Covid Operations: In prisons, jails, immigrant detention centers, the United States refuses to address Covid

In June, the Florida Department of Corrections ended all Covid-related pandemic emergency protocols. This includes reporting, and so now, although cases increase and people behind bars are dying, the state issues no reports. It’s none of your or our business. Go away. Florida is not an outlier. The whole country has refused do care for people behind bars. According to the most recent Prison Policy Initiative analysis, the United States gets an F, the Federal Bureau of Prisons gets an F. 42 state prison systems get F or F+. The highest grade went to New Jersey, C. Another study, looking at jail populations, finds that one of the best forms of Covid mitigation – along with vaccination, mask mandates, social distancing – is jail decarceration: “The globally unparalleled system of mass incarceration in the US, which is known to incubate infectious diseases and to spread them to broader communities, puts the entire country at distinctive epidemiologic risk …. Public investment in a national program of large-scale decarceration and reentry support is an essential policy priority for reducing racial inequality and improving US public health and safety, pandemic preparedness, and biosecurity.” As to immigrant detention centers, “The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has proven itself ill-equipped to manage the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in its detention facilities.” This applies as well to the “nongovernmental detainee facilities across the country”, such as the Otay Mesa Detention Center, site of the largest Covid outbreak among detained migrants … thus far. Say what you like about Florida, when it comes to concern for the vulnerable, for care of those people living and suffering in prisons, jails, immigrant detention centers, it’s just one of the guys.

As the Prison Policy Initiative analysis suggests, this shouldn’t have been so complicated or difficult. Reduce the prison population. Reduce infection and death rates behind bars. Vaccinate everyone living behind bars. Address basic health and mental health needs through easy policy changes: waive video and phone call charges; provide masks and hygiene products; suspend medical co-pays; require staff wear masks; require staff be tested regularly. That’s it. It’s not complicated. It’s not hard. Everyone failed. I know … New Jersey got a C, California a C-Everyone else got a D or F.New Jersey vaccinated and released many living behind bars, but New Jersey’s infection rate in prisons was almost four times higher than the state COVID infection rate, and the prison Covid mortality rate was almost double that of the state.

Four states – California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Jersey – made significant efforts to reduce prison population, partly through early release, early medical parole, suspension of incarceration for technical violations of probation and parole. Even with that, no state actually passed: “the nation’s response to the pandemic behind bars has been a shameful failure.” The response is shameful because there has been no response, and here I don’t only mean on the part of prisons, jails, immigrant detention centers. Where is the outrage? Where is the attention? Other than the usual suspects, who really cares? The failure is shameful because it is part and parcel of the national project. This is us, brutal and bankrupt in our lack of concern.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Infographic Credit: Prison Policy Initiative) (Photo Credit: The Guardian / Tannen Maury / EPA)

Prisons, jails, immigrant detention centers are deathtraps. What else is there to say? Do not look away.

Where are the women? Where is Andrea Circle Bear? On April 22, 2020, The New York Times reported that 7 of the 10 largest Covid-19 clusters in the United States are prisons and jails. Today, The New York Times returns to the scene of the crime – prisons, jails, immigrant detention centers. Their article opens, “Worldwide, about 2 in 100 people are known to have had the coronavirus. In the United States, which has among the worst infection rates globally, the number is 9 in 100. Inside United States prisons, the rate is 34 in 100, more than three times as high …. Over the past year, more than 1,400 new inmate infections and seven deaths, on average, have been reported inside those facilities each day …. The virus has killed prisoners at higher rates than the general population, the data shows, and at least 2,700 have died in custody.” What else is there to say? Overcrowding, criminally poor health systems, failure – or refusal – to test prisoners, laissez faire as a form of mass execution, a half century of mass incarceration come home to roost. Remember Andrea Circle Bear, who died in federal custody, April 28, 2020, the first woman to die of Covid in federal custody, Andrea Circle Bear who should have never been in prison in the first place? Andrea Circle Bear was in FMC Carswell. How are things at FMC Carswell today? In mid-February, weeks after the winter storms had knocked out electricity across Texas, of 1,288 prisoners, 30 officially were infected with Covid, although many manifest symptoms. Because of lack of planning, or refusal to plan or care, women went for days without heat or water. Women who are quarantined are “treated absolutely horribly”, according to Faith Blake, the name plaintiff in a suit against FMC Carswell. According to the UCLA Covid-19 Behind Bars Data Project, FMC Carswell’s cumulative case rate is currently 60 percent. You know what FMC stands for? Federal Medical Center. FMC Carswell is the only medical center for women in entire federal Bureau of Prisons. What else is there to say?

