NYCLU Takes Action in Wake of Severe Dysfunction and Discrimination in East Ramapo Schools

August 26, 2016 — The New York Civil Liberties Union filed an appeal with the State Education Department Thursday challenging the refusal of the widely discredited East Ramapo School Board to seat Sabrina Charles-Pierre for the full two-year term to which she was duly elected in May. According to the NYCLU’s legal papers, this is just the latest example of the board’s dysfunction and consistent disempowerment of the school district’s largely Black and Latino public school community that had actively supported her candidacy. A recent State Education Department investigation found that the East Ramapo School Board had unfairly prioritized the needs of Orthodox Jewish students who attend private and religious schools at the expense of Black and Latino students who attend the district’s public schools.

“Black and Latino children make up over 90 percent of public school students in East Ramapo, but the school board, dominated by the supporters of the Orthodox Jewish community, consistently shortchanges them in favor of white students who attend religious and other private schools,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “The board has now ignored the will of the voters and truncated the term of the only Black woman elected to the board who campaigned on a platform to represent the interests of the public school community. The dysfunction, disempowerment and discrimination in East Ramapo schools has to end.”

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Immigrant Student Enrolling Today in Mamaroneck High School following Commissioner’s Order

May 17, 2016 — The New York State Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia issued an interim order yesterday requiring the Mamaroneck Union Free School District to enroll a 16-year-old immigrant student in its high school. The student, C.M., had only completed a middle school education in Guatemala and did not have a high school diploma, yet was barred from Mamaroneck High School and forced to travel to New Rochelle to attend his old high school. As a result of yesterday’s order, C.M. is enrolling in Mamaroneck High School this morning.

“This order should send a strong message to school districts that they have a constitutional obligation to provide education to all students no matter where they’re from,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “We’re glad that a young high-schooler has been given back his chance to get an education at his public school and pursue the American dream like all other children.”

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NYCLU Sues Ramapo Police Department for Refusing to Disclose Critical Policies

May 11, 2016 — The New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the Ramapo Police Department today after it refused to comply with a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request seeking basic information about how the controversial department operates. The NYCLU sought policies and data on a variety of policing tactics, such as the use of force, stops and temporary detentions, surveillance technologies and the enforcement of non-criminal offenses. After 11 months, the department still refuses to provide unredacted versions of certain key policies around the use of force, traffic stops and officer accountability.

The NYCLU made the request as part of its Police Report Card Project, aimed at measuring and increasing the transparency and accountability of police departments statewide. In March, the NYCLU sued the Buffalo Police Department for failing to provide similar information sought for the project.

“The Ramapo Police Department is keeping the public in the dark by not providing basic information about how officers do their jobs,” said NYCLU Lower Hudson Valley Chapter Director Shannon Wong. “The department continues to face serious questions about racial profiling and how it conducts traffic stops and it can help quell those concerns by being transparent.”

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NYCLU Takes Action on Behalf of Immigrant Student Illegally Barred from School

May 4, 2016 — The New York Civil Liberties Union today filed an appeal on behalf of a 16-year-old student, asking the New York State Commissioner of Education to reverse Mamaroneck Union Free School District’s decision to bar the child from attending high school in the district. The decision violates the student’s right to an education under the New York State Constitution and could prevent him from obtaining the education to which he’s entitled.

“All children have the right to go to school so that they can get the education they need to become productive members of society,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “Instead of denying children their chance to get an education and pursue the American dream, we should be investing in their futures. Sadly, this is far from an isolated incident.”

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Court Rules Man was Unlawfully Arrested for Using Profanities while Protesting a Speeding Ticket

September 15, 2015 — The New York Civil Liberties Union today announced a legal victory on behalf of a man who was handcuffed and arrested in Liberty, New York for protesting a speeding ticket by writing “fuck your shitty town bitches” on his ticket payment form. Last Thursday, the federal court in White Plains ruled that a prosecutor’s order to arrest the man violated the First Amendment. It also ruled that the Village of Liberty must stand trial on claims that it had failed to adequately train its police officers about the First Amendment.

