Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa.

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.

Japan joins the list of nation-States `apologizing’ for forced sterilization

When she was 16 years old, Junko Iizuka was forcibly sterilized.

On Thursday, March 14, all major parties in Japan agreed to pass a measure, probably in April, that would “deeply apologize” and offer compensation to victim-survivors of forced sterilization. The compensation would be a one-off payment of around $28,700. Now we know the value of life in Japan … and elsewhere. Survivors and their supporters and advocates argue that the compensation is way too little and way too late. Japan suspended its 48-year program of sterilizing those who might produce children described as “inferior”, under a law called the Eugenics Protection Law. The youngest known victim was 9 or 10 years old; 70% of those sterilized were women and girls. Since 1996, women and supporters have organized and demanded recognition, compensation, apology, dignity and justice. It only took 23 years to arrive at something approximating any of their demands, and that was largely due to a barrage of civil suits initiated last year. Forced sterilization is a formative element in contemporary nation-building, and Japan is not an outlier in this matter.

From 1935 to 1976, Sweden sterilized womenit deemed socially or racially inferior. `No one’ know about this program until it was revealed in 1997. In 1999, Sweden agreed to pay victim-survivors a one-off payment of $22,6000. Then, in 2012, it was `revealed’ that Sweden required transgender people to undergo sterilization. The law requiring sterilization was passed in 1972, but “no one” knew. In February 2012, thirty years after its passage, the law was repealed

Japan now joins the list of nation-States dealing, and not dealing, with their histories of forced sterilization: PeruSouth AfricaNamibiaIndia, to name a few that have addressed the issue in the last few years. Sometimes the ostensible reason is health care, particularly HIV; or population control; and the list goes on. No matter the immediate explanation, the reason is always “protection.” In the past few years, in the United States, CaliforniaVirginiaNorth Carolinahave addressed their histories of forced sterilization. The United States has not addressed its history of forced sterilization of Native women. Nor has Canada.

The Japanese government will not say if forced sterilization operations under the now-defunct eugenic protection law were unconstitutional”. 

Every program of forced sterilization had a justification. Every later discovery offered an alibi, most of which argued `the times were different’. That was then. The problem is that now is then, as then was now. Forced sterilization of women and girls is baked into the formation of citizenship in the modern nation-State, every single one without exception. It is the signature of nation-State modernity. As long as the State produces and reproduces hierarchies of citizenship, that’s how long the nation-State will find ways to accommodate forced sterilization of women and girls. For `our’ protection and security. There is no apology deep enough to address that constitutive and absolutely ordinary atrocity.

(Photo Credit: Daniel Hurst /The Guardian) (Image Credit: PBS / Truman State University)

Yet again, we face, or don’t, the fearful symmetry of white supremacy

March 15, 2019, and the news, once more, is terrible. In Christchurch, New Zealand, 49 Muslim worshippers massacred in the name of white supremacy. Off the coast of Morocco, 45 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean. Three years ago, all that was human drowned in the seaall that was holy had been profaned, and we thought, we hoped, we were at last compelled to face with sober senses our real conditions of life, and our relations with our kind. Seven years ago, we thought it might be too late to sing songs beyond mankind. We thought there had to be songs to sing, and that those songs had to begin by turning swords into ploughshares, immediately, right away. And then we moved on, which is to say we went nowhere.

Today, the news and much of the world is filled with discussions of “white supremacy.” The butcher of Christchurch was “deep” into white supremacist culture. The drowned migrants, many of them women and children, had to take to the sea because Europe (and the United States and Australia) have declared a “just war” on migrants of color who are represented as an “invasion” at the border and in the homeland.

There are no more songs to sing; even silence fails us, as we fail silence. Here’s how the news from Christchurch was contextualized, “Christchurch, the South Island’s largest city, which is known to have an active white-supremacist subculture.” Known to have an active white-supremacist subculture. What kind of knowledge, what kind of knowing, is that which knows and does nothing? White supremacy is hate; white supremacy is a hate crime. It is not a preference; it is a deadly assault always already in motion. 

