Australia’s “I can’t breathe” moment … or not

Last night, Australians watched in horror as the investigative journalism series Four Corners showed the torture and abuse of children in a so-called juvenile justice facility in the Northern Territory. The show opens: “The image you have just seen isn’t from Guantanamo bay…. or Abu Ghraib.. but Australia in 2015… A boy, hooded, shackled, strapped to a chair and left alone. It is barbaric. This is juvenile justice in the Northern Territory, a system that punishes troubled children instead of rehabilitating them – where children as young as 10 are locked up and 13 year olds are kept in solitary confinement. Most of the images secured by Four Corners in this investigation have never been seen publicly. They are shocking – but for the sake of these children who are desperate for the truth to be known, we cannot look away.” It may “shocking” but none of it is new. We have known all along.

At a number of points in the near hour-long documentary, children are heard to plead, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” To no one’s surprise, their pleas go unattended, or worse, their pleas incite the guards to further and more intense violence. From Staten Island to Berrimah, where the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre is located, “I can’t breathe”. Eric Garner haunts the world … to no one’s surprise.

To no one’s surprise, a majority of the children in the video and center are Aboriginal. To no one’s surprise, Indigenous incarceration in Australia is rampant.

To no one’s surprise, this very torture of Aboriginal children in custody had been reported, and largely ignored, last year. It takes a video to document the destruction of a child.

When indigenous leader Nova Peris was a Senator, she raised this very issue in Parliament, and now she asks, “How many more royal commissions do Aboriginal people have to get excited about? There was a lot of hope when the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody was done, yet barely any recommendations were implemented. In 1997, the Bringing Them Home report about children in out-of-home care gave us hope, but what actually happened there, if anything? No-one listened. These kids need rehabilitation, they don’t need torture: hate breeds hate, they need to know that there is life outside. Over the years people brushed these kids off, calling them ‘little bastards’. These are kids as young as 11 years old, how are they even thinking criminal activities. Let’s look at the underlying issues here.”

To no one’s surprise, the Indigenous Affairs Minister ignored earlier reports of abuse. They didn’t “pique” his interest.

So now, the Northern Territory Minister has been fired; the “shocked” Prime Minister has called for a Royal Commission; and the guards in the video are still guarding the very children they were taped abusing.

Abu Ghraib. Guantanamo. Eric Garner. The new Gulag Archipelago, same as it ever was. We all share Australia’s shame. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.

 

(Image Credit: Fastcodesign) (Photo Credit: ABC Four Corners)

The nation-State of Jane Doe: Torture in Texas

Welcome to the nation of Jane Doe, where State violence forces women into anonymity. Last week, two Jane Doe cases garnered national attention. In one case, a rape survivor was jailed for more than a month to “ensure” she would be present at her rapist’s trial. In the second, a U.S. citizen was forced to undergo body cavity searches at the U.S. – Mexico border. Meet Jane Doe; she is the face, body and name of citizenship in the United States today.

Last Thursday, “the ACLU of Texas and the ACLU of New Mexico announced a record settlement in which U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) paid a New Mexico woman $475,000 for illegally subjecting her to vaginal and anal searches after she was detained at the Cordova Bridge point of entry in El Paso … Last year the University Medical Center of El Paso paid the same woman — referred to in the lawsuit as Jane Doe to protect her privacy — a $1.1 million settlement for its collusion in the invasive searches.”

Jane Doe’s story began in 2012, as she crossed the El Paso’s Cordova Bridge from Mexico to the United States. A drug-sniffing dog alerted border agents that Jane Doe was carrying drugs. The agents conducted a strip search at the station, using a flashlight to examine her genitals and anus. Finding nothing, the agents sent Jane Doe to University Medical Center, where Jane Doe was forced to undergo observed bowel movement, an X-ray, a speculum exam of her vagina, a bimanual vaginal and rectal exam, and a CT scan. There was no warrant and Jane Doe never consented to anything. Finding nothing, border agents gave Jane Doe “a choice”: sign a medical consent form or pay for the hospital “services.” Jane Doe refused to sign, and received a bill of $5,488.51.

Jane Doe sued and last week won. According to Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director for the ACLU of Texas, “This result could not have been achieved without Ms. Doe’s courage and perseverance. Had she succumbed to the threats of CBP agents and remained silent, who knows how many others might have suffered a similarly despicable experience.”

