He has become sacred in all that he has lost and yet endures

On the northwest corner of 19th and F, the building goes in at a ninety-degree angle, providing a covered patio space for the Korean owned, Latinx staffed cafe that fuels George Washington University students and office workers from nearby US government agencies and the World Bank.

An unhoused man has made a nook for himself inside that angle. He wheels his little cart into the corner, between a square pillar that holds up the building and the wall, and lies down in front of it, swathed in a beige down jacket and a bright blue sleeping bag that must be Everest-rated, because sometimes on cold nights he has it partly unzipped. He has a gray wool hat, and a beige scarf with a red zigzag pattern, and he uses long beige socks for gloves. 

He is not always there, but often. He is there today. He has chosen his shelter well. While the tile is hard, it is dry, and the building angles stop the wind cold. The only shrubbery is twenty feet away, and in waist high concrete planters, so rats are not particularly attracted to the area. It is lit 24 hours a day, with many passersby during working hours. At night, he is under the watchful eye of the Passport Office security cameras, which are staffed by 24-hour security guards who are visible through the plate glass of the building’s first floor, further up 19th Street. They also patrol around the building throughout the night, checking that all the street-facing doors of the local businesses are locked.

People have started leaving offerings for him. Today, while he sleeps, someone has laid a white paper napkin on the ground like a fresh tablecloth, under some kind of sandwich in a plastic shell, and a bright red apple. Others leave grocery bags full of single serving cereal and shelf-stable milk and towelettes, evidence of a special trip to the 7-Eleven down the street. People even leave things when he isn’t there. Last night a tub of yogurt and a bottle of water awaited his midnight arrival. 

He has become sacred in all that he has lost and yet endures. His need has made him holy to some. Clearly, there are sufficient among us who heed the call for compassion and generosity without question or the need for some kind of justification for why he is worthy of attention, small sacrifices, and offerings. No one is demanding he “tell his story” before paying for it with a sandwich, or a bottle of water. His need is obvious without a single word needing to be spoken. It is met in equal silence and anonymity. I imagine each decision to buy an extra sandwich or a pair of socks growing from an internal dialogue — “I wonder if he would like…I wonder if this would make him more comfortable/warmer/safer…” — and then paid for without fanfare, and delivered with respect for all that is human and holy. 

Can we imagine this recognition, and the actions that flow from it, of the sacredness of need and what giving gives to the giver — anonymous cubicle dweller remembers purpose, lonely student less lonely, alienation overcome by connection — expanded in its ancient honesty to the city, and beyond that, and beyond that?

(Image Credit: Hilma af Klimt, “Group IV, The Ten Largest, No. 7, Adulthood”)

#ShutDownBerks: Pennsylvania’s Auditor General calls Berks a jail and urges it be shut down

For the past six months, Pennsylvania’s Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has been conducting an audit of Berks County “Residential” Center, or BCRC, one of the three so-called family immigrant detention centers in the United States. Yesterday, he issued his report. The report ends with two recommendations, all in caps in the report: “1. IMMIGRATING FAMILIES SHOULD NOT BE HELD IN BCRC AND SHOULD INSTEAD BE RELEASED INTO COMMUNITIES WITH OVERSIGHT AND SUPPORT. 2. AS LONG AS BCRC REMAINS OPEN, THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES MUST CONTINUE TO CONDUCT MONTHLY INSPECTIONA TO OVERSEE THE TREATMENT OF THE CHILDREN BEING DETAINED THERE.” The Auditor General chose to put those two recommendations in capital letters, to make sure we see and hear the message. Shut down Berks. SHUT DOWN BERKS. #ShutDownBerks. Can you hear me now?

The report opens noting that, apart from those who are members of “an indigenous native tribe”, everyone else is “part of Pennsylvania’s immigration history”. Further, “seeking asylum is not a crime. Neither is asking the U.S. government for permission to live on its soil and become a contributing member of its society. Yet the parents and children being held at BCRC are treated like prisoners despite not being accused of any crimes.” Also, “facilities such as BCRC should not exist.” The report then launches into the details concerning Berks, details many of which we have described before: children being kept in violation of limits; mothers being abused, mothers and children suffering isolation, trauma, deprivation. Repeatedly, in the report and at the press, the Auditor General emphasized that seeking asylum is not a crime and is not part of the criminal justice process in any way whatsoever. At the press conference, DePasquale noted, “No one being held at the Berks facility is facing any criminal charges, but the center still essentially functions as a jail where adults and children, sometimes mere babies, are detained”.

