New Jersey built a special hell for women, Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women

Nafeesah Goldsmith, lead organizer for NJ Prison Justice Watch, hugs Tiera Piercy-Hollis of Camden at a protest outside Edna Mahan Correctional Facility

An ombudsman is an official appointed to investigate complaints against “maladministration” by a central government. By investigating, an ombudsman protects against governmental abuse of power. It’s that simple … unless you’re in New Jersey. On Thursday, April 8, 2021, New Jersey Department of Corrections Ombudsman Dan DiBenedetti testified before New Jersey state legislature’s judiciary and women and children’s committees. On Friday, April 9, 2021, DeBenedetti announced his resignation, effective August 1, 2021. Dan DiBenedetti has been Ombudsman since 2009. In that time, he has not suggested a single policy recommendation concerning Edna Mahan Correctional Facility, the `open secret’ open sore of New Jersey. No one from the Ombudsman’s staff has visited Edna Mahan in over a year. According to current and former residents of Edna Mahan, there’s no point in contacting the office of the Ombudsman, because they no one from that office ever does anything. Again, Dan DiBenedetti has been Ombudsman since 2009. Why did it take the state legislature over a decade to recognize that something was wrong, that women were being abused not only by the prison staff but by the entire State apparatus?

Here are just a few headlines from the past 12 months: “Sexual abuse of inmates at N.J. women’s prison is an ‘open secret,’ federal inquiry finds” (April 14, 2020); “31 Guards Suspended at a Women’s Prison Plagued by Sexual Violence” (January 28, 2021); “NJ corrections dep’t settles for over $20 million with victims of Edna Mahan abuses dating back to 2014” (April 7, 2021). The State settled with survivors of Edna Mahan, but the issue is far from settled. The abuses didn’t start in 2014. Staff sexual abuse of women at Edna Mahan go back at least as far as 1994, when Kevin Brodie was `caught’, fired and prosecuted. Not a year has gone by since without a similar incident. As last year’s Federal inquiry noted, “Current and former prisoners at Edna Mahan described sexual abuse of prisoners by correction officers as an `open secret.’ There is no indication that NJDOC officers took reasonable responses to prevent correction officers and staff from continuing to sexually abuse prisoners at Edna Mahan.” That report was filed April, 2020. Since then, no one inspected Edna Mahan and no one outside the usual suspects asked why there was no inspection. 

On the books, New Jersey’s Department of Corrections Ombudsman actually has quite a bit of power to investigate and prosecute. The Office can force people to testify under oath. But if you have, as New Jersey does, an Ombudsman who came up through the ranks of the Department of Corrections, who views his investigatory powers as a betrayal of his brothers in blue, and if the State legislature is willing to look the other way until it’s forced to look again, then the books don’t much matter. 

Now legislators demand a `clean sweep’: “`Everyone has to go,’ Assemblywomen Aura Dunn, R- Morris, Nancy Muñoz, R- Union, and Assemblymen Christopher DePhillips and Bob Auth, both R- Bergen, said in a joint statement Thursday night. What has to go is Edna Mahan Correctional Facility, and not to be replaced with a `better prison’. The Unites States is a gulag archipelago of women’s prisons, each designed as a special hell, including Julia Tutwiler in Alabama, Lowell Correctional in Florida, the California Institution for WomenHuron Valley in Michigan, Muncy in Pennsylvania, and Edna Mahan in New Jersey. Every one of them is an “open secret”, and every one of them must be shut down, once and for all. Otherwise, at some point, the State legislature will meet, in committee, and discover that the Ombudsman, whose only job is to investigate, has nothing to say about the atrocities we commit by looking the other way.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Picture credit: Keith A. Muccilli / NJ Advance Media)

In Turkey, women refuse to go back: ‘It is women who will win this war’

Around the world, the past year has seen astronomical increases in the incidence of domestic violence. According to United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, “Since the outbreak of Covid-19, emerging data and reports have shown that all types of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, has intensified in what we have called the Shadow Pandemic.” While the explosion of violence against women and girls may be a shadow, around the world – from the Americas to Asia and Africa to Europe and beyond – women are refusing to be rendered shadows or specters, are organizing, militating, demonstrating and protesting, and demanding a just and better world. Women are the story. Remember that.

