What is a Lawyer Ally?

As we all know, the police can sometimes have a reputation for being aggressive with protesters — especially protesters of color. 

At the Jacqui Ford Law Firm, we are dedicated to being LAWYER ALLIES to our brothers and sisters peacefully utilizing their First Amendment rights. 

We ourselves have participated in protests in our personal lives, and have attended protests in our role as attorneys, as well. 

What is a lawyer ally?

Because of our training and education, lawyers act as advocates. 

When we are acting as lawyer allies, however, we are advocating for justice more generally, without a specific client in mind.

One of the main ways we do this is by defending the rights of protesters to utilize their First Amendment rights to protest legally and peacefully, and supporting them if this right is challenged. The goal is to educate and empower citizens and community members.

Additionally, we can use our training to help advocate for just causes by writing to and speaking with legislators and political leaders who might otherwise ignore or disregard messages from protesters or advocates from other channels. 

So what does being a lawyer ally look like?

Being a lawyer ally at protests and demonstrations

In the context of protests and public demonstrations, a lawyer ally attends these events not to take part in the protest or intervene, but to observe what is happening and to record and document what occurs.

It’s important to make this distinction about observing and not engaging in the protest, however. This distinction can be difficult for lawyers who like to wear an activist hat and a lawyer hat.

Our role at these demonstrations is to document what’s occurring and prevent police from being able to lie about what happened down the road, but we are not a part of the story. Organizations like The National Lawyers Guild organize these mass defense practices by providing trainings and workshops and by assembling what they refer to as Legal Observers® to act in this lawyer ally role at demonstrations.  

Being a lawyer ally to demonstrators from your home 

One of the most important acts of a lawyer ally can be done from the comfort of your own home — legal hotlines. Legal hotlines are ways for protesters or lawyer allies at demonstrations to contact attorneys for representation or advice when arrests or violence may be happening. 

Most of these hotlines are not staffed 24/7, but are organized before a known protest is about to happen. Many times Jacqui has received calls as a protest is winding down from demonstrators wondering whether they’ve been given a real number and seeking advise or counsel in real time. She always tells them, “Yes, this is real. I’m a lawyer. How can I help you?”

Lawyer allies can also assist from their home or office by compiling all the lawyer ally videos taken at demonstrations and organizing them into digitized databases. However, it’s important to remember that sometimes arrests are made after police have seen this online footage of the protests, and these photos, videos, and the people in them should be well protected.

Being a lawyer ally in the courtroom (or government building)

Other lawyer allies use their position as legal advocates in the courtroom to do their part to uphold justice — particularly defending protesters who are actually charged with a crime after the fact.

Other times, lawyer allies can work with protesters in their role as attorneys to speak at public meetings or in government buildings and use the technical and legal language that government officials and legislators will relate to.

How to become a lawyer ally 

The National Lawyers Guild has chapters around the country that provide training for becoming an official Legal Observer®.

Being a lawyer ally more generally, however, can come via training and mentorship from all sorts of attorneys and professionals who have spent their careers fighting for justice.

To learn more about our efforts as lawyer allies and to join our fight contact Jacqui Ford Law today.

First Amendment rights – Protests, Police and your Rights

Best apps to safely and effectively record police violence

UPDATED JUNE 2020:

In light of the recent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd (among others), people across the United States have taken to the streets to protest police misconduct and brutality.

But whether you’re protesting or simply witnessing police misconduct on the street, it’s important to stay safe while filming these acts.

  • Safety

You need to be mindful of your safety AND the safety of the person you are filming. If for some reason you feel unsafe taking a video, you can stand in solidarity with the victim and/or take notes on what’s happening.

  • Know your rights

You have a 1st Amendment right to record law enforcement IF you are not “interfering.” The officer will be the one who decides whether or not you are interfering, so it’s important to keep a distance and comply with any orders you’re given (you can even say “I’m complying with your orders” on the video just so it’s clear).

