If I believe in prison abolition, and I do, I don’t get to shift my philosophy when it suits me

I’ve been listening to them talk about 40 years for Lori Loughlin, a person I don’t think I’ve ever spent 10 seconds thinking about before this. I understand the outrage and frustration. Black parents have been thrown in jail for lying about where they lived so their children could attend a better public school. I understand the vulgarity of privilege and have been hurt by it. Often white women who do not acknowledge that privilege have been the very heart of that harm. 

But if I believe in prison abolition, and I do, then I don’t get the option of shifting my philosophy when it suits me. Either I have a principle, or I don’t. Either I believe in transformative justice, which centers the idea that no member of society exists in a vacuum or external to that society and addressing a harm must not be grounded in individual revenge but returning all involved, including the broader community, to whole. Prisons and jails are a failed, lazy response to social disruptions. No matter what the crime. All these people doing time and every harm still stalks us: sexual assault, murder, larceny. Whatever. 

I’m interested in working with people who are less about turning up and more about turning in, considering what is needed to have a society where equity and health and compassion and safety and joy are the norm. And yet even from people who say they honor these things, I more hear anger and revenge, emotions I understand well, but ones that I refuse to allow guide any decision I make or position I take.

(Image Credit: Empty Cages Design)

The latest bandwagon of anti-abortion bills in the US: Heartbeat or heartless?

The “heartbeat bill,” a euphemism for a fetus endowed with life, conjures in people’s minds the villains of mother and, in some cases, the State, murdering the person in the womb. Since Roe v Wade, the anti-abortion movement in the U.S has launched strategies to establish the personhood of the fetus. Numerous initiatives over the past 30 years in many states have tried to establish that full life as a person starts at the moment of conception.  The heartbeat bill in Mississippi signed by Gov. Phil Bryant on March 21st2019 was just the next step after the failure of initiative 26 Life Begins at the Moment of Fertilization Amendment (2011).  The move from Initiative 26 to the heartbeat bill is easy transition. The heartbeat bill effectively dramatizes the war between mother and womb-inhabitant to a new level—to the very tip of the iceberg: the banning of abortion. Period. Roe v Wade that has somehow survived for 40 years, often barely a whisper in many states lately, seems to be in the middle of its death rattle in others. In the first quarter of 2019, the heartbeat bill was introduced successively in Kentucky, Georgia, Arkansas, Utah, Mississippi, and Missouri. 

According to the Guttmacher Institute, “governors in four states (Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and Utah) signed a total of eight measures that ban abortion in one way or another. Similar measures passed the legislature in Arkansas and Georgia and were adopted by one chamber of the legislature in six other states…. So far this year, these restrictions have been enacted in Kentucky and Mississippi; passed the legislature in Georgia; and passed one chamber of the legislature in Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee. The new law in Kentucky would have gone into effect immediately, but a federal district court issued an order blocking enforcement. The Mississippi legislation is scheduled to take effect in July. Only two other states, Iowa and North Dakota, have ever enacted six-week abortion bans, both of which have been struck down by the courts.” 

In addition to the heartbeat bill, Kentucky has already passed laws restricting private insurance coverage of abortions, mandating a 24-hour waiting period and parental consent for minors. Like Mississippi, Kentucky has only one abortion clinic. One can see clearly how women are severely restricted from obtaining abortions.

What is cruel about the heartbeat bill? According to this bill, women can terminate their pregnancy before 6 weeks. How can this be possible when women generally find out they are pregnant only after 6 weeks? “Some physicians won’t even perform abortions before around six weeks of pregnancy; an embryo at that stage is so small that it might not be visible on an ultrasound, which is used to ensure that a pregnancy is not ectopic, or growing outside the uterus.”

If the heartbeat bill is not a weapon against women’s bodies, their fundamental right to their bodies, the choice to give birth or not, I don’t know what is! As Brigitte Marti says, “One of the great mistakes is to look at the demise of women’s rights as an isolated event. Soaring inequality and legislative measures to control women’s health and rights work together to disempower women and civil society.”

What’s more, many of the states where the heartbeat bill has passed or is in the legislative process have a shortage of obstetricians and have high maternal death rates.

This heartless law targets minority and poor women. How can the United States boast about being the spokesperson for women’s rights when it is shackling women and keeping them imprisoned in age-old ideas about sexuality, contraception, reproduction, and health? It feels as if the major legislative triumphs of women’s equal participation in society and to themselves are being severely undercut by restrictive anti-abortion laws like the latest heartbeat bill.

