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

New Jersey: End your contracts with ICE now!

New Jersey’s counties are making money with their contracts with ICE. That needs to end. Immigration detainees are held at county jails in Essex, Bergen and Hudson Counties. A private detention facility in Elizabeth also holds immigration detainees. In Hudson County, the two decades old contract for housing immigration detainees at the Hudson County jail in Kearny has a potential 2020 end date.

More than 90 percent of the Hudson detainees used to live in New York, and are being housed in the Kearney while their cases are being argued. Hudson County freeholders (a board of elected representatives for the counties in the state of New Jersey, which is unique to the state) voted 6-3 to put a 2020 end date on the contract, requiring freeholder approval if the county wants to extend it further.

Some have argued that the end of the contract would force the relocation of the undocumented to other facilities, at ICE’s discretion. For the 650 immigrant detainees at the jail, that would mean losing access to immigration advocates. According to Jersey City’s immigrant attorney Eugene Squeo, “If I had no contact with any of the detainees, my position would be clear: Close the facility down. The problem is I’ve come to realize these immigrants have legal services provided by New York, and those attorneys have a success ratio of about 50 percent. For detainees who do not have representation, that drops to about 5 percent.”

Other advocacy groups, including the American Friends Service Committee and the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, have long favored ending the contract to house detainees in Hudson County. The criticism that has been heaped upon those who are hesitant to end such contracts has been – surpise — money.

Freeholder Bill O’Dea, who voted against the resolution because he wanted more changes than the potential end date, noted, “Whatever anyone says about not closing the facility, their first motivation is the money. I’m not opposed to keeping this facility open until 2020, but you have to take the profit out. You’ve got to reprogram those dollars to pay for better benefits for the detainees.”

Exactly how much money do these counties make by housing detainees? On July 11th, Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholder voted 5 to 2 to approve a new 10-year contract giving ICE the authority to continue detaining 800 immigrants in Kearny, New Jersey. The new contract would raise the rate that ICE pays the county from $77 inmate per day to $120 per day. If all 800 beds are kept full, the county stands to make $35 million per year.

The County Freeholders are well aware of the abysmal conditions inside Hudson County Correctional Facility where ICE pays for the space. In the past year alone, four people detained their committed suicide. Numerous reports document the inhumane conditions, including food with maggots, dirty drinking water and insufficient medical care.

Neighboring Bergen and Essex Counties also take in millions of dollars each year from housing immigrant detainees. Between 2015 and 2018, the three counties raked in over $150 million. Since Trump took office, the annual take has increased by 46%. New Jersey, end your contracts with ICE NOW!

 

(Photo Credit 1: Socialist Worker) (Photo Credit 2: Monsy Alvarado / NorthJersey.com)

Southern New Jersey races: Don’t co-opt white supremacist and sexist slogans for your campaign this election cycle

Andy Kim, one of us

New Jersey was one of several key races in the election this year. As a South Jersey native who lives in districts that tout all spectrums of Republicans – from Trumpsters who worship the ground he walks to moderates who don’t “always” agree with his positions, I had some advice:  Stop co-opting his white supremacist slogans and jargon.

In the 4thDistrict, Representative Tom MacArthur was in a hotly contested election battle with Democratic candidate Andy Kim; Kim, the son of South Korean immigrants and a former national security aide to President Barack Obama, had to actively prove he is part of the South Jersey club, in the face of not so covert racism that hint that he isn’t “part of the club” from the New Jersey Republican Party who described him as “Real Fishy’ – the text printed in a typeface called Chop Suey-next to a photo of dead fish on ice.” While MacArthur dismissed the ads as race-baiting, Republican super pac ads warned voters that Kim is “not one of us.”

From a state that boasts immigrant cultures, promotes Liberty State Park and Ellis Island as proudly located in New Jersey (yes, it is), Kim is as much “us” as Hoboken native, Frank Sinatra.

In NJ’s 11thdistrict, Republican Candidate Jay Webber fell behind his opponent, Navy Veteran and Federal prosecutor Mikie Sherrill who hoped to win Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s seat after his retirement this year. In desperate form, Webber attacked Sherrill as “the dark, fire-breathing radical in this race.” Webber conveniently neglected his own open support for Trump and his legislation, even as the president’s tax bill is set to actively harm New Jersey residents because it curtailed their ability to deduct state and local taxes. Meanwhile, Rep. Leonard Lance fiercely defended his seat in the 11thdistrict, against Democratic candidateTom Malinowski, who raised Lance’s—and really, most NJ Republicans can be applied to this—relationship with the Very Unpopular President.

