Charleena Lyles deserved better … from the police and from The Seattle Times

On Sunday, June 18, Charleena Lyles – 30 years old, Black, mother of three, pregnant, Seattle resident – called police to report a burglary. Two white police showed up. Soon after, those two police officers shot and killed Charleena Lyles. The next day, on the morning of June 19, I opened my local newspaper, The Seattle Times, only to see a defense of murder on the front page. The headline read: “Mother killed by cops had mental health issues, family says.” This was misleading, prejudiced, and unethical.

First it suggested immediately that having a mental illness is somehow justification for getting shot by police. Second, it bootstrapped its own twisted logic by misrepresenting the response of the family and their communications after the shooting. They have been extremely critical of the police response.

The real story is “Police kill a pregnant woman in response to her call for help.”

How can this happen, and why does it keep happening? Why do the police keep killing black people? How can local police kill not one but TWO Black pregnant women who called for help within the past 9 months?

The Times cannot continue ignoring these obvious questions. They should investigate and report truthfully and ethically, and stop trying to protect the murderers. When they do so, they are complicit in perpetuating these crimes.

Writing last week, the week before Charleena Lyles was gunned down, Seattle Times columnist Nicole Brodeur apparently made readers mad because of the same issues of racial bias and ignorance. In this instance, the racism was directed towards an entire neighborhood and community, Columbia City. Yesterday, Nicole Brodeur apologized. Unlike the lukewarm PR response The Seattle Times issued after reader complaints on the Charleena Lyles coverage, Brodeur’s apology seems heartfelt, sincere, and persuasive. But the apologies belie the problem at The Times. Where is the value in a newspaper that, by its own admission, “lacks sensitivity” in reporting matters of race and gender?

In her apology, Brodeur concluded, “In taking on the issue of crime and gentrification in a single column, I climbed the journalistic equivalent of an Olympic high dive and failed. I need more training … My editor recently asked me whether there was a project I wanted to work on, something long-term. And this just might be it: My own self. My own bias.” Should we all be so privileged to get paid for this work!

As a long-time subscriber and constant Times reader for my 28 years in the city, I’ve supported newspapers for their many virtues, and excused the occasional misstep. But these are not missteps, and are not occasional. The reporting on Charleena Lyles was no misstep. In these urgent times, I can no longer separate The Times from its functional perpetuation of the status quo.

If The Times editors, reporters, and columnists lack the training, skill, or vision to do good journalism, as The Times itself has admitted numerous times this week, they should not be supported.  For that reason, I’ve cancelled my subscription to The Seattle Times, and I urge others to do the same.

 

(Photo Credit: KUOW / Megan Farmer)

The day 15-year-old Jacques Craig learned “how to sit in a police car”

Earlier this week in Fort Worth, Texas, Jacqueline Craig and her daughters, Brea and Jacques, were arrested, in yet another “incident” of police abuse against a Black woman and her children. Brea is 19 years old, and Jacques is 15. The whole thing was caught on video, posted to Facebook, and now the police officer is on restricted duty, the Fort Worth Police Department is scrambling to “keep the calm”, many are expressing “outrage”, and Black folk in Fort Worth can’t see much for the fog of quotation marks that these events raise these days, but they can see that this story would never happened if Jacqueline, Brea and Jacques Craig were White. Meanwhile, there’s Jacques Craig. What has she learned this week? “I didn’t know how to sit in a police car, I’ve never done it before. I was just crying and worried and thinking about how to get out.

Jacqueline Craig called the police to complain about a White neighbor who she said had grabbed her son by the throat, allegedly for having dropped some paper on the ground. Jacqueline Craig told the officer, “My daughter and son came home, saying that this man grabbed him and choked him.” The officer responded, “Why don’t you teach your son not to litter?” Jacqueline Craig answered, “He can’t prove to me that my son littered, but it doesn’t matter if he did or didn’t, it doesn’t give him the right to put his hands on him.” The officer answered, “Why not?”

Why not?

