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ACLU meet and greet addresses legislation and lawsuits

Morgan Stringer
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The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi is currently fighting to ensure that school resource officers are properly trained to handle special needs students and that Mississippi citizens charged with crimes are granted due process.

These issues were discussed Friday evening during an ACLU of Mississippi meet and greet in Oxford. The event, held at 6:30 p.m. at 1700 Jefferson Avenue, included food, live music and information about how to join the organization.

Jennifer Riley-Collins, executive director of the ACLU of Mississippi, spoke about the ACLU’s ongoing projects in Mississippi. One seeks to pass legislation that will ensure that school resource officers are properly trained when dealing with special needs children.

She talked about a case involving a 13-year-old DeSoto County girl with special needs who was handcuffed by a school resource officer after wandering away from school twice in one day. The case was written about on the Business Insider website.

Riley-Collins said the child, 13, attended Magnolia School for special education students. The girl, who has an autism spectrum disorder, sometimes wanders off and lashes out when frightened.

When the school resource officer located the girl and forcibly restrained her, she struck him and was arrested and charged with striking a police officer. She was taken to a detention center, and because no one was available to process and release her, she spent the night in jail.

Riley-Collins said the ACLU of Mississippi is also suing Scott County on the behalf of people who were denied due process.

She said a man named Octavius Burkes was jailed for 16 months without being charged. He was held again for 10 months without charges, and a third time for nine months. She said Burkes was also denied an attorney.

“People need to be indicted, so that they are not left in jail to languish,” she said, adding that Mississippi ranks second in the nation with the number of people incarcerated.

There should be consistency in sentencing when dealing with non-violent or violent habitual offenders, she said.

Ron Coleman, a former Texas congressman, attended the event.

“I’m proud of the ACLU and what they’ve been doing,” he said.

Coleman said the ACLU has been able to inquire, question and get information that is important to Americans.

“I don’t always agree with the groups that they represent, but they are right in insisting that people have the freedom of assembly,” he said.

The ACLU supports causes protected by the Constitution, said attorney Jack Williams, who attended the event. The organization has fought racial discrimination and supports LGBTQ and civil rights.

Williams has worked on pro bono cases for the ACLU.

Riley-Collins said the ACLU of Mississippi serves the entire state, including Oxford.

“Oxford is an important and progressive part of the state,” said Alison Steiner, board president of the ACLU of Mississippi.

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