In Turkey, women have always organized against violence against women and girls, femicide, and silence. When women discovered that the Turkish government didn’t think the murder of women important enough to record, they set up their own platform, We Will Stop Femicide. Last summer, when yet another woman was brutally tortured to death, in this instance by her ex-boyfriend, women organized, insisting on justice for Pınar Gültekin, which justice would include contextualizing her death among the large number of women attacked, murdered, intimidated, harassed: “We are here Pınar, we will hold them accountable”. They used every means available, including famously Instagram, asking, “What is happening to women in Turkey? (and what is the Istanbul Convention?)”.

The Istanbul Convention is the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Last July, in the midst of rising and intensifying violence against women and girls, in Turkey as elsewhere, Turkey’s President Erdogan began making noises that he wanted to leave the Istanbul Convention, because leaving the one structure that actually addresses violence against women and girls seemed the most reasonable State response, given the Shadow Pandemic. 

Friday night, at midnight, the Turkish government issued a decree claiming to withdraw its membership in the Istanbul Convention. While the announcement was “a surprise”, it wasn’t surprising. Recall that last year, in May, Hungary’s Parliament refused to sign the Istanbul Convention, and then, in July, Poland threatened to pull out. While the move was “a surprise”, it wasn’t creative or original or clever. If anything, it was both predictable and trite. Poland passes more and more draconian laws outlawing and criminalizing abortion and reproductive rights more generally, Hungary goes after its LGBTIQ+ communities and individuals, and Turkey promotes violence against women. The pogrom is alive and well in Europe.

While the media largely focuses on the so-called Big Men, the real story here is that of the women of Turkey, mobilizing, organizing, militating as ever. The moment the decree appeared,  at midnight, women organized. Individual women and women’s organizations responded immediately. Feminist attorney Hülya Gülbahar was among many who noted, “It is not possible to withdraw from an international convention with a Presidential decree. You withdraw from a convention in the same way you became a party to it. The İstanbul Convention was unanimously approved at the Parliament. We call on the Parliament to reclaim its own will, the people’s will. Parliament to duty, to lay claim to İstanbul Convention”. Canan Güllü, the chair of the Federation of Women’s Associations of Turkey, added, “This is a consequence of the one-man regime. They put women on the table of politics. This means “Rape women, beat women, abuse children.” The next day, in demonstrations across the country, women chanted, “İstanbul Convention saves lives” and “We don’t recognize the one man’s decision”. Others chanted, “We are not scared, we are not afraid. We shall not obey.” One placard said it all, “It is women who will win this war.”

1956, South Africa, in response to State violence, the women chanted, ”Wathint’ abafazi, Strijdom! wathint’ abafazi,wathint’ imbokodo,uza kufa!” “Now you have touched the women you have struck a rock: you have dislodged a boulder: you will be crushed.” 2019, Chile, in response to State violence, the women pointed to the Supreme Court and chanted, “El violador eres tú!” “The rapist is you!” 2021, Turkey, in response to State violence, the women say, “It is women who will win this war!” Women are the center of this center.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Bianet / Evrim Kepenek & Ayşegül Özbek)

Landmark case: In South Africa, five sisters said NO! to the exclusion of women … and won!

Constitutional Court

This is the story of Trudene Forword, Annelie Jordaan, Elna Slabber, Kalene Roux and Surina Serfontein, five women who refused to be denied their birthright, and In so doing affirmed, once again, that justice means justice for everyone. The story begins in 1902, in Oudtshoorn, in the Klein Karoo, in the Western Cape. Oudtshoorn is known for ostrich farms. Maybe now it will also be known as yet another cradle of democracy and justice for all. On November 28, 1902, Karel Johannes Cornelius de Jager and his wife, Catherine Dorothea de Jager formally signed their will, leaving some of their farms to their children, with one stipulation. The farms would pass from their children only to male generations until the third generation. But what if, at some point, the only direct descendants are women? Last month, South Africa’s Constitutional Court ruled on that question. 

