Where were you when all those women prisoners killed themselves?

Women prisoners protest at HMP Styal

Women prisoners protest at HMP Styal

Today’s news out of England and Wales is predictably grim: “2016 becomes worst year ever recorded for suicides in prisons.” According to the Howard League, “The Howard League for Penal Reform has been notified of 102 people dying by suicide behind bars since the beginning of 2016 – one every three days. With five weeks remaining until the end of the year, it is already the highest death toll in a calendar year since current recording practices began in 1978. The previous high was in 2004, when 96 deaths by suicide were recorded.” And so now another end-of-year Round of Concern occurs. Absolutely none of this is new, and absolutely nothing positive will happen until the concern is manifested by more than the usual suspects.

From incarcerated refugee women in India to women prisoners in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Den- mark, England and Wales, Finland, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Scotland, and Sweden to women in prisons in the United States and Canada, the news is and has been the same, and for quite a while. Reporting on suicide rates in Canada in 1999, scholars noted, “The fact remains, however, that the suicide rate among female prisoners is abnormally high.” In 2010, scholars reported, “In England and Wales over a quarter of a century, suicide rates in prisoners were reported to be approximately five times higher in men than age-standardised general population rates.” And here it is, the end of 2016, “with around 3,900, mainly vulnerable, women locked up in English jails and 19 deaths already recorded this year (the highest for 12 years)” … and that was three weeks ago.

Today, the Howard League and the Centre for Mental Health released Preventing Prison Suicide, “the latest in a series of reports published by the two charities as part of a joint programme aimed at saving lives in prison.” Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, wrote, “Whilst the government has promised (yet again) to recruit additional staff, we cannot wait months for them to appear, especially as such promises have proved empty in the past. The only way to save lives, make prisons safe for inmates and staff and help people to live law abiding lives on release is to reduce the number of prisoners. Once the number of prisoners is down, the challenge is to make prisons work properly in the public interest but that is such a distant prospect at the moment. Today’s challenge is simply to keep people alive.”

Scotland said NO! to the casual wreckage of women’s lives and provided alternatives, which include tearing down many women’s prisons, sending women who need help to places where they will receive assistance and where their dignity, as women, will be respected. Women don’t have to be sacrificed on the altar of carceral efficiency in which the challenge is simply to keep people alive. How have we arrived at a place where the challenge is simply to keep people alive? By turning our backs on the imprisoned women. Suicides in prisons and jails have risen more or less steadily over the past decade, at least, and that rise has been noted and documented, occasionally deplored, and then generally forgotten. Now is the time to stop forgetting, to remember in advance what you will say when someone, years from or tomorrow or tonight, looks at you and asks, “Where were you when all those women prisoners killed themselves? What did you? What have we done?”

 

(Photo Credit: New Statesman / Don McPhee/ Guardian) (Image Credit: Inquest)

#SistersUncut: In England women reject austerity’s gendered death sentence

On Sunday, November 20, women shut down major bridges in London, Bristol, Newcastle and Glasgow, to protest recent drastic cuts in domestic violence services, a decade of cuts in domestic violence services, and, more generally the State’s pogrom against Black and Minority Ethnic, or BME, women, lesbians, immigrant and migrant women, poor and working women. Sisters Uncut organized the action to put the State on notice: “Theresa May claims she wants to end violence against women and girls. To do that we need an awful lot more than refuges. We need a long term, sustainable funding plan for all domestic violence services. We need universal access to benefits so survivors have the resources to escape, rather than policies like the benefit cap which are making it even harder when already 52% of survivors report that they can’t afford to leave. We need domestic violence support services for black and brown, disabled and LGBT+ survivors – a `one size fits all’ generic approach might save money but it doesn’t meet needs. We need funding for outreach workers who are able to slowly build up survivors’ confidence over time and support survivors before the danger escalates, rather than a focus solely on crisis response. We need an end to gentrification and the devastating effects it has on communities; not all survivors want or are able to access support services, and it is their neighbours that provide their lifeline. And we must see the links between violent, racist government policies and the increased risk for black, brown, Muslim and migrant women experiencing domestic violence. We demand a secure, long term plan to support ALL domestic violence survivors, regardless of immigration status, with specialist services for black and brown, disabled and LGBT+ survivors.

