Strip-searches at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women: “It’s akin to rape”

Virginia operates four `correctional facilities’ for women: Deerfield Work Center for Women; the Central Virginia Correctional Unit #13; the Virginia Correctional Center for Women; and Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women. In the October 2022 monthly census report, the Deerfield Center reported no `residents’ and the Central Virginia Correctional Unit doesn’t disaggregate male and female incarcerated persons in its census. That leaves Fluvanna and Virginia Correctional. Together they reportedly housed 1202 women, 768 women in Fluvanna and 434 in Virginia Correctional Center. For years, Fluvanna has been known as a place that routinely violates women’s rights, bodies, lives, hopes and dreams, and does so without compunction, all in the name of “correction”. In 2016, Fluvanna settled a lawsuit claiming its medical care was so bad that it violated the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. In 2019, Fluvanna continued to have “life-threatening medication failures.” And now, six years later, the court-appointed monitor’s most recent report shows that the medical care at Fluvanna is still failing the residents. So is general treatment of the incarcerated women, and that’s the reason Shebri Dillon is suing the facility, for its practice of routine strip searches.

Shebri Dillon was sentenced to Fluvanna for having engaged in a fraudulent real estate deal. Since she’s been at Fluvanna, she’s been a model prisoner, but that doesn’t matter when it comes to strip searches: “I live in the prison’s honor wing. I’ve never had a drug history, and I don’t have a violent history …. It’s akin to rape, because you have to leave your mind to be able to perform this – like leaving your reality, pretending you’re somewhere else. I mean you’re getting naked and showing the inside of your body orifices to a complete stranger … You don’t want to tell people when something abusive happens to you that is embarrassing and humiliating. I don’t want to tell you that somebody has looked at my tailgate, some of which may have been looking at me sexually, some of whom may be looking at me like I was the scum of the earth.”

For years, Shebri Dillon subjected herself to the sexual violence of strip searches, kept her silence, as did those around her. Then something changed. Covid and the long lockdowns: “When we had no visitation due to COVID, all of our movements were incredibly restricted, drugs exploded in here, because the corrections officers don’t make enough money, and half of them don’t stay here very long. They bring it to people who are locked in cages, can’t do anything, can’t go anywhere.” In 2021, there were 19 incidents involving drugs being smuggled into Fluvanna. Three of those involved visitors, the other 16 involved staff. But the routine strip searches continued, and not only did they continue, but with staff shortages, counselors, librarians, secretaries were asked to observe. All in the name of security, all in the name of corrections.

And so Shebri Dillon sued: “I understand we’re in prison. I understand there are security issues, but they also have to understand that we are human beings, and that a lot of the practices are degrading. They’re dehumanizing, and if they serve no security purpose they need to be revisited.”

Eight years ago, almost to the day, writing of the conditions in Fluvanna, we asked, “What exactly is the State “correcting” when it violates women’s rights, bodies, lives, hopes and dreams, and does so without compunction? What is the public policy here that condemns women on the basis of their gender? Want to end violence against women? End the epidemic of mass incarceration of women. Do it now!”

Strip searches are intrinsic to incarceration. Children in custody in the United Kingdom are routinely traumatized. Some respond by self-harming and attempting suicide. Aboriginal women and girls in Australia are disproportionately strip searched, and many of them respond by self-harming and attempting suicide. Ending strip searches in Fluvanna would be an important step. Ending mass trauma and violence against women and girls would be an important step, on the way to ending the epidemic altogether. Shut down Fluvanna and all its `sister institutions’. Do it now!

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo credit: The Appeal / Rob Poggenklass)

In Richmond, Virginia, 15 large companies are responsible for half of all evictions

In today’s news, “the number of eviction notices filed in San Francisco has rebounded to pre-pandemic levels.” In New Bedford, Massachusetts, longstanding residents’ homes are being bought by developers who raise the rents precipitously, way beyond current tenants’ means, forcing them to move. In one complex, most of the residents received eviction notices. In others, they move before the notices come: “This situation is becoming the norm throughout the city. People are coming in and evicting people who have been living in these houses for 10 years”. And in Virginia, “fifteen large companies are responsible for half of all evictions in the Richmond area.” From coast to coast, this situation of eviction and forced displacement is becoming the norm. Consider Richmond and, beyond it, the Commonwealth of Virginia.

