When police arrest children

By Harold Jordan, Senior Policy Advocate, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Photo from Steven Lane of The Associated Press.

One of the issues that the ACLU has been working on diligently, for years, has been student and youth rights. This week, NBC News aired a series of reports on police in schools.

As a part of the reporting project, many local affiliates are running companion investigatory pieces. Here in Philadelphia, NBC 10 aired a two-segment series on school discipline beginning last night with “Policing Our Schools: Uneven Rates of Discipline in our Region.” It includes an interview with yours truly. The second segment is called “Changing the Narrative on School Discipline.”

The lead-off segment for the national report ran on Sunday, on NBC News with Lester Holt. A longer piece ran on the Today show. The stories feature an ACLU of Missouri client, a 7-year old kid who was handcuffed.

Here is a quick guide to some of the other reports that have aired so far.

  • From NBC News: “Kids in Cuffs: Why Handcuff a Student With a Disability”
  • From NBC Boston: “Off-the-Books Suspensions May Enable Some Schools to Skirt State Law.”
  • From NBC NYC: “Policing the Schools: Minority Students More Likely to Be Suspended or Arrested.”
  • From NBC Bay Area, a six-part series on police in schools: “Arrested at School”


(Criminal justice news that could use a second look.)

Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration enforcement ramps up 287(g), a program that allows local law enforcement to serve as federal immigration agents. Photo from The Atlantic.

  • From The Atlantic: “Donald Trump’s Plan to Outsource Immigration Enforcement to Local Cops”

“Thirty-eight law enforcement agencies are currently collaborating with ICE, according to the government’s latest figures. But a report released by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center in December found that the overwhelming majority of the 2,556 counties surveyed didn’t need formal programs: They were already offering assistance to ICE. An early example is the Milwaukee Sheriff’s Department, led by Trump surrogate David Clarke, which teamed up with ICE for a 2-day raid in Wisconsin that ended on the same day that the president signed his executive order enlisting help from local law enforcement. The sheriff’s department has not formally entered agreements to join the 287(g) program. Still, local law enforcement played an active role in arresting 16 undocumented immigrants, all of whom authorities said had previous criminal convictions ranging from assault to drug possession.”

“Even FBI Director James Comey recognized that a lack of data is driving police and citizens further apart. It seems like an issue that should have been addressed ages ago. In fact, it was. In 2000, Congress passed the Death in Custody Reporting Act (DCRA), which required police departments to track and report to the U.S. Attorney General the number of civilians who died in police custody or during arrest. Garnering bipartisan support, the law was heralded as a major step forward in the measurement and improvement of police use of force. The result? It took 15 years for the federal government to issue any kind of report on the DCRA’s data. When it did, it showed poor data coverage and quality. Fewer than half of ‘arrest related deaths’ were recorded, and there were major quality issues due to ‘lack of standardized modes for data collection, definitions, scope, participation, and the availability of resources.’”

  • From The Urban Institute: “How Do People in High-Crime, Low-Income Communities View the Police?”

“Residents of these high-crime, heavily disadvantaged communities witness and experience intensive police presence, high rates of incarceration and community supervision, and concentrated violence and question the intent, effectiveness, and equity of the criminal justice system. Indeed, police may carry out aggressive strategies that target quality-of-life infractions and drug-, gun-, and gang-related violence in ways that undermine public confidence. Perhaps not surprisingly, areas with high levels of mistrust tend to be those that are heavily policed, where police use tactics such as pretextual stops that damage their relationship with the people they are charged to protect. The results can be far-reaching: a distrust of the criminal justice system, an unwillingness to cooperate with the police, and a cynical view of the law that can perpetuate crime and victimization.”

THE APPEAL — The Appeal is a weekly newsletter helping to keep you informed about criminal justice news in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and beyond. If you’d like to receive this weekly newsletter, you can subscribe here.

JOIN— The ACLU of Pennsylvania’s mailing list to stay up to date with our work and events happening in your area.

DONATE — The ACLU is comprised of the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU Foundation. The ACLU Foundation is the arm of the ACLU that conducts our litigation and education efforts. Gifts to the ACLU Foundation are tax-deductible to the donor to the extent permissible by law. Learn more about supporting the work of the ACLU of Pennsylvania here.

