Racism has produced the Mediterranean `refugee crisis”

Today, thousands of people escaping violence are killed or die because of the color of their skin, their origins, and because there are too many of “them” to fit into the neoliberal order of exploitation and competition. At the same time, the disequilibrium of the climate originated in the global North and has had a devastating impact on the global South.

The European Union had no qualms when it defunded and thus forced the Mare Nostrum Italian program to be abandoned and then moved to the Frontex program, based on nationalist (here European) security and militarization. Mare Nostrum saved 150 000 people, while Frontex, not designed to save people, has already killed thousands with more deaths to come.

This move seemed innocuous from the United States where the militarization of civil society has already been normalized.

After the events of Baltimore, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the mayor of Baltimore, went on air to establish that, thanks to the police and the military, the city was back in order, adding that Baltimore was resilient. Resilience rhymes with silence, and, as Audre Lorde taught, “silence and invisibility go hand in hand with powerlessness”.

The indifference to the ordeal of millions in the Global South is a racial issue that is used to promote and allow an absurd, but for a few profitable, bio-economic order that needs racism to impose so-called free trade markets and their dehumanization through militaristic means. Organizations as respected as Amnesty International or Medecins Sans Frontières MSF (Doctors without Borders), whose President once opposed the Western military actions in Libya, present in their latest reports evidence of this racist indifference and its consequences for real human beings. Nicolas Sarkozy, former president of France, continues to defend his government’s decision to involve France in the bombing of Libya. At least, another French president refused to participate to the destruction of Iraq but that was then.

Amnesty interviewed refugees to document the reality of the very long journey to the Mediterranean Sea shores. Libya is often the destination. People risk abduction and extortion by smugglers and police. Women face the additional risk of sexual violence, and all in the context of growing racial and religious intolerance. The next goal is to escape Libya where the rights of allegiance to local powers prevail over human rights. With the complicity of many, the smugglers have developed a new crude business in this zone of no rights.

The smugglers are merely taking advantage of a situation that has it source somewhere else. As Loris De Filipi, MSF President explained, “A mass grave is being created in the Mediterranean Sea and European policies are responsible.” Both Amnesty and MSF are demanding a change of European policies.

The European Commission has proposed to create a quota system to distribute the migrant population among European countries according to their size and economy, “share the burden.” Thus far, only six countries out of the twenty-eight countries have agreed to participate to this program. British Home Secretary Theresa May has rejected participating in any EU migrant resettlement proposal. Her conservative counterparts in the EU have agreed with her. Instead, they have offered a military intervention to destroy the smuggling business in Libya.

The formula of “nothing for refugees and everything for the military” comes from a radically racialized world vision. The “refugee crisis” is is not a question of choice or opportunity, to use neoliberal language. People just want to escape the impossibility of life.

With about 19 000 km of walls built in the world, the message is violent and the violence it creates. We should instead look at opening the borders and learn about the racialization of humanity. Only by freeing the movement of people can the world start a desegregation process that is necessary if we want to survive. Every serious geographer agrees people thrive when they can move and not be fixed in place.

We have been told the markets should be free because they can regulate themselves. It’s not so. Having no real existence, markets, can never be free. Only the people can regulate, and only the people can know freedom.


(Photo Credit: MSF / Ikram N’gadi)

I’ll leave you with a beautiful picture that was taken today

K…here it is…

I’m going to try to keep this as brief as I can, but I’ve been asked by several people about Central Booking today, so I’ll give you guys the shocking highlights. As much as I’d like to, I can’t describe the particulars of some of the more egregious arrests, due to attorney/client privilege issues, but I would like to describe the Civil Liberties violations, and the deplorable conditions which people have had to endure.

As many of you know, more than 250 people have been arrested since Monday here in Baltimore. Normally when you are arrested, you are given a copy of your charging documents and then you must see a commissioner within 24 hours for a bail determination (“prompt presentment”) and given a trial date. If you are not released after the commissioner hearing, you will be brought before a judge for a review of the bail set by the commissioner. None of this was happening, so we sent some lawyers to Central Booking yesterday to try to help. I heard, however, that only 2 commissioners showed up, and the correctional officers only brought about 9 people to be interviewed because the jail was on a mysterious “lock-down”.