But first, consider the entire country, briefly. According to the Eviction Lab’s latest eviction report, issued on October 8: “In the 6 states and 31 cities we track, landlords have filed for 1,240, 656 evictions during the pandemic. They filed for 7,713 over the last week.” On July 27, the number of filings was 1,053,252. That means, in three months, landlords, disproportionately corporate landlords, filed 187,404 evictions. 15% of all eviction filings in the three years of the pandemic occurred in the last three months, and the number, and rate of eviction, is rising. The numbers for Virginia are equally disturbing.

According to the Richmond-based RVA Eviction Lab’s most recent report, in Richmond, 87% of eviction filings this quarter were filed by corporate landlords. Half were filed by 15 companies. This week, Richmond is set for a record week of evictions, 126 evictions. Pre-pandemic, the weekly number was between 50 and 60. This record breaking week was not a surprise, given a report the week before in which one apartment complex, James River Pointe, bought by a corporation, saw half of the residents receive eviction notices.

A major company, Homes of America, linked to a major hedge fund, Alden Global Capital, has been buying up mobile park homes across the country. This company bought a mobile home park in Montgomery County, in southwest Virginia, and immediately sent residents “notices to quit”, offering them the “opportunity” to pay $700 or vacate within a matter of days. Homes of America,has done the same in North Dakota, Florida, Louisiana, and elsewhere.

In northern Virginia, according to the RVA Eviction Lab report, with the exception of Fairfax County, which saw a dip, all the region experienced a rise in eviction filings and judgements. Alexandria lead the pack: “Eviction filings in Alexandria, Fredericksburg and Prince William increased by 109%, 75%, and 96%, respectively”. Default judgments in Alexandria are approaching pre-pandemic levels, with 26% of all evictions ending in a default judgment, meaning the tenant didn’t show and, by Virginia law, the landlord automatically wins the eviction.

This situation is becoming the norm. People are coming in and evicting people who have been living in these houses and apartments for years. These numbers do not take into account those who have `self-deported’ or been victims of `informal evictions” or “`invisible evictions.’ Essentially, when landlords offer new leases with much higher rents, many tenants are forced to move if they can’t pay.” Others move rather than suffer the Scarlet Letter of eviction filing attached to their name. An eviction filing is as damaging as an eviction, in terms of the ways in which future landlords consider an application. So, what’s going on? While there are many factors, report after report points to the entrance of major corporations and hedge funds into the rental market and the willingness, the eagerness, of corporate landlords to file for eviction. While eviction moratoria and rent control are profoundly important, as long as corporate interests are given a free hand to exert virtually monopolistic control over rental markets, the situation will worsen. That is not inevitable. Stop evictions, stop predatory rent hikes, end corporate domination of housing. This situation cannot be allowed to become the norm.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch / Alexa Welch Edlund)

(Infographic Credit: RVA Eviction Lab)

With rapidly rising eviction numbers and nowhere to go, Virginia “returns to normal”

When it comes to evictions and the lack of affordable housing, the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, the DC – Maryland – Virginia DMV, offers a somewhat mixed picture. Overall, affordable housing is critically unavailable. As to evictions, while numbers in all three areas are rising, in DC they’re rising slowly, largely thanks to governmental protections and organizing efforts. In Maryland, though eviction numbers are the highest they’ve been since the COVID pandemic began, they’re not yet approaching pre-pandemic levels. Yet. In northern Virginia, however, eviction “filings appear to be catching up … Statewide, monthly eviction filings as of September are at 87.5 percent of the `historical average.’ Monthly eviction filings have also tripled since January.” In August, Fairfax County blew past the so-called historical average by a full 20%, while Arlington County was 14% below and Alexandria was just 4% below their respective historic averages. Last week, the Virginia Poverty Law Center reported a recent 500% increase in calls, so many calls in fact they had to close the hotline temporarily. That’s the normal, once again, and it’s coming to your town soon. So, what’s going on? The common answer is “the end of protections”, which, as far as it goes, is accurate. But that “end”, that “failure”, is public policy, and It’s succeeding, brilliantly, for a few, if catastrophically, for many.

