What happened to Andrea Circle Bear and Sarah Lee Circle Bear? American `justice’

FMC Carswell

Andrea Circle Bear died in federal custody Tuesday, April 28. Andrea Circle Bear is the first woman to die of Covid-19 while in federal custodyAndrea Circle Bear was convicted of a minor offense and should never have been in prison in the first place. When Andrea Circle Bear was sentenced, she was five months pregnant; she should never have been in prison. 

Andrea Circle Bear’s story is a familiar one for Native women in the United States. Andrea Circle Bear lived in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, on the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian reservation. In April 2018, Andrea Circle Bear was arrested and admitted to selling a small amount of methamphetamine. In March 2019, Andrea Circle Bear was charged. While awaiting trial, Andrea Circle Bear stayed in the Hughes County Jail, in Pierre, South Dakota. In November, Andrea Circle Bear was released for one day to attend divorce proceedings. On January 15, 2020, Andrea Circle Bear was sentenced to 20 months in federal prison. At the time, she was five months pregnant. Because of her pregnancy, Andrea Circle Bear was transferred to Federal Medical Facility Carswell, the only designated medical facility for women in the Federal Bureau of Prisons. FMC Carswell is in Fort Worth, Texas. 

When Andrea Circle Bear was removed from South Dakota, she was described as appearing to be healthy. Up to this moment, both the Hughes County Jail and Hughes County itself have no reported incidents of Coronavirus. The same cannot be said for Federal prisons in Texas.

As a newly arrived prisoner, Andrea Circle Bear was placed in quarantine on March 20. On March 28, due to concerns about her pregnancy, Andrea Circle Bear was taken to the hospital. She was returned to FMC Carswell the same day. On March 31, exhibiting Covid-19 symptoms, Andrea Circle Bear was taken back to the local hospital, where she was put on a ventilator. On April 1, Andrea Circle Bear underwent a caesarean, and gave birth. On April 4, Andrea Circle Bear was confirmed Covid-19 positive. On Tuesday, April 28, Andrea Circle Bear died. 

According to Andrea Circle Bear’s grandmother, Clara LeBeau, Andrea Circle Bear never belonged in prison in the first place and certainly should never have been shipped off to Texas. Andrea Circle Bear was the mother of five children. Because of earlier caesarean section births and other underlying medical conditions, she was considered a high-risk OB/GYN patient. Clara LeBeau told the court as much, and so did Andrea Circle Bear. According to Clara LeBeau, “She was concerned. She’s going somewhere to have her baby where she’s just not knowing the doctors and staff like she does here at the hospital in Pierre. I was concerned too, it bothered me. I said, ‘You shoulda told ‘em you were high risk,’ and she said she did. I guess they didn’t pay attention.” Andrea Circle Bear called her grandmother from Carswell: “She said ‘I told ‘em I was sick, I was in there four or five days and I was telling them but they didn’t pay attention.’ She said please call my grandma and tell her she’ll know and she’ll pray for me,’ but they didn’t even do that … I really believe it was their fault. If they’d known she was high-risk, they shouldn’t have even flown her. That was the start of everything.”

On July 6, Sarah Lee Circle Bear was “found” unconscious in a holding cell in Brown County Jail in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Sarah Lee Circle Bear was 24 years old, the mother of two children, aged one and two. She was picked up for a bond violation, a minor offense. According to other prisoners, before being transferred to a holding cell, Sarah Lee Circle Bear told her jailers that she was suffering excruciating pain. The staff told her to “knock it off” and “quit faking”. Inmates called to the staff to help her. The staff came, picked Sarah Lee Circle Bear up off the floor, dragged her out of the cell, and transferred to a holding cell. Later, they “found” Sarah Lee Circle Bear “unresponsive.” Seeking justice, the family sued. Just this January, it was announced that the federal law suit would go forward, sometime this year.

Sarah Lee Circle Bear was Andrea Circle Bear’s sister-in-law. 

If they’d paid attention, if they’d known. They paid attention, they knew. They didn’t care. As Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley noted, “Andrea should never have been in jail in the first place. Period. That she was there at all is cruel and negligent.” Cruel and negligent … but not unusual. Senator Dick Durbin concurs: “Andrea Circle Bear committed a low-level nonviolent drug offense, but she did not deserve to die, and an innocent child did not deserve to lose his mother. The Justice Department and Bureau of Prisons must act to prevent more death and suffering, and they must act now.” If history is any indication, Andrea Circle Bear’s death will not compel any federal agency into any action, other than a cover-up.