Today we were divided into two groups. Some of the lawyers were assigned the task of actually doing judicial bail reviews for as many folks as they could get interviewed and docketed. I was assigned to the other group. We were the “habeas team”, and we were to interview folks that we felt were being illegally detained, so we could file writs of habeas corpus. Governor Hogan had issued an executive order, extending the time for prompt presentment to 47 hours. We believed that this order was invalid because the governor has no authority to alter the Maryland Rules. As a result, all people who were being detained for more than 24 hours without seeing a commissioner were being held illegally.

Knowing all of this, I was still not prepared for what I saw when I arrived. The small concrete booking cells were filled with hundreds of people, most with more than ten people per cell. Three of us were sent to the women’s side where there were up to 15 women per holding cell. Most of them had been there since Monday afternoon/evening. With the exception of 3 or 4 women, the women who weren’t there for Monday’s round-ups were there for freaking curfew violations. Many had not seen a doctor or received required medication. Many had not been able to reach a family member by phone. But here is the WORST thing. Not only had these women been held for two days and two nights without any sort of formal booking, BUT ALMOST NONE OF THEM HAD ACTUALLY BEEN CHARGED WITH ANYTHING. They were brought to CBIF via paddy wagons (most without seat belts, btw–a real shocker after all that’s happened), and taken to holding cells without ever being charged with an actual crime. No offense reports. No statements of probable cause. A few women had a vague idea what they might be charged with, some because of what they had actually been involved in, and some because of what the officer said, but quite a few had no idea why they were even there. Incidentally, I interviewed no one whose potential charges would have been more serious than petty theft, and most seemed to be disorderly conduct or failure to obey, charges which would usually result in an immediate recog/release.

The holding cells are approximately 10×10 (some slightly larger), with one open sink and toilet. The women were instructed that the water was “bad” and that they shouldn’t drink it. There are no beds–just a concrete cube. No blankets or pillows. The cells were designed to hold people for a few hours, not a few days. In the one cell, which housed 15 women, there wasn’t even enough room for them all to lay down at the same time. Three times a day, the guards brought each woman 4 slices of bread, a slice of american cheese and a small bag of cookies. They sometimes got juice, but water was scarce, as the CO’s had to wheel a water cooler through every so often (the regular water being “broken”.)

My fellow attorneys and I all separately heard the same sickening story over and over. None of the women really wanted to eat 4 slices of bread 3 times a day, so they were saving slices of bread TO USE AS PILLOWS. Let me say that again. THEY WERE ALL USING BREAD AS PILLOWS SO THAT THEY WOULDN’T HAVE TO LAY THEIR HEADS ON THE FILTHY CONCRETE FLOOR.

Interviewing these women was emotionally exhausting. Quite a few of them began crying–so happy to finally see someone who might know why they were there, or perhaps how they might get out of this Kafka-esque nightmare. These women came from all walks of life. We interviewed high school students, college students, people with graduate degrees, people with GED’s, single women, married women, mothers, the well-employed, the unemployed, black women and white women. Almost all of them had no record. Those that did had things like dui’s and very minor misdemeanors. Our group didn’t interview any of the men on the other side, but my colleagues reported very similar situations. On the men’s side there were journalists and activists, as well as highschool kids with no records, barely 18 years old.

As we were getting ready to leave, we heard that many of these folks might be released without charges, after being held for 2 days. When we returned to the office, our amazing “habeas fellow”, Zina Makar, single-handedly filed 82 habeas petitions. That is when we heard that 101 people were released without charges. I’d like to think that the amazing legal response to this injustice played a large part in their release, and I feel privileged to have been a part of it. They may be charged later, but I’m guessing most of them won’t based on how minor their alleged infractions are. There are still over a hundred folks in there that need to see a commissioner and/or a judge, but hopefully we have thinned the ranks a little, and we will keep fighting until everyone has received due process. (We are concerned about these folk’s potential bails, as we are hearing about bails in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for misdemeanor charges).