We see these restrictions on women’s rights happening worldwide. Even in a country like India where abortion has been legal since 1971, the number of unsafe abortions are at a record 25 million, abortion is legal only until 20 weeks, exceptions do exist, but the stipulation is that the woman be married. “An amendment was proposed in the MTP Act by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in October 2014. The bill proposed certain very valid propositions, such as extension of the legal abortion limit to 24 weeks,” but it was dead in the water.

It is truly disheartening when women themselves are the strongest voices proclaiming the need to make abortion illegal. But we need to keep voicing the injustice in the bills and highlight the harm it does to the poor, people of color, and women in general and make the connection between reproductive rights and our equality as human beings. We don’t want to say “before the law,” because we need the law to recognize that we are indeed humans with full rights before we can legitimately stand before the law.

(Photo Credit: Rewire)

Stop championing New Jersey as progressive: State and local politics are still a catastrophe

The state of New Jersey sure is getting a lot of hype to it; I haven’t been able to look at news articles about the state without some praise from progressive media about the great things New Jersey is accomplishing, now that Christie got the boot and Murphy got the in. There’s the minimum wage hike (which won’t go into effect until 2024); bills are being pushed to legalize marijuana (which stalled because of the lack of votes, despite being voted on multiple times during the Christie era); condemnation of Kavanaugh and the sexual violence against women from men in power (despite the fact that the same thing has happened in the Murphy Administration). The country only sees the great things that the state is doing from the headlines; read between the lines and you will see the way local and state politics have been marred by a toxic combination of conservativism, neoliberalism, and progressive political theater. 

New Jersey is about progressive as Joe Biden. A heartening meme but with some creepy undertones that no one wants near them. New Jersey is about as progressive as Cory Booker, who at once talks about not accepting corporate PAC money but then has a fundraiser at $28,000 per donor that ensures each donor a picture with Booker and Murphy, and dinner, and is hosted by Bon Jovi. New Jersey is the high and mighty condemnation of offshore drilling on our oceans while it being ok for a pipeline to be built in the Meadowlands. If I have twenty dollars for every time a progressive news outlet lauded the great choices of the Garden State, I still wouldn’t be able to live there because the property taxes are too high and the Democrats in office would rather pull money from public employees before passing a Millionaire’s Taxon the super wealthy individuals in the state.

In my home county, a judge whose father was a senator is only threatened with suspension, despite asking a domestic violence survivor whether she kept her legs closed to prevent her partner from raping her and then denyied her restraining order because he thought she wasn’t telling the truth. Essex County still won’t end a contract with ICE, citing safety concerns for the people they detain, while still making seven million dollars a month from holding them for ICE. 

Cops keeping beating people, and we know cops are pigs (and really actively acknowledge that—“Lakehurst cops are shit; cops gotta fill a quota at the end of the month; no, no, no, Manchester cops are worse”), but the moment a black boy or girl is shot, all I hear is Blue Lives Matter from the same people that call those in Blue assholes.

I have never been more sick and tired of hearing about the great Phil Murphy, even though I was optimistic that the administration won (because at least it wasn’t Kim Guadagno and her Christie taint). But now somehow the progressive policies that were championed in that era are suddenly too…too extreme or revolutionary now that Democrats are crawling towards a super majority in the state legislature. 

We should have had a living wage almost immediately, because small businesses aren’t a thing anymore in the state and Barnabas Health and Wakefern (all the Shoprite supermarket chains in the state and their warehouses and commissaries) are the state’s largest employers. If we really care about the environment in the state of New Jersey, all pipelines should be banned from being built and subsidized solar panels should be available to all residents so we can finally faze out electric companies. We should have not just lip service about affordable housing and lament on the cost of living in the state, but also clear-cut housing first and affordable housing options. And raise taxes on the wealthy in the state! I am sick and tired of passing by Deal on Route 71 and seeing mansions and knowing that those aren’t even primary houses but just summer homes!

We should be legalizing marijuana, no if, ands or buts and then expunge those who have been arrested and charged with marijuana charges, demand reparations for them, and help them create a business for those people instead of watching large corporations bank on the legalization of marijuana. 

