Nine Zimbabwean women say NO! and win a victory for women everywhere!

On March 17, 2014, police in a residential area of Harare arrested nine women – Chipo Nyamanhindi, Chipo Mwedziwendira, Lorraine Marapira, Beuty Kaseke, Tionesei Nyaude, Dorcas Linda, Selina Shoko, Memory Muchena and Colleter Chisedzi – for the `crime’ of being women out after dark. The arrest was part of Operation No to Robberies and Prostitution, which `swept’ the after-dusk streets of urban Zimbabwe clean of any scent of a woman by declaring that any woman out alone at night must be a sex worker. The nine women collectively said NO! NO to criminalization of women’s bodies and lives. NO to the trashing of the Constitution whenever women are involved. NO to the sexual and gender reign of terror. And yesterday Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court agreed with the women, and stopped the prosecution. While the decision officially addresses only the case of these nine women, it has major implications for women across Zimbabwe, and, beyond that, is a major victory for women everywhere.

The women argued that the whole process – arbitrary arrest, detention, prosecution – violated their Constitutional rights. Though the police claimed the women were arrested for solicitation, no evidence was provided, other than standing on a street. They argued that police indiscriminately arresting women for the `crime’ of being out at night violated their right to freedom of movement. Finally, the women argued that the State never actually provided any material evidence of any actual solicitation, by deed or word. There was no there there, except for the women being there.

The Justices agreed, declaring that the police action amounted to a deprivation of liberty and a denial of the right of citizens to the protection of the law, as guaranteed by the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

Police harassment of women is nothing new. In the early 1980s, the State went into a moral panic about gains women had made with independence, and so, on October 1983, the State launched Operation Clean-Up, which captured women and girls in a single move. The ostensible target was `prostitution’. According to Zimbabwean feminist Shereen Essof, “Operation Clean-Up was dramatic enough to provoke a change in Zimbabwean women’s consciousness. It appeared that state patronage allowed little room for the advancement of women’s rights and with this gradual recognition a different kind of women’s organisation was born.”

In 2007, the State again clamped down, swept the streets, and hunted women for their political activism and for being women. This time, however, instead of searching `prostitutes’, the police went after “Tsvangirai’s whores.” (Morgan Tsvangirai was the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.”

For Zimbabwean feminist Everjoice Win, the structural abuse of women in Zimbabwe is the intersection of colonialism, patriarchy, and heterosexism. In response the Constitutional Court, Win tweeted, “So #ZRP [Zimbabwe Republic Police] had to be told not to arrest women under the pretext BLACK women on their own in cities after dark’re sex workers? Let us just name ‪#ZRP actions against black-single women in cities for what it is; policing women’ bodies & imposing outmoded moral values. Truth is #ZRP only targets BLACK younger women. This comes from colonial history, mindset, which saw all of us as `vectors of disease’. They say ‘Zim will never be a colony again’. Colonialist-hetero-sexism rules ‪#ZRP. Random arrests of black women=enforcing colonial rules.”

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, who represented the nine women in court, noted, “The landmark ruling by the Constitutional Court is likely to be welcomed as a major reprieve by gender equality and human rights groups that for years have been seething with anger at the gender discrimination associated with the ZRP’s operations and help bring to an end the notorious police practice of indiscriminately rounding up women under the guise of clamping down on prostitution.”

Indiscriminately rounding up women under the guise of clamping down on prostitution is more than common police practice in every global city in the world. It’s part of State urban development policy. If you live in a global or just a big city, visit your local women’s jail and see who’s there, and find out why. You’ll see. And if you do, tell the women there about the Harare 9, about the victory that occurred this week in Zimbabwe and what it could mean for women everywhere. Tell them we are seething with anger and hope.


(Photo Credit: Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe)

Modern prisons and their predecessors


(Infographic originally available at

Appeal to support the resisting Greek people and its Truth Commission on Public Debt



 To the people of Europe and the whole world!

To all the men and women who reject the politics of austerity and are not willing to pay a public debt which is strangling us and which was agreed to behind our backs and against our interests.

We signatories to this appeal stand by the Greek people who, through their vote at the election of 25th January 2015, became the first population in Europe and in the Northern hemisphere to have rejected the politics of austerity imposed to pay an alleged public debt which was negotiated by those on top without the people and against the people.  At the same time we consider that the setting up of the Greek Public Debt Truth Commission at the initiative of the president of the Greek Parliament constitutes a historic event, of crucial importance not only for the Greek people but also for the people of Europe and the whole world!