The report details the experience, in October 2019, of the Connors family, an English couple with their three-month-old son who were vacationing in Canada, got lost on a back road, accidentally entered the United States, were apprehended, and shipped off to Berks. When the Connors arrived at Berks, there were five families with children under five years old. Because the Connors’ child was so young, ICE offered them a deal, family separation. Eileen Connors said she was “shocked and disgusted” by the suggestion and rejected it out of hand. Everything was dirty and broken. When their child’s clothing needed washing, there were no replacements. Eileen Connors asked, “How am I supposed to keep my baby warm in this horrible cold?” “All they tell me is to put a hat on him.” They say, “Put a hat on him.” We say, “Shut it down!”

For the last five years, repeatedly, the mothers of Berks have called for justice, beginning with shutting down Berks. Repeatedly, they have said they are not criminals, they are asylum seekers. Repeatedly they have said, no human being deserves to be abused. Repeatedly they have said, children need and deserve love, not abandonment and abuse. Repeatedly they have said, we know justicethis is injustice!

 U.S. Senators have agreedPsychologists have agreedLocal activists, human rights advocates, attorneys and just plain folk have agreed. Recently, even Berks County Commissioner Kevin Barnhardt, who previously supported Berks because of its supposed economic benefit, said “he no longer supported maintaining the detention center, citing concern that President Trump’s administration is `changing the immigration landscape in a negative way.’” Pennsylvania’s Governor wants to shut Berks down and convert it into a treatment space, a healing place. How many more reports, documents, testimonies are needed? “We are well past the time to close the Berks center.” Shut Berks down. Facilities such as Berks “should not exist.” Shut Berks down! SHUT BERKS DOWN! #ShutBerksDown!

(Image Credit: Grid Philly) (Photo Credit: Philadelphia Inquirer / Charles Fox)

Sunday’s factory fire in New Delhi was a planned massacre of workers: We know

A factory fire broke out Sunday, December 8, 2019, in a factory that produced school bags, purses, and toys, in the Anaj Mandi neighborhood, in New Delhi. At least 43 workers were killedA factory fire broke out Saturday, July 13, 2019, in a hardware factory in the Jhilmil industrial area, in New Delhi. “Only” three workers were killed.  A factory fire broke out Saturday, January 20, 2018, in a gunpowder factory in the Bawana Industrial area, in New Delhi. Seventeen workers were killed. Every time, government officials proclaim their sadness. Every time, the media describes the “tragedy”, interviews relatives weeping at the morgue and the hospital. Every time, explanations, alibis, “explain” what happened. Narrow streets. Inaccessible spaces. Every time … That fire was a planned massacre. The building was a death trap waiting to explode, the workers, mostly migrant Muslim from Bihar, were slated for the sacrificial burning. As one witness explained, speaking of the workers, “Their only fault was they were poor.” He paused and then concluded that the workers’ lives were “a bigger tragedy than their death.” What is tragedy in this world?

We know what happened Sunday: the factory was illegal; the building far exceeded height limitations of the area; of 18 rooms in the building, 15 are rented out to different entities running illegal factories, and, of course, there are no leases or any other documents; there was never any police verification of anything, as there should have been; the building was packed, in violation of city rules, with hazardous and inflammable items; goods blocked one emergency exit, which was locked from the outside; the other exit was impassible thanks to packages piled up in front of it; other exits were locked from the outside; windows were barred and could not be opened; firefighters had to break down the outer gate and then the doors to get in. We know.

We know that the workers lived and slept in the factory itself, because their wages were so low that that’s what they could afford; that almost all the workers asleep on the third floor died, slowly and painfully, of suffocation, many of them on their phones, calling loved ones, friends, pleading for help, saying farewell. We know.

