#FreeBresha: Bresha Meadows is in prison for saving her family from domestic violence

A specter haunts the United States, and she is a 15-year-old Black girl named Bresha Meadows, who sits in an Ohio prison today for having saved her mother and two siblings. Bresha’s mother, Brandi Meadows, calls her daughter a hero. Martina Latessa, Bresha’s aunt on her mother’s side and also a Cleveland police officer who specializes in domestic violence cases, says that Bresha was “born into a nightmare” and that Bresha had come to her aunt begging for help from the extreme violence of her father, Jonathan Meadows. Bresha’s cousin, Ja’Von Meadows-Harris, reports that when, as a child, he lived with the Meadows, he was severely, regularly beaten by Jonathan Meadows. In July 2016, then 14-year-old Bresha Meadows ended the violence when she took her father’s gun and fatally shot him. She was arrested that day, and charged with aggravated murder, which could have resulted in a life sentence. She has spent the last ten months in the Trumbull County Juvenile Detention Center. Her family and friends think she’s a hero; the State throws her into a cage, potentially for life.

On Monday, Bresha Meadows “pleaded `true’ — the functional equivalent of a guilty plea — to a charge of involuntary manslaughter, accepting the terms of a settlement deal that her lawyer said will allow her access to psychiatric treatment and the eventual possibility of a clean record.” Bresha Meadows will not be “allowed access to psychiatric treatment.” She will be institutionalized for six months, treatment for which her family will have to pay. That “eventual possibility of a clean record” only occurs after two years of probation.

While the family and Bresha’s lawyer are relieved, they also recognize that this plea deal means two more months in jail and then six months in a different sort of confinement. As Mariame Kabe, one of the organizers of the #FreeBresha campaign, explained, “What’s important is how they’re feeling and how she’s feeling … The position of the #FreeBresha campaign is that plea deals are coercive and they’re a violent means of social control … We’re committed to supporting Bresha’s freedom, and she’s not free yet.” The #FreeBresha campaign stated, “The #FreeBresha campaign is infuriated that 15-year-old domestic violence survivor, Bresha Meadows, has been forced by Ohio prosecutors to submit to a plea deal that would keep her in juvenile detention for a full year (which includes 10 months of time served) and an additional 6 months of incarceration in a `treatment facility.  Though an earlier version of the plea deal would have released Bresha to the `treatment facility’ today, the final plea deal has increased Bresha’s time in juvenile detention for another two months. Prosecuting Bresha, including the pointless punitivity of adding time in juvenile detention, should be condemned by all who care about the well-being of children.” The State just couldn’t let Bresha Meadows out immediately, and that inexplicable two months is criminal justice for Black girls and women in this country.

After a lifetime of enduring and witnessing excruciating and extreme violence, of begging for help from family, friends, the State and strangers, a Black girl-child stood up and on her own saved her family. Language matters, and we should tell Bresha Meadows’ story in the language her family uses. She is a hero. News media have continually headlined and framed Bresha Meadows’ story as one of “fatal shooting.” That is not the story. The story is Bresha Meadows’ saved her mother and her two siblings and herself. “The #FreeBresha campaign will continue to push for Bresha’s freedom until she is truly free.” We should all do the same. We should treat our children and our heroes with dignity, reverence, and love. #FreeBreshaMeadows

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Grio) (Photo Credit 2: Verso Books)

In India, school girls go on strike for education and respect … and win!

On May 10, 86 school girls decided to upset the sleep of the “sleepy hamlet” of Gothra Tappa Dahina in the Rewari district of the Haryana state, in India. Fed up with administrators and parents who thought less than nothing of the sexual harassment the girls endured every day on their way to and from school, the girls decided to go on strike, with 13 of them going on hunger strike. A week later, the administration gave in to the girls’ principal demands. Since then, other school girls have started similar strikes. As with the school girls in Malawi, the school girls of Rewari know that they deserve a decent education, and that that includes the trip to and from school. With that knowledge, they may have started a school girls’ movement that will do more than disrupt the sleep of many. It may be an awakening.