When it comes to services for domestic violence services, the grimness of the numbers is only exceeded by the viciousness of the program that has established them. In September, Women’s Aid reported the Government’s plan would force 67% of specialist domestic abuse refuges in England to close, and that 87% of refuges in England would be forced to reduce their current level of provision. In Wales, 69% of refuges would be forced to close, and 100% would have to seriously reduce their current level of provision. Because migrants are restricted from using public funds, migrant non-binary people women are turned away from refuges, social housing, benefits or healthcare. How do you want your pain and suffering, slow and torturous or fast and torturous? Welcome to the economies of torture.

Marcia Smith, a domestic violence survivor, remembered: “When I went to the police with bruises, they said they couldn’t see my bruises because I was black. People don’t see black women as victims, and we get racism instead of help. With black services, you don’t have racism, you have the trust and support you need.” Is it any wonder that 90% of BME survivors prefer to receive support from a specialist BME organization?

Sisters Uncut declared an end to the destruction of women’s lives: “We will not stand by as black and brown survivors are left stranded in abusive homes without the bridges to safety provided by specialist domestic violence services, whilst migrant survivors with ‘no recourse to public funds’ find all of their bridges blocked by the government’s immigration policies.”

You block our bridges, so we block yours. Just prior to Theresa May’s Autumn Statement, where she will reveal the new budget, Sisters Uncut declared it time for Women’s Spring, and in doing so, joined women in the past few months in France, Argentina, Poland, South Africa who themselves joined the women water protectors at Standing Rock in the United States and Grassy Narrows in Canada, and beyond. It’s time, it’s way past time: “To those in power, our message is this: your cuts are sexist, your cuts are dangerous, and you think that you can get away with them because you have targeted the people who you perceive as powerless. We are those people, we are women, we will not be silenced. We stand united and fight together, and together we will win.”

 

(Photo Credit 1: Broadly / Alice Zoo) (Photo Credit 2: The Fader / Holly Falconer)

 

 

 

 

Demand freedom for Dianne Ngoza! #SetHerFree

Dianne Ngoza

Dianne Ngoza

Why does the English government hate Dianne Ngoza? What horrible crime has she committed that the State has chosen to persecute, seize and cage her inside Yarl’s Wood? Is it the crime of seeking asylum, or the crime of being a Black woman, or the crime of being an African woman? Yes. Dianne Ngoza has been a campaigner for the human rights and dignity of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants in the so-called United Kingdom. Based in Manchester, she is a member of management volunteers for Women Asylum Seekers Together, WAST; a lead member of United for Change; a trustee for City of Sanctuary; and has been a board member of Manchester Migrant Solidarity, MiSol. Dianne Ngoza is an assistant for Revive UK, which works with refugees and asylum seekers. At Revive, Dianne Ngoza is in charge of arranging drama and acts as a public speaker and representative. Recently Dianne Ngoza joined the leadership team of RAPAR, Refugee and Asylum Participatory Action Research. Dianne Ngoza was one of four nominees for the 2016 Spirit of Manchester Volunteer of the Year Award. Additionally, Dianne Ngoza has been nominated for a 2016 National Diversity Award, in the Positive Role Model Award – Race/Faith/Religion category. Dianne Ngoza is clearly a dangerous woman.

Dianne Ngoza was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. At the age of six, part of her family fled the political violence and ended up in Zambia. Dianne Ngoza was raised in Zambia. In 1994, she moved to South Africa, where she was granted permanent residence. In 2002, Dianne Ngoza was offered a two-year work permit to work as a nurse in the United Kingdom. Six months later, she brought her then 11-year-old daughter to live with her. They have both lived in England since 2002. Dianne Ngoza has not been to Zambia since 1994, and has no one there, and yet the United Kingdom wants to ship her “back” to Zambia.