Where are the women? Where is Colony Wilson? Colony Wilson was a prisoner at the Birmingham Women’s Community Based Facility and Community Work Center, in Birmingham, Alabama. On May 11, 2020, Colony Wilson collapsed in a stairwell, in full view of staff and inmates. Staff did nothing for seven minutes and wouldn’t allow others to help her up the stairs to the clinic. According to inmates, Colony Wilson collapsed and couldn’t breathe. I can’t breathe. Staff yelled at her to get up and waited seven minutes. Colony Wilson died on May 11. On May 10, Colony Wilson had complained of difficulty breathing. The incident on May 11 was the second time she collapsed in the span of 24 hours. Colony was never tested for coronavirus, not by the coroner nor by the prison: “Alabama’s prisons have among the lowest testing rates and the second-lowest case rate of all state prison systems — but among the highest coronavirus death rates in the nation.” Colony Wilson was 40 years old when she died … or was executed.

According to the Covid Prison Project, as of April 9, there have been 388,520 cases among people incarcerated in prison and 2,443 deaths of incarcerated individuals in prison due to Covid-19. Remember Colony Wilson, who was never tested for coronavirus, neither by the coroner nor by the prison. Remember Andrea Circle Bear. Where are the women? Do not look away.  

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: The Guardian/Tannen Maury/EPA) 

When it comes to a COVID 19 vaccine, fairness in health care is not in sight

We believe that a COVID-19 vaccine will not be distributed fairly in our world. Why? We know about the systemic inequality of the world organized according to race, gender, and class that determines who are the have and the have-nots, the ones who may live and the ones who must die.

The race to get the vaccine has started. A recently released OXFAM report confirms that health inequality is well established in a market-driven environment, concluding that wealthy nations, representing 13% of the world population, have already struck a deal with the five big pharmaceutical companies to receive 51% of the promised doses of the vaccine. The distribution of health care vs. excessive wealth is still following the same pattern as before the pandemic struck, despite all the promises of change. Of course, this is no surprise. The profit market system has generated inequalities in every aspect of modern society while justifying it with illusionary access to modern technology and comfort.

The coronavirus pandemic’s story has generated an interlocking system throwing into deeper poverty many women, children, and men. It has revealed the dirty secret that the neoliberal system only serves the wealthy to make them wealthier. Déjà vu! Yes, but what is striking is the nature of the discourses about solidarity in this world pandemic, making populations believe that the market had gotten the message of its inability to serve us. Although the discussion of the Coronavirus 19 has been technical, it has rarely linked this new type of virus behavior to deforestation and the industrial production of meat.

Similarly, the absurdity of the global neoliberal monopoly approach to global health is kept invisible and not discussed as the pandemic’s leading cause and its consequences. In the 1980s, we saw the devastating effects of the Structural Adjustment Programs on global health. Restricting access to healthy living was part of that program. By the same token, we have seen the impact of this approach on AIDS, the Executive Director of the UNAIDS reminded the public that “the corporations use monopolies to artificially restrict supplies of life-saving medicine and inflate their prices.”

Big pharma industry’s ethics-devoid lobbying is supported by a number of world leaders and quietly pulls the political process’s strings, warping the solidarity attempt to have a patent-free accessible worldwide vaccine. The Oxfam report underlines the absurdity of not sharing and cooperating: “The estimated cost of providing a vaccine for everyone on Earth is less than 1 percent of the projected cost of COVID-19 to the global economy.”