I’m running for Governor in the Great State of New Jersey, because anyone knows the suffering of the people is inherently tied to the economic redistribution of wealth between the two classes of residents (a gap which is widening), it’s a Jersey girl who’s had to deal with the threat of foreclosure, late phone bills and electricity being turned off; it’s Sandy and then the giant snowstorm afterward that almost knocked a tree into her family’s run down house. It’s a girl who’d rather make sure that the employees in retail can live in the state (because she herself wouldn’t have been able to live in the state) instead of those poor millionaires who might have to leave their first and second homes if we raise their taxes. And when progressive news outlets put me on a title of their great next piece, it will be because of actual progressive policies that don’t have the stink of neoliberalism about it. 

(Photo Credit 1: PBS / Reuters / Eduardo Munoz) (Photo Credit 2: LSE US Centre)

What happened to Cherdeena Wynne? Nothing. An Aboriginal woman died in police custody

Cherdeena Wynne

In Western Australia, yet another Aboriginal woman died in police custody. Cherdeena Wynne was 26 years old, mother of three children, living with mental illness. According to Shirley Wynne, Cherdeena Wynne’s mother, at 3:30 on April 4, eight police officers entered Shirley Wynne’s home and, in the dark, wrestled Cherdeena Wynne to the floor, where they handcuffed her. According to Shirley Wynn, the officers kept calling Cherdeena Wynne by another name. Finally, after 20 minutes, the officers left the house and Cherdeena Wynne understandably terribly upset. Cherdeena Wynne ran from the house. Police encountered her blocks away from her mother’s house. Police handcuffed Cherdeena Wynne, for her “protection.” Cherdeena Wynne passed out. Officers uncuffed her, administered CPR. She revived and was taken to hospital, where she was placed in an induced coma and died, on Tuesday, April 9. Police are not investigating her death because, basically, nothing happened. It gets worse.

Cherdeena Wynne was the daughter of Shirley Wynne and Warren Cooper. Cherdeena Wynne was Noongar and Yamatji. In 1999, Warren Cooper was arrested. Warren Cooper died in police custody. Both Cherdeena Wynne and her father Warren Cooper were 26 years old when they died in police custody. Jennifer Clayton, Cherdeena Wynne’s grandmother and Warren Cooper’s mother, said, “It’s time for this to stop. I have lost my son and now I have lost a granddaughter.” Carol Roe, Jennifer Clayton’s cousin, agreed: “If kids die from natural causes you can go on, but the way our kids die we can’t go on. We are lost in the system and they don’t care two stuffs.” Carol Roe is Ms. Dhu’s grandmother, the same 22-year-old Ms. Dhu who died in custody in 2014, also in Western Australia. Ms. Dhu was arrested for unpaid parking fines. Ms. Dhu and Cherdeena Wynne were executed for the crime of being-Aborigina-women.

Monday, April 8, marked the 28thanniversary of the publication of the findings of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. That Commission studied 99 Aboriginal deaths in custody between 1980 and 1989. Of 99 deaths, 33 occurred in Western Australia, one of six states. The Commission issued 399 recommendations. At this point, a third of the commission’s recommendations lay untouched and without implementation. In 2016, at a commemoration of the 25thanniversary of the Commission, Carol Roe said, “They do the talk, but they need to do the walk and take action and help us and support us. Set the people free for petty crimes, instead of locking them up. Eighteen years ago my nephew died in custody. Two years ago it was my granddaughter. When is it going to stop, our heart still bleeds … I think Australia and the world need to see how my granddaughter was treated. Dragged around like a kangaroo. They need to look at it, let the world see. Shame, shame on Australia.”

We have described the deaths of the following Aboriginal men and women in Western Australia before: Mr. Ward, 2008Maureen Mandijarra, 2012;  Ms. Dhu, 2014. Two years ago, we described, after three years, there was still no justice for Ms. Dhu, her family, or Aboriginal women generally. Repeatedly we have seen Western Australia as the epicenter for the rising incarceration of Aboriginal women and the expanding and intensifying abuse of Aboriginal women in the various forms of detention in Western Australia. None of this is new.

Currently, there is no accountability and no justice for the deaths of Aboriginal and Indigenous women and men in Australia’s prison. Cherdeena Wynne was handcuffed in police custody when she fell unconscious. The police decided not to investigate. Nothing happened, less than nothing. It’s time for this to stop. Stop sending Aboriginal women and men to jail for drunken behavior, sleeping rough, unpaid fines, mental illness, being Aboriginal. It’s time, it’s way past time, for this to stop. 

