Dedicated to Imperfect Heroes Because the Villains Aren’t Perfect Either

Dedicated to Imperfect Heroes Because the Villains Aren’t Perfect Either

The paradox is that we have to use imperfect tools to perfect an imperfect world

I don’t mind imperfect heroes; because the villains aren’t perfect either

It’s all a work in progress as we progress

And maybe that is what is perfect

Teach me, preach me
Just so you can leech me
Dis’ me, stress me
Now you want to test me

Chain me, cane me
Belittle and defame me
Sick me, cure me
Socially endure me

All he tried to tell us is
THEY DON’T GIVE A FUCK ABOUT US!

Imperfect heroes and imperfect villains
Imperfect justice
extrajudicial killings
Get your hands dirty and roll up your sleeves

Imperfect drugs are making perfect junkies
On my back a family of monkeys
Pandemic has us all down on our knees

If Michael Jackson were livin’
He wouldn’t believe
shite Trumps not giving

Shoot me; tase me
Boy, you just amaze me
Fool me; school me
Choke me ‘til I drool, me

Slap me; zap me
better double tap me
Jail me; bail me
Michael tried to tell me

All he tried to tell us is
THEY DON’T GIVE A FUCK ABOUT US!

Lies and deceptions
Not misconceptions
Selling missiles while we defund the schooling
When a mantis prays it’s not piety

There are no bootstraps, and there are no boots
Food lines longer; don’t ask just shoot
No safety net for our society

If Gil were stil among us
He’d write a song for peace and justice

Thunder lightning
Give me COVID-19
Rain me hail me
Brother can you tell me

Spurn me burn me
Now we’re finally learning
Zone-less homeless
Boy they really owned us

All he tried to tell us is
THEY DON’T GIVE A FUCK ABOUT US!

What did he know; and, when did he know it?
If you are angry then burn, vote, and show it!
This system ain’t gonna change itself.

My heroes dead; my enemies are rulin’
This country needs a drastic retooling
I have two fist and only just one heart

If Prince were still embodied
He’d purple hex this Orange John Gotti

Climate crisis; blame it all on Isis
Gangster, Prankster
Legalize The Dank, Sir

Burning forest
Is there still hope for us
Sap glove; bullet
Got a trigger; pull it

All he tried to tell us is
All he tried to tell us is
All he tried to tell us is
All he tried to tell us is
All he tried to tell us is
THEY DON’T GIVE A FUCK ABOUT US!

(Image Credit: Rewire / Annette Bernhardt)

What are you doing to empower Black women?

Before I begin I would like to have a moment of silence to acknowledge the traditional, ancestral, unceded territory of the  Manahoac, Nacotchtank, Piscataway and Patawomeck First Nations tribes on which we are standing, working, and learning in today.

Please bow your heads.
Thank you.

We are bystanders to Black and Native women being raped, killed, and tortured every day with no search parties in place. 

Black and Indigenous women are the most oppressed, and we must amplify our voices. 

In so many ways we are still enslaved in this country.     
I know it is hard to swallow, but it is true.
We are legally free but are our minds and body free? 
I mean truly free and protected? Are our children free to do the things that white children can do? 
The answer is NO!!!
We are still seen as disposable.
Our women are still being raped and murdered,
 Literally and figuratively.
Just like how my and many others great great great grandmothers were raped to provide more slaves for masters.

Black women are still being made to conform to white supremacy.
By burning our crowns, dimming our light and hiding our heritage every day.
We are still not seen as beautiful.
Black women are the core of the world and of our communities.
We nurture everyone but are never nurtured.

As Dr. Bettina Love said 
When Black women “lead movements we are so inclusive because we know what it means to be marginalized in so many places.”

In order to be empowered, we need everyone’s voice at the table. 

We will not be free until straight, queer, rich, poor, Muslim, Christian, and other women of color are free. 

As a Black bisexual student activist, I choose to spend a lot of my time and energy uplifting others and being inclusive in the work that I do.

Whether welcoming people of different backgrounds into a conversation or hyping up beautiful Black Queens on Instagram, I feel it is my duty to uplift and reassure Black women. And continue to shine the light on the amazing women around me who are doing great things.

The question is who else is doing this for Black Women?????

This is a constant need as 
Black women are still seen as objects.
We continue to suffer from self-hate.
Which leads us to  
Not be heard 
And to be at-risk 
And to repeatedly be silenced at every turn.
We continued to be killed, harassed and raped.

But then again it seems to me that the country was created to be this way.
and It seems to me that the country and world were created to treat our women this way.
But I guess that that is the white man’s best kept secret 

Although Black Women created this world as it is today, we cannot save it alone. We need white allies to recognize their role in contributing and dismantling racism.

Black Women
are expected to protect everyone but no one wants to protect us.
Black Women
are expected to be the most durable,and then are left to die in hospitals after birthing Black babies.
Black Women
are repeatedly denied our rights no matter our identity.