  • Privacy settings

Make sure your phone has a passcode, not just fingerprint or facial recognition, before you start recording. Similarly, set your phone up to automatically save any photos or videos to a cloud or Google Drive in case your phone gets confiscated.

  • Show what needs to be shown on the video

Be sure there’s evidence in your video that proves it’s real — verify time and date by showing a clock, street signs to show your location, names and badge numbers of officers to prove who they are, etc. You can even choose to sort of narrate what’s happening in the video so it’s clear to your audience, but it’s important to keep your commentary factual and unbiased.

  • Allow the audience to really see what’s happening in the video

You can do this by keeping the camera in one position for at least 10 seconds and only moving slowly, not in quick bursts and jerks. Also, hold your phone horizontally to allow more in each shot.

These tips — along with common sense — should help keep yourself as safe as possible and allow your video to be used as evidence in the future, if need be.

Our team at Jacqui Ford Law hopes that these situations are never necessary, but if it happens to you or someone you know, you’ll want to be ready.

Bystanders and their smartphones have proven to be a very powerful tool in police brutality cases, whether justice was served or not.

Regardless of the case verdict, the media attention captured by citizens has shed a much needed light on the violence and discrimination in our country’s police departments.

No matter what a police officer tells you, filming an officer performing his duties in a public place is absolutely legal. Read more on your rights to film a police officer here.

Although smartphone cameras are effective on their own, there are several apps for your smartphone that are even better for recording violence by police officers. Here are a few:

  • Hands Up 4 Justice – This is an app for your iPhone that was created after the riots in Ferguson, Missouri. The developers recommend that you keep your GPS on while using it for best results. Once you’ve uploaded the video, the app sends backups of the evidence you’ve recorded to another place, like YouTube or Dropbox.
  • Stop and Frisk Watch – This app was created by the New York Civil Liberties Union, and it can be downloaded on both iPhones and Androids. The NYCLU says the app has three basic functions – recording, monitoring and reporting – but it can be used for other things as well.
  • I’m Getting Arrested – This is an Android-only app, but it’s great for people who participate in civil rights protests. If you get arrested and have this app on your phone, it will send messages to your friends, family and attorneys on your behalf.
  • Mobile Justice – This is an app that was developed by the ACLU of California, but it has since been adopted in Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska and Oregon. It’s available for iPhones and Androids, and it sends police encounters that you record on your phone directly to the civil rights organization. The ACLU will then save the video, even if your phone is taken from you or damaged while you’re participating in the protest.
  • Cop Recorder – Available for both iPhone and Android, this app is designed to save voice recordings of encounters with police officers, even if the app is not open all the time. You have to enact a feature on the app, and once you do, it will not show as open or recording on your phone, but it will still be voice recording the interaction.
  • Cop Block – This filming app, for both iPhone and Android, allows you to film what you believe could be questionable police behavior, then it uploads the video to a community of people to view for themselves.

If you believe you have witnessed police misconduct, or if you were arrested amid what you believe was police misconduct, contact an experienced civil rights attorney today.

How do You Know if Your Civil Rights Have Been Violated

Some people are victims of civil rights violations without even knowing it.  You might not be aware of such a violation unless you understand the nuances of the law.  If you suspect your civil rights have been violated, do not be passive.  Your best course of action is to meet with a civil right attorney for a review of your case to determine if your civil rights have actually been violated.

The Basics of Civil Rights Violations

Everything from sexual harassment to race-based discrimination, violations of fair housing rights and beyond qualify as civil rights violations.  The question is whether one of your protected rights has been violated. Though you may feel as though your personal rights have been ignored, there is no guarantee your civil rights have been violated.  Civil rights are specific rights protected by anti-discrimination laws. In many cases, supposed rights violations are actually legal. However, there is no way to be completely certain the incident in question actually violated your civil rights until you meet with an attorney.