We know that now people will be investigated, arrested, even convicted; that the workers in the other illegal factories in other illegal buildings in the Anaj Mandi neighborhood are afraid that they will lose their jobs. Anaj Mandi has become “interesting”. We know this. This is modern urban and national political economic development. We know.

We do not know if we will remember this particular fire a week from now, a month or year from now. Maybe. Maybe not. But we know another factory is waiting to explode, and when it does, the Great Men will intone tragedy this and sorrow that. Tell them to stop. Tell them, we know. We know. 

(Photo Credit: New York Times / AP / Dinesh Joshi)

Current mass movements protest violence against women

There is always a day assigned for us to think about the troubles of our world. November 25th was the International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women. In the spirit of the moment of uprising to demand respect, women and men took to the streets on Saturday, November 23rd , holding signs to express important messages and demands. Some signs read: “the end of violence against women,” “the end of patriarchy,” “neither women nor the earth are territories for conquest”, “the cup is full” accompanied by a picture of a cup full of blood, “educate children to respect women and girls,” and “feminism never killed anyone, machismo does.”

In France, this year, at the initiative of Nous Toutes (All of Us Women Movement), a large crowd of about 49,000 people hit the streets of Paris versus 12,000 last year, and about 150,000 demonstrated all over France that day. The demonstration was well planned, as the outrage was growing in France. With 138 women killed by their partner or ex at the time of the demonstration, France has seen a notorious increase of femicides this year, despite all the good intentions expressed by the authorities. Many organizations rallied with Nous Toutes, including UN Women France, Femen, the women of the Americas of Argentina and Mexico, Women in Solidarity, Amnesty International, and the National Union of Feminicide Families.

The demonstration started at 2pm, and at 4pm the tail of the demonstration had not moved yet. Men, along with many high school boys, joined the procession of demonstrators. Clearly a sign that something is budging—from merely women rallying to support each other to people rallying to support women.

The demonstrators’ signs and chants addressed the basic social injustice that violence against women and the impunity of the patriarchal system create. The experience of being swept up by this mass protest seemed dreamlike, but an anecdote brought us back to the reality that there is still a long way to go to deconstruct centuries of domination. As we were taking pictures of the demonstration from the sidewalk, two men in their forties who were just there to watch, asked us, “Is patriarchy a new word that has just been invented?” Then, they asked if we could explain to them what patriarchy actually is.

A similar demonstration took place in Madrid, where tens of thousands of people marched in the street chanting, “for those who aren’t with us” and “we demand Justice.” At the end, the 44 names of the women killed within the past twelve months in Madrid were read. 

In six European countries, including Belgium, feminists demanded that an official data collection of femicide be put in place. 

Mass demonstrations to make violence against women visible have been cropping up worldwide. Last weekend, large protests erupted all over India, stemming from Hyderabad, demanding the end of rape and murder of women and the need for justice in fast-track courts. The Nirbhaya protest in New Delhi, the largest of its kind in 2012, is now followed with the protest against the gang rape and murder of a 27-year-old veterinarian. 

Why is violence against women a genocide that continues to be invisible globally? The unavailability of data feeds a supposedly gender-neutral approach to the law, which in turn works in connection with invisibility of the crimes against women, thereby enhancing the objectification and invisibility of women and their ordeal. This constitutes a denial of women’s rights and a normalization of this denial. 

By the same token, women have been objectified as their bodies have become weapons of war in many conflicts in the Global South. The international community has had the hardest time addressing the impunity with which this system has developed. The latest veto of the United States, last June, on the UN resolution 2467, that would have provided medical assistance to women survivors, is just one example of the lack of respect granted for the dignity of over half the world population

The keyword is violence. Violence is the foundation of the patriarchal system as it has developed in economics, medicine, politics, justifying colonization, invasions with never-ending destructive conflicts. Inequality is, as never before, affecting women’s emancipation and rights. It has continued to fragment the social fabric, making precarity a common feature that touches women first. The French government is supporting a series of measures to help individually the victims of violence and at the same time pushing a reform of the retirement programs that will continue to gravely disadvantage women. The Indian government acts with fast-track courts for one high profile victim at a time, without addressing violence against women as a whole.