At this point, Jacqueline Craig and the officer are clearly tense, and Jacques Craig, the 15-year-old girl child, stepped forward and between the two, to help defuse the situation: “I am 15 years old. How was I supposed to know I wasn’t supposed to interfere? I was just trying to protect my mom.” Next thing, the officer pulls out his Taser, wrestles the 15-year-old Black girl to the ground, and …

By the end, Jacqueline Craig, Jacques Craig, and Brea Craig were all taken to the police station and processed. The Fort Worth Police Department quickly launched an investigation and released a statement, which read, in part, “The Fort Worth Police Department enjoys a close and cooperative relationship with our citizens; one of transparency, mutual trust and respect. The Fort Worth Police Department expects every officer to treat persons they encounter with that same trust, respect and courtesy. We acknowledge that the initial appearance of the video may raise serious questions. We ask that our investigators are given the time and opportunity to thoroughly examine this incident and to submit their findings. This process may take time, but the integrity of the investigation rests upon the ability of the investigators to document facts and to accurately evaluate the size and scope of what transpired. We ask our community for patience and calm during this investigation process.”

There’s a demonstration tonight in Fort Worth demanding justice and calling for an end to police brutality.

Across the country, from sea to shining sea, Black girls and young Black women face this form of State intimidation every single day. So do Latinx girls and young Latinx women and Native girls and young Native women. This particular officer may be one in Fort Worth, but there’s another in Galveston and another in Phoenix and another in Baltimore and another in Winslow and another in Auburn and another in Frederick County and another one somewhere right around the corner. Think of all those “rogue” police officers as the front line of secondary and tertiary public education for girls and women of color in the United States. What was this week’s lesson plan Jacques Craig? How to sit in a police car. Let’s hope she learns a better lesson.

Posted by Porsha Craver on Wednesday, December 21, 2016

 

(Photo Credit: NBC Dallas Fort Worth) (Video Credit: Facebook / Porsha Craver)

 

 

 

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

Renée Davis

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

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

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

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

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

 

(Photo Credit: Black Girl Tragic)

This story is about Jessica Williams. #SayHerName

 

On Thursday, May 19, activists from various national movements – including Black Youth Project 100, Project South, Ferguson Action and Black Lives Matter – joined with local activists around the country for a day of action to protest and do something about State brutality against Black women. The banner and hashtag for the day were #SayHerName. On Thursday, May 19, Jessica Williams, 29 years old, Black, was killed by a white San Francisco police sergeant. Jessica Williams was unarmed. The reports on Jessica Williams’ death have barely said her name. Until late Friday night early Saturday, Jessica Williams was “an unarmed Black woman.” More to the point, the story line has been about the Police Chief being removed, about the new Police Chief, and about racism in the San Francisco Police Department. While all of those count, the story should be about Jessica Williams. Even in her own death, even now, Jessica Williams suffers the indignity of being removed from the center of her own life and death story. Jessica Williams. Say her name. #SayHerName

The story of Jessica Williams’ death is a common one, both for San Francisco and beyond. Williams was in a car identified as having been stolen. She refused to leave the car and allegedly tried to drive away. That’s when a police officer shot and killed her. According to all reports, Jessica Williams was not driving towards the officer. In fact, she wasn’t driving at all. According to police, “Williams drove away after officers tried to talk to her, officials said, but crashed into a parked utility truck about 100 feet away. She continued to disobey police instructions, and the sergeant then fired one shot and killed her as she sat in the car, said police, who added that no weapon was found on Williams.”

From 2000 to today, San Francisco police officers have been in 95 shootings. Forty have been fatal. Twenty-three of the shootings involved people “in moving or stopped vehicles.”

Jessica Williams was killed in the Bayview District, a hotbed of `revitalization.’ Bayview is the epicenter of San Francisco’s “shrinking African American population”. In early December last year, Mario Woods, 26 years old, Black, was shot 20 times by police officers in Bayview.

The San Francisco Police Department has already been under investigation for racist and homophobic practices, both formal and informal. Police Chiefs will come and go, as will police sergeants and other police. It’s important to address the police, as a group of people, a culture, a public agency, and a body of practices. But first and last, we must learn to move the police off center in the narratives of those killed by police. Jessica Williams is the story, not this sergeant or that chief.

