In Poland “ladies are not playing”, they are fighting for their rights

In Poland last year, the Federation for Women and Family Planning celebrated its 25th anniversary. It was created to defend the reproductive laws that existed in 1991. Its director, Krystyna Kacpura, reflects, “This is the only organization in the country whose focus is sexual and reproductive rights, of course we have many NGOs working on women’s issues such as violence against women but not on reproductive rights. So, for a country of 10 million women in reproductive age, it’s nothing!”

At the end of “the cold war” world order, the process of democratization of eastern Europe, including with the reunification of Germany, was accompanied by a decline in sexual and reproductive rights and women’s rights in general. Poland has taken this to the extreme. With Ireland and Malta, Poland is the country with the most restrictive laws as regards abortion.

Recently, the passing of the French political feminist figure Simone Veil has triggered numerous reflections on the important right to universal access to free contraception and abortion. Feminist philosopher Genevieve Fraisse wrote, “Abortion is not murder. It is exercising the right to be free.”

Meanwhile, in 2016, the newly elected extreme right Polish government tried to pass a total “ban on abortion” law. Krystyna Kacpura is Executive Director of the Federation of Women and Family Planning, and she is also a member of the Sexual Rights Initiative, European Society for Contraception and Reproductive Rights, and the Programme Council of the Congress of Polish Women.

Krystyna Kacpura met with and recalled for Women In and Beyond the Global the history of the solidarity movement that rejected this law. But the battle is not over, and some similarities are easy to establish with the US anti-abortion movement as she explains:

Krystyna Kacpura

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian / Janek Skarżyński /AFP /Getty Images) (Photo Credit 2: Wyborcza / Albert Zawada)

Florida’s special hell for women, the Lowell Correctional Institution, ran out of water

Florida built a special hell for women, the Lowell Correctional Institution. In 2015, Lowell housed, or better caged, 2696 women, surpassing the Central California Women’s Facility and thus becoming the largest women’s prison in the United States. From the start, in 1956, to today, the place has been a nightmare: overcrowded, rampant with staff abuse of prisoners and institutional abuse of staff, severely under resourced, violent, toxic and lethal. In 2014, Michelle Tierney, Latandra Ellington, Regina A. Cooper, and Affricka G. Jean died “under suspicious circumstances.” They did not die; they were killed by the institution. From the outset, death-in-life has been the everyday norm for Lowell. Last week, Lowell hit a new low, no water for days. The Lowell Correctional Institution, hellhole of inhumane practices, became the Lowell Correctional Institution, hellhole of `subhuman’ conditions.

Here’s the official version: Lightning struck a water pump on Saturday, July 8. It shut down water and a geothermal line, which meant no water and no `air conditioning’. On Monday, July 10, the Florida Department of Correction released a statement: “Storm damage over the weekend caused maintenance issues that effected the well pumps and geothermal line at Lowell Correctional Institution. Institution maintenance staff responded immediately and have been on scene trying to resolve the issues with assistance from the local fire department and contractors. The geothermal line has been repaired and a replacement pump for the well is expected to arrive today. All inmates have access to drinking water. Toilets and sinks are operational using non-potable water being brought in to the institution.”

On Thursday, July 13, The Miami Herald reported that drinking water was still unavailable, and would be unavailable for at least another three days.

Lowell Correctional Institution doesn’t have air conditioning. Instead it relies on geo-thermal cooling. The State admits that the system is faulty, at best. Prison staff say the system doesn’t work at all in a number of the dormitories. Now, it officially doesn’t work anywhere. Meanwhile, Lowell has been cited repeatedly for unhygienic conditions, including worms and mold in the showers and sinks. Last week, for at least three days, the showers and sinks were officially shut off. Toilets were also `inoperational’, which prisoners explained means toilets overflowing with feces.

One staff member said, “It’s a disgusting mess; the women are living in subhuman conditions.” Another added, “I don’t understand why the health department doesn’t get involved. There’s been a constant problem here with sanitation. Toilets that don’t work — sometimes only one works for 160 inmates.”

Florida maintains that the situation in Lowell Correctional Institution is under control and just fine. Florida can make that claim because the situation in Lowell Correctional Institution has been subhuman for years, and who complained? Prisoners, their families and friends, staff members, and the occasional activist. Where’s the hue and cry over the abysmal conditions in the nation’s largest women’s prison? Florida built a special hell for women, Lowell Correctional Institution, and really, who cares?

