Stop championing New Jersey as progressive: State and local politics are still a catastrophe

The state of New Jersey sure is getting a lot of hype to it; I haven’t been able to look at news articles about the state without some praise from progressive media about the great things New Jersey is accomplishing, now that Christie got the boot and Murphy got the in. There’s the minimum wage hike (which won’t go into effect until 2024); bills are being pushed to legalize marijuana (which stalled because of the lack of votes, despite being voted on multiple times during the Christie era); condemnation of Kavanaugh and the sexual violence against women from men in power (despite the fact that the same thing has happened in the Murphy Administration). The country only sees the great things that the state is doing from the headlines; read between the lines and you will see the way local and state politics have been marred by a toxic combination of conservativism, neoliberalism, and progressive political theater. 

New Jersey is about progressive as Joe Biden. A heartening meme but with some creepy undertones that no one wants near them. New Jersey is about as progressive as Cory Booker, who at once talks about not accepting corporate PAC money but then has a fundraiser at $28,000 per donor that ensures each donor a picture with Booker and Murphy, and dinner, and is hosted by Bon Jovi. New Jersey is the high and mighty condemnation of offshore drilling on our oceans while it being ok for a pipeline to be built in the Meadowlands. If I have twenty dollars for every time a progressive news outlet lauded the great choices of the Garden State, I still wouldn’t be able to live there because the property taxes are too high and the Democrats in office would rather pull money from public employees before passing a Millionaire’s Taxon the super wealthy individuals in the state.

In my home county, a judge whose father was a senator is only threatened with suspension, despite asking a domestic violence survivor whether she kept her legs closed to prevent her partner from raping her and then denyied her restraining order because he thought she wasn’t telling the truth. Essex County still won’t end a contract with ICE, citing safety concerns for the people they detain, while still making seven million dollars a month from holding them for ICE. 

Cops keeping beating people, and we know cops are pigs (and really actively acknowledge that—“Lakehurst cops are shit; cops gotta fill a quota at the end of the month; no, no, no, Manchester cops are worse”), but the moment a black boy or girl is shot, all I hear is Blue Lives Matter from the same people that call those in Blue assholes.

I have never been more sick and tired of hearing about the great Phil Murphy, even though I was optimistic that the administration won (because at least it wasn’t Kim Guadagno and her Christie taint). But now somehow the progressive policies that were championed in that era are suddenly too…too extreme or revolutionary now that Democrats are crawling towards a super majority in the state legislature. 

We should have had a living wage almost immediately, because small businesses aren’t a thing anymore in the state and Barnabas Health and Wakefern (all the Shoprite supermarket chains in the state and their warehouses and commissaries) are the state’s largest employers. If we really care about the environment in the state of New Jersey, all pipelines should be banned from being built and subsidized solar panels should be available to all residents so we can finally faze out electric companies. We should have not just lip service about affordable housing and lament on the cost of living in the state, but also clear-cut housing first and affordable housing options. And raise taxes on the wealthy in the state! I am sick and tired of passing by Deal on Route 71 and seeing mansions and knowing that those aren’t even primary houses but just summer homes!

We should be legalizing marijuana, no if, ands or buts and then expunge those who have been arrested and charged with marijuana charges, demand reparations for them, and help them create a business for those people instead of watching large corporations bank on the legalization of marijuana. 

I’m running for Governor in the Great State of New Jersey, because anyone knows the suffering of the people is inherently tied to the economic redistribution of wealth between the two classes of residents (a gap which is widening), it’s a Jersey girl who’s had to deal with the threat of foreclosure, late phone bills and electricity being turned off; it’s Sandy and then the giant snowstorm afterward that almost knocked a tree into her family’s run down house. It’s a girl who’d rather make sure that the employees in retail can live in the state (because she herself wouldn’t have been able to live in the state) instead of those poor millionaires who might have to leave their first and second homes if we raise their taxes. And when progressive news outlets put me on a title of their great next piece, it will be because of actual progressive policies that don’t have the stink of neoliberalism about it. 