The story is straightforward. The local school stops at 10th grade. That means for 11th and 12th grades, the girls must walk about 3 kilometers to the next village. According to the girls, they complained about the abuse they received on their walk to and from school. They petitioned the administration to upgrade their local school to include 11th and 12th grades. They received no response. They urged their parents to push for upgrading the local school. Some told the girls it’s better to be quiet; sexual harassment of girls and women has been going on forever. Others were more supportive but couldn’t offer much else. And so, the girls took action. As Sheetal, one of the hunger strikes, explained, “Almost every day, we face eve teasing. Should we stop studying? Should we stop dreaming? Are only rich people and their children allowed to dream? The government should protect us or open a higher-secondary school in our village.” Parents joined the strike, laying down their work tools and protesting outside the school. On May 17, 10 of the hunger strikers were sent to hospital, as the Haryana state government agreed to upgrade the school.

In the subsequent days, this big win for the Rewari girls has been followed by similar strikes by school girls in Gurugram and Palwal districts, both in Haryana state. Sapna Kumari, one of striking students in Gurugram, explained, “Some girls have to drop out after Class 10th because their parents do not want to send them to school afar, fearing their safety. Those who manage to convince them face problems of eve-teasing everyday. Be it buses, autos, the problem does not end.” Her school is 4 kilometers away. Anjali, one of the striking students in Palwal district, asked, “How can daughters study when there was no government school up to senior secondary level in their village?”

These school girls know the meaning of education, and they know they deserve it. Period. They know that a state that creates unsafe conditions for girls on their way to and from school has no commitment to girls’ education. They also know that they have the power to move the State and change the world, and now the school girls of Haryana are teaching that lesson to the rest of the world.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Hindustan Times) (Photo Credit 2: Times of India)

Our continuing investment in the mandatory minimum sentencing and tough on crime failure

Why do neoliberal so-called democratic nation-States continue to invest, and heavily, in the failed policies of mandatory minimum sentencing and tough-on-crime policies? Today we learn that women are at the center of the United States’ mandatory minimum sentencing `experiment’ and of Australia’s `tough on crime’ adventure.

According to family research scholar Joyce Arditti, “An examination of their family backgrounds and social environments suggests that mothers involved in the criminal justice system are perhaps the most vulnerable women in the United States.” These most vulnerable women then become the most extremely vulnerable women, `thanks’ to the theft of their social and legal parental rights.

According to Over-represented and overlooked: the crisis of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s growing over-imprisonment, a report released today by the Human Rights Law Centre and Change the Record, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are the fastest growing segment of the prison population. At the center of that largely unacknowledged growth is women’s vulnerability: “`Tough on crime’ approaches also tend to rely on stereotyped ideas of who offenders are, with little consideration of who else may be affected – the most vulnerable members of our community, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, are unfairly swept up into the criminal justice system.”

In 2014 22-year-old Ms. Dhu, died in custody in Western Australia. She was being held for unpaid parking fines. Ms. Dhu screamed of intense pains and begged for help. She was sent to hospital twice and returned, untreated, to the jail. On her third trip to the hospital, she died, in the emergency room, within 20 minutes. She never saw a doctor. Her grandmother says she “had broken ribs, bleeding on the lungs and was in excruciating pain.” Her death was deemed tragic, but not enough to change policy.

In July 2016, Ms. M, a young Wiradjuri woman and mother of four children, was walking home, when, a little after midnight, police picked her up, and threw her into a cell. At 6 am, Ms. M was “found dead.” In New South Wales, if an Aboriginal person is arrested, the police are supposed to use the Custody Notification Service, which immediately contacts the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS). This system is a modelNo Aboriginal person had died in police custody since 2000 … until Ms. M. But Ms. M was never arrested. She was thrown into the cell because she was said to be drunk. The police were “protecting” Ms. M, and so she died in their custody. Many, such as Gary Oliver of the ALS, believe that if the police had contacted them, “there may have been a different outcome. Fundamentally this is a process that has failed because a police officer has not followed a procedure.”

Today, former U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner noted “that roughly 80 percent of the sentences she was obliged to impose were unjust, unfair and disproportionate. Mandatory penalties meant that she couldn’t individualize punishment for the first-time drug offender, or the addict, or the woman whose boyfriend coerced her into the drug trade.” Today, social justice advocates Vickie Roach described Australia’s tough on crime approach, “The criminal justice system …  punishes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women for actions that are the consequence of failed child removal and forced assimilation policies. If we are truly concerned about justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women however, we should be asking ourselves and our governments how we as a society have so badly failed these women.”