How to Proceed if Your Civil Rights Have Been Violated

If you suspect one or several of your civil rights have been violated, t here are several options available.  The assistance of a civil rights attorney will prove invaluable regardless of which route you take. It might be possible to resolve the matter through negotiations.  Some of those who have had their civil rights violated have their attorney file a private lawsuit. As an example, if you believes you are the victim of employment discrimination, it is possible for you and your employer to avoid a lengthy court battle.  Have your attorney and opposing counsel negotiate a solution and you might be able to avoid court.

Another option is to file a government claim.  If you opt to file a complaint with the state or federal government, it will be up tot he government agency to ensure your civil rights are enforced.  Such a complaint spurs an investigation into the claim. Ideally, the government will take additional action on your behalf to right this wrong. Regardless of whether the state or federal government handles your claim, it must be filed in a timely manner.  In fact, in certain civil rights cases, the claim has to be filed with the government before it is possible to pursue a private lawsuit.

Filing a Lawsuit Following a Civil Rights Violation

If you are even slightly suspicious your civil rights have been violated, you likely have the option to file a private lawsuit in civil court.  The lawsuit is filed against the parties responsible for the injustice in question. Your attorney will detail the civil right violation in the complaint filed with the court.  The complaint is a legal document that explains the facts of the situation along with the allegation to show the defendant is responsible for the alleged violation. Your attorney will review the idiosyncratic facts of your case to create an accurate comoplaint.  He or she will decide whether it is appropriate to file a civil rights lawsuit in state or federal court. In some situations, the choice of court is made by the victim. In other situations, applicable law dictates where the lawsuit is to be filed.

 

You Need an Attorney to Emerge With Justice

There is little chance of punishing the party in the wrong and obtaining justice unless you have a savvy civil rights attorney on your side.  This legal practitioner will help file the civil rights violation claim in accordance with the nuanced rules of the court. Speak with a civil rights attorney, explain your situation and this legal professional will explain exactly which laws are applicable to your situation.  Your attorney will evaluate every aspect of your case, explain all available options, guide you through the process and ultimately increase the chances of a positive outcome.

Kisela v. Hughes ruling give cops license to kill

The U.S. Supreme Court has dealt a crippling blow to law enforcement accountability with a decision that “perpetuates the belief that cops have a license to kill.”

According to The New York Times, on April 2 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of an Arizona police officer who shot a woman standing outside of her home in Tucson in 2010.

Here’s how the case of Kisela v. Hughes unfolded:

  • The Police responded to reports of an erratic woman who was slashing a tree with a knife.
  • When the police arrived, they saw the woman standing in the driveway of a home. That’s when a second woman, Amy Hughes, came out of the same house holding a kitchen knife.
  • Hughes reportedly was holding the knife at her side and was acting calmly, but the officer shot her four times in her driveway after ordering her to drop the knife. Reports say it’s not clear whether Hughes heard the officer’s commands.
  • It turns out, Hughes and the woman were roommates, and the woman did not feel threatened by Hughes coming out with a knife.
  • Hughes survived being shot four times by police, then sued the officer who shot her for excessive force.

 

A federal appeals court allowed the case to move forward, but the Supreme Court reversed that ruling.

Jacqui Ford, a civil rights attorney in Oklahoma, calls the high court’s decision “offensive.”

“This equates to cops being licensed to kill at all times under all circumstances. We are not safe,” she says. “The continued lack of accountability by law enforcement officers perpetuates the real belief that cops have a license to kill. This is offensive to the ideals of government power and law enforcement’s duty to protect and serve.”

Although the court did not determine whether the officer violated Hughes’ civil rights, the court did say that there was no precedent to stop the officer from shooting Hughes in an effort to protect the other woman who was at the scene.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the dissent for the high court, noting that there’s a disturbing trend and “unflinching willingness” to protect officers who use excessive force.

Jacqui Ford agrees.