In 1957, brothers Kalvyn, Cornelius and John de Jager inherited the property. John de Jager never had sons, and so when he died, his property was split between his two remaining brothers, Kalvyn and Cornelius. When Cornelius died, his sons – Albertus, Frederick, and Arnoldus – inherited his half share in the farms. In 2015, Kalvyn de Jager died. He had no sons, and he had five daughters: Trudene Forword, Annelie Jordaan, Elna Slabber, Kalene Roux and Surina Serfontein. Their male cousins claimed the property, noting that while the situation may smack of “unfair discrimination”, the law was the law, and a will was a will. The sisters didn’t buy that argument and went to court. Both the High Court and the Supreme Court of Appeals decided in favor of the male cousins. The sisters persisted and went to the Constitutional Court, the court of last resort, in this instance. Last month, the Constitutional Court decided in the sisters’ favor.

Acting Justice Margaret Victor explained, “The provisions of the preamble to the Equality Act make its nature and intended purpose clear. The consolidation of democracy requires the eradication of inequalities, especially those that are systemic in nature and which were generated in South Africa’s history by colonialism, apartheid and patriarchy. Inheritance laws sustain and legitimise the unequal distribution of wealth in societies thus enabling a handful of powerful families to remain economically privileged while the rest remain systematically deprived. In my view, this system entrenches inherited wealth along the male line. In applying this critique to the facts in this case our common law principle of freedom of testation is continuing to entrench a skewed gender bias in favour of men.”

The consolidation of democracy requires the eradication of inequalities, especially those that are systemic in nature and which were generated in history by colonialism, apartheid and patriarchy. What else is there to say?

By Dan Moshenberg

(Photo Credit: GroundUp / Ashraf Hendricks)

A woman was forced to give birth alone in a cell: Kelsey Love

It seems archaic that in this century, policies allowing pregnant women to deliver their children on concrete floors, completely alone, and without the supervision of medical staff still exist in the world, let alone in the United States

How many women in how many jails, in this country in this century, are delivering their children, completely alone, and not only without but deprived of the supervision of medical staff? Too many, and too many go uncounted, unreported. As we noted two years ago, when discussing the stories of Diana Sanchez, Tianna Laboy, Kenzi Dunn, all forced to give birth alone in their respective jail cells, “These are only the names we know. There is no national data base concerning prison or jail births … because, really, who cares?” Add Kelsey Love to the list of women who have been forced to undergo these `archaic’ conditions, this torture.

Kelsey Love is now 32 years old. On May 14, 2017, on Mother’s Day, Kelsey Love was eight months pregnant. She was driving her grandmother’s car when she was stopped by police officers in Frankfort, Kentucky. Initially, she was stopped because police thought she was driving erratically. Her grandmother had reported the car stolen. Love told police officers that, not too long before her being stopped, she had used methamphetamine and opioids. She also informed the officers she was eight months pregnant. Then she was booked into the Franklin County Regional Jail, where she was supposed to be monitored every ten minutes. That did not happen.

According to Kelsey Love’s report, on May 16, Kelsey Love began feeling intense pain. She screamed for help. Staff thought she was detoxing, and so left her alone, screaming, in pain. Finally, a female staff member came in. By that time, Love was on the floor, crying, and screaming for help. She asked to see a doctor. She said something was wrong, that the baby was coming out. The staff member asked if she was having contractions, and Kelsey Love said she was. The staff member called the jail call nurse, who said she would check in later and the staff should keep close watch. That did not happen.

Three hours later, the nurse arrived. When she and a staff member walked into the cell, the floor was covered in blood. Kelsey Love had given birth to a baby boy, chewed off the umbilical cord, ripped the mattress and crawled into the bed with her newborn child. That is what happened.

Kelsey Love sued the jail and some members of the staff. This week, she was awarded $200,000 in an out of court settlement. Kelsey Love has successfully completed drug rehabilitation treatment, has been clean and sober for two years, and is now working to regain custody of her children. The boy born on the floor of that jail cell will turn four in three months.

