Articles Posted in Civil Rights

tim-graf-202490-copy-300x200The 7th circuit appeal court has just considered the case of Joseph Doornbos. This case highlights some of the important things for residents of Chicago to consider when they are stopped and searched. It specifically looks at pat-downs and whether the police have to have reasonable grounds for suspicion before they act.

In this case, the search was done by law enforcement agents that were not in uniform (plain clothes agents). They confronted the suspect and tackled him to the ground as he was leaving a train station. Later on, they charged him with resisting an arrest, but he was acquitted on that charge.

The Issues of the Case

javier-villaraco-235574-copy-300x225There has been a preliminary hearing to consider whether the civil rights of a prisoner who has been in solitary confinement for eight years were violated. This was not a final ruling but rather permission to proceed with the case. That means that there was either probable cause or serious constitutional issues that had to be dealt with by the court on the case.

The full court reversed a summary judgement that had earlier been passed against a federal inmate. The prisoner had brought a petition about his constitutional due process and rights. Aaron Isby had been convicted of robbery as well as serious bodily harm in 1989. He was imprisoned at the Pendleton Correctional Facility.

When an inmate, Isby had had an altercation with a counselor. He was gassed and apprehended by a cell-extraction team. A dog died during the incident. The inmate actually stabbed two officers. This led to a charge and conviction of attempted murder as well as battery. Another 40 years were added to his sentence.

nicolas-barbier-garreau-256433-copy-300x240In the legal world, few matters are as controversial as those that allow confiscation and forfeiture by the police. It is something that has dramatically polarized the two sides. It is rare that you will find someone who is neither truly “for” nor truly “against” these laws. Those who are in favor of the police departments being legally allowed to confiscate goods and money hold that law enforcement is taking away the proceeds of criminal enterprises. Staunch advocates, however, state that the police are nothing but thieves with badges who are taking the property of citizens without trials or due process. This issue is a complex one, to say the least.

Policing for Profit

To understand the law in Chicago, one must first understand what civil forfeiture and confiscation means and how it would apply to the person being affected by it. The standard rule of law used in Chicago dictates that police may confiscate property, including money, that meets certain criteria. These criteria are simple and, to some, are far too broad: Law enforcement officers have to believe that the property was used in a crime, is intended to be used in a crime, or has been obtained in connection with a crime. As you can see, this is a straightforward, if broad, list.

daan-stevens-282446-copy-300x191It is a controversial move but one that is considered to be a reflection of the reality that many state governments are not able to sustain the increasing healthcare costs of their citizenry. Chicago is no exception, and its new managed care provisions reflect a need for reform. Recently, the state has amended the law in such a way as to move Medicaid users towards the more affordable managed care options. Like any change, there are political and legal ramifications to this one. Some have argued that the changes are inhumane and could actually constitute a illegal or unconstitutional act. At the moment, the supreme court has not yet fully pronounced itself on the matter.

Meanwhile, the provisions of the law continue to impact the citizens of Chicago. It is particularly onerous for those who are disabled in some way or another. There are benefits to the managed care options, including an investment in infrastructure such as ramps. However, some of the Medicaid users feel that there will also be an additional administrative burden and the possibility of being rejected for full benefits. The changes are based on a public-private partnership model that has been used in other areas of public spending. In this case, not-for-profit organizations such as the Community Care Alliance are given access to some funds and income generating opportunities so that they can provide services that better reflect the needs of the service users.

Practical and Administrative Changes

aidan-bartos-313782-copy-300x200Chicago has been one of the cities at the forefront of confronting the pressing issue of equal pay and conditions. Advocates have been regularly demonstrating in front of the legislative assembly demanding reform. A flurry of laws and legislative amendments have been passed in order to correct historical and current injustices in the arena of work. The only problem is that many ordinary members of the public do not really know the law or even how it is meant to apply to them. The justifications for the amendments range from moral ones to practical ones that speak of the benefits of having a rational pay structure.