In another case, in 2013, a different Jane Doe was raped, in Houston, Texas. This Jane Doe lives with bipolar disorder. Three years later, in December 2015, Jane Doe was testifying against the man who raped her. Midway through her testimony, she broke down. Initially, Jane Doe was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward. Once “stabilized”, Jane Doe was sent to the Harris County Jail, where she stayed for 28 days. Why was Jane Doe sent to jail? The court had a holiday break coming up, and so the prosecuting attorney dumped Jane Doe in jail so that she would complete her testimony. Jane Doe “was imprisoned in the hellhole of the Harris County Jail for no reason other than being a rape victim who struggles with a mental disability.”

Jane Doe is suing Harris County, Texas, for the abuse and torture she experienced in jail. During her month in jail, Jane Doe was assaulted, insulted, verbally abused, demeaned, and worse. She was put in with the general population, even though there is a mental health unit in the jail. After all of that, Jane Doe did exactly as she had done all along. She cooperated with officials and completed her testimony in January.

Jane Doe was in the same county jail as the man who raped her: “Her rapist was not denied medical care, psychologically tortured, brutalized by other inmates, or beaten by jail guards,”

This is the State of Jane Doe where two women, all women, become one and the same. Their suffrage and citizenship is violence and torture: sexual, psychological, physical, spiritual, economic, political. Welcome to the State of Jane Doe, no country for women.

 

(Image Credit: Moviefone)

#BlackLivesMatter: Across the Black Atlantic, mourning Black mothers demand justice

Mzee Mohammed

we were two Black women touching our flame
and we left our dead behind us
Audre Lorde, Our Dead Behind Us

Samaria Rice, in Cleveland, and Karla Mohammed, in Liverpool, sit across from each other at opposite ends of the Black Atlantic table, and whisper, speak, shout and howl, “Black Lives Matter.” Samaria Rice’s 12-year-old son, Tamir, was killed by a Cleveland police officer, on November 23, 2014. Karla Mohammed’s 18-year-old son, Mzee, died after being restrained by Liverpool police officers, on July 13, 2016.

Samaria Rice says, “I will never forget that day. Them taking my baby away at 12 years old, I still had nourishment to do for my son. He was only 12. He had just been 12 for five months. I still had a lot of nurturing to do for him, a lot of holding and kissing on him, and stuff like that. I know just 12 years old for a boy is like a turning point. I was guiding him in the right direction. I really was. He was really not a bad kid.”

Karla Mohammed says, “I want to ask the Lord to see justice for my son. I will not rest, I will walk in my son’s shoes until I get answers, and anyone who had a hand in my boy’s death will be brought to justice. My son will not be a number or a statistic. His death will not be in vain. I pray with my heart no mother or father go through what I am now. I would not wish this on my worst enemy. You can’t take the memories, the pictures … my son was not an animal, he was a human being.”

Samaria Rice and Karla Mohammed face each other across the pain filled abyss of their absent sons, Tamir and Mzee. They speak the same language of pain, love, and demanding justice.

This is the Black Atlantic today, from Liverpool to Cleveland and back and beyond, Black Mothers of the Disappeared surrounded by friends and supporters chanting, “Black Lives Matter”. “Black Lives Matter” is the prayer of today’s Black Atlantic. Meanwhile, Mzee Mohammed’s family is raising funds to have him sent to be buried in Jamaica. Karla Mohammed explained, “We’re here for Mzee, not for anybody else. My boy. My soldier boy. My chocolate boy. My baby boy is going to have the biggest send off, but no way on god’s greenery will my boy rest in this city. My boy is going to take his final journey and be entombed in Jamaica where he belongs. When he goes to Jamaica it’s going to open wide and he will fly like a bird. Where the song says three little birds, now there’s four little birds. My boy. My L8 soldier. My chocolate boy.”

Tamir Rice

 

(Photo Credit 1: Liverpool Echo) (Photo Credit 2: Voice of Detroit)

The United States prefers mass incarceration to mass education

Welcome to the United States of Incarceration. According to a recent federal report, from 1989 to 2013, “All states had lower expenditure growth rates for PK–12 education than for corrections, and in the majority of the states, the rate of increase for corrections was more than 100 percentage points higher than the rate for education … Over the past three decades, state and local government expenditures on prisons and jails have increased about three times as fast as spending on elementary and secondary education.” The three decades’ long surge in police violence as well as in prison and jail deaths has been funded by taking money from schools and dumping it, along with Brown and Black bodies, into prisons and jails.