“Instead of protecting freedom of speech, government officers in Liberty handcuffed me, arrested me for a crime and almost sent me to jail because I harmlessly expressed my frustration with a speeding ticket,” said Willian Barboza, who was 21 at the time of his arrest. “The people I trusted to uphold the law violated my most basic rights. I hope that by standing up for myself, other Americans will not be treated like criminals for complaining about their government with a few harmless words.”

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Victory: Landmark State Policy Promises Transgender Students an Equal Education

July 20, 2015 — The New York State Education Department today released official guidance for school districts across the state, a major step toward ensuring that transgender and gender nonconforming youth can access their right to an education. The announcement is the result of years of advocacy by transgender advocates and supporters across the state, most recently a New York Civil Liberties Union report that documented the pervasive harassment faced by transgender students and prompted Governor Cuomo to demand the Education Department take immediate action to address the concerns.

“We applaud the State Education Department for providing guidance so every school in the state knows how to follow the law and protect the rights of transgender and gender nonconforming youth,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “Too many New York youth have faced relentless harassment and discrimination in the schools that should have nurtured them just for being who they are. We look forward to working with the state to ensure that transgender students have the same rights to an education that all kids are entitled to in New York.”

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Report Exposes Illegal Treatment of Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students in New York Public Schools

June 24, 2015 — The New York Civil Liberties Union today released a report revealing the serious and pervasive discrimination and harassment faced by transgender and gender nonconforming youth in New York public schools across the state. Despite New York’s reputation as a progressive leader, the state is failing to protect the right to an education of one of its most vulnerable student populations.

“In public schools across New York, transgender and gender nonconforming children as young as five face relentless harassment, threats and even violence for trying to access their right to an education,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “And instead of supporting kids, too many schools are magnifying the problem by imposing discriminatory and even illegal policies.”

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State Legislative Leaders Fail to Agree to Any Major Criminal Justice Reforms

June 24, 2015 — Despite countless protests, the deaths of Eric Garner, Kalief Browder and too many others, and growing distrust between communities and law enforcement agencies, New York State’s legislative leaders announced they have failed to agree to any major criminal justice reforms, inaction denounced by the New York Civil Liberties Union.

“Our leaders have turned their backs on the thousands of New Yorkers who took to the streets over the last year to demand justice and proof that black lives matter,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “By going on summer vacation without taking any meaningful steps toward criminal justice reform, they have failed New Yorkers and they have failed to promote basic justice and fairness.”

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Ulster Sheriff Agrees to Stop Running Stigmatizing Warrant Checks on People Seeking County’s Help

January 19, 2015 — The New York Civil Liberties Union has confirmed that the Ulster County Department of Social Services (DSS) and sheriff entered into an agreement to stop running warrant checks on every person who enters the DSS building to apply for help, ask a question, report a problem or accompany someone else seeking help. The NYCLU was one of the organizations advocating against the policy.

“People who need help like child care, food stamps and emergency assistance should be encouraged to seek help instead of being afraid of being criminalized,” said Daniel Berger, director of the NYCLU’s Lower Hudson Valley Chapter. “We are relieved that the county has acknowledged the danger of this misguided policy, which deterred Ulster’s neediest – including homeless people, domestic violence victims, and those with mental and physical disabilities -- from seeking help that the county is required to provide.”

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Victory: Park in Hasidic Enclave Kiryas Joel Will Not Segregate Based on Sex

March 31, 2014 — The New York Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union have settled a lawsuit against the Village of Kiryas Joel with the government agreeing it will not endorse segregation of the sexes in a public park.

The NYCLU and ACLU sued the village in December after press reports documented a public park where women and girls were confined to an area with red benches and playground equipment, with boys and men confined to a blue area. In settling this case the NYCLU has confirmed that the village has removed all signs suggesting the red and blue areas may only be used by females or males.

“Public parks cannot segregate on the basis of sex any more than they can for race or national origin,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “This agreement ensures that all park visitors have equal access to the entire park.”

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NYCLU, ACLU Sue Hasidic Enclave Kiryas Joel for Information on Sex-Segregated Park

December 11, 2013 — The New York Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union today filed a lawsuit challenging the village of Kiryas Joel’s refusal to disclose public records about a sex-segregated park.