What happened to Andrea Circle Bear and Sarah Lee Circle Bear? Nothing much. Just another two Native American woman dead in custody somewhere in the United States, missing and murdered.

(Photo Credit: Federal Bureau of Prisons)

Covid Operations: On the genealogy of `overcrowding’, or how we learned to stop worrying and love the bomb

In the past 24 hours, overcrowding has made the news: “As France releases thousands, can Covid-19 end chronic prison overcrowding?” “Nine killed in Peru prison protest against overcrowded conditions during pandemic”. Earlier in the week, “COVID-19 Reaches Lebanon’s Overcrowded Palestinian Refugee Camps”. Overcrowding is the Janus face of the pandemic. On one hand, with the regime of social and physical distancing comes concern over overcrowding. Beaches and bars are dangerously overcrowded. When schools re-open, how will they maintain social distancing, how will they avoid overcrowding? In this context, overcrowding has a clear metric: six feet or two meters between each person. It’s measurable, there’s a formula. On the other hand, overcrowding is the `petri dish’ for infection: in prisons, jails, immigration detention centers, juvenile detention centers, in `overly dense’ neighborhoods and individual residences. Here, the math gets fuzzy, as do history and memory. Prisons have been overcrowded for as long as mass incarceration has been the ruling ideology; cities have been divided into “neighborhoods” and “slums”, the latter “relentlessly …  overcrowded”, for as long as real estate and commodification of urban space have been a main economic driver. Why does it take a pandemic for `the world’ to take notice?

Consider these statements from the last couple days. In calling for Iran to release its female prisoners of conscience and political prisoners, UN human rights representatives noted, “Iran’s prisons have long-standing hygiene, overcrowding and healthcare problems.” In some places, prison overcrowding is not only long-standing but `notorious’: “Throughout Latin America, prisons are notoriously overcrowded, violent and dominated in large part by gangs or corrupt officials.” “The spreading specter of the new coronavirus is shaking Latin America’s notoriously overcrowded, unruly prisons, threatening to turn them into infernos.” “Throughout Latin America, prisons are notoriously overcrowded and violent, and Peru is no exception.” How did Latin American prisons become notoriously overcrowded while the equally overcrowded prisons of the United States are merely “overcrowded and underfunded” or “significantly overcrowded”. Prisons in the United States are described as having “a troubling history of overcrowding and unsanitary conditions”; prisons in France and Europe are described as a “combination of cramped quarters, poor sanitation and desperate overcrowding”.

Last year, the United Nations reported that by 2018, over 1 billion people were living in slums or informal settlements. In 2018, the world population was around 7.6 billion. 13% of the world was living in slums or informal settlements. 23.5% of urban populations were living in slums or informal settlements. Where was the `notoriety’ over the past thirty years of urban so-called development: escalating rents matched with reducing numbers of rental units, proportionately less and less “affordable and adequate housing”. For the urban poor, at first, and then for everyone but the urban rich, expulsion and exclusion became the daily in what was fast becoming  a planet of slums.

Yesterday, when Cicero Public Health Director Susan Grazzini was asked about Cicero’s high rate of Covid-19 infection, her answer was short and direct: “It’s overcrowding. There are certain areas where we have more COVID-19 (cases). Its more places that are overcrowded.” A week or so earlier, when Gabriel Scally, the Royal Society of Medicine’s head of epidemiology, was asked about England’s urban high rate of Covid-19 infection, his answer was equally direct: “Houses in multiple occupation must be in the same category as care homes because of the sheer press of people. I have no doubt that these kinds of overcrowded conditions are tremendously potent in spreading the virus.”

This is our built environment. More segregated cities where increasing numbers of people live in lethally toxic overcrowded residences, overcrowded both in their respective residences and in their neighborhoods; where cities pay more to sequester the overcrowded than to attend to them. More prisons, more prisoners, where, again, overcrowded goes hand-in-glove with drastic, even criminal underfunding; where administrations, from national to municipal and county, pay more to sequester the overcrowded than to attend to them. This is a small part of the story of how we learned to stop worrying about overcrowding and love the apartheid bomb.

(Photo Credit: Meridith Kohut / New York Times)

Covid Operations: We’re all in this together? 7 of the 10 largest Covid-19 clusters in the U.S. are jails and prisons. Do not look away.

