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)

Eleanor Bumpurs and Breonna Taylor, together, haunt the United States. #SayHerName

Eleanor Bumpurs

This week, with evictions and even more the threat of evictions rising across the United States; with police violence spreading and intensifying, especially in communities of color; with police home invasions, as happened to Breonna Taylor, spreading with impunity; with a national election; we must discuss Eleanor Bumpurs. On November 4, 1984, Eleanor Bumpurs was laid to rest. Soon after Eleanor Bumper’s death, her daughter, Mary Bumpurs, would begin a lifetime of Black feminist social justice organizing in her mother’s name. In 1989, Spike Lee dedicated his film Do The Right Thing to six victims, six martyrs, of police brutality and racist violence: Eleanor Bumpurs, Michael Griffith, Arthur Miller, Jr., Edmund Perry, Yvonne Smallwood, and Michael Stewart. Two weeks ago, on Saturday, October 17, the families of Eleanor Bumpurs and of Breonna Taylor joined together to lead a State of Emergency Get Out The Vote Rally in New York. At that rally, Eleanor Bumpurs’ granddaughter, also named Eleanor, asked, “When does it stop? When we do become somebody that somebody thinks about?” Eleanor Bumpurs.  Breonna Taylor. #SayHerName

Eleanor Bumpurs came to national attention on October 29, 1984. Here’s how Patricia Williams told the story, in 1987: “On October 29, 1984, Eleanor Bumpurs, a 270-pound, arthritic, sixty-seven-year old woman, was shot to death while resisting eviction from her apartment in the Bronx. She was $98.85, or one month, behind in her rent.’ New York City Mayor Ed Koch and Police Commissioner Benjamin Ward described the struggle preceding her demise as involving two officers with plastic shields, one officer with a restraining hook, another officer with a shotgun, and at least one supervising officer. All of the officers also carried service revolvers. According to Commissioner Ward, during the course of the attempted eviction Mrs. Bumpurs escaped from the restraining hook twice and wielded a knife that Commissioner Ward says was “bent” on one of the plastic shields. At some point, Officer Stephen Sullivan, the officer positioned farthest away from her, aimed and fired his shotgun. It is alleged that the blast removed half of her hand, so that, according to the Bronx District Attorney’s Office, `[I]t was anatomically impossible for her to hold the knife.’ The officer pumped his gun and shot again, making his mark completely the second time around.” Sullivan was later charged with manslaughter. The court dismissed the case, finding the evidence “legally insufficient”. After the ruling, Sullivan described himself as “ecstatic”. When asked if, given the same circumstances and hindsight, would he do the same thing, Sullivan answered, “Yes, I would.” Yes, he would. So would his descendants. Ask the family and friends of Breonna Taylor.

Eleanor Bumpurs led a full life, full of laughter, sorrow, insight and more. Eleanor Bumpurs’ daughter, Mary Bumpurs, knew that and refused to let her mother be reduced to a victim of police violence. She sued the City and won, but more importantly, she went on to organize, for decades, in the name of the Disappeared of the United States: Black mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends, strangers become kin. As LeShawn Harris recently noted, “When her mother died, a community activist was born.”

In 1986, Audre Lorde wrote “For the Record: In memory of Eleanor Bumpers

“For the Record 
In memory of Eleanor Bumpers

Call out the colored girls
and the ones who call themselves Black
and the ones who hate the word nigger
and the ones who are very pale

Who will count the big fleshy women
the grandmother weighing 22 stone
with the rusty braids
and gap-toothed scowl
who wasn’t afraid of Armageddon
the first shotgun blast tore her right arm off
the one with the butcher knife
the second blew out her heart
through the back of her chest
and I am going to keep writing it down
how they carried her body out of the house
dress torn up around her waist
uncovered
past tenants and the neighborhood children
a mountain of Black Woman
and I am going to keep telling this
if it kills me
and it might in ways I am
learning

The next day Indira Gandhi
was shot down in her garden
and I wonder what these two 67-year old
colored girls
are saying to each other now
planning their return
and they weren’t even
sisters.”

