The following is based on a speech given to the LP Mises Caucus “Take Human Action Bash” in New Orleans on June 30, 2018
In 1996, voters in California passed Prop 215, the “compassionate use act,” to legalize marijuana for limited medical purposes. In the run up to the vote, three presidents came out to California to explain that voters couldn’t do this.
Why not? According to their messaging, the supremacy clause of the constitution says that federal law always wins. And marijuana is illegal under federal law.
Well, that marketing campaign didn’t work out too well for them.
When Prop 215 passed, the message from the Clinton administration was the same – we don’t recognize your state law. Attorney General Janet Reno said, ”We want to make clear that Federal law still applies.”
An LA Times article from Jan. 1997 repeated the same message, noting that “Federal officials … vowed to pursue California physicians who recommend marijuana for their patients.”
The threats from the Clinton administration didn’t stop people in California, or other states for that matter. And by the end of his term, seven states authorized medical marijuana in defiance of federal law.
From there, the Bush administration ramped it up, taking a hard-line public stance asserting federal law ruled the roost on weed, conducting roughly 200 marijuana raids in states over his two terms. And in 2005, the Supreme Court also affirmed this uncompromising federal prohibition in a famous case known as Gonzales v. Raich.
I fought the surveillance state in my hometown and won – at least the first battle.
Last October, the city of Lexington sued me in an attempt to keep its “mobile surveillance cameras” secret. In a major victory for government transparency, Fayette Circuit Judge John Reynolds issued an order granting my appeal for summary judgment last week. In simple terms, the judge rejected the city’s arguments for keeping its surveillance cameras secret and ordered the Lexington Police Department to release all relevant records.
My legal saga started last summer. After surveillance cameras appeared in a local skateboard park, I submitted an open records request to the LPD in an effort to determine what other surveillance programs it operates in Lexington. The police department admitted to using 29 mobile surveillance cameras “available for a variety of video surveillance operations.”
“Cameras are deployed as needed in support of active investigations in accordance with SOP BOI 93-46A, Criteria for Surveillance Conducted by Special Investigations Section.”
While the police department acknowledged the existence of these cameras, it refused to provide any additional information other than redacted documents disclosing costs. The police claimed information about the types of cameras used and the policies surrounding their use were exempt under the state’s open records laws. The LPD cited a statute that exempts certain documents relating to homeland security, along with a second statute exempting certain “investigative reports.”
On appeal, the attorney general’s office rejected both exemptions claimed by the LPD and ordered the city to release the documents.
On Oct. 2, 2017, a constable served me with a summons.
The lawsuit was clearly intended to intimidate me into going away. The initial complaint even asked the judge to award the city court costs. Think about that for a moment. I simply asked for information relating to government activity. In response, the city sued me – a taxpayer – and demanded I foot the legal bill. So much for transparent government that serves “we the people.”
It was a shrewd strategy on the city’s part. City officials likely assumed I wouldn’t have the resources to pursue a court case, and I would just drop the matter. They were correct about the first assumption, but fortunately, the ACLU of Kentucky agreed to represent me in this case.
In court, the police basically argued that disclosing information about their cameras would render them ineffective and potentially jeopardize officer safety. It remains unclear how knowing what kind of “hidden” cameras the police own would make them ineffective. They also asserted that providing information about their surveillance activities would create an “undue burden.” In a nutshell, the city claimed that the investigation of crimes facilitated by the cameras constitutes “an important government interest” that warrants denial of the information.
While these may sound like compelling arguments on the surface, the city of Lexington failed to provide any basis for their assertions. Judge Reynolds said the city did not meet the standard of clear and convincing evidence required by the statute.
“In sum, this Court finds that the plaintiff, LFUCG, has failed to assert an applicable provision of the KRS or other binding precedent which would allow the denial of the information requested by Maharrey. Therefore, LFUCG has failed to meet its burden of proof, and pursuant to ORA [Open Records Act] the requested information should be released for review by Maharrey.”
The city will have 30 days to appeal or ask the circuit court for reconsideration. Otherwise, it must release the requested documents.
I’m not particularly comfortable casting myself as a little guy fighting the system. As the national communications director here at the TAC, I had some firepower of my own, and some resources at my disposal. Still, I could not have won this battle without the help of the ACLU of Kentucky, and attornies Clay Barkley and Heater Gatnarek. If I had been an average Lexingtonian, the city probably would have gotten its wish. I would have dropped the matter and gone away.
Make no mistake – this is a huge win for the people of Lexington. Those of us who live in this city have a right to know what our government does in our name. We have a right to weigh in and decide whether or not the benefit of surveillance technology outweighs the potential for abuse and violation of our basic privacy rights. We have a right to insist government agencies operate potentially invasive technology with oversight and transparency – in a manner that respects our civil liberties.
Government secrecy steals power from the people. As the saying goes, sunlight is the best antiseptic. The city’s default position was to maintain secrecy, to keep the blinds closed, to slam the door in our face. Don’t let the fundamental nature of what happened to me escape you. When you boil it all down, the city sued me because I asked questions it didn’t want to answer. It kind of makes you wonder about the old adage, “We are the government,” doesn’t it?
