The past year has tested our resolve and magnified the injustices that have plagued our country for centuries.
But it also demonstrated our strength and resilience in the face of adversity – not to mention a lot of creativity in finding new ways to push for civil rights in an ever-changing virtual world.
Here’s a look back at some of the highlights for the ACLU of South Dakota.
Another Year, Another Discriminatory Bill Targeting Transgender Youth Defeated
Year after year, issues that matter most to South Dakotans have been ignored as some legislators introduce and support bills that seem fixated on the incorrect notion that some of our friends and neighbors are not entitled to the same dignity and respect as others. This year was no different.
Legislators debated House Bill 1057, a bill that would criminalize doctors for providing medically necessary care for transgender youth. By blocking medical care supported by every major medical association, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association, the legislature was compromising the health of trans youth in dangerous and potentially life-threatening ways.
The ACLU, alongside other companies and organizations across the state, fought back, lobbied and testified against the bill, and encouraged hundreds of LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit people and allies across the state to voice their opinions to their legislators. Dozens of people showed up to march in protest of the bill at the Capital on a snowy day – some riding horseback. The bill was killed in a senate committee.
Forced Catheterizations Ruled Unconstitutional
South Dakota law enforcement’s practice of using forced catheterizations to obtain urine samples from suspects has been ruled unconstitutional.
The ACLU of South Dakota and attorney Jim Leach of Rapid City filed the Fourth Amendment case on behalf of several individuals against the city of Wagner and the Wagner Police Department, the city of Pierre and the Pierre Police Department, the city of Sisseton and the Sisseton Police Department, and the South Dakota Highway Patrol along with individually named law enforcement officers.
The Fourth Amendment guarantees people the right to be free from unreasonable police searches. There is nothing reasonable about forcibly catheterizing someone. The Constitution’s purpose is to protect people from police intrusions exactly like this. Now the practice of police using forced catheterization to gather evidence will stop.
Under the terms of the settlement, the defendants – the cities of Pierre, Sisseton and Wagner and former South Dakota Highway Patrol Officer Adam Woxland – agreed to collectively pay a total of $440,000 in damages, legal costs and attorney’s fees.
Know Your Rights Trainings Keep South Dakotans Informed, Connected
Whether they’re demanding justice for George Floyd, fighting alongside water protectors against the construction of the KXL pipeline, or protesting President Trump’s policies, activists throughout South Dakota took to the streets to express their opinions, their outrage, and their demands for change throughout 2020.
The right to join with fellow citizens in protest or peaceful assembly is critical to a functioning democracy and at the core of the First Amendment. Unfortunately, law enforcement officials sometime violate this right through means intended to thwart free public expression. That’s why the ACLU spent a significant amount of time educating and reminding people of their rights through educational materials and virtual know your rights workshops.
Standing up for your right to protest can be challenging, especially when demonstrations are met with the threat of violence. Knowing your rights and what actionable steps to take if you experience or witness police misconduct is important. If you are heading out to a protest, it is essential to remember your rights and to utilize them properly.
Get Out the Vote Efforts Bring More People to the Polls
In an unprecedented year, it was only natural that we had an unprecedented election.
The ACLU has a long history of helping voters understand and exercise their voting rights – and this year was no different. With misinformation flowing from the highest levels, we knew how important it was for voters to be prepared and make their plan for voting – either by absentee ballot or in person on Election Day. It was never more important to help educate voters on how, where and when they can vote, and how to advocate for their constitutional right to cast a ballot when obstacles are thrown in their way.
That’s why we launched an aggressive voting rights campaign – amplified through digital and outdoor advertising, direct mail, an expansive email program, interactive online tools, and social media outreach – which provided voting rights information, absentee ballot request forms, and instructions to people across the state.
We partnered with Hippie Haven, a store in Rapid City, to help register more than 150 voters. Students with "Get out the Yote" at the University of South Dakota also worked with our team to distribute voting rights information, voter registration and absentee ballot request forms to more than 3,000 USD Coyotes. Through these efforts and more, we helped thousands of South Dakotans vote safely by mail – and if people were comfortable, in person on Election Day – in the November election.
Looking Ahead to 2021
Thank you for supporting civil rights and liberties. Moving forward, we’re more committed than ever to building a more just and equitable South Dakota for everyone. Thank you for joining us in the fight. You make progress possible.