 

(Photo Credit: Miami Herald / Emily Michot)

Who’s your boss? Two South African courts decide in favor of workers

A specter is haunting the global economy: the specter of workers organizing. All the powers of the old and new global economy have entered into an unholy alliance to exorcise this specter, but it just keeps coming back. Actually, it never left. In South Africa this week, organized and organizing workers received encouraging decisions from two separate tribunals. In one case, workers hired through labor brokers, also known as temporary employment services, were told that if they are employed by someone for three months, that makes them employees of the contracting company. In the second case, Uber drivers were adjudicated as employees of Uber, rather than as `self-employed contractors.’ Both decisions will be appealed, but the decisions clarify the status of laborers as they affirm that workers know who they are and they know who their bosses are. Additionally, the decisions have clarified the lines of antagonism. Aspects of class struggle may change, but the essence, exploitation of workers’ labor time, has not.

The case concerning “temporary” workers involved the National Union of Metalworkers, Assign Services and Krost Shelving and Racking. Assign Services provided Krost with workers. Many of them worked for more than three months. The decision by the Labour Appeal Court in Johannesburg means that workers can’t be summarily fired, they have the right to appeal mistreatment, they have collective bargaining rights, and that they qualify for benefits, including retirement and health benefits. In other words, they are permanent workers, no matter what the terms of client to labor broker contract claimed.

This is a victory for workers considered by many to be among the most vulnerable. It also regulates temporary employment services to actual temporary employment status. Once the three months have been hit, the temporary employment services are no longer needed. This also means that workers who have fallen into this double bind, and they are many, can now begin organizing, and litigating, in response to previous damages.

That decision was handed down on Monday, July 10. On Wednesday, July 12, the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, CCMA, ruled that Uber drivers are employees of Uber, and so are protected by South African labor laws. In this instance, former Uber drivers, who had organized into something called The Movement filed a complaint concerning unfair employment practices. In particular, they protested having been summarily dismissed by Uber, without cause, reason or possible appeal. They explained that being fired by Uber happens when Uber simply turns off their app. No warning, no process, no nothing. Just silence. Their appeal gained further weight when Uber claimed the CCMA couldn’t hear the case because the drivers are “partners”, not employees. The CCMA didn’t buy that, and so now, Uber drivers have the right to all protections afforded employees: collective bargaining, due process, strike.

Neither case is definitive, and further appeals are already in process, but the cases, individually and taken together, matter. Workers know who the boss is, and they also know the terms of workplace and workforce engagement. Both cases happened at all because of workers’ organizing and organizations raising a ruckus, finding good attorneys, and then raising more of a ruckus. Workers know the difference between temporary and permanent, and they know that permanence, such as it is, is only secured through collective action. The workers also know the entity that fires workers is the employer. Who’s the boss? Ask the workers.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Business Day / The Times) (Photo Credit 2: Quartz / Reuters / Siphiwe Sibeko)

a petite woman

a petite woman

Emma Mashinini was
we get to hear
on morning radio

a petite woman
that’s what she was

diminutive little elfin
tiny small short

Emma Mashinini has passed
trade unionist pioneer
pioneer trade unionist

a petite woman
that’s what she was

anti-apartheid fighter
fighter for women’s rights
a warrior on all fronts

women described
a woman described
differently to others
to men

(did we see
that appendaged
to late unionist
Ronald (Bernie) Bernickow
or music giant Ray Phiri)

a petite woman
that’s what she was

we have a long way

 

(Emma Mashinini’s short tribute (read by a woman) on SAFM’s (morning) AM Live gets this one going.)

(Photo Credit: Buzz South Africa)

Tomorrow Scotland finally demolishes Cornton Vale, its only women’s prison


This morning, Nicola Ferguson Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party, wrote, “Tomorrow sees a major milestone in the transformation of our justice system. We will begin the demolition of Cornton Vale women’s prison, a move that marks the next stage in our plans to ensure Scotland’s penal policy doesn’t just punish people who’ve committed crimes – important though that is – but helps deliver safer communities in the long term.” Cornton Vale is Scotland’s only women’s prison, and it has been a toxic hot mess for decades. Its destruction is welcome and long overdue.

