Annual Meeting and Board Elections

Join us for a Potluck Brunch on Sunday, Oct 26, 2014 at noon, at Artrage Gallery in Syracuse. We provide bagels, coffee and tea.

Program: School to Prisons Pipeline -- Effects of Race, Ethnicity, Language and Disability.

A panel of speakers will discuss how issues of race, ethnicity, primary language and disability affect patterns of school suspensions that can push kids from our schools into the streets.

We will also have our brief annual meeting with election of new board members. The new board member nominees are:

• Kim Morrell - Syracuse
• Chrissy Rizzo - Syracuse
• Shawna Davis - Syracuse
• Tamara Taylor - Syracuse
• Kirsten Parsons - Oswego

With Preety Tripathi as board member alternate for Kirsten Parsons.

To RSVP or for more info call 315-471-2821 or email bgewanter@nyclu.org.

Sunday, Oct 26, 2014 at noon
Artrage Gallery
505 Hawley Ave, near Lodi Street
Syracuse

 

Chapter Given Community Service Award by NY State African Studies Association

NYCLU Central Chapter Director Barrie Gewanter,  Co-Chairs Talina Jones and Polly Ginsberg, and Dr. Thomas Nyquist.
NYCLU Central Chapter Director Barrie Gewanter, Co-Chairs Talina Jones and Polly Ginsberg, and Dr. Thomas Nyquist.

On Saturday, April 5, the Central New York Chapter of the NYCLU received the New York African Studies Association’s Nyquist Community Service Award. Chapter Co-Chairs Polly Ginsberg and Talina Jones joined Chapter Director Barrie Gewanter in accepting the award.

The New York African Studies Association (NYASA), founded in 1967 as the SUNY African Studies Faculty Association, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to advancing the discipline of Africana Studies. NYASA promotes the visibility and advancement of the discipline in New York State and surrounding areas, and offers opportunities for the scholarly and professional development of educators, and enhanced education for community members, leaders and activists.
 

NYCLU Expands Lawsuit Challenging Taser Abuse in Syracuse Schools

Trevon Hanks was shot by a Taser three times on his 18th birthday.
Trevon Hanks was shot by a Taser three times on his 18th birthday.

March 19, 2014 — The New York Civil Liberties Union today expanded its lawsuit challenging abuse of Tasers by the Syracuse Police Department in Syracuse City schools. The new plaintiff was a 12th grader when he was shot with a Taser three times while lying on the floor and crying because he was afraid he might not graduate with the rest of his class.

“Schools are supposed to be safe and supportive learning environments,” said NYCLU Central New York Chapter Director Barrie Gewanter. “Yet in Syracuse, officers trained for the streets are using dangerous weapons on children with impunity. These abusive police street tactics have no place in our schools.”

The lawsuit, originally filed in 2010 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, maintains that the repeated abuse of Tasers in Syracuse schools is the inevitable result of the city’s failure to train police officers about the difference between patrolling criminals on the streets and children in schools. It charges the city and two police officers with excessive force and violating two plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.

Click here to read more.
 

New York to Weigh Constitutional Obligations to Indigent Defendants: Class-Action Lawsuit to Proceed to Trial

December 17, 2013 — A State Supreme Court in Albany has ruled that a class-action lawsuit challenging New York State’s failure to provide effective counsel to poor New Yorkers accused of crimes will proceed to trial. The trial, expected to start this spring, will be the first of its kind in the nation. The lawsuit was filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union and the law firm of Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP.

Testimony so far presented in the case shows that “on a consistent basis, indigent criminal defendants are being arraigned without being afforded their right to counsel," wrote Justice Eugene Devine.

The decision came late Monday and was in response to requests both by the NYCLU and New York State to resolve some or all of the case without trial.

The lawsuit, Hurrell-Harring, et al., v. State of New York, was filed in 2007 on behalf of 20 defendants in Onondaga, Ontario, Schuyler and Washington counties. It charges New York with persistently failing its constitutional obligations to provide effective counsel to indigent New Yorkers charged in criminal court. The upcoming trial will be the first to take on an entire state’s system of indigent defense.

“There are substantial issues of fact to be resolved at trial," Devine wrote in his decision. "The Court has observed that the reputation of the public defense system in this State has deteriorated. This case shall determine whether there are systemic deficiencies in the existing public defense system or not.”

NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman called the decision "a tentative step toward justice."

“We are confident that the constitutional rights of New Yorkers will prevail at trial,” Lieberman said.

Click here to read more.
 

Central New York Chapter Fights Syracuse Law on ‘Disorderly Houses’

On Monday, Oct. 28, NYCLU Central New York Chapter Director Barrie Gewanter addressed members of the Syracuse City Council in response to a proposal to expand a local law on “disorderly houses.” This somewhat archaic term appears in the local Syracuse laws in reference to “houses of ill repute,” or brothels.

However, the proposal as written is vague and too open to subjective interpretations by police and other city officials, and too subject to abuse and misuse by disgruntled neighbors of various sorts.

Drafted by Councilor Khalid Bey, the proposal would give the police the power to declare a residential property “disorderly” in order to give the police more leverage to address neighborhood concerns about criminal activities (gambling, drug dealing, assaults) or quality of life issues (excessive traffic, loud music) that occur at the property.

Syracuse’s current nuisance abatement law requires that there be three arrests at a property before city officials can take civil action against a property owner. Bey’s proposal would create an entirely new scheme in which the police chief could require a property owner to address problems after only one arrest occurred at the property as long as there were also repeated 911 calls and repeated complaints about the property.

However, as Gewanter’s statement indicates, the ordinance does not specify what kind of complaints or calls to 911 would count towards the designation of a house as “disruptive.”

Attorney Sam Young, director of advocacy for Legal Services, joined Gewanter in objecting to the language of the law, and pointed especially to concerns about due process and the consequences that may occur for tenants of such a property, especially those who had no role in creating any disruption.

Young and Gewanter will soon meet with Bey and a city attorney about revisions to this proposed new ordinance.
 

Workshop On Law Enforcement And Civil Rights

The Oneonta Branch of the NAACP and SUNY Oneonta’s Department of Africana and Latino Studies will be sponsoring a “KNOW YOUR RIGHTS” interactive workshop led by Barrie Gewanter, Director of the Syracuse office of the NYCLU. The workshop will be held on campus, Wednesday, October 23, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the Center for Multicultural Experiences, in Lee Hall, SUNY Oneonta campus. It will be open to the campus community and to the public-at-large.

The idea for the workshop grew out of students’ questions regarding their encounters with law enforcement. The intent of the workshop will be is to make students more knowledgeable about their civil rights and to give them a forum in which to voice their concerns. They will also have the opportunity to take away informative material for their referral.

Other sponsors of the event will be: UUP Oneonta, and the Center for Multicultural Experiences, with support from ALS, PASO, CSO, and SGE student groups. In addition to students and Barrie Gewanter, other participants in the “Know Your Rights” workshop will be: Oneonta Attorney Carol Malz, Robert Compton, chair of SUNY Oneonta’s Africana and Latino Studies Department and Lee Fisher, President of the Oneonta NAACP.

Barrie Gewanter is the Director of the CNY Chapter of the New York Liberties Union. She has played key roles in the implementation of same-sex domestic partner benefits at Syracuse University; the drafting of the Syracuse Living Wage Law; the passage of laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. As co-founder of the Central NY Bill of Rights Defense Campaign, Gewanter has helped secure the passage of a Bill of Rights Preservation Resolution in the Syracuse Common Council. Gewanter is a leader of the United as One Coalition, a gross-cultural grassroots coalition formed in 2010 to seek accountability and transparency from police and jail officials in Syracuse and Onondaga County. She a member of the Legislative Advisory Committee that drafted legislation for the Syracuse Citizen Review Board.

Gewanter’s work on the Living Wage Campaign earned her an award from the Human Rights Commission of Syracuse. She earned a Peacemaker Award from the Peace Action of Central New York for “making peace by advocating for civil liberties.” Barrie Gewanter was also honored with a Community Service Award from the Syracuse/Onondaga County Branch of NAACP.

Attorney-at-Law Carol Malz has practiced law in the states of New York, Pennsylvania, and Louisiana. She obtained her J.D. from Loyola University School of Law and is a graduate of the New School for Social Research. Ms. Malz is a member of the Otsego and Broome County Bar Associations, and has been Treasurer of the Mid-York Chapter of the New York State Women’s Bar Association. She is the recipient of the New York State Bar Association President’s Pro Bono Service Award, the Oneonta NAACP’s Thurgood Marshall Unity Award, the NAACP’s Award for Community Service, and the American Jurisprudence Award. Malz is a former president of the Otsego County Conservation Association, and a former member of the Community Awareness Taskforce of Delaware & Otsego Counties, helping organize forums on civil rights, anti-bullying, municipal power, and housing. She is presently a member of Social Action Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Oneonta.
 