Indeed, the Truth Commission of the Greek Parliament, composed of volunteer citizens from across the globe, is destined to be emulated in other countries. First, because the debt problem is a scourge that plagues most of Europe and the world, and secondly because there are millions and millions of citizens who are rightly posing basic and fundamental questions about this debt:

“What happened to the money that made up this loan? What were the conditions attached to it? How much interest has been paid, at what rate? How much capital has been repaid? How was the debt allowed to accumulate without benefiting the people? Where did the capital go? What was it used for? How much was diverted, by whom, and how was this done?

“And also: Who took out this loan and in whose name? Who granted the loan and what was their role? How did the state become involved? By what decision, taken with what authorisation? How did private debts become ‘public’? Who set up such inappropriate schemes, who pushed in this direction, who profited from them? Were offences or crimes committed with this money? Why has penal civil, criminal and administrative responsibility not been established?”

All these questions will be subjected to rigorous analysis by the commission, which has an official mandate to “gather all information relevant to the emergence and disproportionate increase in public debt, and to subject the data to scientific scrutiny in order to determine what part of that debt can be identified as illegitimate and illegal, odious or unsustainable, during the period of the Memoranda, from May 2010 to January 2015 as well as in the preceding years. It must also publish precise information – which must be accessible to all citizens, provide the evidence to back up public declarations, raise awareness among the Greek population, the international community and international public opinion, and finally draw up arguments and demands calling for cancellation of the debt.

We consider that it is the most basic democratic right of every citizen to demand clear and precise answers to these questions. We also consider that refusal to reply constitutes a denial of democracy and transparency on the part of those at the top who invented and use the “debt-system” to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. And even worse: we consider that by jealously keeping for themselves the monopoly right to decide the fate of society, those at the top deprive the overwhelming majority of citizens not only of their right to make decisions but above all of the right to take their destiny and the fate of humanity into their hands!

This is why we are launching the following urgent appeal to all citizens, social movements, ecological and feminist networks and movements, trade unions and political organizations that reject this ever less democratic and humane neo-liberal Europe: Show your solidarity with the Greek resistance by supporting in action the Greek Public Debt Truth Commission and its work in identifying that part of the Greek public debt which is illegal, illegitimate, odious and/or unsustainable.

Defend it against the outrageous attacks it has been subjected to from all those forces in Greece and the rest of the world who have an interest in keeping the truth about the “debt-system” hidden from view.

Actively take part in the citizen debt audits that are being developed throughout Europe and elsewhere.

Share your support and solidarity on your social networks, since this support and international solidarity is the only way to thwart the ruling powers’ plan to suffocate Greece and the people who are fighting against our common enemy: the politics of austerity and the debt that is strangling us!

We are confronted by an experienced adversary, united, well-coordinated, armed with extraordinary powers and absolutely determined to pursue its offensive against every one of us to the bitter end: we who constitute the overwhelming majority of our societies. We cannot allow ourselves the luxury of resisting separately, each in his own corner. So let us unite our forces in a vast movement of solidarity with the Greek resistance and support for the Truth Commission of the Greek Parliament, multiplying such debt audit commissions everywhere where that is possible. Because the struggle of the Greek people is our struggle and their victory will be our victory. Our unity is our only strength

United we stand; divided we fall!

Click here to sign this Appeal


(Image Credit: Greek Debt Truth Commission)


In Spain women indignadas bring spring to Spain and cities everywhere

Spanish cities voted, and now two feminist, progressive, anti-austerity, anti-eviction, lifelong activist women are set to become mayors of Barcelona and Madrid: Ada Colau and Manuela Carmena. “It’s the victory of David over Goliath”, said Ada Colau, although this time it’s the victory of Deborah over Goliath. Before the elections, Ada Colau and Manuela Carmena may have been symbols of change, but the people’s vote changed all that. Now they are not only the embodiments of a Spanish Spring of Change, they are the harbingers of a global Urban Spring. Indignons-nous!