We invest in mandatory minimum sentencing and tough on crime policies because they succeed in intensifying the vulnerability of the most vulnerable: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in Australia, women of color in the United States. Vulnerability is big business. Increased vulnerability produces increased indebtedness. The more vulnerable and indebted women become, the more they are told to shoulder responsibility, individually and as a group, for all the wrongs that have been inflicted upon them, body and soul. Women die in protective custody, and it’s their fault. Mandatory minimum sentences are cruel and ineffective, especially for women, and that’s just fine. Tough on crime is destroying indigenous women and families, and that too is just fine. Our investments are doing just fine.

 

(Photo Credit: Echo)

#ShutDownBerks: The Mothers of Berks and their children do not want to die

Yesterday, ICE agents took a 25-year-old Honduran woman and her five-year-old son from Berks County “Residential” Center, dumped them on a plane and sent them back to Honduras. The two fled Honduras after the mother witnessed her cousin being murdered, after which local gangs threatened her life and that of her child. She and her son fled to the United States. They were detained initially in Texas, and then sent to Berks, in Pennsylvania, where they’ve spent a little more than the last 16 months. That means her son has spent a little over a quarter of his life imprisoned in Berks for the crime of living with a mother who only wants the best for her son.

Pennsylvania Senator Robert Casey spent yesterday trying to prevent the deportation, to no avail: “If they are really, with limited resources, going to focus on 5-year-olds instead of criminals, what kind of homeland security is that?” Attorney Bridget Cambria spent yesterday in court trying to protect the child: “We applied for the child this week who had qualified for a special immigrant juvenile status (SIJS) and brought it to ICE and the courts and we were in court today. We literally were arguing to include this child while immigration was watching the plane take off.” This is just another tragic story of yet another mother and child in Berks (or Dilley or Karnes), fleeing abuse, abused by the State. But then Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly stood up this morning and explained it all. No one deported that woman and that child, they were deported by something called the law: “You have to understand that ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security, John Kelly, I don’t, we don’t deport people. The law deports people.”

The law deports people.

The law does not deport people. People with guns deport people. The law does not persuade a terrified woman and her terrorized five-year-old son to move from the misery of Berks to the hell awaiting her in Honduras. The law does not terrorize children and then call the architecture of terror a “residential center” or a “family center”. Men with guns do all that.

Someone once wrote,

“The ministers lie, the professors lie, the television lies, the priests lie.
What are these lies?
They mean that the country wants to die …
These lies mean that something in the nation wants to die.”

The Mothers of Berks do not want to die, they are not the something in the nation that wants to die. Last October, 17 U.S. Senators, including Senator Casey, sent a letter to the previous Homeland Security Secretary urging him to close Berks, for the sake of the women and children inside Berks … and outside as well. This Tuesday, Senator Casey led nine other senators and 13 members of the House of Representatives in calling for the release of four mothers and their children, ranging in age from 3 to 16 years. Wednesday, he received his response. The law deported a 25-year-old woman and her 5-year-old son. Not us, not us, the law. You must understand. #ShutDownBerks

 

(Image Credit 1: End Family Detention) (Image Credit 2: PRI / Dan Carino)

In Malawi, pregnant school girls demand education AND respect!

Early last year, the Uhoho Primary School, in Chintheche, in Nkhata Bay, in the Northern Region of Malawi, weathered “the worst pregnancy scandal at a school in living memory.” Thirty-two students, 16 girls and 16 boys, were suspended when it was determined that the 16 girls were pregnant. At first, the boys faced `defilement’ charges, but then the head teacher claimed the girls were all at least 18 years old. It’s unclear if that was true. Local newspapers this week report that some of the girls were 13 and 14 years old. At any rate, the boys were spared the prospect of rape charges. All the children were suspended for a year. Then the girls and their parents were brought before a magistrate, who fined each child 10,000 kwacha. If they couldn’t pay, they were sent to jail until the fine was paid. For some, being in custody meant not writing their exams. Thus far, this sounds like just another horrible story of the very many ways of keeping girls out of school. But the girls decided otherwise, and so yesterday, they went to the High Court to challenge their treatment and the entire process. Girls have rights, they said, including pregnant girls, and one of those rights, enshrined in the Constitution of Malawi is “All persons are entitled to education.”