Women and men globally are conscious of patriarchal domination, but this consciousness has yet to reach the layers of the social fabric and shake up our institutions that still follow outmoded processes. So, the answer is larger solidarity movements, vociferous protests, and voluble writings. Only a solidarity movement will hold the promise to create conditions for a transformational change.

What happened to Jenna Mitchell? Just another transgender woman prisoner suicide in Georgia

What happened to Jenna Mitchell? Jenna Mitchell was a prisoner in Georgia’s Valdosta State Prison. On December 2, 2017, Jenna Mitchell’s mother, Sheba Maree, called the prison to inform them that Jenna had threatened suicide. Jenna Mitchell’s mother urged the prison to place her daughter on suicide watch. She was told her daughter was already on suicide watch. Jenna Mitchell was never placed on suicide watch. Two days later, however, she was thrown into solitary confinement. According to a lawsuit filed by Jenna Mitchell’s parents, Jenna Mitchell told the officer she intended to kill herself. According to the lawsuit, the officer laughed, basically said make my day, and left Jenna Mitchell alone in her cell. When the officer returned, Jenna Mitchell had hanged herself. Two days later, she died. Now, two years later, the family has sued. 

Jenna Mitchell lived, and died, with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and “gender dysphoria”. She had a history of suicide attempts. This history was known to the prison, and, put charitably, the prison did nothing. Better put, the prison refused to do anything and so placed Jenna Mitchell in grave, and ultimately fatal, danger.

Jenna Mitchell was born Caleb Mitchell. She was a transgender woman. Why was she in Valdosta State Prison, a prison for adult males? Four years ago, Ashley Diamond, a transgender woman, was also sent to Valdosta State Prison. She sued Georgia for numerous violations, as well as numerous forms of violence. According to Diamond, a Valdosta State Prison warden called her a “`he-she-thing’ and encouraged staff to ridicule her for acting like a woman.” Diamond was told, “This is a male facility and your gender is male. You will be required to follow the rules a.” Ashley Diamond tried to commit suicide and to castrate herself. Finally, she was transferred to Baldwin State Prison, a close-security prison where she had already suffered numerous assaults. At the time, it was reported widely that Ashley Diamond’s lawsuit brought national attention to the abuse of transgender prisoners, and especially transgender women prisoners, in Georgia. Georgia changed its policy on gender-affirming medical care for transgender prisonersallowing hormones for transgender prisoners. Those were reports in 2015. In 2017, Jenna Mitchell hanged herself in Valdosta State Prison, the prison that Ashley Diamond self-mutilated and attempted suicide in, in order to get out, one way or the other.

Meanwhile, Georgia prisons are experiencing a spike in suicide rates. From 2104 to 2016, 20 state prisoners committed suicide. From 2017 to this year, that number rose to 46. The prison suicide in rate in Georgia is at 35 per 100,000 prisoners, which is double the national prison suicide rate. The suicide rate for the general population is 13 per 100,000. Valdosta State Prison leads the state, and most of the nation, in prison suicides

What happened to Jenna Mitchell? She wasn’t failed by the state of Georgia. She was executed … for being transgender, for being woman, for living with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, for living, for being. Jenna Mitchell asked for help and she was ridiculed and then abandoned.  When will we stop “improving” fatal and toxic policies and, instead, opt for available alternatives to cages, torture, and death? Why are so willing to sacrifice Jenna Mitchell and her sisters?

(Photo Credit: Project Q Atlanta)

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women are a continued genocide

The response to the continued genocide of indigenous people – more specifically, of indigenous women – has finally come to the forefront. Last week, Donald J Trump signed an executive order creating a task force that would focus on missing and murdered indigenous women, which will develop protocols for cases and create a team to review cold cases. The task force will be overseen by Attorney General Barr and Secretary Bernhardt. It is a great start but fails to address the failures of the current and previous administrations to address murdered and missing women, a continued and ongoing genocide and a perpetuation of the violence against indigenous people by colonizers, under the protections of the United States Government. Justice will not be served if we do not emphasize Native sovereignty.