(Photo Credit 1: PBS / Reuters / Eduardo Munoz) (Photo Credit 2: LSE US Centre)

It’s time to talk about mental illness and police brutality

Andrew Casciano

It was only supposed to be a simple call. Police in Paterson, NJ, were assisting in a phone call for a suicide attempt, and had met the victim at the St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Paterson, a little over a year ago. Later, as video emerged from the two police officers’ own recorded video, the victim was beaten and slapped by those officers—Ruben McAusland and Roger Then. The first footage shows the victim—Andrew Casciano—being slapped by McAusland in the waiting room of the emergency room as he is wheeled in.

The second footage, shot by Then with a shiteating grin on his face before the assault took place, shows McAusland reacting violently to a suicidal patient’s comments, slapping the man hard enough—twice—for blood to splatter on the bedsheets.

I have members of my family that work in behavioral health units. Under no circumstances are they to even consider touching a mentally ill patient unless they pose a direct and violent threat to the nursing staff or to themselves. There is extensive training to spot those risks. Casciano was laying in a hospital bed. His only weapon? A box of latex gloves that he threw at an officer. McAusland abused his authority and punched a man who, for all intents and purposes, was attempting to goad the police into killing him.

But the violence that McAusland and Then inflicted on Casciano is only part of the charges that have been leveled against them and four other Paterson police officers, including assault, dealing drugs and an attempted coverup. McAusland pleaded guilty to “possession and distribution of heroin, cocaine and marijuana—all of which he said he stole from a crime scene while he was on duty—and to depriving Casciano of his civil rights by assaulting him in prison.” McAusland was sentenced to 5 ½ years in prison. Then, who blamed the assault on McAusland, was sentenced to six months after pleading guilty to concealing the civil rights violation.  

The videos go a long way in illustrating the ways police officers abuse and violate the trust of the community in Paterson. They are also indicative of the ways in which the police and the entire criminal justice system are inherently abusive. 

Mentally ill individuals have not often been highlighted in police brutality; they are always considered an afterthought. Is it because we don’t legitimately view mental illnesses as real illnesses that could have devastating effects on people’s interactions with police? People with untreated mental illnesses are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter that other civilians approached or stopped by law enforcement.

According to a report by the Treatment Advocacy Center, though individuals with untreated mental illnesses number only 1 in 50 US adults, they are involved with at least 1 in 4, and as many as half of all fatal police shootings. According to the co-author of the study, executive director John Snook, “By dismantling the mental illness treatment system, we have turned mental health crisis from a medical issue into a police matter. This is patently unfair, illogical and is proving harmful both to the individual in desperate need of care and the officer who is forced to respond.” 

I have had two very uncomfortable encounters with the police, both when I’ve been in the midst of panic attacks. The two officers ranged from casual indifference to outright belligerent rudeness. I did not feel safe in the company of those individuals. You can blame the lack of training the police officers have with mentally ill individuals; but it also highlights how policing is consistently and diametrically opposed to any kind of public safety or community safety, and that needs to end. 

(Photo Credit: Paterson Times)

No one is free until we are all free!

Children are dying at detention centers on the border. ICE detention centers, which line the pockets of counties like Essex, New Jersey, with millions of dollars each month, have been reported with disgusting health and safety code violations, violating the cushy contracts. Undocumented immigrants in detention at the border have finally won their right to continue protesting with hunger strikes without the fear of nasal tube force feedings. In New Jersey, a Guatemalan toddler died in a state hospital, after being detained by ICE.  Her 104-degree fever was ignored before she was reunited with her family in the Garden State. a record number of babies are in detention, raising concerns about the children’s health and wellbeing; and the list goes on and on. 

We have reached a crisis moment in the United States when we can ignore the violence and the othering of people, denying them their humanity and justifying carceral violence as a penalty of illegality. Babies and children should not be in detention. Women fleeing violence should not be incarcerated; people should not be put behind bars.  

The bubbling incarceration rates of all people in this country, the ties to private prisons that give stockholders millions or billions for putting people behind bars for nonviolent crimes, drug crimes, crimes of self-defense, tickets, misdemeanors, children incarceration: all of this should not be. The crime of being poor and being black or being brown should not be. The lists of should-not-be are endless.

We have more in common with undocumented immigrants in our community, working hard to raise and provide for their families each day, than we do with the billionaires sitting in the oval office and the capitol buildings. We have more in common with the incarcerated than we do with Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Betsy Devos. We have more in common with the impoverished and homeless than we do with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The threat of homelessness looms over many in this country, including those who claim to be members of the middle class. I have known the certified letters from mortgage companies, threatening foreclosure and homelessness. Many can relate to earning the bare minimum and working until our bodies have deteriorated. For someone whose entire political career involves an obscene amount of “executive time”, he does not understand the calloused fingers and sore feet of working twelve, fifteen hour shifts and then waking up the next morning to do it again. 