According to yesterday’s New York Times, 7 of the 10 largest Covid-19 clusters in the United States are prisons and jails: Marion Correctional Institution, Marion, Ohio, 2,168 cases; Pickaway Correctional Institution, Scioto Township, Ohio, 1,632 cases; Cook County Jail, Chicago, Illinois, 812 cases; Cummins Unit prison, Grady, Arkansas, 695 cases; Neuse Correctional Institution, Goldsboro, N.C., 457 cases; Parnall Correctional Facility, Jackson, Michigan, 232 cases; Stateville Correctional Center, Cresthill, Illinois, 191 cases; for a grand total of 6187 reported cases, and that was yesterday. The numbers continue to rise. (For example, on Sunday, Marion Correctional reported 1828 cases among the prison population, 73% of the prisoners. As of yesterday, the number was 2168, a 6 percent increase in three days.) As of this afternoon, 26 states have fewer than 6100 reported cases. Really, what else is there to say? We made this particular mess, this is who we are, we built our own archipelago of death and now we are told we are all in “this” together. Do not look away.

In the past two days, two reports have come out, one concerning the certain catastrophe built into U.S. jails; the other concerning the certain catastrophe built into prisons and jails across the globe. While horrifying, none of this new or unknown.

According to a report by the ACLU and researchers from Washington State University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Tennessee, a failure, or better refusal, to reduce jail populations will result in an additional 100,000 to close to 200,000 deaths. Why? Overcrowding. “The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world — with only 4 percent of the world’s population but 21 percent of the world’s incarcerated population …. Given the overcrowding and substandard conditions in most U.S. jails and prisons, standard public health interventions to `flatten the curve’ and prevent the spread of COVID-19 are simply not feasible. Most are unable to allow for six feet of social distancing among incarcerated people and staff and lack the facilities that allow for the recommended hand washing and cleaning of surfaces. Moreover, the health care available in our nation’s jails is chronically substandard, further fueling the growth of the pandemic and increasing mortality rates among those infected while in jail …. Jails, in particular, also act as vectors for infection in their surrounding communities. Jails are revolving doors for incarceration and face 10.7 million admissions a year3. That’s an admission every three seconds in America.” None of this, absolutely none of this, is new or surprising. It’s bad, but it’s not startling.

According to a report issued today by Penal Reform International, with the Thailand Institute of Justice, what’s true of U.S. jails, prisons and detention centers is true as well for much of the world’s population. The report opens: “Over 11 million people are imprisoned globally, the highest number yet. Around 102 countries reported prison occupancy levels of over 110 per cent. The magnitude of issues and associated human rights violations stemming from over-imprisonment became clear in efforts to prevent and contain outbreaks of COVID-19 in prisons.” Where in the incarcerated world are the women? In toxic, overcrowded, overly punitive, misogynistic, even femicidal prisons:  “Almost ten years since their adoption, the UN Bangkok Rules on women prisoners and non-custodial alternatives for women remain largely unimplemented. The global female prison population doubled in twenty years, yet justice systems and institutions remain largely designed for a homogeneous male population …. People who have not been found guilty of a crime outnumber convicted people in prison in at least 46 countries. Minorities, foreign nationals, women and the poorest people of our societies are all more likely to be detained on remand …. Prohibition-based drug policies have driven prison populations up. Over 2 million people are in prison for drug-related offences, 83 per cent of them serving a sentence for drug possession for personal use. A larger proportion of women than men are imprisoned for drug offences.” The report goes on to detail the particularities of abuse for the fastest growing prison population, globally as well as in the world’s leading incarcerator and leading proponent of incarceration as the only way forward. 

PRI’s Executive Director, Florian Irminger, summed up the four horsemen of today’s apocalypse, which is the apocalypse of the past four decades: “Overcrowding, lack of basic healthcare, limited access to clean water, inhumane living conditions.” None of this is new. It’s bad, but it’s not surprising. Overcrowding kills, overcrowding always has killed. As prison suicide and self-harm rates of the last four decades has shown, overcrowding morbidity has a woman’s face and body.  

We are told, and many of us would want to believe, that we are in this together. Together would mean that one doesn’t get to choose the outer boundaries of we. If we are in this together, let’s together end the overcrowding of prisons, jails, immigration centers, juvenile detention. Let’s not forget refugee camps: “As of May 2019, 90 per cent of the 73,000 people living in the al-Hol camp in Syria were women and children.” Wherever you are, local organizations and coalitions are organizing to empty the cells, immediately, and then to make sure that they are never again stocked with humans treated as so much trash. Reducing, and ending once and for all, overcrowding in carceral spaces is not rocket science. It simply involves all of us being in this together. Please, do not look away.

(Photo Credit: The Guardian/Tannen Maury/EPA) (Infographic Credit: ACLU)

Covid Operations: The laws be damned, evictions continue. Stop them now!