The story only worsens: “In 2004, before my visa expired, I went to Liverpool to renew it. The immigration officer there told me to send my daughter, who was then 13, back to South Africa, and sort out her visa first. We couldn’t afford to do this. When I sought legal help, my lawyer said that he was going to apply for both us to gain leave to remain under section 8 of the human rights act: right to family life. However he incorrectly applied for asylum instead – and this was unsurprisingly rejected. This whole process took four years, during which time I was forbidden from working. I became increasingly dependent on help from the community. My daughter remained with me all this time. In 2008 new lawyers took over my case. Although they told me that they had made the application for my leave to remain, I never received a letter from the Home Office confirming this. Only in 2010 did the Home Office confirm that no application had been made on my behalf. That same year, my child and I were evicted and became homeless. I have been destitute and homeless for the past six years.”

Through legislation and public policy, the State created the State of Destitution – a zone of economic, political, social and human abandonment – and declared African women as its citizens. For six years, Dianne Ngoza has rejected that citizenship, and has turned destitution into the richness of advocacy for human, civil and women’s rights and dignity.

This week, Dianne Ngoza went to the Dallas Court Reporting Centre in Salford. Before entering, she told a crowd of supporters, “The immigration problem has risen to its highest level than it has before, it’s not surprising that most people have become insensitive to deaths, of human lives. We live in a world where evil has taken the upper hand … Let us think of those who are drowning each day while trying to flee wars in their countries; the poor parents who have lost their children, the children who didn’t have the opportunity to contribute to society by fulfilling their dreams. I can never imagine the pain they go through each passing day. Although I’m one of those who has lost some of my loved ones through reckless wars, I find it hard to comprehend. We can all do something to change the system which is comprised of a handful of rich people in high positions that are controlling the whole world. It’s up to each one of us … as long as we are consistent and never lose hope we can make a difference. Let us fight for all the generations around the world that are suffering in silence. Let us be the mouthpiece for those who cannot speak for themselves.”

Dianne Ngoza never emerged from the Dallas Court Reporting Centre. Instead, she was smuggled to Yarl’s Wood where she awaits deportation to Zambia. The Salford Star reached Home Affairs and asked: “Why was Dianne detained at Dallas Court when her lawyers were filing new evidence and `proofs’ at the time? Why were supporters and family, and Dianne herself, informed that she was being taken to Pennine House in Manchester, when she was actually being taken to Yarl’s Wood? Is there any avenues left for Dianne to remain in the country while her case is heard?”

Home Affairs responded, “We expect people with no legal basis to remain in the UK to leave the country voluntarily, and we provide support to help people return to their home country. Where they refuse to do so we will seek to enforce their removal.”

Let us fight for all the generations around the world that are suffering in silence. Let us be the mouthpiece for those who cannot speak for themselves. Let us reject the torture that passes for support. Let us abolish the State of Destitution, the zone of abandonment. Let us join with the WAST choir, the Nightingales, who sing of women’s rights, women’s power, women’s dreams, and who begin their songs with this: “We want Yarl’s Wood to close, not just today, or tomorrow, but forever”. Sing it loud, sing it proud, shut it down, set her free, not just today, or tomorrow, but forever. Amen.

 

(Photo Credit 1: RAPAR) (Photo Credit 2: Salford Star)

#NotMyPresident: “I didn’t realize that it would get this bad all of a sudden”

Across the United States, from middle schools and high schools to colleges and universities, students of color, women students, LGBTIQ students, Muslim and Jewish students and others report outbursts of intimidation, threat, and abuse. To no one’s surprise, a campaign based on white supremacy, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, ableism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, all held together by lies, hatred and violence, has resulted in intensified and expanded violence. Violence against people of color, women, immigrants, LGBTIQ persons, Jews, Muslims, others, has always been a part of the American landscape, but the current iterations were triggered and authorized by the man who would be President, and until he does more than perform business-as-usual non-penance, he is not my President.

Here’s part of the current list, and it’s partial by too many degrees:

At Texas State University in San Marcos, threatening fliers called for the “arrest and torture” of university leaders who promote “diversity garbage”.

At San Jose State University in California, a Muslim woman told police that she had been grabbed by her hijab and choked.

At San Diego State University, a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf was attacked.

At Wellesley College, Black student organizations report that Trump supporters nearby Babson College spat at a black female student.