Having survived, at times regretfully, the Holocaust, Paul Celan tried, and failed, to turn the pain, horror and anguish of mass violence into the possibility of understanding. Poetry is what emerges from that failure. May it not be too late.

Whichever stone you lift

Whichever stone you lift – 
you lay bare 
those who need the protection of stones: 
naked, 
now they renew their entwinement. 

Whichever tree you fell – 
you frame 
the bedstead where 
souls are stayed once again, 
as if this aeon too 
did not 
tremble. 

Whichever word you speak – 
you owe to 
destruction

(Image credit: Meditatioprodomo)

Women farmworkers of Immokalee have spoken: “We are tired of excuses! We want justice!”

Lupe Gonzalo

Last Friday, March 8, women and allies commemorated International Women’s Day, a day that honors the March 8, 1917 march of over 100,000 women workers through the streets of St. Petersburg, calling for the overthrow of the czar. Four days later, the czar was gone. From the outset, International Women’s Day was International Women Workers’ Day. The women farmworkers of Immokalee, Florida, like women farmworkers around the world, know this lesson in their bodies as well as their days and nights, and they teach it every single day. This year, as in years past, they are taking that lesson to school, to universities in North CarolinaOhioMichigan and Florida, to be exact. Their message is clear and direct. As Lupe Gonzalo, a farmworker organizer leader of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, told the assembled at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill: “You cannot claim light and liberty while doing business with companies like Wendy’s… This message is for all of the university administrations: We are tired of excuses! We want justice!” We are tired of excuses! We want justice!

For over twenty years, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has been organizing to create justice in the fields. They have fought against slavery in the fields, and in so doing established anti-slavery and anti-trafficking networks. They have fought against sexual violence and exploitation in the fields and developed some of the most stringent and effectively monitored codes of conduct in the agricultural industry anywhere. The Coalition began its Campaign for Fair Food in 2001, and in 2011, signed its first formal Fair Food Program agreement, this with the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange. That first agreement included “a strict code of conduct, a cooperative complaint resolution system, a participatory health and safety program, and a worker-to-worker education process.” From the outset to today, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has insisted that workers have to be in charge of the pursuit of dignity and justice. At the core of that insistence has been the women members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers who, from the outset, argued that every so-called watershed moment had to be understood as “a movement, not a moment”. From their campaigns to bring growers, grocery chains and restaurant chains to the table, the women of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has insisted that labor rights are women’s rights are women workers’ rights. The companies that have heard, or were forced to hear, that argument include Yum! Brands aka Taco Bell, McDonald’s , Burger King, Whole Foods, Subway, Bon Appétit, Compass, Aramark, Sodexo, Trader Joe’s, Chipotle, Walmart, Fresh Market, and Ahold USA. 

For the last few years, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has been pushing Wendy’s to come to the table. Their campaign, Boot the Braids, has called on universities and colleges to join the boycott of Wendy’s. This month’s iteration of that campaign is the 4 for Fair Food Bus Tour, targeting universities in four states. Thus far, the University of Michigan announced that Wendy’s will not return to campus until it signs and abides by the Fair Food Program standards.From the beginning of the Wendy’s campaign, and before and beyond, women farmworker organizer leaders have insisted that every part of the labor system must engage with the dignity of women workers as part of the struggle for dignity for all workers and as part of the struggle for dignity for women workers in particular. This is what the Coalition of Immokalee Workers means when they discuss worker-driven social responsibility linked to worker-to-worker popular education, research and leadership formation. Again, you cannot claim light and liberty while doing business with companies like Wendy’s. That message is for everyone: We are tired of excuses! We want justice! NOW is the time!

(Photo Credit 1: Coalition of Immokalee Workers) (Photo Credit 2: Forest Woodward / Facebook)

What happened to Brianna Beland? Just another death in the Charleston County Jail

Brianna Beland

In August 2017, 31-year-old Brianna Beland “died” in the Charleston County Jail, the same jail in which Joyce Curnell “died”, in July 2015. What happened to Brianna Beland? The same thing that happened to Kellsie Green, in Alaska; Jessica DiCesare, in Massachusetts; Madaline Christine Pitkin, in Oregon, and so many other drug dependent women who needed help and got jail. Brianna Beland is just another day in the life of the cruel and usual treatment of women in jails across the United States, where women go to jail and die.