We Black women
Need to start protecting all of our sisters.
We Black Women
Need to remember we are not alone.
We Black Women 
Need to protect our young girls.
We Black Women
Need to stand up for ourselves.

Many of us already do that every day, and the sad thing is that we have to because no one else will. We are alone but we are alone together. We are everywhere and in everything. In every country and across every sea.

I just pray one day we will be seen because…

Black Women are the strongest. We’ve been forced to become strong and we will continue to stay strong to hold our people together wherever we are. Such as right here in Fairfax County where Black girls are being subjected to self-hate by the systems in place around them.

If you still can’t believe that there is self-hate and racism right here in our county let me tell you a short story about my friend who goes to Thomas Jefferson High School.  She explained at a school board meeting on Thursday (and I quote) “How am I supposed to cope with the fact that my decision to go to TJ will haunt me for the rest of my life” “I am still embarrassed to be Black, I have never had the confidence to wear my hair naturally this is the first time I have worn it natural in 5 years.” 

So my question is what are we doing to our girls right here in Fairfax county….what are we doing to uplift our Black girls?
AS A COMMUNITY we continue to tear down Black girls by expecting them to conform to white supremacist ideals.
AS A COMMUNITY we spread the infectious disease of self-hate to every type of Black woman everywhere.

And if Black woman overcome the self-hate and push through and speak up and have confidence
We are 
The “angry Black woman”
We are “too bossy”
We are “the oreo”
We are “not like the others”
Or better yet they are surprised at our eloquence and say
“Wow you are very articulate”
Or “You don’t talk Black”

This is all happening right here in the notorious “liberal” northern Virginia. This has happened to me.

After creating the first equity team in Fairfax County Public Schools whose goals are to amplify the voices of students and teachers of color, I was invited to join a panel with many girls of color in FCPS to share our experiences with teachers.

It’s alarming to hear the horrific stories of other youth advocates like me who suffer from their white peers and teachers harassing them. Whether it be a white teacher forcing a young Black girl to stand for the pledge of allegiance or boys in class laughing at a dark skin girl and calling her ugly. Right here in our county. 

As I talk to more students it is clear that black boys and girls are being targeted and harassed in the hallways and outside of school every day at every school. And I wonder if that would change if we didn’t just recruit teachers and principals from JMU but from HBCU’s.

Black children need representation in their schools. We deserve to be led and taught by people who look like us. Last fall I was blessed with the wonderful opportunity to join the campaign of Ricardy Anderson for School Board.  Dr. Anderson is an example of a Black female leader who is out here every day making a difference for our community. She taught me how to be heard and constantly takes the time to value student’s voices.

It was also during this time that I learned a lot about local politics in this so-called “liberal” county. 

Before quarantine, I was constantly surrounded by “liberal white people” who think that they are good people but really are racist. 
They still take the time to 
Be a feminist, but only for white women.
They take the time to
Touch their Black students hair every time she changes it.
They take the time to
Compliment a Black student when they do anything that they thought only white people could do, like speak proper English.
They take the time to sexualize Black girls and dress code them in the hallways.

How about, instead of taking the time to be racist and remind us of our exclusion, these people who claim to be “liberal white people” take the time to advocate for an antiracist curriculum.

How come they do not take the time to
Speak out against the disproportionate discipline against Black students.
They do not take the time to 
Speak out against their racist white peers and family members.
They do not take the time to 
Uplift Black and brown youth and adults.
They do not take the time to
Stop their students and families from saying the N-word.

So please do not say you care about our Black girls while standing by and watching them be torn down from Pre- Kindergarten to 12th grade and beyond.

Microaggressions and insults go unchecked every day in the halls of our schools. For me it started in elementary school when my classmates would put me down for being Black. And I was ignored by my teachers and administration when I told them that kids called me the “N” word in class, and they tried to silence me in middle school when I tried to organize a club to support Black students.  Like many of you, I learned early how Black people are seen in this country and what we are up against. 

The tearing down of Black girls is something that I and many other women such as Sandra Bland know all too well. Sandra Bland was an activist who spoke out against racism in her community before being brutally murdered.

Before she was murdered, Sandra Bland bravely used her voice to share her story and then died while still sharing her story.

You know someone else who shared their story?
Oluwa “Toyin” Salau. Toyin was a BLM activist who was murdered after bravely sharing her sexual assault story of being raped on social media.

Women like Kira Johnson and Stephine Snook Black and Native women who were both silenced and killed while giving birth.

And the beautiful Breonna Taylor who was shot at least 8 times in her own home.

As well as beautiful Trans Black women like Monika Diamond, Paris Cameron, Dominique Fells,and Riah Milton, Michelle Washington, just some of the Black trans people recently murdered in hate because of the misogynistic, racist, trans/homophobic society we live in. 

Right here in Fairfax County Natasha McKenna was brutally murdered on video by the Fairfax County Sheriff Department Police 5 years ago. 