I’ll wrap this up by reminding everyone that all lives matter. We are all human beings. And we are Americans, and as such we are afforded protections under the law, the guilty and innocent alike. If one person is denied due process, we all suffer. If one person’s rights and freedoms are trampled on, it’s not only a reflection on all of us, but it puts our own liberty at risk. The moment we view some individuals as more important than others, we cheapen ourselves. At the very essence of our democracy is the right to question and stand up to authority. During these trying times, we should all keep that in mind.

I’ll leave you with a beautiful picture that was taken today of one of the women who was released without charges. Her husband had been waiting outside CBIF trying to find something…ANYTHING out about when she might be charged or released. This was taken moments after she walked out the door…..

(Photo Credit: Marci Tarrant Johnson Facebook page)

If the people who died were White, the entire planet would be shaken


From my adoptive hometown of Baltimore the racialized surveillance of movement of people appears clear and loaded with violence and discrimination.

Monday was the funeral of Freddie Gray who died in police custody of unnatural causes, adding to the long list of people of color who died in police encounters. He was beaten up evidently. His fault was to run away from police for no other reason than not trusting them. The police chased him. The police do not need probable cause to arrest in high crime area. Baltimore is a high crime area all by itself and also a “Black city.” In this racially discriminatory and oppressive context, a young Black man does not want to be close to police. The latter is not there to protect him. The same is true for Black women. The city has paid over $ 5.7 million in settlement for the wrongdoing of the police since 2011. There is harassment, humiliation and constant scrutiny of movement for the African Americans in the street of Baltimore. Still, the police authorities accuse the poor and the destitute to be the threat, while the city is cutting social, public housing programs and school budget including financial support for organizations that provide support to the population while many actors with power just organize the demise of their community.

Worldwide, movement is not easy for the poor or the destitute. While the United States is the showroom of pure racism, the Mediterranean Sea is the theater of the policy of laissez-faire, let them die. As Senegalese author Fatou Diome declared, this racialized laissez-die has shaped the European Union’s dissuading policies against migration.

Since the beginning of 2015, over 39 000 people have attempted the crossing to Europe. 1776 have died just to escape the violence in Libya, Syria, Iraq or other battled countries. This means one death every two hours since the first of January. This is the highest rate ever recorded. According to the UN Commissioner of Refugees, only 10% of people running away from violence migrate to the EU but that’s enough to rekindle the conservative and nationalist spirit of this rich continent.

On April 19th, a rotten trawler with 700 migrants packed on board capsized. All 28 survivors had been on the upper level. As is often the case, women and children were locked up down in the hold. And so they all died.

This happened after 400 migrants died in the Sicily. These latest incidents shook the consciousness of some in Europe. In Italy the population came to the rescue helping the migrants in a solidarity spirit that should be the norm. But the policies of asylum don’t carry this humanistic solidarity spirit. They penalize populations coming from the South. The Dublin II Accord signed by 32 European States has stated that demand for asylum can only be filed in the first entry country. Today these countries are typically Greece, Italy, Spain and Malta.

At a recent summit EU Ministers of Foreign and Interior Affairs, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi demanded that the rest of Europe participate in rescuing and receiving this flux of migrants.

After the drama of Lampedusa that left almost 280 dead, chanting “Never again”, the EU leaders eliminated the Italian program “Mare Nostrum” that ambitiously had the ability to search and rescue in international and European waters the migrants. Mare Nostrum was replaced by the “Triton” program which is not a search-and-rescue operation and operates only on European waters. It is also less expensive. As Paolo Gentiloni, the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs noted, the UE, is the biggest economic power of our time, somehow can’t 3 million additional Euros per month to aid migrants.