Meanwhile, COVAX is an entity whose goal is to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines and “guaranteeing” fair and equitable access for every country in the world. COVAX is co-led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and WHO. It aims to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines and guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world. GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, pledges to ensure that no one is left behind in having access to health care, including the vaccine. It regroups The World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It is presented as playing a critical role in strengthening primary health care (PHC). These entities have minimal means and might also be influenced by massive lobbying.  

All these mechanisms and the pledges of some countries to support COVAX might be vain in this neoliberal environment as freedom for the few is synonymous with freedom to purchase. The absurdity of not considering the global interest of solidarity in facing a pandemic mirrors the folly of continuing politics of gender discrimination, impoverishing environmental equilibrium (encouraging fossil fuel use, deforestation, the industrialization of food production, etc.).  In all cases, women and girls lose out, and they will be the ones on whom the burden of protecting life will fall. 

(Image Credit: Cristian Newman) (Photo Credit: Avel Chuklanov)

Jails, prisons, detention centers are still COVID death traps, where, despite promises, people in large numbers are left to die. Where is the global outrage?

Two months ago, prisons and jails made up seven of the ten largest COVID clusters in the United States. Hands were wrung, voices raised, promises made. Today … the situation remains the same, and not only in the United States. In the past six days, we’ve `learned’ that prisons in Turkeythe United KingdomMexico are scandals and worse. In the jails of Maharashtra, in western India, prisoners are tested for COVID … but only once they’re dead, and even then there’s no contact tracing. Across the United States, COVID carceral policy is referred to as a massacrepunishment by pandemic, a death sentence, and a death trap. Over the weekend, COVID cases in the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona `surged’ by 460%. This list is the smallest fraction of the so-called news over the past six days. As national trends more or less flatten, prisons, jails, immigrant detention centers rates zoom skyward. In response, prisons use solitary confinement more intensely and more oftenwhich only drives infection and self-harm rates higher and higherSome are saying it’s already too late. Women are at the center of this map of abandonment and deceit. Where are the women? Everywhere. Where is the global outrage? Nowhere to be seen.

According to a recent report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons, in England, women prisoners’ rate of self-harm has risen precipitously since March. Women prisoners generally have higher rates of self-harm than male prisoners, largely because so many are living with trauma and mental illness, generally. This has been exacerbated by a new policy of 23-hour a day lockdown. Again, most of the women are in jail and prison for non-violent so-called offenses that would not have been considered criminal in earlier times. One woman, currently held at London’s HMP Downview, has petitioned the United Nations for help. Meanwhile, despite all the promises concerning prisoners living with underlying conditions, as of yet, a trickle has actually been allowed early release, fewer than 30 a week. Yet again, women are at the core of this policy of abandonment and abuse. Despite earlier promises, as of early this week, a sum total of six pregnant prisoners had been released. Twenty-nine pregnant women are still waiting to be released. Of 34 women in mother-and-baby units, 16 have been released. The English government spent £4,000 for electronic tags, to facilitate the release of prisoners. The money was delivered, the tags were delivered, the prisoners remain in solitary confinement in deathtrap prisons and jails. They call it compassionate release.

The same story is true in the United States. In North Carolina, pregnant prisoners were told they would be released. It hasn’t happened. The prisoners and their loved ones are losing hope, and so the system is working perfectly. Seven women currently housed at the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women, KCIW, are suing for release. All of the women have serious underlying conditions; the rates of infection are rising precipitously; practically no one is being released. In Louisiana, the men’s prisons have somewhat dodged the COVID bullet … for now. But the women’s prisons, which are more dilapidated and more overcrowded, are recording infection rates between 60% and close to 90%. Nothing is being done to address the situation in Louisiana’s women’s prisons, less than nothing. Almost no one is getting `compassionate release’ and no one in charge has a plan, other than solitary confinement, to address the severe overcrowding. From sea to shining sea … 