After casting her vote in Madrid, Manuela Carmena said, “Each one of us has an enormous potential for change; each one of us can decide the fate of our city. We can change the world.” And she should know. 71 years old, Manuela Carmena has been fighting the good fight for years. A former member of the Communist Party, she fought for human rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights and prisoners’ rights during the Fascist regime. Manuela Carmena served as a judge, and was widely recognized as a leading progressive and anti-corruption jurist. She was a founder of Jueces para la Democracia, Judges for Democracy. When called upon by the Ahora Madrid coalition to come out of retirement to run for office, she immediately agreed. Her platform focused on guaranteeing basic utilities, such as water and electricity, to all households; guaranteeing universal access to healthcare services; and developing an emergency job creation plan for the young and long-term unemployed. At the heart of her campaign was the human heart, the recognition of the centrality of the people, the individuals and communities that comprise Madrid.

Likewise, Ada Colau is well known as the founder and face of the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca, PAH, the Platform for People Affected By Mortgages. She began the anti-eviction organization and movement in 2009, in response to a spike in evictions. Immediately, Colau saw that the evictions had nothing to do with the so-called real estate market crash. Instead, they resulted from mortgage clauses, organized by realtors and banks, that virtually ensured mass evictions, sooner or later. In 2008, later came sooner, and in 2009, Ada Colau roared onto the scene, organizing local and mass anti-eviction direct actions, stopping evictions; restoring individuals, families, and communities to decent housing; and addressing the collusion of local municipal agencies, in this case in Barcelona. Colau highlighted the individual and mass evictions as part of Barcelona’s program for `urban redevelopment’. Sound familiar?

What may be unfamiliar is Colau’s vision of urban development: “Barcelona could become a world reference as a democratic and socially just city. Barcelona has the resources, the money and the skills. The only thing that has been missing to date has been the political will.”

What may be even more unfamiliar is this: victory! Ada Colau, of Barcelona en Comú, and Manuela Carmena, of Ahora Madrid, won. They won because they organized and people responded to their campaigns. They won because they courageously rejected the logic, and the violence, of austerity, exclusion, expulsion, and “urban redevelopment”. They not only said another city is possible, they lived it. Now they are set to become mayors of Barcelona and Madrid, respectively.

As the commercial says, “What’s in your wallet?” What’s in your city’s wallet? How much violence are we, in our various municipalities, willing to countenance in the name of “urban redevelopment”? In Spain, women indignadas have had more than enough. They have organized, and are organizing, and are calling for a Spanish Spring, and a Global Urban Spring. Podemos. We can do it.


(Photo Credit: Información Sensible)

Eleven Malawi sex workers win a victory for women’s rights everywhere!

On Wednesday, eleven Malawi sex workers won a victory for women’s rights everywhere. The story takes place in Mwanza, a town on the southern border with Mozambique. In September and November 2009, police conducted sweeps and pulled in a number of women presumed to be sex workers. Many were held overnight at the Mwanza Police Station. In the morning, the women were taken to the Mwanza District Hospital were they were forced to undergo blood tests, without any informed consent. The medical staff took down the women’s names and recorded the test results, which they handed to the police. The women were then charged with spreading venereal disease, “in contravention of section 192 of the Penal Code.” During the courtroom hearing, the charges were laid out, as were the women’s medical conditions, including their HIV positive status. For a number of the women, the reading of their name in court and the announcement of their HIV positive status was the first time they became aware of their situation.

On March 10, 2011, eleven of the women filed an application in the Blantyre High Court. They challenged the mandatory HIV tests, the use of HIV test results as evidence in their criminal cases, and the public disclosure of their HIV status in open court. The women said that the police and the hospital, effectively the State, had violated their constitutional rights.

Arguments were heard February 25, 2014, and the decision was handed down on May 20, 2015. The women were represented by well-known human rights attorney Chrispine Sibande, with support from the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, or SALC, and the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa. Justice Dorothy nyaKaunda Kamanga presided over the High Court case.

On Wednesday, Justice nyaKaunda Kamanga ruled that subjecting the women to forced HIV testing was unreasonable and a violation of their rights to privacy, equality, dignity and freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Justice nyaKaunda Kamanga noted, “The authorities took advantage of the women being in police custody to force them to undergo the tests,”

Chrispine Sibande explained, “This case could not come at a more critical time. The Malawi government is in the process of finalising the HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Management) Bill. Draft versions of the Bill have included provisions allowing mandatory HIV testing of various groups, including sex workers. It is internationally accepted that forced HIV testing is counter-productive and violates human rights. We hope the judgment will ensure that these provisions are finally removed from the Bill. The judgment is also progressive in that it considered equality between men and women in relation to HIV testing.” Sibande further saw the ruling as “a victory for sex workers who are usually abused every day.”