On Tuesday, April 14, Alexandria City Councilmember Canek Aguirre introduced a resolution to the City Council to freeze rents, mortgages and negative credit reporting: “No resident who has lost income should be required to pay rent during this public health emergency, nor should they accumulate debt for unpaid rent.” The City Council unanimously approved the resolution. Across the United States and around the world, the good news is that governments at all levels are enacting bills that freeze rents and mortgage payments as well as banning evictions. The bad news is that eviction notices are still going out and, even worse, evictions are still ongoing, in the very places where they have been banned. We have to talk about evictions and try to understand what’s going on.

First, the good news, from the past week or so. On Tuesday, in California, the San Jose City Council voted to extend a local moratorium on residential evictions until May 31, along with other renter protections. (Earlier in the month, California’s state legislature passed an eviction freeze that will last until 90 days after California’s state of emergency is lifted. While that in itself would be good news, better is that the legislature’s action took an earlier moratorium, by the Governor, and gave it sharper teeth and more muscle.) On Thursday, Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington, expanded and extended Washington’s eviction moratorium, and added additional protections. In Massachusetts, on Friday, the state legislature passed legislation that would ban evictions and foreclosures, and sent that on to the Governor to signOn Friday, David Ige, Governor of Hawaii, declared a moratorium on evictions; and Gretchen Whitmer, Governor of Michigan, extended Michigan’s eviction moratorium until May 15

 In India, on Friday, the Indian state of Maharashtra “asked landlords to postpone rent recovery from tenants for at least three months … [and] not to drive tenants out of their homes if they fail to pay rents during the current period.” On Monday, the South African government reiterated the national suspension of evictions during the national lockdown. Finally, in the United States, that national government enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, aka the CARES Act, which precludes being served with an eviction until July 25, 2020, along with a few other protections. With all these bans and moratoria, everything should be fine, right? Wrong.

On Thursday, Pro Publica reported that in at least four states – Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas and Florida – landlords continued to file eviction notices, despite the national ban, and suffered no negative consequences. What’s that you say about ignorance of the law being no excuse? Not when it comes to evictions, apparently. In California, in violation of both federal and even stronger state laws, landlords are threatening to evict and are evicting tenants. While both are illegal, actually evicting tenants means local law enforcement actually arrive at the residences and forcibly remove tenants. In Michigan, a landlord sent seven-day eviction notices to 80 tenants and explained that he had to, so as to “fulfill fiduciary responsibilities” to lenders. The law of lenders supersedes the law of both Michigan and the United States. The same story in LouisianaArizonaMissouri. Despite local and national legislation, across the United States, people are being evicted.

Likewise, in South Africa, despite a national moratorium on evictions, local jurisdictions have sent in police and special forces, colloquially know as Red Ants. to evict residents, most egregiously perhaps in Durban and Cape Town where they entered informal settlements, destroyed shacks, and `removed’ entire populations. Why does that sound familiar?

What is the investment in evictions? There’s the financial investment, but there’s more. In this period where staying at home, whatever that home looks like, can mean staying alive, what `inspires’ police and their avatars, who are just people like you and me, to render individuals, families, communities homeless, to turn fellow human beings into raw material for the global manufacturing of death and destruction? While the excuses and explanations are manifold and easily available, they all fall short when you put them face-to-face with the people who actually do the deed. What is our investment in evictions that, despite everything we know and think we know and feel and think we feel, we let them go on, a little dissipated in volume and velocity, perhaps, but as lethal as ever? 

(Credit for Everett Shinn, Eviction (Lower East Side): Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Covid Operations: The ticking time bomb has a dangerous history

In the era of Covid-19, in the current pandemic moment, the world has “discovered” that prisons, jails, immigration detention or removal centers, juvenile detention centers, and any place of confinement is predictably overcrowded, under-resourced, and, suddenly, dangerous to our public health. This “discovery” is described as the time bomb or, more dramatically, the ticking time bomb. While the ticking time bomb scenario suggests concern for the incarcerated and those who work within incarcerated spaces, the phrase “ticking time bomb” has its own history, especially in the last twenty years, a history we would do well to recall.

