It’s time again for the year’s Best and Worst in San Diego Civil Liberties. Remember last year’s best/worst —Jerry Sanders’ emotional reversal on same-sex marriage, the treatment of immigrants during the wildfires, etc?

How did our fair region do this year in protecting the fundamental freedoms that make our country special? How did it treat our most vulnerable? Did it stomp on or stick up for the little guy?

There’s cause for both shame and hope.

Let’s start with the bad news — the 2008 Worst in Civil Liberties in the San Diego area. Please share your reactions by selecting “Click here to post comments” below.

Proposition 8: In May, the California Supreme Court recognized that all Californians, “whether gay or heterosexual,” are entitled to the protection of basic civil rights, including the right to marry. In November, California voters took away that right. In San Diego, the vote was 53.8 percent for Prop. 8, compared to 52.3 percent statewide. A lawsuit by the ACLU and others may yet invalidate Prop. 8. But, win or lose the suit, new energy, activism, and resources will be needed either to win back that right or protect it from another assault. You can help by turning out on Jan. 10.

The Border Wall: A beautiful, distinctive landscape has been razed, an ecosystem threatened, and more lives put in jeopardy by the expansion of fencing on our border with Mexico. The death toll of migrants driven to life-threatening, desert crossings across the US-Mexico border since 1995 has climbed over the 5,000 mark. This tragedy was the inspiration for ACLU-San Diego’s new cooperation with Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission.

Camp Pendleton Spying on Local Muslims: The most important story of the year that no one is talking about? Various unconstitutional themes are weaved together in a frightening scandal in our own backyard. According to the Union-Tribune, a secret military unit at Camp Pendleton became a repository for surveillance files on Muslims in the L.A. and San Diego area, including the monitoring of area mosques. “For years,” the unit illegally shared “a massive number of files” with police in L.A. The ring leader may have shared data with private corporations for personal gain. And, federal agencies may have modified a Census database called TIGER to assist their targeting of Muslims. So far, only low level personnel are being prosecuted. The ACLU has filed freedom of information requests. We may have to litigate to find out the full story.

CCA’s Detention Center of Horrors: 2008 was the year Francisco Castaneda died . He was held at the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA)’s detention center in Otay Mesa where, over 11 months, federal officials refused to authorize tests or treat him for a growing lesion on his penis, even though doctors told them it was likely cancer. Instead, they gave him ibuprofen and extra boxer shorts. Finally, they released him days before a scheduled biopsy, apparently so they wouldn’t have to pay for his treatment or have his death on their books. Sure enough, he had to have his penis amputated weeks later and died months later. Although, in 2008, we were able to settle an overcrowding suit against CCA and the federal government, the ACLU is still fighting a suit for abysmal medical care that has led to gangrene and other medical problems. Now, CCA is seeking permits to build a facility four times the size of its current one. We hope compassionate local leaders will help stop the Mega Shop of Horrors from being constructed.

The Censorship Reflex: There is a reason the ACLU is so well known for its protection of freedom of expression. It’s because unlawful censorship seems as instinctual to those in power as a knee faced with a doctor’s tap. This year, officials tried to censor the Minutemen, the San Diego Unified School Board, a court interpreter , mobile home owner-activists in Escondido, and Grossmont High students who disagreed with Prop. 8. We have sued Fallbrook High for censoring and, after the paper’s faculty advisor blew the whistle on the principal’s censorship, effectively shutting down its award-winning school paper.

I invite dissent, alternative nominations, and other commentary from the floor. In my next post, I will give you the good news — the 2008 Best in Civil Liberties in the San Diego Area.


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