When, in 2020, the family of Breonna Taylor joins with the family of Eleanor Bumpurs and declares that justice shall prevail, shall persist, through the current state of emergency, Eleanor Bumpurs and Breonna Taylor are busy planning their return … and they were sisters. Eleanor Bumpurs. #SayHerName #BreonnaTaylor #SayHerName

(Photo credit: Souls)

Eat the rich!

“Quand le peuple n’aura plus rien à manger, il mangera le riche.”
“When the people have nothing left to eat, they’ll eat the rich”
                                                                        Jean-Jacques Rousseau

In the midst of pandemic and deepening and expanding economic crisis, “the total net worth of the nation’s 644 billionaires has risen from $2.95 trillion on March 18 to $3.88 trillion on October 13.” While state and local governments face cataclysmic budget crises; while communities, families, and individuals across the country have faced job loss, loss of health care, eviction, hunger, the top 644 have been raking in money at a rate never before seen. Clearly, we are all in this together, and why worry about economic revival when `we’ are doing so well and there’s a Supreme Court vacancy to fill?

Last week, Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies released their analysis of the current situation, and it’s not a pretty picture. 8.2 million were infected with Covid-19, and 220,000 people had died (that was last week; the numbers today are far worse, a week later). “Collective work income of rank-and-file private-sector employees—all hours worked times the hourly wages of the entire bottom 82% of the workforce—declined by 3.5% from mid-March to mid-September”. Between March and September, close to 62 million lost jobs. 98,000 businesses have closed for good. As of end of August 12 million people have lost employer-sponsored health insurance. In September 22 million adults reported not having enough food the week before. Of that group, 14 million lived with children in their respective households. In September, close to 17% of renters in the United States reported being behind on rent payments. America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.

The 644 billionaires’ increase in wealth represents a 31.6% growth. Imagine if that $931 billion that went to a very small number of people, who themselves represent an even smaller number of families, instead benefited the entire population. $931 billion is more than triple the amount of Mitch McConnell’s proposed `relief’. Imagine all the people who could be served, who could be saved, with $931 billion. 

Let’s take Virginia as an example. Seven billionaires call Virginia home: Jacqueline Mars, Pamela Mars, Winifred J. Marquart, Daniel D’Aniello, William Conway, Jr., Matthew Calkins, and Steve Case. In seven months, during this pandemic, this group’s wealth grew by $6.5 billion. That’s almost a 16% increase … a `modest’ showing. To put this modest increase into perspective, the Commonwealth of Virginia faces a $1.3 billion revenue shortfall in 2021 and a $2.7 billion shortfall over the next two years. Meanwhile, and again, seven individuals in that same Commonwealth increased their wealth, in seven months, by $6.5 billion. There is more than enough money for rent relief, health care, food assistance, education, and so much more. Imagine all the people who could be served, who could be saved.

Meanwhile, sales of million-dollar homes have doubled in the United States. According to the National Association of Realtors, `we’ are in a real estate boom, right now. Here’s another sign of that boom: “From early September to Oct. 17, despite the CDC eviction ban, almost 10,000 eviction actions have been filed in 23 counties in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas.” Here’s another sign of the boom: “In September, 865,000 women dropped out of the U.S. labor force compared with 216,000 men. Black and Latina women in the U.S. have been hit the hardest. While unemployment in September fell to 7.7 percent for all women, it remained at 11.1 percent for Black women and 11 percent for Latina women.”

Boom.

(Image Credit: Zeph Farmby / The Chicago Reader)

Where is the global outrage at the systemic racism that killed Joyce Echaquan?