Again, this is the news from only the past six days. Promise that you’ll release pregnant women, and then do nothing. Promise that you’ll take care of those with underlying conditions, and then do nothing. Or worse, institute universal solitary confinement protocols. The situation in prisons, jails, immigrant detention centers has been referred to as “the hidden scandal”, but it’s neither hidden nor, actually, scandalous. It’s the logical consequence of five decades of mass and hyper incarceration; of urban development through racist and misogynist violence under the name of policing; and of abandonment as the only real public and mental health system provided. Where is the global outrage at this situation? Nowhere to be seen. But hey, just remember, we’re all in this together.

(Photo Credit: KentuckyToday)

Self-care is not synonymous with selfishness, but is necessary for survival.

Since we’ve been back at school, I’ve managed to wake up before the alarm every single day. Yesterday I woke up with a fluttering heart just after 5, and after 6 today. Not cool for a weekend. Especially not when you have to be at your full senses, on high alert for the coming week. Being positive, encouraging the kids, telling them how brave and wonderful they are, because they are, staying in touch with the kids who are still home, teaching in the real and virtual world, trying to teach, be expressive and animated with a mask on, watching which board marker you pick up, using the same pen for everything, not being able to walk to a desk, hand on child’s shoulder and explain. Coming home, absolutely famished because you only drink the coffee which the hubby packs, because you had a sandwich at school once since being back, but you didn’t know which side plate to use and it was embarrassing having to raise and lower the mask everytime someone came into the staffroom and you imagine the virus lurking in every surface which you know has been sanitized.

Watching these amazing teenagers listen intently, take in every single word we say, fear for their future, ask if they will have to repeat the grade, be afraid to even speak to each other. I miss their quick retorts, funny quips, and especially their random, offbeat questions and comments. We used to ‘get’ each other. Now we’re just afraid of getting the virus from each other.

Watching your friends and colleagues struggle with their own fears, speaking to parents’ concerns about their child at school, their child at home, their child with a co-morbiditiy, their child without a co-morbiditiy, but with vulnerable family members. The parents’ huge and understandable irritation and then their ensuing vitriolic expression when Ministers and MECs don’t say the same thing. Being at the receiving end of that expression, but using diplomacy and exercising patience when you yourself are ANGRY! Watching our principal try and do the right thing by everybody, carrying what seems too much on those slight shoulders. Being available to parents at odd hours because questions, fear, anger and confusion knows no school hours.

Since Lockdown started, we’ve repeatedly told the kids and their parents ‘We’re in this together and we’ll get through it together’…. Now I’m not so sure. What will we come out as? Resilient, tenacious and ALIVE, or defeated, overwhelmed…

I remind myself, as I remind any other teacher and parent reading this, we can only take it one day at a time, and most importantly, this is the time to have and exercise an active and living faith.

Wishing you a blessed Sunday. Do what makes you happy. Be kind to and gentle with yourself. Self-care is not synonymous with selfishness, but is necessary for survival.

(Photo Credit: Phando Jikelo / African News Agency / Cape Times)

We didn’t get to finish

Tembinkosi Qondela

We didn’t get to finish

We didn’t get to finish
a social media dialogue
in between the music
I sent TQ to keep
our spirits up

We didn’t get to finish
he asking leading questions
in response to my saying
that I miss the schoolchildren

What will you do he asks
when most are infected 
the school has to close 
and you can’t even 
visit them at the hospital 

Children whose nutrition 
and immune system 
is compromised are also 
vulnerable and then they 
bring it home to those 
who are more vulnerable

Whizz Centre suspended classes 
for 60 of their learners 
who were a major source 
of the Centre’s income
putting people’s health first

This is the TQ we knew
health before profit
health before economy 
not economy before health
he maintained you cannot sacrifice 
people’s health for the economy

