What happened to Christina Tahhahwah? Just another Native American jail death

On July 14, 53-year-old Choctaw activist Rexdale W. Henry was “found” dead in the Neshoba County Jail in Philadelphia, Mississippi. That’s the same day 18-year-old Kindra Chapman was “found” dead in her jail cell in Homewood, Alabama, and a day after Sandra Bland was “found” dead in her jail cell in Waller County, Texas. Like Sandra Bland, Rexdale Henry was arrested for a traffic violation, in this case non-payment of a fine. Mississippi was already investigating the death of Jonathan Sanders, a Black man who died at the hands of police in Clark County, Mississippi Jail a day before Henry was arrested. Four days after Rexdale Henry was “found”, Troy Goode was “found” dead in police custody. Goode was White. In dying in jail, Rexdale W. Henry joins more than this list of “mysterious” jailhouse morbidity and mortality. He joins a national list of Native Americans dying in jail and at the hands of police. He joins Christina Tahhahwah.

In Lawton, Oklahoma, Christina Tahhahwah lived with bi-polar disorder. When she stopped taking her medicines, her family called the police and asked them to take her to the hospital for medical care. She was at her grandparents’ house. When she refused to leave the property, the police arrested her for trespassing and took her off to jail. Not to the hospital, to jail. That was November 13, 2014.

On November 14, minutes after being handcuffed to the cell door, Christina Tahhahwah was “found” unresponsive. She was in cardiac arrest. She was transferred to the hospital, where she died. Her family was not notified of her heart attack nor of her transfer to the hospital. One family member says they only found out because a family friend, who works at the hospital, sent them a note via Facebook. The family went to the hospital and there heard that fellow jail inmates were saying that Christina Tahhahwah had been tasered for refusing to stop singing Comanche hymns. The Lawton police say no Tasers were used.

Tasers are not the issue. The issue is that Christina Tahhahwah is dead. Just another bipolar Native American woman “found” in jail. The Lawton Police have not said they treated or cared about the reports of her bipolar condition. The issue is justice.

Police are killing Native Americans at a staggering, and by and large unremarked upon, rate. Overrepresented in prisons and jails, Native Americans are beyond overrepresented in jail mortality rates. They are the nation of “found” bodies. What happened to Rexdale Henry? What happened to Christina Tahhahwah? Nothing out of the ordinary. Just another Native American death in a jail in the United States.


(Photo Credit: http://nativenewsonline.net)

What happened to Kindra Chapman? The new normal for jails and prisons

Kindra Chapman

On Monday, July 13, #BlackLivesMatter activist and outspoken critic of police brutality Sandra Bland was “found” dead in a Texas jail. On Tuesday, July 14, in Homewood, Alabama, 18-year-old Black teenager Kindra Chapman was arrested, at 6:22 pm. At 7:50 pm, Kindra Chapman was found dead, hanging by a bed sheet in a holding cell.

While the case of Sandra Bland has attracted extensive and intensive attention, with one or two exceptions, the death of Kindra Chapman has not.

Suicide in jails and prisons, and in particular women’s jails and prisons, is the new normal, and not only in the United States. For example, just yesterday, it was reported that, in the United Kingdom, the number of people dying in police custody has reached its highest level for five years. We reported on this earlier in the year. The story’s the same in Italy.

Meanwhile, the jails of America are filling up to choking as the prisons are “releasing”, and women, and especially Black women, have been the principle actors, and targets, of this new phase of mass incarceration. And then there are the immigration detention centers. At Women In and Beyond the Global, we have been covering this trend for years. Here are just some of the individual women’s stories we’ve followed.

In 2007, in a Canadian prison, after years of mental health torment and begging for help through self-harm, 19-year-old Ashley Smith killed herself, on suicide watch, while seven guards followed orders, watched and did nothing. Now Ashley Smith haunts the Canadian Correctional Servicesor doesn’t.

In 2013, in England, Ms. K died. Her death was exemplary. A woman enters prison for the first time, a troublesome woman, and within weeks is found hanging in her cell. For the Ombudsman researchers, Ms K’s case is “one example” of the “failure” to “consider enhanced case review process” when a prisoner’s history suggests “wide ranging and deep seated problems.”

