Tag Archives: ACLU

Panhandling allowed during Xmas

The City of Lowell has informed the American Civil Liberties Union and the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts that it is not currently enforcing Lowell Code of Ordinances Chapter 222, § 222.15, which prohibits all charitable requests in Lowell’s Downtown Historic District, pending a final decision by the Court on the merits of a constitutional challenge to the law.

As matters presently stand, therefore, Lowell residents will be allowed to panhandle peacefully throughout the City during the holiday season.

The City has agreed to announce its intentions with respect to enforcement change.

In February 2014, three men, Randy Copley, Kenneth McLaughlin, and Joshua Wood, assisted by attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Goodwin Procter LLP, filed suit against the City of Lowell on the grounds that the Ordinance violated their rights to free speech, equal protection, and due process under the United States and Massachusetts constitutions.  The case is currently pending before Judge Douglas Woodlock.

A decision in the case is expected in 2015.

For more information about the lawsuit Copley v. Lowell, go to:


For more information about the ACLU of Massachusetts, go to:


Public Review of the Worcester Police

By Gordon T. Davis

The rebellions in Ferguson, MO, regarding the killing of Michael Brown by the police have been the cause of some talk about a civilian review board for the police in Worcester.

A civilian review board is good public policy, as all public agencies need an effective periodic review of their work.  Police misconduct is an indication of the effectiveness of Worcester policing and law enforcement. There is today no real review of the Worcester Police Department’s work, whether that work is useful, ineffectual, or bad failure. There are no meaningful statistics collected or kept, and what information is kept is not available to the public.  Who can say if there is racial profiling or other type of bad policing happening?

The City Manager in theory reviews the work of the police department, but as we know from the past such reviews by the Manager are just rubber stamping of what the police Chief provides to the Manager. The Manager is supposed to be the “civilian review” of the police. He objectively is not.

We in the public are not able to have an objective opinion of the work or failings of the Worcester Police, as we just don’t have enough information or transparency.

I went to a Worcester Human Rights Commission meeting recently, and the good people there were reviewing a quarterly report of complaints brought against the Worcester Police. The report was cryptic, part of it being in code. The code was for the type of complaint. The Commissioners had a hard time with the report. Even if they could have figured it out, the Worcester Human Rights Commission could not release their findings without the permission of the Manager.

To be effective, a review of the police should be independent and free of conflicts of interests. The City Manager is certainly conflicted about anything negative about his administration.

Before going further I need to make full disclosures: I have been arrested four times, I have worked on the Justice for Cristino Hernandez Committee, I have relatives who are police officers, and I know that many cops are good people. I have an open mind on the issues.

In Worcester, public review of the police will take a form that might be different from anything else. Certainly it would be different than the Civilian Review Board found in Cambridge, MA. Worcester once had that type of review board which was a part of the Worcester Human Rights Commission. It had the power to investigate complaints against the City of Worcester. In the 1980s the Police Department rammed through a charter change that prevented the Worcester Human Rights Commission from investigating any complaints against the City. The commission cannot issue ANY report of any type without the approval of the City Manager.

The review of the police in Worcester will likely take the form of a nongovernmental agency that takes complaints against the police, helps complainants with their cases, and issues reports. To some extent these needs were performed by the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, when Ron Madnick was executive director. It still does work in this area, recently winning a case against the City in Federal Court. Chris Robarge and the attorney Beverly Chorbajian were significant protagonists for the plaintiffs, but that is a story for another day.

Hopefully, the talk of a public review of the police precipitated by the rebellions in Ferguson will result in the good public policy of civilian review of the police in Worcester, a rational outcome of the repeating story of Ferguson, MO.

Worcester cop slapped with civil rights lawsuit

BOSTON — A civil rights lawsuit has been filed by a Chicago resident against Worcester Police Officer Jeremy Smith, alleging the use of excessive force during a routine motor vehicle stop.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts has announced that Wakeelah Cocroft, of Chicago, Illinois, has filed the case in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

The complaint alleges that Ms. Cocroft was a passenger in a vehicle being driven by her sister, Clytheia Mwangi, of Worcester, on December 29, 2007. The two women were pulled over at a gas station on Park Avenue at 7am by Officer Smith. According to Ms. Cocroft, the officer aggressively approached the vehicle they were in and began screaming at Ms. Mwangi for speeding.

While the officer wrote the ticket, Ms. Cocroft, who was a passenger in the car, went into the station to purchase gas and then returned to use the pump. The police officer began yelling at her and ordered her to return to the car. As she went to the car, she told the officer that he had no right to speak to her in that manner and that she knew her rights.

Officer Smith grabbed her from behind, and threw her on the ground, slamming her face against the concrete, according to the complaint.

She alleges that he then kneeled on her back until a second officer arrived in response to a 911 call by Ms. Mwangi.

The complaint alleges that the use of force caused bodily injury to Ms. Cocroft’s face and shoulder.

The civil rights claim alleges that the use of force was excessive and unnecessary and that there was no probable cause to arrest Ms. Cocroft for charges of Disturbing the Peace and Resisting Arrest. In addition, the complaint alleges that Officer Smith arrested Ms. Cocroft in retaliation for speaking up about his conduct.

Making Worcester City Council meetings more open to the people

By Ronal Madnick, Executive Director, ACLU, Worcester County Chapter

A number of people, mostly from South Main, feel that they should be able to address the Worcester City Council when their petition first appears on the council agenda without having to ask for permission to speak. To bring that about the Worcester County Chapter of the American

Civil l\Liberties Union of Massachusetts has placed an item before the council that calls for allowing the primary petitioner for any item before the city council to be allowed to speak on the petition the first day it appears on the agenda.

We asked that a person should be able to speak when an item is first on the agenda and before it is sent to a committee because quite often an item is sent to a committee which may not meet for quite some time.. Some people, feel that the right to speak on their item should be a right, not a privilege. Continue reading Making Worcester City Council meetings more open to the people

The trouble with Arizona

By Ronal Madnick, Director
Worcester County Chapter
ACLU of Massachusetts

A law, SB1070, passed in Arizona makes the rampant racial profiling of Latinos that is already going on in Arizona much worse. If this law were implemented, citizens would effectively have to carry ‘their papers’ at all times to avoid arrest. It is a low point in modern America when a state law requires police to demand documents from people on the street.

This unconstitutional law sends a strong message to all immigrants to have no contact with any law enforcement officer. The inevitable result is not only to make immigrants more vulnerable to crime and exploitation, but also to make the entire community less safe, by aggressively discouraging witnesses and victims from reporting crimes. It violates the supremacy clause by interfering with federal immigration power and authority. The law also unlawfully invites racial profiling against Latinos and other people of color. Continue reading The trouble with Arizona

ACLU condemns efforts at censorship at UMass/Amherst

BOSTON — The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts applauds efforts by student and faculty leaders at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst to ensure that a planned talk by Raymond Luc Levasseur goes forward, despite calls for censorship.

“Going ahead with the speech is the right thing to do,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. Continue reading ACLU condemns efforts at censorship at UMass/Amherst