Ten measures that resembled pious hope more than coherent actions were proposed. European leaders agreed to return most of the refugees to their war-torn countries, consenting to only 5 000 permits. These decisions are marked by the neoliberal austerity mindset that imposes discrimination and misery for those left out of the political and economic order.

The leaders also agreed to increase the funds for Triton within the program of surveillance of borders called Frontex. They also affirmed that they would fight the traffickers. As the socialist group of the European Parliament argued, these actions merely add another layer of military violence to areas already ravaged by conflict.

There is an obvious discrepancy between the dramas taking place in the Mediterranean waters and the streets of Baltimore or other US cities, and the application of the right to move freely or migrate to seek safer land, safer lives.

Fatou Diome put it clearly, “If the people who died were White, the entire planet would be shaken.” She added that the people who depart for survival already consider that their lives have no value and therefore are not afraid of losing it. The disaster has been already organized for them through imperialist wars and deprivation.

After the funeral, the riot in the streets of Baltimore shed light on the balance of power. Freddie Gray could not run away from arbitrary arrest and humiliation, and lost his life. The young rioters in Baltimore had a similar perception of their position. It is not enough to condemn violence, as Martin Luther King declared without “condemning the contingent intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention … Riot is the language of the unheard.”

These are large issues. Another type of dialogue and solidarity has to be formed if we are to restore a humanistic dialogue and discourse and free the movements of the oppressed.

(Portrait of Freddie Gray: Kim Sarabia / Colorlines)

You gave up the moral authority to declare a state of emergency decades ago

What qualifies as a State emergency, and who gets to call it? Not the State of Maryland and not the City of Baltimore. They lost that privilege decades ago.

After decades of publicly acknowledged police brutality directed specifically at Black and Brown skinned residents of the city, of spending millions of dollars to support violent extremists in the Baltimore City Police Department, neither the City of Baltimore nor the State of Maryland has the moral authority to declare a state of emergency. They wouldn’t know an emergency if it bit them.

Since 2011, Baltimore has invested $5.7 million in lawsuits dealing with police brutality. As Ta-Nehisi Coates noted, “The money paid out by the city to cover for the brutal acts of its police department would be enough to build “a state-of-the-art rec center or renovations at more than 30 playgrounds.” Instead, the money was used to cover for the brutal acts of the city’s police department and ensure they remained well beyond any semblance of justice.”

Coates grew up across the street from Mondawmin. Considerably earlier, I lived most of my pre-school life across the street from Mondawmin. We both understand the lie of peace and responsibility when they come from the mouths of State representatives. As Coates argues, “When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con.”

What’s this war in Baltimore? Freddie Gray was killed while riding in a police van. Violence in police vans is so ordinary it has its own lexicon. There’s the “rough ride”, when the handcuffed and perhaps shackled prisoner is not seat belted, and so is thrown all over the van. This is also known as the “cowboy ride.” Then there’s “bringing them up front” where the driver slams unexpectedly on the brakes, throwing the prisoner against the cage behind the driver’s seat. This is also known as the “screen test”.

Last September, The Baltimore Sun ran a major investigation into the payouts, including the stories of horrible police violence against Black women: 87-year-old Venus Green; 26-year-old Starr Brown; 58-year-old Barbara Floyd. Between 2010 and 2014, 31 people died in `police in encounters’ in Baltimore. The culture of police brutality, Baltimore’s disgrace, has long been public knowledge. Did anyone in Annapolis or on the Baltimore City Council even contemplate stating that there is an emergency in Baltimore?

Individuals and agencies that have absolutely no moral authority to declare any kind of emergency are now in charge of declaring and maintaining a State of Emergency. None of this is a surprise. As John Angelos, Orioles team executive, noted early on, “My greater source of personal concern, outrage and sympathy … is focused rather upon the past four-decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the U.S … plunged tens of millions of good, hard-working Americans into economic devastation, and then followed that action around the nation by diminishing every American’s civil rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living and suffering at the butt end of an ever-more militarized and aggressive surveillance state.”