We will not become a nation for the people, until we understand that we are all together, all people, all humans, deserving of dignity and humanity, and that we deserve not bars but homes and healthcare, rehabilitation and not violence and felony charges. Prisons give those in power the ability to de-humanize and then justify no one deserving basic human rights: why should the criminal get healthcare when you work for it; why is Narcan for the drug addict free but my medication prices will kill me?

When you realize that the politicians won’t save you, but your common man and women will, then one must organize to demand an end to the inequality and inhumanity in this country and the world. To begin, we must destroy the prison industrial complex.

(Photo Credit: Dialectical Delinquents)

A New Jersey probation officer is arrested for assaulting a child in his charge: Why are local news making her seem older?

A state probation officer from Wall, New Jersey has been charged with sexual assault of a probationer under his supervision. The officer, Henry C. Cirignano is facing two counts of second-degree sexual assault, one for, “allegedly coercing the victim and the other related to his position of power over the victim as her probation officer.” Cirignano has been suspended with his access to court facilities revoked.

Though early in the investigation, that Cirignanohas not been terminated from his high-paying position ($88,266 per year) is telling for how the state of New Jersey is willing to compromise to protect the accused child molester. Consistently the survivor is called a “woman” even though, according to the official misconduct charges from Monmouth County, Cirignano’s conviction would subject him to provisions of Megan’s Law:

“If convicted of Official Misconduct, Cirignano faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years in a New Jersey state prison without parole and a lifetime ban on public employment in the State of New Jersey.

“If convicted of Sexual Assault, Cirignano faces up to 10 years in a New Jersey State prison on each county, subject to the provisions of the ‘No Early Release Act’ (NERA) requiring him to serve 85 percent of the sentence imposed before becoming eligible for release on parole. He would also be subject to the provisions of ‘Megan’s Law’ and Parole Supervision for Life requiring a minimum of 15 years of parole supervision following his release from prison.”

The Megan’s Lawsex offender registration was signed into law in 1994 in New Jersey, after 7-year-old Megan Kanka went missing from her home in Hamilton Township, having been kidnapped, raped and murdered by sex offender Jesse Timmendequas. Her body had been located nearby less than 24 hours later. Megan’s Law requires communities to be notified when sex offenders move into their neighborhoods. 

That bit of information in the press proves two problems with how New Jersey incarcerates and monitors youth; and then how those youths are portrayed when people in positions of power use said power to abuse them. 

In New Jersey, despite the decline of in care facilities, 274 youths are currently committed to those facilities. Most youths are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses; the second reason youth are in juvenile justice is parole violations. 

According to the Urban Institute, New Jersey disproportionately incarcerates Black youths over White youths; despite being only 14 percent of the youth population, Black youths make up 73 percent of those committed to secure juvenile facilities. Even more nefarious, after release, those youths are supervised constantly by the state either through probation or aftercare treatments. The Garden State is a high spender on making sure youths are incarcerated and under control.

Second, when probations officers are accused of abusing their positions of power, news and press outlets, including press releases from the county itself, look to hide the extent of the abuse. Cirignano’s abuse would have been terrible because he sexually assaulted someone he could send back to prison if they had fought back. The person he was monitoring and abusing was a child, who could have easily been sent back to juvenile corrections. Given the population and problem of youth in incarceration, media outlets and the state have decided that children in New Jersey, children who might be in need of mental health services or actually care and consideration, are not allowed to be children.  

(Infographic Credit: Urban Institute)

Ending solitary confinement, the problem that doesn’t “exist” in New Jersey

Nafeesah Goldsmith

Nafeesah Goldsmith is a community organizer with the nonprofit organization Jersey City Together. She graduated Rutgers University with a bachelor’s degree and is working towards a Master’s in Criminal Justice at Monmouth University. She has been working to curtail the practice of solitary confinement in New Jersey, as she has had first hand experience of its abuse. For nearly 13 years, Nafeesah Goldsmith was incarcerated for at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility and was forced to spend nearly 60 days in solitary confinement—in the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, a male inmate facility since Edna Mahan did not have its own isolation ward (now, it does).