Cornton Vale has been called the “vale of death”, due to its regularly high rate of suicide. Between 1995 and 1998, eight prisoners hanged themselves. Yvonne Gilmour hanged herself in 1996. So did Angela Bollan. Outcry and inquiry ensued. In 2001, in the span of a single week, Frances Carvell and Michelle McElvar hanged themselves. Outcry and inquiry ensued. In 2012, Sarah Mitchell was “found dead” in her cell. Outcry and inquiry ensued.

Outcry and inquiry, outcry and inquiry, the same drumbeat for more than twenty years. During that time, commissions found that the prison was overcrowded. Report after report decried the rising rate of women’s incarceration. Everyone seemed to agree that too many women were being thrown into prison. Meanwhile, Scotland’s women prison population rose by 120% since 2000. As of last year, Scotland “boasted” the second highest rate of female imprisonment in northern Europe. Spain’s number one.

Last year, a commission found that women at Cornton Vale were forced to use their cell sinks as toilets at night, because they had no access to proper toilets. It was just the latest scandal to mark the dismal history of Cornton Vale. Various commissions have described Cornton Vale as “not fit for purpose”; “wholly unacceptable in the 21st century”; “in a state of crisis”; “Victorian”; “a significant breach of human dignity”; “an unacceptably poor establishment”; “disgracefully poor”; and, as always, notorious.

After all the reports and deaths and harm, Scotland finally decided to shut Cornton Vale down. The first plan was to replace Cornton Vale with a larger prison, but cooler, evidence based heads prevailed, and that plan was dropped for another, an 80-bed prison, five regional 20-bed facilities, community sentencing and service, and much greater funding for mental health, drug abuse, counseling and more.

Cornton Vale is more than a “vale of death”, although that would have been enough. It was the vale of women’s slow and painful death and deaths. For the past two decades, Scotland  criminalized women’s lives and bodies and then, by unequal funding within the prison system, ensured that no one would leave unharmed. Tomorrow is a milestone. Cornton Vale will be demolished. Which women’s prison is next?

Hats off Madame Simone Veil!

In France, feminists and humanists are mourning Simone Veil, the emblematic woman who in 1975 presented and defended her abortion bill in the almost exclusively masculine French parliament.

She has been perceived as a rebel and she would say that she never accepted that women had restrictive rights. As a young magistrate in charge of prisons from 1957 to 1964, she changed the extremely repressive conditions of women in prison. During the Algerian War, she acted for the rights of Algerian political prisoners putting in place a strategy to curtail the execution of male Algerian prisoners on death row. Meanwhile she also worked to stop the mistreatment of Algerian female political prisoners, regrouping them in a special unit under far better conditions where they were able to pursue their education.

Simone Veil knew what being in prison meant, having been deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau when she was 16 along with one of her sisters and her mother, who died in 1945 from exhaustion and typhus after they had been transferred to Bergen-Belsen. She survived the worst with an extreme desire to salute and respect life. She always said that she kept the memory of her inspiring mother at her side always, especially in her fight for the respect of women’s and human rights.

Among her other achievements at her various positions in the French administration was the recognition of dual parental control and family legal matters, rights for single mothers and their children, and adoption rights for women.

In 1974 Simone Veil became the first female full minister in a French government. The previous attempt to have women in an administration occurred during Leon Blum’s Front Populaire government in 1936 with 3 women nominated “sous secretaire d’etat” (Undersecretary of State). At the time women did not have the right to vote in France.

Simone Veil’s first legislation was to have contraception recognized in the French Health care system, removing the financial burden of contraception.

The event that made her feminist stand highly visible was “la loi Veil”, the bill to legalize abortion in France, that passed on January 17, 1975. Remarkably, she was in a center right government. The bill was fully supported by the left but not by the members of her own party and she needed some of their votes to pass it.

The bill itself was cautious and called for improvement but it represented a necessary start. France had some of the most restrictive laws for women with the Code Napoleon still wielding its patriarchal control of the nation. However, things were changing, feminist movements were increasingly visible and the solidarity for the recognition of sexual and reproductive rights in the French law was total.

Importantly, the principles for the existence of the bill didn’t revolve around the right to privacy but rather around the social impact of the code of silence and hypocritical stand against women’s right to access abortion. About 300 women would die every year in France from botched abortions. The slogan “abortion to the rich and punishment for the poor” was chanted in demonstrations for abortion rights.

