Oregon’s increase was the fifth highest in the country during that period. Nationwide, African-Americans were 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than Whites despite comparable usage rates.
Analysis by the ACLU of Oregon of data made available by the Oregon State Police, shows that 90% of the marijuana possession incidents in 2010 involved less than 1 ounce of marijuana, which is punishable as a violation under state law and does not lead to arrest or jail time. That same data shows that Lane County reported the highest number of marijuana enforcement actions in 2010 with 16.7% of all marijuana possession citations and arrests statewide. Jackson County was second with 13.2%, Multnomah County was third with 8.32%, and Marion County was fourth with 7.0% of the statewide total for marijuana possession citations and arrests.