At York County School of Technology in York, Pennsylvania, high school students carried a Trump sign and yelled “white power” as they walked through the hall on Wednesday.

Students at Royal Oak Middle School in Royal Oak, Michigan, chanted “Build the wall” in the cafeteria on Wednesday.

In Utah, schools from elementary through high school are reporting incidents of Latino and Latina students being harassed and told to “go back to Mexico.”

This is happening in schools across the United States. This is our new no child left behind.

A week before the election, Charles Blow admonished, “Trump is an existential threat.” Existential, not ideological. When the election results became clear, David Remnick warned, “In the coming days, commentators will attempt to normalize this event.” They were both right, right as Cassandra. And so, “thoughtful” discussions of the current “situation” intone phrases like “primal scream” and “better a plan than a direct action”, ad nauseam.

Meanwhile, Denise Cervantes is a Latina student who writes for the student newspaper at Texas State University in San Marcos. The other day, a male student wearing a Trump 2016 shirt spat at her and told her she did not belong there anymore. Denise Cervantes reflects, “I didn’t realize that it would get this bad all of a sudden”. It has. The time to make America decent is now.

 

(Photo Credit: Huffington Post / Reuters / Patrick Fallon)

The work of mourning and struggle continue, and that work demands light

Ilhan Omar

Ilhan Omar

“Mourning always follows a trauma . . . The work of mourning is not one kind of work among others. It is work itself, work in general.”
Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx: the State of Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International

“I did not know the work of mourning
Is like carrying a bag of cement
Up a mountain at night …

Look closely and you will see
Almost everyone carrying bags
Of cement on their shoulders

That’s why it takes courage
To get out of bed in the morning
And climb into the day.”
Edward Hirsch, Gabriel: A Poem

We are in mourning today for the revelation of the chasm that has been there, been here, all along: white supremacy, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, ableism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, all held together by lies, hatred and violence. We are in mourning because the illusion of a just nation has been shown to be just that, an illusion. We are mourning because mourning always follows trauma, and we are each of us carrying bags of cement, not on our shoulders, but in our hearts and lungs and souls. And we are refusing to stay in bed. We are calling on the collective courage it takes to climb into the day.

So the news was bad yesterday, but the work continues, and that work demands light, and there is light, flickering, and not only that of millions of people already on the move because they have always been on the move. There is light coming from the very elections that have traumatized us.

Tammy Duckworth, an Asian American woman, was elected to represent Illinois in the United States Senate. Kamala Harris, who identifies as both black and Indian-American, was elected to represent California in the United States Senate. Catherine Cortez Masto, who is Latina, was elected to represent Nevada in the United States Senate. These three women of color will join Mazie Hirono, a Japanese American who represents Hawaii and was, until yesterday, the only woman of color in the Senate. When elected in 2006, Mazie Hirono was the first and only Asian-American woman senator and the first woman senator from Hawaii. Where there was one, now there are four.

And there’s more. The people of Washington’s 7th Congressional District elected Pramila Jayapal to the United States House of Representatives. Pramila Jayapal will be the first Indian-American will be the first Indian-American woman elected to Congress. And in Minnesota, Ilhan Omar won a Minnesota House seat, making her the first Somali-American legislator in the history of the United States.

Yes, the news was bad, terrible even, yesterday, and dark clouds threaten intimate and structural violence, but they did not block out the sun. Candles continue to flicker, and good people continue to cast both rays of light and moving shadows. In the words of Sojourner Truth, “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again!” And Mary Harris Jones roars in response, “Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living!”

Pramila Jayapal

Pramila Jayapal

 

(Photo 1 Credit: Minnesota Public Radio) (Photo Credit 2: KUOW)

A river of disenfranchisement runs through the elections

 

On Tuesday, November 8, Americans go to the polls. That’s the story line, but a river of disenfranchisement runs through those elections, and in some states, that river is a lake, if not ocean. Across the United States, over 6 million United States citizens are barred from voting because of “felony disenfranchisement”, laws that forever restrict voting rights for those who have ever been convicted of felony-level crimes. The good news is that more people are aware of this injustice, and, in states like Virginia and Maryland, governments or, in the case of Virginia, a governor is doing something about that. The bad news is a bit more voluminous: The numbers of felony disenfranchised have risen precipitously and steadily over the last few decades. 1 in 40 adults, or 2.5 of the total voting age population is currently barred from voting due to felony disenfranchisement. One in 13 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised. Black Lives Matter. Black Voters Matter, too. Felony disenfranchisement has been a war on Black and Brown communities, and it has targeted women of color particularly.