Texas leads this punitive race to the bottom. Between 1989 and 2013, Texas’s “corrections” budget increased by 850 percent, handily leading all other states. Next in line are Wyoming (712% increase), New Mexico (704% increase), and Idaho (701%). While nationally prison spending has risen three times as fast as school spending, in Texas, prison spending has risen eight times as quickly. Between 1989 and 2013, Texas’s public pre-K through 12 budget increased a mere 182%. With a three decades’ long prison – to – school discrepancy of 668%, Texas “leads” the nation.

At the postsecondary level, the situation is even worse. Currently 18 states spend more on prisons and jails than on colleges and universities.

This robbing pupils to cage prisoners scenario is explained away by harsh mandatory sentencing guidelines combined with generalized broken windows policing that results in the working poor being herded into prisons and, even more, jails. In Houston, for example, 75% of those in jail are awaiting trial. They can’t afford to post bail, and so they sit behind bars. Their collective crime is poverty.

But there’s more to mass incarceration than “unfortunate” policy. There’s urban development. A recent federal report on the prison-instead-of-school pipeline notes, “Researchers at Columbia University found that a disproportionate number of the upwards of two million people in U.S. prisons and jails come from disadvantaged neighborhoods in the country’s biggest cities; the authors coined the term `million dollar blocks’ to refer to places where the concentration of incarcerated individuals is so dense that states are spending over a million dollars a year to incarcerate the residents of a single city block. Incarceration in the U.S. occurs disproportionately among people of color.”

Why invest in urban Black and Brown neighborhoods when you can ship resident bodies out of town, to failing predominantly White rural communities where land values have been forced to collapse and unemployment and precariousness reign? Follow the money. The fervid investment in prisons and jails at the expense of grade schools, colleges and universities is part of the overheated urban real estate market of “growing” and “redeveloping” cities. It’s the latest form of root shock where, thirty years ago, the racial politics of `blight’ as a form of `urban renewal’ became a targeted policy of no school left standing in Black and Brown neighborhoods, and no prison or jail cell left behind.

 

(Image Credit 1: Design4Peace) (Image Credit 2: Washington Post)

Zimbabwe: Now you have starved the women, you have struck their pots, you will be crushed

On Saturday, July 16, Zimbabwean women will go to the streets to protest hunger, starvation, deprivation, degradation, violence and all the other State programs in Zimbabwe. Like the women of Burkina Faso who carried giant spatulas and took to the streets two years ago, the women of Zimbabwe will carry and beat their pots, hoping to make the walls come tumbling down. The women are saying they have had enough of programmatic hunger and poverty, which targets women and children particularly viciously. They say, “Wathinta abafazi, wathinta imbokodo! A hungry woman is an angry woman.”

The past two weeks have seen major demonstration and protests, and police violence, in Zimbabwe. Over the past three months, Zimbabwe has been visibly simmering. In March, Pastor Evan Mawarire went to his Facebook page and recorded a four-minute lamentation, on the occasion of the nation’s 36th independence celebration. Cloaked in Zimbabwe’s flag, Mawarire described the symbolism of the flag’s colors and the reality of everyday lived experience in Zimbabwe. Within days, #ThisFlag appeared across Zimbabwe. As before, people said they had had enough, and, at the same time, they said that as Zimbabweans, they deserved better. They deserved to live and to thrive, with real access to decent food, education, health, employment, safety, well-being, everything.

Protests started at Beitbridge, on the border with South Africa, in response to a new government ban on certain small imports that are a mainstay and a lifeline in many communities. Cross-border traders protested, and were dealt with harshly. Then people demonstrated in Harare, and, again, were dealt with harshly. Videos started circulating showing police targeting, beating, and torturing women and children. In Bulawayo, an eighteen-month-old toddler is reported to have died of suffocation, caused by breathing in tear gas. These protests were followed by a daylong stayaway, last Wednesday. #ThisFlag begat #ZimShutDown2016

More and more people started coming into the streets, concerned at reports that the government is out of money. Zimbabwe announced it would start issuing `bonds’, aka zombie money. Meanwhile, 4 million people in the rural areas face starvation.