According to Kelsey Love’s attorney, “She’s doing great.” According to the same attorney, she “still has night terrors as a result of her ordeal.” What happened to Kelsey Love? She was abandoned, as so many women have been, left to give birth alone on the concrete floor of a jail cell in Kentucky, just like Tianna Laboy in Connecticut, Kenzi Dunn and before her Tamm Jackson in Florida, Diana Sanchez in Colorado, Jessica Preston in Michigan. Nicole Guerrero and  Autumn Miller in Texas. These are only the names we know. There is no national data base concerning prison or jail births … because, really, who cares? It’s not archaic. It’s torture, cruel and unfortunately altogether usual punishment.

by Dan Moshenberg

(Infographic: Prison Policy Initiative)

For women in England and Wales, `safety in custody’ means self-harm

Quarterly 12-month rolling rate of self-harm incidents per 1,000 prisoners by gender of establishment, 12 months ending September 2010 to 12 months ending September 2020

On Thursday, January 28, the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Justice issued its Safety in Custody Statistics, England and Wales: Deaths in Prison Custody to December 2020 Assaults and Self-harm to September 2020. The report is generally grim, and especially so for women. Generally, “In the 12 months to December 2020, there were 318 deaths in prison custody, an increase of 8% from 300 deaths the previous 12 months.” The real story, however, is that of women’s self-harm over the past twelve months: “Self-harm incidents have increased in the female estate and decreased in the male estate from the previous 12-month period: There were 58,870 self-harm incidents in the 12 months to September 2020, down 5% from the previous 12 months, comprising a 7% decrease in male establishments and a 8% increase in female establishments. In the most recent quarter there were 14,167 self-harm incidents, up 9% on the previous quarter, comprising a 5% increase in male establishments and a 24% increase in female establishments.”

What’s going on here? On one hand, the expanded and increased isolation, due to the pandemic, has intensified despair. As Dr. Kate Paradine, CEO of Women in Prison, explained, “Many women haven’t seen their families in person for over a year, and are confined to their cells for up to 23 hours a day. It doesn’t have to be like this – the Government can honor its promise and resume its early release scheme allowing women to safely isolate in the community.”

But Covid-19 is only part of the story. Here’s the report from the same Ministry of Justice a year earlier, Safety in Custody Statistics, England and Wales: Deaths in Prison Custody to March 2020 Assaults and Self-harm to December 2019: “Self-harm incidents reached a record high of 63,328 incidents in the 12 months to December 2019, up 14% from the previous 12 months … Self-harm trends differ considerably by gender.” Where male prisoners suffered 650 incidents of self-harm per 1000 prisoners, female prisoners suffered 3,130 self-harm `events’ per 1000 women prisoners, and that was an increase of 16% from the previous twelve months.

The Safety in Custody report for the year before, to December 2018: “Self-harm incidents reached a record high of 55,598 incidents in 2018, a 25% increase from 2017.” The rate of self-harm among women prisoners that year was 2,675 per 1000, “an increase of 24% in the number of incidents from the previous year.”

The Safety in Custody report for the year before that, to December 2017: “In the 12 months to December 2017, there were 44,651 incidents of self-harm, up 11% from the previous year. The number of self- harming individuals increased by 6% to a new record high of 11,630.” The rate of self-harm among women prisoners that year was 2,093 per 1,000, “an increase of 8% in the number of incidents from the previous year.”

Want to know what this year’s report said? “Self-harm trends differ considerably by gender. The number of incidents in male establishments decreased by 7% … to September 2019 to 46,427 in the 12 months to September 2020. The number of incidents in the female estate increased 8% … to 12,443. On a quarterly basis, the number of incidents in the three months to September 2020 increased by 5% in male establishments compared with the previous three months and increased by 24% in female establishments. The rate of incidents … was 595 incidents per 1,000 prisoners in the male estate …. The rate of incidents in female establishments was far higher, and increased by 18%, from 3,016 in the previous 12 months to 3,557 in the latest 12 months.”