On Monday, September 28, Joyce Echaquan — mother of seven, partner to Carol Dube, member of the Atikamekw nation of Manwan, 37 years old – died … or, better, was tortured to death, while lying in a hospital bed in Joliette, in Quebec, Canada. Suffering severe stomach pains, Joyce Echaquan checked herself into a hospital. That was September 26. On September 28, as the pain intensified, nurses administered morphine, even though Joyce Echaquan told them she was allergic to morphine and that she had a pacemaker. As Joyce Echaquan screamed in intensifying pain, the nurses told her, “You’re as stupid as hell”; “Are you done acting stupid? Are you done?”; “You made some bad choices, my dear. What are your children going to think, seeing you like this?”; “She’s good at having sex, more than anything else”. We know this because Joyce Echaquan, in excruciating pain, dying, pulled out her phone, started filming and posting on Facebook. The video is a bit over seven minutes long. Soon after Joyce Echaquan died … or, better, succumbed to torture. Now there’s an `outcry’ in Canada at the treatment Joyce Echaquan received, which was perfectly ordinary treatment for Indigenous women. Outcries have a short life span, especially when the subject is the torture and abuse of Indigenous women.

Joyce Echaquan pulled out her phone because she knew. She knew because it had happened before, to her. She knew because she was an Atikamekw woman. She knew because. Period. She knew that her family would organize and protest, decrying systemic racism. She knew they would hold her in their hearts and souls. She knew as well that the government of Quebec and Canada would deplore the horrible act, would demand an investigation, and ultimately would do absolutely nothing. 

Joyce Echaquan told the staff that she should not be given morphine, and they refused to listen. None of this is new. It has happened before, certainly across Canada, and will happen again. Violence against Indigenous, Native, First Nation, Aboriginal women is a core part and principle of the colonization processes and practices that continue, unabated, to this day. Why, for example, it the outcry and outrage only Canadian? Where is the coverage of Joyce Echaquan’s torture in the various new media around the world? The BBC had something, as have AlJazeera and the Guardian, and that is pretty much it. Where is the outrage at the torture of an Indigenous woman who only wanted, needed, and deserved care? Who cares about Joyce Echaquan? Tomorrow, Monday, October 11, is Indigenous People’s Day. It took 48 hours and a little over four centuries to torture Joyce Echaquan to death. Other than family, friends, community, who will remember Joyce Echaquan a year from now? Joyce Echaquan lived in a world in which, on her deathbed, she had to pull out her phone and start recording the torture she was suffering. We continue to live in that world. This is us. 

(Photo Credit 1: The Star) (Photo Credit 2: The Guardian / Canadian Press)

Cindy Erazo left El Salvador’s Ilopango Women’s Prison. She should have never been there.

Cindy Erazo

“The witch-hunt, then, was a war against women; it was a concerted attempt to degrade them, dehumanize them, and destroy their social power. At the same time, it was in the torture chambers and on the stakes on which the witches perished that the bourgeois ideals of womanhood and domesticity were forged.” Silvia Federici

On Wednesday, Cindy Erazo, 29 years old, mother of a 10-year-old child, walked out of Ilopango Women’s Prison, that special hell El Salvador built for women. Cindy Erazo spent the last six years in Ilopango Women’s Prison for a crime she never committed, and even now her freedom is conditional. Given her story, every woman’s freedom in El Salvador and beyond is `conditional.’

In August 2014, Cindy Erazo suffered an obstetric emergency. She has said she was not aware at the time that she was pregnant. She was at a mall and started bleeding. She went to the restroom where she passed out. When Cindy Erazo regained consciousness, she was in a hospital bed, chained to the bed. She was immediately charged with having an illegal abortion. Cindy Erazo was promptly sentenced to 30 years in prison, in that special hell Ilopango Women’s Prison. Later, her sentence was reduced to 10 years, for aggravated assault. After six years, this week, Cindy Erazo won `conditional’ freedom. In so doing, she joins women such as Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz, released in 2019, and Maira Verónica Figueroa Marroquín and Teodora Vasquez, both released in 2018. Since her release, Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz has been informed that the State seeks to charge her yet again. Freedom for women, and not only is El Salvador, is `conditional’ to the extreme.