Last year, on Thursday, September 18, Megan Fritz hung herself. On Monday, September 22, Mary Knight did the same. Both women were incarcerated at Pennsylvania’s York County Prison when they committed suicide. Yet neither woman was on suicide watch. Why not?

Josefa Rauluni left the island nation of Fiji for Australia, where he applied for asylum, or “protection”. He was turned down. He was taken to Villawood Detention Centre, run by Serco. He continually appealed the decision, saying he feared for his life if he returned to Fiji. In response, the State told Josefa Rauluni that he would be deported on September 20, 2010. The night of September 19, Josefa Raulini sent two faxes to the Ministerial Intervention Unit at the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. They read, ”If you want to send me to Fiji, then send my dead body”. The State did nothing. On the morning of September 20, 2010, Josefa Raulini informed the guards, “I’m not going, if anyone goes near me, I will jump“. The guards did nothing for a while, and they they tried force. As they moved in, Josefa Raulini jumped from a first floor balcony railing. He dove, head first, hit the ground, and died. The State did nothing; the Villawood staff had no suicide prevention training.

On December 20th 2013 Lucia Vega Jimenez committed suicide, hanging herself in a shower stall of a bleak border facility at the Vancouver International Airport under the jurisdiction of Canada Border Services Agency, CBSA. She died eight days later in a hospital. She somehow found a rope and hanged herself. Who brought the rope and who tied the knot?

Lilian Yamileth Oliva Bardales, 19 years old, and her four-year-old son had been held in Karnes “Family Detention Center” from October to June. She had applied for asylum, explaining that she had fled Honduras to escape an abusive ex-partner, six years older than she, who had beaten her regularly since she was 13. Her application was denied. In early June, she locked herself in a bathroom and cut her wrists. She was removed from the bathroom, held for four days under medical “supervision” during which she was denied access to her attorneys, and then deported.

The line from Sandra Bland to Kindra Chapman is direct, a line of Black Women killed in police custody. The coroner’s report may say they hanged themselves, and they may have, but if there’s an epidemic of self harm and suicide and the State does nothing, that’s public policy, and it’s murder. Likewise the line between Canadian Ashley Smith and English Ms. K and Mary Fritz and Mary Knight and Kindra Chapman is direct, as is the line that binds asylum seekers and immigration detention prisoners Josefa Rauluni, Lucia Vega Jimenez, and Lilian Yamileth Oliva Bardales. These women, and men, are captives in jails and prisons in which there is no suicide prevention training or planning. Quite the contrary, prisoner suicide is part of the plan. #IfIDieinPoliceCustody say my name. If she dies in police custody, #SayHerName.


(Photo Credit: al.com)

South Africa built a special hell for asylum seekers: Refugee Reception Offices

A report released yesterday in Johannesburg reveals “shocking levels of corruption and serial abuse” at South African refugee centers. Of the five Refugee Reception Offices, Marabastad, in Pretoria, wins the Most Corrupt Award … again. The report, while dismaying, is no shock.

According to the report’s introduction, “Established in 1998, South Africa’s asylum system was designed to identify those individuals in need of protection in accordance with the country’s international obligations and democratic character.” By 1998, the South African government had traded in the Reconstruction and Development Programme, or RDP, for the Growth, Employment and Redistribution, or GEAR, strategy, which traded any promise of social justice for something called “growth.” Asylum seekers and refugees didn’t fall into the GEAR strategy, and so by the time South Africa decided it was time for asylum, it was already too late: “The current state of affairs is the product of a deliberate government choice to avoid addressing fundamental issues in the asylum system.”

Here’s Marabastad in 2008: “Asylum applicants at Marabastad have taken to sleeping outside the office, in the hope that this will improve their chances of getting inside. There are regularly between eighty and three hundred people sleeping outside. At night armed criminals visit the site. Incidents of theft are common. There have been several reports of rape. There is no shelter in the vicinity of the office and people often endure rain and very cold conditions. Many women sleep with babies by their side. On some occasions the police have visited during the night and arrested asylum seekers or extorted them for bribes. Fights about places in the queue are common, sometimes degenerating into the throwing of bricks and stones and leading to several cases of hospitalisation. On at least one occasion metropolitan officials arrived in the morning to clear all temporary shelters, bedding, and belongings of people gathered outside the office.” In 2011, “the conditions at Marabastad … still are, to most objective onlookers, appalling.”