The park is on 283 acres of unincorporated land and opened in the Satmar Hasidic enclave last year, according to press reports. Media photos show that women and girls are confined to areas of the park with red benches, slides and jungle gyms, while boys and men are confined to areas of the park with blue equipment. Separate walking paths re-enforce the sex-segregation. News reports indicate the park is supervised by the village’s religious leader, the Grand Rebbe, and its Committee on Modesty. Special funding was apparently provided by the village’s mayor.

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Chapter Honors Advocates For Social Justice at Annual Awards Ceremony

The Lower Hudson Valley Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union held its annual awards dinner on Tuesday, June 11, at the Riverview in Hastings-on-Hudson.

The Myron Isaacs Community Service Award was presented to three exceptional, longtime advocates for social justice in the Hudson Valley and beyond: attorneys Mayo Bartlett and Randolph McLaughlin, and environmental activist Manna Jo Greene.

Mr. Bartlett, the former chief of the Bias Crimes Unit of the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office, is a partner in the White Plains law firm of Young & Bartlett, where he specializes in criminal defense and civil rights litigation. A past chair of the Westchester County Human Rights Commission, Mr. Bartlett is a member of the legal team representing the family of Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr., a 68-year-old retired Marine who was shot dead by White Plains police inside his own home after he accidentally set off his medical alert pendant.

Also a member of the Chamberlain legal team, Randolph McLaughlin is currently of counsel to Newman Ferrara, LLP, and a professor at Pace University School of Law, where he teaches courses in civil rights, and voting and labor law. Professor McLaughlin has a rich history legal advocacy dating back to the late-1970s, when he began his career at the Center for Constitutional Rights, working alongside William Kunstler to defend the rights of individuals throughout the country. Over the past 25 years, Professor McLaughlin has focused his efforts in Westchester County, winning a number of landmark legal battles to advance the civil rights of community members.

Manna Jo Greene serves as environmental director for the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater and is founder of the Hudson Valley Sustainable Communities Network. A lifelong activist for the environment, peace and social justice in the Hudson Valley, Ms. Greene was a 2011 recipient of the EPA’s Environmental Quality Award and has been integral to the ongoing efforts to remove PCB contamination from the Hudson River. In February 2003, she traveled to Iraq as a delegate to the Hudson Valley Peace Brigade to advocate for a peaceful solution to the conflict.

The evening culminated in an insightful and inspiring keynote address from Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Dr. Muhammad, whose book The Condemnation of Blackness was awarded the 2011 John Hope Franklin Best Book prize in American studies, explored the enduring link between race and crime in our culture, and advocated powerfully for the importance of historical literacy to a healthy society.

NYCLU Victory in Class Action Lawsuit Protects Student Voting Rights in Presidential Election

November 5, 2012 — College students who registered to vote but had their applications denied by Republican Commissioner Erik Haight will be able to vote in tomorrow's presidential election, a federal district court judge ruled from the bench late Monday afternoon.

The decision by Judge Kenneth Karas is the result of a class action lawsuit filed Thursday by four college students against the Dutchess County Board of Elections to protect the fundamental right to vote.

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College Students Sue Dutchess County to Remove Barrier to Student Voting in Presidential Election

November 1, 2012 — Four college students have filed a federal class action lawsuit against the Dutchess County Board of Elections to protect the fundamental right to vote in next week's presidential election. The students -- who attend the Culinary Institute of America, Marist College and Bard College -- registered to vote and provided both street and mailing addresses, but had their applications denied by Republican Commissioner Erik Haight because they either did not provide the technical name of their dormitory buildings or their room numbers on their applications. Approximately 100 students were similarly denied the right to register for the same reason.

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NYCLU, Brennan Center Urge Dutchess County to Remove Barrier to Voter Registration for Local College Students

October 11, 2012 – The New York Civil Liberties Union and the Brennan Center for Justice today urged Dutchess County Board of Elections Commissioner Erik Haight to stop requiring Bard College and Culinary Institute of America students to identify the names of their dormitories on voter registration forms.

“This is a needless requirement that advances no conceivable interest,” NYCLU Legal Director Arthur Eisenberg said. “It imposes an unconstitutional burden on the fundamental right of college students to vote as residents of their college communities, where they are affected by the decisions of local officials and which they regard as their primary places of residence.”