Ms, Dhu

(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian) (Photo Credit 2: ABC)

Death and teaching in Paris

Après les angoisses du début d’année
T’as travaillé trois mois, toujours pas payée
Et les heures supprimées, pas rémunérées
T’auras pas de contrat, c’est l’Etat
N’attends pas le syndicat, il est pas là
Gare à toi, sois toujours sympa
C’est le règne de l’arbitraire, du pouvoir discrétionnaire
Si ça te plaît pas, tu peux rentrer chez ta mère
Tu comprends pas, ouvre le dictionnaire, t’es vacataire;

Refrain : Tu ne peux rien changer
Si tu protestes, tu te fais virer
Des bottes, tu devras lécher[
– Song of the Vacataire en colère from le Blog de Carmen

After the anxieties of the new academic year
You’ve worked three months, still not paid
And hours dropped, never remunerated
You will not have a contract, it’s the state
Do not wait for the union, it’s not there
Watch yourself, always be nice
It’s the reign of arbitrariness, discretionary power
If you do not like it, go back to your mother’s house
If you do not understand, open the dictionary, you’re a temporary worker

Chorus: You can not change anything
If you protest, you get fired
Boots, you’ll have to lick them.
(Author’s translation)

I was preparing to leave my apartment, to make the usual commute to teach courses at a private university on the outskirts of Paris, when a text message appeared on my phone.  The message was brief.  In French, it merely said a grave incident had occurred on campus involving a professor. All classes were canceled and the campus was closed. I immediately wondered if someone I knew was hurt.  No other messages followed for the rest of the day and I was unable to reach anyone in my department by phone.  Googling the name of the school, it slowly became evident from news sources that one of my colleagues had been stabbed by a former student.  As the evening wore on, more details were made available on news sites and I realised who the victim was.  But it wasn’t until late at night that an official email was sent to university faculty about the tragedy. One of our colleagues, a fellow English professor, had been brutally murdered on the steps of the school by a former student who had failed his courses in 2017. In the following paragraph, we were informed that our classes would resume in the morning. 

There was no day of mourning. Grief counselors were brought on campus for several days and a free hotline was set up for students and faculty to call in for a period of two weeks.  At the end of the term, the university hosted an evening memorial to honor the life of the slain professor and his dedicated service to the institution where he taught for over two decades.  (He had planned to retire at the end of the academic year).  He was a beloved teacher and hundreds of students, faculty and staff were present to pay their respects.   But there was no special meeting scheduled for those of us in the Languages Department who knew him – some people had worked with him for many years and were friends as well as colleagues – nor were assurances made that additional security would be put in place.  We emailed one another in the days following his death, sharing our concerns and knowledge of the circumstances of our colleague’s death. The former student had blamed the English faculty for his academic failure, and targeted one of us.  Some of us confessed we were afraid to be alone in an elevator with students.  Others couldn’t sleep, had difficulty walking past the site of the murder and felt physically ill.  Everyone was distressed, sad or fearful but felt compelled for practical reasons to continue to work as we all lack paid personal or sick leave.  Looking back at this, it’s difficult to convey in words my shock over what happened as well as the school’s callous handling of it.

‘La galère du vacataire’

I teach at three schools in the Paris metro region as an adjunct professor – what’s called a ‘vacataire’ or ‘chargé d’enseignement’ in French vernacular.[ii] My students number 200 – although this fluctuates – and I teach about six courses annually – usually with several sections for each course and between 20 to 40 students in each section. My salary ranges from 39 to 45 euros an hour before taxes.  After taxes, I earn less than 10,000 euros a year.  If I take a day off because my child is ill, I’m not paid.  I’m only remunerated for the time I’m in the classroom, teaching.  This does not include course design and preparation, grading, faculty meetings, nor do I receive transportation subsidies from the schools where I teach. When I asked for a raise last year at one school, after three years of teaching there, I was told that ‘vacataire’ salaries are set by the university administration and, I learned, if the university is public, by the Minister of National Education.  The majority of adjunct faculty in France, like me, earn approximately the same hourly wage as twenty years ago, a rate set by the government (41 euros/hour).  When our salaries are averaged out to include all the unpaid work we do, we make less than the national minimum wage (SMIC).  

On structural violence

It’s a common misperception that there are strong labor protections in France; although this is shifting with the advent of the ‘yellow vest’ movement in November 2018.  Likewise, when we think of violence in schools or on university campuses, the United States comes to mind first, usually not European countries.  