A commonality to the Southern New Jersey races that many Republican candidates need to be wary of is the massive unpopularity of the president to New Jersey voters. Co-opting Trump’s sexist, homophobic, and overtly racist dogma isn’t going to be your ticket to winning this year.

Here’s an example. As I was determined to vote early in my district — New Jersey’s 4thDistrict, where Republican incumbent Chris Smith defended his seat against Democratic Candidate Josh Welles — I had the misfortune of reading my unopposed Mayoral candidate Kenneth Palmer, and two city councilman’s, campaign slogan: Manchester First.

The campaign slogan harkens back to the “America First” political slogan, used by isolationists in pushing anti-Semitic programs in the 20thcentury, with Trump himself adopting the phrase. Aviator Charles Lindbergh most famously promoted “America First” policy, and David Duke, former Klan Leader, happily endorsed Trump’s use of the phrase.

I hope that the mayoral candidate did not take the meaning of his campaign slogan from the Trump administration; given the politics of the small township I wouldn’t be surprised. I have had to cross many a stop sign with Info Wars and Hillary for Prison 2016 bumper stickers forManchester First to be a coincidence. Given that New Jersey ranks third for most anti-Semitic incidents, a slogan promoting just the kind of anti-Semitism that has taken hold of the state would be exactly what a largely Trumptown mayor meant to convey.

Mr. Mayor, being unopposed does not give you the right to pander to the hate growing in the South Jersey region, even if it was not what you meant to convey. You may have won now, but the anti-Trump sentiment is growing, even in comfortably red districts of the Garden State, and you shouldn’t stay comfortable when in four years that campaign tag comes back to haunt you.

Meanwhile, as of Sunday, November 11, 2018, New Jerseyans elected Democratic candidates Andy Kim; Mikie Sherrill; and Tom Malinowski to the United States House of Representatives. Feeling blue? Oh yeah.

Manchester, New Jersey, sample ballot

 

(Photo Credit 1: Huffington Post / AP) (Photo Credit 2: Author’s photo)

 

 

A proper response to those calling the Women’s March a mob


I’m proud of the number of women that showed up in defense of Dr. Ford. I’m proud to have had some part of their protest on the steps of the Supreme Court. I’m proud that the Women’s March is still fighting for survivors. However, I would like to offer my opinion on what they should have responded when Trump called them “the mob.”

I understand the attempt to tamper the speeches of men who would vilify them for committing acts of disobedience, for risking arrest and putting their bodies on the line. But, to the eyes of the oppositional parties and hard-right/alt-rights that have pushed their contempt of these women as mobs, as violent and dangerous, there is no way of appealing to their common sense.

There is no point in responding in long soliloquys about the beauty of the movement or the struggles that each woman faces because of the dangers of the Trump administration. The email sent to me ends touchingly, “This is who we are, who you are, Nichole: Moms, grandmothers, aunts, daughters, sisters. We’re regular women, survivors and allies from cities and suburbs, and rural areas—who believe in our country, and are determined to make it better”. It’s supposed to better ground the public’s understanding about who these angry women are and what they’re trying to accomplish. They’re simply trying to protect themselves and empower the women around them. That won’t work.

Here’s my proper response to the Trump administration and all the Republicans who shake their heads and declaim that the Women’s March is violent, unruly, that women are hysterical, and that we should continue towards civility when protesting the dismantlement of our rights: f*ck you.

Let me say that once again, clearly. F*ck you.

We don’t have to respond to an egotistical Twitter happy rapist and rape apologist. We don’t have to respond to the smiling Southern gentlemen shtick while he demands cuts to entitlements that we’ve paid into for years. We shouldn’t respond to the calls about our violent tactics while children have been separated from their parents, put into cages, abused and forcibly injected with psychotropic drugs. We should not and cannot legitimize administrations that consider erasing the transgender community while dismissing domestic violence as a legitimate reason for seeking asylum in the United States, and the list goes on and on. The damage heaped upon women, minorities, youth, the LGTBQ communities every group population in this country that isn’t white men and privileged white women, is violence.

Where’s your explanation for the violent and dangerous mobs of men in government destroying the lives of so many?

Civility and the call for civility is dead. Don’t legitimize men who have only treated us with violence and death. Rage, be angry, and continue the fight. Don’t waste energy with emailing a response to your supporters, and certainly not your opponents, explaining who you really are. Your supporters already know, they already applaud you. Your opponents couldn’t care less.