CNY Chapter Board President Diane Berry, Chapter Director Barrie Gewanter, and Chapter Organizer Lise Brown at the Women’s Rights National Historic Site in Seneca Falls.

The three were there to hear Gov. Cuomo talk about the importance of the Women’s Equality Agenda for NY State.

There are only 2 weeks til the end of the legislative session. NYCLU staff and members around the state are pushing for passage of this important legislation. For more info go to the 2013 Women's Equality Act page on this site.
 

Victory! Syracuse Transgender Rights Protections Signed into Law

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner signed a local law on Dec. 11 that extends civil rights protections to transgender and gender non-conforming people.Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner signed a local law on Dec. 11 that extends civil rights protections to transgender and gender non-conforming people.

The signing ceremony was the culmination of a successful year-and-a-half advocacy campaign spearheaded by the NYCLU’s Central New York Chapter. The Common Council passed the law in November by a 7-1 vote.

The new law protects transgender and gender non-conforming residents and visitors from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations, such as restaurants, hotels and stores.

This victory adds momentum to efforts to pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) – statewide legislation protecting the rights of transgender people.

 

Syracuse Common Council to Vote on Civil Rights Protections for Transgender Residents

The City of Syracuse is on the brink of a major civil rights victory. On Monday, Nov. 19, the Common Council is set to vote on legislation (PDF) to protect transgender and gender-nonconforming people from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations (like restaurants, hotels and stores).

You can help us achieve this landmark victory. Urge the members of the Common Council to join with Councilor Jean Kessner to pass this important civil rights legislation.

The Syracuse Fair Practices Law, which took effect in 1990, was among the first laws in the state that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation, but it does not include gender identity and expression as protected categories.

Right now, Syracuse is the only major city in New York that does not have a local law protecting transgender and gender non-conforming residents from discrimination.

Our local legislators need to hear from you: Tell the Common Council that it's time for Syracuse to join Buffalo, Rochester, Albany, Binghamton and New York City in protecting all residents from discrimination.

Monday's City Council meeting starts with a study session at noon in the Common Council Chambers on the 3rd Floor of City Hall (233 Washington Street). The vote is expected a 1 p.m. Please come and help us pack the chamber with supporters of this crucial legislation.

Here's another reason to act: Currently, no statewide law explicitly prohibits discrimination against transgender and gender non-conforming people. A victory in Syracuse will build momentum for the Gender Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) - a bill before the State Legislature that will amend state anti-discrimination law to cover gender identity and expression.
 

Central New York Chapter Annual Awards Dinner

The Central New York Chapter of the NYCLU held its Annual Awards Dinner on Thursday Sept. 27 at Justin’s Grill Banquet Hall in Syracuse.

The chapter presented its Kharas Civil Liberties Award to Betty DeFazio for her advocacy for women’s reproductive rights, and its Seidenberg Legal Advocacy Award to Ron Van Norstrand for his legal advocacy of equality in housing, the rights of people with disabilities and injured workers, and the right to dissent.

These two honorees are true champions who have stood firm and fought back to protect civil rights and civil liberties. Read profiles of our honorees in the chapter newsletter.
 

Chapter Defends Right to protest in Dewitt

The NYCLU’s Central New York Chapter is seeking clarification from the Town of Dewitt on a section of the town code requiring permits for marches, parades, assemblies along the town’s roads when "large concentrations of people are involved."

On April 22, the Onondaga County Sheriff cited the town law when his deputies shut down a protest march of about a hundred people near the entrance to Hancock Field Air Base. The protesters were demonstrating against the military’s use of unmanned drone aircraft. Pilots of the military drones are trained at the base. Sheriff’s deputies arrested more than 30 people. Chapter Director Barrie Gewanter was present as a legal observer.

Later in May, deputies arrested two demonstrators who were standing peacefully along the road in front of the base holding signs in protest of the drones. The two demonstrators were part of a small group of local activists who have protested in this manner twice a month for two years without any requirement for a permit. In both cases, the Sheriff's Department justified the arrests on allegations that the protesters had violated Dewitt’s permit law for parades, marches and assemblies.