How did an internal school matter come before a magistrate in the first place? Youth Watch Society (YOWSO) Executive Director Muteyu Banda explained, “The magistrate happens to be the Chairperson of the Child Protection Committee.” Youth Watch Society and the Southern Africa Litigation Centre have supported the girls in this case, and they are represented by Victor Gondwe. According to Muteyu Banda, part of the issue here is the lack of due process. Local officials make up laws which they then enforce, all in the name of child protection. According to Anneke Meerkotter, Litigation Director of the Southern African Litigation Centre, “The intention that it is good for the baby to be cared for and that the boys must also take responsibility to help the girls is there, but it is a logistical nightmare for the pupils. For us, the answer is not suspending them from school. Their right to education is enshrined in the Constitution..” Victor Gondwe explained, “We are asking for a review of the strange orders imposed by a lower court that all pregnant girls be sent to prison.” He then added that it is “quite strange and awkward to criminalise pregnancy.”

While it may be strange and awkward to criminalize pregnancy, it’s common practice to criminalize school age girls, and not only in Malawi. Only two years ago, in response to the non-epidemic epidemic non-scandal scandal of teenage pregnancy, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma proposed a policy for the young women and girls, “They must be educated by government until they are empowered and they can take care of their kids, take them to Robben Island or any other island, sit there, study until they are qualified to come back and work to look after their kids.” Take them to Robben Island or any other island. In the United States, girls are arrested more often than boys for status offenses and are more severely punished for those offenses. Status `offenses’ are not crimes. If the girls were older, there would be no offense, no crime. From Malawi to South Africa to the United States, the “special attention” paid to school age girls is always conducted in the name of “protection.”

Malawi is a poor country in which education is a struggle. For girls to complete secondary school is a particular struggle. In academic year 2014 – 2015, nationwide, pregnancy was the cause of 28 percent of all secondary female dropouts. In the Northern Region, in 2014 – 2015, 370 boys dropped out of primary school, while 2199 girls dropped out. During that same year, 145 boys dropped out of secondary school boys, while 463 girls left school. For the boys, the primary reason was inability to pay school fees. For the girls, fees (27.7 percent) and pregnancy (27.6 percent) were the primary reason. This is the context in which 16 girls were told to leave school, and then some were sent into police custody. They were never meant to return.

Those girls know the meaning of education and they know they deserve it. Period. Those girls know “that the fines and detention were inconsistent with common law notions of fairness, legality and rationality and with the rights to liberty, education and other constitutional rights.” They know they have a right to education, and they intend to exercise that right. They mean to return to school and then to create the way forward. The struggle continues.

 

(Photo Credit: Capital Radio Malawi)

What happened to Tanna Jo Fillmore and Madison Jensen? The routine torture in Utah’s jails

Tanna Jo Fillmore

Last year, within one week, two women, Tanna Jo Fillmore and Madison Jensen, “were found dead” in their cells in the Duchesne County Jail, in Utah. Their deaths are still shrouded in mystery and official obfuscation. Their families are still grieving as they seek answers and, even more, an end to the violence against women in Utah jails. On November 15, 2016, 25-year-old Tanna Jo Fillmore was deposited in the Duchesne County Jail, for parole violation. On Thanksgiving Day, she was found hanging in her cell. The following weekend, in response to her parents’ plea for help, Madison Jensen was taken to the Duchesne County Jail. Within the next four days, she lost anywhere from 17 to 42 pounds, reports vary. What doesn’t vary is the excruciating pain of her final hours and days. Tanna Jo Fillmore and Madison Jensen join the circle of Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Christina Tahhahwah, Amy Lynn Cowling, Ashley Ellis, Kellsie Green, Joyce Curnell, Sandra Bland, Kindra Chapman, and so many other women who have died in excruciating pain in America’s jails. They also join the circle of Heather Ashton Miller and all the other women who have died, recently, in Utah’s jails and prisons. What happened to Tanna Jo Fillmore and Madison Jensen? The routine torture of prison state’s war on drugs.