The story of Brianna Beland’s death is almost as short as her life. In April 2017, Brianna Beland was arrested for shoplifting a pack of coloring pens, worth $3.94. Brianna Beland had no previous convictions. She did have a debilitating heroin habit. She also had a four-year-old daughter and a partner. Brianna Beland was given a May court date, which she missed. Her partner died in June “while fishing off the coast of Virginia.” Brianna Beland worked cleaning vacation rentals and was studying to become a paralegal. On Monday August 14, she was picked up on a bench warrant and given a choice of 25 days in jail or paying a fine of $1,030. Brianna Beland “chose” jail. On August 16, Brianna Beland started vomiting and feeling nauseous. On August 17, she passed out in the yard. On August 18, Brianna Beland was moved to the infirmary. Brianna Beland kept falling out of bed; she couldn’t walk or move. She said she felt that she was burning up and asked for help. The nurse left Brianna Beland to attend to other patients “because it took priority over a patient being hot.” The nurse returned an hour or so later, and “found” Brianna Beland “unresponsive”. On August 19, a little while after midnight, Brianna Beland was pronounced dead. In December 2018, her family sued the Charleston County Jail, the doctor, and the medical service.

Brianna Beland’s story mirrors that of Joyce Curnell, who also “died” in the Charleston County Jail two years earlier. Joyce Curnell also was arrested for shoplifting, also had no prior record, also was picked up on a bench warrant. Given the “choice” between jail or paying $2200, Joyce Curnell chose to pay, monthly. She couldn’t keep up the payments, and so “chose” jail. Joyce Curnell struggled with alcoholism. Her son believed that in jail Joyce Curnell would get help.  Joyce Curnell went into the jail, vomited time after time, told the staff she needed help, was given a garbage bag, and, within 27 hours of entering the jail, was “found” dead.

Both Brianna Beland and Joyce Curnell lived in trailers. For working poor women, and especially those who live and struggle with alcohol and drug addiction as well as with mental health issues, the contemporary architecture of the United States is simple and direct: take a trailer, overlay it with a jail, and overlay the two of them with a graveyard. The families sue, and generally win, but there’s neither justice nor peace nor resolution therein. There is no justice nor peace in a land in which a woman life is worth the same as a $3.94 pack of coloring pens.

(Photo Credit: Live5News)

In India, women forest dwellers saved the trees, lost the woods, saved the woods, lost the forest

In 2006, India passed The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act, known as the Recognition of Forest Rights Act. While not perfect, the Act was a step in the right direction. It was “a weapon for democracy in the forest”, because, for the first time, the State recognized and secured community and individual rights over common property resources; rights in and over disputed land rights concerning land use; right to protect, regenerate or conserve or manage the forest; right to intellectual property and traditional knowledge related to biodiversity and cultural diversity; rights of displaced communities; and, finally, rights over developmental activities. That act came after decades of struggle by forest dependent communities. Women were at the core of those struggles. This week, with one court decisionmillions of forest dependent communities, often called the most vulnerable of thevulnerable, were informed that they were to be evicted by July 24. It is estimated that as many as 2,300,000 families will ultimately be affected by this decision. Who are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable? Women and children.

From the moment its inception, the Act was challenged by mining, agricultural and so-called development interests. More recently, some conservationists argued that the forests were dwindling and that the forest dependent populations had to be moved to save the forests. In the case decided this week, the key was the provision of the act by which forest dependent families had to formally lay claim to land. This proved difficult given low levels of formal literacy and often impossible bureaucratic processes. For women, the issue of land titles was complicated by even lower levels of literacy and local traditions that precluded women having title to land. The State colluded with those local traditions. For example, many, if not most, forest households are women-led, because male partners have left, for work or just because, or have died. The State never addressed the particularities of women-headed forest households.