And now, in 2015, Marabastad is the most corrupt, and this in South Africa, which had one of the highest asylum and refugee rejection rates in the world last year, rejecting between 90% and 100% of all asylum applications processed from Mozambique, Lesotho, Malawi, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Pakistan, Ghana, India, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Burundi and Uganda. South Africa is the land where all roads lead to rejection.

To the toxic brew of incompetence, underfunding, and xenophobic and sexist violence, yesterday’s report adds corruption. One has to pay to play, and many are the ways: pay to cross the border, move up the line, renew a permit, pay spurious fines, avoid arrest, and generally improve `service.’

Women figure in this variously. First, the researchers interviewed mostly men because there were more men than women outside the reception centers and because “women were generally less willing to participate.”

Second, in discussing the Department of Home Affairs, or DHA, tepid response to corruption, the report tells a story, “In July 2014, an asylum seeker told Lawyers for Human Rights that a refugee status determination officer (RSDO) at the Marabastad refugee reception office had asked her for R2500 in exchange for refugee status. LHR contacted the counter-corruption unit, which agreed to set up a sting operation.” What followed was a nightmare of bungling and general lack of concern on the part of the DHA, so that, in the end, all the weight falls on the most vulnerable and least able: “Asylum seekers must be willing to come forward, despite fear of reprisals, and must be able to provide … details. The DHA does not target the wider processes outside of these individual complaints.”

Finally, one asylum seeker in Cape Town reports: “People ask for money. Officials don’t help you or tell you what is happening. They play on their phones. Security guards ask for money but not openly. It is a previously made deal. Then they grab the people and take them to the front of the queue. Never women. People from Zim only get a one month extension and other people from other countries get 3 to 6 months.”

Never women.


(Photo Credit: Kristy Siegfried / IRIN)

Teesta Setalvad and the miracle of women’s justice

In India, Narendra Modi’s governet is going to extraordinary lengths to silence and crush social justice activist Teesta Setalvad. While the Indian press has taken up the story, the world press, with the exception of Reuters, has chosen to look the other way. Teesta Setalvad has refused to look the other way, and that’s why she’s in trouble.

In February 2002 “intercommunal” violence erupted in the Indian state of Gujarat. Within a week, over 1000 Muslims had been killed. From the outset, Teesta Setalvad fixed everyone’s eyes on the violence and then on the State’s role in the intensity and expanse of that violence. Narendra Modi was Chief Minister of Gujarat at the time.

While the Modi administration was trying to “explain” the violence as communal, Teesta Setalvad wrote, in 2002, “Despite the fact that the minority community was being attacked by huge and well-armed mobs, Muslims seemed to have been the main target of police firing. Of the 40 people killed in police firing at Morarji Chowk and Charodia Chowk in Ahmedabad on 28 February all were Muslim.”

Women and children were targeted with extreme sexual violence and other forms of torture. Again, Teesta Setalvad immediately made sure everyone understood the police participation in this, “Women bore the brunt of police repression. They were subjected to verbal abuse of a highly sexualized nature and often mercilessly beaten. Even pregnant women were brutally beaten; indeed they seemed to have attracted special attention from the police, and in many cases, the beating was accompanied by statements such as `Let it die before it is born’.”

Teesta Setalvad insisted that the facts must first be determined and then adjudicated. She headed the Concerned Citizens Tribunal, which investigated the entire situation, including the initial incidents, and found rampant and systematic violence against women and girls. The Tribunal worked assiduously and at the end of 2002 released its three volume findings, Crime Against Humanity.

Teesta Setalvad then founded the magazine Communalism Combat; the ngo Citizens for Justice and Peace; and the human rights organization Sabrang, and kept the focus on the State’s guilt in the Gujarat pogroms. In 2012, 32 people, including a former state minister, of involvement in the violence. Teesta Setalvad responded, “For the first time, this judgment actually goes beyond neighborhood perpetrators and goes up to the political conspiracy. The fact that convictions have gone that high means the conspiracy charge has been accepted and the political influencing of the mobs has been accepted by the judge. This is a huge victory for justice.”