Here are some ticking time bomb scenarios from the past 24 hours or so. Across the United States, “rural America is left with not only a health care crisis but a potential ticking time bomb if these jails become hot spots of contagion.” Meanwhile, there’s a “health time bomb that could all too easily detonate in locked juvenile facilities.” In Wisconsin, the local ACLU explains, “Right now Wisconsin’s overcrowded prisons are a ticking time bomb that threatens the health of all Wisconsinites, especially people of color who are disproportionately impacted by mass incarceration”. In Mexico, the shelters along migrants’ routes understand that lack of information and misinformation can create its own time bomb: “We try to avoid this sort of mass panic among the people in the shelter, because that could be a time bomb.” In Panama, “overcrowding in prisons is seen as a time bomb”. In Haiti, “the prison network is an epidemiological ticking time bomb.” Peru’s prisons are “a time bomb” as are those in Colombia, the Dominican Republic. In the Philippines, “jails are a COVID-19 time bomb”.  Overcrowded Cambodian prisons and drug detention centres “are a ticking time bomb for the country and potentially its neighbours.”

That’s 24 hours, and that’s 24 hours. Remember the television series, 24, in which counter-terrorist agent Jack Bauer, every week, found himself in a situation in which he had 24 hours in which to stop a massive terrorist attack? The fact that there was a finite, definite and even definitive time frame meant that Bauer could ethicallytorture suspects in order to gain the vital information. That, in a nutshell, is the ticking time bomb scenario. From September 11 on, for well over a decade, a subject of passionate debate among some was whether or not torture was ever justified, much less ethical. Despite so-called liberal traditions, some claimed that within weeks, the U.S. populace overwhelmingly embraced the logic of the ticking time bomb. 

While the ticking time scenario lit up the recent and long dark night of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and beyond, its origins are said to Jeremy Bentham’s 1804 essay “Means of extraction for extraordinary occasions”: “Suppose an occasion to arise, in which a suspicion is entertained, as strong as that which would be received as a sufficient ground for arrest and commitment as for felony — a suspicion that at this very time a considerable number of individuals are actually suffering, by illegal violence inflictions equal in intensity to those which if inflicted by the hand of justice, would universally be spoken of under the name of torture. For the purpose of rescuing from torture these hundred innocents, should any scruple be made of applying equal or superior torture, to extract the requisite information from the mouth of one criminal, who having it in his power to make known the place where at this time the enormity was practicing or about to be practiced, should refuse to do so?”

For over 200 years, so-called liberal democracies officially took on that supposition and rejected it. In 2001, that all seemed to change. What changed was not the practice of torture but the official practice of torture; what changed was also the ostensible vox populi. The point is that, historically, the invocation of a ticking time bomb has been more than a warning of impending and catastrophic violence and harm. The invocation of the ticking time bomb has been used to justify the abrogation of due process, of Constitutionally protected rights, and of both humanity and a sense of humanity. Remember that. Those currently living in prisons, jails, immigration detention centers, juvenile detention centers face the real and immediate danger of deaths in epic number. They need neither discoveries nor metaphors; they deserve dignity and respect, and they need to be released now.  

(Image Credit: San Francisco Gate)

Covid Operations: Where is the State that practices grace?

For many religious and faith-based communities, these are days of thanks and reflection. Easter. Passover. Ramadan. Days of grace, days of saying grace. Where is the State of grace, where is the nation-State that practices, that is made of practices of, pardon, forgiveness, clemency, mercy? Where is the nation-State whose actions form a daily and constitutive prayer of grace? Where is the State that is grateful for humanity?

Here’s some news from the past day or so. Predictably, the national iterations of the global lockdown has “resulted” in a spike in domestic violence, especially in home-based violence against women and girls: ZimbabweSouth Africa,  Trinidad and TobagoMexicoIndiaChinaFranceSpainItaly,  across the United States, and around the world. This spike was predictable, and national governments did nothing, often did less than and worse than nothing, to address the “shadow pandemic”. In many ways, the reporting naturalizes the situation. Boys will be boys, men will be men, women will be beaten and sacrificed. It’s a shame, but really … what can we do? We can shut off access to reproductive health, GBV survivors’ support, and HIV testing. We can do that. While some have noted the ways in which individual national responses “are failing women”, the situation is more direct, aggressive and violent. Nation-States have sacrificed women, en masse and particularly, reprising the femicidal practices of witch hunts, replete with sanctimonious speeches of rule of law, morality and faith. These are days of thanks and reflections, days of grace.

Where is the State that practices grace? While Governors and individual state Departments of Correction debate releasing prisoners to avert a prison-based massacre, at the national level, the United States government has “quietly” ended asylum processes and sped up deportation proceedings. In the past couple weeks, the United States has expelled 6,300 “undocumented migrants”, including unaccompanied children. Children at the border are being turned away rather than turned over to shelters. Children already in shelters are being forced to go to court, often without any legal representation, and then are shipped off like so much cargo. First, we reiterate the witch hunt, then we repeat the human cargo ships of the slave trade. And then we say grace. 