While the conditions for women forest dwellers have been particularly harsh, with increased industrial and State violence against forest-dependent women, women have consistently engaged in individual and collective direct action and mobilization for tribal rights and for tribal women’s rights. From Odisha to Chhattisgarhto Rajasthanand beyond, women self-organized to defend their commons. They carry the legacy of the women’s Chipko movement, from the 1970s in Uttarakhand. On March 25, 1974, Gaura Devi, the leader of the Chipko movement, led local women to confront logging companies about to chop down the trees. Calling the forest her mother’s home, Devi wrapped her body around the trees. The women persisted, and the loggers left. That was the early 1970s. In 2013, a reporter returned to the site and saw that the women had saved the trees … but lost the woods. Now only elders, women, and children live there, since the men have gone, either to find work or just because. Six years later … 

Forty five years, almost to the day, after Gaura Devi and the women of Reni village stood up for the dignity of Niluribhur forest, those women, their daughters and granddaughters have been informed they have five months to vacate. While the world press is paying some attention to this crisis, thus far almost none have noted, or wondered, “Where are the women?” 

Feminist activist scholar Swarna Rajagopalan has asked and answered: “What does it really mean to be an internally displaced person—or a refugee, for those who cross borders in flight? … As a woman, you did not get to go to school for long and you studied another language. How are you to navigate this state’s administrative offices and claim the paperwork, the food and medical assistance and other entitlements that are your due? You fled to survive, but now you have to fight to survive each day … As a woman, maybe stepping out of the house for the first to find employment, you can do domestic or care work. Sometimes you beg; sometimes you trade sexual favours to feed your family. Living on the margins, crowded by strangers, you are visible and vulnerable in so many ways—on the way to a communal toilet; to fetch water; to earn a living; and in your interactions with officials and house-owners. But disadvantaged as you are as a woman, you are not weak. You and your sisters asked questions, protested and stood your ground until the ground itself shifted. Now, after one… two… three displacements, the fight is going out of you …. Some women will miscarry en route; some will give birth in camps. Those children may grow up as ‘IDPs’ or ‘refugees,’ living in camps or IDP settlements all their lives. Small gardens will be planted, rangolis drawn, makeshift temples and churches set up. But they will always remember home. They were once from somewhere else—a lost forest home where they belonged and which truly belonged to them.”

Where are the forest dependent women in the Indian Supreme Court’s decision, in national and regional policies, in press accounts? Everywhere and nowhere. The Forest Dwellers Act recognized the rights of over 200 million individuals living in more than 170,000 villages. This week’s decision is a step in the removal of all 200 million. At every step of that plan and at every instance of resistance, ask, and demand to be answered, “Where are the women?” Everywhere and nowhere is not good enough.

(Infograph Credit: Business Standard) (Photo Credit: Guardian / Anupam Nath / AP)

In Sudan, women demand freedom … again!

On December 19, 2018, in Sudan, people took to the streets to protest a precipitous rise in bread prices. Since then, the protests have persisted and grown. As so often in food uprisings, the price of food was the visible spark that revealed an undergrowth of fire, and, again, as so often, women of Sudan set and sustained the spark. Remember June 2012, when women students responded to astronomical increases in transportation and food prices? A few university women students took to the streets, shouting “Girifna!” “Enough is enough!” Within days, their small demonstration inspired a sandstorm, which was met with severe State repression. Remember the Sudanese women of June 2012? Remember September 2013, when, again in response to austerity measures this time involving gasoline prices, women took to the streets? This time the protests started in rural areas and then moved to the cities. Then others joined in and, again, the protests turned into a national crisis, which, again, was met by severe repression. Remember the Sudanese women of September 2013, and the Sudanese Women’s Union of the 1950s and 1960s, and the Sudanese who have organized continually from the 1950s on, for women’s autonomy and national dignity? Remember them? They’re back.

While the world press has only fitfully noticed the ongoing protests across Sudan, it has taken note of the leading role of women in those demonstrations. On Friday, December 28, across Sudan, people protested in the streets and were quickly met with force: “The demonstrations were the most widespread since the protests began in the city of Atbara on December 19 in response to the government raising the price of bread from one Sudanese pound to three. They were also notable for the large number of women taking part, including one led by women in the Tuti Island area of Khartoum.”