There Goldsmith spent two months of isolation, “with the exception of 45 minutes of recreation time, most days, in the prison yard. She said she sometimes went without showering, depending on the mood of the guards. To pass the time she spoke with isolated prisoners through the vents and the toilet, sometimes playing a makeshift version of hangman.” 

For inmates in segregation, the most traumatizing aspect is the dehumanizing treatment they face while in solitary confinement. Goldsmith is still reminded of the anguished cries from the other solitary cells: “You hear nothing but screams and it’s loud and there’s banging. You have people having mental episodes and people having medical emergencies. You have people with seizures and you have people attempting suicide.” That is only some of the horror that people suffer in solitary, or as New Jersey calls it, administrative segregation.

Seizing on the nomenclature of the term for solitary confinement, in 2016 former Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill to restrict the practice to 15 or 20 consecutive days over a two-month period. The bill would have also sought to exempt mentally ill or pregnant inmates and require daily medical evaluations for those in isolation. His excuse? The piece of legislation, “seeks to resolve a problem that does not exist in New Jersey.”

But the problem very much does exist in the Garden State. Of the roughly 80,000 inmates in the United States currently in isolation, New Jersey holds 1,500. New Jersey ranks fourth in the country in the amount of time it places people in isolation. As far back as 2011 the United Nations claimed such punishment amounts to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Today, however, there is a turn of opinion in the Garden State, and another bill is back on the table. A-314/S-3261 would have similar exemptions as the bill Christie vetoed, and expand it to include people over 21 and young and 65 and older, and people with developmental disabilities and serious mental conditions. Survivors are telling their stories and forcing others who would not have interacted with the criminal justice system to examine the uses and abuses of solitary confinement. It is forcing the citizens of New Jersey to recognize that we are not treating other people with respect and dignity the moment that they are labeled “prisoner.” 

Nafeesah Goldsmith’s bravery and willingness to come forward with her story, along with those of others, is helping to make significant and positive changes in New Jersey as regards our treatment of incarcerated human beings. She is willing to tell her story at schools, at coalition events, and to anyone who will listen. It’s time we started to listen. 

(Photo Credit: Asbury Park Press / Doug Ford)

What goes on in New Jersey’s county jails? Overcrowding. Suicide. Death.

Hudson County jail

In 2018, New Jersey was embroiled in a federal investigation into rampant sexual abusein the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for women. That investigation culminated in several criminal investigations, indictments of correctional officers and a committee hearing that hopefully will bring some positive changes to the state prison – if positive changesand prisoncan be put together in the same sentence. But what is going on in New Jersey’s county jails may be even more insidious and too often falls under the radar. Twenty of the state’s 21 counties have jails, and they operate with little oversight from the state DOC.

According to the latest figures available from the DOJ, the Garden State jails have the highest per-capita death rate among the 30 states with the largest jail populations. The biggest driver of rising death rates was suicides committed by people suffering from untreated drug addictions and mental illnesses.

The rate of suicides in New Jersey county jails has risen an average of 55% each year between 2012 and 2016. With the exception of Hudson County, these deaths have garnered very little government attention, and action. Hudson County increased spending on mental health and stepped up screenings as part of the intake process for prisoners. Even so, in Hudson County, of 17 recorded deaths at the jail since 2013, officials could only find six incident reports. Between June 2017 and March 2018 alone, six inmates died in the Hudson County jail.  

Cynthia Acosta committed suicide at the Hudson County jail. Acosta had been receiving help for drug abuse and admitted herself to an inpatient mental health program at Christ Hospital in Jersey City, where she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Medication was helping to stabilize her, according to her brother, David Acosta. 

Ready to find her own place and about to file for housing assistance, Cynthia Acosta needed a copy of her identification record. She drove to a government office in Hoboken despite having a suspended driver’s license and was arrested by North Bergen police officers for past traffic violations. Her medicine was left in the car after her arrest. Three days later she was dead. 

Cynthia’s death was preventable. Having been booked in the Hudson facility, she was housed in the combined medical and mental health unit, “a small, windowless, triangle-shaped room bordered by three cells, a shower and a nurses’ station.” The Director of the jail has acknowledged that the nurses didn’t have enough training and resources to deal with mental health issues. Neverthelss, he claimed defended that inmates were properly monitored … despite the suicide rate.