In June, Gewanter arranged a meeting with Dewitt’s police chief and representatives of the protestors to discuss the town’s interpretation of law.

On June 25, Gewanter addressed the Dewitt Town Board, explaining that the law’s language is too vague and subject to interpretation without clarification. The Town Board has agreed to either modify the language of the law to clarify its intended application or to post written objective criteria on the town and police department websites.
 

Chapter Organizes Protest Vigil to Demand Justice at Onondaga County Jail

NYCLU Central New York Chapter organizes protest vigil to demand justice at Onondaga County jail, May 12, 2012

On May 12, the Central New York Chapter joined our partners in the United as One Coalition at a protest vigil in front of the Onondaga County Justice Center in Syracuse to remember the suffering of Raul Pinet, Jr. and demand greater oversight and accountability at the Onondaga Justice Center – where Pinet died in August 2010 after being forcibly restrained and left lying face down in a rubber-lined cell.

The vigil was in response to a New York State Commission of Correction report that blamed sheriff’s deputies for Pinet’s death. The report concluded that Pinet died of positional asphyxia after sheriff’s deputies improperly restrained him.

Pinet’s death recalls the death of Johnny “Hud” Williams, who died about 15 years ago at the jail from positional asphyxia after jail deputies improperly restrained him. About 15 years ago, Lucinda Batts died at the jail of a ruptured ectopic pregnancy while deputies and medical staff dismissed her agony as faking. In November 2009, Chuniece Patterson died at the jail of a ruptured ectopic pregnancy after jail staff refused to provide her medical treatment.

Chapter Director Barrie Gewanter addressed the crowd of more than 50 people, calling on local officials to take responsibility for preventing similar tragedies at the jail.

Click here to read more.
 

Onondaga County Legislature Must Prevent Jail Deaths

On April 24, the New York State Commission of Correction released its report (PDF) on the Aug. 6, 2010 death of Raul Pinet, Jr. at the Onondaga County Justice Center. Following an investigation that lasted 20 months, the commission ruled the death a homicide and faulted sheriff’s deputies for improperly restraining Pinet, causing his suffocation.

On May 1, 2012, Barrie Gewanter, director of the NYCLU’s Central New York Chapter, made the following statement to the Onodaga County Legislature on the commission’s report and conditions at the county jail:

      "The Onondaga County Sheriff is repeating fatal failures in the jail.

      "Fifteen years ago Lucinda Batts died in the jail of a burst ectopic pregnancy while deputies and medical staff dismissed her agony as faking. Fifteen years later, Chuniece Patterson died in the same way. Same cause of death, same circumstances, same fatal results. "

Click here to read more.
 

United as One Coalition Demands Answers in Jail Death of Raul Pinet, Jr.

The Central New York Chapter joined the United as One Coalition held a press conference in Syracuse on March 23 to call on the New York State Commission of Correction to finally release its report on the August 2010 death of Raul Pinet, Jr., who died while in custody at the Onondaga County Justice Center.

The commission has indicated the report will be made public in April. The coalition has filed a Freedom of Information Law request to obtain a copy of the report as soon as it is released.

“In April it will be more than a year and a half since Raul’s Death yet we have heard nothing from the commission about the results of its investigation,” Chapter Director Barrie Gewanter said. “Today United as One’s member organizations leaders gather to publicly question the commission’s silence. Where’s the report?”

Click here to read more.
 

Central New York Chapter Defends Protest in Binghamton

The Central New York Chapter in February called on the Binghamton City Council to respect free speech by rejecting a proposed ordinance to ban camping in city parks.

Occupy Binghamton demonstrators had camped in the city’s Liberty Park for several months with the express approval of Mayor Matt Ryan. The day before the demonstrators were evicted in January, the proposed ordinance was introduced to the council.

“This legislation was an attempt to retaliate against Occupy Binghamton demonstrators,” said Barrie Gewanter, director of the NYCLU’s Central New York Chapter. “The First Amendment provides a floor, not a ceiling, for protection of free speech. Occupy Binghamton demonstrators complied when the city evicted the Liberty Park campsite. The city ought to respect the demonstrators’ right to exercise their free speech in other ways.”

Click here to read more.
 

