#FreeBresha: Bresha Meadows is in prison for saving her family from domestic violence

A specter haunts the United States, and she is a 15-year-old Black girl named Bresha Meadows, who sits in an Ohio prison today for having saved her mother and two siblings. Bresha’s mother, Brandi Meadows, calls her daughter a hero. Martina Latessa, Bresha’s aunt on her mother’s side and also a Cleveland police officer who specializes in domestic violence cases, says that Bresha was “born into a nightmare” and that Bresha had come to her aunt begging for help from the extreme violence of her father, Jonathan Meadows. Bresha’s cousin, Ja’Von Meadows-Harris, reports that when, as a child, he lived with the Meadows, he was severely, regularly beaten by Jonathan Meadows. In July 2016, then 14-year-old Bresha Meadows ended the violence when she took her father’s gun and fatally shot him. She was arrested that day, and charged with aggravated murder, which could have resulted in a life sentence. She has spent the last ten months in the Trumbull County Juvenile Detention Center. Her family and friends think she’s a hero; the State throws her into a cage, potentially for life.

On Monday, Bresha Meadows “pleaded `true’ — the functional equivalent of a guilty plea — to a charge of involuntary manslaughter, accepting the terms of a settlement deal that her lawyer said will allow her access to psychiatric treatment and the eventual possibility of a clean record.” Bresha Meadows will not be “allowed access to psychiatric treatment.” She will be institutionalized for six months, treatment for which her family will have to pay. That “eventual possibility of a clean record” only occurs after two years of probation.

While the family and Bresha’s lawyer are relieved, they also recognize that this plea deal means two more months in jail and then six months in a different sort of confinement. As Mariame Kabe, one of the organizers of the #FreeBresha campaign, explained, “What’s important is how they’re feeling and how she’s feeling … The position of the #FreeBresha campaign is that plea deals are coercive and they’re a violent means of social control … We’re committed to supporting Bresha’s freedom, and she’s not free yet.” The #FreeBresha campaign stated, “The #FreeBresha campaign is infuriated that 15-year-old domestic violence survivor, Bresha Meadows, has been forced by Ohio prosecutors to submit to a plea deal that would keep her in juvenile detention for a full year (which includes 10 months of time served) and an additional 6 months of incarceration in a `treatment facility.  Though an earlier version of the plea deal would have released Bresha to the `treatment facility’ today, the final plea deal has increased Bresha’s time in juvenile detention for another two months. Prosecuting Bresha, including the pointless punitivity of adding time in juvenile detention, should be condemned by all who care about the well-being of children.” The State just couldn’t let Bresha Meadows out immediately, and that inexplicable two months is criminal justice for Black girls and women in this country.

After a lifetime of enduring and witnessing excruciating and extreme violence, of begging for help from family, friends, the State and strangers, a Black girl-child stood up and on her own saved her family. Language matters, and we should tell Bresha Meadows’ story in the language her family uses. She is a hero. News media have continually headlined and framed Bresha Meadows’ story as one of “fatal shooting.” That is not the story. The story is Bresha Meadows’ saved her mother and her two siblings and herself. “The #FreeBresha campaign will continue to push for Bresha’s freedom until she is truly free.” We should all do the same. We should treat our children and our heroes with dignity, reverence, and love. #FreeBreshaMeadows

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Grio) (Photo Credit 2: Verso Books)

Responding to the first President of the United States elected on an anti-immigrant platform

 

Patrick Young marches with CARECEN

Patrick Young is an attorney for the Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN), located in Hempstead and Brentwood, Long Island, New York. He is an immigration law professor at Hofstra University, co-director of the Law School’s Immigration Clinic, a policy analyst for New York State Immigration Action Fund, and a writer for Long Island Wins, a website geared toward Long Island immigrant communities.

CARECEN is working with immigrants, offering them legal assistance with TPS, DACA, application for green cards and renewal and adjustment of status, as well as other kinds of legal advocacy, citizenship classes, and English language instruction.

Immigration is a vexed issue in the United States, heightened by an election marked by racism and political alliances. In 1948, President Truman signed the Displaced Persons Act, which included many restrictions. This was the first attempt toward a standard refugee entry policy. 1967 saw the UN Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. The US signed the protocol and passed enabling legislation in 1980, but it was not enforced until 10 years later. The selection of refugees was arbitrary. People coming from the Eastern Bloc, for example, would be protected, whereas people coming from Haiti, El Salvador and Honduras would not.

The following series of interviews draws attention to many aspects of immigration under the current president who is the first president elected on an anti-immigrant platform.