Like all wars, this war has its special geographies. In Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia, more than 7 percent of the adult population is disenfranchised. Florida alone accounts for 27 percent of the disenfranchised population nationally. In Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia, more than one in five African Americans is disenfranchised.

Eight states deny voting rights more or less permanently: Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee. Arizona permanently disenfranchises persons with two or more felony convictions. Mississippi permanently disenfranchises persons convicted of certain felonies. In Delaware people convicted of murder, bribery, and sexual offenses are permanently disenfranchised.

Iowa presents a particularly painful theater of cruelty. In 2005, Governor Tom Vilsack restored voting rights to those who had completed their sentences via executive order on July 4, 2005. In 2011, Governor Terry Branstad reversed the executive order and returned many to permanent disenfranchisement.

In 2015, in Kentucky, Governor Steve Beshear restored voting rights to individuals with former non-violent felony convictions via executive order. Later in 2015, when Governor Matt Bevin took office, he reversed this executive order.

Tennessee offers an entire menu of options for disenfranchisement. Those convicted of certain felonies since 1981 and those convicted of certain felonies prior to 1973 are permanently disenfranchised.

Nevada disenfranchises anyone convicted of one or more violent felonies and anyone convicted of two or more felonies of any type. In Nevada, two strikes and you’re out … for good.

These policies have a face and body to them, and it’s Black, Brown, and female. The so-called War on Drugs has resulted in women being the fastest growing prison and jail population in the United States, and the vast majority of those women have been convicted of non-violent felonies that previously would not have resulted in prison or jail time or in disenfranchisement.

But it’s not all bad news.

This year, Alabama, California, Maryland, and Wyoming eased various restrictions. For example, Maryland restored voting rights to people on probation or parole. With that, they restored the voting rights to around 40,000 people.

In Virginia, Governor Terry McAuliffe restored voting and civil rights to 206,000 people who had been disenfranchised permanently. Republicans objected, sued in the Virginia Supreme Court, which overturned Governor McAuliffe’s restoration of voting rights for people who had completed their sentences. So, Terry McAuliffe pulled a gubernatorial all-nighter, and, in August 2016, individually restored the voting rights of 12,832 individuals.

Meanwhile, Maine and Vermont have no restrictions. None. In prison? Your vote counts. On parole or probation? Your vote counts. Served all your time, including prison and parole? Your vote counts. Your vote counts. Period.

A river of disenfranchisement runs through the electoral process, but people are refusing to drown in it. Across the country, organizations are pushing for an end to felony disenfranchisement and a recognition of the injustice that has been put upon communities of color, and in particular women of color. Whatever happens on Tuesday, over 6 million people deserved better. Democracy matters.

 

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Atlanta Black Star) (Video Credit: The Atlantic / YouTube) (Photo Credit 2: Louisiana Justice Institute)

The ongoing persecution of LGBT asylum seekers must end! Where is the outrage?

 

In the past two weeks, two separate reports have highlighted the ongoing persecution of LGBT asylum seekers in the United States and the United Kingdom. On October 26, Stonewall and the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group, or UKLGIG, released No Safe Refuge: Experiences of LGBT Asylum Seekers in Detention. On the same day, the Center for American Progress released its finding, “ICE Officers Overwhelmingly Use Their Discretion to Detain LGBT Immigrants.” While the research of both organizations is both urgent and important and the stories are all too familiarly heartrending, the only new piece in both reports is that the abuse of LGBT asylum seekers is intensifying and expanding, and even that is not really new, since the pattern has been ongoing for some time now. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals travel great journeys to arrive at something like haven or sanctuary, and they are increasingly thrown into cages where they are rendered ever more vulnerable. Consider a cursory examination of the past five years.