While much of the attention will focus on northern Virginia, the `return to normal’ is statewide. Between January and June, eviction filings across Virginia rose by 88%: “What tenant advocates see as a budding crisis, landlords view as a return to normal.” Here’s normal: five-day eviction notices. Here’s normal: an eviction filing attached to one’s name, much less an actual eviction, means most landlords won’t even consider the application. Here’s normal: rents in Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Richmond have risen 43%, 37% and 15%, respectively; and Hampton Roads is one of the 20 most competitive rental markets in the United States this year. In Richmond, filings in September were 82% above Richmond’s historic average.

According to the most recent U.S. Census survey, 34.3% of the United States believes they face likely eviction within the next two months. That’s a bit more than one of every three households. In the Washington – Arlington – Alexandria metro area, 43.6% of households surveyed believe they face likely eviction within the next two months. Since that likely distributed, it’s reasonable to think that the numbers in Arlington and Alexandria are higher. You know what it’s called when 44% of a population is displaced? Mass eviction. And what it’s called when whole communities are wiped out?

A recent article on the current chaotic rental market in England offers four reasons for the mess in England, reasons which might afford some insight into the situation in Virginia and the country. First, a shortage of housing, partly market driven largely policy driven, “enables” landlords to ask for skyhigh rents. Second, “greedy landlords”. In the United States, rental markets have been overtaken by corporate landlords who charge much higher rents and, significantly, file for eviction more quickly, more routinely, more often. Third, lack of protection for renters. Here is where the State comes in … or better, has opted to leave the stage. For a period during the pandemic, the United States had tenant protections, and, just like child tax credits and other pandemic relief programs, those protections worked. Thanks to no fault eviction protections, mandatory eviction diversion programs, right to counsel in eviction cases, evictions dropped. State protections helped turn an existential community wide crisis, in which tenants never had a chance, into a reasonable, regulated negotiation, which, in more cases than not, never had to go to court or involve any sort of threat of permanent loss of home for oneself, one’s loved ones, one’s neighbors. In Oregon this week, people facing 50% rent increases are asking their landlords to reconsider. It’s the only thing they can do, throw themselves on the mercy of the landlord. This is the old new normal for what is called affordable housing. From Virginia to Oregon and beyond, we cannot return to normal.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Tyrone Turner /  DCist / WAMU)

No end to the torture: Throw the children into solitary, lock the door, walk away

A seclusion room in a Cedar Rapids elementary school: padded walls, a window, a door that locks from outside

Another year ends with stories of children, young children, being thrown into `seclusion rooms’, solitary confinement chambers, in schools across the country. What exactly are children meant to learn, the ones thrown into solitary, the ones watching their classmates and friends go into solitary? What’s the lesson plan, the educational goal? Why are we so invested in seclusion and restraint of children, generally, and of children living with disabilities, particularly? What terrible crime have these children committed that entire systems invest so much in maintaining practices that clearly constitute torture?

In November, U.S. Department of Justice investigators conducted on-site inspections of schools in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. They also demanded thousands of documents. This story begins in 2017, when a parent complained at the abuse her daughter suffered. Apparently, the girl wouldn’t stop crying, and so she was placed in a seclusion room. In the 2019-2020 school year, elementary school children were tossed into seclusion 237 times. In October, 2020, the Department of Justice notified the Cedar Rapids School District that they were opening an investigation.

In 2018, the U.S. Department of Education released a report on school climate and safety for 2015 – 2016. It found that Iowa rates had doubled. For example, in 2013, 23 school districts in eastern Iowa had 2514 reported instances of seclusion or restraint. In 2015, that number rose to 4,904. A 2018 Iowa State report described Davenport as in “systemic non-compliance” of Federal laws concerning the education of students living with disabilities. According to the report, the situation for students of color in Davenport was particularly dire, systemically so. Both of Iowa’s U.S. Senators called for a Federal investigation into the use of seclusion rooms. Davenport’s U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack called for a ban on seclusion rooms.