 

(Photo Credit: ABC News)

People are fleeing their homes and seeking asylum in the US: Now is the time to open the borders!


A migrant caravan heading to the United States of people seeking asylum was halted at the border between Guatemala and Mexico on Friday. Fleeing violence and economic insecurity, and seeking the possibility of returning to the United States to reunite with loved ones, the numbers swelled to over 5,000 people as they marched towards the Mexican town of Tapachula. Despite efforts to stop them at the Mexican border, asylum seekers marched to the bridge crossing the Suchiate River, then moving through a park in the border city of Ciudad Hildago to bypass the slow process of entering Mexico legally. Some crossed the river on rafts, by swimming/wading through the river in full view of Mexican police blockading the bridge; others paid locals to ferry them across the river. They did not face detention upon reaching the Mexican bank.

Though they faced threats from the United States, their final intended destination, locals in Guatemala and Mexico encouraged those traveling with applause, cheers, and donations of food and clothing. A resident of the neighborhood of Lorenzo, Maria Teresa Orellana, handed out free sandals to migrants as they passed. “It’s solidarity. They’re our brothers,” she said.

Mexican workers handed food and bottled waters to migrants on the bridge, while a doctor gave medical attention to a woman who was fearful that her son was running a fever. Guatemalan locals also donated food and water to travelers as well. Crowds on the Mexican side of the river cheered the caravan, shouting, “Venganse!”-Come on in! 

7,233 immigrants had registered over the past three days at a shelter at Ciudad Hidalgo. Gerardo Hernandez, head of the local government’s emergency services, has said that his agency has been asked to help provide the immigrants with food and shelter. Sunday night, one of the group’s organizer, Rodrigo Aveja, reported that the caravan included at least 5,600 people.

On October 13, an estimated 3,000 migrants marched out of San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Their goal was to walk through Guatemala and Mexico to the United States. Though their numbers have ebbed and flowed, on Sunday the caravan was at its largest, with migrants determined to cross the US-Mexico border. “We are going to get to the border of the U.S. I am not going to stop. I don’t care if I die,” said Luis Puerto, 39, of Colon, Honduras.

Several key facts about life in Central American have compelled many of the migrants to risk everything to cross the border into the United States:

  1. High Crime and Homicide Rates

Fear drives many migrants to leave their home, many coming from El Salvador and Honduras. With 60 murders per 100,000 in 2017, El Salvador was considered the deadliest place in the world of countries not at war. Last year, almost 4,000 people were killed in El Salvador. Honduras’s 2017 murder rate was 42.8 murders per 100,000 people, making it one of the world’s most dangerous places to live.

  1. Sexual and Domestic Abuse

On June 11, Attorney General Jeff Sessions asserted that women escaping domestic abuse were not eligible for asylum, upending decades of legal precedent and potentially violating international law. International refugee law requires signatory countries to offer protection to people who demonstrate a well-founded fear of certain kinds of severe harm in their home countries. Women who experience severe sexual or physical violence at home in countries that cannot or will not protect may qualify as members of a “particular social group” that warrants protection and previously would be eligible for asylum within the United States.

  1. Gang Violence

Central Americans are also fleeing home because of gang violence. Many are caught in the crosshairs between violent gangs and violent police.

  1. Previously Deported

Many migrants in the caravan had previously lived in the United States; many joined the migration to reunite with children or resume jobs. Some of them had returned to their home countries voluntarily, but eventually determined that there was nothing left there for them. The deportees and returnees were clear that their intentions were to cross the border against the wishes of the current administration, risking detention and deportation to be back with their loved ones again. Some were hoping to slip past border patrol officers, with no intention of applying for asylum.

While the caravan continues its way North, the Trump administration will continue to threaten military violence against women, children, and men. The military is not the answer. It is up to us civilians to answer the Caravan’s call and abolish the borders that would keep these people fleeing for their lives from entering the United States, some looking for a better life, some wanting to return to their children and their families. Now is the time to open the borders!

 

(Photo Credit 1: New York Times / Brett Grundlock) (Photo Credit 2: Washington Post / Oliver De Ros / AP)

Global attack on the Free Press: Two women who tried to weed out corruption

Viktoria Marinova

The attack on free press and journalists is not just relegated to the American Far Right. It is not just Trump screaming Fake News and denouncing any negative or scandalous headline or book that comes into the public’s purview. It is not only in the United States that mass shootings are now directed at major newspapers. Around the world, people are being emboldened to take their grudges out on journalists who are only interested in exposing the truth.