What is the point of calling these “safety in custody” when every single year, the rates of self-harm for women rise and the State trots out the same phrase, “Self-harm trends differ considerably by gender.” Perhaps the point is that, for women, safety in custody, like protection, means self-harm, means there will be a performance of collecting data but really no one in charge gives a damn, or worse, cares only to inflict harm, means there is no justice as long as prisons are held sacred by the State. How is the State responding to its own report of women’s self-harm `in custody’? On Saturday, January 23, it announced a plan to build 500 prison places, for the sake of women’s safety

by Dan Moshenberg

(Infographic: UK Ministry of Justice)

In 2016, in Canada, a “vulnerable” Black six-year-old girl was handcuffed and shackled by police

The Peel Region is in southern Ontario, Canada. In September 2016, officers responded to a 911 called at a Peel primary school. The `emergency’ was a six-year-old Black girl whose behavior `caused alarm.’ This was the fourth time the police had responded to an emergency call concerning this girl’s behavior. At the time, the girl weighed 48 pounds. Police took the girl, handcuffed and shackled her and, having shackled her wrists and ankles, lay her on her stomach, in full view of everyone, for a little under a half hour. This week it was reported that the Human Rights Tribunal had decided that race, and more specifically anti-Black racism, was a factor, that the girl, known as J.K.B., “suffered implicit harm in experiencing anti-Black racism at a very tender age”. The Tribunal awarded J.K.B. $35,000, $30,000 in damages, $5,000 in counseling costs. The Peel police said there is room for improvement. J.K.B.’s mother, known as J.B., said, “I can now focus on what lies ahead, which is making my daughter whole.” Who else will focus on making Black daughters, in Canada, in the United States, whole?

 Activists and allies wish the damages had been more, wish the police anti-racist training were better, wish the actions were more sustained and definitive, and with good reason. At the same time, why do schools call police to address student behavior, and especially in primary school? Where are the counselors? Where are the alternative public services? How many times must we `discover’ that the police are not trained to address emotional and psychological situations, much less crises? A girl is having a bad day, a terrible day. Why would adults call in people with guns and handcuffs to address that girl? And if that girl is Black, in an area where Black people constitute less than 10 percent of the population, how would adults, adult educators, not understand that calling the police on J.K.B. was far beyond the last thing they should have done. That phone call should never have occurred. The possibility of that phone call should never have been imaginable.

J.K.B’s story was reported January 7. The next day, January 8, it was reported that the police, in Aurora, Colorado, who drew their guns on a Black family they `thought’ was driving a stolen car, the two White officers who drew their guns on the family, who took the four children and handcuffed them and laid them on the ground, would not face prosecution. I can now focus on what lies ahead, which is making my daughter whole. Who else will focus on making Black daughters whole?

By Dan Moshenberg

(Photo credit: Toronto Star)

All that is human drowned in the sea: The Mediterranean now extends to the Canary Islands

“How do we overcome war and poverty only to drown in your sea?”
                                                                                    Jehan Bseiso

For the last few years, Europe (including the United Kingdom), the United States, and Australia – the imperial ‘we’ – turned bodies of water, such as the Mediterranean, into massive graveyards. This year, dissatisfied with having poisoned the Mediterranean, Europe extended the Mediterranean into the Atlantic Ocean, to the Canary Islands. According to Helena Maleno and her organization, Caminando Fronteras, this year 2170 people died, drowned, trying to reach Spain. The overwhelming majority of those who drowned died on their way to the Canary Islands. 1851 people died in 45 shipwrecks. In 2019, 893 people died trying to reach Spain. A 200% increase in African deaths is considered a success in Fortress Europe, having `secured’ the Mediterranean by increasing military patrols and forcefully decreasing rescue ships. As of two days ago, 1,156 deaths were recorded this year in the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean Sea the deadliest migration route and, extending now to the Canary Islands, the largest cemetery ever built. 

None of this is new or unexpected. 

December 30, 2016: “This year, all that is human drowned in the sea, all that is holy has been profaned, and we are at last compelled to face with sober senses our real conditions of life, and our relations with our kind. In 2016, at least 5000 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean. Last Friday, two boats capsized, and `about 100 people are missing and feared dead.’ Who fears them dead? No State and no amalgam of nation-States fears them dead. Rather, in this the deadliest year ever for migrants trying to reach Europe, the year’s epitaph is simple: `2016: The year the world stopped caring about refugees’. We are the world, and we turned the sea into a graveyard. This year, the women, child, man of the year lies on the bottom of the Mediterranean, and we do not know their names, and we do not much care. If we did, they would be alive today. So here is a poem for the unknown refugees who lie in the cemetery that we have made of the Mediterranean.”