The issues do not stop at North Jersey. In Cumberland County, a man from Vineland became the seventh inmate to die from suicide at the county jail since 2015. The Atlantic County Jail has had six suicides in the past three years. Housing inmates and then completely disregarding their need for mental heath has become normalized across New Jersey. Multiple lawsuits against county jails have become the new norm, with family members demanding answers. 

Meanwhile, county contracts with ICE have led to massive overcrowding in county jails. Bergen County jails nearly tripled its capacity for federal detainees. Hudson county is at 134% of its capacity. The three biggest county governments – Bergen, Hudson, and Essex – are now earning a total of $6 milliona month to hold immigrants in their county jails. Bergen County’s contract with ICE contributes to 7.4% of Bergen’s “miscellaneous” non-tax revenues. Holding undocumented immigrants is big business.

Hidden in plain sight, New Jersey’s county jails contribute to such notorious abuses and neglect that they should be front and center of media headlines. But being quiet and closing our eyes is very good for business.

Cynthia Acosta and brother David Acosta

(Photo Credit 1: Reena Rose Sibayan / Jersey Jour/ NJ.com) (Photo Credit 2: David Acosta / NJ.com)

New Jersey’s Police Have an Excessive Force Problem

Police have the right to punch you if you’re resisting arrest. They have the right to tackle you if they think you might flee. And they have the right to shoot you if they fear for their lives. The single greatest authority granted a police officer is the right to harm another person, and most use it sparingly to protect themselves and the public. But who’s watching the ones who abuse their power?”

NJ Advance Media for NJ.com recently published a 16-month investigation, which found that the tracking for New Jersey’s police use of excessive force is broken, with no statewide collection, little oversight by state officials and no standard practices in the department. NJ.com compiled nearly 73,000 instances of use-of-force, covering municipal police departments and State Police from 2012 through 2016, filing 506 public records requests to highlight the extraordinary use of excessive force on New Jerseyans by the state’s law enforcement. 

The report highlight a disturbing trend: around ten percent of officers account for 38 percent of all uses of force, with a total of 296 officers using force more than five times the state average. Between 2012 and 2016 9,302 people were injured by police; 4,210 of those were serious enough cases that required hospital care. At least 156 officers put at least one person in the hospital in each of the five years under review. 

In New Jersey, populations of color fare far worse in than whites. People of color are three times more likely to face police force. For example, in Lakewood, a Black person 21 times more likely to face police force than whites. Because of inconsistent and lackluster reporting, New Jersey fails to monitor trends to flag officers who use disproportionately excessive amounts of force. Though the state recently implemented an early warning system to identify potential problem officers, they did not mandate tracking use-of-force trends as a criterion for tracking. 

From the local to the state level, police officers are not held accountable when their excessive use of force puts people in harm’s way and are able to continue working without fear of losing their jobs. The numbers of people hurt in the process of being put in contact with police is staggering. One officer in Camden reported injuring 27 people in the four-year span alone

The report highlights the state’s complete relinquishment of responsibility for its citizens. As police officers are able to use deadly force on Black bodies, they get away punishment free because of a lack of consistent and modern reporting on use of force. 

The groundbreaking report also has its enemies in the Policeman’s Benevolent Association, or PBA, whose president, Patrick Colligan, issued a two-page response, criticizing, “The state of the journalism industry.” His criticism did not address the substantial numbers of excessive force New Jersey police have used and continued to use on marginalized communities. Police must be held accountable, both for the racist discrimination and violence perpetrated on Black people and Black communities and for the extraordinary number of citizens they have injured or sent to the hospital over the small span of four to five years. Change must come to address the use of excessive force in the state, and accountability needs to be addressed in the 468 local police departments as in the state police. That means standing up to a large group of PBA and supporters when tackling the issue in the future. Until then, more people will get hurt and marginalized communities will be the worst hit. (Click here to see the town and county breakdown of police use of force in the state of the New Jersey.)

(Infographic credit: NJ.com)

New Jersey ended its contract with ICE: A week later the retaliation began

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announces new directive concerning collaboration with ICE

On Thursday, November 29, NJ State Attorney General Gurbir Grewalannounced the implementation of new guidelines in New Jersey’s cooperation with ICE. His new directives curtailed local police’s ability to inquire about someone’s immigration status and turn undocumented immigrants over to immigration officials for deportation. The AG said the policy shift is to ameliorate relations between police officials and the immigrant communities where they serve: “No law-abiding resident of this great state should live in fear that a routine traffic stop by local police will result in his or her deportation from this country.”