In his 1962 essay, “A Letter to My Nephew”, James Baldwin alluded to a slave spiritual, “You Got a Right”:

“You got a right, I got a right,
We all got a right to the tree of life.
Yes, tree of life.

The very time I thought I was lost,
The dungeon shook and the chain fell off.
You may hinder me here,
But you can’t hinder me there.
‘Cause God in the Heaven’s
Going to answer my prayer.”

We all got a right to the tree of life.


(Photo Credit: Jim Bourg / Reuters)

From Paris to Baltimore, our prisons are full but empty of sense

Christiane Taubira

The majority left French Senate has rejected the 2013 budget for Social Security presented by the socialist government. Amazingly, right wing and communist senators joined forces to vote the budget down, although not for the same reasons. The Communists opposed the austerity measures arguing that they add up to social injustice whereas the right wing senators would like to have more austerity and reduce the social/health care welfare that is one of the pillars of French society.  Despite this seeming setback, many hope that social security and the French Health Care system will remain a key part of a societal structure of public service.

To understand the reason for this hope, we must turn to the justice department and its rhetoric of welfare and criminalization. The previous ministers of justice under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy, inspired by the American approach of “le tout incarceration” (every thing converges into incarceration), had planned to build more prisons. In order to fill these new cells, the Sarkozy’s justice department designed a series of programs, including charging youth as adult; instituting immediate sentencing which often meant no jury and little time for the accused to prepare for trial; and introducing mandatory sentences. In 2007, a bill requiring minimum mandatory sentencing for repeated offenders passed. And so the prisons and jails filled up.  At the same time, under the rule of austerity, a series of welfare programs were cut.

After the election of a socialist president, Francois Hollande, his justice minister, Christiane Taubira, presented a “new penal politics of the government”. She broke with the policies of her immediate predecessors. She sent an official memorandum to all public prosecutors recommending sentencing reduction and favoring alternative sentences. As for repeated offenders she said, “All decisions must be personalized, including for repeated offenses.” She went on to clearly delineate the limits of mandatory sentencing and as well as its ultimate suppression.

Taubira went further and refused the logic of immediate trial, responsible for one third of the 66 748 people incarcerated in France, and asked the public prosecutor to stop using it. Christiane Taubira declared: “Nos prisons sont pleines, mais vides de sens.” “Our prisons are full, but empty of sense.” Her predecessors were eager to send people to jail; their motto was “tough on crime.” In the past 10 years the tally of prisoners increased by 20,000, creating “inhuman conditions” as was noted by the European committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), which also recommended “a zero tolerance of ill-treatments” by police officers. Christiane Taubira wants to remedy these conditions by quickly reducing the number of people in French prisons recognizing that incapacitating people in over-populated cells only creates more precarious lives.

Meanwhile, in Baltimore the debate about the construction of a new juvenile detention center rages, with no signs of a change in paradigm. Juveniles may be tried as adults, and the majority of women in prisons are single mothers. Meanwhile, welfare support is shrinking. Where is the Commission in Baltimore that will declare zero tolerance of ill treatment of the city’s most vulnerable?


(Photo Credit: Liberation / Bertrand Langlois / AFP)


What is happening in Baltimore? Women going to jail

On October 7th, an event at the Charles Theater in Baltimore packed the theater. It was the viewing of the house we live in, a documentary by Eugene Jarecky. This documentary revisits the history of “the war on drugs” in correlation with the decline of American cities and today’s lucrative business of incarceration for non-violent crimes, showing how the poor and minority populations have become the majority population in jail and prisons of the United States.

It was not incidental that the movie was presented in Baltimore, a city that has been devastated by the “war on drugs”. In fact, the creator of The Wire, David Simon was there to introduce the film. But he did not come to praise it. Instead, he explicitly linked the devastation of Baltimore City, the impoverished inner city population and the policies of the war on drugs.  This great documentary shows that the hyper incarceration of African American men followed a plan to incapacitate the “wretched” of neo liberal globalization.