As the demonstrations grew and persisted into January, more and more women joined in, despite or because of the government’s increasingly violent response: “Dressed in headscarves, they can be seen in nearly all the footage shared on social media, which in turn has helped to convince even more women to take to the streets.” Twenty-six-year-old Aseel Abdo explained, “I will continue to protest, even if it takes years to bring down this regime … This regime has some of the worst laws against women. You could be arrested for wearing trousers or if your scarf is not covering your hair properly.”

As the demonstrations grew and persisted into February, women took to the frontlines of the demonstrations. They organized in prison, they organized on the streets, and they called for revolution. That was not a surprise. As women’s rights activist Hala Al-Karib noted, “The price of bread was a trigger for protests, but it’s not about bread, it’s about equality. It’s about dignity, it’s about freedom. The government has an Islamic militant ideology which at its core aims to exclude women from the public space. For 30 years, women in Sudan have fought against this oppression, so it’s no surprise they are out in significant numbers now … I am very hopeful and I haven’t been this hopeful before. There is such a strong demand for change and, as women, we have played a very strong role in opposing this regime. There’s no turning back now.”

Women have marched to women’s prisons to protest the incarceration of their sisters, demanding freedom, chanting, “Long live the struggle of Sudanese women!” When the security forces attacked women, they used all-women Facebook websites to identify the perpetrators and demanded justice.

Today marks the beginning of the third month of persistent, sustained and expanding protests in Sudan. Call it a wave, a revolt, a revolution, a sandstorm, whatever you call it, remember that women are setting and sustaining the momentum. Long live the struggle of Sudanese women! It’s about freedom. Remember the Sudanese women of 2018 and 2019?

(Photo Credit: News24 / AFPTV / AFP)

Today’s witch-hunt: Caroline Mwatha and Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz

“The witch-hunt, then, was a war against women; it was a concerted attempt to degrade them, dehumanize them, and destroy their social power. At the same time, it was in the torture chambers and on the stakes on which the witches perished that the bourgeois ideals of womanhood and domesticity were forged. In this case, too, the witch-hunt amplified contemporary social trends. There is, in fact, an unmistakable continuity between the practices targeted by the witch-hunt and those banned by the new legislation that in the same years was introduced to regulate family life, gender and property relations.”            
Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation

The news this week reminds us that the witch hunt is thriving and in process. In Kenya, human rights defender Caroline Mwatha disappeared and then was found, dead. Police quickly determined that the cause of Caroline Mwatha’s death was a “botched” abortion. While questions abound concerning that report, not in question is the severity of Kenya’s restrictions on abortions and on women’s access to reproductive health care and justice. In El Salvador, yesterday, Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz walked out of the hellhole of Ilopango Women’s Prison, where she had been held for almost three years for “aggravated homicide”, which judgment was based on Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz not having sought prenatal care while she was pregnant. We live in the world that spins between Caroline Mwatha and Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz.

On February 6, Caroline Mwatha was reported missing. Caroline Mwatha lived and worked in the Dandora neighborhood of Nairobi, where she had founded the Dandora Community Justice Centre. Caroline Mwatha was well known for her investigations into extrajudicial killings, specifically, and police abuses more generally. She was a fierce and dedicated human and women’s rights defender and warrior. At the same time, she was a pregnant woman living in Kenya. According to certain reports, Caroline Mwatha chose to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. According to all reports, Kenya is an especially dangerous place in which to make that choice. That danger is caused by especially harsh restrictions as well as by government political policies. In November 2018, Marie Stopes Kenya, the single largest provider of safe abortions in the country, was forced to close its abortion operations. Meanwhile, also last year, the government reported that every year in Kenya about 2,600 women die from unsafe abortions. That’s seven women every dayWhat killed Caroline Mwatha? Evelyn Opondo, Africa director at the Center for Reproductive Rights, put it simply: “Caroline did not have to die. Her death was preventable. She is just one of so many women who are killed needlessly due to unsafe abortion in clinics run by ‘quacks’.” Caroline Mwatha did not have to die, but she was executed by state policy.