Brenda Namigadde fled Uganda in 2003 after her house was destroyed and her life was threatened … because her life partner was a woman. Namigadde fled to the United Kingdom, where she sought asylum. In 2011, she was turned down, because of insufficient proof of `being lesbian’. Namigadde was sent to Yarl’s Wood, where she awaited, in terror, to be deported to Uganda. Thanks to an international campaign and the murder of David Kato just days before her scheduled deportation flight, Brenda Namigadde’s case was re-opened.

Also in 2011, Betty Tibikawa, a Ugandan lesbian who applied for asylum in the United Kingdom, was turned down and thrown in Yarl’s Wood. Betty Tibikawa’s family had disowned her. The infamous Ugandan tabloid, the Red Pepper, identified Tibikawa as lesbian, and so extended the threat to her life and well being. And she had been tortured. Having just graduated from high school, Betty Tibikawa was preparing to go to university in Kampala when three men abducted her. They took her to an abandoned building and branded her thighs with a hot iron. They left her unconscious. She remained at home, in bed, for two months. In the home of the family that then disowned her for being lesbian. Betty Tibikawa was deemed insufficiently lesbian for asylum.

Jackie Nanyonjo died in Kampala, Uganda, March 8, 2013. Jackie Nanyonjo was a lesbian who fled Uganda, made it to England, and applied for asylum. Jackie Nanyonjo fought for the rights, power and dignity of women, LGBTI individuals and communities, lesbians, asylum seekers. She fought for those rights on the streets; in the cells and corridors of Yarl’s Wood; and in the airplane that took her back to Kampala. When she arrived in Kampala, she went into hiding. She didn’t contact members of the organized LGBT rights communities, most likely because of the pogroms against lesbians and gays and their organizations. And so she died in hiding.

In 2014, Aidah Asaba, a Ugandan lesbian asylum seeker in England, was thrown into Yarl’s Wood, again for insufficient lesbianism. While Aidah Asaba sat in Yarl’s Wood, openly lesbian Anne Nasozzi was taken from Yarl’s Wood and deported to Uganda.

In 2014, the United Kingdom tried to crush Nigerian lesbian, feminist, asylum seeker Aderonke Apata. They threw her into Yarl’s Wood. She organized and mobilized. They tried to cast doubt on her claim of being a lesbian. She looked at them with pity, and then provided evidence. They tried to silence her. She founded Manchester Migrant Solidarity, aka MiSol, “a convergence space for migrants (including asylum seekers, economic migrants etc.) and non-migrants, offering practical and social activities for mutual support, empowerment and solidarity.” Today, Aderonke Apata is still organizing across England, surrounded by the ghosts of sisters sent off and the voices of sisters inside.

The stories in the United States, such as that of Sulma Franco, a 31-year-old LGBT activist, are equally disgraceful and disturbing. Except that the State is neither disgraced nor disturbed, and therein lies the tragedy. There have been and will be reports, thoroughly researched and nothing short of tragic. And through the long trek of reports, the situation worsens. Proportionately more lesbian, gay, bi, and trans asylum seekers are incarcerated, and in raw numbers more LGBT asylum seekers are behind bars. The persecution intensifies as it expands. There is still little to no concern among the magistrates and judges, and little to less than no training among the staff, and so the violations continue, intensify and expand.

Where is the outrage? Why must vulnerable people, and in particular lesbian and transgender women, go through the heroics of Aderonke Apata or Sulma Franco in order to secure a modicum of dignity and respect from the State? How many stories of torture and trauma will it take before we close this era of witch trials?

 

 

(Image Credit 1: Center for American Progress) (Image Credit 2: Stonewall)

What happened to Renée Davis? Just another Native woman killed by police

Renée Davis

Renée Davis

On Friday, October 21, 23-year-old mother of three, Renée Davis was killed, in her living room, by two police officers making a “wellness check” on her. Renée Davis lived, and died, on the Muckleshoot Reservation, in Washington State. Renée Davis is the fifth Native American woman to be killed by police this year. On March 27, 27-year-old Loreal Juana Barnell-Tsingine was shot five times by a police officer in Winslow, Arizona. In January, in Washington State, Jacqueline Salyers was killed under disputed circumstances. In February, in Alaska, police shot and killed Patricia Kruger. In the same month, in Arizona, police killed Sherrisa Homer. Last year, police did not kill any Native American women. This year, it’s fast becoming the new normal. Native Americans top the charts on police killings.