Women have been organizing, and are saying enough is too much. According to Grace Chirenge, “Women bear the brunt of political violence, as they are at the centre of transformation in society … We are tired of being victims and survivors of this male dominance that is doing us no good.” Samukeliso Khumalo agrees, “Tomorrow’s female war veteran won’t be the one who allegedly gunned down a helicopter but a hungry woman who definitely rode on the back of a policeman.”

Through non-violent means, women are taking the battle to the streets because the war is already in the streets and homes and kitchens and pots and empty stomachs. Across Zimbabwe, women are organizing to beat their empty pots in the streets of Bulawayo this Saturday. “Wathinta abafazi, wathinta imbokodo! A hungry woman is an angry woman.” Zimbabwe, you have starved the women, you have struck their pots, you will be crushed. The time is now. #BeatThePot.

 

(Photo Credit: Twitter / Trends Zimbabwe) (Video Credit: YouTube / Zimbabwe HOPE TV)

We all killed Ashley Smith, Kinew James and Terry Baker, and it’s not over yet

On October 19, 2007, 19-year-old Ashley Smith died by self strangulation while seven prison guards in a Canadian women’s prison, Grand Valley Institution for Women, followed orders, watched and did nothing. By doing nothing is meant committed homicide. That was a decision of a coroner’s jury, December 19, 2013, six years and two months later. As a result of Ashley Smith’s murder, Howard Sapers, the Correctional Investigator of Canada, issued Risky Business: An Investigation of the Treatment and Management of Chronic Self-Injury Among Federally Sentenced Women – Final Report. This also appeared in 2013. Risky Business focused on eight federally sentenced women prisoners “selected for this investigation because they were deemed to be the most high risk and chronic self-injurious women in the federally sentenced women population.” Kinew James was one of those women. Kinew James was in and out of solitary confinement. Kinew James was interviewed in the middle of 2012. In January 2013, Kinew James died, in custody, because nobody answered her pleas for help. An inquest into Kinew James’ death was supposed to start in April 2016, but it’s been indefinitely postponed. Terry Baker was another of the eight most high risk and chronically self-injurious women. On Monday, July 4, in Grand Valley Institution for Women, Terry Baker killed herself. She was pronounced dead on Wednesday. Canada claims to be shocked, and yet for nine years now the State has “done nothing”, killing woman after woman with absolute impunity. What happened to Terry Baker? Kinew James? Ashley Smith? Absolutely nothing. After scathing reports and damning juries, the murder of women living with mental illness continues unabated. Despite sincere, or not, expressions of concern, suicide among women prisoners is part of the plan. It’s the new normal, and it’s too late to protest shock or concern. Shut down the segregation units, once and for all.

Kim Pate, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, said: “We know that she was in restraints a number of times; we suspect there were uses of force, but we don’t know that for certain and we have asked the correctional investigator to also look into it … It’s a terrible tragedy for her family, her friends, the women she served time with. It’s a tragedy all around and it’s a travesty, and it should not be happening in this country. It needs to stop. I hope the minister pays attention to this and makes a decision very quickly to end the use of segregation. Terry was a very sweet, gentle young woman except when it came to herself. She had been very self-destructive and self-harming for a number of years,” said Pate. “She’s someone who, when I last saw her in Saskatchewan, she was actually doing quite well. She was involved in a dog therapy program. From our perspective, [this] underscores exactly why we have the position of no women in segregation, particularly those with mental health issues.”

Other prisoners said she was kind and courageous, but in need of help.

The week before her death, Baker had complained to prison advocates about being forcibly bound to her bed for prolonged periods of time. She had a history of self-harming, and a revolving door relationship with solitary confinement. Rosemary Redshaw, former chaplain at Grand View, remembered Terry Baker: “I really liked her. She had a childlike sense of humor and was great to get along with. In the midst of her struggle, she seemed to get help in the time I was there.” Redshaw added that Baker should not have been in prison or in isolation.

None of this matters. Terry Baker is dead, and nothing will bring her back. Her planned death will now be desecrated by a series of reports and recriminations, just like the deaths of Ashley Smith and Kinew James. Remember this: we all killed Ashley Smith, Kinew James and Terry Baker, and it’s not over yet. Close segregation units. Don’t send people who need help to prison. Invest in mental health and wellbeing. It’s not magic.

Terry Baker’s birthday would have been July 15. She would have turned 31

 

(Photo Credit: Office of the Correctional Investigator Canada)

In India, domestic workers demand more than “protection”

Domestic workers stage a demonstration in Jharkhand.

