The spectacularly ordinary and vicious cruelty of the Supreme Court’s Gang of Six

A gang of six, with a stroke of a pen, condemned women in the United States to a world of second class, if that, `citizenship’; increased maternal mortality; peril and precarity. When patriarchy rules supreme, cruelty is the point, in this case masquerading as Constitutional concern, even when the Constitution is grossly misread. It’s a femicidal program, and pogrom, as old as patriarchy and capitalism, as Silvia Federici  noted twenty years ago, when she argued that the great witch hunts of Europe and then of the colonies, including the United States, focused on women’s reproductive knowledges and capacities in a campaign of degradation of women: “In the `transition from feudalism to capitalism’ women suffered a unique process of social degradation that was fundamental to the accumulation of capital and has remained so ever since.”

The United States has the highest maternal mortality of any so-called developed country. In 2018, the maternal mortality rate was 17.4 per 100,00 live births; in 2019, 20.1, in 2020, it was 23.8. At the time, 17.4 was considered astronomical, compared to national comperes. It was. 23.8 is criminal. For non-Hispanic Black people, the maternal mortality rates for those three years are 37.3, 44.0, 55.3, respectively. The recent decision will only intensify this situation, raising maternal mortality rates, already critical and criminal, precipitously. According to one study, a nationwide ban would raise maternal mortality rates by 21%. It would raise maternal mortality rates among non-Hispanic Black people by 33%. This decision merges Witch Hunt with Jane Crow, with altogether predictable consequences of increased mortality, intensified control, devastation, immiseration. Women, and especially women of color, will become refugees in their own lands and their own bodies. As Federici noted, again, the degradation of women is always forced through programs of privatization, in which women are separated from land, home, community, body, self.

The Economic Consequences of Being Denied an Abortion”, published in 2020, brings the impact of denied access to abortion home … literally. Debts increase by 78%, bankruptcy and eviction increase by 81%: “Women who were denied an abortion experience a large increase in financial distress that is sustained for several years … We find evidence that being denied an abortion has large and persistent negative effects on a woman’s financial well-being. Women denied an abortion experience a significant increase in financial distress during the year that they give birth. Unpaid debts that are 30 or more days past due more than double in size, and the number of public records, which include negative events such as evictions and bankruptcies, increases substantially. This financial impact extends…up to four years after the birth year …. The impact of being denied an abortion on collections is as large as the effect of being evicted and the impact on unpaid bills is several times larger than the effect of losing health insurance …. Denying a woman an abortion reduces her credit score by more than the impact of a health shock resulting in a hospitalization or being exposed to high levels of flooding following Hurricane Harvey.”

The impact on women, children, communities, generally, and even more on Black and Brown women, children, communities is known. There’s no mystery here, and no misprision of either the Constitution or of a sense of humanity can be allowed to cloud the issue. Along with the immediate violence visited upon women’s bodies, lives, dreams, the long-term impact built into a ban on abortions is eviction and homelessness; severe reduction of access to education, health care, social services; increasing inequality; more deaths, more debts.

Yet again we encounter the ordinary, everyday cruelty of necropower: “In our contemporary world, weapons are deployed in the interest of maximum destruction of persons and the creation of death-worlds, new and unique forms of social existence in which vast populations are subjected to conditions of life conferring upon them the status of living dead.” Cruelty is the point.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Caliban and the Witch)

Life & Times of Ms K

Ms K is dead. Her death was exemplary. A woman enters prison for the first time, a troublesome woman, and within weeks is found hanging in her cell. Here’s her story, as recounted in Learning from PPO Investigations: self-inflicted deaths of prisoners – 2013/14, the most recent report from the Prison and Probation Ombudsman for England and Wales:

Ms K had a history of mental ill health. After a long period of stability she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital after a number of attempts to kill herself.

She was discharged to the care of the community team but was arrested almost immediately, when she threatened to kill her former partner.

She was remanded to prison after a doctor decided she would not benefit from further hospital treatment. It was her first time in prison.

A nurse immediately began ACCT procedures and recommended constant supervision. However, prison staff set four observations an hour.

She tried to hang herself twice in the first evening, and was moved to a safer cell and constantly supervised. Nearly two weeks after arriving in prison she was referred to a psychiatrist, who did not believe she should be in prison and immediately began to organise a transfer back to hospital. Tragically, Ms K died before this could take place.