Over 1.5 million Native women have experienced violence, including sexual violence. They experience violence at twice the rate for women as a general category in the US; on some reservations, the murder rate of Native women is 10 times the national average. Of the 5,712 cases of missing Native women nationwide reported, only 116 of them were logged into the US Department of Justice’s missing persons database. 

For indigenous women experiencing sexual violence, the trend is unprecedented and does not reflect national data. 97 percent of intimate partner violence and sexual assaults were estimated to be carried out by non-Native men. For the vast majority of sexual assaults carried out in the US, the survivors are of the same race as the perpetrators. The staggering percentage highlights the limits on the jurisdiction of tribal courts, which had made some headway but not enough before the current administration opposed the measures.

Under the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, the inclusion of an amendment gave, for the first time, recognition that tribal courts have jurisdiction over criminal cases brought against nonmembers. This shift was still severely limited, however, because it would only apply to cases of intimate partner violence and only to non-Native people who met one of three criteria: resident of Native country, employed in Native country, or current of former intimate partner of a Native person living in Native country or a tribal member. Additionally, the tribe was required to fund the indigent defense. The obscene regulations consequently resulted in only 18 of the 562 Native Tribes meeting the requirement. Although federal jurisdiction remains the default, it is overwhelmingly characterized by unresponsiveness US prosecutors declined to prosecute 46 percent of reservation cases, with assault and sexual assault cases declined more than any other category. Authorities were unwilling to help search for missing persons or even file a report.  

Even while tribal jurisdiction was so limited that it barely made a dent in the violence that indigenous women face, opposition is constantly ramping up against it. The act, which lapsed last year, was originally opposed by then Senator Jeff Sessions who objected to expanding tribal jurisdiction to non-Native people. Republican Joni Ernst of Iowa reintroduced the reauthorization measure to make it easier to challenge tribal jurisdiction, a significant rollback of the tenuous headway that tribes had been making. 

While there is headway—in tandem with Trump’s executive order, the Senate passed a funding bill with $6.5 million to tackle the epidemic (the total spending package was $332 billion)—the consequences remain. If indigenous peoples cannot seek justice in their own courts, with their own laws, against non-Natives, how can we end the continued genocide, the continued colonization of those women? Of those mothers, sisters, aunts, people? Why do we demand they follow federal law when that law has only been there to continue to decimate their land and kill their people? Why are we not acknowledging their sovereignty, if not simply because their sovereignty was there much longer than ours? How much longer can we give paltry solutions when indigenous women are tortured and killed? 

(Infogram credit: NICOA) (Photo Credit: Lorie Shaull / NPQ)

Michigan built a special hell for women, the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility

Recently, reflecting on family separation and other forms of public policy abuse of migrant and immigrant families and communities, regular Women In and Beyond the Global contributor Nichole Smith wondered, “Have we no shame?” Consider the conditions of women’s prisons, jails, and detention centers across the United States, from Florida’s Lowell Correctional Institution to Alabama’s Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women to Pennsylvania’s SCI-Muncy to Texas’ Karnes County Residential Center to the Charleston County Jail in South Carolina to Alaska’s Anchorage Correctional Complex and between and beyond. Have we no shame? Take, for example, Michigan’s one women’s prison, the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility. Go there and you will see and smell that we have no shame, we have no capacity for shame.

In April 2012, the ACLU “persuaded” the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility to stop its practice of invasive strip search of all women prisoners who had a contact visit … with family, clergy, friends, attorneys, anyone.

In September 2014, the ACLU, Michigan Department of Corrections, and US Department of Justice announced they were investigating the abuse and torture of prisoners living with mental illnesses who had the misfortune of ending up in the Women’s Huron Valley. Women were hogtied naked for hours on end, deprived of food and water, thrown into solitary. Advocates and supporters argued that Huron Valley was a closed system, and as such was ripe for abuse.

