Basic eighth-grade civics tells us legislators write the laws and police enforce them. But what happens when the police simply make up laws to punish people who question their authority or stand up for their rights?

Enter Phil Letten, Ken Anderson, and two lawsuits the ACLU is filing on their behalf to protect citizens from the police state.

Phil Letten is a political activist who works for Vegan Outreach, a non-profit organization dedicated to informing people of the benefits of a vegan diet. Last summer, he was standing in a public area in downtown Detroit handing out brochures to passers-by and encouraging them to learn more about veganism. A police officer approached and told him to stop. Phil knew that wasn't right, so he politely asked the officer what law he was breaking. The officer responded by charging him with a misdemeanor for "distributing flyers without a permit." There is no such crime, but Phil was forced to go to court and defend himself against these frivolous charges. He also lost the opportunity to hand out informational literature to countless pedestrians because a single police officer decided that this is a crime.
Ken Anderson had a similar encounter last November. While legally parked on the side of the road in midtown Detroit, Ken was approached by two police officers who demanded that he produce his driver's license. Ken had done nothing wrong, so he asked why he was being told to hand over his ID. The officers continued to demand that he turn over his driver's license, and when Ken complied they charged him with a misdemeanor for "loitering in a known drug area." There is no such crime, and when Ken complained to the police department about how he had been treated, he was told that he would be prosecuted because he had been rude to the officers. Ken, like Phil, was forced to appear in court and defend himself against frivolous charges that were made up by a police officer.

It's time we put this practice to an end. The police need to fight real crime, not punish law-abiding citizens who stand up for their rights.

If you have been retaliated against for speaking out against authority, don't give up. Contact the ACLU. And please support Phil Letten and Ken Anderson as they stand up for the basic freedoms that distinguish a free country from a police state.

By Dan Korobkin and Jessie Rossman, ACLU of Michigan staff attorneys