Yes, it is that easy for states and local municipalities and cities to end their cooperation with ICE. 

Under the new rules, New Jersey police cannot stop or detain anyone based on their immigration status, nor can they ask the immigration status of anyone unless it is part of an ongoing investigation into a serious criminal offense. Further, police cannot participate in ICE raids, and ICE cannot utilize state or local resources. 

The new policy has been the keystone of the Murphy administration, which has been working on revamping police guidelines regarding undocumented immigrants since shortly after he was elected, and said he would make New Jersey a “sanctuary state” during his campaign.

True to its authoritarian nature, a week later, in response to the new directives, ICE conducted “at-large” arrests. In one of the largest raids in the history of New Jersey, officials on Friday announced the arrest of 105 peopleover a five-day period. They began literally right after the Attorney General released the new directive.  

Led by ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, the operationresulted in arrests across the state, including 24 in Hudson County, 10 in Middlesex County, 14 in Monmouth County, four in Bergen County, 11 in Passaic County and 6 in Essex County. Those arrested last week were citizens of Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Korea, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Taiwan, Trinidad and Venezuela. 

According to Carlos Rojas Rodriguez, a community organizer for Movimiento Cosecha, which lobbies for expanded rights for undocumented immigrants in the state, including access to driver’s licenses, the new arrests had to be connected to the directive, and called ICE a rogue agency: “It is a shame that while the new AG is trying to create trust between the immigrant community and law enforcement, the ICE director John Tsoukaris is trying to destroy that trust and criminalize immigrants across the state.”

Those arrested were people and citizens of the state of New Jersey, a state that, like New York, has a history of being a melting pot of immigrants, migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees fleeing economic depression, state-sanctioned violence, hoping for a better life for themselves and their children. Almost every resident shares their immigrant story of “Coming to America” with pride and reverence for their family members who made the journey. Those undocumented in the state are no exceptions.  

As a community, now, we must decide whether or not we are going to honor the memories of those who are coming as the descendants of immigrants ourselves, or as prejudiced individuals who have forgotten our collective history of migration. We must also  come to terms with the hypocrisy of the Trump administrationand ICE deportation machine, who would arrest undocumented immigrants in this state but leave those who benefit the Trump business alone to have their labor exploited. 

(Photo Credit: NorthJersey.com) (Video Credit: YouTube)

If men get to run without a shirt on, women should be able to too

In warm weather, running can be hard with extra layers on. As a runner, I know. From May to September, when the weather hits 60-90 degrees every day, I’m not running with a sports bra, shirts and shorts on; I’m removing as many layers as I can so I don’t overheat and harm myself. That means I’m running with just a sports bra and shorts on. My comfort and my health override any preconceived ideas of what women should be wearing while they workout. The same can be said of all women when they’re exercising.

For this reason, Rowan University is wrong to police women track athletes who were exercising while the football team was in practice, and were called out for removing their shirts after a particularly difficult practice. After an afternoon workout of mile repeats in 60-degree weather, the athletes finished their workout in their sports bras, while some male runners ran without shirts on. Can you guess who was told they were distracting the football players? The women.

“I was holding a 5:45 or 5:50 during mile repeats. We were dead and sweaty,” teammate and senior Hannah Vendetta says. Team members recalled that one of the football coaches approached the women’s cross-country coach and told them that the runners were distracting the football players. A few days later, the team learned during an athletics department meeting that “they all had to wear shirts during practice. Also, the cross-country teams were no longer allowed to use the track while the football team practiced. Instead, if they wanted to run in the afternoon, they would need to make do with the Glassboro High School track across the street. Or they could change their practice time.”

The University administration has claimed that there has always been a policy wherein only one sports team at a time has use of the facilities, but students and alumni have disputed the claim that the policy has ever been enforced. In a response to the administration’s explanations, alumna Grace Kaler tweeted, “From the Year 2010-2014, this policy was never enforced. We had always shared the facility. As a former captain, and student-athlete, I am so disappointed to see the sports bra rule still in play, but now to cover it up with this, is extremely disheartening.”