In 2017, a complaint was filed against the Iowa City school district, charging that the district’s use of seclusion rooms violated Federal law, primarily because parents don’t know that the seclusions rooms existed and were being used and because the use of seclusion rooms is broader and more `ordinary’ than the law allows. During the 2013-14 school year, most of the students dumped into solitary confinement were students with diagnosed disabilities and individualized education plans. Half of the students with education plans who were sent to seclusion rooms were Black. Other than students with education plans, ALL of the students dumped into seclusion rooms in the 2013 – 2014 were Black. Black students comprised about 19% of the school population.

Cedar Rapids is no outlier, not in Iowa, not in the United States. December 31, 2020, the Department of Justice settled with North Gibson School Corporation in Princeton, Indiana, where “students as young as five years old were secluded and restrained improperly and repeatedly, resulting in days, and sometimes weeks, of lost instructional time.”

On October 24, 2021, the U.S. Department of Education and the Saco School District, in Saco, Maine, reached agreement to resolve restraint and seclusion compliance. Saco’s not a big school district, but it boasts big seclusion numbers. From 2017 to 2020, Saco schools engaged in 392 incidents of seclusion. Of that number, 324 involved children in K-2. 83% of those thrown into solitary were children 5 to 7 years old. After extensive investigation and negotiation, they `reached agreement.’

On November 24, 2021, Fairfax County Public Schools, in northern Virginia, reached a settlement with parents of children living with disabilities and advocacy groups to ban all seclusion in all its schools by the beginning of school year 2022 – 2023. This ends a suit that was filed in 2019, after a local news station reported that the county routinely put children with disabilities in seclusion rooms and routinely failed to report the incidents.

A week later, on December 1, the U.S. Department of Justice reached a settlement with the Frederick County Public School District “to address the discriminatory use of seclusion and restraint against students with disabilities …. The investigation, opened in October 2020, revealed thousands of incidents of seclusion and restraint in just two and a half school years. Although students with disabilities make up only 10.8% of students enrolled in the district, every single student the district secluded was a student with disabilities.” When the settlement was reported, many expressed shock, demanded answers, called for responsibility. The county’s school superintendent resigned quickly, and was given $800,000 in compensation. In 2017, that county superintendent was named Superintendent of the Year by the state association of school superintendents.

Every report, every agreement and settlement, evokes shock. How can people be shocked when there are thousands of incidents, as many as ten a day, in small towns and big counties? That the government has returned to some sort of vigilance concerning the systematic abuse and torture of children is welcome, inasmuch as it’s better than inaction. But the real need here is a soul searching, no holds barred transformation. We torture children. We cannot be shocked by that. We send children into days, weeks, of solitary confinement because … they can’t stop crying. And we call that education.

A seclusion room in another Cedar Rapids elementary school

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit 1:  KCCI / Liz Martin/The Gazette)) (Photo Credit 2: KCRG / (Josh Scheinblum)

 

 

We must address the racist cruelty: Of eviction

Standing outside a Virginia courthouse, waiting for justice

“If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention”
Heather Heyer

The pandemic turned the economy upside down and inside out, or so we are told. We are also told, still, that `we are all in it together’. Welcome to the place where the theater of cruelty merges with the wretched of the earth, and, through the cataclysmic changes, the worst remains the same and absolutely ordinary. We are talking, once more, of eviction. Two reports appeared today, both focusing on Georgia. In one, we learn that, among African Americans, youth and housing insecurity are primary causes of “vaccine hesitancy”. In the other, we learn that, in the Atlanta metro area, evictions are concentrated in low income and Black, Indigenous, People of Color, BIPOC, neighborhoods. At one level, we learn that we have learned nothing, since, as both reports suggest, these patterns preceded the pandemic and have `simply’ continued. What are we to do with that `simplicity’, with the persistence of systemic racism in the real estate industry as in the courts? And what is to be done?

According to a study of “vaccine hesitancy” among African Americans in Georgia, “COVID-related housing insecurity—difficulty paying the rent or mortgage or even eviction—increased the odds of vaccine resistance sevenfold”. Actually, housing insecurity increased those odds by 7.3-fold. Why does housing insecurity increase those odds so dramatically? According to the report, those living with `housing insecurity’ tend to live in highly segregated neighborhoods, are low wage essential workers, and have little to no access to health care systems. They’re not `hesitant’, they’re excluded. For “highly segregated neighborhood”, read “ghetto”. For “low wage essential worker”, read “indebted servant” or, better, “serf”. Again, that’s not hesitation. That’s feudalism.