For the last decade, domestic workers in India have organized to assert their dignity and rights as women, workers, and women workers. They have forced unwilling legislators to pass various laws. Numerous commissions have produced reports. At the same time, the conditions of domestic workers in India has stayed the same or worsened, because the State has refused to recognize them as workers, citizens or humans, and because that refusal is understood as `failure’. It’s not failure. It’s a consistent and persistent State policy to write low-income women workers under erasure. The State holds them on a string over an abyss, and then charges them for the gift of ever-intensified precariousness. Domestic workers as citizenship and humanity denied are not so much the face as the body of urban development in the new world disorder.

In the last days of 2009, Mumbai’s bais, or domestic workers, received a modicum of recognition when the state of Maharastra passed the Domestic Workers’ Welfare Board Bill. Maharastra was the seventh state to pass a domestic workers’ bill. At that time there were an estimated 500,000 domestic workers, mainly women, in Mumbai alone, and over a million across the state. Domestic worker unions and associations had been lobbying for such a bill for twenty years. Meanwhile, “State labour minister Nawab Malik, though, has termed this a `welfare measure’, adding that enforcement (punishment for violation) would not be considered at this stage.”  The rule of law has always translated domestic workers into recipient-clients of welfare. In the intervening years, in terms of enforcement, nothing has changed for domestic workers.

Indian domestic workers figure prominently in the news as surrogate mothers or as trafficked workers but seldom as simply workers. Domestic workers are the bricks of the construction of global cities, in India as elsewhere, and the epicenter is Delhi: “Women from tribal regions are considered to be hard working, honest, simple, docile, and unaware of market demands and are in great demand. A higher wage in the metropolitan than what they would otherwise get in their state attracts a large number to migrate to Delhi, Calcutta or Mumbai. The Delhi metropolitan is their most preferred destination. In Mumbai and Calcutta the locals from the surrounding areas take up domestic work but the Delhi locals are generally well-to-do and have opportunity to take up other work thus leaving the domestic work on the migrants. Another reason for high demand for domestic workers in Delhi is because of high concentration of business head offices, IT businesses, banking firms employing men and women in highly paid, skilled, professional work. The upkeep of these professionals working long hours is only possible because of the support of host of low paid workers. Amongst many such workers are the domestic workers – the house cleaners, care takers of children and elderly relatives of the high paid professionals. Urban professionals transfer a growing share of ‘domestic’ work to the market place by hiring labour themselves. Today many middle class women are doing higher skilled waged work and employing migrant poor women `maids’ to do the domestic work. In some cases it is seen that keeping a house helper has become a status symbol and women from affluent background have withdrawn themselves from household duties. Thus in the shadow of these growth sectors there is growth of low-paid low-status workers, who are often migrant and to sustain its urban population Delhi needs to import domestic workers from impoverished tribal hinterland.”

That hinterland is Jharkhand. A recent ILO report examined two of the most frequented migration routes for female domestic workers: Kerala to the Arab countries and Jharkhand to New Delhi. The report found that, along with the typical push factors, the Jharkhand-to-Delhi pipeline was increasingly dominated by unscrupulous labor agents, who charge employers high placement fees, charge workers with dubious travel costs, and trap workers in eleven-month contracts.

Two aspects stand out in the ILO report. First, there is no law regulating the recruitment of domestic workers in India. Second, there is little or no data on the conditions of labor, employment or anything concerning the largely tribal and adivasi women who travel from Jharkhand to Delhi and back. Why? Because the State actively does not care about women caregivers.

While organizing and advocating, women workers are also refusing: “When an employer repeatedly pressed Lata to take up domestic work at his house in place of an older worker, she refused to take up that job, although it would have added to her income. She questions why older workers are not hired. It’s not as if domestic workers get pension.” Lata refused, and in so doing bound herself to the older woman she was meant to displace.

The story of domestic labor is one of migration, and as much of that migration occurs within borders as across. The violence of invisibility visited upon domestic workers is a function of their gender, of being-women, of women doing `women’s work’ which is considered no work at all. In India, women domestic workers are saying NO! As workers and as women, they want the protections they deserve, but that’s only the beginning. Each refusal is an articulation of power. In India today, women domestic workers are organizing for power beyond protection. Delhi needs Lata, and Lata knows that.