Rowan student Gina Capone heard of the incident from her former teammates and, enraged, posted an article on Odyssey. Her piece took the Athletics Department to task, citing unfair treatment of the cross-country team, policing women’s bodies, and perpetuating a “boys will be boys” culture on campus. The next morning, the post had gone viral, throwing Rowan into the spotlight on the eve of hosting the NCAA Division III regional cross-country championships. The university can profit off of women athletes, while also policing their bodies and what they get to wear when it gets too hot to train?

There is a verbal policy in place – the “shirts required rule” – that supposedly applies to male and female across all sports. According to VP of University Relations Joe Cardona, “The verbal policy was adopted to create standards for all student athletes. We want to keep standards above a normal rec or intramural team. You’re playing a NCAA sport.” But only the women were policed by the “verbal policy”; the men without their shirts on were completely disregarded in the call out.

Thanks to the outrage from Capone’s article, the university has created a new written policy, reversing its stance. “There will be no restriction of sports bras without shirts as practice apparel. By clarifying our support for women’s athletics and its student-athletes, Rowan strongly affirms its commitment to ensuring that women are able to train and perform at the highest levels,” says University President Ali A. Houshmand.

But the underlying issue of policing of women’s bodies remains. A runner is not running without a shirt to attract men nor to distract football players. They are running because it is hot outside, and unnecessary clothing is going to be discarded to maintain an athlete’s comfort level. If you’re so worried about the football players or men getting distracted, set punitive measures for those players. I’m willing to bet grueling wind sprints or any other exercise will teach a player not to ogle another athlete.

Stop policing women’s bodies. They aren’t there for your entertainment. Learn to do better.

 

(Photo Credit: Outside)

In New Jersey, the Monroe School District is Putting Children in Solitary Confinement

Whitehall Elemenary School seclusion room

In New Jersey, Monroe Townships School Districts are using solitary confinement, hidden as “timeout rooms” or “calm-down spaces” to punish children in their school districts. A child who has ADHD and is on the autism spectrum came home from Whitehall Elementary School, recounted to his mother and father that he had, “been put in a room for time out.” When asked to describe the room, he called it a little room, almost like a jail. The truth of it was even worse. When parents visited the school, they were given firsthand views of the time out room, and the description of a jail was generous. “This is solitary confinement,” the father, Scott Reiss said of the padded room. “This is unacceptable.”

The seclusion room is a space sectioned off in a corner of a special needs classroom, with padded walls and floors that are usually found in a gym. The room, as explained by Superintendent Richard Perry, “is utilized in conjunction with special education related services and interventions, involving behavioral disabilities in which students may become violent toward other students and staff and/or causing harm to themselves. Also, other students, who are classified, utilize this space as a means of safety when they feel emotionally overwhelmed.”

But the seclusion room looks more like solitary confinement than a room where disabled students can “calm down.” It doesn’t seem like any student can potentially calm themselves after outbursts in such a small, confined space. Instead, it pushes disabled children in a space where they can neither be seen nor heard. While the superintendent claimed that every parent is informed of the room and a report is filed when a child is put in the room, after Reiss went public with the photos, other parents voiced their concerns because they also didn’t know the room existed.

Instead of padded walls, an inviting space could be infinitely more successful in calming a student. Stephanie Reiss, the child’s mother suggested an area with partial walls, beanbag chairs and child-friendly accommodations: “All I want is a better, acceptable space for the kids to calm down. That’s all I want.”

The use of physical restraint and seclusion techniques on students with disabilities is permitted by a state law enacted by Christie in January before he left office. The measure does not specify what a seclusion space should look like. However, it does require prior written consent of the student’s primary care physician, unless the space is needed in an emergency to keep the student or others physically safe. The state law does not apply to the use of “timeout” which it describes as “the monitored separation of a student in a non-locked setting and is implemented for the purpose of calming.”

Though the bill had wide bipartisan support, it raises questions. Lacking specific guidelines on seclusion or time-out rooms, instances like the padded solitary room in Whitehall can be considered an acceptable form of removing an unruly student.

Even though Superintendent Perry has stated that the room is not used as a punishment, the padded walls and mats look far more punitive than relocating a student to have them calm down. If grown adults are affected negatively from such solitary confinement, why do we subject young children to the same? “This is unacceptable.”

Inside the seclusion room