In November 2015, a twenty-five-year-old Black woman, Janika Nichole Edmond died, or better was executed in the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility.  Janika Edmond’s story is short and terribly familiar: Janika Edmond lived with mental illness. Once in Michigan’s `criminal justice’ system, her condition deteriorated. She had a history of assaulting prison guards, which resulted in her being sent to solitary, which resulted in her becoming more aggressive. The rate of `incident reports’ skyrocketed. No one did anything. In 2014, Janika Edmond made a rope out of a towel and tried to hang herself. Earlier in 2015, Janika Edmond was found with a razor. She said, repeatedly, that she was “tired of being here” and was hearing voices. No one on staff listened to Janika Edmond’s voice. The day she died, Janika Edmonds asked for a suicide prevention vest. The guards laughed. Hours later, she lay dead on the floor. “The death report provided by the MDOC [Michigan Department of Corrections] for Edmond shows her presumed cause of death was suicide.” When Janika Edmonds died, the State was still “investigating” the July 16 death of Kayla Renea Miller, in Huron Valley. 

In 2012, Carol Jacobsen, founder and Director of the Michigan Women’s Justice and Clemency Projectnoted, “Abu Ghraib has nothing on Huron Valley.” She was describing the irony that Huron Valley was meant to solve the crisis of abuse of women prisoners in the Robert Scott Correctional Facility. As a result of widespread torture and abuse, Scott was closed in 2009, and the women were moved to Huron Valley, which is worse than Scott. In 2012, we “cared” about Abu Ghraib. Huron Valley? Not so much.

For the past seven years, the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility has been described, accurately, as hell. On November 20, the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility was sued for “perilous” conditionsAccording to the lawsuit, “The women have complained about the presence of mold in the facility for years, and continue to do so, but their pleas have been ignored.” Huron Valley “is operating under a state of degradation, filth, and inhumanity, endangering the health and safety of incarcerated women.” One of the attorneys described Huron Valley as “medieval and dungeon-like.” Another added, “This prison has a long history of problems: dilapidated conditions, unsafe conditions, and unconstitutional conditions. This has been going on for a long time. To make matters worse, there’s no ventilation. So these women are trapped in these boxes and are literally being poisoned on a daily basis, with no ventilation.”

Michigan’s only women’s prison, the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, is not medieval. It is modern, all too modern. Overcrowded, toxic, lethal … and this is us. Michigan’s only women’s prison, the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, is the architecture of shame in the United States of America. Michigan built a special hell for women, the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, and it’s been going on for years and it’s going on now. Have we no shame? You tell me.

(Photo Credit: Michigan NPR)

New Jersey Demanded Its Counties End Their 287(g) Agreements. Three of Them Are Suing the State Instead

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal

Monmouth, Ocean, and Cape May Counties are suing the state of New Jersey over the Attorney General’s Directive, which placed limits on the amount of aid local law enforcements could use when cooperating with immigration authorities.

Titled the “Immigrant Trust Directive,” the policy put into place by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal most recently blocked Monmouth County from participating in a federal program that trains corrections officers to determine the immigration status of jail inmates and then flags them for federal action. An earlier state directive, handed down in September, seeks to prohibit the sheriff’s departments in Monmouth and Cape May Counties from continuing the 287g agreement that has allowed some of their officers to act as immigration agents in county jails. Monmouth and Cape May Counties both renewed for a decade despite Grewal’s directive. 

Angered over the fact that they can’t jail and hold people for ICE to deport them, the counties are moving towards suing the state to continue. It begs the question how much money does ICE give to allow constitutional rights to be revoked for undocumented individuals living in New Jersey? 

The Directive’s goal, according to Grewal, “is clear—to make it easier for New Jersey’s law enforcement officers to solve crimes and ensure the safety of all 9 million people in our state by building trust with our large and diverse immigrant communities. Because of the bright line between New Jersey law enforcement officers and federal civil immigration agents, immigrants can come forward as victims and witnesses of crimes without fear of reprisal.”

Monmouth County is arguing that it is unprecedented that state officials supersede federal law, as the AG’s directive runs counter to federal Department of Justice guidance. “We wanted someone in here to make sure Monmouth County is protected and do the right thing,” Freeholder Director Tom Arnone argued, “We have never had a period of time when the (New Jersey) attorney general has made a ruling over the DOJ. Right or wrong, we are obligated to do our due diligence.”

Not surprisingly, the arguments fall back onto a rhetoric of keep citizens safer, blaming the recent bail reform in place for possibly pushing out violent offenders that could otherwise be picked up by ICE. 