Frequent ACCT case reviews were held and most were multi-disciplinary. However, there were several occasions when prison managers chose not to follow, and sometimes not to ask, the advice of clinical staff. Clinicians said that their opinion was not listened to, which was particularly troubling for a prisoner with such severe mental health problems.

Ms K was difficult to manage and her moods were unpredictable, extreme and liable to change quickly. She made a number of serious and determined attempts to hang herself.

An enhanced case review process could have helped ensure more consistency in the staff involved in her care, and made sure all input was given sufficient weight.

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.” Ms K’s death was, and is, exemplary.

Last year, prison suicides in England and Wales reached a seven-year high. The majority of prisoners who engaged in suicide were White men. For men and women of all group, hanging was the preferred method of dying. Ms K’s death was, and is, exemplary.

There is no tragedy here, and, despite the Ombudsman’s best intentions, there is nothing to learn. Ms K’s death is a miniscule part of a global assembly line at which employees dutifully stand and wait for the next body to ignore. The prisons of England and Wales, with their mounting piles of prisoners’ corpses, are a tiny part of the global work of necropower: “I have put forward the notion of necropolitics and necropower to account for the various ways in which, in our contemporary world, weapons are deployed in the interest of maximum destruction of persons and the creation of death-worlds, new and unique forms of social existence in which vast populations are subjected to conditions of life conferring upon them the status of living dead … Under conditions of necropower, the lines between resistance and suicide, sacrifice and redemption, martyrdom and freedom are blurred.”

Ms K is dead. Her death is an example. Nothing more.

(Image Credit: Open Democracy / National Offender Management Service)

In Zimbabwe, prison = death

 

The Republic of Chikurubi is getting worse. Last week, Zimbabwe’s “justice ministry” and prison officials revealed that at least 100 prisoners died from hunger and starvation this year. At least 100. Given Zimbabwe’s prisons, they could as easily have been remand prisoners as convicted prisoners, but really, what difference does it make? They’re dead, and they died a long, slow, painful, harrowing death. If that’s not torture, what is?

There is shock but no surprise here. Four years ago, a report on death and disease in Zimbabwe’s prisons began: “A bare struggle for survival, with food at its core, has come to define prison life in Zimbabwe. Describing the conditions in two of the capital city Harare’s main prisons in late 2008, a prison officer explained: “we’ve gone the whole year in which—for prisoners and prison officers—the food is hand to mouth…They’ll be lucky to get one meal. Sometimes they’ll sleep without. We have moving skeletons, moving graves. They’re dying.” Prison staff have had to convert cells and storage rooms to “hospital wards” for the dying and to makeshift mortuaries, where bodies “rotted on the floor with maggots moving all around”. They have had to create mass graves within prison grounds to accommodate the dead. In many prisons, the dead took over whole cells, and competed for space with the living. Prisoners described how the sick and the healthy slept side by side, packed together like sardines, with those who died in the night. A former prisoner, a young man, struggled to convey the horror of these conditions: “That place, I haven’t got the words…. I can describe it as hell on earth—though they say it’s more than hell.” Another simply said, “The story of the prisons is starvation”.”

As prisoners lose the bare struggle for survival, humanity loses the bare struggle for dignity. Doctors, lawyers, ex-prisoners, prisoners’ family and friends, prison staff, and others have written repeatedly that Zimbabwe’s prisons are death traps. Some talk about “necropolitics”, the power politics of death. They say necropolitics is “the power and the capacity to dictate who may live and who must die.” In Zimbabwe’s prisons, it’s not about living and dying. It’s about ways of dying. There’s torture, and there’s starvation. Life or death is not the currency. The currency is pain and suffering.

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe National Water Authority, which is a government agency, has shut off water to Marondera Prison: “About 500 inmates at the Marondera Prison are at risk of contracting waterborne diseases after the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) disconnected water supplies over a $375,000 Bill… The complex has not had water since December 4th raising prospects of an outbreak of diseases such as cholera.” The officer in charge of the prison describes it as “a time bomb.”

Torture. Death by starvation. Cholera. In the prisons of Zimbabwe, the time bomb has long exploded. It’s beyond time for a real change.

 

(Photo Credit: News Day Zimbabwe)