Turn “Jeff Davis” into Arthur Ashe. Do it now!

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If you live in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, California, or Washington, you might live near Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway. That’s right. From sea to shining sea, from the Rio Grande to the Canadian border, Jefferson Davis is “honored” and, presumably, you are honored to drive in his memory.

In 1913, the United Daughters of the Confederacy designed, planned and sponsored the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway system, which was to extend from Washington, DC, to San Diego. Their plan was to overlay the Confederacy onto the map of the United States, an ocean-to-ocean highway that would compete with the Lincoln Highway. While the coordinated highway system no longer exists, in each of the states mentioned above, parts of it survive, and under the name Jefferson Davis Highway.

In 2002, when Washington State Representative Hans Dunshee proposed changing the name of Washington’s Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway, he ran into a whirlwind of opposition, because nothing says the Pacific Northwest like … the Confederacy and the war to preserve slavery. As Dunshee noted, “People are saying, ‘Oh, Jeff Davis was into roads for the Northwest.’ That’s their cover. But let’s be clear. This memorial was not put up by the AAA. It was put up to glorify the Confederacy.” The president of the United Daughters of the Confederacy weighed in, complaining that the change would “cause more hard feelings and certainly will not unify our country.”

When Dunshee first discovered the presence of the Confederacy in his home state, he said, “I was astonished that it was there. And then I was disgusted.” Disgust is a good response. Dunshee’s disgust only deepened, once he received calls telling him “to go back to Africa and take all of his kind with him.” Hans Dunshee’s “kind” would be German and Irish.

Nine years later, in 2011, in Arlington, Virginia, the Arlington County Board renamed a part called the Old Jefferson Davis Highway. It’s now the Long Bridge Drive. Why the name change? As then-County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman explained, “I have a problem with ‘Jefferson Davis’ [in the road’s name]. There are aspects of our history I’m not particularly interested in celebrating.”

While the “Old Jefferson Davis Highway” was part of the original Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway, it wasn’t included in the Commonwealth’s 1922 designation of the Jefferson Davis Highway, and so Arlington County could change the name, once it convinced opponents that perhaps the real “importance of history” is not its repetition but rather its analysis and critique.

Meanwhile, the rest of Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway in Virginia falls under the Commonwealth administration, and so any change there must go through Richmond.

The lesson of history has to be that people can change their histories and themselves for the better; that we don’t happen upon progress, we make progress happen. From Washington, DC, to Charleston to Washington State, make freedom ring. Move from astonishment to disgust to astonishment. Tear down the flag; rewrite the name. In Virginia, turn “Jeff Davis” into Arthur Ashe, a proud son of Virginia of whom we are all proud. Do it now. It’s the least we can do.

 

(`Jeff Davis’ Photo Credit: author’s photo) (Arthur Ashe Photo Credit: Charles Tasnadi / Associated Press)

What happened to Natasha McKenna? The routine torture of cell extraction

In early February, Natasha McKenna was killed by six officers in the Fairfax County Jail, in northern Virginia near Washington, DC. McKenna was 37 years old. She was the mother of a 7-year-old daughter. She was living with schizophrenia. She was a diminutive woman, 5 feet 3 inches, 130 pounds. And she was Black.

She was killed during a so-called cell extraction, when six deputies tackled her and took care of business: “She was handcuffed behind her back, shackled around the legs, a hobble strap connected to both restraints, and a spit mask placed over her face.” Natasha McKenna continued to `resist’. An officer shot Natasha McKenna at least four times with a Taser, at point blank range: “Ms. McKenna … stopped breathing shortly thereafter, and her heart ceased beating. Although her heart was restarted, she died a few days later without regaining consciousness.”

Natasha McKenna was arrested by Fairfax County police on a warrant from Alexandria, for an incident that begged for help rather than punishment. Both Alexandria and Fairfax County police knew of Natasha McKenna’s mental illness history. Because Natasha McKenna was officially Alexandria’s prisoner, Fairfax couldn’t petition to have her placed in mental health care. Fairfax says it called Alexandria police three times, trying to have them pick up McKenna, but no one came. Now, Alexandria is “doing [its] own investigation on [its] practices on picking up inmates in other jurisdictions.” Alexandria, Fairfax County, and the local media are investigating, and Natasha McKenna is dead.

Hers was a violent death, as indicated by two black eyes, a badly bruised arm, and a finger that had to be amputated. But more than a violent death, Natasha McKenna’s death is just another typical day in the empire of cell extractions. Last year, San Diego faced street demonstrations and court proceedings for the routine violence meted out to juveniles during cell extractions. Earlier this month, a judge re-opened the case of Charles Jason Toll, who was killed in a cell extraction last year in Riverbend Maximum Security, in Tennessee. Last week, a judge dropped all charges against prisoner Louis Flack in the Knox County Jail, in Tennessee, in large part because of the beating he’d received during a so-called cell extraction.

Natasha McKenna joins Aura Rosser, Kyera Singleton, Shae Ward, Shirley Beckley, Tanisha Anderson, Yvette Smith, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Rekia Boyd, and a slew of other Black women killed by the State’s peacekeepers. Black women whose lives and violent deaths are covered in public and even more national silence.