While state politicians and some residents claim that the agreements keep the Monmouth County residents safe, others are against continued cooperation. The idea that immigrants commit more violent crimes has proven time and again to be false, dredged up for the purpose of justifying ICE’s cruelty and encroachment of civil liberties. Increasingly, minor misdemeanors that would land a citizen with a ticket and an uncomfortable day at court are being used as justification to deport large populations in immigrant communities, both in the state and beyond. 

It is hypocritical that those counties, who proudly harken to their Italian, Irish and immigrant roots at the drop of a hat, would whoop and holler for the ability to throw those whose histories aligned with our own in prison indefinitely. Fleeing violence, economic hardship, and increasing poverty, they’ve come into this country – and this state – to make a better life for themselves.

Our families fled from the same. Fleeing economic hardships, famine, rising fascist governments and violence, they came to this country to make a better life. Now, in the face of Libertas, we’ve spit on them as violent offenders and gleefully watch them being separated from their families and loved ones. 

Have we no shame?

Never Again Action, Elizabeth, New Jersey, June 2019

(Photo Credit 1: Tariq Zehawi / Asbury Park Press) (Photo Credit 2: Facebook / Never Again Action)

How many women must die due to incarceration before we do something about the massacre?

In one week in early November two civil society organizations, one in England one in North Carolina, forced their respective state agencies to `discover’ yet again that the entire so-called criminal justice system is built on deaths “by suicide”. In North Carolina, Disability Rights North Carolina issued its report, Suicide in North Carolina Jails: High Suicide and Overdose Rates Require Urgent Jail Reform Action. In England, Inquest released its report, Deaths of people following release from prison. While the numbers are grim and the personal accounts are heartbreaking, who is surprised by the data and whose hearts are broken? If we were surprised, if we still had hearts to break, we would have done something serious long before this month’s reports.

Remember March 2015 when it was “discovered” that the year before prison suicides in England and Wales reached a seven-year high, according to the Howard League for Penal Reformthe Prison and Probation Ombudsman for England and Wales, and the House of Commons Justice Committee?

Remember April 2015 when it was reported that, in the United Kingdom, the number of suicide attempts in “immigration removal” centers was at an all-time high?

Remember August 2015 when the U.S. Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics released Mortality in Local Jails and State Prisons, 2000–2013 – Statistical Tables and reported suicide was the leading cause of death in U.S. jailsthe Spokane County Jail, in Washington State, requested that the U.S. Department of Justice investigate a recent rash of prisoner suicides; and, reluctantly and under pressure from the Federal government, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department agreed to reforms in the L.A. County Jail that would finally begin to address “chronically poor treatment for mentally ill inmates and … years of abusive behavior by jailers?

Remember April 2016 when United Kingdom’s Ministry of Justice released Safety in Custody Statistics England and Wales / Deaths in prison custody to March 2016, and the numbers were bad, the worst in 25 years?

Remember August 2016 when, according to a Howard League report on England and Wales, “2016 becomes worst year ever recorded for suicides in prisons”?

Who remembers the names and lives of those women who ostensibly died “at their own hands” … over and over and over again; the reports of their demise and then later the “discoveries” that implicated State malfeasance; the reports by civil society organizations, because the State doesn’t even try to keep adequate statistics, much less anything like adequate care? Who remembers?

In North Carolina, the situation is typical. The rate of suicide in jail is rising precipitously. Those who die by suicide are generally 40 years old or younger. Suicide happens quickly: 20% occur within 24 hours of entering; 65% within seven days; 80% within 12 days. Surviving two weeks in jail is a small miracle. 85% of those deemed suicides died by hanging. 95% died before ever facing a trial. They were formally innocent, but they were executed, nevertheless. And what of all the others, the ones who were in the cells next to those who died by hanging?