“As long as law enforcement can cry that they were afraid for their life and nothing changes, then nothing changes. More cops get scared more often and more people die,” Ford says. “When carrying a badge comes with immunity, what incentive do police have to change their behavior?”

The officer is free from punishment under a doctrine known as qualified immunity, which protects the actions of officers “insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”

It’s designed to protect officers from frivolous lawsuits, but at what cost to citizens?

Ford believes law enforcement agencies should be going a different direction, requiring more training for officers, more mental health tests, more guidance on handling the mentally ill and people who don’t speak English.

“If instead, we would hold law enforcement agencies and officers, individually liable, then we could affect change by hitting them the only place it matters, in the pocket book,” Ford says. “We could be affecting change, but we are too busy being afraid!”

Jacqui Ford is dedicated to protecting individuals who have been victims of excessive force by a law enforcement officer. Contact Jacqui Ford’s office today for a consultation.

What has changed since Rodney King

“No justice, no peace. No justice, no peace.”

It’s the chant that could be heard in the streets of Los Angeles for five straight days after the four officers accused of brutally beating Rodney King were acquitted on criminal charges of excessive force.

The acquittal of the four officers — three of whom were white — sparked widespread rioting and looting throughout the streets of Los Angeles. When it was all said and done, more than 60 people had died and the city sustained more than $1 billion in damages.

A year earlier, Rodney King, a black man who was on parole for robbery, led police on a high-speed chase through the city. When he did stop, police beat him with batons for about 15 minutes while over a dozen officers stood by and watched.

It’s not an uncommon story in today’s highly polarized world of social media and cases of police brutality. But in 1991, someone caught the beating on tape, which was not a common occurrence 25 years ago.

King had broken bones, broken teeth, a skull fracture — and even brain damage.

What has changed since the Rodney King case?

In Los Angeles, Rodney King’s case brought the city’s broken police department to light.

Twenty five years later, it’s a “department transformed”:

  • The federal government and LAPD entered into a consent decree, or an agreement with the federal government that outlines specific reforms for troubled law enforcement agencies. It took 10 years for the consent decree to take shape. There are currently 14 U.S. cities under consent decrees with the U.S. Justice Department.
  • The Los Angeles Police Department still has a “disturbingly high kill rate,” according to Earl Ofari Hutchinson of the Los Angeles Urban Roundtable. That kill rate includes the 2014 shooting of a mentally ill man named Ezell Ford.
  • In 1992, more than 60 percent of the LAPD was white. As of April 2017, it was a little more than 30 percent white.
  • The LAPD publishes all reports of use of force and officer-involved shootings online, though the American Civil Liberties Union has accused the department of failing to comply with California’s public records laws.
  • There’s a civilian inspector general who oversees excessive force and other complaints about LAPD. The IG’s job arose from the Rodney King riots and a 228-page report detailing how the riots happened and what can be done to prevent them in the future.
  • The LAPD has rolled out new de-escalation techniques in an effort to avoid situations that give rise to excessive force and officer-involved shootings.

Although Los Angeles still has a ways to go, the riots served as a grim wakeup call for a troubled departments. Officer-involved shootings and killings in other cities in recent years have also sparked debate about how the police can better interact with the citizens they’re paid to protect.

If you or someone you love has been the victim of police brutality or excessive force, contact Jacqui Ford’s office today.

Trump Era: What is the likelihood that the laws that protect our civil liberties will be diminished

“Have no doubt about it: Donald Trump’s policies, if implemented, would trigger a constitutional crisis.”

Those are strong words from the country’s largest nonprofit civil liberties group that strives to remain nonpartisan. The American Civil Liberties Union has taken a hard stance against President Donald Trump’s policy proposals – and the organization has been vigorously fighting many of those policies in court.

Which policies from President Trump threaten civil liberties the most?