In 2019, the majority of university professors in North America are part-time adjuncts; this is on trend in Europe as well.  While France still has a higher ratio of tenured professors [‘maîtres de conférences’] to adjuncts – slightly more than half compared to the US where about 75% of faculty are contingent – these posts are increasingly replaced by part-time adjuncts as people retire.  Adjunct professors in France work without permanent contracts – and many of us work with no contract at all – or benefits (including access to unemployment insurance, maternity and sick leave, and paid holidays).  Due to our status as ‘vacataires’, we are also often limited in the number of hours we can teach at one institution (96 hours per annum) so most of us teach at three or even four schools.  We are routinely informed weeks or even mere days before the academic term begins whether courses and class schedules have been confirmed, changed or canceled; the number of students in classrooms increases each year; we wait months – sometimes until the following summer – to be paid; and endure persistently chaotic work environments.  All of these examples constitute forms of structural violence.

‘Low-paid seasonal workers with Ph.D.s’

There have been a number of excellent articles and books published recently on the crisis of education in North America and the United Kingdom, extending from primary schools to university.  Based on my own experiences as a teacher and a mother in France, the crisis extends to Europe where austerity measures slash budgets for public education.  The crisis is – at least in part – an outcome of neoliberalism which imposes ‘free market’ models on schools, commodifying education, seeking ‘returns’ at the lowest possible cost, and transforms teachers – with advanced degrees – into temporary, low-paid labourers. 

I have no hopeful solutions with which to conclude.  In France, adjunct professors don’t have union representation – which contributes to our situation.  In recent years, adjuncts at a number of public universities across the country have protested, demanding better work conditions, permanent contracts and regular paychecks, including at public universities in Paris, Lille, Nantes, Lyon and Poitiers.  As I write this, we enter ‘Act 22’ of the ‘yellow vest’ protests for economic justice. Primary and secondary school teachers are protesting and striking regularly against draconian changes to the labor laws, and a women’s strike was held on 8 March for equal pay (for the same work as men).  It’s unclear if these actions will stop or even slow the neoliberal onslaught.

I’m saddened by the death of my colleague – someone I knew for a short three months but whose murder still haunts me.  In my view, it’s crucial to emphasise the continuum between forms of structural violence which culminate in bursts of direct violence.  Our struggles against different forms of structural violence must also be linked. Neoliberal reforms, including the privatisation of public goods like education, transportation, infrastructure, and healthcare, that are being rammed down our throats in France, impact all of us whether we are primary school teachers, students, university adjuncts, railway workers, taxi drivers or airplane pilots.  Organising, in (and outside of) unions, striking, refusing to cooperate in mass demonstrations of civil disobedience, appear to be our most effective and direct path, for now, toward a recognition of our collective demands. 


(Photo Credit: l’Humanité)

Don’t Bogart this country!

Don’t Bogart this country!

No more room in the inn?

Conservative Christians know just what Jesus would do,

They just ain’t doin’ it. 

I mean: they just ain’t doin’
What was done for Jesus.

Dorothy Day, and Father Daniel Berrigan we miss you. 
We miss you and so many others.

If I had a hammer.

These angry old men wearing red hats,

and taking blue pills,

 are melting down ploughshares and turning them into guns again.

And they say America is full — there is no more room.

Well — I’ve been to the Dakotas and that’s just bullshit!

Maybe we’ll find room when we can’t get our avocado toast, triple latte, and strawberries.

Ahh, but the strawberries! That’s – that’s when we’ll care.

Persnickety keto and vegan diets will make us care.

Rising price of coffee will make us care.

Lack of avocado will make us care.

Or, we can ask the American in Tampico wearing a white suit:

Say, mister. Will you stake a fellow American to a meal?
Can you help an American down on his luck?

And he says:
Not a South American
Not a Central American
Not an American from Puerto Rico—but I’ll throw them some paper towels
And definitely not an American from Guam — but, they are great for medical experimentation. 

And 
no 
more 
American wannabes. 

America is full.

I mean look: 

When I say “mare nostrum” I mean it’s mare nostrum to over fish or to pollute.

We don’t want to actually feed anybody.

He says all this while pretending to read the poem on the Statue of Liberty,

When actually he’s just peeking up her robes looking for something to grab.

But it’s too high up; and, he’s so lowdown.

Oh, play it again Uncle Sam!

You know what I want to hear,
You played it for her, you can play it for me!
If she can stand it, I can!
Play it!