According to Inquest’s report, “In the most recent recorded year, ten people died each week following release from prison. Every two days, someone took their own life. In the same year one woman died every week, and half of these deaths were self-inflicted.” According to Inquest’s report, the suicide rate for women in the general population is a little less than 5 per 100,000. For women on “post-release supervision”, the rate last year was 459 per 100,000. This discrepancy is even more noteworthy when we consider that “in the general population men are more likely to die by suicide than women. However, when we look to people in the criminal justice system – whether in prison or under probation supervision – women are at a higher risk of a self-inflicted death than men.” For that reason Inquest “reframes deaths in custody as a form of violence against women.”

Where is the supervision; what comprises supervision in North Carolina, the United Kingdom, and beyond, when levels of suicide either go unreported, meaning there’s no attention paid, or, worse, go untreated, because those deaths just don’t matter? If anything, the systemic and accelerating years long rise in suicide among people, particularly women, in prison and under post-confinement supervision, suggests suicide has become a State solution to the so-called recidivism crisis, a crisis manufactured by the State.

We are once more still in the everyday political economy of necropower, where “weapons are deployed in the interest of maximum destruction of persons and the creation of death-worlds, new and unique forms of social existence in which vast populations are subjected to conditions of life conferring upon them the status of living dead … Under conditions of necropower, the lines between resistance and suicide, sacrifice and redemption, martyrdom and freedom are blurred.” It’s time, it’s way past time, to remember and, in remembering, to move through and beyond the blur of reiterated discovery to action. Stop sending people to jail, close the jails and the prisons, and, in so doing, begin to end the massacre. Don’t forget.

(Image Credit 1: Disability Rights North Carolina) (Image Credit 2: Inquest)

Fleeing abusive conditions in Saudi Arabia, Bangladeshi domestic workers demand justice!

Domestic workers and supporters demands respect and justice.

As of November 7, 2019, 900 female domestic workers have returned from Saudi Arabia to their home country of Bangladesh. They returned before the end of their contracts, many of them citing physical, mental, and sexual abuse as their reason for fleeing. Interviews with 110 returnees revealed that “86 percent did not receive their full salaries, 61 percent were physically abused, 24 percent were deprived of food and 14 percent were sexually abused.” Many blame the prevalence of abuse on Saudi Arabia’s Kafala, or sponsorship, system, which is present in many west Asian countries and binds a domestic worker’s status to an individual employer or sponsor for the duration of their contract. In effect, the worker’s ability to live and work in the country is completely dependent on their sponsor, creating a dynamic ripe for exploitation. Many workers don’t have the resources to seek help, and face retaliation and deportation if they do.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) continues to blame these domestic workers for their own abuse. According to the Kingdom, the stories told by domestic workers returning to Bangladesh are “nothing but hoaxes and are being spread to give a bad name to the country,” and, again according to the KSA, Bangladeshi workers leave Saudi Arabia due to their inability to adapt to the fast-paced Saudi economy. In response, Bangladesh’s government plans to “better train” the workers it sends abroad, in an attempt to prevent further incidents.

This is a truly insidious form of victim blaming, implying that these workers, most of them women, would not have been abused if only they “knew better.” Beyond the KSA’s refusal to acknowledge the suffering of these workers, Bangladesh’s implicit agreement that the workers are at fault makes them complicit in the abuse. Rather than protect these women, Bangladesh would rather continue to grow their labor exportation economy. On November 14th, Dr AK Abdul Momen, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, defended his Ministry’s lack of action, saying that “only 53 female workers died out of 220,000 female workers currently working in the KSA.” Apparently, the government feels that a few deaths are worth the economic growth their labor provides the country.

A coalition of Bangladeshi Progressive Women’s Organizations has demanded the government free women from repressive situations abroad and stop sending female workers to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia altogether. The movement has gained momentum since Sumi Akter, a Bangladeshi maid, returned home. While still in Saudi Arabia, Sumi Akter made a video pleading for help, describing the extreme abuse she suffered; the video went viral. Many of the organizations have spoken out condemning the minister’s speech, emphasizing how every death is significant and another call for action. No worker’s death, they say, is insignificant.

This coalition shows no signs of backing down, with more women returning and new stories of abuse being shared daily. One can only hope that with continued pressure placed on the government, Bangladesh will eventually act to ensure these domestic workers gain safety and justice.

(Photo Credit: Mehedi Hassan / Dhaka Tribune)