From the United States and beyond, cases of journalists under assault are a part of a larger attack on the Free Press that accompanies the rise of far right and authoritarian governments. From the United States, to the EU, to the Middle East and beyond, governments have attempted to crackdown on those writing about corruption and dictatorial politics with threats and violence. For example, US resident and columnist for the Washington Post, Jamal Kashoggi, a Saudi dissident, disappeared and is thought to have been assassinated in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul from orders of the highest levels of the Saudi royal family. Kashoggi’s high-profile death has created an international crisis, with Britain, France and Germany demanding a credible investigation into Kashoggi’s disappearance. Trump has only warned of “severe punishment” if the allegations are true, though that doesn’t seem to be stopping the large arm sales to the country from the United States, worth $110 billion.

In Europe, the rape and murder of Bulgarian journalist Viktoria Marinova, alarmed many as it had been the third death of a journalist in the EU in the past year. Marinova was a broadcaster on TVN, where she was a presenter on a talk program called Detector. The last episode of her show covered alleged corruption and fraud involving EU funds and prominent businessmen and politicians. The two journalists invited on the program to speak, Attila Biro and Dimitar Stoyanov, had been arrested in September investigating corruption. The attack was downplayed as just a spontaneous sexual assault, but many are suspicious that the attack was politically motivated because of Marinova’s work as a journalist in a country that is extremely hostile to free press. Bulgaria is currently ranked 111 out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index.

Viktoria Marinova’s death follows two other high-profile journalists murdered within the past year. Malta journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia died in an explosion after she left her home in Bidnija. Galizia was a harsh critic of the Malta government, effectively triggering an early election by publishing allegations linking the Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to the Panama Papers scandal, in particular funneling money into offshore bank accounts to hide payments from Azerbaijan’s ruling family. In her blog. Galizia also targeted opposition politicians.

In Slovakia, journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Matina Kusnirova were found shot dead in their home. Kuciak was in the middle of investigating links between the Italian mafia and figures close to Slovakia’s Prime Minister, Robert Fico. Kuciak had alleged that Italian businessmen with ties to the Calabrian organized crime syndicate the ‘Ndrangheta had settled in eastern Slovakia, spending years embezzling EU funds for the region on the border with Ukraine. These men cultivated business links with senior officials, including people close to the prime minister, such as former glamour model Maria Troskova, the minister’s “chief state adviser”, and Viliam Jasan, secretary of Slovakia’s national security council. Police have stated that the attacks bear all the hallmarks of a contract killing.

In the past year, four journalists attempted to uncover corruption and greed to better their respective countries by exposing injustice. Two were men, two were women. The viciousness with which they were attacked speaks to the fear that those in power, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes, have when their corruption is brought to light. Their deaths also speak to the larger movement of anti-free press sentiment and the rise of authoritarian governments across the United States and around the world.

Daphne Caruana Galizia

 

(Photo Credit 1: Guardian / Filip Dvorski / AP) (Photo Credit 2: Guardian / Darrin Zammit Lupi / Reuters)

Survivors Get Death Threats, Assaulters Get the Supreme Court


Two days after the controversial committee hearing, and subsequent launch of an FBI investigation, I was feeling a bit hopeful. While people can joke and laugh about rape and victims across the internet and in their inner circles, to be able to face one, hear their stories and still have the audacity to dismiss them is a notion that made my blood boil. If Flake might have a conscience, I was heartened by the humanity he saw in those women.

It soon became clear that an FBI investigation was nothing more than political theater to assuage Republican holdouts and embolden Democratic undecideds (well, only one, really). I read hopefuls on the internet claim that the FBI would do their thing, would help bring justice; at the very least theinvestigators would announce that Kavanaugh had perjured himself during the hearing and that would warrant his immediate nomination withdrawal. I knew, sadly, that many are unwilling to investigate assault cases, and that many cases that are tried rarely end positively for the survivor. I knew that if Flake had had a change of heart, he would not have voted Kavanaugh out of committee. He would have, and could have, ended it then and there. He did not.

Then Susan Collins illustrated the hypocrisy of the privileged White woman who supposedly “supports” survivors and believed Dr. Ford, while questioning and putting holes in the memories that they have (i.e. fact that she didn’t believe the perpetrator was Kavanaugh). What good is a supporter of #MeToo when you only deride a survivor as they recount one of the most traumatic details of their life?