According to the second report, five counties make up 63% of the Atlanta metropolitan area population and 74% of its occupied rental units. During the pandemic, eviction filings continued, especially in “hotspots”, census tracts that were below 80% of the Area Median Income, or AMI, and were 50% or more Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. These hotspots were not a surprise to the researchers, since, prior to the pandemic, the same neighborhoods were eviction hotspots and the same patterns devastated those neighborhoods, communities, families and individuals. As the authors note at the outset of their report, “An eviction marks a crisis point of housing instability that ripples into nearly every facet of a person’s life and harms future chances of housing security …. With the added urgency of a global pandemic, the impacts of eviction mushroom and tighten the nexus between individual outcomes like an eviction and community-level harm.” In the Atlanta metro area, as across the United States, evictions are working as planned, condemning majority BIPOC communities, especially low- to moderate-income BIPOC communities, to a certain death sentence. None of this is new, even if its context makes it seem worse than before.

We “learn” this week that in Virginia, the Virginia that has improved on its shameful history of mass evictions, high eviction rates, and easy eviction procedures, in that Virginia, “Black women … are disproportionately evicted.” We “learn” this week that in New York, the New York that only recently started distributing any rent relief funds, Black women make up nearly two-thirds of those applying for rent relief. Again, that relief has only now started, barely, reaching people.

In light of the new CDC Eviction Moratorium, and the challenges to it which are currently being argued before the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court that barely kept the last CDC Eviction Moratorium going and, with a single vague sentence, tried to gut the New York State Eviction Moratorium, the Eviction Lab took a look at the first iteration of CDC Eviction Moratorium. Here’s what they found: “A large number of eviction cases originate from a relatively small number of Census tracts … Neighborhoods with high eviction filing rates prior to the pandemic continued to see the highest rates during the CDC moratorium … Neighborhoods with high eviction filing rates prior to the pandemic continued to see the highest rates during the CDC moratorium … Prior to the pandemic, Black renters received a disproportionate share of all eviction filings: they made up 22% of all renters in ETS sites, but received 35% of eviction filings. They continued to be over-represented during the CDC moratorium period, receiving 33% of filings.”

What they found is that we have learned absolutely nothing. Where is the outrage at the predictability of these findings? Around the country, activists are pushing, often with success, for right to counsel, where every tenant would have an attorney present and engaged, long before every going to court; Just Cause restrictions, which would require that landlords give just cause before not renewing a lease; sealing eviction records; mandatory mediation; and more. Those are all important policies. At the same time, we have a reckoning due. Where is the outrage at the loss of life, the devastation, the twenty first century version of feudalism? Why does it take a plague for people to begin paying attention to our neighbors, and have we actually begun paying attention, if, in the end, each study concludes that the present and the past are one and the same.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: ABC News / AP / Ben Finley)

Why do landlords have so much discretionary, and ultimately fatal, power?

Yesterday, Virginia’s Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne informed the Virginia House of Delegates’ Appropriations Committee that the Commonwealth of Virginia is looking at a $2 billion surplus. The Virginia state legislature will meet in special session, starting August 2, to decide how to divide the Covid relief moneys. No matter what they decide, $2 billion is a lot of money. And yet … and yet people concerned about eviction are worried, very worried. Why? Partly because the money in Virginia, as elsewhere, has moved at a snail’s pace. The process of application is cumbersome and, for many, almost impossible. The scale of demand has far exceeded the capacity of state agencies. But there’s something else, something more structural than agency capacity and poorly designed procedures: landlords’ discretionary power. 

Virginia has more than a billion dollars in aid for people behind on rent”. Again, that’s a lot of money, and, again, people who need that money and their allies, communities and networks are worried. Why? “To tap into $1 billion worth of federal aid earmarked for Virginia, tenants or their landlords must proactively apply, and there’s no longer any rules requiring property owners to cooperate.”

Fairfax County, in northern Virginia, is the second richest county in the United States, a close to its neighbor, Loudoun County. Despite its great wealth, and despite the fact that it has access to great sums of rent relief money, Fairfax County officials and advocates are worried about eviction. Why? “Although Fairfax officials and other stakeholders say there’s plenty of emergency rental assistance to help low-income residents, they are concerned that it’s taking too long to get that money to landlords. County officials said that even if the rental assistance is available, landlords may decide it’s not worth it to wait months to receive the overdue rent and may evict their tenants anyway.”