The ACLU lists several stances from President Trump that could impact the civil liberties afforded to us. These include:

  • Profiling of Muslim-Americans – President Donald Trump, before he became president, called for an increase in surveillance on Muslim-American communities, even saying that he would not rule out having Muslims carry an ID card. He said mosques in the United States should be monitored, and he agreed that law enforcement should be able to “secure” Muslim neighborhoods. But the ACLU argues that such a policy would be very hard to enforce thanks to the Fifth Amendment.

“Courts are rightly very suspicious of any law or government policy that singles out groups of people united by a core characteristic, like race or religion … any law passed or policy pursued by a Trump administration that specifically subjects Muslims to heightened suspicion, surveillance, or special registration because of their religion would be met by the courts with a heightened degree of scrutiny.”

So far, he has not implemented any surveillance policies on Muslim American communities. He has, however, instituted a travel ban barring people from countries that he deems extremist Muslim from entering the United States for a period of time. That ban was challenged in court and has been softened from its original version.

 

  • Libel laws and protections for a free press – The First Amendment is pretty clear about a free press and the laws that protect the press, and although President Trump said he would “open up” libel laws in America so publications like The New York Times and The Washington Post could be sued more easily, there’s not actually a federal “libel law” to target.

 

The ACLU points out that libel laws are handled at the state level, but that    doesn’t mean President Trump will not encourage state legislatures to change their laws, according to the ACLU. So far, that has not happened.

What other rights do leaders say are threatened in the Trump Era?

  • Women’s reproductive rights – A woman’s right to choose — i.e. a woman’s right to have an abortion — has been a well-established federal protection since Roe v. Wade in 1973. President Trump is markedly pro-life, and on his first day of office he signed an executive order banning federal money for international organizations that perform abortions or distribute literature or information about abortions.p

If you believe the civil rights of you or someone you love have been violated, you need the help of an experienced civil rights attorney. Contact Jacqui Ford’s office today.

Know Your Rights: What To Do If You’re Stopped By Police, Immigration Agents or the FBI

With all the media hype about negative police interactions with citizens, it’s always good to educate yourself on your rights when you encounter law enforcement.

It’s important to note that laws can vary from state to state, and there are different rules for checkpoints and when you’re entering the United States.

The American Civil Liberties Union has come up with a very handy list of your rights. If you don’t want to forget them, you can download a card from their website to carry with you at all times.

What are your rights?

No matter what your immigration status is, you have constitutional rights if you are in the United States. These include:

  • The right to remain silent. But you have to say it out loud if you want to invoke that right, and in some states, you must give your name if asked for it.
  • The right to not let police search your person, your vehicle or your home.
  • If you are not under arrest, you have the right to leave the scene — in a calm manner.
  • You have the right to an attorney. You should ask for one immediately.

What are your responsibilities?

Although you have rights, you also have obligations to make sure things go as smoothly as possible. These responsibilities include:

  • Staying calm and being polite – keep your hands where police officers can see them.
  • Not interfering with or obstructing a police investigation or active scene.
  • You must be honest and cannot provide false documents.
  • You should alert your family and prepare in case you are going to be arrested.
  • Document all the details of the encounter as soon as you are able to.

What do you do if you’re stopped for questioning?

Here are some tips in the event that you are stopped by law enforcement:

  • Don’t run. Don’t be argumentative, and don’t resist arrest, even if you are totally innocent.
  • You can ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says yes, then calmly walk away without saying a word. If the officer says no, then calmly ask why not and know that you have the right to know why you are being held.
  • If you are placed under arrest, you have the right to know why you are being arrested.
  • Although you aren’t required to allow police to search your person or your belongings, officers are allowed to “pat you down” if they believe you might be carrying a weapon. Also, if police have reason to believe there is evidence of a crime, they can search your belongings without your consent.
  • If you are asked for your driver’s license, registration and/or insurance, hand it over.

If you believe your constitutional rights were violated, or the rights of anyone you love have been violated, you need the help of an experienced attorney. Contact Jacqui Ford’s office today.