 

(Photo Credit: Long Island Wins) (Interview by authors)

For students living with disabilities, segregation in integration must end!

In schools around the United States, there are classrooms specifically designed to obscure disabilities such as autism from other students and faculty in K-12 schools. Public education is a right of all students. It became mandatory in the late nineteenth century to end child labor and cultivate obedient citizens.  In the case of developmentally disabled students, schools have to meet the requirements of the law to educate students in the least restrictive environment (LRE).  However, in many cases, schools “integrate” disabled students only in name while effectively segregating them from the general education population.

This segregation often occurs by placing disabled students in the margins by locating them in seclusion rooms and spaces that have little or no commerce with other students.  The danger of such practices are: receipt of an inferior education, social isolation, and further deepening of publically held stigmas.  Thus, one experiences segregation in the midst of fulfilling requirements for integration.  Special education classes have increasingly turned into forms of incarceration for those with undesirable disabilities. These rooms are used to humiliate and shame students into thinking they are unproductive members of society and are automatically criminalized because they have a disability.

Segregation of this kind often leads to the school-to-prison pipeline where disabled students find themselves apart of the penitentiary system at some point in their lives. Not only are students with cognitive disabilities affected by segregation but those with physical disabilities as well,  making the schools in question a part of a system of eugenics by selecting students based upon definitions of productive citizenship.  Once declared “unfit to be a citizen”, they are subjected to constant surveillance not only by special education staff, but also by administrators, other teachers, counselors, and even other students.

The freedom of educational pursuit intended to occur in public schools has increasingly become the source of oppression for participants with disabilities. This chain of abuses needs to come to an end by refusing to call segregation “integration,” in relation to the treatment of many disabled students.  Confinement and surveillance need to stop as instruments of compliance without access to the further benefit of a substantive education.  Schools need to be made accountable for their mistreatment.

 

(Image credit: New York Times / Ward Zwart)

 

In India, school girls go on strike for education and respect … and win!

On May 10, 86 school girls decided to upset the sleep of the “sleepy hamlet” of Gothra Tappa Dahina in the Rewari district of the Haryana state, in India. Fed up with administrators and parents who thought less than nothing of the sexual harassment the girls endured every day on their way to and from school, the girls decided to go on strike, with 13 of them going on hunger strike. A week later, the administration gave in to the girls’ principal demands. Since then, other school girls have started similar strikes. As with the school girls in Malawi, the school girls of Rewari know that they deserve a decent education, and that that includes the trip to and from school. With that knowledge, they may have started a school girls’ movement that will do more than disrupt the sleep of many. It may be an awakening.

The story is straightforward. The local school stops at 10th grade. That means for 11th and 12th grades, the girls must walk about 3 kilometers to the next village. According to the girls, they complained about the abuse they received on their walk to and from school. They petitioned the administration to upgrade their local school to include 11th and 12th grades. They received no response. They urged their parents to push for upgrading the local school. Some told the girls it’s better to be quiet; sexual harassment of girls and women has been going on forever. Others were more supportive but couldn’t offer much else. And so, the girls took action. As Sheetal, one of the hunger strikes, explained, “Almost every day, we face eve teasing. Should we stop studying? Should we stop dreaming? Are only rich people and their children allowed to dream? The government should protect us or open a higher-secondary school in our village.” Parents joined the strike, laying down their work tools and protesting outside the school. On May 17, 10 of the hunger strikers were sent to hospital, as the Haryana state government agreed to upgrade the school.

In the subsequent days, this big win for the Rewari girls has been followed by similar strikes by school girls in Gurugram and Palwal districts, both in Haryana state. Sapna Kumari, one of striking students in Gurugram, explained, “Some girls have to drop out after Class 10th because their parents do not want to send them to school afar, fearing their safety. Those who manage to convince them face problems of eve-teasing everyday. Be it buses, autos, the problem does not end.” Her school is 4 kilometers away. Anjali, one of the striking students in Palwal district, asked, “How can daughters study when there was no government school up to senior secondary level in their village?”

These school girls know the meaning of education, and they know they deserve it. Period. They know that a state that creates unsafe conditions for girls on their way to and from school has no commitment to girls’ education. They also know that they have the power to move the State and change the world, and now the school girls of Haryana are teaching that lesson to the rest of the world.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Hindustan Times) (Photo Credit 2: Times of India)

Our continuing investment in the mandatory minimum sentencing and tough on crime failure

Why do neoliberal so-called democratic nation-States continue to invest, and heavily, in the failed policies of mandatory minimum sentencing and tough-on-crime policies? Today we learn that women are at the center of the United States’ mandatory minimum sentencing `experiment’ and of Australia’s `tough on crime’ adventure.