Her name is Jessica Williams, and she did not deserve the fate that was dealt her by the State. No one deserves that fate, and no one deserves that treatment. Jessica Williams is the name of `urban redevelopment’ and skyrocketing real estate markets. Jessica Williams is the name of militarized and uncontrolled policing, witch-hunting, all in the name of zero tolerance and urban revitalization. Jessica Williams, 29 years old, Black, female, was sitting in a stationary car when she was killed. This story is about Jessica Williams. Say her name. #SayHerName

 

(Photo Credit: Twitter / @SisterSong_WOC) (Image Credit: Ferguson National Response Network)

Janika Nichole Edmond died in Michigan’s women’s prison: Who cares?

Janika Nichole Edmond

In November 2015, a twenty-five-year-old Black woman, Janika Nichole Edmond died, or better was executed, in the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, Michigan’s only women’s prison. Two years ago, Huron Valley was investigated for alleged human rights abuses against mentally ill female inmates, and today Janika Nichole Edmond is dead.

Janika Edmond’s story is short and terribly familiar: Janika Edmond lived with mental illness. Once in Michigan’s `criminal justice’ system, her condition deteriorated. She had a history of assaulting prison guards, which resulted in her being sent to solitary, which resulted in her becoming more aggressive. The rate of `incident reports’ skyrocketed. No one did anything. In 2014, Janika Edmond made a rope out of a towel and tried to hang herself. Earlier in 2015, Janika Edmond was found with a razor. She said, repeatedly, that she was “tired of being here” and was hearing voices. Unfortunately, no one on staff heard or listened to Janika Edmond’s voice. The day she died, Janika Edmonds asked for a suicide prevention vest. The guards laughed. Hours later, she lay dead on the floor. “The death report provided by the MDOC [Michigan Department of Corrections] for Edmond shows her presumed cause of death was suicide.”

That was no suicide. That was murder at the hands of the State. The State had agency, power, volition, and policy. The State wanted Janika Edmond dead, and Janika Edmond is dead.

Two prison officers have been suspended or fired, depending on the report. While they bear their own responsibility, this crime emerged from years of abuse and torture. When Janika Edmonds died, the State was still “investigating” the July 16 death of Kayla Renea Miller, in Huron Valley. From the Anchorage Correctional Complex in Alaska to the California Institution for Women to SCI-Muncy in Pennsylvania to the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, women were dropping like flies and they continue to do so.

None of this is new. In 2012, Carol Jacobsen, founder and Director of the Michigan Women’s Justice and Clemency Project, noted, “Abu Ghraib has nothing on Huron Valley.” She was describing the irony that Huron Valley was meant to solve the crisis of abuse of women prisoners in the Robert Scott Correctional Facility. As a result of widespread torture and abuse, Scott was closed in 2009, and all the women were moved to Huron Valley, which, according to Carol Jacobsen, is worse than Scott.

That was 2012. In the intervening four years, the conditions at Huron Valley have only worsened, as they have nationally. According to the United States Department of Justice, in state prisons, “suicide was the most common unnatural cause of death among female prisoners from 2001 to 2012.” What happened to Janika Nichole Edmond? Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary, just another Black woman crying out for help, dying in agony, “tired of being here.” In her death, she joins “the most common.” Who cares? Who cares? Who cares? #SayHerName

 

(Photo Credit: MLive.com)

What happened to Joyce Curnell? #SayHerName

Joyce Curnell

Last July, Joyce Curnell, a 50-year-old Black woman, died of dehydration in the Charleston County jail, in South Carolina. In her death, she joined Sandra Bland, Kindra Chapman, Ralkina Jones and Raynette Turner: five Black women who died in one month in jails across the country. In her death, she also joined Kellsie Green, whose family called the police to arrest her because she needed help and there was no other help locally available. Joyce Curnell is the latest headstone to be placed alongside the highway of women missing and murdered by the State.

On July 21, Joyce Curnell went into hospital with severe stomach pains. She was diagnosed with gastroenteritis. When she was discharged, the local police picked her up on an outstanding warrant. Joyce Curnell’s son, Javon Curnell, had call the police and told them of his mother’s location and outstanding warrant. Joyce Curnell was struggling with alcoholism, and her children thought that the jail would provide her with the help she couldn’t anywhere else: “She’s my mom, but I’m trying to help her. She won’t listen, she drinks a lot. She needs some time to detox herself.” Javon Curnell saw only two choices for his mother: jail or the graveyard.