With this bill, Simone Veil placed abortion in a context of contraception and not murder while addressing the responsibility of society in confronting the social needs of women of all socio-economic backgrounds, including elements such as financial coverage of pregnancies, childcare, and health care. She later established paid maternity-leave.

Simone Veil relied on a strong feminist movement of solidarity to achieve the advancement of women’s rights. For instance, in 1972, the lawyer Gisèle Alimi transformed a trial against a young woman who had an abortion after a rape and the women who helped her, including her mother, into a political scene for the cause of women’s rights. She had supported Simone Veil in defending the rights of the Algerian women prisoners, and remained her eternal ally and vice versa, although being from different political sides.

During the debate, Simone Veil asserted that the fetus was not yet a full human being. She used the WHO statistics about pregnancies and the flimsiness of life, to remind that 45 pregnancies out of 100 miscarried during the 2 first weeks of pregnancy. She emphasized the embryo as a becoming not a being, as opposed to the woman who is pregnant. She claimed that the legalization of abortion was an absolute necessity to keep order while normalizing the role of women in the society.

Despite all her precautions, she had to face the most violent opposition from her own party, with anti-Semitic, racist and sexist slurs invoking images of Nazi times against her. She explained later that she found her strength in the memory of her mother and her own battle to stay alive. In 2008, in an interview, she said that she still received hate mail for her role in the liberalization of abortion in France. But she never flinched.

While Minister of Health she continued her battle for the women’s workplace rights, imposing recognition of the status of nurses and other positions in majority held by women. She also pushed for the increased presence of women in medical institutions at the upper level.

She was also a staunch supporter of reconciliation between France and Germany and an architect of the European Union. In 1979, she became the first woman President of the European Parliament. There she worked restlessly for male-female parity in politics. She always believed that affirmative action was the only way to change the mentalities and to guarantee better presence of women in every section of the society. She always reminded people that it would benefit the entire society.

In 1995, after the scandalous episode of the “juppettes” (short skirt) terms that symbolized the exclusion of women from Chirac’s administration, Simone Veil was part of group of ten women, five from the right and five from the left, who had held ministerial responsibilities to work on a manifesto to obtain female-male parity in public representation. They asked the candidates to the next presidential election to sign it. The female-male parity is now in the Constitution.

In 2008 after being elected at the Académie Francaise, she reflected on the situation of women in society, acknowledging that although access to contraception and abortion were crucial for the independence of women, women were still the target of basic discriminations: workplace inequality, underrepresentation in positions of power, undervalued societal roles and often perceived as fillers.  She ended that interview by recognizing that the way for women’s rights was long and added that the climate was still not in favor of women.

Simone Veil has been described as a radical feminist and a radical humanist. She described herself as French Jewish laic woman who rebelled against male domination and all sorts of domination and adopted the European ideal “united in diversity.” She practiced solidarity with a resolute vigor always joining the cause of the defense of the most vulnerable.  May her courage and unshakable capacity to denounce sexism and xenophobia and to build coherent resistance be an inspiration at the time of constant challenges for human and women’s dignity. Hats off Madame Veil!

 

(Photo Credit: Le Monde)

What happened to Manjula Shette? The routine torture of women in India’s prisons

Manjula Shette

Manjula Shette spent about ten years in prison, in India. By all accounts, she was a model prisoner. Most of her time, Manjula Shette spent at the notorious Yerwada Prison, located in Pune, in the state of Maharashtra. There, she worked as a jail warden, which meant advocating for fellow prisoners and keeping the peace. This year, she volunteered to be moved to the notorious Byculla Jail, in Mumbai, where, among other issues, she found she was forced to work round the clock. According to family members and inmates at Byculla, Manjula Shette was very popular with the other inmates. On the morning of June 23, Manjula Shette complained that two eggs and five pieces of bread were missing from the morning rations. She was taken to an office, beaten up, deposited back in her cell, there further beaten and tortured in the presence of other prisoners, taken to hospital, and died. Later reports suggest she was already dead before she was taken to hospital. Byculla Jail prisoners erupted and occupied the jail, taking control of the rooftop and calling for justice. All 291 women have been charged with rioting and assaulting officers. Six officers are under investigation. While some are shocked, many say that what happened to Manjula Shette is an average day in India’s women’s prisons and jails. In other words, nothing really happened. No one, in this instance named Manjula Shette, was murdered by the State.