In April 2015, the Modi national government placed the Ford Foundation on a national security watch list, because of its funding the Sabrang Trust. The State accused Teesta Setalvad of “disturbing the communal harmony here and carrying out anti-national propaganda against India in foreign countries.”

On July 15, the police raided Teesta Setalvad’s home and offices. Many view this shameful hounding as a concerted campaign of intimidation and suppression. Teesta Setalvad’s response to the most recent assaults shows the power of the pursuit of justice: “Despite being agnostic, we do sometimes believe in miracles. Through the work we have committed our lives to … I have believed in the purity of motive and the sincerity of faith …The struggle for justice for the victims of the Gujarat riots has validated this belief. It has been awe-inspiring to watch the raw courage of witness survivors – firm in the belief that truth is on their side – testifying before the courts. It is their audacity that has led to the life imprisonment of 120 people. The fact that they stood with us, and we with them, has made them unflinchingly loyal to us. Even in these hours when state vendetta has been unleashed upon us, they are praying for us.”

Teesta Setalvad has steadfastly refused to look the other way. She argues for the miracle of solidarity and the necessity for justice. Do not let the world look the other way. Stand with Teesta Setalvad, firm in the belief in the audacity and miracle of women’s justice.

(Photo Credit: twocircles.net) (Image Credit: The Indian Express)

What happened to Sandra Bland? The routine tortured death of Black women in jail

#BlackLivesMatter activist and outspoken critic of police brutality Sandra Bland was “found” dead in a Texas jail. The jail claims Sandra Bland killed herself. The FBI is investigating. Waller County, where the jail is located, is now “discovered” as fraught with racial tensions, “racism from cradle to grave.” Some describe the circumstances as “mysterious”.

Sandra Bland’s arrest, for a minor traffic violation, was caught on video. At one point, she is thrown to the ground, and she yells, “You just slammed my head into the ground. Do you not even care about that? I can’t even hear.” After that, all is silence.

That’s the ordinary of U.S. jails, and so is abuse, torture, rape and death, especially for Black women. That’s not overstated. The jails of America are filling up to choking as the prisons are “releasing”, and women, and especially Black women, have been the principle actors, and targets, of this new phase of mass incarceration. At Women In and Beyond the Global, we have been covering this trend for years. Here are just some of the individual women’s stories we’ve followed.

In 1998 Gina Muniz was incarcerated in the LA County Jail and the California state prison system for her first arrest, related to the theft of $200 related to a rapid onset of drug addiction-in the aftermath of her father’s death. The theft was bizarrely classified as a carjacking, although no one was harmed, and no car was stolen. Muniz received life in prison; her lawyer told her she was agreeing to seven years when she pled guilty. Six months after Muniz was arrested, she was dead: “Gina Muniz, September 2000, handcuffed to her deathbed and under 24-hour-guard in Modesto Community Hospital. Next to her is her daughter Amanda. Gina suffered horribly for six months from diagnosed but untreated cervical cancer. When it was diagnosed in L.A. County Jail, early and aggressive treatment would more than likely have saved Gina’s life. Grace Ortega, her mother, was finally able to win compassionate release for her daughter two days before her death, so that she could die at home”. Compassionate release.

Amy Lynn Cowling went for a drive on Christmas Eve, 2010 in East Texas. 33 years old, a grandmother of a one-day old child, bipolar, methadone dependent, and with only one kidney, Amy Lynn Cowling was picked up for speeding, then arrested for some outstanding warrants on minor theft charges and traffic violations. Five days later, in the Gregg County Jail after a day of wailing and seizures, of excruciating pain and suffering, of agony, Amy Lynn Cowling died. Amy Lynn Cowling died after five days of her family begging and pleading with the prison staff to make sure they gave her the life sustaining medicines she needed. The pills were just down the hall, in Amy Lynn Cowling’s purse, in the jail storage room. Nobody went, nobody came. Amy Lynn Cowling died.

A year before, in Onondaga County Justice Center, in upstate New York, Chuneice Patterson, 21 years old, Black woman, died similarly, screaming and writhing in pain and ignored.