According to family research scholar Joyce Arditti, “An examination of their family backgrounds and social environments suggests that mothers involved in the criminal justice system are perhaps the most vulnerable women in the United States.” These most vulnerable women then become the most extremely vulnerable women, `thanks’ to the theft of their social and legal parental rights.

According to Over-represented and overlooked: the crisis of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s growing over-imprisonment, a report released today by the Human Rights Law Centre and Change the Record, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are the fastest growing segment of the prison population. At the center of that largely unacknowledged growth is women’s vulnerability: “`Tough on crime’ approaches also tend to rely on stereotyped ideas of who offenders are, with little consideration of who else may be affected – the most vulnerable members of our community, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, are unfairly swept up into the criminal justice system.”

In 2014 22-year-old Ms. Dhu, died in custody in Western Australia. She was being held for unpaid parking fines. Ms. Dhu screamed of intense pains and begged for help. She was sent to hospital twice and returned, untreated, to the jail. On her third trip to the hospital, she died, in the emergency room, within 20 minutes. She never saw a doctor. Her grandmother says she “had broken ribs, bleeding on the lungs and was in excruciating pain.” Her death was deemed tragic, but not enough to change policy.

In July 2016, Ms. M, a young Wiradjuri woman and mother of four children, was walking home, when, a little after midnight, police picked her up, and threw her into a cell. At 6 am, Ms. M was “found dead.” In New South Wales, if an Aboriginal person is arrested, the police are supposed to use the Custody Notification Service, which immediately contacts the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS). This system is a modelNo Aboriginal person had died in police custody since 2000 … until Ms. M. But Ms. M was never arrested. She was thrown into the cell because she was said to be drunk. The police were “protecting” Ms. M, and so she died in their custody. Many, such as Gary Oliver of the ALS, believe that if the police had contacted them, “there may have been a different outcome. Fundamentally this is a process that has failed because a police officer has not followed a procedure.”

Today, former U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner noted “that roughly 80 percent of the sentences she was obliged to impose were unjust, unfair and disproportionate. Mandatory penalties meant that she couldn’t individualize punishment for the first-time drug offender, or the addict, or the woman whose boyfriend coerced her into the drug trade.” Today, social justice advocates Vickie Roach described Australia’s tough on crime approach, “The criminal justice system …  punishes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women for actions that are the consequence of failed child removal and forced assimilation policies. If we are truly concerned about justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women however, we should be asking ourselves and our governments how we as a society have so badly failed these women.”

We invest in mandatory minimum sentencing and tough on crime policies because they succeed in intensifying the vulnerability of the most vulnerable: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in Australia, women of color in the United States. Vulnerability is big business. Increased vulnerability produces increased indebtedness. The more vulnerable and indebted women become, the more they are told to shoulder responsibility, individually and as a group, for all the wrongs that have been inflicted upon them, body and soul. Women die in protective custody, and it’s their fault. Mandatory minimum sentences are cruel and ineffective, especially for women, and that’s just fine. Tough on crime is destroying indigenous women and families, and that too is just fine. Our investments are doing just fine.

 

(Photo Credit: Echo)

#ShutDownBerks: The Mothers of Berks and their children do not want to die

Yesterday, ICE agents took a 25-year-old Honduran woman and her five-year-old son from Berks County “Residential” Center, dumped them on a plane and sent them back to Honduras. The two fled Honduras after the mother witnessed her cousin being murdered, after which local gangs threatened her life and that of her child. She and her son fled to the United States. They were detained initially in Texas, and then sent to Berks, in Pennsylvania, where they’ve spent a little more than the last 16 months. That means her son has spent a little over a quarter of his life imprisoned in Berks for the crime of living with a mother who only wants the best for her son.

Pennsylvania Senator Robert Casey spent yesterday trying to prevent the deportation, to no avail: “If they are really, with limited resources, going to focus on 5-year-olds instead of criminals, what kind of homeland security is that?” Attorney Bridget Cambria spent yesterday in court trying to protect the child: “We applied for the child this week who had qualified for a special immigrant juvenile status (SIJS) and brought it to ICE and the courts and we were in court today. We literally were arguing to include this child while immigration was watching the plane take off.” This is just another tragic story of yet another mother and child in Berks (or Dilley or Karnes), fleeing abuse, abused by the State. But then Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly stood up this morning and explained it all. No one deported that woman and that child, they were deported by something called the law: “You have to understand that ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security, John Kelly, I don’t, we don’t deport people. The law deports people.”