In July 2017, Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz was found guilty of aggravated homicide. Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz was a high school student at the time, who was repeatedly raped by a gang member. She became pregnant. She didn’t know she was pregnant. She knew that she had stomach pains, but, because she also was bleeding, she thought she wasn’t pregnant. Then In April 2016, she gave birth in the bathroom of her family’s home. She passed out. When she regained consciousness, she was arrested. At the trial, medical experts couldn’t ascertain whether the fetus died in utero or after the birth. The prosecution maintained that Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz had not sought prenatal care because she didn’t want the child. The judge agreed, and sentenced Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz to thirty years in prison. After a little less than three years in the hellhole of Ilopango Women’s Prison, Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz was granted a new trial. Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz can stay out of prison until a new trial, April 4. Mariana Moisa, of Agrupacion Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto, or Citizen’s Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion, noted, “In 2019 we shouldn’t be fighting for the presumption of innocence when a woman loses a pregnancy. We shouldn’t have to be proving that motherhood is not related to crime. We should have full human rights as Salvadoran women.”

Kenyan activists mourn the death of Caroline Mwatha. Salvadoran activists celebrate the release of Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz. These are pages in the history of the witch-hunt. While both Kenya and El Salvador explain their anti-abortion policies as a consequence of their being “religious”, the tie that binds the two is the marriage of patriarchy and capitalism at whose altar the power and knowledge of autonomous, self-aware women is demonized and criminalized. Caroline Mwatha wanted help, and instead she was given a death sentence. Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz needed help, and instead she was given a 30-year-sentence, which is akin to a death sentence. That’s the modern witch-hunt, and it must end now. It’s time, it’s way past time, to demand justice for Caroline Mwatha, Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz, and all the women subjected to the witch-hunt. Shut it down … now!

Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz 

(Image Credit: Hivisasa) (Photo Credit: BBC / AFP)

Don’t build better prisons; build a better world!

According to a report released today, the culmination of two years study of women prisoners in HMP Drake Hall in England, 64 percent of the 173 women interviewed and analyzed were living with brain injury. 64% of women prisoners are living with brain injury. The overwhelming majority had sustained traumatic brain injury due to domestic violence. 96% of the women reported that they had experienced “domestic abuse victimization.” The report notes, “Women with undiagnosed brain injuries, without the provision of specialised and informed support, may struggle to engage in rehabilitation programmes necessary to reduce recidivism, resulting in a higher risk of reoffending.”

Brain injuries would cause women towards behaviors that would land them in jail, particularly “emotional dysregulation (inability to control anger, aggression).” Women end up in jail for short terms. Upon release, the women predictably return to jail within the next year. In jail, the behaviors associated with brain injury – poor memory, lack of concentration, slowness to process information, poor impulse control – keep women from succeeding in any way. It’s a perfect system of entrapment wedded to abandonment. What is left after all this? Damaged women, dead women. Women prisoners self-harm at a rate five times that of men prisoners. Year after year, studies show that for women in England and Wales, `safety in custody’ means harm, death, hopelessness. Much of this is old news.

What is new is the documented prevalence of brain injury among women prisoners. Part of the study involved the establishment of a Brain Injury Linkworker service, which provided the women with desperately needed assistance from trained professionals. While the results are positive and encouraging, there’s one glaring missing from the study. Should these women have been in prison in the first place? Many of the so-called offenses derive in large part from brain injury, and that only increases and intensifies with the repeat offenses. While installing a Brain Injury Linkworker service in every prison and jail, beginning with women’s prisons, is important, more important and immediate should be providing care and assistance to women before they ever enter the criminal justice universe. Perhaps, instead of building better prisons, we might try to build a better world. Another world is possible. 