Landlords may decide it’s not worth it to wait months to receive the overdue rent and may evict their tenants anyway.

Despite all the research and all the public discussion of the intimate link between transmission of the pandemic and eviction, between health and housing more generally, landlords still get to decide whose life is `worth it’ and whose life is not worth it. Do not ask what it is … 

Across the country, local jurisdictions are responding to this injustice. Some are instituting “just cause” eviction restrictions, others are going with right to counsel. Philadelphia, today, approved legislation to restrict landlords’ decision-making process. From now, landlords will not be able to deny potential tenants just because they have low credit scores or past evictions or evictions filings. The landlords’ process will have to be transparent and rational. Housing is not only a right, it’s also a matter of life and death, and that matter is passed down from one generation to the next. 

How did landlords become the arbiters of life and death, in the midst of a pandemic … or ever? Where does landlords’ discretionary power come from? And why and h ow did we let this happen? On one hand, the answer is in decades of real estate driven urban economies, that reward White homeowners and punish Black and Brown renters, creating an ever wider racial wealth gap, that is also a death gap. Some live long, others are “not worth it”, and the necropolitical maps of `urban development’ proceed. At its source, the concept of landlord is the power of a lord, “the male head of a household; a man who has authority over servants, attendants, or slaves.” It’s time to rewrite the terms and change the power. Our lives are worth it.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: NBC Washington)

 

Eat the rich!

“Quand le peuple n’aura plus rien à manger, il mangera le riche.”
“When the people have nothing left to eat, they’ll eat the rich”
                                                                        Jean-Jacques Rousseau

In the midst of pandemic and deepening and expanding economic crisis, “the total net worth of the nation’s 644 billionaires has risen from $2.95 trillion on March 18 to $3.88 trillion on October 13.” While state and local governments face cataclysmic budget crises; while communities, families, and individuals across the country have faced job loss, loss of health care, eviction, hunger, the top 644 have been raking in money at a rate never before seen. Clearly, we are all in this together, and why worry about economic revival when `we’ are doing so well and there’s a Supreme Court vacancy to fill?

Last week, Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies released their analysis of the current situation, and it’s not a pretty picture. 8.2 million were infected with Covid-19, and 220,000 people had died (that was last week; the numbers today are far worse, a week later). “Collective work income of rank-and-file private-sector employees—all hours worked times the hourly wages of the entire bottom 82% of the workforce—declined by 3.5% from mid-March to mid-September”. Between March and September, close to 62 million lost jobs. 98,000 businesses have closed for good. As of end of August 12 million people have lost employer-sponsored health insurance. In September 22 million adults reported not having enough food the week before. Of that group, 14 million lived with children in their respective households. In September, close to 17% of renters in the United States reported being behind on rent payments. America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.

The 644 billionaires’ increase in wealth represents a 31.6% growth. Imagine if that $931 billion that went to a very small number of people, who themselves represent an even smaller number of families, instead benefited the entire population. $931 billion is more than triple the amount of Mitch McConnell’s proposed `relief’. Imagine all the people who could be served, who could be saved, with $931 billion.

Let’s take Virginia as an example. Seven billionaires call Virginia home: Jacqueline Mars, Pamela Mars, Winifred J. Marquart, Daniel D’Aniello, William Conway, Jr., Matthew Calkins, and Steve Case. In seven months, during this pandemic, this group’s wealth grew by $6.5 billion. That’s almost a 16% increase … a `modest’ showing. To put this modest increase into perspective, the Commonwealth of Virginia faces a $1.3 billion revenue shortfall in 2021 and a $2.7 billion shortfall over the next two years. Meanwhile, and again, seven individuals in that same Commonwealth increased their wealth, in seven months, by $6.5 billion. There is more than enough money for rent relief, health care, food assistance, education, and so much more. Imagine all the people who could be served, who could be saved.

