ACLU of Oregon Blog

The First Amendment Rights of “Shock-Jock” Pete Santilli

The ACLU of Oregon stands in solidarity with the thousands of Oregonians, particularly in rural communities, who are peacefully protesting the unwanted militia occupation in Harney County. There are reports that some of these occupiers have been intimidating and threatening community members. These are not social change strategies we support. Likewise, it is not lost on us that what was framed as a protest about land rights has ignored the historic territory of the Burns Paiute Tribe and desecrated sacred cultural properties. 

Although it may be easy to form a negative opinion about the tactics used by the people involved in the occupation, it is much harder to assess the government’s response. We have been watching how one of the people arrested, Pete Santilli, has been treated in court and we have real concerns. 
It is in this context that the ACLU of Oregon is compelled to speak out, not because we endorse the messages of the speaker or condone the tactics of the protesters.

by Mat dos Santos, Legal Director, ACLU of Oregon

There is no doubt that when Pete Santilli gets in front of the camera he is politically polarizing and, to many, downright offensive. He challenges government authority through brazen, political statements. But does he pose a real threat? That’s the question asked of a federal judge last week: Should Pete Santilli remain in custody while awaiting his criminal trial for charges related to the Malheur Refuge takeover? While many people might disagree with statements made by those involved in the Malheur takeover, Americans have a fundamental right to freedom of speech. Law enforcement can and should differentiate between controversial statements and real threats. What’s at stake here could indeed be larger than a radio personality’s career, Malheur and Oregon.

Santilli, who hosts an internet radio show and YouTube channel with over 60,000 viewers, had dedicated his show to covering the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge as an embedded journalist. This coverage was the basis for his arrest warrant as well as a threadbare indictment on a charge of conspiracy to impede federal officers by use of force, intimidation and threats. If convicted of this federal felony, Santilli could face up to six years in prison.

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Portland Activist Secures First Amendment Win

by Kelly Simon, Legal Fellow

free speechYesterday, Portland activist Joe Walsh's fight for his First Amendment rights was vindicated. Last summer, Mr. Walsh was banned from attending future Portland City Council meetings for 60 days for disruptive behavior. He felt the exclusion violated his rights and took his case to federal court, representing himself pro se. Federal Judge Michael Simon agreed, finding the exclusion was unconstitutional under the First Amendment. 

Judge Simon also struck down the ordinance the City used to create the exclusion. That ordinance gave the the Mayor broad authority and discretion to exclude, potentially indefinitely, any person in violation of any provision of the Rules of Conduct for Portland Properties, including the rule prohibiting disruption. 

It was an exciting victory. However, Mr. Walsh's fight was not over yet. Earlier this month, the City Council debated whether to appeal the decision.

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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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Until the No Fly List Is Fixed, It Shouldn’t Be Used to Restrict People’s Freedoms

By Hina Shamsi, Director, ACLU National Security Project

The No Fly List is in the news this week, just in time for the ACLU’s argument in federal court on Wednesday in its five-year-long challenge to the list’s redress process.

Last night, in response to last week’s tragic attack in San Bernardino, California, President Obama urged Congress to ensure that people on the No Fly List be prohibited from purchasing guns. Last week, Republicans in Congress defeated a proposal that would have done just that. "I think it’s very important to remember people have due process rights in this country, and we can’t have some government official just arbitrarily put them on a list," House Speaker Paul Ryan said.

There is no constitutional bar to reasonable regulation of guns, and the No Fly List could serve as one tool for it, but only with major reform. As we will argue to a federal district court in Oregon this Wednesday, the standards for inclusion on the No Fly List are unconstitutionally vague, and innocent people are blacklisted without a fair process to correct government error. Our lawsuit seeks a meaningful opportunity for our clients to challenge their placement on the No Fly List because it is so error-prone and the consequences for their lives have been devastating.

Over the years since we filed our suit — and in response to it — the government has made some reforms, but they are not enough.

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Portland Public Schools Made the Right Decision When It Withdrew From Christmas Festival

The Grotto’s “Christmas Festival of Lights” was an inappropriate event for public school choirs

We commend the Portland Public Schools (PPS) decision to withdraw students from the “Christmas Festival of Lights.” It is a decision consistent with the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which mandates that the government neither promote nor inhibit a particular religion.

In the United States, we enjoy the freedom to practice any religion – or no religion at all. Our country's founders, who were of different religious backgrounds themselves, knew the best way to protect religious liberty was to keep the government out of religion. So they created the First Amendment - to guarantee the separation of church and state. Oregon’s state constitution requires this separation, as well.

A strong commitment to the separation of church and state is not anti-religion. In fact, it may be the best guarantee that each individual has the right to practice their own religion, without coercion, hostility or violence. In other words, keeping religion out of the hands of the government is the best way to ensure continued religious freedom and religious harmony.

