Does the ACLU Want To Be Taken Seriously Anymore?

In response to a recent false claim made by a deputy director of the ACLU, the New York Magazine columnist Jonathan Chait wrote “Sort of a side point, but what happened to the ACLU? It’s heartbreaking.” It seems like a good question based on something else that the ACLU did recently.

The ACLU recently published a letter related to the possibility that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) might ban menthol cigarettes, which the FDA said it would do days later. The first paragraph of the letter says that this would have “serious racial justice implications” and then discussed in more detail in the second paragraph. Though in a way that I still have hard time grasping could be written by the organization (emphasis mine):

Since the murder of George Floyd, the racially disparate impact of the criminal legal system has captured the nation’s attention. Yet police killings persist. As the public’s eyes were on the trial of Derek Chauvin, the officer who killed George Floyd, Daunte Wright was killed by police a scarce 10 miles away and Ma’khia Bryant, only 16 years old, was gunned down by police in Columbus, OH. A number of police encounters resulting in tragic deaths are linked to police enforcement of tobacco laws: Eric Garner, killed by a police chokehold, was illegally selling “loosie” cigarettes, and Michael Brown was killed after being suspected of stealing a box of cigarillos. Even in the case of George Floyd, police were called to investigate a counterfeit bill used to purchase cigarettes. Indeed, the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) stop and frisk program resulted in nearly 700,000 stops in 2011, with the vast majority being innocent Black and Latinx people.

Police responding to claims of robbery or passing a counterfeit bill have nothing to do with enforcement of tobacco laws. There isn’t even any wiggle room on that. How did a statement like that get released by an organization that is supposed to have a focus on litigation and legislation?

Even with the situation mentioned that involved tobacco laws, it involves an action taken by local law enforcement to enforce a local legislation, not an action taken to enforce a federal regulation.