I didn’t watch the vote. By Tuesday I knew that it was mere theater, an act (akin to Lindsey Graham’s speech as he eschews whatever values he had during the election and vies for a job with Trump’s inner circle). People in power rarely give up their power; and those in the government are only willing to give lip service to their constituents because only the elite and the wealthy hold the puppet strings. Kavanaugh’s nomination, his record and his legacy in the Supreme Court, holds a boon that could only benefit those whose interest is in maintaining and growing their vast power and resources, even at the cost of destruction.

And Dr. Ford? The brave woman who came forward to talk about her experiences? She’s unable to go home, because of the unending death threats against her and her family. She got the unending brunt of people who accused her of lying, or distorting the truth, while others sympathized with Kavanaugh, a man whose own classmates have come forward and demanded the FBI speak with them because he was lying.

When the state isn’t there to protect you, when the state only serves the privileged, are words and marches enough?

 

(Image Credit 1: Press Democrat) (Image Credit 2: RAINN)

We really haven’t learned a thing, have we?

Every person has encountered a survivor of sexual assault, rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, intimate partner violence. They are friends and family members, colleagues or acquaintances. More importantly, they are people with stories that illustrate pain, suffering, fear and, silence. Journalist Sheetal Dhir sums this poignantly, “I recently did a straw poll of the women in my life and realised that I know more survivors of sexual assault than I do mothers.” In some families, mine included, every woman has some experience with sexual assault and violence. It’s a reality that we cannot ignore or dismiss; the trauma is intergenerational. More importantly, it’s a fact that still makes men (especially men in power), scratch their head with confusion on what is considered acceptable behavior when interacting with women.

1 in 3 women in the US have experienced some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime. For Black women, around 2 of 3 will experience sexual abuse by the age of 18. 2 of 3 incidences will go unreported (only 310 of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police), and for every 1 Black woman that reports, at least 15 do not. When they are reported, more than likely they are not taken seriously; it is a common erroneous comparison for many survivors of sexual violence.

Victim-blaming, intimidation, threat of employment termination, literaldenial of a memory of the assault happening. The rage many women felt when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford gave her testimony, in front of a panel of mostly white men hidden behind a woman prosecutor (for what is assumed to be a way to not make an ass of themselves in front of a sexual assault survivor in the age of the #MeToo Movement), was an acknowledgement that all women, all survivors have gone through the traumatization of their assault, and then the re-traumatization of not being believed. And for the response, the questioning of her memory, Dr. Ford gave a succinct but unbreakable response that only a professional in the field of psychology could; the neurotransmitter epinephrine, she replied, “Codes memories into the hippocampus, and so the trauma-related experience is locked there, whereas other details kind of drift.”

Memory remains clear-cut when we experience trauma. It flashes through the brain when one feels at their most vulnerable. It’s why women can remember their assault even years later when they move on. It’s why girls can remember their abuse when they were young children. It’s why Anita Hill faced a panel of 14 very skeptical white men, and was able to recount what then-nominee Clarence Thomas put her through.

The utter disbelief she endured by such men who thought that engaging in overtly sexual conversations in front of and directly to female colleagues, was not such a big deal. Considering that some of those same skeptical men were presiding over Dr. Ford’s testimony, albeit skulking behind the words of a female prosecutor, makes it more apparent that men have not learned a damn thing when it comes to sexual assault.

There’s data and research to prove why women don’t report. Psychologists, like Dr. Ford, can elaborate the fascinating science behind trauma-based memory; there are rape kits to prove it happened; confessions from the accused themselves. Mountains of evidence and personal stories from the survivors who have reported and were treated like whores and attention-seekers, and the ones that feared such a response and never made a sound. Believing the survivor is imperative, because of what they’re giving up just to come forward. We can no longer accept men in places of privilege who are given slaps on the wrists or sycophantic words of encouragement. What we need is punishment for the accused and something as simple as faith in the accuser. It won’t change everything, but it will be a start. It may even break the intergenerational chain of victimization that is passed between mothers and daughters, and teach sons that respect for women, informed consent and care for a woman’s choice, is a goddamn requirement.

Men, step up. We gave you the tools for learning at your disposal, now use them.

 

(Photo Credit 1: BBC News) (Photo Credit 2: Bill Snead / The Washington Post) (Photo Credit 3: New York Magazine)