At the hospital, Joyce Curnell was hydrated, given medications and told to seek medical help if she had any more pain or vomiting. No one at the Charleston County jail did anything to address her pain. Joyce Curnell spent the night wracked with pain and vomiting. Guards brought her a trash bag to vomit into. No one moved her to any medical facility. Joyce Curnell grew too weak to go to the bathroom. In the morning she was too weak to eat and continued vomiting. No one gave her any water or helped in any other way. Medical staff “checked” her around 3 pm, and did nothing. By 5 pm, Joyce Curnell was dead. There was no failure here, but rather deliberate and lethal refusal.

The family is suing the Carolina Center for Occupational Health, which provide “health care” at the jail. As the family’s attorney explained, “This is not a situation in which Joyce needed access to cutting edge medical care to save her life. She needed fluids and the attention of a doctor. Not only has nobody been prosecuted in connection with Joyce’s death, it does not appear that any employee has even been reprimanded … You don’t need a medical license to administer Gatorade. At some point, she would have needed more than simple hydration, but early on, it probably would have worked.”

Who killed Joyce Curnell? Everyone. As has happened so often before in similar circumstances, the autopsy concluded that Joyce Curnell’s death was “natural.” What nature is that? The fault here is not in the stars but in ourselves, in our collusion with murders that, taken together, comprise a massacre. Where is the sustained outrage? The Curnell family sued the health contractors on Wednesday, and by today, the following Monday, the world has moved on, and Joyce Curnell, who died in agony, begging for help, for a drop of water, is dead.

 

(Photo Credit: The Post and Courier)

What happened to Sarah Reed? The routine torture of Black women in prison

Sarah Reed

On January 11, Sarah Reed, 32 years old, Black, living with mental health issues and drug addiction, the victim of a famous police brutality case, was “found dead” in her cell at Holloway Prison, north of London. Her death went relatively unreported for almost a month, until the family managed to contact Black activist, Lee Jasper, and so now the reports of “failings” begin. There was no failure. The State got what it wanted: Sarah Reed is dead.

In 2012, Sarah Reed was viciously attacked by a Metropolitan Police officer. The attack was caught on camera, and, in 2014, the officer was dismissed from the force.

In October 2014, Sarah Reed was in a mental health hospital when she allegedly attacked someone. Her family says she wrote to them saying she had acted in self-defense. On January 4, Sarah Reed was shipped over to Holloway Prison, to await trial. While there, according to her family, she received no mental health treatment.

Prison authorities have claimed that Sarah Reed “strangled herself” while in her bed. Her family doubts that narrative. Further, they say they were called to the prison to identify Sarah Reed and then were prevented from seeing her body and were treated “in a hostile and aggressive manner.”

None of this is new, and none of it is surprising. Holloway Prison, the largest women’s prison in western Europe, is slated to be closed, precisely because it is unfit for human habitation. As outgoing Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick, noted, “Holloway has a fearsome reputation.” When Holloway’s imminent closure was announced, some hoped that the closure would begin a “prison revolution”, but they had forgotten that Holloway had already undergone its revolution. From 1971 to 1985, it had been “completely rebuilt”, and yet it remained a fearsome, loathsome place.

That’s where the State sent Sarah Reed. There was no failure. The State wanted Sarah Reed dead, and Sarah Reed is dead. What happened to Sarah Reed happened to Sandra Bland happened to Natasha McKenna happened to Kindra Chapman happens. Rebuilding the prison never ends, or even diminishes, State torture of Black women. Shut it down.

 

(Photo Credit: Lee Jasper / Vice)

Why did Gynnya McMillen die under Kentucky’s supervision?


Last week, a sixteen-year-old girl named Gynnya McMillen died in her cell at a juvenile detention center in Elizabethtown, KY. Her family wants answers, and the State of Kentucky remains silent.

An initial autopsy shows no “outward signs” or bruising, and no conclusive cause of death. The State says more information will be available in a few weeks. Gynnya was there for only one day.