Then he asks me
what is this economy 
we are talking about  
are we talking about 
food or gold

We didn’t get to finish

(Photo Credit: Facebook / Tembinkosi Qondela)

Class in this time of coronavirus

As the world faces a huge pandemic, it is important to take into account the different resources that various countries and classes have to deal with such an event. The main guidelines so far have been to wash your hands, wear a mask, and maintain at least 6 feet from anyone who is not living in your home. These guidelines were created by organizations like the CDC and WHO without creating plans that can apply to poor, working class people around the world who live in compact communities – aka slums, townships, barrios, informal settlements – where these practices are impossible. COVID-19 has highlighted how much class inequality is a life or death issue and can be, and has been, easily ignored by those with privilege. Those who are members of the transnational capitalist class, such as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and celebrities like Tom Hanks, have continuously pushed these guidelines, using themselves as a model for why everyone should abide by the rules. That’s easy to say when you can get easily tested, when not going to work will not harm your quality of life or prevent you from eating that week, and when you have vacation homes where you can self-isolate. 

This pandemic is maintaining global inequality as the guidelines are not an option for people who have to walk a long distance to get to the nearest water source, and those who cannot socially distance from their neighbors. These areas will be hit the hardest, but the news media barely take notice or seem to care. They continue to show the horror of NYC or New Orleans, or the empty freeways crossing U.S. cities. In order to counteract a pandemic of this sort, we must look out for everyone, especially those who are most vulnerable. In this instance, I am not talking about the elderly; I am talking about those who make up the low-waged working classes, those who do not have the luxury of Postmates, Instacart, or Amazon. 

The media plays a huge role in whose stories or concerns get airtime, structuring how the rest of the world responds as well. 

We have seen how they have only allocated one day of news coverage to the Black community even though they are one of the hardest hit groups in the U.S. It is not a mystery why the media leaves out certain groups, those executives who are members of the transnational capitalist class ultimately decide whose story matters and repress anything that challenges the current global economic conditions. To make a universal difference, we need to give equal time to all vulnerable groups. We need to structure guidelines with more consideration for those who are meant to remain in the shadows, hidden, invisible. Start by looking and seeing. Look at the photos accompanying this with show compact communities juxtaposed with middle- and upper- class communities.

(Photo Credits: Independent / Oscar Ruiz / Publicis)

In Canada, Joelle Beaulieu refuses the death sentence of incarceration

Around the World of Covid, the news these days is pretty grim, and the news from prisons, jails, immigrant detention centers, juvenile detention centers is worse. In those places of confinement, generally, rates of infection are rising precipitously and, despite much hand wringing and loud sighing, the State and nation-states have done little to nothing to less than nothing. Given the past decades increased investment in mass and hyper incarceration, this comes as no surprise. But there is good, or at least hopeful, news, and that is in prisoners’ individual and collective actions and resistance. April saw prison uprisings, demonstrations, hunger strikes, and other actions in Sierra LeoneArgentinaColombia, the United States and beyond. Everywhere, prisoners echo the banner resisting prisoners hung from the rooftop of the Devoto prison in Buenos Aires: “Nos negamos a morir en la cárcel.” We refuse to die in prison. In Virginia, Cynthia Scott, 50 years old, African American, currently incarcerated at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women, agreed: “I was not sentenced to death, and I don’t want to die here.  But I am afraid I will when the coronavirus comes.” In Canada, on April 21, Joelle Beaulieu, a member of the Ojibwe Nation, incarcerated in a Canadian federal prison in Joliette, Quebec, said NO! to the death sentence of conditions in the federal prisons and sued the Correctional Service Canada for its response, or lack of response, to the Covid pandemic. I was not sentenced to death. We refuse to die in prison.