Introducing Naiymah Sanchez

Naiymah Sanchez joined the ACLU-PA in January 2017 as the transgender advocacy coordinator. She is a proud female of transgender experience and previously worked as the coordinator of the Trans-Health information project for five years providing education and advocacy services for transgender individuals in Philadelphia. Naiymah has worked to help the Philadelphia prison system become more PREA (Prison Rape elimination act) compliant since 2015. Part of Naiymah’s initiative is to build coalitions to better serve transgender individuals and the injustice they face. The following is the transcript of an interview conducted by Julie Zaebst, director or the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project.

Julie Zaebst: Naiymah you joined the ACLU of Pennsylvania in a brand new position as our first Transgender Advocacy Coordinator. What are you going to be doing during your first couple of months on the job?

Naiymah Sanchez: For my first couple of months, I will be touring throughout Pennsylvania, hosting community discussions, also Know Your Rights workshops, and board trainings for ACLU chapters. I want to hear what the concerns are for my community members in different parts of the state and find out how the ACLU of Pennsylvania can work together with community members to make a difference.

JZ: You were the co-chair of Creating Change, the largest LGBTQ organizing conference in the country that took place in Philly a couple of weeks ago now. What are you taking away from that conference?

NS: This year Creating Change was different from the four previous Creating Change conferences that I have been a part of. I was able to attend the conference not as a conference goer but being on the organizing side or welcoming side. But one thing that I have taken away from the conference is the dire need of connecting as community. There were 4,100 people that was registered for the conference. I connected with many of the transgender community members, just letting them know that the ACLU of Pennsylvania has made a commitment to having transgender representation on staff in the state and also transgender or non-binary representation on their board.

JZ: Absolutely. What do you think are some of the biggest obstacles to transgender rights and justice right now?

NS: We’ve seen though discussion here in Philadelphia that criminal justice reform is a main issue and also non-discrimination when it comes to public accommodations, housing, and health insurance. We’re seeing that as a big issue. And that’s just from having a conversation with individuals here in Philadelphia. Ideally within these next couple of months having a conversation with transgender community members throughout the state, we can see if there are any intersections of issues, if the issues overlap or if are there other issues that we at the ACLU of Pennsylvania can tackle.

JZ: What, or who, inspires you to do this work?

NS: Being a transgender woman of color and being subjected to stigma is what brought me to this work. Who? Actually, I can’t pinpoint a single person. There’s many people who have had a great impact on me continuing to be an advocate or activist. Knowing about my ancestors like Marsha P. Johnson or Sylvia Rivera, also Miss Major as being one of my elders who is still alive. Jaci Adams here in Philadelphia or Charlene Arcila who had the movement here and was working towards equality here in Philadelphia. But being just a transgender woman of color, being stigmatized and also not wanting for the younger generation what I had to go through is really what keeps me going.

JZ: And what do you do when you’re not at your paid job or wearing your activist hat?

NS: My activist hat is always on. That is one thing about me. I need to learn to sometimes take my hat off, but there was a time when nobody was there for me and I don’t want it to be a time that no one is there for someone, you know? And if I could be of assistance to any issue or barrier or conflict or whatever, I’m going to try my best to be that person. But when I’m on my free time I just relax with my animals, my kitty and my dogs. So that’s what I do.

JZ: Great. Thank you. We’re so excited to have you on board here.

NS: And I’m excited to be here.

Replacing Medical Judgment with Political Will: PA Pushing Extreme Anti-Abortion Bill, Again

By Amanda Cappelletti, Larry Frankel Legislative Fellow, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Gov. Wolf announces his intention to veto SB3 at a press conference in Philadelphia (credit: Ben Bowens)

The legislative session has barely begun, and we’re already seeing some of the most extreme bills being introduced and pushed through. In that collective is Senate Bill 3, a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks and would ban a medically proven, safe method of abortion. This type of legislation puts women’s health at risk by preventing doctors from making decisions based on their professional medical judgment, in consultation with their patients.

In addition to replacing medical expertise with political will, this bill provides the narrowest of exceptions for abortions after 20 weeks: to prevent death of the mother and substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the mother. But with no definition of “major bodily function,” it is unclear when this exception applies. There are no exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape or incest. There are no exceptions for fetal anomalies. Every woman’s circumstance is different, and this bill takes away her ability to decide what is best for her.