According to Melany Zoumadakis, Tanna Jo Fillmore’s mother, when Tanna Jo Fillmore was taken to Duchesne County Jail, her parole officer assured the mother that her daughter would be placed on suicide watch. That never happened. Many things never happened. Melany Zoumadakis was never informed by the jail of her daughter’s death, and she’s still waiting for information: “I don’t know if she was alive when they found her. I don’t know if she was fully dead and if they tried to shock her heart and bring her back. No one will talk to me … I am the mom and until you lose a child, you don’t know the pain it causes.”

Tanna Jo Fillmore entered Duchesne County Jail on a probation violation. In fact, that was a death sentence.

If possible, Madison Jensen’s story is worse. Madison Jensen threatened to commit suicide. Madison Jensen’s mother was seriously ill, and so her father, Jared Jensen, desperate for help, called the police. The police took her in, dumped her in Duchesne County Jail, where she was denied access to her medications. For whatever reason, she could not hold down anything, not food, not water. She begged for help. Her cellmate begged for help. None came. She died, a slow and excruciating death. According to Matt Finch, an opiate withdrawal recovery specialist, “She was going through opioid withdrawal syndrome and antidepressant withdrawal. I can’t even imagine how much pain she was going through.” Jared Jensen can imagine: “My daughter went in there to save her own life and now she comes out deceased.”

We must all imagine the pain, if we are to end the policies and practices that have produced that pain, across the country, from one jail to the next. A woman loses 17 pounds, at the very least, in four days, begs and screams for help, vomits through the whole period, can’t move, and the staff response is … policy doesn’t allow her to take her necessary medication because the institution is a “narcotics free zone”? That more than narcotics free. That’s a zone free of humanity, and it’s where we all live. What happened to Tanna Jo Fillmore and Madison Jensen? The routine torture of women of women in jails in Utah and across the United States.

Madison Jensen

(Photo Credit 1: Salt Lake Tribune) (Photo Credit 2: Salt Lake Tribune)

Where is the global outrage at Uganda’s abuse of Stella Nyanzi? #FreeStellaNyanzi

Stella Nyanzi

On Friday, April 7, Ugandan queer and women’s rights feminist activist and founder of the Pads4girls campaign Stella Nyanzi was arrested for a Facebook post in which she referred to Uganda’s President Yoweri Muzeveni as a “pair of buttocks.” For that, Stella Nyanzi was charged with cyber harassment and infringing on the President’s freedom of speech and expression. Formally charged on April 10, Stella Nyanzi was promptly transported to Luzira Maximum Security Prison, where she awaits her trial, April 25. Stella Nyanzi’s Facebook post was part of an ongoing campaign to get the President and his Minister of Education, Janet Museveni, also the First Lady, to live up to their election campaign promises to create real budget lines for sanitary napkins for school girls. To no one’s surprise, once the election season was over, the promises disappeared into a welter of budgetary fog. The surprise was Stella Nyanzi, who decided that this was unacceptable and took up the gauntlet. Since being dumped in prison, the government has tried to force Stella Nyanzi to undergo psychiatric examinations, which she has resisted. There was no mad woman in the attic in Amherst, and there is no mad woman in that prison cell in Luzira, but there is a woman in Luzira who is righteously furious. As Ugandans have noted, Stella Nyanzi’s treatment is an abuse of everybody’s freedom and should be worrying everyone … and not only in Uganda, but does it? Where is the global outrage at Uganda’s abuse Stella Nyanzi? Somewhere just below the global outrage at the lack of concern for school going girls.

Since Stella Nyanzi’s arrest, and for weeks before, the Ugandan press has been awash with news reports, analyses, commentaries and general commentary. Beyond Uganda, however, the formal press has been fairly quiet. Usual suspects, such as Amnesty, have mobilized, and supporters have organized an on-line #FreeStellaNyanzi campaign. But the news media itself has treated the whole affair as one-off. The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, the BBC, the Mail & Guardian have each, respectively, run one original article on the situation, relying on Reuters and AP for anything else. Al Jazeera has run three, mostly made up of other sources but also their own. Just today, The East African finally caught up with Stella Nyanzi.