At the end of April, Joelle Beaulieu sued on behalf of all federal inmates who had been imprisoned in federal prisons in Quebec since March 13. What happens to one happens to all. What happened to Joelle Beaulieu is she was incarcerated at Joliette Women’s Institution. She worked as a cleaner. Joelle Beaulieu worked in highly trafficked, congested areas. When she heard about the pandemic, she asked for gloves, mask and protective gear. The authorities only gave her gloves. When Joelle Beaulieu began developing symptoms, she was given Tylenol. For a week, her symptoms intensified. Finally, after a week, Joelle Beaulieu was tested. Then Joelle Beaulieu was sent to her cell, into what amounted to solitary confinement, for 15 days. She requested either a Native elder or a mental health professional. No one was provided. She says guards did not wear masks or gloves until after she tested positive. Prisoners were told to wash their hands, but were not given disinfectant.

Joelle Beaulieu believes she is “patient zero” of the Joliette Women’s Institution. Within two weeks, the number of Covid positive cases rose from 10 to 50, and by the time Joelle Beaulieu filed her case, more than half the residents had tested positive. On April 21, Quebec reported 114 positive cases. Of that 114, 51 were Joliette Women’s Institution prisoners. Of the women in Quebec who tested positive for Coronavirus, almost all were `residents’ of Joliette Women’s Institution. Joliette Women’s Institution is no outlier, and Joelle Beaulieu’s situation is in no way exceptional. According to Emilie Coyle, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, “Every time we speak with women who are inside the prisons, whether it’s in Joliette or other federal institutions  – they let us know they feel as though they’re not getting the right information. They’re kept in the dark. And that’s particularly concerning for them because they’re trying very hard to participate in keeping themselves safe and healthy.”

In Buenos Aires, when prisoners resisted, they released a statement which said, in part, “We are a mirror of the very society that forgets us and drowns in its own misery, silencing its own true reality:

Those who give up will never win.
We refuse to die in prison.
For a world without slavery and without exclusion.”

From the rooftops of a jail in Buenos Aires to the women’s prison of Virginia to the women’s prisons of Quebec, people are resisting the dehumanization of slavery and exclusion, engaging in the Great Refusal which is the Great Affirmation. They will not be kept in the dark nor will they be silenced. In Canada, Joelle Beaulieu, member of the Ojibwe Nation, said NO to the inhumanity, insisted she was not sentenced to die in prison, and lit a match to light the way to a world without slavery and without exclusion. Others will follow. The struggle continues.

(Photo credit: Sol915)

Covid Operations: We must address the cruelty

Collins Khosa

In the past day or so, the news has suffered a crescendo of iterations of brutality: police brutality; the brutality of racist, White supremacist violence; and the brutality of designating certain populations as disposable, not important to consider when `opening up’ states, cities, countries. This is a snapshot of today’s three faces of brutality: Collins Khosa; Ahmaud Arbery; and the Arlandria/Chirilagua neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia.

Collins Khosa, 40 years old, lived in the Alexandra township, in Johannesburg, South Africa. April 10 was the fifteenth day of the national lockdown, a lockdown enforced by both local police forces and the South African National Defence Force, SANDF. On April 10, members of SANDF saw Collins Khosa and a friend in his yard. The SANDF members saw a cup half full of liquid, which they assumed was alcohol. They asked Collins Khosa whether that was the case, and Collins Khosa correctly answered that drinking alcohol on one’s own premises was not a violation of the lockdown rules. The SANDF members then demanded that Collins Khosa step into the street, so that he might be taught a lesson. Then the SANDF members taught. They beat Collins Khosa to death. Now the Khosa family is in court, demanding an investigation. As they explain, their “case is not about the justification for the lockdown or its extent. It is about combating lockdown brutality”. Lockdown brutality. Leading South African constitutional lawyer Pierre De Vos asks, “Why has there been less public outrage (and less debate) about Khosa’s death and about other lockdown brutality by law enforcement officials, than there has been about the ban on the sale of cigarettes, on the one hand, and about those complaining about the ban, on the other? Is it because soldiers largely patrol working class and poor areas and not the leafy suburbs where most white people live? Is it because victims of brutality have been predominantly black? Or is it because the perpetrators of the abuse have been largely black?”