Abortion bans punish women. Not only do they strip a woman of ability to make a personal medical decision, but they can force her to go through severe mental and physical trauma. A Texas woman was forced to wait for her fetus to die in utero and endure a stillbirth because of a similar law, something no one should have to experience.

Doctors are at risk of punishment, too. SB 3 bans a medically proven, safe method of abortion — anyone who performs that method is guilty of a third degree felony. Our lawmakers are criminalizing doctors for following their professional training and conscience. This is one of the many reasons why the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists opposes these types of restrictions.

Extreme legislation like SB 3 has been enacted, challenged, and temporarily blocked or not allowed to go into effect while litigation proceeds in four states because of the serious constitutional issues these types of laws raise. It would seem that Pennsylvania lawmakers would like to add us to the list of states being sued for extreme abortion bans.

While we may not agree about abortion, we can all agree that physicians and not politicians should be a part of the medical decision-making process. We cannot stand by while politicians push their agenda into our doctor’s offices, with no regard for the health and well-being of women. A woman’s health, not politics, should drive important medical decisions. Contact your legislators and remind them — they’re not medical experts and shouldn’t be meddling.

Senate Bill 3 passed the state Senate on February 8 and is now under consideration in the state House of Representatives. Call your state representative today to tell them to vote “NO” on SB 3. To find your state representative, use our “find your legislator” tool, enter your zip code, and look for your representative under “governor and state legislators.”

Seth Williams will not seek reelection as Philadelphia’s District Attorney, citing “regrettable mistakes” in personal life

By Matt Stroud, Criminal Justice Researcher/Writer, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Seth Williams is out.

Seth Williams will not run for reelection as Philadelphia’s District Attorney. Today, from a press conference report in The Inquirer, some remarkable statements: “‘I have made regrettable mistakes in my personal life and personal financial life that cast an unnecessary shadow’ over the work of the District Attorney’s Office, Williams said Friday. He said his decisions to accept gift and not report them brought ‘shame’ and ‘embarrassment’ to the office. ‘For this, I will always hold deep regret in my heart,’ Williams said. He has previously said that friends helped him during a rough financial period during and after his divorce, and has stressed that he took no official action in return for the gifts.”

R. Seth Williams was sworn in as Philly’s DA in January 2010, and was re-elected in 2014. Williams has been in hot water since at least August, when he admitted in financial disclosures that he’d taken $160,500 in undisclosed gifts — some of which came from defense attorneys in cases he was prosecuting. The gifts included $45,000 in home repairs, as well as sideline passes to Eagles games, vacation gifts, cash, and gift cards. The FBI probed the gifts, and continues to probe similar financial questions surrounding his nonprofit organization. Williams settled with the Ethics Board to pay a $62,000 fine, but the gifts have continued to plague him.

So has his record. While Philly media have understandably focused on Williams’ ethical violations in recent months, his term as DA has incited derision, particularly from those who expected Williams to bring progressive reforms to a DA’s office that has historically and notoriously been “tough on crime” — and even deadly.

After running on a platform of eliminating the death penalty in Philadelphia, for instance, Williams changed course and sued Governor Tom Wolf after the commonwealth’s chief executive initiated a death penalty moratorium. That’s just one example of Williams’ questionable actions. His office also offered a boilerplate re-sentencing option for men and women serving juvenile life without parole sentences that inspired a federal judge to lash out and accuse Williams of bringing “a lack of due diligence” to an important issue that affected hundreds of prisoners. Williams also refused, for three years, to drop the murder case of a man who had been exonerated by DNA evidence, and it took a jury to eventually set that man free. Williams has overseen headline-making and blatantly unfair civil forfeiturepractices; failed to take potential wrongful conviction cases seriously; and even failed to dismiss prosecutors wrapped up in the so-called “porngate” scandal.

Williams may, in the future, argue that his financial dealings brought about the end of his run as DA. But finances weren’t the only aspect of his tenure that was disconcerting. His judgement was, too.


This week, HB 27, passed out of the House Judiciary Committee. This bill prohibits public agencies from identifying a police officer who has discharged his firearm or used force for 30 days after the incident. It also threatens criminal charges for any official who violates this gag order. There was no press about the bill this week, and ACLU-PA did not issue a public statement. But we did issue a memo to the House Judiciary Committee. It reads, in part: “Unfortunately, the supporters of HB 27 fail to recognize or to respect the very real concerns raised by communities concerned about unfairness in policing. Our police officers are public employees with a great deal of power, including the power to use force. This power must be coupled with the responsibility to be transparent and accountable to the public.”