While there is a personal drama taking place among Stella Nyanzi and Uganda’s First Family, the imprisonment and subsequent attempt at a psychiatric analysis should worry everyone. In Uganda, supporters, and even detractors, understand that the arrest and imprisonment of Stella Nyanzi threatens to criminalize speech, expression and thought. They understand that as a violation of the 1995 Constitution. The attempt to force a psychiatric examination on Stella Nyanzi was `justified’ by the Mental Treatment Act, “inherited from … colonial masters at a time where persons with mental disabilities were looked at by the law as of no value, with no place in the community. They were seen as ‘objects’ whose only place was a mental asylum where they would be subjected to perpetual suffering. Persons with mental disabilities were, at all times, considered dangerous to themselves and the community.” The application of the Mental Treatment Act against Stella Nyanzi is worrisome because it is an abuse of Stella Nyanzi’s rights and person, and, equally, because it is an attempt to return Uganda to colonial days. By applying the Mental Treatment Act to control and suppress Stella Nyanzi, the State hopes to make Uganda great again. From Uganda to the United States, the line is short and direct.

The general global news media quiet concerning Stella Nyanzi is itself disquieting. The politics of enforced silence takes many forms in many places. We should hear more from the news media concerning Stella Nyanzi, as well as the conditions of girls going to school, of women in prison, of free speech and expression, and of the right for women to be mad. What happens to Stella Nyanzi happens to all of us. For some, “Stella Nyanzi is a hero to hundreds and thousands of little girls and women who know where she is coming from, in terms of defending women’s rights to sanitary towels.” While Stella Nyanzi is both hero and champion, her circumstances are altogether ordinary, and not just in Uganda. Don’t wait until April 25 to see what happens, because it’s already happening. #FreeStellaNyanzi

 

(Photo Credit: Mail & Guardian / Reuters / James Akena)

Why does the English government hate Kelechi Chioba?

Why does the English government hate 36-year-old Kelechi Chioba? What horrible crime has she committed? The same crime committed by other immigrant women of color: Mabel Gawanas, Dianne Ngoza, Erioth Mwesigwa, Shiromini Satkunarajah, Irene Clennell, Chennan Fei, to name only the most recent. Is it that Kelechi Chioba lives with physical disabilities and mental health issues? Is it that Kelechi Chioba is a disability rights activist and fiercely independent? Is it that Kelechi Chioba applied for asylum? Is it that Kelechi Chioba is a Black African woman? Is it that Kelechi Chioba is a queer woman? Is it that Kelechi Chiobia is a queer Black African woman? Is it that Kelechi Chioba is a Black Nigerian woman? Yes, to each and all of the above. Each attribute is another “crime” committed against the State, and so Kelechi Chioba has been told to prepare for Yarl’s Wood and then for the long trip “home”, to the place where she was deemed a “curse” and beaten and abandoned. That’s why it’s called criminal justice.

Kelechi Chioba’s story is one of self-determination and autonomy. Living with polio and scoliosis, Kelechi Chioba was viewed as a “curse” by her family, in particular by her father. She was beaten by family members. In response, she decided to work, save her money, and go to England to study. While working and saving, she was sexually abused at work. Desperate, she attempted suicide. Finally, Kelechi Chioba saved enough money to pay for her visa and fees, and moved to England, in 2011, where she studied hospital, health and social care at the University of Wolverhampton. When Kelechi Chioba arrived in England, she used crutches, but by 2014, her physical condition had changed such that she became wheelchair reliant. She needed operations. Her arm deteriorated, which meant she needed an electric wheelchair. Every step of the way, Kelechi Chioba paid her way. For that reason, in 2014, she had to suspend classes. At that point, Kelechi Chioba applied for asylum.

During her time at Wolverhampton, and since, Kelechi Chioba has been a prominent and leading activist. For example, in 2014, she signed an open letter supporting the right to free education. Her signature read: “Kelechi Chioba, Black students’ committee and disabled students’ rep, NUS”. She has worked continually for the National Union of Students (NUS) Disabled Students Campaign and Black Students Campaign. As Kelechi Chioba explains, ““I’m someone who believes that disability is not the same as incapability. I believe that I can do things with my life. I want to make a change, I want to progress. When I came to the UK the education system inspired me to become an activist. Thanks to the freedoms this culture offers me, I now have the courage to talk about what happened to me, and I want to help other victims of violence and abuse to talk about their experiences.”