A while ago, Korean-American poet Emily Yungmin Yoon also reflected on how `we’ say grace, how the nation-State says grace:

Say Grace

In my country our shamans were women
and our gods multiple until white people brought
an ecstasy of rosaries and our cities today
glow with crosses like graveyards. As a child
in Sunday school I was told I’d go to hell
if I didn’t believe in God. Our teacher was a woman
whose daughters wanted to be nuns and I asked
What about babies and what about Buddha, and she said
They’re in hell too and so I memorized prayers
and recited them in front of women
I did not believe in. Deliver us from evil.
O sweet Virgin Mary, amen. O sweet. O sweet.
In this country, which calls itself Christian,
what is sweeter than hearing Have mercy
on us. From those who serve different gods. O
clement, O loving, O God, O God, amidst ruins,
amidst waters, fleeing, fleeing. Deliver us from evil.
O sweet, O sweet. In this country,
point at the moon, at the stars, point at the way the lake lies,
with a hand full of feathers,
and they will look at the feathers. And kill you for it.
If a word for religion they don’t believe in is magic
so be it, let us have magic. Let us have
our own mothers and scarves, our spirits,
our shamans and our sacred books. Let us keep
our stars to ourselves and we shall pray
to no one. Let us eat
what makes us holy.”

Amen.

(Image of Lantern Tree by Georgia O’Keeffe: Wadsworth Atheneum)

Covid Operations: I want to talk about compassion … and the compassionate state

i want to talk about gratitude.
i want to talk about compassion.
i want to talk about respect.
how even the desperate deserve it.
                                    Lenelle Moise

Haitian American poet Lenelle Moise begins her poem, “quaking conversation”, as follows:

“i want to talk about haiti.
how the earth had to break
the island’s spine to wake
the world up to her screaming.

how this post-earthquake crisis
is not natural
or supernatural.
i want to talk about disasters.

how men make them
with embargoes, exploitation,
stigma, sabotage, scalding
debt and cold shoulders.”

I want to talk about compassion. Like “kind”, “compassion” was once an active, transitive verb, meaning to have compassion on and with. You could compassion someone, we could compassion one another. Today, compassion is supposed to suggest that we suffer together, that seeing the suffering of another, one suffers if not identically equally. I want talk about compassion and ask, “Where is the State that is compassionate? That suffers with the suffering?”

Here’s some news from the past 24 hours. Law enforcers kill and brutalize during SA lockdown. Still in South Africa, municipalities defy Covid-19 eviction moratorium. Those evicted want to know how can children wash their hands if they’re homeless? National governments watch and do nothing concerning overcrowded, toxic conditions in refugee `camps’ in Greeceimmigrant detention centers, prisons, and jails across the United States and elsewhere. Corporations force workers to show up for work and then provide little to no protection and no consideration or benefits: AmazonTargetFedEx. Meanwhile gig workers, casual workers, `informal’ workers across the country experience erasureUndocumented workers become the new generation to live Silence = Death, which begins as Invisibility = Death. Exclusion is a death sentence. We continue to debate who is an essential worker, essential workers continue to die. Meanwhile, across the United States, Coronavirus is “ravaging Black communities”; African Americans are “dying at an alarming rate during the pandemic”. This is a partial list of less than 24 hours in the day in the life. Exclusion = death. It always has.

In the current state of exception, we must dream, demand, and create exceptional states, states that refuse the necropolitical, exclusionary diktat of acceptable collateral damage. At the end of March, as the death tolls rose and rose, Spain extended unemployment benefits to domestic workers. While it’s not perfect, it is an expansion of rights and recognition by the State. In South Korea, the city of Ansan decided to extend “livelihood security support benefits” to all residents, including foreign residents. Again, it’s not perfect, but, again, it is an expansion of rights and recognition by the State. Anything less is a death sentence. A status quo built on exclusion is a death sentence and always has been. We must talk about compassion and we must work to build a compassionate State. I want to talk about compassion. 

(Image by Mimi Zhu: National Museum of Women in the Arts)

The women held hostage in Yarl’s Wood demand freedom now! #ShutYarlsWood

England built a special hell for women: Yarl’s Wood. This week, women held in Yarl’s Wood, where last week a “resident” tested positive for Covid-19, sent a petition to Movement for Justice By Any Means Necessary, demanding their release immediately: “Free us all now!!! Shut Down the Detention Centre!”.