December 31, 2017: “The year ends with the surface of the Mediterranean concealing thousands of humans lost, sinking into the sea bottom as it reveals the sinking of our own collective humanity. Last year, over 5000 women, children and men drowned in the Mediterranean. The year before close to 4000, and the year before that, a little over 3000. This year, the reported death toll hovers just over 3000. That “success” is largely due to draconian measures that have sent refugees back to slave markets and brutal prisons in Libya and life-in-death in Morocco. Spain has replaced Italy as the preferred port of entry for those seeking a life, be they called migrants, refugees, or asylum seekers. Such is today’s morbid mathematics that over 3000 innocents drowned in one body of water in one year is touted as `success’.”

December 31. 2019: “Once again, the year ends with the surface of the Mediterranean concealing thousands of humans lost. According to the International Organization of Migration, 1246 people – women, children, men – drowned in the Mediterranean while trying flee certain death. In certain circles, this number, 1246, is being celebrated as a mark of success. The numbers of dead have declined. Fortress Europe, like Fortress Australia and Fortress USA, is working. This is the mathematics of success in our contemporary world. 2019: 1246 dead: “the fifth straight year of at least 1,000 deaths on the Mediterranean”. 2018: 2299 dead. 2017: 3139 dead. 2016: 5143 dead. 2015: 4054 dead. 2014: 3283 dead.  From 2014 to today, 19,164 souls – women, children, men – thrown into the deep waters of unmourning. No language, no marking of names, no taking of place. No singing. Only the silence of `success’.

December 31, 2020. A country’s President asks his constituents, his brothers and sisters, to light a candle tonight, to remember and honor those whom we have lost, whom we remember and cherish. There are no candles able to offer light at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea, there is no light on the Atlantic Ocean’s floor. 

Here is a poem, a prayer, for the failure and collapse of the fortresses that turn oceans and seas into graveyards, for the human that is not yet drowned … 

No Search No Rescue
By Jehan Bseiso

To the families and lovers at the bottom of the sea, trying to reach Europe.

I.
How do we overcome war and poverty only to drown in your sea?

II.
Misrata, Libya
Habeebi just take the boat.
In front of you : Bahr.
Behind you : Harb.
And the border, closed.
Your Sea, Mare,Bahr. Our war, our Harb.

III.
Augusta, Italy
Where is the interpreter?
This is my family.
Baba, mama, baby all washed up on the shore. This is 28 shoeless survivors and thousands of bodies.
Bodies Syrian, Bodies Somali, Bodies Afghan, Bodies Ethiopian, Bodies Eritrean.
Bodies Palestinian.
Your Sea, Mare,Bahr. Our war, our Harb.

IV.
Alexandria, Egypt
Habeebi, just take the boat.
Behind you Aleppo and Asmara, barrel bombs and Kalashnikovs.
In front of you a little bit of hope.
Your Sea, Mare,Bahr. Our war, our Harb.

V.
Maps on our backs.
Long way from home.

by Dan Moshenberg

(“No Search, No Rescue”, by Jehan Bseiso appeared here) (Photo Credit: Electronic Intifada /Oren Ziv/Active Stills)”

Neither eviction wave nor tsunami, what’s coming is ethnic cleansing, a pogrom

For the past few months, the United States, at all levels, has and has not faced the reality of impending mass evictions. The Center for Disease Control, or CDC, issued an eviction moratorium, which runs out December 31. Numerous states, counties, and cities have issued their own eviction moratoria. In almost each case, the moratorium was riddled with loopholes and way too short-term. None of the moratoria cancelled debt or rent, although some cancelled late fees. Thus, once the moratorium expires, families and individuals will be faced with months of piling debt. Along with debt, hunger has intensified and expanded. Many are forced to decide between food and shelter. Meanwhile, with the pandemic surging, with lockdowns proliferating across the country, evictions are not only ongoing but, in some parts of the country, spiking, despite the pretense of a moratorium. Why? What is the investment in evictions? When staying at home means staying alive, what `inspires’ landlords and police or sheriffs to throw fellow human beings into the cold? What is our investment in evictions that we let them go on? Eviction haunts the United States. Why do we take eviction for granted?