Now, hopefully, we will get the kind of transparency we deserve. Whenever I talk about surveillance, people always ask me, ‘What do you have to hide?’ Well, I’ve been asking that question about this city for nearly a year. I don’t think a little transparency and oversight is too much to ask for.
I started a local group called We See You Watching Lexington to establish oversight and transparency of surveillance programs in this city. People shouldn’t have to get sued in order to find out what kind of surveillance programs the city operates. Furthermore, the city should not operate this kind of potentially invasive technology without firm policies in place directing how, when and where it is used, and establishing how information is stored and shared.
This is actually part of a broader movement of privacy localism that is taking on the surveillance state. OffNow has been involved in the Community Control Over Police Surveillance (CCOPS) initiative from the beginning. The idea is to get city governments across the U.S. to pass local surveillance ordinances that create some level of transparency and oversight over local surveillance programs.
This is more than just a victory for me, or even the people of Lexington. This is a win for all of us who care about liberty because it proves an important point. We can fight the government and win. Our efforts aren’t in vain. If I can do this, anybody can.
Here’s my challenge to you. Take what I’ve done and build on it. Get involved in your local community. Fight. If you don’t know how, we’ve got some resources to help. I put together a series of short podcasts called Activism 101. They offer simple step-by-step advice for starting activism in your own town. You can check out that series HERE.
Sacramento, CA —Three anti-fascist activists are accusing California police and prosecutors of a “cover-up and collusion” with white supremacists during their investigation of a rally that turned violent back in 2016, the Guardianreported Friday.
The activists, who attended the Sacramento rally to counter-protest the message of the Traditionalist Workers Party (TWP), the neo-Nazi group that organized the original event, were arrested and charged with felonies for their participation.
But the activists fired back this week, presenting documents to the judge they say provide evidence that the California Highway Patrol (CHP) worked hand-in-hand with the neo-Nazis in an effort to identify the counter-protesters.
Further, the defendants allege, the records reveal that investigators actually showed sympathy toward the white supremacists and worked to try to protect the identity of the TWP member who obtained the permit for the event.
“It is shocking and really angering to see the level of collusion and the amount to which the police covered up for the Nazis,” Yvette Felarca, a teacher and one of the anti-fascist organizers, told the Guardian.
Felarca says during the clash that day in Sacramento she was stabbed in the arm and bludgeoned in the head, a wound that required more than 20 stitches. She says it took her weeks to fully recover.
“The people who were victimized by the Nazis were then victimized by the police and the district attorneys,” she said.
Shanta Driver, one of Felarca’s attorneys, told the Guardian that the documents presented before the judge show a “textbook case of a political witch-hunt and selective prosecution.”
In one instance, the records reveal that in a phone call, CHP investigator Donovan Ayres warned Doug McCormack — the TWP member who obtained the rally permit — that the cops may have to release his name due to a public records request.
“I’m gonna suggest that we hold that or redact your name or something until this gets resolved,” Ayres told McCormack, adding that he wasn’t sure who had requested records of the permit. “If I did, I would tell you,” Ayres said.
Additionally, Ayres’ write-up about an African American activist — one who was stabbed in the chest, abdomen, and hand during the rally — raised alarms in the minds of the defendants and their attorneys.
Records show the man was treated more like a suspect than a victim, with Ayres recommending he be charged with 11 offenses, including unlawful assembly, conspiracy, assault, and wearing a mask to evade police.
To support his recommendation, Ayres provided Facebook photos of the man holding up his fist. Ayres claimed the man’s “Black Power salute” and his “support for anti-racist activism” demonstrated his “intent and motivation to violate the civil rights” of the neo-Nazis.
Documents also show that cops worked with TWP member Derik Punneo while trying to identify the anti-fascist activists. Audio recordings reveal that investigators brought photos to Punneo in jail after he was arrested on unrelated charges.
“We’re pretty much going after them,” officers told Punneo, assuring him that “we’re looking at you as a victim.”
Neither Punneo nor McCormack, as well as several other TWP-affiliated individuals who were involved with the rally, have been charged with any crimes.
In a response filed Thursday, prosecutors in the case state “every assertion” in the defendants’ motion to dismiss is “inaccurate or fabricated” and further accused the activists’ lawyers of using the filing to “make a political statement.”
As for the white supremacists themselves, prosecutors stated that “no one is beneath the protection of the law, no matter how repugnant his or her rhetoric or misguided his or her ideals.”
Atlanta — Astory about an Atlanta gym owner, Jim Chambers, who refuses to serve police officers and members of the military is having aripple effect in the community. Now, local media isreporting that a cop has challenged Chambers to a boxing match at an upcoming event.
It all began when a military veteran saw a sign posted outside Chambers’ EAV Barbell Gym thatread:
“Rules: Do whatever the fuck you want, correctly, except crossfit cultism — no fucking cops.”