Meanwhile, sales of million-dollar homes has doubled in the United States. According to the National Association of Realtors, `we’ are in a real estate boom, right now. Here’s another sign of that boom: “From early September to Oct. 17, despite the CDC eviction ban, almost 10,000 eviction actions have been filed in 23 counties in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas.” Here’s another sign of the boom: “In September, 865,000 women dropped out of the U.S. labor force compared with 216,000 men. Black and Latina women in the U.S. have been hit the hardest. While unemployment in September fell to 7.7 percent for all women, it remained at 11.1 percent for Black women and 11 percent for Latina women.”

Boom.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image credit: Zeph Farmby / Chicago Reader)

In a matter of 10 days, 6 family members, including myself and a 4-month old baby, all got COVID-19

In a matter of 10 days, 6 family members, including myself and a 4-month old baby, all got COVID-19. Six people got COVID from ONE non-family member who had not been following social distancing—that’s all it takes—one person to infect five adults and one baby. Thankfully, my family has been doing things mostly correctly in terms of social distancing, limiting how often we left the house, wearing masks (!!!), and just overall being smart in these weird times. Because of this, our points of contact post-exposure have been minimal to non-existent.

As our family was grappling with the terrifying thought of being exposed to COVID, getting tested has been an added nightmare. I got tested last Sunday at a CVS in the area after being told of our potential exposure and experiencing symptoms. The test I took was self-administered and had promised results within 6-10 days. 6-10 days to wait for a test result is completely mind boggling to me. What happens if I feel better by day 5? What happens if I get worse? Our family was on edge for 6-10 days, waiting for results from different family members. I finally got my results on Friday—after most of my symptoms had already subsided. It was negative. 

However, after a phone call with a contact tracer (arguably the only thing our government has done right in terms of this pandemic), they suggested I get retested somewhere because I “have too many COVID symptoms and too much exposure to be negative”. And yesterday, I lost my sense of smell, which pretty much means I have COVID. I’m still getting tested on Tuesday, this time it will be done by a medical professional, just to confirm I have it. At this point, there are 3 family members who have tested positive, and 3 people who are presumed positive (we all know we have it, but we’re not an official statistic yet).

To put it bluntly, this experience has been hell for our family. Our government’s response to the pandemic has been terrible. Tests shouldn’t take 6-10 days to deliver results, tests shouldn’t be self- administered (I think my false negative was because I didn’t hear the directions clearly). Testing with rapid results needs to be more accessible—I have called so many different testing sites, looking for appointments that aren’t weeks away, looking for test results that won’t take 6-10 days, and looking for sites that are “approved” by my primary physician.

Thankfully, we are all getting better—slowly, but we’re getting better. I’m lucky (?) that my only real symptom now is no smell. At some point this week, all of us, including the baby, will have had a COVID-19 test. Testing is important–especially when you can get results in 1-2 days.

And to make this even longer, to those people—especially my age, that are still going out and having sOOoooOOOo much fun going out to bars, getting meals in restaurants, taking trips, living like life is normal, I envy you. I WISH I could pretend that life was normal, but it’s hard to do that when you have to google “COVID and babies”, “COVID survival in babies”, “COVID survival rates in adults”, “chances of needing a ventilator”.

 

(Image Credit: Inside NOVA)

Across the United States, children living with disabilities face the torture of school seclusion

In Loudon County, Virginia, 13-year-old Gigi Daniel-Zagorites lives with Phelan-McDermid syndrome, “a disorder that hampers her ability to speak.” In her middle school, one day in September, a fellow classmate took a picture of Gigi being “secluded”. Someone, teachers presumably, took a bookcase and a cabinet and built an enclosure in the corner of the classroom. Gigi was dumped in there, and two adults stood, or sat, guard. In the picture, Gigi is trying to get out or at least see over the barricades. Months later, her mother, Alexa Zagorites, is still asking questions and still getting no answers. Gigi Daniel-Zagorites and her mother are objects of the national pogrom against children living with disabilities. Like so many others, both Gigi and her mother refuse to be or become the victims that national policy intends for them.

Earlier this month, the New Hampshire Disability Rights Center released a report  concerning the abusive seclusion and restraint of a 14-year-old child, called Zach, at the Sununu Youth Services Center. First, Zach was dumped into seclusion which led to two staff members throwing Zach to the ground and “restraining” him face down there. The staff fractured the child’s shoulder blade. Despite New Hampshire law, the restraint and, even more, the injury was not reported for two months. Months later, the Sununu Center continues to withhold information. New Hampshire has “restraint and seclusion” laws, but they all rely on the staff to self-report. The levels of violence form a network of threads of immediate, intimate violence and those of structural violence, all held together by the violence and suffering of family, friends, and community.