For the past few months, housing activists and advocates as well as the media have warned that mass evictions are on the way, to no avail. Every day brings another spate of heartbreaking stories of people who did what they were supposed to do and are facing eviction or have been evicted. These stories are generally under headlines that invoke eviction waves or, more emphatically, eviction tsunamis. Again, to little or no avail. “It’s terrible and no one cares.”

The impending mass eviction is not a wave, nor is it a tsunami. It’s ethnic cleansing, it’s a pogrom. Various reports have demonstrated that mass evictions will do exactly what evictions have done for decades, target Black and Latinx households, communities, and neighborhoods. The central focus of this assault is, and historically has been, Black women. A recent study of racial and gender disparities among evicted people in the United States found “Black renters received a disproportionate share of eviction filings and experienced the highest rates of eviction filing and eviction judgment. Black and Latinx female renters faced higher eviction rates than their male counterparts. Black and Latinx renters were also more likely to be serially filed against for eviction at the same address.”. This was based on evictions between 2012 and 2016. As eviction scholar Matthew Desmond noted, in a research article published in 2012, “In poor black neighborhoods, eviction is to women what incarceration is to men: a typical but severely consequential occurrence contributing to the reproduction of urban poverty.”

And this year, during the pandemic? “During the pandemic, the rate of evictions in majority Black and Latino neighborhoods has been twice that of mostly white neighborhoods, even as COVID-19 affects minorities disproportionately.” According to last week’s Government Census Household Pulse Survey, among Black and Latinx households, around 40% say they have little to no confidence they’ll be able to meet next month’s rent payment. Most are already heavily in debt to both credit cards and family members. Evictions today increase the numbers of Covid deaths, immediately, and will hobble Black and Latinx for years to come. Of the nearly 40 million people targeted for eviction, “women are both disproportionately likely to be evicted and disproportionately hit by the current economic downturn.” Here’s what disproportionality looked like in October: 15% of Asian, non-Hispanic women were behind on rent; 19% of Latinas and 25% of Black, non-Hispanic women couldn’t pay rent

A tsunami is “a brief series of long, high undulations on the surface of the sea caused by an earthquake or similar underwater disturbance. These travel at great speed and often with sufficient force to inundate the land.” A pogrom is “an organized massacre aimed at the destruction or annihilation of a body or class of people … an organized, officially tolerated, attack on any community or group.” The United States is not facing an eviction tsunami, it is creating an eviction pogrom. Eviction is not a natural force crashing on our built environment; eviction is an officially tolerated, organized attack on a community, with the ultimate purpose of extermination. Call it a pogrom. 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo credit: The New York Times / Sally Ryan)

Cruelty has a Human Heart

Cruelty has a Human Heart
by Dan Moshenberg

Sometimes the world is awash with spectacular cruelty. England races to deport asylum seekers ahead of BrexitThe President of the United States races to execute people before he leaves the White House. In this world of Big Men, Big Women making big decisions, what is the life of an eleven-year-old girl in Birmingham, England? Apparently, for the Birmingham City Council, very little, if that much. Here’s the story. It’s a small story.

An 11-year-old girl, born in the United Kingdom, lost her mother to a terminal illness. The girl’s father was denied permission to enter the United Kingdom. When the mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness, she asked the girl’s father to assume responsibility for the girl. He refused. When the mother died, family friends took her in. They acted as foster parents. They also applied to the Council for help, specifically a social worker, and financial support. The Council, deciding that the arrangement was “private”, denied the application and moved to start proceedings to have the girl deported. This week, the Ombudsman ruled in the girl’s favor, noting, “As a result of the council’s actions, [the girl] spent over two years in a placement that was legally insecure. She was not recognised as a ‘looked after’ child and therefore missed out on the additional support and protections that come with this.

“She lost contact with her only remaining relatives and was at risk of being deported due to her fragile immigration status. She lost significant sums from the trust fund provided by her mother. Despite her vulnerabilities and the significant upheaval in her life following her mother’s death, her needs remained unassessed and potentially unmet.”

The Birmingham City Council has agreed to pay the girl £1,000 for distress caused; £1,000 to the family friends, along with the support money they should have received; and money to cover the cost of the girl’s citizenship application, when that day arrives.