Anneke Meerkotter, of SALC, concurred, “The case shows that it is possible for vulnerable groups to hold the government accountable when their rights have been violated.”

The Mwanza Eleven join women like Samukelisiwe Mlilo in Zimbabwe, Milly Katana in Uganda, Peninah Mwangi in Kenya, and countless others across the continent, who have struggled against the notion that HIV is a criminal offense; that the `war on HIV’ means the women, on one hand, and even more sex workers, on the other, must relinquish their Constitutional, civil, and human rights in the service of some greater good. The struggle continues.


(Photo and Image Credit: Southern Africa Litigation Centre)

In Paris, Ghada Hatem builds a house for women

The Paris suburb Seine-Saint-Denis, also called the 93, is home to a large immigrant population, and it’s there that a Women’s House will be built on the last vacant lot of the Delafontaine Hospital. This project took shape when Ghada Hatem, the hospital’s head of OBGYN, decided she had create a place for women who had been mutilated, chased and had experienced violence during and after the journey that led them to Seine-Saint-Denis. Ghada Hatem found a space on the hospital grounds. With the support of local elected officials and institutions, she was able to secure the major part of financing for this project.

The maternity hospital of Delafontaine registers about 4200 births every year. The majority of the women come from all sorts of precarious situations and origins. Ghada Hatem explains that many just arrived, are undocumented, and without social protection. Her department provides emergency social protection, which is possible in France and called “pass peri-natal”. It guarantees free coverage immediately to pregnant women, regardless of status.

Because of its particular social and geographical situation, the department is composed of surgeons, psychologists, sexologists, social workers and nurses that are formed to run support groups where women who have already been through so much violence can start to reconstruct their lives.

Moreover, 15% to 16% of the women who give birth there have undergone FGM (Female Genital Mutilation), which makes delivery more difficult. The department sent their surgeons to attend training with Doctor Pierre Foldes who has developed the surgical technique to rebuild the missing clitoris. More than rebuilding, he also understood that the reconstruction must be psychological as well. Women like Waris Dirie say FGM means torture and a crime, and should not be dignified as a cultural, or religious tradition. These women are in great need of attention and information.

The department also provides guidance and support to women who face unwanted pregnancy, domestic violence, forced marriage, as well as excision. Because of the sometimes unattainable demands, Ghada Hatem conceived of the Women’s House in this area.

She believes that there is a need for a space outside the hospital that will provide the warmth and welcoming to counterbalance the harshness and violence that has impacted the lives of these women. She understands that women are not going to liberate their voices in a hospital waiting room. The department has translators in Turkish, Tamil, Chinese, and personnel fluent in other languages. She herself can give assistance with Arabic (her own language). They are also equipped with translation services through phones. All this will be enhanced in the Women’s House. The Women’s House will be open only during the day. Her regret is not to be able to provide over night shelter.

Ghada Hatem’s department also performs over 1000 abortions every year and offers contraception consultation to women. Previously, Ghada Hatem worked in a military hospital in Saint Mandé, in the eastern suburbs of Paris. Despite numerous threats and insults, she created an abortion clinic inside the military hospital. Today, this service to women continues and no one would question the presence of this clinic anymore.

She was recently interviewed about her engagement and her project. When asked about abortion rights, Hatem said she regretted the lack of activism among young doctors, reproaching them for having “a more technical approach and a less militant vision of this matter”. Nonetheless, she welcomed the action of the government with the FRIDA plan (Facilitating the Reduction of Inequalities in Access to Abortion) as well as the effort to keep abortion centers open during the vacation month of August, when everything closes in France.

Her project is ambitious but based on understanding “what is lived by women”, ce que vivent les femmes.

Meanwhile, the flux of refugees is growing and increasingly desperate. Médecins sans Frontières has reported that never before had they observed such high levels of conflict and crisis. They estimate that about 51 million people have had to leave their home countries to escape crisis and/or conflicts.

Instead of financing costly militaristic systems of surveillance and control, the EU should be offering the last Euros necessary to bring this project centered on women and their needs to completion. At a time of instability due to capitalist neoliberal thinking, the European Union should learn from women like Ghada Hatem.