The petition reads:

“1. COVID-19 IS IN YARL’S WOOD, OUR VISITS HAVE BEEN CANCELLED, WE ARE ISOLATED AND OUR MENTAL HEALTH IS SUFFERING.

2.  SOME OF US HAVE ASTHMA, HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE & OTHER CONDITIONS THAT MAKE US MORE VULNERABLE TO COVID-19, AS WELL AS BEING SCARED FOR OUR OWN HEALTH, SCARED FOR OUR FAMILIES ON THE OUTSIDE AND WE WANTED TO BE WITH THEM.

3. WE CANNOT GET THE HEALTHCARE WE NEED IN DETENTION, THEY JUST GIVE US PARACETAMOL. SERCO CANNOT KEEP US SAFE. PEOPLE WILL DIE.

4. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO DO SOCIAL DISTANCING IN OUR WINGS, WE HAVE NOT HAD ANY TRAINING ON HOW TO USE THE MASK AND GLOVES THEY GAVE US.

5. OUR SOLICITORS CANNOT VISIT US AND OUR BAIL HEARINGS ARE BEING CANCELLED AND MOVE TO PAPER DECISIONS. WE ARE DENIED JUSTICE. 

6. WE CANNOT BE PUT ON FLIGHTS ANY TIME SOON BECAUSE OF THE TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS.

7. IT IS INHUMAN AND UNJUST THAT WE ARE HELD IN DETENTION DURING THIS PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS. SOME OF US HAVE COMMITTED NO CRIMES, ALL OF US WITH CONVICTIONS HAVE SERVED OUR TIME AND EVEN LONGER BECAUSE OF DETENTION.

8. HUNDRED HAVE BEEN RELEASED IN THE PAST TWO WEEKS, BUT IT IS TAKING TOO LONG.

FREE US ALL NOW!!! SHUT DOWN THE DETENTION CENTRE! ”

Twenty-seven of approximately thirty women in one wing at Yarl’s Wood signed the petition. 

In 2015, the Chief Inspectorate of Prisons for the United Kingdom found that Yarl’s Wood failed to meet the needs of vulnerable women. Yarl’s Wood didn’t fail, it refused to meet the needs of vulnerable women, because it refuses to recognize the humanity of any women. Every year since 2015, the situation has worsened and intensified, and then came Covid-19. Every day, more women are sent to Yarl’s Wood, during the pandemic. How impoverished must the United Kingdom be in every way conceivable that it cannot absorb some 300 or so women with a few children? How poor a nation. Release the women from Yarl’s Wood immediately. Shut it down, once and for all. Refugees and asylum seekers are not, and never have been, the crisis. The crisis is our inhumanity, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, nationalism. The time for concern and for discussion is over. The time for justice, and for reparations, is upon us and long overdue. Shut Yarl’s Wood down; do it now … in the name of health! FREE THEM ALL NOW!!! SHUT DOWN ALL DETENTION CENTRES!

(Photo Credit: Politics.co.uk) (Image Credit: Detained Voices)

Covid Operations: Be a force of kindness, not of might. Close the detention centers!

“For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”  Matthew 7

South Africa is in the second day of a 21-day lockdown, monitored and enforced by the police and armed forces, as well as neighbors, family and other less threatening people. Before sending the armed forces to wander the streets where people live and, for the rare few, work, President Cyril Ramaphosa urged the army to “be a force of kindness and not of might. Deliver your duties in a way that does not violate our people’s rights either intentionally or unintentionally.” Be a force of kindness, and not of might. On the same day that invocation of kindness was reported, it was also reported that the city of Swakopmund, in Namibia, would provide free water to those living in its informal settlements. The day before it was reported that Namibia’s capital city, Windhoek, would reconnect “defaulters’ water”. We are awash in stories of kindness and unkindness, and we will be judged by the deeds we do and the words we say and write. At the same time, so many of the reports of “acts of kindness” are individual acts, acts within and of civil society writ large, and not acts of the state. While individual acts matter terrifically, as we have learned to our detriment in the United States, the nation-State must be the State as well as the nation. 

Be a force of kindness, not of might. Tell that to ICE and its supporters. On March 21, ALDEA-The People’s Justice Center in Reading, the Rapid Defense Network in New York, and the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, or RAICES, in San Antonio, Texas, representing scores of children, sued the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Attorney General. Their suit opens: “This case presents the question of whether the government can recklessly expose Petitioners … to conscious shocking risk of exposure to contracting the deadly Covid-19 virus in the midst of a global pandemic by failing to take the most minimal precautions to prepare for the all too foreseeable catastrophe in crowded family detention. The answer is no.” Berks. Dilley. Karnes. The answer is no.