According to Renée Davis’ sister, Danielle Bargala, Renée Davis was five months pregnant and struggling with depression. On Friday evening, Renée Davis texted someone that she was in a bad way, and that person called the police to check in on her: “It’s really upsetting because it was a wellness check. Obviously, she didn’t come out of it well.” It’s also really upsetting because it repeats an all-too-familiar script. Police encounters with Native women struggling with mental illness too often result in Native women lying dead in their homes or on the streets, more often than not as a consequence of seeking help: “The high rate of these killings is also a result of the comparative dearth of mental healthcare services for Native Americans, says Bonnie Duran, an Opelousas/Coushatta tribe descendent … People threatening suicide and experiencing other mental health crises made up one-quarter of all those killed by cops in the first half of 2016, according to data collected by the Washington Post; they made up nearly half of the Native deaths.”

The same happens in jails, as the death of Christina Tahhahwah demonstrates, and the jailhouse death of Sarah Lee Circle Bear reminds us that a Native woman in excruciating pain and agony, crying for help, will be ignored and worse.

According to today’s Washington PostFatal Force Index,” as of today, “785 people have been shot and killed by police in 2016.” Of those, Renée Davis is the most recent. Of the 785, 33 were women. Five of those women were Native American. According to The Guardian database, police have shot and killed 875 people this year. Where last year, police shot and killed 13 Native Americans, this year police have already shot and killed 14 Native Americans, of whom five were women. This means that, as of now, Native Americans, at 5.91deaths per million, top the charts on police killings.

Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary happened to Renée Davis, just another Native woman who needed and sought help and was killed by the State for so doing and so being. Danielle Bargala remembers her sister, “She was such a soft person.” Renée Davis leaves behind three children, whose ages are 2, 3 and 5: “Davis’ family is now trying to figure out where her children will go. For the moment … they are staying with relatives.”

 

(Photo Credit: Facebook / Indian Country Today Media Network)

Ava DuVernay’s 13TH is great, but where are the women prisoners?

Ava DuVernay’s 13TH is an important, must-see documentary concerning mass and hyper incarceration in the United States. It’s particularly powerful on the Constitutional sources of a national program to imprison thousands of African American men and communities of color. As film critic Manohla Dargis wrote, “Powerful, infuriating and at times overwhelming, Ava DuVernay’s documentary `13TH’ will get your blood boiling and tear ducts leaking. It shakes you up, but it also challenges your ideas about the intersection of race, justice and mass incarceration in the United States, subject matter that could not sound less cinematic.” Who’s missing at the intersection of race, justice and mass incarceration? Women. Where are the women prisoners in this account? Almost nowhere to be seen.

The most salient omission of women prisoners in the history as told by 13TH is in the section concerning the war on drugs. While the intent of that war, from Nixon to today, is brilliantly depicted, the fact that the war on drugs has made women the fastest growing prison population is never mentioned. In 2014, the National Research Council released The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences, a review of the literature on mass incarceration in the United States over the preceding four decades, which reported the following:

For four decades, women have been the fastest growing prison population. The United States has one third of the world’s female prison population. The majority of women in prison are mothers. Women’s prisons are historically `under resourced’ and that situation is only getting worse. Women prisoners face particularly high rates of sexual violence from prison staff. Women prisoners have exceptionally high rates of PTSD, mental illness, and alcohol and drug dependence. Women prisoners have astronomically, shockingly high rates of abnormal pap smears. Here are some highlights:

“More than 200,000 women are in jails or prisons in the United States, representing nearly one-third of incarcerated females worldwide. The past three to four decades have seen rapid growth in women’s incarceration rates—a rise of 646 percent since 1980 compared with a 419 percent rise for men”

“Incarceration rates have increased more rapidly for females than for males since the early 1970s. In 1972, the prison and jail incarceration rate for men was estimated to be 24 times higher than that for women. By 2010, men’s incarceration rate was about 11 times higher. Women’s incarceration rate had thus risen twice as rapidly as men’s in the period of growing incarceration rates.”