(Photo Credit: Elle / Mathieu Zazzo)

The dishonesty of the liberalism of Gareth van Onselen

“One of the most liberal constitutions in the world”

The dishonesty of the liberalism of Gareth van Onselen must be exposed. He writes that ‘the ANC is sick’, but he is unwilling and unable to see the role his beloved liberal ideology played in the ANC’s increasing dissoluteness, conservatism and authoritarianism.

For Van Onselen the ANC’s ‘sickness’ can be seen in it ‘losing support, wracked by infighting, held hostage by division, a slave to an economically regressive mind-set, unable to organise internal conferences and denuded of talent as thinkers and an older generation desert it in the face of contemporary demagoguery.’ He also mocks Jacob Zuma’s turn towards traditionalism and religion. He does not ask why this is happening to the ANC right now.

Why, at this particular point, is the ANC – divided along unprincipled, tenderpreneurial lines – turning back to its Stalinist authoritarianism of the 1960s to the 1980s and its traditionalism of the 1910s to the 1950s? This is the question the Van Onselens cannot confront.

The rise of tenderpreneurialism, traditionalism and authoritarianism are good reasons to be worried, but we do not live under a traditionalist or Stalinist authoritarian political system. We are living under a liberal, constitutional political system. It is the effects of South Africa’s liberal, constitutional framework that is directly responsible for what is happening to the ANC.

In the 1990s the ANC adopted liberal constitutionalism and specifically South Africa’s constitution. It did not completely abandon its previous ideological postures but blended it with liberal constitutionalism in ways that often lacked consistency. However, its commitment to writing, promoting and implementing the constitution during this period cannot be doubted. What was the effect of this?

South Africa’s constitution was carefully designed to protect the basic structures of capital. By doing that, by protecting wealth, it inevitably protected the main means through which it is generated – cheap and unpaid black labour. By acceding to capital’s demands for liberalising the economy, the ANC oversaw the intensification of South Africa’s structural racism. White wealth and its opposite pole, black poverty, grew to make South Africa the most unequal society in the world.

South Africa’s constitution was never designed to cure the main sickness of Apartheid and actually made it worse. The ANC was now confronted with rampant inequality and explosive growth in the tensions and resistance this engendered. At the same time, the neo-liberalisation of the state-business nexus had completely embroiled it in corruption, tenderpreneurialism and factional conflicts based on it. It is under these pressures, that are a direct result of the liberal constitutional regime, that the ANC started looking back to its past for possible solutions to the multiple crises it was confronted with.

It is not possible to understand the ANC’s return to Stalinist authoritarianism and traditionalist conservatism without understanding it as the outcome of its turn to a liberal constitutionalism that prioritised the interests of white wealth. For people like Van Onselen the ANC’s sickness appear out of nowhere, because he needs to deny the oppressive nature of our liberal constitution. The constitution contained its own demise. It ostensibly sets out to protect the wealth of the rich and the rights of the poor. This cannot be done. The ANC is realising that. It is therefore, to some degree, abandoning the pretence of protecting the rights of the poor.

Yes, the ANC is morally sick. But so is South Africa’s liberal constitutionalism and so are its promoters such as Van Onselen.


(Photo Credit: The Guardian / Rex Features) (Image Credit: Roar Magazine)

End State terrorism: Free Nestora Salgado now!

Women are organizing a revolution in the highlands of Guerrero, in southwestern Mexico. They are mobilizing and militating in self-defense. They are organizing to protect and extend women’s rights and power at home, in the streets, in the State. They are saying, “¡Ya basta!” Enough is way too much. They are calling women from across Mexico to join with them. These are the rank and file and the comandantes of the Community Police Forces. Nestora Salgado is one of the many women in this growing revolution.

At the age of 20, Nestora Salgado left her home town of Olinalá, Guerrero, and moved to the United States. She left for a better life for herself and her three daughters, and she left to escape a physically abusive husband. Ending up in Renton, Washington, Salgado worked as a domestic worker, at first; sent her daughters to school; divorced her husband; obtained U.S. citizenship; remarried.

At a certain point, Salgado started returning, twice a year, to Olinalá. Initially, she returned to maintain family ties, and to bring material goods to the family, and then to the community. In Olinalá, Nestora Salgado witnessed the ravages of the so-called War on Drugs, which had translated much of the narco-violence to the countryside. She saw the government collude with drug cartels. She saw her community crushed by a political economy of violence, consisting of murder, rape, kidnappings, and wall-to-wall terror and intimidation. She saw violence intensifying, poverty deepening and expanding, and a pervasive sense of abandonment.