The State declares as a matter-of-fact: the autopsy results will take weeks. Do not ask anything else until then. Meanwhile, time drags on for Gynnya McMillen’s family, who struggle with the trauma of losing Gynnya and the lack of even the most basic information surrounding her death.

It is unclear exactly why Gynnya McMillen was in custody at the Lincoln Village Youth Development and Regional Juvenile Detention Center. A police department spokesperson said she was the “perpetrator” in a domestic dispute with her parents. It is unclear what circumstances led up to her death in that facility.

What is clear is that Gynnya McMillen spent time years before in a center for kids in crisis. Gynnya needed help then, and she needed help when the Kentucky Department of Corrections put her in its custody last week. Now, Gynnya McMillen is dead.

A spokesperson for the Kentucky Department of Corrections wants you to know that Gynnya McMillen is the first juvenile death in a Kentucky juvenile center since 1999. Lincoln Village’s website boasts the opportunities it provides for its children inmates, including “continuous supervision.”

Under the “continuous supervision” of Kentucky and all its opportunities, Gynnya McMillen died in a day.

Her name was Gynnya McMillen. She joins the list of women and girls, many Black, who wind up dead under “care” of the State. Her family deserves answers. We all deserve answers.

For updates and to get involved, follow Justice for Gynnya McMillen.

(Photo Credit: Facebook / Justice for Gynnya McMillen)

Shonda Walter, a 36-year-old Black woman on Pennsylvania’s death row

Shonda Walter, 2005

Shonda Walter is one of two women who currently sits on Pennsylvania’s death row. Pennsylvania has two women’s prisons, Muncy and Cambridge Springs. Muncy is both maximum security and the intake prison for all women prisoners in Pennsylvania. Muncy also houses Pennsylvania’s death row for women. Every woman prisoner in Pennsylvania first comes to Muncy, where her `security level’ is assigned, based on an assessment of criminal record, medical, mental health, and substance abuse. Lower security prisoners are sent to Cambridge Springs; the rest stay at Muncy. The question of how Shonda Walter’s ended up on death row may be the final nail in the coffin of the death penalty in the United States. Shonda Walter’s story hinges on the State-allotted destiny for young, low and no-income, Black women.

Shonda Walter was tried and convicted for murder. At the time of the murder, Shonda Walter was in her early 20s. At her first trial, Shonda Walter’s lawyers were a hot mess. They freely conceded her guilt to the jury, and they never presented her, or the jury, with any options or explanations. In her appeal, the judge described her attorney as “unintelligible.” The Pennsylvania appeals court found that Shonda Walter had indeed had terrible representation, and then went on to uphold the conviction and sentence.

Shonda Walter is a 36-year-old Black woman, and that is where the Constitution ends.

Shonda Walter has new attorneys who have filed a brief with the Supreme Court. Her attorneys argue that the ordinariness, the typicality, of Shonda Walter’s case, or pre-ordained fate, means the death penalty is unconstitutional. The adjudication of death sentences is capricious, arbitrary, and bears more than a `taint of racism.’

In an amicus brief, a group of social scientists zeroed in on Pennsylvania’s racist patterns: “Social science researchers have … turned their attention to Pennsylvania. One study on the role of race in capital charging and sentencing found that African Americans in Philadelphia receive the death penalty at a substantially higher rate than defendants of other races prosecuted for similar murders.”

Further, across the country. African Americans are systematically removed from capital offense juries. In Pennsylvania, “prosecutors struck on average 51% of the black jurors they had the opportunity to strike, compared to only 26% of comparable non-black jurors.”

As Shonda Walter’s attorneys’ conclusion suggests, none of this is new: “There is a palpable inevitability to the demise of the death penalty in this country. Whether it be now or in the future, the cast of its last libretto will be a familiar one: an innocent victim senselessly murdered, a psychologically damaged defendant, a lawyer with at least one foot on the disfavored side of Strickland’s Maginot line. And, as here, the case will have progressed through a system overshadowed by interminable delays, arbitrary and discriminatory application, and the now inescapable conclusion that too often we err in a way no court can mitigate.”

Too often we err in a way no court can mitigate. Another world must be possible.

