This article was first published in the Liberty Reporter: 2015 Fall Newsletter >>
Activists with Utah Against Police Brutality gather at the Matheson Courthouse on November 29, 2014. Photo courtesy of SLUG Magazine and Megan Kennedy www.slugmag.com/photos/slc-to-ferguson-utah-against-police-brutality-rally-11-29
The ACLU of Utah strives for a state that affords dignity, autonomy and justice to all its residents. There are very few ways in which the state so overtly wields power over us than in the form of its law enforcement agents. In the words of our colleagues in Maryland, in the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray, “Over time, the daily injustices, the repeated instances of police brutality, the unconstitutional treatment of poor and minority people – these patterns crush people’s souls.” To assume that such problems cannot and do not happen in our own state, would reveal a dangerous blindness to the reality faced by many of our fellow Utahns.
Restraining police use of force and demanding accountability and reform for tactics that police use in our communities have been a central part of the ACLU of Utah’s work for many years.
We’ve ramped up that work in the past year in response to the tragic and disappointing spate of fatal shootings by police officers in Utah – but our activities are often behind the scenes. Through our community educational efforts, lobbying and legal advocacy, we hope to amplify the voices of community members who are most impacted by law enforcement use of force and abuse of power.
The ACLU of Utah pledges its commitment to finding solutions to the police militarization and law enforcement overreach that has come to characterize our nation in the following ways:
1. We proactively support community oversight of our law enforcement agencies. This includes empowering community members to exercise their right to record police officers who are interacting with the community, and also developing legislation related to police body-mounted cameras. We hope to ensure that when such technology is used, it is in a manner that protects the rights and privacy of both community members and public servants. We will insist that policies governing the use of “body cams” will ensure that video is collected in a way that is fair and unbiased.
2. We aggressively pursue transparency and accountability from our law enforcement agencies statewide. We have worked hard in recent years to pass state legislation that demands local agencies report on deployments of SWAT-style teams, as well as law enforcement use of drones.
3. We believe that the state statutes defining “justified” use of police force should better serve the community. We will work with our legislative allies to improve these statutes, while also demanding more comprehensive de-escalation training for law enforcement agents.
4. As a founding member of the Racially Just Utah coalition, we support and provide information to community groups and individuals seeking to reform law enforcement practices in our communities.
5. We take legal action against unconstitutional police policies and practices, such as the so-called “gang injunction” attempted by Ogden City (and successfully challenged by the ACLU of Utah before the Utah Supreme Court).
6. We offer “Know Your Rights When Encountering Law Enforcement” workshops and “Legal Observer Trainings” to any interested community group.