Marcelina Gaingos, Victoria Ugalde, and Destiny Hoffman refuse to be forgotten in jails and holding cells

Marcelina Gaingos

On Friday, December 8, 2017, in Windhoek, Namibia, Marcelina Gaingos was picked up for violating a restriction order. Police deposited her in a cell at the police station and left. Marcelina Gaingos stayed in that cell for three days, without food or water and without a bed. Marcelina Gaingos is 34 years old, and was pregnant at the time of her arrest. Marcelina Gaingos was released after three days, largely, perhaps only, because her family raised a ruckus. Traumatized, weak, starving, she was taken to hospital. Then she was immediately taken into custody, and released again, two days later, without any charges being filed. Two weeks later, she went to the doctor for a check-up. The doctor informed her that the fetus had died. According to Marcelina Gaingos, ““The doctors say it was due to the cold and dehydration.” What happened to Marcelina Gaingos? The police “forgot”?

In January 2017, Denver, Colorado, police arrested Victoria Ugalde for an unpaid parking ticket. The police took Victoria Ugalde to a holding cell, handcuffed her to a bench, and left, for 13 hours. Although there was a toilet in the cell, because she was chained to the bench, Victoria Ugalde couldn’t use it. Victoria Ugalde recalls, “They forgot about me. I was looking in the camera, I was [saying] ‘Can anybody help me?’ And then, nobody … I was crying. I cried a lot. Because I had to use the bathroom right there. I started praying and talked to God and he told me, ‘I’m here … don’t worry, I’m with you.'” A month later, another unnamed woman suffered the same experience in the same holding cells. They “forgot”.

In 2014, Destiny Hoffman, 34 at the time, was sentenced to 48 hours in the Clark County, Indiana, jail, for having violated a drug court program. Destiny Hoffman spent 154 days behind bars. Why? The judge “forgot”. The judge also “forgot” to hold a hearing or provide Destiny Hoffman with legal counsel. The only reason Destiny Hoffman was released, after 154, was that a Clark County Deputy Prosecutor looked at her file and realized that everything was wrong. Now Destiny Hoffman is part of a civil rights law suit against Clark County. She’s one of 40 plaintiffs. Ashleigh Hendricks-Santiago was sentenced to 72 days in jail, and spent more than five months behind bars. The judge “forgot”.

The police forgot. The judge forgot. The State forgot. This forgetting is public policy, and it happens to women in jails and police stations around the world. When the State “forgets” that your living, breathing, human body is in its custody, that’s abandonment. Across the globe, police station holding cells and jails – the real wilderness of criminal justice – constitute a global archipelago of zones of abandonment, which appear temporary but are not. Ask the women who were abandoned for hours and days in holding cells; ask the women who were abandoned for months in jails. They’ll tell you. The experience of State abandonment is meant to leave permanent scars in individuals, families and whole communities. It’s a State policy that identifies individuals and communities as already dead and forgotten. Victoria Ugalde is suing the Denver police. Destiny Hoffman, Ashleigh Hendricks-Santiago and 38 others are suing Clark County. Marcelina Gaingos is considering action. These women refuse to forget and refuse to be forgotten. Never forget.

Victoria Ugalde

Democracy beyond asylum

On July 14, during the second day of hearings for Judge Sonia Sotamayor, Senator Charles Schumer noted, smiling: “in the nearly 850 cases you have decided in the 2nd Circuit, you ruled in favor of the government — that is, against the petitioners seeking asylum, the immigrants seeking asylum — 83 percent of the time. That happens to be the exact statistical median rate for your court. It’s not one way or the other.” These numbers are meant to assure us that, when it comes to foreigners and asylum seekers, the Judge is ok. She has a balanced record.

Asylum is a legal court procedure with rules and codes and whatever else. But it’s also about sanctuary, an inviolable place of refuge, of safety from seizure. The people who seek that asylum, the asylum of refuge, are not all immigrants, nor are they all `foreigners’. Where in this country can the seekers go to find asylum?

Not Santa Monica. The American Civil Liberties Union sued the city of Santa Monica this week for violating homeless peoples’ rights by harassing and arresting them, all while the city cuts back on beds for the homeless. They call it “a deportation program for the homeless”. It sounds like the poorhouses of England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when the State fenced off the common land and forced peasants to move to find work, and then passed anti-vagabond laws, which criminalized unregulated popular movement. And so a cheap, reserve labor force came into being. What profit does Santa Monica wrest from the bodies of the twenty first century imprisoned poors?

Nadine Chlubna is a 56 year old schizophrenic paranoid woman who fears spaceships and the Santa Monica police force. Only the police have actually ever done her any harm, having arrested her three times and mocked her delusional fears of interplanetary aliens. Where is asylum for Nadine Chlubna? Not in Santa Monica.

Santa Monica was the mother of Saint Augustine of Hippo. You can read all about her in The Confessions. It’s good stuff. And you know where Monica and her son Augustine were born and lived much of their lives? North Africa. They were Berbers from what is today called Algeria. Augustine moved to Italy, and, after her husband died, Monica followed. As immigrants, they found asylum. Would the same happen in Santa Monica or in Italy? I doubt it.

The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless just released a report, Homes Not Handcuffs, which lists the ten meanest cities in the United States, those that most viciously and thoroughly criminalize the homeless and militarize the streets and all public spaces. Number one? Los Angeles, just down the road from Santa Monica: “A study by UCLA released in September 2007 found that Los Angeles was spending $6 million a year to pay for fifty extra police officers to crack down on crime in the Skid Row area at a time when the city budgeted only $5.7 million for homeless services.” Six million for 50 cops, 5.7 for all the homeless. It’s a delicate balance. You know what the crimes were? Jaywalking. Loitering. Serious stuff.

Here’s what six million dollars buys: “Police brutality against homeless people intensified during the crackdown on crime in Skid Row.  In June 2007, the Los Angeles County Community Action Network reported one example: two L.A. Police officers attacked a petite homeless woman, who may have been mentally disabled, with clubs and pepper spray.  Police reportedly beat her and tied her down.” Six million dollars doesn’t buy asylum, doesn’t buy security. It buys beat-downs, tie-downs, lock downs, and fear. At six million, it’s a bargain.

In Bradenton, Florida, the ninth meanest city in the U.S., a police officer arrested a homeless woman, and tried to help her maintain her possessions. Everything she owned was in a shopping cart. The officer, Nicholas Evans, pulled the cart alongside his car for the 12-mile drive to the county jail. Imagine that. He was punished. Imagine that. I hope he learned his lesson.

In Denver, “two women were confronted by police at the 16th Street Mall when trying to help out homeless individuals.  One of the women gave a homeless man a hamburger and a dollar in front of two undercover police officers.  One of the police officers proceeded to chase her down and forced her back to where she gave the homeless man the burger.  One undercover officer said that he could arrest her for giving money and food to a panhandler after dark.  When she questioned that such a law exists and asked to see his badge, the police refused to do so and told her to leave.” Another woman bought a fleece blanket for a man in wheelchair, outside the same mall. Denver winters, high in the Rocky Mountains, are cold, in more ways than one: “when she tried to give the man the blanket, an officer told her to stop and asked her for identification.  While the police confronted her, the man in the wheelchair left.  She was subsequently arrested for interfering with law enforcement.”

From sea to shining sea, undercover and uniformed police are harassing the homeless and anyone who tries to offer assistance. Where is asylum in this world? What is the word for the system in which women and men who need help and women and men who want to help are made to feel the full heat and weight of the security State? In the United States, it’s called democracy, democracy beyond asylum.

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