How has Civil Rights changed in the last 50 years?

It’s been a little more than 53 years since former President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the historic Civil Rights Act.

So, how far has America come in reaching the equality that the law set to create? Researchers conclude it’s a mixed bag of progress, but there’s still a ways to go.

What did the Civil Rights Act do?

  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made discrimination on the basis of race or gender illegal when it comes to hiring and firing.
  • It also made the federal government able to desegregate public schools across the country.

What are some of the key takeaways from 50 years of Civil Rights advancements?

Here are some statistics on how the public perceives the advancement of civil rights in the United States:

  • Most people in America believe that the passage of the Civil Rights Act was a very significant moment in our history. Only five percent of Americans believe it was not historically important.
  • Almost eight out of every 10 Americans believe there has been “real progress” since the 1960s in eliminating discrimination based on race.
  • Only five percent of all Americans believe that 100 percent of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s goals for equality have been achieved.
  • Most Americans believe that discrimination still exists, and black people are far more likely than white people to believe that racism is “pervasive.”

But where do we really stand?

Aside from general perception, there are some hard realities to look at when it comes to advancement of civil rights:

Black men need more education than white men to have the same chances of being hired for a job as a white man. For example, a black man with an associate’s degree has the same chances as a white man who only finished high school.

  • Black and Hispanic children are still disproportionately enrolled in high-poverty schools.
  • The black middle class has grown substantially, boosted no doubt by Affirmative Action policies.
  • Median income for black families is up to more than $40,000 a year as of 2014. That’s up from $22,000 in 1963.
  • In 1964, one in four black people over the age of 25 had finished high school. In 2014, that number was 85 percent.
  • Black college graduates have increased from 4 percent to more than 21 percent, but for white people, that number is 34 percent.

As many studies will show, there has been significant advancement in civil rights.

If you or someone you love has been illegally discriminated against because of your race, gender or sexual orientation, you need an experienced civil rights attorney. Contact Jacqui Ford today.

 

What You Should Know About Filming or Recording Police Officers

In the United States, recording police officers while on duty in public places is a right that’s protected by the First Amendment.

Unfortunately, not all police officers are aware of that fact, and many people get arrested every year for simply doing something they are allowed by law to do.

Here’s what you should know about filming or recording police officers:

  • Know the law: You should record police as publicly and as out in the open as possible, and only in a way that does not interfere with the officer’s ability to do his or her job.
  • Be ready to respond to questions from police: Even though it’s lawful for you to record, police officers might still harass you and ask you questions. Stay calm, and if they try to say you are breaking the law, tell them politely that you are allowed to do what you are doing.
  • Keep a safe distance: Stand as far away as possible when you are filming or recording, and don’t shove the phone or camera in their faces. There are also police recording apps for your smartphone that will continue recording even if it’s locked or in sleep mode. If you believe you are at a reasonable distance and the officer continues to push you farther away, you might consider politely reminding him or her that you have a right to be here and you are not interfering with his or her work.
  • Make sure your phone is password protected: This will help if police officers try to delete your footage at the scene, but remember that police officers are prohibited from deleting your personal photos or video if they were taken lawfully.
  • Be respectful: Law enforcement is a unique and taxing profession, and people who are filming or recording while they work are usually doing so during tense situations. Keep that in mind as you film or record the police. They are people, too, and you should do everything you can to make them aware that you are not a threat to an already stressful situation.
  • Police officers cannot demand to look at your footage: Police officers do not have the right to look at your footage or photographs if they were taken in a lawful manner. If an officer asks to see your video or photos, politely explain that you do not have to supply them without a warrant.
  • Remember public vs. private: The above rules only apply on public property. If you are at a private business or on someone’s private property, it is up to the owner to decide whether you can film the police.

Have you or someone you know been detained or harassed for filming police? You need the help of an experienced civil rights attorney like Jacqui Ford. Contact her office today for help.