Similar stories have been recently reported in IndianaIowa, Florida, and Arizona, to name a few from only the last month or so. Across the country, children in school learn that living with a disability is a crime. It must be a crime, otherwise why would the adult staff members be punishing them so?

Last month, U.S. Department of Education released a report on school climate and safety for 2015 – 2016. It found that Iowa rates had just about doubled. For example, in 2013, 23 school districts in eastern Iowa had 2514 reported instances of seclusion or restraint. In 2015, that number rose to 4,904. A recent Iowa State report describes Davenport as in “systemic non-compliance” of Federal laws concerning the education of students living with disabilities. According to the report, the situation for students of color in Davenport is particularly dire, systemically so. Both of Iowa’s U.S. Senators are calling for a Federal investigation into the use of seclusion rooms. Davenport’s U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack has called for a ban on seclusion rooms.

The report on school climate and safety merely confirmed what we already know. In a nutshell, students living with disabilities constituted 12% of all students enrolled. 12 percent. That very small sector of students living with disabilities constituted 71% of all students restrained and 66% of all students “secluded.”

What crime have these children committed? What is their terrible sin? Why do we continue to send these children into solitary confinement? Why do we continue to torture those who are most vulnerable? When will we stop this practice? What do you think we’re teaching children, all the children in all the schools, when we torture their classmates and then call it “seclusion” and “restraint”?

(Infographic Credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Virginians decided yesterday, and we decided to move forward

In 2006, Mazie Hirono was elected to the U.S. Senate. She was the first and only Asian-American woman U.S. Senator and the first woman Senator from Hawaii. A year ago, today, the people of Washington’s 7th Congressional District elected Pramila Jayapal to the United States House of Representatives. Pramila Jayapal was the first Indian-American woman elected to Congress. On the same day, in Minnesota, Ilhan Omar won a Minnesota House seat, making her the first Somali-American legislator in the history of the United States. Yesterday, Virginia voters decided to smash a few more glass ceilings, and elected Danica Roem, Elizabeth Guzman, Hala Ayala, Kathy Tran, Dawn Adams, Jennifer Carroll Foy.

Here’s the list of firsts. Danica Roem is the first openly transgender person to win elective office in Virginia. Elizabeth Guzman and Hala Ayala are the first Latinas elected to Virginia’s House of Delegates. Elizabeth Guzman is also the first social worker and the first AFSCME member elected to the House of Delegates. Kathy Tran is the first Asian American woman elected to the House of Delegates. Dawn Adams is the first open lesbian elected to the House of Delegates. Jennifer Carroll Foy is the first public defender elected to the House of Delegates. That’s a lot of firsts, and that’s a whole lot of women.

Who voted these first women into office? Extrapolating from those who elected Ralph Northam to be the next Governor of Virginia, women. 61% of all women voted Democratic. 91% of Black women voted Democratic. 58% of women with college degrees voted Democratic. 54% of married women voted Democratic, and 77% of women who are not married voted Democratic. The turnout yesterday was the highest in 20 years for a gubernatorial race. That’s a whole lot of women.

There were other firsts in the Commonwealth. Voters elected Chris Hurst, a first-time candidate and a leading gun control advocate. Voters also chose Justin Fairfax, the first African American elected to a Virginia statewide office since 1989.

Thanks to the great work of Governor Terry McAuliffe and New Virginia Majority, thousands of formerly incarcerated people – including LaVaughn Williams and Brianna Ross – voted for the first time.

Virginians decided yesterday, and we decided to move forward, not back. Virginians decided to remember and honor Heather Heyer, whose last, and lasting, public statement was, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” In the words of Sojourner Truth, “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again!” And Mary Harris Jones roars in response, “Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living!” We’re outraged, we voted, and we’re going to keep on voting, organizing, mobilizing, and moving the agenda forward.

 

(Photo Credit: The New York Times / Chet Strange) (Infographic: The Washington Post)