(Image Credit: The Mental Elf)

Tracy Whited and, once again, the hellhole that is the Harris County Jail

Tracy Whited

Welcome to another year in the hellhole that is the Harris County Jail. On Saturday, January 12, 42-year-old Tracy Whited was picked up on a misdemeanor. She had allegedly knifed her ex-boyfriend’s car. She then tried to walk away from booking, and so was hit with a second misdemeanor. When Tracy Whited appear in court, the hearing officer rejected a no-cash personal bond. Instead, Tracy Whited was hit with a $3000 bail, which she could not afford. On Monday morning, Tracy Whited was found, by another inmate, hanging with a bedsheet from her bunkbed. On Monday, after being found hanging and cut down, Tracy Whited was issued a personal bond. She was in hospital by then. On Wednesday, Tracy Whited died. Tracy Whited was the fifth `apparent’ suicide in the Harris County Jail in two years. The Harris County Sheriff says jail conditions are improving. A state Senator says he’s considering putting the Harris County Jail under state supervision, basically putting it in receivership. The two sides argue, and Tracy Whited is dead.

The Harris County Jail has been sued time and again for its violations of prisoners’ Constitutional rights. In the past two years, the Harris County Jail has been found in noncompliance five times. Again, in the past two years, the Harris County Jail has been home to five “apparent” suicides. The jail is overcrowded, fetid, and worse. Who’s overcrowding the jail? People awaiting trial … innocent until proven guilty. According to the Harris County Jail’s most recent reports, this is what the jail population looks like on the last day of typical recent months. On the last day of October 2018, of 9794 inmates, 8301 were pretrial. On the last day of September 2018, of 9804 inmates, 8482 were awaiting trial. In August 2018, of 9677 inmates, 8261 were awaiting trial. The Harris County Jail monthly census report, going back to January 2015 shows that, while the numbers may vary, though only slightly, the percentages stay more or less fixed. On any given month, well over 80% of those sitting, and often dying, in Harris County Jail are pretrial, the overwhelmingly majority of whom are there because they couldn’t afford bail. No. The overwhelming majority are there because Harris County insists that everyone must pay to play. That’s why it’s called criminal justice.

Tracy Whited was only the most recent in this cavalcade of those not rich enough to qualify for something like justice, and so poor enough to be condemned to death. In August 2018, Debora Lyons was picked up on a theft charge. Her bail was at $1500. Within days, she was found hanging from a bedsheet in the Harris County Jail. These deaths are not accidents nor are they suicides. They are a public program of abandonment. Debora Lyons last year and Tracy Whited this year were `left to their own devices’, which means they were left to hang from bedsheets.

In 2013, a women, referred to as Jane Doe, was rapedJane Doe lives with bipolar disorder. In December 2015, Jane Doe testified against the man who raped her. Midway through her testimony, she broke down. Initially, Jane Doe was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward. Once “stabilized”, Jane Doe was sent to the Harris County Jail, where she stayed for 28 days, waiting for the trial to proceed. Jane Doe “was imprisoned in the hellhole of the Harris County Jail for no reason other than being a rape victim who struggles with a mental disability.”

In jail, Jane Doe was assaulted, insulted, verbally abused, demeaned, and worse. She was put in with the general population, even though there is a mental health unit in the jail. She was assaulted by staff who said they were confused and thought she was the rapist. In the end as throughout, Jane Doe cooperated with officials and completed her testimony, in January 2016.

In July 2016 Jane Doe sued Harris County. In July, “Jane Doe” was renamed “Jenny”. Jenny’s mother sued Harris County as she pushed legislators to address the nightmare situation. In April 2017, the Texas Senate unanimously and without debate approved “Jenny’s Law” requires a defense attorney be appointed for witnesses and victims and that would receive a full hearing before a judge could sign a writ of attachment and send them off to jail in order to secure their testimony at trial. Jenny’s mother wrote, “Putting a victim in jail should never be an option. Today Jenny is still struggling with the entire trauma she endured by the rapist and also being re-victimized by the justice system.”

The line from Jenny to Tracy Whited is direct. Tracy Whited is dead because she couldn’t come up with $3000. Debora Lyons couldn’t find $1500. How much is your life worth? Atrocities will continue in the Harris County Jail, and beyond, until the bail-to-prison pipeline is shut down, once and for all. Maybe one day, Texas will enact a Tracy’s Law, ending bail and beginning the long slow walk to justice and healing. Until then, corpses will continue to pile up. It’s in the numbers.