In March 2017, the Mumbai High Court formally declared that Yerwada, Byculla, and Arthur Road Jails were hellholes, and that they had to be cleaned up … by May. This decision came as part of a three-year inquiry into the conditions in these three notorious Maharashtra jails. No positive changes emerged from the High Court pronouncement. Further, those prisoners who were prominent advocates were targeted for retribution.

And Manjula Shette is dead.

According to Raja Bagga, of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, or CHRI, “Every three days, there is a death in a Maharashtra jail.” Death stalks Maharashtra’s women’s jails and prisons, as does custodial rape, extreme overcrowding, lack of adequate food, and a generally toxic environment and living, and dying, conditions. Byculla is supposed to have maximum 165 women. Currently 291 women are housed there, and that offsets the overcrowding at the Arthur Road Jail. Discrimination against women is common, and for women of various minority groups, the treatment is worse. The vast majority of women in jails are awaiting trial, and many have been for a long time.

Sanjoy Hazarika, the director of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, added that Shetye’s death reflected the “internal rot and impunity” that characterizes India’s prisons and jails. The CHRI is calling for immediate measures to open the prisons to monitoring, as a first step. While that first step would be welcome, it does not address the calculus of rot and impunity. In India, prisoners are treated viciously because they are viewed as rot. That’s why a popular prisoner, a prisoner advocate, must be eliminated, and the elimination must be visible and spectacular. What happened to Manjula Shette? Absolutely nothing. What will happen to the prison system, as distinct from the individual prison guards? Absolutely nothing. Why is India’s women prison and jail population growing at astronomical rates? To grow the national economy. The increased and intensified torture of women in India’s prisons and jails is a key element of national development. Who will remember Manjula Shette a year from now? Her family and the women prisoners who, for a brief moment, took control of the Byculla Jail. That’s it. What is the market value of a woman prisoner’s life? Two eggs, five pieces of bread.

And Manjula Shette is dead.

Byculla Jail women prisoners occupy the roof, demand justice

 

(Photo Credits: The Hindu)

In Tanzania, as everywhere, pregnant girls deserve an education!

Jackie Leonard Lomboma and her daughter Rose

At a rally last week, Tanzania’s President John Magufuli declared that pregnant school girls would never be allowed to return to school. The President’s statement sparked a heated debate, in Tanzania and elsewhere. For the past two days, Kenyans have weighed in, using the hashtag #StopMagufuli. Yesterday, Tanzania’s Minister for Home Affairs, Mwigulu Nchemba, threatened NGOs who “support” pregnant school girls returning to school and those “supporting” homosexuality with decertification. Commentators noted the dire consequences of excluding pregnant school girls from education while others discussed the gross, and patriarchal, unfairness of the policy, and others invoked tradition and nation.

President Magufuli’s declaration emerged after a months’ long debate in Tanzania’s Parliament over the budget. That debate included a move to fund policies and structures that would help pregnant school girls stay in school and return to school after giving birth. While Members of Parliament were divided, a sizeable group favored this idea.

For decades, activists, researchers and others have organized to end child marriage and the exclusion of pregnant school girls from education. A recent study reported, “In Tanzania, …  school officials conduct pregnancy tests and expel pregnant students. Nineteen-year-old Rita, from northern Tanzania, said she was expelled when she became pregnant at age 17. `Teachers found out I was pregnant,’ she said. `I found out that no student is allowed to stay in school if they are pregnant … I didn’t have the information [sexual education] about pregnancies and what would happen.’”

Researchers have long shown that Tanzanian school girls experience pregnancy and early school-leaving at exceptionally high rates. Access to reproductive health and to sex and sexuality education are limited, especially in the rural areas. Further, the policy of exclusion violates the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania as much as it does the aspirations and autonomy of young Tanzanian girls: “The Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania recognizes the right to education to every child, … denying pregnant schoolgirls’ re-entry to school after giving birth infringes the right to equal access to education and … the infringement of the right to education by denying pregnant school girls’ re-entry to school after delivery has great harm.” What harms the girl harms the Constitution harms the Nation harms the future.

Two years ago, when this current President and current Parliament were elected, some wondered if 2015 might be the year of the girl child in Tanzania, the year in which child marriages would be abolished and in which the girl child would be respected. It wasn’t.