The law deports people.

The law does not deport people. People with guns deport people. The law does not persuade a terrified woman and her terrorized five-year-old son to move from the misery of Berks to the hell awaiting her in Honduras. The law does not terrorize children and then call the architecture of terror a “residential center” or a “family center”. Men with guns do all that.

Someone once wrote,

“The ministers lie, the professors lie, the television lies, the priests lie.
What are these lies?
They mean that the country wants to die …
These lies mean that something in the nation wants to die.”

The Mothers of Berks do not want to die, they are not the something in the nation that wants to die. Last October, 17 U.S. Senators, including Senator Casey, sent a letter to the previous Homeland Security Secretary urging him to close Berks, for the sake of the women and children inside Berks … and outside as well. This Tuesday, Senator Casey led nine other senators and 13 members of the House of Representatives in calling for the release of four mothers and their children, ranging in age from 3 to 16 years. Wednesday, he received his response. The law deported a 25-year-old woman and her 5-year-old son. Not us, not us, the law. You must understand. #ShutDownBerks

 

(Image Credit 1: End Family Detention) (Image Credit 2: PRI / Dan Carino)

In Malawi, pregnant school girls demand education AND respect!

Early last year, the Uhoho Primary School, in Chintheche, in Nkhata Bay, in the Northern Region of Malawi, weathered “the worst pregnancy scandal at a school in living memory.” Thirty-two students, 16 girls and 16 boys, were suspended when it was determined that the 16 girls were pregnant. At first, the boys faced `defilement’ charges, but then the head teacher claimed the girls were all at least 18 years old. It’s unclear if that was true. Local newspapers this week report that some of the girls were 13 and 14 years old. At any rate, the boys were spared the prospect of rape charges. All the children were suspended for a year. Then the girls and their parents were brought before a magistrate, who fined each child 10,000 kwacha. If they couldn’t pay, they were sent to jail until the fine was paid. For some, being in custody meant not writing their exams. Thus far, this sounds like just another horrible story of the very many ways of keeping girls out of school. But the girls decided otherwise, and so yesterday, they went to the High Court to challenge their treatment and the entire process. Girls have rights, they said, including pregnant girls, and one of those rights, enshrined in the Constitution of Malawi is “All persons are entitled to education.”

How did an internal school matter come before a magistrate in the first place? Youth Watch Society (YOWSO) Executive Director Muteyu Banda explained, “The magistrate happens to be the Chairperson of the Child Protection Committee.” Youth Watch Society and the Southern Africa Litigation Centre have supported the girls in this case, and they are represented by Victor Gondwe. According to Muteyu Banda, part of the issue here is the lack of due process. Local officials make up laws which they then enforce, all in the name of child protection. According to Anneke Meerkotter, Litigation Director of the Southern African Litigation Centre, “The intention that it is good for the baby to be cared for and that the boys must also take responsibility to help the girls is there, but it is a logistical nightmare for the pupils. For us, the answer is not suspending them from school. Their right to education is enshrined in the Constitution..” Victor Gondwe explained, “We are asking for a review of the strange orders imposed by a lower court that all pregnant girls be sent to prison.” He then added that it is “quite strange and awkward to criminalise pregnancy.”

While it may be strange and awkward to criminalize pregnancy, it’s common practice to criminalize school age girls, and not only in Malawi. Only two years ago, in response to the non-epidemic epidemic non-scandal scandal of teenage pregnancy, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma proposed a policy for the young women and girls, “They must be educated by government until they are empowered and they can take care of their kids, take them to Robben Island or any other island, sit there, study until they are qualified to come back and work to look after their kids.” Take them to Robben Island or any other island. In the United States, girls are arrested more often than boys for status offenses and are more severely punished for those offenses. Status `offenses’ are not crimes. If the girls were older, there would be no offense, no crime. From Malawi to South Africa to the United States, the “special attention” paid to school age girls is always conducted in the name of “protection.”

Malawi is a poor country in which education is a struggle. For girls to complete secondary school is a particular struggle. In academic year 2014 – 2015, nationwide, pregnancy was the cause of 28 percent of all secondary female dropouts. In the Northern Region, in 2014 – 2015, 370 boys dropped out of primary school, while 2199 girls dropped out. During that same year, 145 boys dropped out of secondary school boys, while 463 girls left school. For the boys, the primary reason was inability to pay school fees. For the girls, fees (27.7 percent) and pregnancy (27.6 percent) were the primary reason. This is the context in which 16 girls were told to leave school, and then some were sent into police custody. They were never meant to return.