These are all things that Black girls open their phones to see every day. We look like them. We are them. We know them. And It’s traumatizing.

What are you doing to empower Black women? What are you doing to protect the future of Black Children?

If you are in a position of power are you going out of your way to hire and promote Black women?


Are you listening to Black women and their perspectives? Or are you interrupting Black women and the progress that we are trying to make?


If you are a Black man, when was the last time you told a Black woman or girl that she is beautiful? If you are a black man, have you ever talked bad about dark skin women? Please take a step back and think about your voice and what you are using it for. 


If you are a human? Do you hear anti-black or anti-dark rhetoric? Do you call it out? If not, you need to 
CALL- IT -OUT – IF you are human support, fight and uplift Black Women.

If you are 18 or over 18… put your efforts into electing Black women like Delegate Carroll Foy. Not just for the sake of Black women but the future of this nation. I want young girls to grow up in a nation where they know that a seat at the table is reserved for them and they can envision themselves in it. 

If you are a Black girl or woman…
Are you doing self-care? When was the last time you stepped away and took care of yourself?
The world can wait for you, you are more important. 
We have important work to do and we need to be at our best to keep fighting!

Thank you all for listening to my truth! 

(Image Credit: AAPF)

There are no karens, it’s just the police.

It’s 4am and I can’t sleep.
Apart of me feels like I must be your Black feminist killjoy today. 
I know humor sustains us. 
I know how we feel about joy. 
But, I must be your Black feminist killjoy today if its gets us closer to naming the truth as it is. 

I know I am alive because of the level of rage I feel right now. Principled raged I must say. The type of rage I can locate to the most insidious aspects of society. Rage inherited by my foremothers. Rage given to me by June Jordan. I am in a state of rage because I am witnessing a global pandemic aided and abetted by white supremacist- capitalist- imperialist- patriarchy.  

I am in a state of rage because I have to add more names to my memory this week.

Nina Pop
Breonna Taylor
Ahmaud Arbery
George Floyd
Christian Cooper
And so many more unknown and unnamed Black people.

Nina Pop
Breonna Taylor 
Ahmaud Arbery
George Floyd
Christian Cooper
And so many more unknown and unnamed Black people. 

Nina Pop
Breonna Taylor 
Ahmaud Arbery
George Floyd
Christian Cooper
And so many more unknown and unnamed Black people. 

 

I say these names again and again and again. When I have to utter the names of Black people murdered by the police, or any other act of violence, I do not have space for “karen.” 

Yale Phd student, Yasmina Price asked us “how do we manage mourning and mockery so close together?” 

Mockery doesn’t relieve my grief anymore. 

Because karen is just useless mockery. 
Because karen provides white women with an other.
Because karen obscures the way white womanhood was constructed and how it functions.
Because karen is just white supremacist patriarchy. 

Many of us have been where Christian Cooper was as some white woman pretended to be in danger. amy cooper did not just weaponize whiteness, she always weaponized her womanhood. She is another white woman who was taught to cry to get her way, taught that her very being would elicit the world to protect her. Taught how to perform fear and mockery simultaneously. Even in her attempt to harm Christian Cooper the world still wants to protect amy because the world wants to protect white women. When you trace the grace, tenderness, and protection she is where is always goes.

Some of you are meeting these white women with mockery by calling them karens. June Jordan teaches us to remain “hostile to hostility” and for that I am a Black feminist killjoy today.

Beyond that, as someone who practices abolition as faith and as a love politic, I feel it imperative to tell you that amy cooper did not just call the police, but rather, she is the police. She is a death practitioner. Her job is to keep Black people close to death by making the world believe her very life depends on it.

white people will always feel empowered to punishment and surveillance. They will always feel empowered to be judge and jury in and beyond the court room. white supremacy grants them these powers. Always. 

white women will always understand and use their power to police Black people and if that doesn’t work, they always have their tears. The tears that move the police. 

Frank Wilderson teaches us that “white people in their very corporeality are the police.” And what we are naming as karen behavior is just another reason why we must abolish the police.

We don’t have to rename this practice. We already know what it is. 

So what is the point of this mockery? What work does the naming of karen do? What is the price we pay for mockery? 

Its 6am now. I have mourned enough today. I wonder who I’ll mourn tomorrow. 

Nina Pop
Breonna Taylor 
Ahmaud Arbery
George Floyd
Christian Cooper
And so many more unknown and unnamed Black people. 

Nina Pop
Breonna Taylor 
Ahmaud Arbery
George Floyd
Christian Cooper
And so many more unknown and unnamed Black people. 

Nina Pop
Breonna Taylor 
Ahmaud Arbery
George Floyd
Christian Cooper
And so many more unknown and unnamed Black people. 

(Photo Credit: Tim Gruber / The Washington Post)

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.

(Photo Credit: Colorlines)

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 called 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)