Kelechi Chioba organizes and encourages, and she and her supporters wait to see what happens next. This week, Liz Truss, the “Justice” Secretary, proposed a new fast track system for asylum seekers. The last fast track system was an atrocity, but that doesn’t matter. In a global economy of miserable efficiencies, in which women who seek haven are criminalized and then forced to pay for “the troubles” they have caused. Fast track is just another way of proving time is money, and Black women’s lives are cheap. Why does the English government hate Kelechi Chioba? Because she wants to help create a world in which a disabled Black queer woman living with mental health concerns can live happily and productively, with dignity and self-respect. And that desire is a crime. #SaveKelechi

(Photo Credit: YouCaring)

Meghan Quinn and the altogether routine hell of prisoner transport services

 

Meghan Quinn

Meghan Quinn is from Lewiston, Maine. Currently, she’s incarcerated in the Androscoggin County Jail, in Auburn, Maine. Like Nancy Carroll, Lauren Sierra, Roberta Blake, Theresa Wigley, Tyisha Anthony and so many other women and men who have struggled to endure the atrocities of prisoner transport, Meghan Quinn is traumatized by her experience in the van, but at least she’s alive. Last November, Meghan Quinn suffered a five-day journey, in a cage, from Florida to Maine. The Androscoggin County Jail paid Prisoner Transport Services a little less than $1500 for five days of torture. As the Lewiston Sun Journal noted, “Quinn’s extradition is not unusual. It’s a routine process across this country to locate, collect and return defendants to answer charges.” Torture of prisoners during transport is a routine process across this country.

Meghan Quinn’s five days of hell began in Florida. She was the first in a van that would wander from prison to jail up the entire East Coast. Because the other prisoners were all men, Meghan Quinn was `separated’ from the others … for her protection. For five days, hands cuffed to belly and ankles shackled together, Meghan Quinn was locked in a cage the size of a dog crate. She was fed through the bars. She was forced to go to the bathroom, in the cage, in plain view of the other prisoners. On the third day, her period began, and she was forced to sit, without sanitary pads, for hours on end. She vomited, and was forced to sit in that as well. Another prisoner in the van with her has independently corroborated her story.

When Meghan Quinn arrived at the Androscoggin County Jail, she wrote a six-page letter describing her ordeal. She sent one copy to the judge, who appears not to have received it, and another to the Sun Journal, who followed up, which is how we know about this case, unlike so many others. In her letter, Meghan Quinn wrote, “Never, no matter how bad things have ever got in my life, have I considered suicide or wished death upon myself. But many times throughout this ride I prayed to God to take my life and put me out of the misery. I felt sexually, physically and mentally violated and humiliated.” In an interview, she added, “I don’t know, but it was just something I couldn’t deal with. And most of the reason I wanted to sue them is all I could think is how many other people they do this to.”

Since the Sun Journal published its expose, District Attorneys for five Maine counties have stopped their contracts with Prisoner Transport Services. While that’s a start, Prisoner Transport Services is typical, not exceptional, in the industry. Since 2000, close to 30 people have been killed or seriously injured in more than 50 crashes on private prisoner transport vehicles, and that’s the tip of the iceberg. Since 2000, at least 14 women have alleged that they were sexually assaulted by guards while being transported. Throughout, Prisoner Transport Services has stonewalled everyone who tries to investigate, from the federal government to news agencies to lawyers’ representing prisoners. The Marshall Project and The New York Times wrote a scathing report last July. The Marshall Project and The New York Times wrote another scathing report last month. Last June, Women In and Beyond published Nancy Carroll’s personal account of her traumatic journey. Lawsuit after lawsuit is filed. Many are won. In 2000, a law, Jeanna’s Act, was passed which was meant to regulate and set standards for prisoner transport. In seventeen years, was enforced once.