Sing the third verse, too:

“No refuge could save the hireling and slave
from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

And, offer these Three gifts 

to newborn princesses and princes of peace,

And their queen mothers asking for mercy,

Razor wire, tear gas, and burns.

Armored troops on the boarder attacking children,

Now where did I hear this before?

Stories of insecure kings trying to separate children from their mothers and kill saviors in their cribs.

So many people floating down rivers in reed boats trying to escape,

Where is the merciful Queen who will take them all in and offer them nobility, healthful environment, and education?

And would it be too much to ask for funding for Women Studies Programs, Planned Parenthood, and affordable health care as long as were dreaming here in this nightmare together?

Rise, Dreamers, rise.

And, like Moses, free yourselves and your people. Help them to find their place in this land of promise.

 Resist all of the Charlton Hestons with guns and MAGA hats. 

Some superheroes don’t wear masks, capes, armor, or costumes. 

Some heroes wear hijabs, or used to work in bars for a minimum wage and tips — the true Marvels in D.C.

Brown skinned Saviors, teach us all how to dream again. Help us to hear our own beating hearts 

and the grasshopper at our feet.

This nation of actors:

Acting White House Thief of Staff: Mick Mulvaney,

Acting Ambassador to the Divided Nations: Jonathan Cohen,

Acting Inferior Secretary: David Bernhardt,

Acting Offense Secretary: Patrick Shanahan,

Acting Homeland Insecurity Secretary: Kevin McAleenan,

And, they all have badges,

they all have stinking badges,

They can actually show you their stinking badges!

They just don’t have job security. 

But, some of them have very dubiously obtained security clearances.

To ousted Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen we ask:

 is it true blondes have more fun?

Asked and answered!

All while Dolt 45, the director of this political theater 

is acting like Captain Queeg from The Caine Mutiny

But what America needs is Rick from Casablanca.

What America actually has is Agent Orange walking arm in arm down a runway at Reagan National Airport with Stephen Miller, 

The beginning of a very decisive friendship.

(Photo Credit: NPR / The Kobal Collection)

It’s time to talk about mental illness and police brutality

Andrew Casciano

It was only supposed to be a simple call. Police in Paterson, NJ, were assisting in a phone call for a suicide attempt, and had met the victim at the St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Paterson, a little over a year ago. Later, as video emerged from the two police officers’ own recorded video, the victim was beaten and slapped by those officers—Ruben McAusland and Roger Then. The first footage shows the victim—Andrew Casciano—being slapped by McAusland in the waiting room of the emergency room as he is wheeled in.

The second footage, shot by Then with a shiteating grin on his face before the assault took place, shows McAusland reacting violently to a suicidal patient’s comments, slapping the man hard enough—twice—for blood to splatter on the bedsheets.

I have members of my family that work in behavioral health units. Under no circumstances are they to even consider touching a mentally ill patient unless they pose a direct and violent threat to the nursing staff or to themselves. There is extensive training to spot those risks. Casciano was laying in a hospital bed. His only weapon? A box of latex gloves that he threw at an officer. McAusland abused his authority and punched a man who, for all intents and purposes, was attempting to goad the police into killing him.

But the violence that McAusland and Then inflicted on Casciano is only part of the charges that have been leveled against them and four other Paterson police officers, including assault, dealing drugs and an attempted coverup. McAusland pleaded guilty to “possession and distribution of heroin, cocaine and marijuana—all of which he said he stole from a crime scene while he was on duty—and to depriving Casciano of his civil rights by assaulting him in prison.” McAusland was sentenced to 5 ½ years in prison. Then, who blamed the assault on McAusland, was sentenced to six months after pleading guilty to concealing the civil rights violation.  

The videos go a long way in illustrating the ways police officers abuse and violate the trust of the community in Paterson. They are also indicative of the ways in which the police and the entire criminal justice system are inherently abusive. 

Mentally ill individuals have not often been highlighted in police brutality; they are always considered an afterthought. Is it because we don’t legitimately view mental illnesses as real illnesses that could have devastating effects on people’s interactions with police? People with untreated mental illnesses are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter that other civilians approached or stopped by law enforcement.

According to a report by the Treatment Advocacy Center, though individuals with untreated mental illnesses number only 1 in 50 US adults, they are involved with at least 1 in 4, and as many as half of all fatal police shootings. According to the co-author of the study, executive director John Snook, “By dismantling the mental illness treatment system, we have turned mental health crisis from a medical issue into a police matter. This is patently unfair, illogical and is proving harmful both to the individual in desperate need of care and the officer who is forced to respond.” 