(Photo Credit: Houston Chronicle)

Dafne McPherson Veloz and Leyla Güven ask, “When will we know freedom?”

Leyla Güven leaves prison

On Friday, January 25, 55-year-old Leyla Güven walked out of Diyarbakır Prison, in southeastern Turkey. Leyla Güven had been on hunger strike for 79 days and was in poor health when she was released. Leyla Güven had been in prison since January 2018. On Thursday, January 24, 29-year-old Dafne McPherson Veloz walked out of prison in San Juan del Río, in Querétaro in north central Mexico. Dafne McPherson Veloz had spent three years and four months in prison of a 16-year sentence. News media report Leyla Güven as “released” from prison, as “freed”. News media report also describe Dafne McPherson Veloz as “freed” and “released.” Leyla Güven still faces trial and a possible sentence of 100 years. Upon leaving prison, Dafne McPherson Veloz said, “They stole those years from me, but I made myself stronger and harder.” What is freedom in this world, this world where women are routinely falsely accused and held? When the age of mass and hyper incarceration is over, will we have any means of recognizing freedom? Will we know freedom?

In 2015, Dafne McPherson Veloz worked in department store. She was the mother of a three-year-old child. One day, Dafne McPherson Veloz felt abdominal pains. They grew severe. She went to the restroom. The pains persisted. Finally, to her great surprise, Dafne McPherson Veloz gave birth to a child, who subsequently died of asphyxiation. Dafne McPherson Veloz went into shock and fainted in the bathroom. Immediately afterwards, she was charged with and convicted of homicide and sentenced to 16 years in prison. Dafne McPherson Veloz spent over three years behind bars, all the time maintaining her innocence. Doctors say she suffered from hypothyroidism, the symptoms of which masked the pregnancy. Although Dafne McPherson Veloz went to the doctors, none mentioned that she was or might be pregnant. Dafne McPherson Veloz and her attorneys have argued consistently that her trial was improper, both because of inadequate evidence and because the judge relied on “stereotypes” of how a woman, a “good mother”, should live. In other words, Dafne McPherson Veloz “should have known” she was pregnant and so she was found guilty of murder.

Prior to her arrest, Dafne McPherson Veloz was not well known. Leyla Güven, on the other hand, is a prominent Kurdish activist, an elected official who has been detained before. Leyla Güven is an MP for the People’s Democratic Party, a pro-Kurdish party; and is a Co-Chair for the Democratic Society Congress. According to a recent statement by Angela Davis, “Leyla Güven … has been on an indefinite hunger strike for the last two months. Having dedicated her political efforts over the years to the struggle against the Turkish state’s illegal military invasions and occupations of Kurdish regions and against Turkey’s continuing human rights abuses, she now offers her life in protest of the isolation of Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, and other Kurdish political prisoners. Ms. Guven is a major inspiration to people throughout the world who believe in peace, justice and liberation. I join all those who support her and stand in condemnation of the repressive conditions of Mr. Ocalan’s imprisonment.” Leyla Güven faces more than 100 years in prison for the crime of having criticized Turkish military operations in the predominantly Kurdish town of Afrin in northern Syria. 

We could name other women prisoners in Turkey and Mexico, and pretty much everywhere else in the world. Mexico has its particularities as does Turkey, and so the disturbing aspect here is that of the mirroring. When Dafne McPherson Veloz walked out of prison, she said the prosecutors “didn’t investigate… They didn’t do a thing … That’s why there are people inside who shouldn’t be in prison.” She added, “The only thing I can say to other women who are in my situation is never lose hope.”

Where women’s life time is stolen, what is freedom? Where women continue to be threatened, what is freedom? Where women must live with the trauma and memory of having been caged, what is freedom? Where prisons become hellholes that house 85-year-old women and two-year-old girls, and everyone in between, what is freedom? It’s time, it’s way past time, to investigate freedom itself, to do something, to pull not only the innocent but the scarred out of prison. It’s time once again to never lose hope. It’s the only thing I can say.

Dafne McPherson Veloz minutes after being told she will leave prison

(Photo Credit 1: Bianet) (Photo Credit 2: El Pais)