Chapter Challenges Cortland Restrictions on Political Signs

The Central New York Chapter is challenging a Cortland zoning ordinance that places unconstitutional restrictions on people’s ability to place political signs on their property. Prior to the Sept. 13 primary elections, the chapter was contacted both by Cortland residents and political candidates with concerns about the sign ordinance, which bars homeowners from displaying more than one temporary sign on their property unless they obtain a permit from the Fire Department for $10. Those who violate the ordinance are subject to $250 fine.

In a Sept. 2 letter to city officials, the NYCLU explained that the U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized that candidate yard signs are a “unique medium of core political speech at the heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of the right to free expression.” It cited a series of case law showing that limiting people to one yard sign imposes impermissible burdens on the free speech rights of homeowners and candidates for office.

Click here to read more.
 

Chapter Stands with United as One Partners to Call for Jail Reforms

NYCLU Central New York Chapter director Barrie Gewanter speaking at the United as One Partners to Call for Jail Reforms rally
Chapter director Barrie Gewanter speaking at the rally.

The Central New York Chapter joined its partners in the United as One Coalition on Aug. 6 at a demonstration in front of the Onondaga County Justice Center in Syracuse to memorialize Raul Pinet, Jr. and Cheunice Patterson, who died while in custody at the jail.

The demonstrators called on county officials to fulfill their constitutional obligation to ensure that people held at the jail are treated humanely.

Pinet died on Aug. 6 2010 after being carried into the jail, forcibly restrained and left lying face down in a rubber-lined cell. Patterson died at the jail in November 2009 after suffering a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. Jail staff refused to provide her medical attention as she cried desperately for help.

Click here to read more.
 

NYCLU Central New York Chapter Kharas Award Winner Police Lt. Grace Pruitt
Kharas Award Winner Police Lt. Grace Pruitt

Chapter Honors Utica Police Lt. Grace Pruitt and Syracuse City Court Judge Langston McKinney at Annual Spring Dinner

The chapter presented two prestigious awards at its June 23 Spring Dinner in Syracuse.

Police Lt. Grace Pruitt -­ Utica's highest-ranking female officer -­ received the Kharas Award for Distinguished Service in Civil Liberties and Syracuse City Court Judge Langston McKinney was presented with the Faith Seidenberg Award, named in honor of the noted civil rights attorney.

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NYCLU, Community Advocates Question Syracuse Common Council Vote on Surveillance Plan

November 22, 2010 — The Central New York Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union and partners in the United as One Coalition today called on the Syracuse Common Council to postpone a scheduled vote on proposals to install 24-hour police surveillance cameras in two city neighborhoods until it addresses concerns about privacy and transparency.

“The Common Council should not move to vote on these proposals before the Police Department has finalized its draft policy that will be the only mechanism limiting the use of surveillance cameras in Syracuse,” said Chapter Director Barrie Gewanter. “To vote on these proposals without first releasing and holding a public discussion about the actual text of this policy would be an affront to the principle of open government.”

Click here to read more.
 

Community Groups Rally in Opposition to Surveillance Plans

The Central New York Chapter is working with a broad coalition of community groups to bring transparency, fairness and a concern about privacy rights to the Syracuse Police Department's plans to install surveillance cameras in low income communities of color.

In September, the Police Department presented the city's Common Council with a proposal to spend a $125,000 federal grant to install nine surveillance cameras in the Near West Side neighborhood. The proposal was termed a "pilot program," meaning the use of surveillance cameras could be expanded to additional neighborhoods. Sure enough, a day after unveiling the proposal , the Police Department requested the Common Council's permission to accept an additional $84,000 in homeland security funds to install five more surveillance cameras at Pioneer Homes, a public housing project near the Syracuse University.

Click here to read more.
 

Chapter Steps Up Pressure on Onondaga County to Improve Conditions at Local Jail

Writing on behalf of the Central New York Chapter and three other local civil rights organizations, Chapter Director Barrie Gewanter has sent a letter to Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney calling for comprehensive and effective measures to protect the constitutional rights of people held at the Onondaga County Justice Center in Syracuse.

The letter, dated Oct. 7, expresses particular concern about the quality of medical care at the jail facility. It cautions county officials not to view a proposal to privatize medical services at the jail as a substitute for fundamental reforms needed to improve the quality of medical care.

Click here to read more.