 

(Photo Credit: The Marshall Project / Bill Crowell / The Express / AP)

Pennsylvania built a special hell for women living with mental illness

Pennsylvania has a special treatment for those living with severe mental illness: torture. If someone who’s been arrested cannot assist in his or her own defense, the judge orders competency restoration treatment. If the defendant’s competency is restored, the case goes forward. If it is not restored, the case is dismissed and the person either is released or “civilly committed.” That’s what is supposed to happen. In Pennsylvania, there’s a third way, a purgatory of uncivil commitments. In Pennsylvania, people sit in county jails, more often than not in solitary, for months and years, waiting for a bed. In recent years, at least two people have died while waiting. They may have been the lucky ones.

Last week, the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed suit on behalf of eleven plaintiffs, whom they describe as part of “hundreds of people with severe mental illness who have been languishing in Pennsylvania’s county jails.” The lead plaintiff, J.H., is a homeless African-American man in his late 50s from Philadelphia who suffers from schizophrenia. J.H. was arrested for having stolen three Peppermint Pattie candies. For that crime, he has been sitting in the Philadelphia Detention Center for over 340 days, waiting for treatment. What becomes a dream deferred? “J.H.’s mental state has visibly deteriorated over the past eleven months in jail. Prior to his most recent detention, J.H. never displayed hostility, was relatively engaged during conversations, and was willing and able to answer simple questions. Now, he is visibly agitated, hostile, and unable or unwilling to engage in conversation.” The rest is silence.

Federal courts have decided that any delay longer than seven days between a court’s commitment order and hospitalization for treatment is unconstitutional. In Philadelphia, the average wait is 397 days. From January to September 2015, 23 individuals arrested in Philadelphia entered into restoration treatment. Of that group, three waited more than 500 days, one of whom waited 589 days. What do you think happens to someone living with severe mental illness who “awaits transfer” for 400 and more days?

Of the eleven plaintiffs, seven are African American. Two are women, both of whom are African American.

L.C. is a Black woman in her mid-20s “who suffers a mental impairment.” She’s been in and out of the criminal justice system. On November 13, 2014, L.C. was found incompetent to stand trial. After not becoming competent at the Philadelphia Detention Center, the court committed L.C. to competency restoration treatment on February 12, 2015. “L.C. has been detained for more than eight months (over 250 days) in the Philadelphia Detention Center since the order, awaiting an opening for treatment.”

What is like to await an opening? “L.C.’s mental state has deteriorated substantially during her stay at the Philadelphia Detention Center. In November 2014, L.C. was not competent but she was conversant with her public defender. In December, L.C. was screaming answers to questions, seemingly trying to talk over whatever she was hearing. By February 2015, L.C. had declined severely. She still screamed answers to her lawyer’s questions, but now the answers did not make sense. She also could not remain seated. In early June, she refused to see her lawyer at all. By late June, she sat through an interview sucking her thumb, refusing to make eye contact, and staring blankly. In late August, L.C. would not respond to any questions from her lawyer.”

On June 26, 2014, Jane Doe, in her early 40s, was found incompetent to stand trial. 480 days later, nearly 16 months, Jane Doe is still awaiting transfer: “Jane Doe’s mental and physical health has deteriorated in the nearly 16 months she has been waiting. She has lost noticeable weight. Prior to her most recent confinement at the Philadelphia Detention Center, Jane Doe would have discussions with her lawyer about her case. For the past year or more, she has refused to discuss the case and instead talks about having aliens and space ships in her body, and about being married to Jesus Christ. She has become much more delusional.”

According to ACLU of Pennsylvania Legal Director Witold Walcak, “Our clients in this case are the forgotten among the forgotten. Most of these people have no family, friends or champions in their lives, and no one listens or understands them; they truly are voiceless and defenseless, unable to challenge their unjust and blatantly illegal imprisonment.”

Jane Doe, L.C., J.H. and all the others are now voiceless and defenseless. They weren’t when they were arrested. They were all at varying levels of discursive competence. Each could talk with his or her attorney. They simply needed help, treatment, and the embrace of the human. Instead, they were cast to the Commonwealth rung of hell, a factory that crushes bones, souls and minds in order to produce anguish, delusion, silence, after which all is blank.

 

(Photo Credit: Stephanie Aaronson / Philly.com)