At the same time, the documentary does not show even one woman in jail. Although the number of women in jail represents about 10% of the overall incarcerated population, their incarceration has accelerated more than men’s, increasing six fold between 1980 and 2008. Again not just any woman goes to jail; the rate of incarceration of African American women in 2007 (150 per 100 000) exceeded the imprisonment rate of European countries’ men and women, minus Spain. This dramatic reality is often overlooked or avoided in documentaries and mainstream media.

Women are growing the ranks of people rendered vulnerable. This is especially true in Baltimore where 9 out of 10 in jail are awaiting trial. Only 7 % of the women incarcerated in Baltimore have been sentenced, destabilizing even more precarious lives. Despite the reduction of the number of violent crimes, about 77% of mostly African American women in the Baltimore Detention Center were arrested for non-violent crimes. The rhetoric of toughness applies efficiently to women these days. The invisible woman is in jail, sent by the invisible hand of the market that has been punishing women and especially African American women. Women’s existence is typically dematerialized, under the social and financial radar, and in Baltimore, sent to jail.


(Photo Credit: wypr.org)


What’s happening in Baltimore? Incarceration

Governor of Maryland Martin O’Malley just announced the building of a new juvenile detention center specifically for youth charged as adults. It will cost a hefty $100 million dollars … at least. All this is supposed to ensure the safety of Baltimore and its youth.

Revisiting Maurizio Lazzarato’s recent argument that debt is the neoliberal condition, let’s think about the penal debt imposed here on women and men. But not just any women and men. In Baltimore’s Detention Center, eight out of ten women and nine out of ten men are black (Jail Daily Extract, division of Pretrial and Detention Services).

Baltimore’s Detention Center is part of the surge of incarceration that has taken place in the United States within the past thirty years. As sociologist Loic Wacquant has noted, in “the stingy social state and the gargantuan penal state,” three determinants make people more likely to be incarcerated: class, race and place. That’s how the state cares for the poor, for minority men and women.

Baltimore is one of the few cities in the United States that lost financial control of its detention center. In 1991, following a budget crisis, the city relinquished management of its detention center to the State, at the behest of then Governor Donald Schaeffer. The State’s agenda included the construction of Central Booking, opened in 1995. For many in Baltimore, Central Booking became the place to stay. Previously, one stayed in one of nine district police stations, which were more integrated into neighborhood communities. But neighborhood and community facilities were insufficiently “tough on crime,” and so they had to go.

In the logic of creating a penal debt, targeted populations have to be put into a position where they owe their freedom to the authorities. In Baltimore, the police have intensified their activity, thanks to the war on drugs, the war on the poor, the various wars on women, including the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act and the welfare reform of 1996.

Central Booking was hailed  as a model of “efficiency”. That efficiency meant the increasingly robotic incarceration of the increasingly impoverished populations of Baltimore, where 63% of the population is African American.  As a result of intensified and broadened police activity, 90% of people incarcerated in Baltimore City are awaiting trial compared to 63% nationally (Division of Pretrial Detention and Services Daily Population Report, January 4, 2010). 89% of the incarcerated are African Americans. Once in the system, your penal credit score drops. And that, in Baltimore, is called efficiency.

With 12 million “bodies being processed” every year by Central Booking institutions across the country, one wonders why the State is so invested in this form of manipulation of bodies. In the current ownership society, the penal credit score is now clearly attached to faster rates of prison recidivism, thanks to programs that keep track of the lives of former prisoners. For instance, Johns Hopkins (both the university and the hospital) demands a background check, criminal and financial, for any applicant to any job, including that of volunteer. This system of background checks has become so routine that its threatening panoptic dimension has been into “keeping Hopkins safe”. “Tough on crime” morphs into “safe” at work.

What is happening in Baltimore? Debt through incarceration. The impoverished youth of Baltimore is going to incur more penal debt through a project that invests scarce social welfare money into a prison that will have to be filled … with the impoverished youth of Baltimore. The circle is closed … efficiently.


(Photo Credit: Baltimore Sun)