Read the entire memo here.

And one more thing before we get to this week’s links…

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held yesterday that those whose death sentences are overturned can no longer be held in solitary. The case was argued by Harrisburg and Pittsburgh-based attorneys, involves Pa. Department of Corrections practices, and involves two Pennsylvania plaintiffs who “had their death sentences vacated but were nevertheless detained in solitary confinement.”

Read the opinion here.


(Criminal justice news that could use a second look.)

Some municipalities view Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed $25 per capita fee to use state police as a bargain compared to the cost of establishing a local department. Photo from The Morning Call.
  • From The Morning Call: “To some municipalities, Wolf’s proposed state police fee sounds like a bargain”

“The governor’s fee for the township’s 31,432 residents would equate to $785,800. That’s still far below the $4 million to $5 million experts estimated in 2012 would be needed to start and maintain a police department. Neighboring Upper Macungie Township’s relatively new police force took up $4.2 million of its overall budget in 2016.” And related, from The Tribune-Review in September: “Money from increased fees and gas taxes that drivers have been paying since 2013 on the promise to fix Pennsylvania’s crumbling roads and bridges is increasingly being diverted to support the state police, budget figures show. Many government officials, legislators and construction industry members said the practice needs to stop, especially as the nation’s highest gas tax — ushered in by the 2013 transportation funding overhaul known as Act 89 — generates billions in new revenue for roads.”

  • From ACLU-PA: “State Senate Bill Will Force Counties to Violate the Constitution”

“This legislation creates a no-win situation for counties and cities that want to welcome immigrants and that know they have obligations under the constitution,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “If this bill becomes law, people will be held in jail when they should not be held. We are prepared to challenge illegal detentions when they occur.”

  • From ACLU National: “Flying Home From Abroad, a Border Agent Stopped and Questioned Me … About My Work for the ACLU”

“It didn’t happen during the Bush years when I traveled to meet with and represent Afghan and Iraqi survivors of U.S. military torture, to Guantanamo as an observer at the military commissions there, or to attend meetings and give talks abroad about U.S. human rights abuses in the national security context. It didn’t happen during the Obama years when my work included challenges to unlawful targeted killing, anti-Muslim discrimination, unfair watchlisting, illegal spying, and other U.S. government abuses at home and abroad. Over all those years, government officials made their views known about this work — often in opposition, sometimes in support. But no government agent ever asked the chilling question I was asked this time: Do you understand why someone might have a different perspective about you?”

“The Government indeed asserts that it violates separation of powers for the judiciary to entertain a constitutional challenge to executive actions such as this one. There is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.”

THE APPEAL — The Appeal is a weekly newsletter helping to keep you informed about criminal justice news in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and beyond. If you’d like to receive this weekly newsletter, you can subscribe here.

JOIN— The ACLU of Pennsylvania’s mailing list to stay up to date with our work and events happening in your area.

DONATE — The ACLU is comprised of the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU Foundation. The ACLU Foundation is the arm of the ACLU that conducts our litigation and education efforts. Gifts to the ACLU Foundation are tax-deductible to the donor to the extent permissible by law. Learn more about supporting the work of the ACLU of Pennsylvania here.

Donald Trump hasn’t f***ed up our plans at all. We’re pushing forward.

By Matt Stroud, Criminal Justice Researcher/Writer, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Lewis Black is a longtime ACLU supporter.

In late summer 2001, when Lewis Black was in the final stages of preparing to release a live, topical comedy album, the September 11 terror attacks occurred. The album was shelved; none of his jokes had the same relevance as they did before the attacks. The comedian later admitted to having a complicated reaction to this: “You know it’s a national tragedy,” he said. “It is a national tragedy. We all know it’s a national tragedy. You know that. But. Everybody in this country, as soon as it happened — everyone — had that little moment where they went, ‘Oh. Well. That really fucks up my plans.’”