In the three so-called family detention centers, people are living in close quarters with little to no attention to sanitation or hygiene, “a tinderbox that, once sparked, will create a crisis that threatens the lives of women, men and children”. In Dilley, a pregnant Honduran woman, identified as O.M.G., stays with her 4-year-old daughter, who has started coughing, “I must be close to others all the time. I fear for my life, and the life of my daughter and unborn child.” In Berks, a 5-year-old was taken to the hospital after weeks of coughing. According to Bridget Cambria, Executive Director of Aldea, that girl won’t be the last child whose health is endangered at Berks, “Children can’t social distance on their own. They’re going to put things in their mouth. They’re going to touch other children. It’s not like people can go to a different room to be by themselves.

Across the country, the stories of immigrant detention come to the same conclusion, “It’s basically torture.” And it’s not only women and children being tortured. This week, the ACLU of Pennsylvania sued to release elderly and infirm `detainees’, more like hostages, from immigrant detention centers. In San Diego, people seeking asylum end up in “the Icebox”, “La Hielera”, where the temperature is kept intentionally extremely low, and of course it’s overcrowded. From sea to shining sea … 

There is a saying in Zulu, “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”. A person is a person through other people. Ubuntu. I am because you are. I am because, together, we are, mutually, reciprocally. Once upon a time, a long long time ago, the word “kind” was an active, transitive verb, meaning to treat kindly or with good will. You could kind someone, we could kind one another. Once upon a time, a long long time ago … 

(Image Credit: Velaphi Mzimba / Everard Read – Cape Town) (Video: YouTube)

Nicoletta Dosio: “I will carry to the end with joy”

Nicoletta Dosio

Nicoletta Dosio is a 74-year-old Italian activist, feminist, Communist who, in 2012, protested against the Turin – Lyon high speed rail project, TAV. At the end of last year, Nicoletta Dosio was arrested, tried, and convicted to a year in prison, in Turin. From her prison cell, Nicoletta Dosio has written, “I’m fine, I’m happy with the choice I made because it is the result of a just and beautiful cause, the NoTav struggle which is also the struggle for a different model of society and stems from the awareness that the present world is not the only possible world. I feel collective solidarity and personally experience what a fighting family is. The support and affection you showed me when I was arrested, and the demonstrations whose echos reach me from afar, confirm that I made the right choice, which I will carry to the end with joy. I tell the other inmates about you, I tell them that the solidarity given to me is for all the women and men locked behind these brutish walls.”

Italian novelist, poet and translator, Erri De Luca, has written an open letter to Nicoletta Dosio:

Rome, March 23, 2020

Dear Nicoletta,

In these days, I reread. Once again, I have Rosa Luxemburg’s letters on my lap, the letters she wrote from Berlin prison. In one, addressed to Mathilde Jacob on February 7, 1917, Rosa recounts the cry of the chickadee, tss-vi, tss-vi. She knows how to imitate it so perfectly that the chickadee approaches her bars.

Rosa writes, `Despite the snow, the cold and the loneliness, we believe, the chickadee and I, that spring is on the way.’

And so here we are, in the days that announce that winter has ended. You were secluded in prison, and by some mysterious solidarity, an entire people locked themselves in their homes. The streets are empty, the North of Italy is emigrating to the South, and families fill the balconies. The economists have vanished, and the medical doctors are in charge.

Standing in my field, I watch the trees in bud. In Italian, the word for “bud” and “gem” is the same, “gemma”. For us, the buds are precious stones, and Spring is a necklace of jewels open to all who know how to appreciate them.

Here, now, in the name of politeness, people are staying away and avoiding one another.

But for you, in your prison cells, there is not enough room to turn in. People with pneumonia lack air, you are all forced to breathe and gasp together. The overcrowded, criminally overstuffed prisons have become laboratories of suffocation.

But the valley for which you fought and for which you are in prison continues to produce and breathe its own political oxygen, which rises from within the community, which strengthens its fibers, and thus gives the right of citizen to those whom the authorities have treated as feudal subjects. Treated as a rebellious province, your valley continues to refuse the rape of its territory.

Your inflexible and indomitable calm is that of your community. It emerges manifest when a people awaken.

I am proud to be able to address you, dear Nicoletta, as a close friend, proud to be one with you.

I wait for you here, and I promise you that, when you leave that prison, you will find the same union and the same spring.

Fervently yours,
Erri De Luca

(Translated by Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Nicoletta Dosio)