Nestora Salgado declared, “¡Ya basta!” She joined a local indigenous community police force. While many in the international press refer to such forces as “vigilante”, in fact their existence is codified in the Mexican Constitution and Guerrero legislation. Initially, Salgado’s security force received major funding from the State of Guerrero. Salgado was elected regional comandante.

Within the first ten months of her tenure, the community police broke the hold of the ruling local gang. Homicide, and most crimes of violence, dropped drastically. Kidnapping practically vanished. And women joined the struggle and moved up through the ranks. Women changed both the war zone of the everyday and the social relations of their own communities.

Then Salgado began investigating and arresting local officials, for their criminal involvement with the cartels. Suddenly, Nestora Salgado went from hero to `terrorist.’ On August 21, 2013, she was arrested and charged with kidnapping. She was carted off to the federal maximum-security prison in Tepic, Nayarit, hundreds of miles away. Despite having been acquitted of those charges, she has been held in Tepic, often in solitary, for almost two years. She has had no trial. She has been denied access to medical treatment.

On May 5, Salgado began a hunger strike. After much dithering and handwringing, and no acknowledgment of the previous two years’ ordeal, the National Commission on Human Rights weighed in, and the so-called Human Rights division of the Ministry of the Interior announced, yesterday, that Salgado would be moved out of Tepic and to a prison closer to her lawyers, family, and comrades.

Nestora Salgado is one of many. Every day, Olinalá and the mass grave of Ayotzinapa grow closer. The number of political prisoners rises as violence against journalists intensifies.

As the violence intensifies, so do the demands for freedom and justice. Nestora Salgado has put it succinctly, “They will not break me and I will not ask forgiveness of anyone.” Indigenous women are organizing and militating. #NestoraLibre appears everywhere. Freedom for Nestora Salgado! Freedom and justice for all indigenous women!

I’m not afraid of the hired guns or of organized crime. I’m afraid of the State, for the State will disappear me. It’s the State that attacks us.” Nestora Salgado understands that when “organized crime” attacks Olinalá, it’s the State attacking. And when the State attacks … it’s time to fight back. The women of Olinalá demand freedom for Nestora Salgado and for all who stand with her: Release from prison, freedom from State terror and violence … now!


(Photo Credit: La Jornada)

What if Teresa Sheehan had been Black or Latina?

In August 2008, Teresa Sheehan was shot, in her own apartment, by two San Francisco police officers. Teresa Sheehan, then 56 years old, lived in a group home. In the midst of a schizophrenic episode, she threatened her social worker. He called the police. The police entered. Teresa Sheehan objected to their entering without a warrant, picked up a bread knife, and threatened the officers. They stepped out. Then they forced the door open, blinded Teresa Sheehan with pepper spray, and shot her five times.

Sheehan and her family sued the police department, claiming that Sheehan’s Fourth Amendment right to protection from unreasonable search and seizure had been violated. Initially, the case was to consider whether the Americans with Disabilities Act and its protections for those living with disabilities had been violated. The officers failed to “accommodate” Teresa Sheehan’s mental disability. Blinded by pepper spray and then shot repeatedly goes a bit beyond “failure to accommodate”.

The United States Supreme Court issued a non-decision decision on the case yesterday. They exonerated the officers and left the ADA and the Fourth Amendment issues for another day.

What if Teresa Sheehan had been Black or Latina?

The San Francisco Police Department is, right now, “under fire”, a telling phrase, for racist and homophobic text messages. These texts were not “just racist and homophobic.” They were operatic in their extravagance, energy and violence. The San Francisco Chief of Police has called for the officers’ dismissal. Some 3000 cases are now under review and may be thrown out. And the response of the individual officers, their form of apology, is to “explain” that this was just “banter amongst friends.” Sgt. Yulanda Williams, one of the targets of the texts, put it succinctly, “This is just the tip of the iceberg.” Tip of the iceberg indeed. What if Teresa Sheehan had been Black?