The “Christmas Festival of Lights” is a celebration of Christianity in a Catholic shrine. It features religious music and imagery that is explicitly Christian, including a collection of nativity scenes and extensive fiber-optic displays focusing on the story of the birth of Christ. In addition, through a ten-dollar admission price, the event generates revenue for the Grotto, which is a religious institution.

Portland Public Schools, as a branch of Oregon’s government, must maintain a neutral position toward religion. When public school choir classes participate in events which endorse a particular religion, neutrality is lost. Because participation in the Christmas Festival of Lights would endorse Catholicism and Christianity, PPS properly decided to end its participation in the event.

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Indigenous Peoples’ Day Must Be More Than Symbolic

By Legal Director Mat dos Santos

Today I’m especially proud to live in Portland, which is celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day for the first time. On Wednesday, October 8, 2015, through a unanimous vote by the city council, Portland abandoned Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Portland joins a handful of U.S. cities to make this change. While symbolic, this is an important shift in policy away from erasing Native tradition to celebrating it.

Native Americans throughout the U.S. routinely find themselves faced with an impossible choice: celebrate Native traditions in Native spaces or let Native traditions die while participating in majority culture. This forced choice is a legacy of genocide and ongoing social depredation perpetuated against indigenous people.

Today, this cultural annihilation is continued through innocuous institutional rules and regulations that may seem harmless, but which have a disparate impact on Native people and traditions. These rules and regulations discriminate against Native people because the needs of Natives were not considered in the policy making process. An example of such a rule can be found in Oregon’s institutions of higher education; not a single one allows Native students to practice traditional smudging rituals in their living spaces.

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Why I Signed the Letter

Opposing Discrimination and Xenophobia

By Executive Director David Rogers

As presidential candidates spread fear-mongering rhetoric about immigrant communities, a local city councilor in Springfield, Oregon, recently opposed the appointment of a minister to a police advisory committee stating that the committee didn’t need “another minority element.” The minister is Pacific Islander.

We need a very different climate and discourse for addressing issues of race and cultural differences in our country and state. Oregon could be facing several ballot measures in 2016 steeped in anti-immigrant sentiment while offering policies that would harm all Oregonians.

The Asian and Pacific American Association of Oregon (APANO) just published an open letter to Oregonians to address recent hateful and discriminatory comments from political leaders nationally and here at home. It made perfect sense to have the ACLU of Oregon be among the original signers of this letter.

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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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Democracy, Prosecutors and Criminal Justice Reform

By Executive Director David Rogers

There are some serious problems we need to tackle in our criminal justice system, like dramatic prison growth and spending in the U.S. We are dumping billions of dollars into locking people up while ignoring the strategies best designed to create safe and healthy communities. Meanwhile, the racial disparity in sentencing and incarceration rates is one of the biggest drivers of inequality for communities of color in the country.

As Oregon’s legislative session just ended, I am pleased to see meaningful progress being made on criminal justice reform. The ACLU of Oregon was active in passing legislation to tackle racial profiling, reducing employment barriers for people with conviction histories, and helping to increase police accountability. This progress was the result of democracy in action: thousands of our members and allies reaching out to their legislators to advocate for smarter justice.

But there is an element of our democratic process that is seriously malnourished and it has a direct relationship to our ability shift criminal justice policies in the right direction. I’m talking about the election of District Attorneys.

Here in Oregon, our chief prosecutors in each county are elected by a vote of the people. Yet the public doesn’t normally engage District Attorneys as elected leaders who need to be held accountable to the values we hold about what a fair, unbiased, and smart criminal justice system looks like. This dynamic needs to change.

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Criminalization of Marijuana Comes to an End in Oregon

By Executive Director David Rogers

On July 1, 2015, the possession and use of marijuana by adults over 21 years of age becomes legal in Oregon. With the passage of Measure 91 last November, the voters of Oregon sent a clear message that it is time to end the criminalization of marijuana.

Oregon has been at the forefront of marijuana reform in America. In 1973, Oregon was the first state to decriminalize possession of less than an ounce of marijuana; was one of the first states to legalize medical marijuana in 1998 and will now become one of the first states to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana for adult use. And the ACLU of Oregon was influential in bringing about each of these reforms because the War on Marijuana has been a dismal and costly failure.

The aggressive enforcement of marijuana possession laws needlessly ensnares hundreds of thousands of people into the criminal justice system and wastes billions of taxpayers’ dollars nationwide. We are at a tipping point in regard to public recognition that the war on drugs is a failed strategy.

Today, we were pleased to join with Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, New Approach Oregon executive director Anthony Johnson, and parent advocate Leah Maurer, to discuss how Oregon is helping to lead the country in developing smarter and more just drug policies. And, legalization of marijuana in Oregon is, in fact, about justice.

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