“Everyone” is an exaggeration, of course. But Black was tapping into a revealing emotion there: The idea that we can sometimes dwell on our own small difficulties even as we wade in a sea of other people’s much larger tragedies. Was Black’s problem a big deal? Not really: He had to re-record his album with different material. His problem paled in comparison to the suffering that countless people experienced. But still: To him, in his little world, it was a burden. He was sidetracked.

You’d think that ACLU-PA would be empathizing with Black right about now.

When President Donald J. Trump issued his executive order on immigration, ACLU chapters nationwide had to pull some of their best people — such as Mary Catherine Roper and Molly Tack-Hooper here in Pennsylvania, and many other lawyers and advocates nationwide — away from important work, so that they could confront the civil- rights-threatening commandment that Trump handed down. We suspect similar situations are going to become commonplace for the next four years, if not longer. As a result, you would think that there are very important issues — such as criminal justice reform, the protection of student rights, and issues relating to racial justice — that the ACLU won’t have the time or resources to focus attention on. You would think that it fucks up our plans.

But the truth is that we’ve been preparing for the Trump Administration since months before he was elected. And there’s plenty of room for positivity. Protests in the streets and much-appreciated donations to groups like the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Planned Parenthood, the National Immigration Law Center, and many others, have shown that support for civil rights is strong despite the actions of the president. While we will fight on the front lines of whatever civil rights battles the Trump administration decides to fight, other important issues will continue to receive attention.

  • ACLU-PA will continue working toward reducing the commonwealth’s prison population.
  • It will continue advocating for students and the LGBT community and free speech.
  • It will continue to push against civil asset forfeiture and opaque government and limits to voting rights.
  • In fact, ACLU-PA is hiring. Stay tuned for new job openings related to criminal justice and other issues on our website.
  • We’re growing. So is the movement to protect civil liberties. And just as Black re-recorded his hilarious album and released it successfully in 2002, we are continuing to do the important work that our mission has always guided us to do.

Donald Trump hasn’t fucked up our plans at all. We’re pushing forward.


(Criminal justice news that could use a second look.)

Protesters gathered at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday against President Trump’s executive order enacting a refugee ban. Photo from ACLU.
  • From ACLU National: “Here Is Some of the Human Misery Caused by President Trump’s Muslim Ban From Those Most Impacted.”

“We have all documents. We are real refugees. I was waiting for five years. I have endured much but I was always optimistic that I will have a brighter future once I am resettled in the U.S. But unfortunately we were told… that the US President does not allow refugees into his country. I am shocked. I used to hear America always protects vulnerable people and cares about human rights. But I do not think that is true now as this happened to us.”

  • From The Intercept: “The FBI Has Quietly Investigated White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement”

“Pete Simi, a sociologist at Chapman University who spent decades studying the proliferation of white supremacists in the U.S. military, agreed. ‘The report underscores the problem of even discussing this issue. It underscores how difficult this issue is to get any traction on, because a lot of people don’t want to discuss this, let alone actually do something about it.’ Simi said that the extremist strategy to infiltrate the military and law enforcement has existed ‘for decades.’ In a study he conducted of individuals indicted for far-right terrorism-related activities, he found that at least 31 percent had military experience.”

Read The Intercept’s FBI series here.

  • From The Sentencing Project: “Delaying a second chance: “The declining prospects for parole on life sentences”

“Despite this body of criminological evidence, the number of people serving life sentences has more than quadrupled since 1984 — a faster rate of growth than the overall prison population. Even between 2008 and 2012, as crime rates fell to historic lows and the total prison population contracted, the number of people serving life sentences grew by 12%. By 2012, one in nine people in U.S. state and federal prisons — nearly 160,000 people — were there under life sentences. Two factors have driven this growth: the increased imposition of life sentences, particularly those that are parole ineligible, and an increased reluctance to grant parole to the 110,000 lifers who are eligible.”

THE APPEAL — The Appeal is a weekly newsletter helping to keep you informed about criminal justice news in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and beyond. If you’d like to receive this weekly newsletter, you can subscribe here.

JOIN— The ACLU of Pennsylvania’s mailing list to stay up to date with our work and events happening in your area.

DONATE — The ACLU is comprised of the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU Foundation. The ACLU Foundation is the arm of the ACLU that conducts our litigation and education efforts. Gifts to the ACLU Foundation are tax-deductible to the donor to the extent permissible by law. Learn more about supporting the work of the ACLU of Pennsylvania here.