“Compared with men, women are sentenced more often to prison for nonviolent crimes: about 55 percent of women sentenced to prison have committed property or drug crimes as compared with about 35 percent of male prisoners. Women also are more likely than men to enter prison with mental health problems or to develop them while incarcerated: about three-quarters of women in state prisons in 2004 had symptoms of a current mental health problem, as opposed to 55 percent of men.

“Women’s prisons historically have been under resourced and underserved in correctional systems, so that women prisoners have had less access to programming and treatment than their male counterparts. Women prisoners also are more likely to be the targets of sexual abuse by staff.”

“A majority of women prisoners are mothers, who must grapple with the burden of being separated from their children during incarceration. In 2004, 62 percent of female state and federal inmates (compared with 51 percent of male inmates) were parents. Of those female inmates, 55 percent reported living with their minor children in the month before arrest, 42 percent in single-parent households; for male inmates who were parents, the corresponding figures were 36 and 17 percent.”

That was two years ago. In the intervening period, from the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Alabama to the Lowell Correctional Institution in Florida to Berks Family Detention Center in Pennsylvania to the California Institution for Women to prisons and jails and detention centers from Alaska to South Dakota to Texas to Oklahoma to Virginia to New York and beyond, the situation for women at the intersection of race, class, disability, justice and mass incarceration has worsened. At the same time, women have led and are leading campaigns to do more than end mass incarceration. Ava DuVernay’s 13TH is a great, must-see documentary because it sheds light on the systemic violence committed against people of color in the name of justice and `security’ and because it opens the door to the next great documentary in which must-see women prisoners lay out the map for a justice system that includes and honors all of us.

 

(Infographic Credit: Prison Policy Initiative) (Photo Credit: Female Report)

#NiUnaMenos: In Argentina, women declare a general strike against all violence against women

For the past two years, women in Argentina, and elsewhere, have been organizing and mobilizing to end violence against women, gathering under the banner, Ni Una Menos. Not One Woman Less. Today, Wednesday, October 19, 2016, they are organizing a general strike to address and end violence against women, from sexual to cultural to economic violence. The torture and murder of Lucía Pérez is the most recent spark, but the flame has been ongoing and growing. In the streets, alleys, and rooms of Argentina, women dressed in black have declared today is Black Wednesday, #MiércolesNegro: “In your office, school, hospital, law court, newsroom, shop, factory, or wherever you are working, stop for an hour to demand ‘no more machista violence’.” As Ingrid Beck of Ni Una Menos explained, “We’re calling it Black Wednesday because we’re in mourning for all of the dead women, all of the women killed simply for being women.”

Florencia Minici, also of Ni Una Menos, added, “With our rage at the femicide of Lucía in Mar del Plata, at the hatred of the mother who murdered her lesbian daughter, at the stabbing of teenagers in La Boca and with our anger at the repression of the National Congress of Women in Rosario, we call on everyone to come out from our workplaces and our homes … to make visible the femicide and the precarization of women’s lives.”

A communiqué from Ni Una Menos further noted, “Behind the rise and viciousness of the femicidal violence lies an economic plot. The lack of women’s autonomy leaves us more unprotected when we say no and so leaves us as easy targets for trafficking networks or as `cheap’ bodies for both the drug and the retail markets … While the average unemployment in Argentina is 9.3 percent, for women it is 10.5.”

The women of Argentina know and are signaling that violence against women is part of the current government’s neoliberal economic structural adjustment `development’ program. Leaving women without a say is as vulnerable to economic exploitation as to physical violence. Both are part of a political economic program of spectacular death for women. That’s why today’s mobilization is called a work stoppage and is thought of as a general strike, “the first national women’s strike in the country’s history.”

Two weeks ago, on October 4, the women of Poland, dressed in Black, filled the streets. Today, October 19, the women of Argentina are doing the same. For women around the world, Black is the new Black.

#NiUnaMenos #VivasLasQueremos #MiercolesNegro

 

(Image Credit 1: Le Monde) (Image Credit 2: Twitter / @NiUnaMenos)