2017 was a year of persistence, and in 2018, everyone who cares about civil rights and civil liberties will need to draw on that resilience again. Because of the many, many people who stepped up to defend civil rights and liberties in 2017, Connecticut still took steps toward justice during a year that frightened, threatened, and hurt many of us. But our state also has a lot of work left to do before we live up to the Constitution’s promise of equality, liberty, and justice for all.
Here are just some of the areas where the ACLU of Connecticut will be fighting for freedom, equality, and justice in 2018:
Reproductive freedom. Every woman should be able to make her own decisions about whether and when to become a parent without facing obstacles from the government or discrimination from her boss. Yet in 2017, the Town of Cromwell denied Sarah Alicea, a pregnant police officer, the chance to keep working and forced her to immediately take unpaid leave. Forcing a pregnant worker to take immediate unpaid leave is not just unfair—it’s also illegal. In 2018, we’ll keep fighting for justice for Sarah in Alicea v Cromwell, a federal discrimination case before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Privacy on toll roads. This year, the Connecticut legislature may consider adding tolls to Connecticut roadways. If tolls come to Connecticut highways, we'll be ready to make sure that toll road license plate scanners don't become lawless tools to track millions of drivers without cause.
Privacy and protesters’ rights in Hartford. At the end of 2017, the Hartford City Council voted to approve funding for a grant that would allow the Hartford Police Department to purchase two drones, expand its surveillance camera network, and buy software that relies on flawed information to “predict” where crimes might happen. Separately, each of these tools could undermine people’s rights to privacy and chill free speech. Together, they could be a nightmare for civil liberties. In 2018, we’re ready to remind the City Council to keep these tools in line with the Constitution.
Police uses of force. Pop quiz: How many times did police in Connecticut fire their guns in 2017? Answer: Unclear. How many times did police in Connecticut use force to seriously injure people in 2017? Answer: No one knows for sure. While Connecticut law requires police departments to keep track of all uses of force internally, it doesn’t mandate police share that information with the state. In 2018, we’ll push the legislature to require police departments to send all use of force reports to the state.
Police militarization. On August 28, 2017, President Trump issued an executive order that allows local police departments to acquire military-grade tactical equipment and surveillance technology without any public knowledge or input. Since 2009, state and local police in Connecticut have acquired $12.9 million worth of military equipment, including military vehicles, remotely controlled vehicles, automatic weapons, and even a grenade launcher and Army helicopter, through the U.S. Department of Defense—and they have done so with almost no public oversight. We'll advocate for requiring police departments to: 1) hold public hearings when they want to procure military equipment; 2) get approval from their town council, select board, or board of aldermen before applying for military equipment; and 3) annually send an inventory of all military equipment that they acquire through federal programs to the state, which will post this information online each year.
Criminal justice reform. Connecticut has taken incredible strides toward justice reform, but our state still has a long way to go, particularly when it comes to making sure that justice doesn't depend on the color of someone's skin. Connecticut is second worst in the country when it comes to imprisoning Black men in solitary confinement, and our state detains Black youth ten times more than white youth. With focus and commitment, we can eliminate racial disparities in the justice system, protect the rights of people who are accused of crimes or imprisoned, and end the injustice of mass incarceration. In 2018, we’ll be laying the groundwork for more comprehensive bail and juvenile justice reforms, a complete end to solitary confinement, and lasting progress.
Police accountability. Since our founding in 1948, the ACLU of Connecticut has been working to end police brutality, create police accountability, and ensure justice and equality under the law. Each step of the way, however, police have created loopholes in the checks and balances we expect in our democracy. In 2017, that lack of accountability stood in stark relief when: Bridgeport police officer James Boulay shot and killed 15-year-old Jayson Negron; five police officers opened fire on a car full of teenagers and killed Zoe Dowdell; the City of Hartford allowed a police officer who had brutalized people on the job to retire with a golden parachute; police departments played games with providing basic, legally-required information about traffic stops to the state; police tased and threatened to tase Black and Latino men and boys and people in mental health crises more than they had the year before; prosecutors ignored the video evidence and facts to decline to seek justice for Jose Maldonado; the Town of Enfield tried to keep information about police misconduct lawsuits secret; and the Town of Cromwell decided that federal anti-discrimination laws didn’t apply to the police department. It will take time, but we are here for the long haul to create a more democratic Connecticut where people can have faith that police answer to the Constitution, not their own self-imposed and self-enforced rules. In 2018, we’ll be keeping up that work toward creating true police accountability.
Protesters’ rights & the right to film the police. Michael Picard was protesting near a police DUI checkpoint in West Hartford when a state police trooper approached him. The trooper wrongfully claimed that filming the police is illegal and took Picard's camera; he then accidentally proceeded to film himself and his colleagues discussing a previous protest that Picard had organized and conspiring to fabricate charges against Picard. We sued to stand up for Picard's Fourth and First Amendment rights to property, protest, and record information, and Picard v Torneo is moving forward in the courts.
Disability rights. The state shouldn't take children away from their families based on discriminatory stereotypes about people living with mental illness. Yet that’s what happened to Joey Watley and Karin Hasemann. In Watley v Katz, we’re defending the rights of parents with disabilities by arguing that when the state claims that people are unfit to be parents because of their alleged mental illness, the state Department of Children and Families also must accommodate that perceived mental illness when providing services to those parents.
Women’s access to equal education. In Biediger v Quinnipiac University, several court decisions found that Quinnipiac University was violating Title IX, a law that requires schools to provide equal educational opportunities to all students regardless of sex, by providing inferior athletic opportunities to women athletes. As part of the resolution to this case, the school had to take certain steps toward creating a level playing field for women, such as increasing the number of scholarships for women athletes. The ACLU of Connecticut won this case in 2012, but Quinnipiac has outstanding requirements to fulfill before federal oversight is set to expire in 2018.
If 2017 taught us anything, it’s that civil liberties supporters are here for the long run. The threats facing liberty, justice, and equality aren’t going away—but neither are we.