The past two days have seen numerous reports of lockdown brutality across South Africa, and South Africa is not alone. For example, it was reported yesterday that in Brooklyn, in New York City, of the 40 people arrested for violation of social distancing, 35 are Black, 4 are Latinx, 1 is White: “The arrests of black and Hispanic residents, several of them filmed and posted online, occurred on the same balmy days that other photographs circulated showing police officers handing out masks to mostly white visitors at parks in Lower Manhattan, Williamsburg and Long Island City. Video captured crowds of sunbathers, many without masks, sitting close together at a park on a Manhattan pier, uninterrupted by the police.” Why has there been less public outrage and less debate?

Ahmaud Arbery

At the same time, videos circulated showing the cold-blooded murder of Ahmaud Arbery. Ahmaud Arbery was a 25-year-old Black man, a former high school football player, an active athlete, an all-around good guy. Ahmaud Arbery went jogging through a neighborhood in Brunswick, Glynn County, Georgia. Two White men decided that Ahmaud Arbery was dangerous `resembled’ someone suspected of burglary. There were no burglaries, there was no suspect, there was no reason, other than that of Being Black. Being Black was evidence enough of criminality. The two men followed, hunted, Ahmaud Arbery and shot him, killing him. The two men were not charged with any offense. That all happened February 23, in the early afternoon. Only this week a video emerged showing what actually happened. Only this week were the two White men finally taken into custody. Had it not been for the video, they would be free as any other White man with a gun in the United States. Needless to say but it must be said, Ahmaud Arbery was unarmed. The line from police brutality to `citizen brutality’ in the prosecution of some imaginary crime is a short, direct line.

The Commonwealth of Virginia released Coronavirus data this week, the same week that the Governor, a medical doctor, announced that it was time to start `re-opening the state. The data was broken down by postal zip codes. In the small northern Virginia city of Alexandria, itself hotspot, one zip code stood out, 22305, the largely working-class, Latinx immigrant and first-generation neighborhood of Arlandria/Chirilagua. In Arlandria, a community of around 16,000 residents, 608 residents were tested, and 330 tested positive for Covid-19. That’s an extraordinary 55% of the test population testing positive. Why have so few been tested? Because so many are deemed `ineligible’ because of status or income. That leads to a situation in which people only get tested if they can pass various stringent hurdles. In a press conference today, the Tenants and Workers United, a chapter of New Virginia Majority, demanded “expanded access to testing, ensuring tests and treatment are free, and providing housing so that residents can safely isolate.” Repeatedly, they invited Governor Ralph Northam to leave the Governor’s Mansion and come to Alexandria to see what’s actually happening. Earlier in the week, the Legal Aid Justice Center responded to Northam’s plan to `re-open’ Virginia by labelling the proposal “reckless and cruel”. As Legal Aid Justice noted, “Due to systemic racial inequities, infection and death rates are highest in Black and brown communities. In our state capital of Richmond, 15 of the 16 deaths from COVID-19 were Black residents. In Fairfax County, while only 17% of the population is Hispanic, 56% of all confirmed cases are Hispanic.”

It’s all cruelty actually, rather than brutality. Brutality suggests that those committing the acts of violence are somehow “brutes” or “animals”. Cruelty, on the other hand, suggests that those committing the violence range between indifferent to the pain of others to actually taking pleasure in inflicting pain on others. As with the Khosa family pursuit, this concerns more than this particular police officer or that particular White racist, although they must be addressed. It addresses the whole system of disposable populations, a Black man sitting in his front yard, a Black man jogging down the street, an entire Brown neighborhood, all of them trying to make it through another day. Why has there been less public outrage and less debate? We must address the cruelty that structures our lives.

