Privacy SOS

Three civil rights and civil liberties fights we must continue no matter who wins on Tuesday


Tomorrow is Election Day—finally. There’s a lot at stake in this contest, but no matter who wins, those of us who care about civil rights and civil liberties will continue to have our work cut out for us. Here are three big fights we must continue no matter who emerges as the victor tomorrow night.

  1. Police militarization and racism

The process of police militarization that began in the 1960s as a response to Black resistance to white supremacy has been injected with billions of dollars thanks to the ‘war on terror.’ Weapons of war discarded by the US military end up in the hands of domestic law enforcement, which doesn’t have the training or the need to properly use them—and too often turns them on unarmed dissidents. Police departments’ gang, drug, and SWAT units increasingly act like military special forces, deploying military tactics with a military mindset to do nothing more than serve routine drug warrants. SWAT teams justified on the basis of rare acts of extreme violence are tens of thousands of times a year barging into people’s homes in the middle of the night, frightening and sometimes grievously injuring residents—including babies—to do nothing more than search for powder, plants, and pills.

In the face of efforts by voters in many states to rollback the war on drugs, law enforcement proceeds like it’s the “Just Say No” 1980s; prosecutors are now even charging drug dealers with homicide if they sell drugs to someone who later dies of complications from drug mixing or an overdose. Just last week in Massachusetts, a man was charged with attempted homicide for allegedly throwing a bag of drugs at arresting officers. We hear politicians and even police say we can’t arrest our way out of the problem of substance abuse, but they nonetheless continue to try—ruining millions of lives and reinforcing the world’s largest carceral system in the process. If the goal of the war on drugs is to stop drug abuse and the availability of illegal narcotics, it is a costly, racist failure.

Neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton has a serious proposal to do away with this abusive system, so we know we will continue fighting it in January 2017 no matter who wins. But thankfully, voters in many states—including Massachusetts—have the opportunity to legalize marijuana tomorrow. Let’s seize those opportunities where we can, and work to build a society where we look to social welfare, instead of police and prisons, to solve our most vexing problems.

  1. Warrantless police surveillance

License plate readers, cell phone tracking ‘stingrays,’ facial recognition systems, Joint Terrorism Task Force-driven FBI-police collaboration, DHS-funded state and local ‘fusion centers,’ networked surveillance cameras, social media surveillance systems, all-seeing aerial spying that can watch an entire city, extralegal telecom-police collusion, the trickle down of national security intelligence to state and local police: the list of ways in which law enforcement is conducting increasingly aggressive surveillance directed at people often suspected of no crime continues to grow with each passing year. New technologies enable new forms of government surveillance, but courts and legislatures take years to catch up to what police and federal law enforcement have been doing—if they catch up at all. Existing laws are insufficient to protect the public from often politically or racially motivated warrantless and suspicionless spying. Dissidents are frequently the targets, putting democracy itself in the crosshairs of a growing surveillance state. On December 1, 2016, the FBI is set to obtain vast new powers to hack into computers all around the world—without the transparency or oversight required to make sure those operations don’t go off the rails and endanger people and internet security.

No matter who wins the election tomorrow, these problems are not going away. Indeed, with the explosive growth of the “internet of things,” artificial intelligence, and robotics, we can safely expect them to become more dire.

  1. Immigration detention, mass deportations, border wars, Islamophobia, and refugee crises

President Obama deported more people than any prior president. Donald Trump talks of creating a special deportation taskforce, but that already exists in the enormous, powerful, and largely unaccountable Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. The Department of Justice has tried to get a handle on the problem of private prisons, but not where immigration detention is concerned—and that’s the private prison industry’s main source of business. Our government is aggressively militarizing the border, denying constitutional rights to people within 100 miles of it, and detaining thousands of people (including families and children) in conditions unfit for animals.

Meanwhile, according to the United Nations, there are over 65 million refugees worldwide today. People fleeing drug-war violence in Central America are retraumatized by American customs and immigration policies, which deny them asylum status and too often send them back to where they came from to face rape, torture, and murder. The United States’ invasion and occupation of Iraq helped to ignite that region into bloody chaos, but people fleeing it don’t find open arms here. Despite claims from some that President Obama is letting refugees into the country willy-nilly, the background check procedure for people seeking asylum is arduous and takes years to complete.

Donald Trump says he wants to build a wall between Mexico and the United States, and force Mexico to pay for it. That sounds crazy, but it’s already US policy to build a barrier in the US southwest border region—a policy Hillary Clinton supported.

The United States is a nation of immigrants, but 15 years into the war on terror—as the country becomes less white—the political climate reflects growing xenophobic and Islamophobic sentiment. The FBI’s relentless persecution of Muslim Americans provides official cover for and stokes that racism. We must continue combatting these trends and promoting a culture of openness regardless of who is elected to the nation’s top office tomorrow.

The presidential election certainly matters, but whatever the outcome, we must continue to organize and advocate on behalf of civil rights and civil liberties in every city, town, county, and state throughout our nation. Our collective future depends on it. 

© 2024 ACLU of Massachusetts.