The evidence is undisputed; many women in Chicago were paid a fraction of the wages paid to men for the same job. This was not a situation that was unique to Chicago alone. Unequal pay has been in existence from the moment that women joined the formal workforce. One of the provisions of the act is to bar employers from asking about wage and salary history because this is often used to mask the application of unequal pay. Women who have been on the receiving end of a raw deal can end up being trapped in that structure because the current and prospective employer wants to base the pay offer on past wages.

Technical Provisions Within the Law

peter-hershey-282615-copy-300x200The law on sexual minorities is in its infancy stage in Chicago. There are a host of issues that are of concern to LGBT people in Chicago, the law being one of them. Specifically, advocacy groups have sought for protection at a time when the federal government has tried to declassify LGBT people as a protected group. That status of being a protected group is the starting point for many of the civil rights protections that are extended to minorities who have been traditionally marginalized in American society. Chicago is by no means an anti-LGBT city. It certainly has a much better record than some of its counterparts. Nevertheless, there is a lot of work that needs to be done in order to entrench these protections.

The law should be able to protect all citizens of Chicago from hate crimes. This is often a controversial issue because one person’s rights are another’s infringements. The freedom of expression in particular has been an area of contention. There is a continuum of liberty from being able to kiss your partner freely in a public place without harassment to not getting beaten to pulp on a Saturday night because someone thinks that being gay is a crime against “the laws of nature.”

The Right to Self-Identity and Human Dignity

nitish-meena-198784-copy-300x200The law on sanctuary cities has been at the heart of Chicago politics for some time now. Sanctuary cities are hated by conservative government officials precisely because they threaten one of the cornerstones of federal immigration policy. For example, if the federal government enacts a tough stance on illegal immigrants by denying them certain services, the sanctuary city will find a public interest in offering those services of their own volition. As a consequence, the sanctuary cities have sometimes been accused of breaking the law or alternatively encouraging others to break the law. The new Trump administration has issued an executive order that is designed to pressurize sanctuary cities into fully complying with federal law on immigration matters.

The Immigration Advocates Join the Fray

Now that the positions have been set and are diametrically opposed, the only thing for it is conflict. That conflict will take the form of penalties on cities that refuse to enforce the order. At the same time, immigration attorneys will be at the forefront of defending the rights of those that are inadvertent victims of the current strictures. Whereas, the federal government may strip funding from sanctuary cities; the localities can respond by cutting essential services and afterwards, causing a public outcry.

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Any death in custody is a tragedy on a personal level, but it also raises civil rights issues that cannot be ignored. For example, race and class are important predictors of vulnerability of incarcerated individuals. Many of the people that die in custody are poor and ethnic minorities. Whether the police admit it or not, the public perceives systemic abuses that culminate in the violation of people’s basic and fundamental rights. The case of Laquan McDonald is no longer that unique. The typical narrative seems to be that of a white officer shooting an unarmed young black man. Although the law enforcement agencies try to argue that this a reflection of criminal proclivities, the reality is that the disproportion is so great as to cause public disquiet.

In the courts, the judges are primed to believe the law enforcement agencies until and unless there is irrefutable evidence against them. The introduction of the video camera and smart phone has meant that local vigilantes can poke holes into the official story that is provided by the police. Whether this is a positive development is open to debate. The mantra of institutional racism has become a catchall phrase for all the ills and mismanagement that are associated with law enforcement agencies across the board, and not just within the precincts of Chicago.

When the Duty of Care is Not Met

elliott-stallion-105205-copy-300x200The battle for same-day voter registration in Chicago highlights some of the constitutional anomalies and controversies that have dogged the USA since its inception. All the judicial decisions made are subject to intense debate. There are those that believe in the absolute right to access the ballot regardless of the bureaucratic inconvenience that it causes. Others are of the view that if you really want to vote, then the government does provide avenues for you to vote. By the same token, if you fail to turn up, there is nobody but yourself to blame for that particular failing.

Meanwhile, the civil rights activists are up in arms about the possible exclusion of whole swathes of the populace who are simply unable to fulfill the bureaucratic requirements for voting in Chicago. The courts have traditionally been reluctant to create rights where none exist and also to prevent the use of arbitrary decision-making. One particular area of contention involves the perceived and actual differences between the rules that apply in rural areas of Illinois and those that are associated with the urban centers.

The Rationale for Voter Registration Law