Azucena, member of Tenants and Workers United

(Photo Credit 1: Daily Maverick) (Photo Credit 2: New York Times) (Photo Credit 3: Tenants and Workers United / Facebook)

Covid Operations: On the genealogy of `overcrowding’, or how we learned to stop worrying and love the bomb

In the past 24 hours, overcrowding has made the news: “As France releases thousands, can Covid-19 end chronic prison overcrowding?” “Nine killed in Peru prison protest against overcrowded conditions during pandemic”. Earlier in the week, “COVID-19 Reaches Lebanon’s Overcrowded Palestinian Refugee Camps”. Overcrowding is the Janus face of the pandemic. On one hand, with the regime of social and physical distancing comes concern over overcrowding. Beaches and bars are dangerously overcrowded. When schools re-open, how will they maintain social distancing, how will they avoid overcrowding? In this context, overcrowding has a clear metric: six feet or two meters between each person. It’s measurable, there’s a formula. On the other hand, overcrowding is the `petri dish’ for infection: in prisons, jails, immigration detention centers, juvenile detention centers, in `overly dense’ neighborhoods and individual residences. Here, the math gets fuzzy, as do history and memory. Prisons have been overcrowded for as long as mass incarceration has been the ruling ideology; cities have been divided into “neighborhoods” and “slums”, the latter “relentlessly …  overcrowded”, for as long as real estate and commodification of urban space have been a main economic driver. Why does it take a pandemic for `the world’ to take notice?

Consider these statements from the last couple days. In calling for Iran to release its female prisoners of conscience and political prisoners, UN human rights representatives noted, “Iran’s prisons have long-standing hygiene, overcrowding and healthcare problems.” In some places, prison overcrowding is not only long-standing but `notorious’: “Throughout Latin America, prisons are notoriously overcrowded, violent and dominated in large part by gangs or corrupt officials.” “The spreading specter of the new coronavirus is shaking Latin America’s notoriously overcrowded, unruly prisons, threatening to turn them into infernos.” “Throughout Latin America, prisons are notoriously overcrowded and violent, and Peru is no exception.” How did Latin American prisons become notoriously overcrowded while the equally overcrowded prisons of the United States are merely “overcrowded and underfunded” or “significantly overcrowded”. Prisons in the United States are described as having “a troubling history of overcrowding and unsanitary conditions”; prisons in France and Europe are described as a “combination of cramped quarters, poor sanitation and desperate overcrowding”.

Last year, the United Nations reported that by 2018, over 1 billion people were living in slums or informal settlements. In 2018, the world population was around 7.6 billion. 13% of the world was living in slums or informal settlements. 23.5% of urban populations were living in slums or informal settlements. Where was the `notoriety’ over the past thirty years of urban so-called development: escalating rents matched with reducing numbers of rental units, proportionately less and less “affordable and adequate housing”. For the urban poor, at first, and then for everyone but the urban rich, expulsion and exclusion became the daily in what was fast becoming  a planet of slums.

Yesterday, when Cicero Public Health Director Susan Grazzini was asked about Cicero’s high rate of Covid-19 infection, her answer was short and direct: “It’s overcrowding. There are certain areas where we have more COVID-19 (cases). Its more places that are overcrowded.” A week or so earlier, when Gabriel Scally, the Royal Society of Medicine’s head of epidemiology, was asked about England’s urban high rate of Covid-19 infection, his answer was equally direct: “Houses in multiple occupation must be in the same category as care homes because of the sheer press of people. I have no doubt that these kinds of overcrowded conditions are tremendously potent in spreading the virus.”

This is our built environment. More segregated cities where increasing numbers of people live in lethally toxic overcrowded residences, overcrowded both in their respective residences and in their neighborhoods; where cities pay more to sequester the overcrowded than to attend to them. More prisons, more prisoners, where, again, overcrowded goes hand-in-glove with drastic, even criminal underfunding; where administrations, from national to municipal and county, pay more to sequester the overcrowded than to attend to them. This is a small part of the story of how we learned to stop worrying about overcrowding and love the apartheid bomb.

(Photo Credit: Meridith Kohut / New York Times)