In 2012, Autumn Miller was in the Jesse R. Dawson State Jail, in Dallas, Texas, for a probation violation. She was in for a year. Miller knew something was wrong. She asked for a PAP smear and for a pregnancy test. She was denied. Her cramps and pain increased. One night, her pains became too intense for guards to ignore, and they took Miller down to the `medical unit’. There are no doctors at Dawson overnight, and so guards `took care’ of Miller. The guards said Miller merely had to go to the bathroom, gave her a menstrual pad and locked her in a holding cell. Despite Miller’s pleas, nobody came in to check, and so Autumn Miller gave birth to Gracie Miller, in the holding cell toilet. Guards then came in, shackled and handcuffed the mother, and took mother and daughter to the hospital. Gracie died four days later, in her shackled mother’s handcuffed arms.

Alisha was tried and charged as an adult in DC Superior Court when she was 16 years old. She was sent to DC’s Correctional Treatment Facility (CTF). There are no special units for female youth at CTF, so Alisha was sent to solitary confinement. For weeks at a time, she was on lockdown for 23 hours a day, unable to attend school, and could not participate in any programming available at the jail. Her attorney fought to move her to a more appropriate place that could also address her mental health concerns, but she remained there for a year and a half. In solitary confinement, she attempted suicide.

In early February 2015, Natasha McKenna was killed by six officers in the Fairfax County Jail, in northern Virginia near Washington, DC. McKenna was 37 years old. She was the mother of a 7-year-old daughter. She was living with schizophrenia. She was a diminutive woman, 5 feet 3 inches, 130 pounds. And she was Black. She was killed during a so-called cell extraction, when six deputies tackled her and took care of business.

This is the cruel and usual treatment of women in U.S. jails, across the country. There is no mystery here. There is no mystery concerning what happened to Sandra Bland. Hers was a death foretold. #SayHerName I can’t even hear.


(Photo Credit: Facebook) (Video Credit: YouTube)

#SetHerFree: Yarl’s Wood must give inmates access to guide on their rights

On Tuesday, the United Kingdom’s Home Office informed staff at Yarl’s Wood that they must return to prisoners a guide on their rights as asylum seekers and, more generally, people facing deportation. This self-help guide has been circulating in English immigration detention centers for more than ten years, but only recently did the prison staff decide that, “given the nature of the content”, it’s contraband. “The publication, entitled For Asylum Seekers and their Supporters, a Self-Help Guide Against Detention and Deportation, advises on how to pursue legal rights and seek help.” Sound pretty dangerous, doesn’t it?

Since April, Alice Wanja-Maina has been a prisoner in Yarl’s Wood. She explains, “I signed for them but then they took them away. The guides help us fight deportation and detention. The guards said you are not going to have them, that they were banned and that I was going to be deported back to Kenya. The book is really good. It helps us prepare our cases. We don’t have lawyers to help us. This gives us the confidence to carry on. To be enclosed in a detention centre like this is really bad. They treat us like animals. I can’t sleep. I suffered rape and torture in Kenya at the hands of a traditional African organisation which is opposed to western culture. I can’t go back.”

When Alice Wanja-Maina says, “They treat us like animals,” she echoes the statement of a Yarl’s Wood manager, chatting with his mates about Yarl’s Woods African women prisoners: “They’re animals. They’re beasties. They’re all animals. They’re caged animals. Right? Take a stick in with you and beat them up.”

This Yarl’s Wood story has been reported as a story about a “guide on avoiding deportation.” Wrong. The story concerns a guide on due process and women’s rights, including those of African women. Yarl’s Wood is a deportation factory, and if one or two `products’ fall off the assembly line, the factory will keep on churning out deportees. After over ten years, the guides were not confiscated because of deportation concerns. The nature of the content is women’s access to rights and due process. The last thing Yarl’s Wood, and its architects, want is vulnerable women, and in particular African women, accessing due process, rights and, ultimately, power. After all, they’re caged animals. Right? Meanwhile, Alice Wanja-Maina has arranged for new copies to be sent in.


(Photo Credit: Channel4.com / YouTube)

In Uganda, women smallholder farmers say NO! to palm oil plantation violence

Mangdelena Nakamya, once a proud farmer, now lives on church land

Mariam Nakteeko, Rose Nantume, and Magdalenea Nakamya grew up on Bugala Island, in Kalangala District, on Lake Victoria, Uganda. They farmed, tended to their families, prepared for the future, and supported their community of farmers and fisherfolk. They lived on land that had been family land for generations. That was until two giants – Wilmar International and Bidco Africa – decided to turn the island’s diverse environment into a monoculture palm oil plantation.