Jackie Leonard Lomboma directs a center for teenage mothers in Morogoro, Tanzania. She became pregnant while in school. Orphaned at three months, raised by her grandfather, she managed to finish primary school, but there was no money for secondary school. A young man offered her money for school if she would “be with him.” They met once, and she became pregnant. She never saw him again. Her grandfather kicked her out, and the village ostracized her.

She began work as a house maid, and moved to Uganda to work for a Tanzanian family there. When the family moved to another place, the mother asked the young woman what she would want as a “goodbye gift”, and Jackie Leonard Lomboma answered, “I told her I wanted to go to school …  I knew it was only through education that I could make a positive step in my life and give a better life to my child … Eventually she agreed to take me to school.”

Jackie Leonard Lomboma completed secondary school in Uganda, and then returned to Tanzania. Today, she is disappointed: “It is a big disappointment to hear the president say that girls who get pregnant should not be allowed back to school. I am very disappointed because Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world and in order for us to overcome this we need to empower underprivileged groups like teenage mothers with education … I was empowered through education, that is why today I am supporting other girls to stand up again.”

When Jackie Leonard Lomboma talks of secondary school, she talks of the dream, as do school girls in Malawi, India, the United States, South Africa and everywhere else. They all have a dream that someday we will all have gone to school, together, and will all have flourished there, and that that day must be now.

 

(Photo Credit: BBC / Jackie Leonard Lomboma)

Maria Puga, widow of Anastasio Hernández-Rojas, haunts the borderlands everywhere

 

Maria Puga

Tomorrow, June 23, is International Widows Day, established in 2010, the year of Anastasio Hernández-Rojas’ death. This is the story of Maria Puga, his widow, who said, “No, justice must be served.”

On May 2, 1968, Anastasio Hernández-Rojas was born in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. At the age of 15, he moved north, to San Diego, to find work and send money home. At 21, he met Maria Puga. Over the next 20 years, the couple had five children, all born in San Diego. The eldest was born in 1990. The youngest, twins, were born in 2006. Anastasio Hernández-Rojas worked in construction and demolition, until the housing market crashed. On May 10, 2010, Anastasio Hernández-Rojas was arrested for shoplifting groceries. On May 24, he was deported. On May 28, he and his brother tried to re-enter the United States. They were detained at the border. Then Anastasio Hernández-Rojas was brutally murdered by Custom and Border “Protection” officers. The San Diego coroner determined that Anastasio Hernández-Rojas’ death was a homicide. The State tried to have Anastasio Hernández-Rojas’s story end there, just another `unfortunate incident’ in the borderlands, but Maria Puga began a mighty campaign demanding justice for her husband, her children, herself, and all who migrate across the borderlands. Seven years later, Maria Puga’s campaign continues.

Anastasio Hernández-Rojas was murdered in the open, in front of witnesses, and cameras. Otherwise, we would never know his story. We would not know that Anastasio Hernández-Rojas was tortured for an extended period, during which he howled and begged for help. We would not know the depth and extent of viciousness and cruelty that passes for “protection” on the United States southern border.

But we do know. We know because Maria Puga said NO to silence. She pressed for information and pushed for answers. At each step, she was stonewalled.

In 2012, the Public Broadcasting Service aired “Crossing the line at the border”: “Eight people have been killed along the border in the past two years. One man died a short time after being beaten and tased, an event recorded by two eyewitnesses whose video is the centerpiece of the report. Both eyewitnesses say the man offered little or no resistance … The report raises questions about accountability. Because border agents are part of the Department of Homeland Security, they are not subjected to the same public scrutiny as police officers who use their weapons. It also questions whether, in the rush to secure the border, agents are being adequately trained. And it raises the question: why aren’t these cases being prosecuted?”

The officers who tortured Anastasio Hernández-Rojas to death were never charged with any criminal offense. In 2015, the Justice Department decided there wasn’t sufficient evidence to prosecute. Upset but undeterred, Maria Puga called on President Obama to “conduct an administrative investigation to punish the agents who were involved in Anastasio Hernández’s case.”

Maria Puga also continued to pursue a civil lawsuit. In February 2017, the Federal government agreed to pay $1 million to Anastasio Hernández-Rojas’s five children. While that was welcome news, Maria Puga still demanded an admission of guilt. Maria Puga responded to the news of the settlement: “The settlement isn’t justice, but it is a badge of shame. No amount of money can bring back Anastasio. No family should ever have to go through this. We don’t want to have more cases like that of Anastasio.”