The NYCLU received reports that Commissioner Haight is refusing to process the voter registration forms submitted by students of the two colleges who live in dormitories if the forms do not identify the specific names of the students’ dormitories.

In a letter sent today to Commissioner Haight, the NYCLU lays out federal case law establishing college students’ fundamental right to vote in their college communities. Any policy or practice that significantly burdens students’ voting rights can only be sustained if found necessary to advance a compelling interest. But there is no compelling interest in the requirement that students provide their dormitory’s name in addition to an address.

“Providing the street addresses of their dormitories sufficiently demonstrates that college students qualify as residents of their Dutchess County communities,” said Lee Rowland of the Brennan Center. “It would be ludicrous if the New York City Board of Elections disqualified the registration of voters who give the street addresses of their apartment buildings but don’t identify that they live in ‘the Dakota’ or ‘the San Remo.’ This situation is no different.”

NYCLU Calls on New Paltz to Drop Charges Against Occupy Protesters

July 17, 2012 — The New York Civil Liberties Union has called on the Village of New Paltz to drop trespassing charges against four Occupy New Paltz protesters who were arrested at Hasbrouck Park after the Village Board of Trustees and Mayor Jason West imposed a series of conflicting, unwritten and unconstitutional requirements on them.

Those requirements ultimately led to the protesters’ arrests after Mayor West purported to revoke permission that the board had given them to encamp in the public park 24 hours a day.

"Prosecuting these peaceful protesters shows a serious disregard for the right to free expression," said Daniel Berger, director of the NYCLU’s Lower Hudson Valley Chapter. "Village officials admirably accommodated free speech in the past, and we are hopeful they will once again show their commitment to the First Amendment by dismissing these charges and working out an agreement with the demonstrators that respects their constitutional rights.

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Civil Rights Lawsuit Seeks Justice for Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr.

A federal lawsuit filed July 2 seeks justice for Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr., a 68-year-old Marine Corps veteran who was fatally shot in his home in November 2011 by an officer of the White Plains Police Department.

Listen to the recording:

A portion of the recording of the fatal incident from Kenneth Chamberlain's Life Aid device. Officers can be heard to harass Chamberlain throughout, repeatedly banging on his door and using a racial slur at the 30 second mark of the clip.

Police arrived at Chamberlain’s door after the elderly man’s medical alert device was accidentally triggered. The medical device recorded audio from the racially-charged stand-off – during which an officer can be heard using the N-word against Chamberlain.

“The tragic killing of Mr. Chamberlain makes plain the pressing need for appropriate accountability and transparency for the White Plains Police Department and law enforcement agencies throughout Westchester County,” NYCLU Lower Hudson Valley Chapter Director Daniel E. Berger said.

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Meet Dan Berger, the New Lower Hudson Valley Chapter Director

Almost a month into the job, I am both humbled and honored to take part in such essential, exhilarating work at this critical time.

Historical threats to our fundamental freedoms remain, while emerging challenges demand a fresh approach from committed civil libertarians. Not a day passes that we do not learn of a new affront to the principles of liberty enshrined in our federal and state constitutions. Some of these threats, like voter suppression or police misconduct, we've confronted for decades, while others, like electronic surveillance and data mining, are recent manifestations of government overreach enabled by fast-moving innovations. And though new technologies bring with them novel challenges, they also represent unparalleled opportunities for outreach, organization, and the development of a more informed, active and free population.

As noted civil libertarian Mark Twain observed, "History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme." There will always be grave danger posed by the desire of the few with power to restrict the rights of the many without, as well as a base acquiescence in some to sacrifice basic liberty in the name of nominal security. And so there will always be a need for groups like the NYCLU to defend and expand our freedoms, and to educate the next generation of liberty's vital importance.

A graduate of Poughkeepsie's Vassar College with nearly 10 years of experience at the ACLU in a variety of roles, I look forward to learning more of our community and the challenges that lie ahead as we work toward a unified vision of greater freedom in the Lower Hudson Valley.

Our Chapter's Annual Dinner & Presentation of Myron Isaacs Community Service Award

Retiring NYCLU Lower Hudson Valley Chapter Director Linda S. Berns at the 2012 Annual Dinner and Myron Isaacs Community Service Award Presentation, June 12, 2012.
Retiring Chapter Director Linda S. Berns.