Kenya-based Bidco Africa boasts, “We exist to serve daily consumer needs to enhance Happy Healthy Living by Branding, Transforming and Distributing the goodness of Mother Nature.” Singaporean-based Wilmar promises, “Wilmar remains a firm advocate of sustainable growth and is committed to its role as a responsible corporate citizen.” What could go wrong?

Everything. Ask the women.

From its 2005 launch, the project has reeked of corruption, refusal to consult, and the ordinary violence that accompanies mass dislocation. In 2009, local residents and environmental activists documented widespread illegal forest clearing and use of fertilizers. Beatrice Anywar, then-shadow environment minister, explained, ”We are replacing natural forests with palm trees and this is bad for our country. But this goes on because the investors have the backing of the president. They don’t listen. We should begin listening to scientists because we are already witnessing floods and severe droughts.” The president himself agreed, “I invited the investors to start this project here, though some people wanted to block it because they wanted to protect butterflies instead of development. But butterflies can go and live elsewhere.”

Butterflies can go and live somewhere else. So can people, apparently.

In July 2011, 64-year-old farmer Magdalena Nakamya owned and farmed seven acres. One morning, four years ago almost to the day, Magdalena Nakamya awoke to find “yellow machines” turning up her land and razing her crops: “No one came to talk to me before they destroyed my crops. I heard that some people were given money, but I didn’t receive anything.” In February 2015, she joined a hundred other local displaced farmers in a lawsuit for restitution and compensation. The farmers talk of land and money, but when you look into their eyes, the struggle is the restoration of their dignity.

Rose Nantume’s family farmed 40 acres. She was saving to build a new home, and had already laid the foundation when the bulldozers came and took everything away. Now her family of ten live in a two-room shack: “Bidco took our land but paid nothing at all. The situation we’re in is so bad. Our house is in a bad condition and our children cannot study because there’s no money. We thought the money from our gardens would help us but ever since the land was taken, our situation is very difficult.”

Mariam Nakteeko explains what happens when the men are forced to leave: “Our husbands had to leave us to find work elsewhere. After we lost our land, we have nothing, not even enough food.”

Kalangala farmers are working with the National Association of Professional Environementalists, NAPE, and Friends of the Earth – Uganda, to reclaim their land, lives and dignity.

Meanwhile, Wilmar claims everything is fine, no one was coerced into taking money, and no one was evicted. How could they have been when Wilmar has had a clear No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation Policy since 2013? Surely, they say, these women are delusional, except they don’t even say that. Why would they? It’s just smallholder women farmers on some island in the middle of Lake Victoria, and hey, they got a ferry out of the deal.


(Photo Credit: Alon Mwesigwa / The Guardian) (Video Credit: YouTube / Nape Uganda)

The Mymensingh and Khayelitsha “stampedes” were planned massacres of women

In this 2011 file photo, women mourn over their relative who died in a stampede triggered by a fire scare at a garment factory in Dhaka.

In the past two weeks, “stampedes” took the lives of at least 33 people, 31 women and two children, in South Africa and Bangladesh. Yet again, the death toll among adults was exclusively, 100% women, and yet again the world will look on the pile of women’s corpses in shock and amazement, as we did in September 2009, when women were killed in stampedes in Indonesia, India, Pakistan and South Africa; or in January 2012 when women were killed in stampedes in Pakistan and South Africa. Each time, despite the gender of the dead and of the event, the fact of this being an assault on women is erased.

Today, in the northern Bangladeshi city, Mymensingh, hundreds of “poor and emaciated” women gathered outside a garment factory owner’s home to pick up free clothing. Someone fell, others fell, and then the rush ensued. Thus far, 25 bodies have been recovered, 23 women, two children. Fifty women have been sent to hospital. A scan of the world’s headlines on this event shows one headline that acknowledges this salient gender feature: “Bangladesh stampede leaves 22 women and child dead”. The rest either cite a number – “Stampede at Bangladesh clothes handout kills 23” – or refer to the clothes giveaway – “23 Zakat cloth seekers killed in Mymensingh stampede” – or mention people – “25 People Killed in Bangladesh Stampede”. Only one, that I’ve found, acknowledges the women. Why? What is so terrifying about saying 23, or however many, women were killed?