The illegal, systemic physical abuse of children in prison, sanctioned by the State

Ten years ago, the Howard League for Penal Reform released a report, the Carlile Inquiry, into the use of restraint, solitary confinement and strip-searching in penal institutions for children. This inquiry was inspired by the death in prison of Gareth Myatt, “a 15-year-old boy who weighed just seven stone, while being restrained by officers in Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre.” The report described a hell of vicious violence visited upon children’s bodies, psyches and souls. Today, the Howard League for Penal Reform released a ten-year follow up: “There is illegal, systemic physical abuse of children in prison, sanctioned by the state.” Ten years of civil society and governmental austerity and punitiveness have led to this: the State has built an expanding and intensifying hell for children.

In prison, in contravention of all laws, children are routinely restrained to get them to follow directions. “Techniques” that inflict deliberate pain on children make up over a third of all “approved techniques”, all of which are illegal. Between 2011 and 2015, children have been injured 4,350 times while being restrained. Solitary confinement, 23 hours a day in isolation, has become widespread: “Conditions in segregation units have not improved since 2006, when the Carlile Inquiry described them as `little more than bare, dark and dank cells that exacerbate underlying risks and vulnerabilities’. Segregation units should be immediately closed.” Again, the use of solitary confinement, especially long term, is completely illegal, and that illegality makes absolutely no difference whatsoever.

The “real story” is in the numbers. In the last five years, the number of children in custody has dropped. In the same five years, the rate of restraint has more than doubled.

What does the continued violation of the law say? What do the numbers add up to? In England, as in other countries that drank and then guzzled the Incarceration Kool-Aid, the will to punish morphed ineluctably into the will to harm. It’s an old story, now fueled by the political economies of neoliberal development and protectionism. Meanwhile, Gareth Myatt becomes Adam Rickwood becomes Joseph Scholes; and Rainsbrook becomes Medway, and the whole State-run theater of cruelty moves faster, farther, and more deeply.

Last year, children’s rights campaigner Carolyne Willow argued, “Nobody has ever designed a prison to make children feel valued, to treat them well and change their lives. It desperately needs a minister with the compassion and courage to change things. We closed workhouses, asylums and orphanages, let’s get rid of child prisons. Let us say, we are not going to do this to children any more.”

We are not going to do this to children any more.

Today’s report concludes: “Children are being harmed in prisons today and steps to ensure their safety must be taken immediately. We know what works – as the Carlile Inquiry found 10 years ago, small, local units that have a record of success in providing the best care and rehabilitation for the few children who require a period in a secure environment. Prisons and the privately-run secure training centres should be closed down forthwith. We do not need to reinvent the wheel or repeat the mistakes of the past.”

What will next year’s report conclude, and the one ten years on? We are not going to do this to children any more … anywhere. Prisons and the privately-run secure training centers must be closed down forthwith. Today. We cannot keep doing this to children.

 

(Image Credit: The Howard League for Penal Reform)

#ShutDownBerks: The United States of Abandonment Devours Three Year-Old Immigrant Children

When three-year-old child Catherine Checas vomited blood, Berks staff told her mother to have her ‘drink lots of water’.

Last week, from Wednesday until Saturday, the Berks County Residential Center held a 3-year-old boy-child from El Salvador without his mother. He was only released because of the intervention of local immigration attorney Carol Ann Donahoe. Otherwise, that three-year-old would still be behind bars, alone. The State will tell you mistakes happen. There was no mistake here. This is part of the establishment of the United States of Abandonment, and it now reaches to three-year old children.

The story here is that the boy’s 21-year-old mother was taken to hospital, and so the boy was left behind. That’s it. No one thought to call the mother’s contacts or attorney or anyone. In fact, the three-year-old is now in Virginia, where his grandmother lives. Again, that only happened because of the strenuous labor on the part of attorneys and supporters. If you want to know what the climate, call it reign of terror, is inside Berks, the mother “asked that her name not be used because she feared repercussions from staff.”

Carol Anne Donohoe remarked, “This is outrageous. Picture a 3-year-old being detained without his mother, who is in the hospital. He has no idea what that means at the age of 3.” According to Donohoe, after three or four days of “State care”, the child is “emotionally traumatized”, not eating, throwing tantrums and kicking at doors. This is how we take care of children.

Picture a 3-year-old.