Why do these rolling caravans of violence and torture keep crisscrossing the country? Because no one, other than the usual suspects, cares. As Judith Meyer, Executive Editor of the Lewiston Sun-Journal said, “In the case of Meghan Quinn, I would say the cost was much too high to her, and to the men who were on the transport van, at least one of whom we’ve heard from, who said it was just awful to watch what she was going through.” What happened to Meghan Quinn? The absolutely routine torture of women and men across the United States.

 

(Photo Credit: Sun-Journal) (Video Credit: Sun-Journal / YouTube)

Bondita Acharya and Micaela Garcia refuse to let women be crushed

In case we needed any reminder, this week has already demonstrated that rape culture is expanding, intensifying and globalizing. Yesterday, across Argentina, thousands marched and protested violence against women, femicide, and rape. They marched under the banner of Ni Una Menos and Justicia Para Micaela. Micaela Garcia was a 21-year-old feminist activist who dedicated her life to the struggle to end femicide and violence against women. Last week, she was raped and murdered. In India, human rights activist Bondita Acharya criticized the arrests of three people for the crime of possessing beef. Very quickly after Bondita Acharya expressed her views, she was threatened with acid attacks, rape, and death. According to Bondita Acharya, “They threatened me with death, rape, acid attacks, and also hurled sexually explicit abuse to defame me … I also feel the anger was directed at me because I am a Brahmin and a woman.”  And in South Africa, yesterday, a prominent cartoonist decided to make his point by graphically describing the gang “rape” of South Africa. The nation was drawn as a Black South African woman, held down by three men.

Women have responded forcibly and directly to each and all of these atrocities. In Argentina, women mobilized by the thousands. As Marta Dillon, of Ni Una Menos, explained, “It is a day of mourning, but we know how to turn pain into power.” Nina Brugo added, “We are going to take revenge for Micaela by getting organized.” In India, Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression strongly condemned the persecution and harassment of Bondita Acharya, and are pushing the State to take action. Others have joined in the cause. In South Africa, women have led the charge against the abuse of their bodies and lives. Kathleen Dey, Director of Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, capturing the feelings of many, wrote, “The impact of rape on survivors is severe, many will lie awake at night and are not be able to sleep or eat properly for days because of the powerful emotions they feel. Feelings of fear, anxiety and vulnerability in particular provide the kind of undermining emotional preoccupation that often prevents women from working, studying or parenting effectively. Reliving rape is easily triggered. It disturbs and disrupts everything rape survivors do and distresses the people close to them who feel helpless to do anything to mitigate these powerful feelings. The fact that these same women often face the stigma of being socially disgraced when they speak out about being raped is another example of rape culture. Challenging rape culture in South Africa and asking ourselves what a culture of consent might look like and how we would build that culture instead would be a worthy subject for the media.”

It would be a worthy subject indeed. In 1986, feminist political economist Maria Mies wrote, “It is a peculiar experience of many women that they are engaged in various struggles and actions, the deeper historical significance of which they themselves are often not able to grasp. Thus, they do in fact bring about certain changes, but they do not ‘understand’ that the changes they are aiming at are much more far-reaching and radical than they dare to dream. Take the example of the worldwide anti-rape campaign. By focussing on the male violence against women, coming to the surface in rape, and by trying to make this a public issue, feminists have unwittingly touched one of the taboos of civilized society, namely that this is a ‘peaceful society’. Although most women were mainly concerned with helping the victims or with bringing about legal reforms, the very fact that rape has now become a public issue has helped to tear the veil from the facade of so-called civilized society and has laid bare its hidden, brutal, violent foundations. Many women when they begin to understand the depth and breadth of the feminist revolution, are afraid of their own courage and close their eyes to what they have seen because they feel powerless vis-à-vis [the] task of overthrowing several thousand years of patriarchy. Yet the issues remain. Whether we – women and men – are ready or not to respond to the historic questions raised, they will remain on the agenda of history. And we have to find answers to them which make sense and which will help us to restructure social relations in such a way that our ‘human nature’ is furthered and not crushed.”

Thirty-one years later, rape remains on the agenda of history but too often not on the agendas of nation-States nor organizations nor the media. We still await that revolution.

 

(Photo Credit: José Granata / EFE / El Pais)