I have had two very uncomfortable encounters with the police, both when I’ve been in the midst of panic attacks. The two officers ranged from casual indifference to outright belligerent rudeness. I did not feel safe in the company of those individuals. You can blame the lack of training the police officers have with mentally ill individuals; but it also highlights how policing is consistently and diametrically opposed to any kind of public safety or community safety, and that needs to end. 

(Photo Credit: Paterson Times)

Women’s Studies: A Threat to The Political Right-Wing?

On March 12th, the University Grants Commission (UGC), the statutory body in charge of determining and maintaining the standards of higher education in India, released new guidelines that drastically cut funds up to 40% for Women Studies Centers across the nation. Why is Women’s Studies (WS) the target of the current government? How does the budget cut affect the discipline of WS? How is feminism a political threat?

Women’s Studies emerged in India as a discipline in the 1970s from the women’s movement which attempted to make women visible in history through the interdisciplinary frameworks of gender, race, and class. It extended feminist ideas in the university and explored issues such as violence, caste and religious discriminations, female feticide, dowry deaths, and pay disparity. It questioned the production and distribution of patriarchal knowledge and refuted the gender binary reinforcing the idea of gender performativity. Centers for WS were set up across India and funded by the UGC under the 12thYear Plan (2012-2017); WS was recognized as an important discipline that needed to be institutionalized and supported for changing the perception of women and highlighting their contribution in socio-economic development.

Despite the UGC recognizing WS as an important discipline, there has been a recurring disapproval of the discipline by critics from right-wing politics. Critics of WS believe that the discipline is an indulgence for women. In 2003, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), a party led by the Bharatiya Janat Party (BJP), a right-wing political party heading the current Indian government, sought to rename Women Studies Centers across the nation as Women and Family Studies Centers as part of the 10th Year Plan, hoping that a change in name would deter feminist agendas. A few years later, a survey in the state of Tamilnadu in 2006, under the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIDMK) government, an ally to the NDA, examined WS in many universities across the state and concluded that WS courses were often regarded as “soft options”. It stated that WS ended up getting students who did not get admissions into core disciplines while questioning the discipline’s significance and impact in the real world. 

It is indeed distressing to see how the right-wing questions the significance of WS in a culture where sexual harassment is normalized and trivialized. When Indian women broke their silence on social media with the #MeTooMovement in 2018, the government remained silent and refused to take action on sexual harassers, endorsing male supremacy. With thousands of women, like the journalist Priya Ramani and the actress Tanushree Dutta, shaking the skeletons out of their closets, the #MeToo movement drew attention to patriarchal oppression at home and at the workplace. However, the fundamentalist non-secular right-wing dismissed the cases focusing instead on the “saffronization” of the nation and the glorification of Hinduism.

In the present political scenario, it is not surprising that WS suffers a drastic budget cut. Women and minority studies are a threat to the political right-wing as they question patriarchy and casteism, which are the fundamental tenets of the party. With a cut in funds in higher education, admissions will be limited, and tuition will increase; education will become unaffordable for students from underprivileged backgrounds and higher education will become elitist. The temporariness accorded to Women’s Studies and Dalit Studies, among other social science disciplines, through UGC funds, is a way of institutional marginalization. By withholding funds, the government controls the circulation of feminist thought and reinforces patriarchal oppression. 

The government’s nationalistic vision of “New India” as a superpower with global hegemony is an extension of upper-class Hindu patriarchal ideology; it is imperative therefore that WS is recognized as an important discipline, and women are viewed as equal, in times that celebrate inequality as power. Let’s hope that the upcoming election in May 2019 will bring about an equal and diverse India.

(Photo Credit: She the People)

Neoliberals: stop co-opting our symbols!

Neoliberals: stop co-opting our symbols! 

Next thing you know they will be emulating the Last Poets, the progenitors of Gil Scott Heron. 

The Revolution Will Not Be Broadcast on Social Media; and, will not be represented by yellow stars on the arms of antivaxxers

The revolution will not have very fine people on both sides.

The revolution will not be delivered by Amazon Smile 24 hours later; and, it will not be a part of your monthly cyclic preorder.

The revolution will not be fought on a flat earth; by neonazis with flat tops; while the flat tax is lower on people who own most of America; who came to Washington not to drain the swamp but to infest it.