In Khayelitsha, in South Africa, two weeks ago, a gunshot at Osi’s Tavern provoked a rush from the tavern. It was 3 in the morning, and the tavern was crowded. It had only one exit, one staircase. The staircase collapsed. Six women were killed on the spot. Two women were killed on their to hospital. The women’s ages ranged from 15 and 23.

In some ways, two seemingly different events end up with the same morbid mathematics of gender: women were killed.

There was no stampede in Mymensingh today, and there was no stampede in Khayelitsha last month. There was a massacre of women. Say it. Women were killed. Now the State steps in, once the women’s corpses have piled up sufficiently, and claims to act, but it will never acknowledge the simple truth. There was no accident. There was indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of women, a massacre, and it was always part of the plan.


(Photo Credit: Reuters / http://indiatoday.intoday.in)

In South Africa workers say NO to the dictatorship of debt

Jeffrey Haarhoff, Bulelani Mehlomakhulu, Angeline Arrison, Lisinda Bailey discuss the case

The dictatorship of debt takes many shapes, and Greece is not the only one to say NO! to predators this week. In a landmark case in South Africa, decided in the Western Cape High Court today, 15 low wage workers – cleaners, security guards, farm workers – took on the “micro loan” system of fast money, slow torture and death in life … and won!

Late last year, fifteen people in and around Stellenbosch, in the wine country of the Western Cape, approached the University of Stellenbosch’s Legal Aid Clinic, LAC, and asked for help. They explained that each had taken out a so-called micro loan, and found that at some point [a] the interest soared and [b] their salaries were “attached” by means of emolument attachment orders also known as EAOs or garnishee orders. While the fifteen basically wanted to get out of an impossible and unjust situation, the lawyers at LAC saw that the whole system was in violation of South Africa’s Constitution, and so, in November, they went to court.

As Lisinda Bailey, one of the applicants, explained, “I had to make monthly payments of R2,600 which was more than I can afford. As the only person working in my house, I struggled every month.” Angeline Arrison told a similar tale. Two years ago, she took out a loan of 2000 rand. Now half of her 4200 rand salary is seized every month, and she still owes and she still owes over 3000 rand. Others tell the same stories … and worse: already over indebted, trying to figure out how to organize and lighten the load, while retaining some semblance of dignity.

The fifteen also had the backing of Wendy Appelbaum, one of the wealthiest women on the African continent, a leading philanthropist and the owner of DeMorgenzon, a wine estate in Stellenbosch: “I became aware of the plight of one of my workers, from whom we were legally obliged to deduct most of his salary on behalf of loan sharks. I immediately addressed his circumstances, but discovered how widespread the abuse of garnishee orders had become. I was outraged and decided to intervene on behalf of the helpless and voiceless victims, and have played a convening and facilitating role.” Appelbaum took the fifteen to the Legal Aid Clinic.

The South African Human Rights Commission joined as a friend of the court, and has also taken up the public policy issue of garnishee orders. As SAHRC Commissioner Mohamed Shafie Ameermia explained, “We must knock on Parliament’s doors very seriously to say the house is on fire out there. We need to advocate and champion proper legislation, close the loopholes and gaps in the existing legislation so that at least poor people have the right to live decent lives.”

The fifteen – cleaners, security guards, farm and seasonal workers, evenly divided among women and men, uniformly vulnerable – and their lawyers argued that the credit providers and their lawyers obtained the orders illegally, often by going to distant courts, and that, further, the process was improper because the orders were issued by court clerks and not by magistrates or judges. For those who owed, there was no day in court in this process, only fog and mirrors.

Today, Western Cape High Court Judge Siraj Desai agreed: “The right of access to courts is fundamental to the rule of law in a constitutional state. The … respondents are obtaining judgments and EAOs against the applicants in courts far removed from their homes and places of work and in places which they could not hope to reach, the right to approach the courts was seriously jeopardised, if not effectively denied. This violation of the rights of debtors to access courts and enjoy the protection of the law was the product of the … respondents’ forum shopping for courts which would entertain their applications for judgments and the issuing of EAOs … This is the most disturbing feature of the debt collecting processes employed by the micro-lenders … The absence of judicial supervision and the consequences of the execution process infringes several of the debtors’ constitutional rights … The attachment of an excessive portion of a debtor’s earnings infringes on the right of the debtor and her family to dignity, as well as their rights to access to healthcare, food, education and housing.”