Earlier this year, an immigration judge, who is also responsible for training other judges, stated, in a sworn deposition, that immigrant 3- and 4-year olds can represent themselves in court, “I’ve taught immigration law literally to 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of patience. They get it. It’s not the most efficient, but it can be done.” The Legal Aid Justice Center, in Virginia, decided to picture the 3-year old and the 4-year old, and filmed them answering questions of law. The children failed … brilliantly and adorably, conclusively and predictably as well. Three short months later, a 3-year-old is left to fend for himself in prison.

This is the United States of Abandonment: “Zones of abandonment … accelerate the death of the unwanted.” These are the unwanted: “the mentally ill and homeless, AIDS patients, the unproductive young, and old bodies.” Add to that the Central American woman, and the list is complete.

Can a three-year-old represent herself in immigration court? No. Can a three-year-old take care of himself in immigration detention? No. No ethical human being can ask those questions. The questions are criminal. The posing of the questions is beyond inhumane. Nothing out of the ordinary happened in Berks last week. A three-year-old was traumatized, again, just like the four-year old boy-child last year in Karnes. A young mother was traumatized into anonymity and silence, again. The inhuman geography of the United States of Abandonment spreads and intensifies. End the carnage now. #ShutDownBerks #EndFamilyDetention #Not1More

 

(Photo Credit: The Guardian) (Video Credit: Legal Aid Justice Center / Vimeo)

Child asylum seekers sacrificed on the altar of efficiency

I am a child under 18

On Monday, June 20, Sir Stephen Silber, Justice of the England and Wales High Court, decided that a child who applies for asylum deserves a modicum of justice. The story is fairly straightforward. The fact that there is a story at all is a national, and global, disgrace. An unaccompanied boy-child, called AA in the court proceedings, made it, alone, from Sudan to Italy. From Italy, he made it, alone, to the United Kingdom, where he applied, more like begged, for asylum. He said, rightly, that he was 16 or 17. The border official looked at him and decided he was well over 18. There was no other proceeding. That was it. A guy looks at another guy and decides he’s older. AA was sent to adult immigration detention, where he spent two weeks, first at Brook House and then Tinsley. Officially children can only be detained for 24 hours. The Refugee Council and a team of lawyers from Bhatia Best Solicitors worked for two weeks, and finally secured his release. He was then interviewed by a team of social workers and deemed to be a child. On Monday, Justice Silber ruled, first, that the Secretary of State for the Home Department had illegally detained AA and, second, must pay damages to AA for the two weeks of detention.

According to Stuart Luke, the head of public law and community care at Bhatia Best Solicitors, “Since 2013 when the Home Office introduced these rules about age assessment I have seen an increase in these cases. Today’s landmark judgment is very important because it protects the rights of unaccompanied asylum seeker children who come to the UK.” Refugee Council Policy Manager Judith Dennis added: “This judgment is extremely significant and sends a clear message to the Home Office that its current policy is both unlawful and indefensible. For too long the Government has been jeopardising the safety of children who it should be protecting. It’s clear that the stakes are far, far too high for children to be arbitrarily thrown behind bars with adults on the basis of guesswork. Instead of wasting public money fighting this ruling, the Government should instead ensure that everyone who claims to be a child receives a sensitive, timely, lawful and expert led age assessment.”

Home Office lawyers described the decision as “absurd.” The Home Office lawyers’ entire case was based on “absurdity.” They argued that taking childhood as an objective matter, meaning developing actual processes to determine an applicant’s age, would “lead to an absurd and anomalous outcome.” What is the basis of this absurdity and anomaly? Efficiency. In his decision, Justice Silber responded to this line of reasoning: “I have not overlooked any of the submissions of Mr McKendrick, and, in particular, his contention that the Claimant’s case is `profoundly troubling for the efficient running of a fair immigration system’. My task is not to ascertain what would lead to the most efficient running of a fair immigration system but to apply the established principles of construction.”

For the past three years, the Department of Home Affairs sacrificed children on the altar of efficiency. In so doing, they inverted and abused the story of the binding of Isaac: “God tested Abraham and said to him, `Abraham! And he said, `Here I am.’ He said, `Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.’”

Today’s parable goes like this: “And the State said to a nameless functionary, `Take their son, whom you despise, and go to the prison and offer him there as a burnt offering.’” Where efficiency subsumes justice and compassion, God is dead, and no one weeps.

(Photo Credit: Refugee Council)