What happened to Joyce Curnell? #SayHerName

Joyce Curnell

Last July, Joyce Curnell, a 50-year-old Black woman, died of dehydration in the Charleston County jail, in South Carolina. In her death, she joined Sandra Bland, Kindra Chapman, Ralkina Jones and Raynette Turner: five Black women who died in one month in jails across the country. In her death, she also joined Kellsie Green, whose family called the police to arrest her because she needed help and there was no other help locally available. Joyce Curnell is the latest headstone to be placed alongside the highway of women missing and murdered by the State.

On July 21, Joyce Curnell went into hospital with severe stomach pains. She was diagnosed with gastroenteritis. When she was discharged, the local police picked her up on an outstanding warrant. Joyce Curnell’s son, Javon Curnell, had call the police and told them of his mother’s location and outstanding warrant. Joyce Curnell was struggling with alcoholism, and her children thought that the jail would provide her with the help she couldn’t anywhere else: “She’s my mom, but I’m trying to help her. She won’t listen, she drinks a lot. She needs some time to detox herself.” Javon Curnell saw only two choices for his mother: jail or the graveyard.

At the hospital, Joyce Curnell was hydrated, given medications and told to seek medical help if she had any more pain or vomiting. No one at the Charleston County jail did anything to address her pain. Joyce Curnell spent the night wracked with pain and vomiting. Guards brought her a trash bag to vomit into. No one moved her to any medical facility. Joyce Curnell grew too weak to go to the bathroom. In the morning she was too weak to eat and continued vomiting. No one gave her any water or helped in any other way. Medical staff “checked” her around 3 pm, and did nothing. By 5 pm, Joyce Curnell was dead. There was no failure here, but rather deliberate and lethal refusal.

The family is suing the Carolina Center for Occupational Health, which provide “health care” at the jail. As the family’s attorney explained, “This is not a situation in which Joyce needed access to cutting edge medical care to save her life. She needed fluids and the attention of a doctor. Not only has nobody been prosecuted in connection with Joyce’s death, it does not appear that any employee has even been reprimanded … You don’t need a medical license to administer Gatorade. At some point, she would have needed more than simple hydration, but early on, it probably would have worked.”

Who killed Joyce Curnell? Everyone. As has happened so often before in similar circumstances, the autopsy concluded that Joyce Curnell’s death was “natural.” What nature is that? The fault here is not in the stars but in ourselves, in our collusion with murders that, taken together, comprise a massacre. Where is the sustained outrage? The Curnell family sued the health contractors on Wednesday, and by today, the following Monday, the world has moved on, and Joyce Curnell, who died in agony, begging for help, for a drop of water, is dead.

 

(Photo Credit: The Post and Courier)

Kinew James? Maureen Mandijarra? Just more Aboriginal women’s deaths in custody

Kinew James

Kinew James and Maureen Mandijarra were two Aboriginal women who went into custody and never came out. They are part of the Commonwealth of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women. Canada killed Kinew James; Australia killed Maureen Mandijarra. And the abuse of these two women doesn’t end with their death. Kinew James died in January 2013, and her inquest is finally going to take place in April 2016. Maureen Mandijarra died in custody in 2012, and her inquest is only now taking place. The State honors Aboriginal women with brutality.

Kinew James was a “troubled” young woman. She entered prison at 18, sentenced to six years. That doubled to twelve, thanks to “misbehavior” and to her deteriorating mental health. Subsequent years were a blur of self harm and attempted suicide; frequent relocation as one institution after another failed to help her; and long and frequent periods of solitary confinement.

But she was improving. Kinew James succeeded in graduating from high school while in prison, and, at the age of 35, was looking forward to getting out and moving on. On Saturday, January 19, 2013, Kinew James talked with her mother, and all seemed well. By evening, she was complaining of pains. That night, moaning and crying, she pressed the distress button … five times. The guards ignored her pleas, and are reported to have turned off or muted her alarm. After an hour, a nurse finally went in, and found Kinew James unresponsive. The nurse then waited 12 to 15 minutes to declare a medical emergency.

James died in the hospital, but she was killed long before the ambulance took her away.

Maureen Mandijarra was arrested for public drinking on the evening of November 29, 2012. She died in police custody the next day. Mandijarra was 44 years old. The police brought her in and dumped her on the floor in a police cell. She lay there perfectly still for at least six hours. She never moved, and no one, other than a cellmate, noticed, because no one ever checked. Over three years later, the inquest is now taking place. It’s taken so long because provincial and local police dragged their feet for years, and never provided any reports until recently.

Kinew James’ and Maureen Mandijarra’s stories are not the same story. What is the same narrative is that of State abuse of Aboriginal women. Like the United States, Canada and Australia have invested heavily in the devaluation of Aboriginal women’s bodies and lives. The rising rates of incarceration married to the plummeting budgets for assistance say as much. So do the women’s corpses, decade after decade, year after year. For Aboriginal women, the histories and lived experiences of colonial occupation and violence not only continue to this day. They are intensifying. Since the 1990s, the number of Aboriginal deaths in custody in Australia has skyrocketed, through one Royal Commission on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody after another.

State practices and policies generally criminalize mental illness, alcohol abuse, and poverty; and add additional punishments if the subjects at hand are women. For Aboriginal women who live with mental illness, alcohol or drug dependency, poverty, the sentence is death.

(Photo Credit: CBC News