Those girls know the meaning of education and they know they deserve it. Period. Those girls know “that the fines and detention were inconsistent with common law notions of fairness, legality and rationality and with the rights to liberty, education and other constitutional rights.” They know they have a right to education, and they intend to exercise that right. They mean to return to school and then to create the way forward. The struggle continues.

 

(Photo Credit: Capital Radio Malawi)

What happened to Tanna Jo Fillmore and Madison Jensen? The routine torture in Utah’s jails

Tanna Jo Fillmore

Last year, within one week, two women, Tanna Jo Fillmore and Madison Jensen, “were found dead” in their cells in the Duchesne County Jail, in Utah. Their deaths are still shrouded in mystery and official obfuscation. Their families are still grieving as they seek answers and, even more, an end to the violence against women in Utah jails. On November 15, 2016, 25-year-old Tanna Jo Fillmore was deposited in the Duchesne County Jail, for parole violation. On Thanksgiving Day, she was found hanging in her cell. The following weekend, in response to her parents’ plea for help, Madison Jensen was taken to the Duchesne County Jail. Within the next four days, she lost anywhere from 17 to 42 pounds, reports vary. What doesn’t vary is the excruciating pain of her final hours and days. Tanna Jo Fillmore and Madison Jensen join the circle of Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Christina Tahhahwah, Amy Lynn Cowling, Ashley Ellis, Kellsie Green, Joyce Curnell, Sandra Bland, Kindra Chapman, and so many other women who have died in excruciating pain in America’s jails. They also join the circle of Heather Ashton Miller and all the other women who have died, recently, in Utah’s jails and prisons. What happened to Tanna Jo Fillmore and Madison Jensen? The routine torture of prison state’s war on drugs.

According to Melany Zoumadakis, Tanna Jo Fillmore’s mother, when Tanna Jo Fillmore was taken to Duchesne County Jail, her parole officer assured the mother that her daughter would be placed on suicide watch. That never happened. Many things never happened. Melany Zoumadakis was never informed by the jail of her daughter’s death, and she’s still waiting for information: “I don’t know if she was alive when they found her. I don’t know if she was fully dead and if they tried to shock her heart and bring her back. No one will talk to me … I am the mom and until you lose a child, you don’t know the pain it causes.”

Tanna Jo Fillmore entered Duchesne County Jail on a probation violation. In fact, that was a death sentence.

If possible, Madison Jensen’s story is worse. Madison Jensen threatened to commit suicide. Madison Jensen’s mother was seriously ill, and so her father, Jared Jensen, desperate for help, called the police. The police took her in, dumped her in Duchesne County Jail, where she was denied access to her medications. For whatever reason, she could not hold down anything, not food, not water. She begged for help. Her cellmate begged for help. None came. She died, a slow and excruciating death. According to Matt Finch, an opiate withdrawal recovery specialist, “She was going through opioid withdrawal syndrome and antidepressant withdrawal. I can’t even imagine how much pain she was going through.” Jared Jensen can imagine: “My daughter went in there to save her own life and now she comes out deceased.”

We must all imagine the pain, if we are to end the policies and practices that have produced that pain, across the country, from one jail to the next. A woman loses 17 pounds, at the very least, in four days, begs and screams for help, vomits through the whole period, can’t move, and the staff response is … policy doesn’t allow her to take her necessary medication because the institution is a “narcotics free zone”? That more than narcotics free. That’s a zone free of humanity, and it’s where we all live. What happened to Tanna Jo Fillmore and Madison Jensen? The routine torture of women of women in jails in Utah and across the United States.

Madison Jensen

(Photo Credit 1: Salt Lake Tribune) (Photo Credit 2: Salt Lake Tribune)

People don’t sleep because of the violence and crime

People don’t sleep because of the violence and crime. Early in the morning from 5am to 7:30 the screaming starts as people are robbed on their way to work and school. But the police resources continue to follow the apartheid patterns and, with the chance to change that unequal picture, the South African Police Service, or SAPS, is often making the same decisions as they did 25 years ago. So now we campaign for #PoliceResources.

Now they are suggesting building an extremely expensive police station in Muizenberg. People in Vrygrond, Seawinds, Capricorn can’t get to Muizenberg, but no matter. Communities in Delft, Nyanga, Mitchell’s Plain, Harare, Khayelitsha and many more are still not fixed. So, we need actions that join these dots and connect the different communities.