In North Carolina this week, a County District Attorney explained the “logic” of his targeted refusal to help Latina survivors of domestic violence. Evelin lives in North Carolina. She came to the United States from Honduras. When she was pregnant, her then-boyfriend, who is from Mexico, attacked her, punching her in the stomach. She pressed charges. Pressing charges should have made her eligible for a U-visa, but not in Gaston County. The U-visa program, now in its fifteenth year, is supposed to encourage undocumented immigrants to report crimes to the police without fear of deportation. A U-visa means four years in the country and a possibility of permanent residence.

But not in Gaston County, North Carolina, where the District Attorney explains, “It was never intended to protect Latinos from Latinos. It was designed to protect them from high-crime areas.” He’s wrong, but it doesn’t matter. Evelin is in trouble, because she is Latina and her attacker was Latino. What if Teresa Sheehan had been Latina?

What if Teresa Sheehan had been Black or Latina? Would perceived race or ethne have affected the intensity with which police officers barged in, blinded a woman in need of help, and then shot her five times? Would she be alive today?


(Photo Credit: Patricia C. Sheehan / The Guardian)

We need to abolish prisons

As candidates for the US presidential election begin to creep out of the woodwork, an all to familiar issue is being presented from a new angle. With presidential hopefuls such as Rand Paul and Hillary Clinton leading the charge, politicians are coming out in strong opposition to the United States’ current problem with mass incarceration. Backed by political heavyweights such as Van Jones and the Koch Brothers, bringing an end to mass incarceration and the over criminalization of the United States of America has become a hot button issue.

That the state of the United States criminal justice system is highly present in the campaign should come as no surprise. As Americans continue to call for the legalization of marijuana, the extreme failures and high casualty rate of the War on Drugs have become abundantly clear. Additionally, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow provides an immediately identifiable comparison for the majority of Americans who have at least a semblance of shame for our nation’s history of segregation. However, as politicians call for the decriminalization of marijuana and applaud the presidential pardon of 22 non-violent drug offenders, no politician has stood in support of the abolition of prisons.

People rightfully blaming the War on Drugs for the reason so many people are behind bars in the United States are missing the complete picture. The crisis of mass incarceration goes far beyond “Reefer Madness” and the War on Drugs. As Ruth Wilson Gilmore states in her book Golden Gulag, “There are more people in prison in order for the ‘state’ to help rural areas hungry for jobs; in this explanation of prison expansion, prisoners of color presumably provide employment opportunities for white guards”. For Gilmore, and others like her, prison is not merely a place where the government has sent criminals in droves; prison is used as a means to help alleviate the drawbacks of crises inherent in capitalism. Gilmore argues “crises are spatially and sectorally uneven, leading to different outcomes for different kinds of people in different kinds of places”. The prison population growth is a spatially uneven response to crisis. For example, the devaluation of rural land in California led to the incarceration of people of color in order to provide white rural Californians employment opportunity.

Because of this connection between prisons and the response to capital crisis, prison reform must not be the end goal. The end goal must be the abolition of prisons.

I recently joined a Washington, D.C. based coalition to oppose the privatization of jails in Washington. We led a successful campaign against a contract that would grant the provision of healthcare to inmates to Corizon Health, a for-profit corporation with a rich history of malpractice and negligence. The victory was a major accomplishment for the blossoming movement towards improving the local criminal justice system, whose jails are privately operated and predominately African-American. However, while Corizon will not be able to exert their negligence on the lives of D.C. inmates, the fate of D.C. Jail healthcare remains unknown, and herein lies the problem of reform as the end goal. While Corizon did not win the contract, ther is no clear consensus on the best health care option. Another equally harmful company could end up with full-control over these people’s lives.

As more groups are working to make prisons look nicer, a powerful group of people continues working to make prisons worse. Take, for example, Oklahoma. In pursuit of an acceptable method to carry out executions, Oklahoma recently passed legislation that legalized the use of gas chambers executions. This news may seem shocking, despite decreasing numbers, the majority of Americans still support the death penalty. In addition to the shocking methods being used in Oklahoma, or Utah’s return to firing squads, the population of death row inmates mirrors the general population of prisons in America. Black defendants are three times as likely to receive the death penalty, and nearly 90% of death row inmates were too poor to afford an attorney.

Californians voted in Proposition 47, which reduced penalties for drug related crimes. No matter how many Proposition 47s there are, as long as prisons exists, states like Oklahoma will find new ways to kill prisoners, and we will continue to use prison as an all-purpose response to fill vacant land and create jobs. We need to seriously consider the abolition of prisons.


(Image Credit: Katy Groves / Prison Culture)