June 12 was a festive evening for freedom in the Lower Hudson Valley, as the Lower Hudson Valley Chapter of the NYCLU held its annual dinner at The Riverview in Hastings-on-Hudson.

The driving rain did nothing to dampen the spirits of the near 200 supporters gathered, in part, to celebrate the work of retiring Chapter Director Linda S. Berns, whose tireless efforts over the past 15 years have been synonymous with the organization’s work in the region.

The Myron Isaacs Community Service Award was presented to the vital community activists, Joanne Robinson-Boettcher and Roberta Robinson Frazier, twin sisters whose mother, May Morgan Robinson, was honored with the inaugural Isaacs Award more than 40 years ago.

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March 27 Public Forum on Voter Suppression Efforts

On Tuesday, March 27, the Lower Hudson Valley Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union held a public meeting featuring a community discussion, “Voter Suppression: Current Efforts to Deprive Citizens of Their Right to Vote.” The discussion included a introduction by Maria Valentin, newly elected chair of the board, and a presentation on Voter Suppression Laws by Tracy Givens-Hunter, Local Board Member, and Andrea Callan, NYCLU Statewide Advocacy Coordinator.

What is the history of the United States if not the history of democracy, and in turn, the history of the right to vote?

From the very inception of our nation and Constitution, the question of who would be granted this most important of rights was extremely controversial. Initially, the right to participate in our democracy was limited to white men with economic means. Over time, the franchise was extended to more white men. As movements for abolition and suffrage gained strength, the ballot was eventually extended to men of color and women. However, the legal granting of this right did not mean that these individuals could freely exercise this right.

As more people gained the right to vote, and thus, gained a voice in shaping national political and economic agendas, those who sought to keep power centered in the hands of a few designed laws to keep minorities and women from voting. Poll taxes, literacy requirements, and numerous other measures were implemented in the late 19th century and early 20th century to prevent those newly admitted to the voting booth from casting the ballot.

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Students Explore Bullying Issues at Annual Bill of Rights Day Event

Questions are raised on free speech rights at the NYCLU Lower Hudson Valley Chapter's 2011 Bill of Rights Day
Questions are raised on free speech rights.

Students from Nellie A. Thornton High School in Mount Vernon and Hendrick Hudson High School in Montrose attended the Lower Hudson Valley Chapter’s Annual Bill of Rights Day on Dec. 15 at St. Paul’s Church in Mt. Vernon.

This year, we celebrated the 220th anniversary of the adoption of the Bill of Rights. Following a welcome by Mount Vernon City Councilperson Roberta Apuzzo, student recited the text of the Bill of Rights.

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Chapter Announces Bill of Rights Essay Contest Winners

NYCLU Lower Hudson Valley Chapter Bill of Rights Essay Contest 2011 - First Prize winner Robert Liebowitz of Tuckahoe High School
First Prize winner Robert Liebowitz of Tuckahoe High School.

The Lower Hudson Valley Chapter received more than 70 essays for its Bill of Rights Essay Contest. This year’s topic was bullying in school. We presented students a scenario in which four students were repeatedly bullied for being “different.”

We asked students to explore how schools should address bullying. We also asked them to consider how the Dignity for All Students Act will empower students and educators to prevent bullying and harassment.

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13th Annual Schwarzschild Memorial Lecture

Lecture Addresses Police Reform

On Thursday, Oct. 27, the Lower Hudson Valley Chapter, along with the Connie Hogarth Center for Social Action and the Black Student Union, held the 13th Annual Henry Schwarzschild Memorial Lecture on police reform at Manhattanville College’s Reid Castle in Purchase.

This year’s speaker was Robert Gangi, the executive director of the Correctional Association (CA) for more than 29 years who recently founded the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP) at the Urban Justice Center. A recognized expert on criminal justice and law enforcement issues, he has fought throughout his career for the humane treatment of prisoners and the protection of their rights. Though his work focuses on New York City police, he spoke on the need for universal police reform. He recounted past instances where he witnessed and was sometimes subjected to abuse of power by the police. He also talked about how police target minorities and that most of those incarcerated are people of color.

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