We held a meeting and here are some ideas from the room:

“We are gatvol” We are fed up and done with it.

Why 100 000 000 rand for one building???

We must watch how that money will be spent.

We must organize, not just the people suffering the worst crime and the least protection, but the white and re middle class too.

Interdict the SAPS, stop the building.

Occupy SAPS until we get a real commitment

#PoliceResources

 

(Image Credit: Facebook / Social Justice Coalition)

Where is the global outrage at Uganda’s abuse of Stella Nyanzi? #FreeStellaNyanzi

Stella Nyanzi

On Friday, April 7, Ugandan queer and women’s rights feminist activist and founder of the Pads4girls campaign Stella Nyanzi was arrested for a Facebook post in which she referred to Uganda’s President Yoweri Muzeveni as a “pair of buttocks.” For that, Stella Nyanzi was charged with cyber harassment and infringing on the President’s freedom of speech and expression. Formally charged on April 10, Stella Nyanzi was promptly transported to Luzira Maximum Security Prison, where she awaits her trial, April 25. Stella Nyanzi’s Facebook post was part of an ongoing campaign to get the President and his Minister of Education, Janet Museveni, also the First Lady, to live up to their election campaign promises to create real budget lines for sanitary napkins for school girls. To no one’s surprise, once the election season was over, the promises disappeared into a welter of budgetary fog. The surprise was Stella Nyanzi, who decided that this was unacceptable and took up the gauntlet. Since being dumped in prison, the government has tried to force Stella Nyanzi to undergo psychiatric examinations, which she has resisted. There was no mad woman in the attic in Amherst, and there is no mad woman in that prison cell in Luzira, but there is a woman in Luzira who is righteously furious. As Ugandans have noted, Stella Nyanzi’s treatment is an abuse of everybody’s freedom and should be worrying everyone … and not only in Uganda, but does it? Where is the global outrage at Uganda’s abuse Stella Nyanzi? Somewhere just below the global outrage at the lack of concern for school going girls.

Since Stella Nyanzi’s arrest, and for weeks before, the Ugandan press has been awash with news reports, analyses, commentaries and general commentary. Beyond Uganda, however, the formal press has been fairly quiet. Usual suspects, such as Amnesty, have mobilized, and supporters have organized an on-line #FreeStellaNyanzi campaign. But the news media itself has treated the whole affair as one-off. The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, the BBC, the Mail & Guardian have each, respectively, run one original article on the situation, relying on Reuters and AP for anything else. Al Jazeera has run three, mostly made up of other sources but also their own. Just today, The East African finally caught up with Stella Nyanzi.

While there is a personal drama taking place among Stella Nyanzi and Uganda’s First Family, the imprisonment and subsequent attempt at a psychiatric analysis should worry everyone. In Uganda, supporters, and even detractors, understand that the arrest and imprisonment of Stella Nyanzi threatens to criminalize speech, expression and thought. They understand that as a violation of the 1995 Constitution. The attempt to force a psychiatric examination on Stella Nyanzi was `justified’ by the Mental Treatment Act, “inherited from … colonial masters at a time where persons with mental disabilities were looked at by the law as of no value, with no place in the community. They were seen as ‘objects’ whose only place was a mental asylum where they would be subjected to perpetual suffering. Persons with mental disabilities were, at all times, considered dangerous to themselves and the community.” The application of the Mental Treatment Act against Stella Nyanzi is worrisome because it is an abuse of Stella Nyanzi’s rights and person, and, equally, because it is an attempt to return Uganda to colonial days. By applying the Mental Treatment Act to control and suppress Stella Nyanzi, the State hopes to make Uganda great again. From Uganda to the United States, the line is short and direct.

The general global news media quiet concerning Stella Nyanzi is itself disquieting. The politics of enforced silence takes many forms in many places. We should hear more from the news media concerning Stella Nyanzi, as well as the conditions of girls going to school, of women in prison, of free speech and expression, and of the right for women to be mad. What happens to Stella Nyanzi happens to all of us. For some, “Stella Nyanzi is a hero to hundreds and thousands of little girls and women who know where she is coming from, in terms of defending women’s rights to sanitary towels.” While Stella Nyanzi is both hero and champion, her circumstances are altogether ordinary, and not just in Uganda. Don’t wait until April 25 to see what happens, because it’s already happening. #FreeStellaNyanzi

 

(Photo Credit: Mail & Guardian / Reuters / James Akena)