Claire Guthrie Gastañaga '74 Fights for Your Rights (Even If You Don't Know Them)

ACLU of Virginia Director Helps Serve as a Check on Police Power, Other Rights Issues
Claire Guthrie Gastañaga

Claire Guthrie Gastañaga '74 wants you to know your rights.

October 24, 2016

Claire Guthrie Gastañaga '74, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, always keeps something on hand that she can give to people as a reminder of their rights — it could be a pocket-sized copy of the U.S. Constitution, a Bill of Rights bookmark or a sticker that shouts "IT'S MY DATA GET A WARRANT."

But with rights-related issues clogging Facebook feeds and dominating news cycles, surely people are already aware, aren't they?

"No," Gastañaga said. Whether she is speaking at a Tea Party meeting, a Jewish Community Center luncheon or a high school assembly, she said people frequently don't know, or take for granted, their rights.

"It doesn't matter what kind of group I'm in front of, someone always asks me, 'Why should I care about that if I'm not doing anything wrong?'"

The ACLU promotes civil liberties and rights through public education, litigation and advocacy. Gastañaga was chosen in 2012 to be the Virginia affiliate director, in part, because of her tenacity as a lobbyist for Equality Virginia, the Virginia Coalition for Latino Organizations, and the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Alliance.

Perhaps no recent issue has been as contentious as the exercise of police power, including the use of force and video surveillance — topics on which the Virginia affiliate leads. The organization is pushing for an investigation of the Roanoke County police killing of Kionte Spencer, and asking for consistent departmental policies regarding officer-mounted cameras.

Last fall the affiliate issued a report finding that, while about a sixth of all Virginia law enforcement agencies were using body-worn cameras, only about 3 percent had policies requiring officers to inform the public they are being recorded. Gastañaga said people deserve to be warned, and also to be able to see the footage of themselves, know how long it's being kept, and be able to find out who has access.

"Whether it's body cams or use of force, there are just some things where there should be uniform policies applied equally to all Virginians across the board," she said.

Gastañaga will present the talk, "Civil Liberties and Gender Legislation," on Tuesday, Oct. 25 at 11:45 a.m. in the Purcell Reading Room at the Law School.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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