The veteran was offended and sent a photo of the sign to Atlanta’s 11Alive News, who proceeded to publish astory with the following opening:
“A shocking and vulgar sign about police officers has been posted in front of a local business in Atlanta. The sign could be seen from the street with the curse word blurred out, but the message is clear: It says no cops allowed.”
In speaking to 11Alive News for the story, Chambers not only defended his policy, but also expanded it.
“We’ve had an explicitly stated ‘No Cop’ policy since we opened, and we also don’t open membership to active members of the military,” hesaid.
Chambers has since taken the sign down, but as he told 11Alive News, the move was about shielding members of his gym from criticism and not about any faltering of his stance:
“I didn’t want the other folks there to take the heat that I’m willing to take.”
Chambers, a lifelong political activist, explained that most of the people who work out at his gym are minorities who feel uncomfortable around law enforcement. Hesays his gym, which also doubles as a meeting place for other local activists, simply isn’t an appropriate place for cops to come and burn off energy:
“We wanted one space that was just a little different. It’s not an aggressive, hetero-jock space that’s dominated by cops and soldiers. It’s a place where you’re safe from that.
“And we don’t want to make police stronger so that they can hurt people more efficiently. It’s not a personal thing, but if you put that uniform on, and quite honestly I view that as an occupying enemy army.”
To be clear, the atmosphere at EAV Barbell Gym isdescribed on its website for anyone to view beforehand:
“We require no one to agree with any set of politics, but if you are hostile to the fringe, you ought to look elsewhere. We wanted to create a gym that wouldn’t be prohibitive due to cost, or overly aggressive, exclusionary jock culture. We want elite athletes and total newbs, anyone looking to pick up a bar. Meatheads welcome, too, so long as tolerance abounds.”
Unsurprisingly, Chambers’ story evoked a strong reaction in the community, and by Thursday, 11Alive News wasreporting that a local cop was challenging the gym owner to a fight.
“He seems like he might enjoy getting the opportunity to punch a cop in the face and I’d be happy to oblige him and give him that opportunity,” seven-year police veteran Tommy Lefevertold the news outlet.
Lefever explained that the idea is about gaining Chambers’ respect:
“I found, you sweat, you bleed with somebody, you exchange punches with somebody in a sport like boxing, it’s hard not to respect the guy for getting in there with you afterwards.”
Continuing, the officer says that first step could begin a path toward changing Chambers’ mind:
“Gaining mutual respect for one another in the boxing ring might be the start of something that can help overcome differences in world view, ideology, what have you.”
When told of Lefever’s challenge by 11Alive News, Chambers laughed and wanted to know if it would be fair fight before he accepted.
In a statement, the Atlanta Police Department didn’t comment on the “no cops” policy but said it wouldn’t prevent officers from responding to an emergency at the gym. Chamberssays he never has and never will require assistance from cops, and in the meantime his policy breaks no laws.
To Vincent Champion, Atlanta cop and southeastern director for the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, it all sounds suspect.
“I don’t understand why you’d put a sign like that up at all,” hetold11Alive News. “Without talking to the man, this appears to be hate for law enforcement and for what reason? Are you doing something illegal?”
The strong reaction to the story from the community has evenpulled another Atlanta gym into the fray. Google search confusion has caused Village Fitness, which is around the corner from Chambers’ gym, to receive phone calls and walk-ins from people regarding the controversial policy.
Tara Perry of Village Fitness told 11Alive News she does not agree with Chambers’ position. People’s mistaking her establishment for Chambers’ has even prompted Perry to put a sign of her own out front, one expressing her support for cops and soldiers.
“We’ve been here so long, we’re established with the community,” shesaid. “We support our local police and military. We offer discounts for them.”
Jim Chambers says he’ll be putting up a new version of his sign, this one without the profanity.
As team Trump gears up to welcome the Chinese president at the end of the week — and as it’s forced to deal with a profound piece of anti-government vandalism burned into a Donald Trump property — nearly 200 theaters around the world simultaneously screened the film version of Orwell’s 1984 on Tuesday.
“This is really designed to get people to be talking and discussing and active in the political conversation that is happening in America right now – and throughout the world, it turns out,” Dylan Skolnick, co-director of the Cinema Arts Centre on Long Island, toldAl Jazeera.
Looking for a creative way to express opposition to the Trump administration, he, along with Adam Birnbaum of the Avon Theatre Film Centre in Connecticut, came up with the idea after the election.
Dubbed “National Screening Day,” over 190 theaters participated. Most were in the U.S., but movie houses in Canada, the U.K., Sweden, and Croatia are also took part.
Skolnick says he could think of no better film than the cinematic version of the classic dystopian masterpiece for the project. Bringing to mind Trump’s “fake news” obsession and his penchant for blustery diplomatic commentary, Skolnick told Al Jazeera:
“In particular, this undermining of the concept of facts and the demonization of foreign enemies really resonate in 1984.”
Echoing a warning found throughout much of alternative media, Skolnick suggests that when it comes to potential dystopian scenarios, the time to sit up and take notice of what’s happening around us is now.
“No one is suggesting that we’re living in Orwell’s world,” he said. “But the road to that world is people just becoming disengaged and allowing their government to do whatever it wants.”
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