Starting in 1998, El Salvador banned all abortions. Previously, abortion had been illegal but generally not prosecuted.  El Salvador is one of six countries to ban all abortions. El Salvador opened hunting season on pregnant women; any woman who suffered a miscarriage was suspected of both having had an abortion and of having committed murder. Between 2000 and 2014, over 250 women were reported to the police. 147 women were prosecuted.  49 women were convicted – 26 for murder and 23 for abortion. Salvadoran women’s groups, such as the Citizen’s Group for the Decriminalization of Therapeutic and Ethical Abortion and Abortion for Reasons of Fetal Anomaly and the Feminist Collective, have waged a mighty campaign. Cindy Erazo’s release is in large part due to their persistent organizing.

Cindy Erazo leaves behind at least 18 women, caught in the overcrowded, toxic conditions of Ilopango Women’s Prison, none of whom have done anything wrong or illegal other than being women. Cindy Erazo was given `conditional’ freedom. When will she be free, and who will pay for the years of captivity? When and where does the witch hunt end? Where is the global outrage at the torture being visited upon women, especially young women, in El Salvador and beyond? 

(Photo Credit: BBC / Centro de derechos reproductivos)

What happened to Holly Barlow-Austin? What happened to Aunty Sherry? Prison. Prisons kill.

Holly Barlow-Austin

Holly Barlow-Austin’s husband and mother filed a lawsuit this week, claiming that Holly Barlow-Austin’s death, last year, was the fault of a Texas prison, the Bi-State Justice Center in Bowie County, where she was a `guest’ for two months. Protesters in Queensland, Australia, protested this week at the death in custody of a woman called Aunty Sherry, a Birri Guba woman who died in a cell at the Brisbane police station, September 10. Holly Barlow-Austin was 46 years old when she died; Aunty Sherry was 49 years old when she died. Before the contagion spread through the prisons, the prisons themselves were the contagion, as they continue to be. Prison, jail, police station, immigrant detention center together form a single global gallows. Do not claim to be surprised at current reports of forced hysterectomies in immigrant detention centers. Do not claim to be surprised that South Dakota’s women’s prison reported covid clusters this week, nor that Oklahoma’s did last week. We cannot be surprised. Before Covid killed, prisons killed, as they continue to do. 

Holly Barlow-Austin was arrested for an ostensible violation of probation. She was held, awaiting trial. When Holly Barlow-Austin entered the Bi-State Justice Center, she was HIV-positive, for which she was on medication. Otherwise she was in fairly decent health, regular vital signs, full mobility. When Holly Barlow-Austin left, after two months, she was emaciated, could barely move, and was blind. For two months, Holly Barlow-Austin was regularly denied her medication, regularly denied food and water, regularly denied any dignity. Holly Barlow-Austin called for help. Staff did nothing. Finally, Holly Barlow-Austin was taken to hospital, emaciated, almost immobilized, blind. Then she died. Do not be surprised.

Aunt Sherry’s story is even shorter. She was arrested on Sunday, for `property and drug matters’; arraigned Monday; sent to the Brisbane Watchhouse, the one Human Rights Watch called `terrifying’ last year, to await transfer to a prison; and was found dead early Wednesday morning. Police are `investigating’, while Indigenous peoples and their supporters, as well as all the women currently held in the Brisbane Watch House, grieve.

Grief. Anger. Rage. No surprise. 

Holly Barlow-Austin. Say her name. Aunty Sherry. Say her name. Say their names, shout their names, until your breath runs out. It’s time, it’s way past time, to tear down the entire edifice, to topple the global gallows, to end the witch trials passing for due process, and to start anew. #SayHerName 

(Photo Credit 1: Washington Post / AP) (Photo Credit 2: LSJ On Line)