As Wendy Applebaum put it, “It’s a David and Goliath scenario here where their human rights and dignity have been taken away.” And David and Davida said NO! to predatory debt, to debt that consumes body and soul, to debt structures that crush human dignity, and today they won. From Syntagma Square to Stellenbosch, thus far it’s been a good week for the Great Refusal.

(Photo Credit: Masixole Feni / GroundUp.org.za)

#ShutDownBerks: The mothers of Berks Family Detention Center demand justice now!

The United States built a special hell for immigrant women and children, Berks Family Detention Center. The only thing “family” about Berks are the lies the State promulgates: “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) established the Berks Family Residential Facility (“Berks”) in March 2001. Designed as a non-secure residential facility to accommodate the unique needs of undocumented children and their families, Berks became the first of its kind in the U.S. dedicated to keeping families and children together while undergoing immigration proceedings. Located in Leesport, PA, the eighty-five (85) bed facility that was once a nursing home is nestled in a quiet, small-town community. Berks … provides non-violent, non-criminal families with a variety of supportive services throughout their stay.” There is nothing supportive in or about Berks. That’s why the mothers of Berks Detention are on work strike. That’s why supporters will show up next Saturday, July 11, to demand the State shut it down … now.

While the U.S. immigration policy has swung back and forth between hang-em-high and hang-em-higher, the one constant since 2001 has been Berks Family Detention, and from the beginning it has been criticized for its inhumane treatment and general brutality towards its prison populations, largely women and children. Recently the women of Berks have been turning up the heat.

In April, seventeen mothers held, with their children, in Berks “camp” wrote a letter to ICE, demanding their release. ICE never responded. Cristina and her twelve-year-old son were held at Berks for 14 months: “When I started my journey to the US, all I could think about was keeping my son safe. But after several months locked up, my son didn’t even want to eat anymore. He cried all the time and kept telling me he wanted to leave, but he doesn’t understand the danger we’d face if we were sent back. He still wakes up shaking with nightmares from the trauma.” ICE continued to claim that Berks is top of the line.

On June 10, ten mothers launched a work strike. The women demand to be released and that Berks be shut down. They also demand the “free world” take responsibility for the systematic abuses taking place inside Berks: exploitation, harassment, violence. ICE continues to claim that Berks is top of the line … and perhaps it is, but it’s a line that must end today.

On Friday, June 19, at 3 a.m., one of the Mothers of Berks, 34-year-old Ana and her 12-year-old daughter were awakened and sent off to the airport, where they were whisked back to Guatemala. A judge has since ordered that Ana and her daughter be returned to the United States, citing a violation of “due process.” When Ana, in Guatemala, heard of the judge’s order, she responded, “I just want to come back.” Ana and her daughter. fled Guatemala because of partner domestic abuse. Ana and her daughter have already spent over a year in Berks.

The State tries to pass off “family detention centers” as an attempt to preserve the family, but the women and children inside those jails know better. They are prisons designed to punish immigrant women, overwhelmingly women of color, Latinas, indigenous from the Global South, for being women: “The treatment of immigrants … signals, both to immigrant communities, and to the neighbors and other citizens who observe them, that these families can be disrupted at will: children can be separated from their parents, parents can be deprived of their ability to care for or even to discipline their children without findings of inadequacy and without recourse. These families are in fact abjected: expelled from the community symbolically, before they are expelled concretely. They are reduced to beings for whom the quintessentially human imperatives of care and nurturance, and the possibilities of family formation and preservation, seem not to apply.”

As one mother inside Berks explained, “When I left the violence of my county, I never thought I would end up in a place like this. It is safer here, yes, but it is just as bad. I’m crying because I just want to leave. I don’t know when I will.” #ShutDownBerks. Do it now.


(Photo Credit: http://aldianews.com) (Image Credit: http://vamosjuntos.org)