The story ends: “A spokesman for Birmingham Children’s Trust, which is in charge of caring for looked-after children for the council, said it accepted the ombudsman’s findings and apologised to both the complainant and the girl.” We don’t know if the complainant and the girl accepted the apology. They shouldn’t. We shouldn’t either.

In what world does it make sense to deport an 11-year-old girl child, whose mother has just died, whose father has rejected her? Ours. We must address the cruelty. The world is awash with the tears of those who suffer cruelty, spectacular cruelty, intimate cruelty. Cruelty. Cruelty has a Human Heart.  

(Image Credit: Martin Kammler)

Once again, South African domestic workers win in court, expanding domestic workers’ rights everywhere!

Sylvia Mahlangu outside Constitutional Court

Great news! Last week, South Africa’s Constitutional Court ruled that domestic workers ruled that domestic workers injured on the job in the past can claim damages, under the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act, COIDA. This ruling includes the family of Maria Mahlangu, a domestic worker who had worked for the same family for twenty years. While washing windows, Maria Mahlangu slipped, fell into the pool, and drowned. Her family received no compensation. More to the point, the family offered no compensation and the State excluded domestic workers from COIDA. Last May, the North Gauteng Court ruled that that exclusion was unconstitutional but did not rule on whether that unconstitutionality covered past injuries. Last October, the Gauteng High Court ruled that the Constitutional invalidity of the exclusion of domestic workers meant that all domestic workers are due unlimited retrospective COIDA compensation. The case of Sylvia Bongi Mahlangu and the South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union, SADSAWU, vs the Minister of Labour then went to the Constitutional Court. Last Thursday, November 19, the Constitutional Court decided that the exclusion of domestic workers from the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act, COIDA, is unconstitutional. Further, “the order is to have immediate and retrospective effect from 27 April 1994.” After 26 years of struggle, domestic worker organizers, Black women such as 77-year-old SADSAWU organizer Eunice Dhladhla “nearly broke into song inside [the Constitutional Court], breaking the law.” After the ruling, Sylvia Mahlangu said she was excited at the decision. We all should be.

Justice Margaret Victor, writing for the majority, opened her decision: “Domestic workers are the unsung heroines in this country and globally. They are a powerful group of women whose profession enables all economically active members of society to prosper and pursue their careers. Given the nature of their work, their relationships with their own children and family members are compromised, while we pursue our career goals with peace of mind, knowing that our children, our elderly family members and our households are well taken care of.

“Many domestic workers are breadwinners in their families who put children through school and food on the table through their hard work. In some cases, they are responsible for the upbringing of children in multiple families and may be the only loving figure in the lives of a number of children. Their salaries are often too low to maintain a decent living standard but by exceptional, if not inexplicable effort, they succeed. Sadly, despite these herculean efforts, domestic work as a profession is undervalued and unrecognised; even though they play a central role in our society.”

Later in her decision, Justice Victor noted, “In considering those who are most vulnerable or most in need, a court should take cognisance of those who fall at the intersection of compounded vulnerabilities due to intersecting oppression based on race, sex, gender, class and other grounds. To allow this form of state-sanctioned inequity goes against the values of our newly constituted society namely human dignity, the achievement of equality and ubuntu. To exclude this category of individuals from the social security scheme established by COIDA is manifestly unreasonable.

“For all these reasons, I find that the obligation under section 27(2) to take reasonable legislative and other measures, within available resources, includes the obligation to extend COIDA to domestic workers. The failure to do so in the face of the respondents’ admitted available resources constitutes a direct infringement of section 27(1)(c), read with section 27(2) of the Constitution.”

This case crosses beyond the borders of South Africa and beyond the African continent. Many countries across the globe, including the United States, continue to exclude domestic workers from labor laws and from labor law protections and rights. That time is coming to an end. Domestic work is decent work, and domestic workers demand formal recognition of the dignity of their labor. Tell your family, friends, colleagues and neighbors about Maria Mahlangu, Sylvia Mahlangu and last week’s decision. Tell them Sylvia Mahlangu is excited. The time to sing the song of the unsung heroines has arrived. Amandla!

Eunice Dhladhla outside Constitutional Court

(Photo Credit 1: Sowetan / Penwell Dlamini) (Photo Credit 2: New Frame / Cebelihle Mbuyisa)