In 2016, on the eve of another agency internal review, Maria Puga directly addressed the Customs and Border “Protection” agency: “My name is Maria Puga, wife of Anastasio Hernandez, who, five years ago, was brutally killed by Customs and Border Protection agents. We, along with other families, have been struggling for more than five years, in search of justice. We’ve been together, I’ve spoken with families, and I know the great pain they feel, which is the same as mine, from having lost a loved one and being unable to find justice. Now the CBP Internal Affairs will review the case of my husband Anastasio. We hope that this time the review will be transparent and just, that they recognize the truth, what really happened to my husband.”

Nothing came of the review.

In 2016, Maria Puga filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Commission recently agreed to hear the case. As Maria Puga explains, when the Justice Department decided not to prosecute anyone for the death of her husband, “In that moment, I said, ‘No, justice must be served,’ and that’s why we’re here. There are other cases and similar circumstances that must be solved. We want justice for all the families who have been victimized by Border Patrol.”

Maria Puga is Anastasio Hernández-Rojas’s widow. She is part of the Borderland of Widows, produced by State policy of militarized and securitized borders. Militarized borders mass produce widows. That’s their goal. From Australia to England to the European Union to the United States, militarized, securitized borders create borderlands in which largely poor women of color are deemed to be so much detritus. The living dead of the new world order, widows are meant to wrap themselves in mourning, slink off into the shadows, whimper for a bit, and die. Maria Puga said, “No, justice must be served.” The struggle continues. The widows demand justice.

 

(Photo Credits: Fusion / Sharis Delgadillo)

Charleena Lyles deserved better … from the police and from The Seattle Times

On Sunday, June 18, Charleena Lyles – 30 years old, Black, mother of three, pregnant, Seattle resident – called police to report a burglary. Two white police showed up. Soon after, those two police officers shot and killed Charleena Lyles. The next day, on the morning of June 19, I opened my local newspaper, The Seattle Times, only to see a defense of murder on the front page. The headline read: “Mother killed by cops had mental health issues, family says.” This was misleading, prejudiced, and unethical.

First it suggested immediately that having a mental illness is somehow justification for getting shot by police. Second, it bootstrapped its own twisted logic by misrepresenting the response of the family and their communications after the shooting. They have been extremely critical of the police response.

The real story is “Police kill a pregnant woman in response to her call for help.”

How can this happen, and why does it keep happening? Why do the police keep killing black people? How can local police kill not one but TWO Black pregnant women who called for help within the past 9 months?

The Times cannot continue ignoring these obvious questions. They should investigate and report truthfully and ethically, and stop trying to protect the murderers. When they do so, they are complicit in perpetuating these crimes.

Writing last week, the week before Charleena Lyles was gunned down, Seattle Times columnist Nicole Brodeur apparently made readers mad because of the same issues of racial bias and ignorance. In this instance, the racism was directed towards an entire neighborhood and community, Columbia City. Yesterday, Nicole Brodeur apologized. Unlike the lukewarm PR response The Seattle Times issued after reader complaints on the Charleena Lyles coverage, Brodeur’s apology seems heartfelt, sincere, and persuasive. But the apologies belie the problem at The Times. Where is the value in a newspaper that, by its own admission, “lacks sensitivity” in reporting matters of race and gender?

In her apology, Brodeur concluded, “In taking on the issue of crime and gentrification in a single column, I climbed the journalistic equivalent of an Olympic high dive and failed. I need more training … My editor recently asked me whether there was a project I wanted to work on, something long-term. And this just might be it: My own self. My own bias.” Should we all be so privileged to get paid for this work!

As a long-time subscriber and constant Times reader for my 28 years in the city, I’ve supported newspapers for their many virtues, and excused the occasional misstep. But these are not missteps, and are not occasional. The reporting on Charleena Lyles was no misstep. In these urgent times, I can no longer separate The Times from its functional perpetuation of the status quo.

If The Times editors, reporters, and columnists lack the training, skill, or vision to do good journalism, as The Times itself has admitted numerous times this week, they should not be supported.  For that reason, I’ve cancelled my subscription to The Seattle Times, and I urge others to do the same.

 

(Photo Credit: KUOW / Megan Farmer)