The revolution will not be broadcast on social media; or underwritten by Sackler family opiate money — because why shake your head when it’s easier to just nod.

The revolution will not be broadcast on social media.

This Is Us, Veep, and Game of Thrones will no longer be so goddamn relevant when the Walking Dead fill the streets covered with mutated childhood diseases Jonas Salk can’t even begin to cure.

The revolution will not be broadcast on social media.

The revolution will not be broadcast 

will not be broadcast 

will not be broadcast 

The revolution might not even happen at all.

(Image Credit: Sound Cloud / Jessy James LaFleur)

Baby Jane Allas, Moe Moe Than, Milagros Tecson Comilang, Desiree Rante Luis: Today’s faces of abuse of domestic workers

Mary Ann Allas and Baby Jane Allas

In 2014, former domestic worker Erwiana Sulistyaningsih stood before a gathering of women and gave witness to the horrors she had endured: “My name is Erwiana Sulistyaningsih. I am 23 years old, and come from a poor peasant family of Indonesia and am a former domestic worker from Hong Kong … I chose Hong Kong because it is said to be a safe country and I had heard no news about migrant workers being abused there.” Hong Kong was not, is not, safe. Over the last month a number of women domestic workers’ stories have emerged that demonstrate both the spectacular brutality of households and the structural brutality of nation-State. These are the stories of Baby Jane Allas, Moe Moe Than, Milagros Tecson Comilang, Desiree Rante Luis.

Baby Jane Allas arrived in Hong Kong in late 2017. She left behind five children. In early 2019, Baby Jane Allas was diagnosed with third-stage cervical cancer. She took medical leave, as is her right under Hong Kong law. On February 17, while on leave, she received a letter from her employers terminating her contract. Along with the loss of job, this also meant loss of access to public medical care. That letter was a slow death sentence. Baby Jane Allas, and her sister Mary Ann Allas, also a domestic worker in Hong Kong, organized. They raised money for medical care. They sued, under both labor law and disability laws. The case is still ongoing, but supporters already note that there were many `irregularities’ in the hearing. Baby Jane Allas reported that her stay of employment was one abuse and violation of law and rights after another, but she needed the job. She’s a single mother of five children. 

Moe Moe Than’s story is one of spectacular cruelty, the “worst of its kind”, according to a judge. 32-year-old Moe Moe Than arrived in Singapore from Myanmar in 2012. She worked for a couple that refused her food, access to the toilet, time off and worse. At one point, when complained about the quality and quantity of food, the couple forced fed Moe Moe Than, and when she vomited, the forced her to eat her vomit. Her employers beat her regularly and forced her to clean in her underwear. All of that occurred in 2012. In March, seven years later, the couple was sentenced to time in prison and to compensation. This same couple was convicted of abusing an Indonesian maid, in 2017, and never served any time in prison.

Finally, there are the cases of Milagros Tecson Comilang and Desiree Rante Luis, both former domestic workers from the Philippines. Milagros Tecson Comilang arrived in Hong Kong in 1997. In 2005, she married a permanent Hong Kong resident. In 2007, she gave birth to a daughter. Comilang and her husband have since divorced, and he refused to support her application to stay. Desiree Rante Luis arrived in Hong Kong in 1991. She has three sons, all permanent Hong Kong residents, but Desiree Rante Luis had to leave, and has only seen her family while on a tourist visa. She also applied for permanent residence status. In the case of Milagros Tecson Comilang the child’s father doesn’t want to care for his child. In the case of Desiree Rante Luis, the father is a live-in domestic worker, and so can’t care for his children. This week, the court decided that both women have to leave Hong Kong and leave their children behind. Desiree Rante Luis said, “We have been waiting for a long time. I don’t know why the Hong Kong government has no heart.”

Why do the Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and so many other, governments have no heart for transnational women? It’s a good question. Here’s another good question: “Each page a victory/At whose expense the victory ball?” Bertolt Brecht asked that in 1936. It’s now 2019, 83 years later. Baby Jane Allas, Moe Moe Than, Milagros Tecson Comilang, and Desiree Rante Luis join Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, Adelina LisaoTuti Tursilawati, and so many others whose names we wait to learn. We need more than an archaeology of contemporary household atrocities. We need justice. We need justice which begins at home.  We have been waiting for a long time. 

Desiree Rante Luis and her sons

(Photo Credit 1: South China Morning Post / Xiaomei Chen) (Photo Credit 2: South China Morning Post / Edmond So)