These are the layers of silence: “Officials in Fairfax … have stonewalled and balked in Ms. McKenna’s case… The six sheriff’s deputies at the jail have been neither identified nor removed from regular duty… Sheriff Stacey A. Kincaid, who runs the county jail, has issued no new directives to her deputies regarding use of force, deployment of Tasers or procedures for cell extractions. She says a policy review is under way; there is no evidence of it… In Fairfax, where the state medical examiner has still not issued a cause of death for Ms. McKenna, the police investigation is frozen.”

It is time. It is way past time for the Justice Department to step in. It is time to break the silence surrounding the violence of cell extractions. How many more must die before we realize our part in the deaths? How many more must suffer excruciating pain before we realize our role in the commission of torture? How many more Black women must endure the assault on their bodies and persons by the State before we realize that we are that State?

What happened to Natasha McKenna? Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. Just another day in the killing fields.

 

(Photo Credit: Legal Momentum)

Virginia `pays’ for decades of forced sterilization of women

 

On Thursday, February 26, the Virginia legislature agreed to pay $25,000 in compensation to those who had suffered forced sterilization during the Commonwealth’s decades long adventure in eugenics. From 1924 to 1979, over 8000 people were involuntarily sterilized under the Virginia Eugenical Sterilization Act. It’s believed that 65,000 people nationwide were forcibly sterilized, and so, at over 12% of the total, Virginia holds pride of place. But there’s more. Virginia was the model for many states across the United States and for the German Nazi eugenics program. The line from Richmond to the Third Reich is direct.

More than a fifth of those sterilized in Virginia were African American, and more than two-thirds were women. Virginia’s longstanding war on Black women took many shapes, and the argument was always security and the well being of something called society. In 1927, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Virginia’s sterilization program. In the words of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” By enough, he meant too much.

Virginia’s sterilization program sat comfortably at the intersection of gender, race, class, disability, and confinement. The overwhelming majority of those sterilized were “patients” of state institutions. They weren’t patients; they were prisoners.

In 1985, Virginia finally agreed to inform survivors of their sterilization and to provide them with counseling services. In 2002, then Governor Mark Warner formally apologized for Virginia’s shameful part in eugenics. In 2014, Delegate Patrick Hope, from Arlington County, began pushing for compensation, and that’s what was established yesterday. Yesterday, Del. Hope explained, “I think it’s a recognition when we do something wrong we need to fix it as a government. Now we can close this final chapter and healing can begin.”

Does healing begin this way? The compensation is a step in the right direction. At the same time, the survivors number only eleven. More to the point, what of the system of law, medicine, education, and State that supported the forced sterilization of over 5000 women, all in the name of preserving the health and well being of something called society? That healing has not begun, not while so many of their sisters, nieces, grand nieces, and the list goes on, languish in prisons and jails across the Commonwealth, and across the nation, today. The kind of healing of which Delegate Hope speaks and for which he yearns cannot be purchased. It is not for sale. It must emerge from sustained recognition of responsibility combined with recognition of the subjects of this history. Women. Black women. Black women living with disabilities. Poor Black women living with disabilities. That healing has yet to begin.

 

(Photo Credit: The Institute for Southern Studies)

End the epidemic of mass incarceration of women!

 


Once again, the celebration of Thanksgiving, in the United States, coincides with the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women. One way to acknowledge that intersection could be to address the place of mass incarceration of women. The New York Times lead editorial today, “Mass Imprisonment and Public Health”, argues that incarceration has reached epidemic proportions, and, they insist, when they say “epidemic”, they mean that as literal, not figurative. Nebraska legislators this week heard that, in their state, prisons and jails have become the leading institutions for health care provision for those living with mental illness: “In Nebraska, the Douglas County Jail holds the most mentally ill people.” The legislators heard of the mental illness of people as they enter prison and jail, and they heard of the mental health crises engendered by rampant use of solitary confinement. In Boston, on Tuesday, when over a thousand people marched in solidarity with Ferguson residents and protesters, they marched to the South Bay House of Corrections, chanting, “Black lives matter!” and “We see you!”

We see you. Where are the women in this vision?

On Tuesday, inmates at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women reached a settlement with the Virginia women’s prison. In 2012, five prisoners, represented by the Legal Aid Justice Center, sued the prison, claiming that the medical care was so bad that it violated the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Last week, a Federal judge extended the suit to a class action suit, covering all 1200 prisoners. The judge also ruled that hiring a contractor doesn’t absolve state prison officials of their responsibility to provide adequate health care. He further ruled that the women had serious medical needs. When the State heard that, they caved, and the settlement ensued.

What’s going on here? A Vera Institute report issued last week gives one version, under the title GREATER HEALTH DISPARITIES FOR WOMEN: “The number of women imprisoned in the U.S. increased nearly 6.5-fold from 1980 to 2010. Today, women comprise about 7 percent of all prisoners and 13 percent of all local jail populations, and face a greater burden of disease than incarcerated men, which is partly explained by disturbingly high rates of sexual victimization, substance use, and trauma. An estimated 6 percent are preg­nant, with the majority having conceived within 3 months of release from a prior incarceration. A significant percentage of these women have not seen an obstetrician on a regular basis prior to incarceration and are in unhealthy states due to substance use and malnutrition prior to entering custody. While a structured environment, regular meals, and access to care can improve birth outcomes, according to a recent survey, state prisons often fail to use best prac­tices and established standards when caring for pregnant women.”

Additionally, “Today, about 14.5 percent of men and 31 percent of women in jails have a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, major depression, or bipolar disorder, compared to 3.2 and 4.9 percent respectively in the general population … Women experience higher rates of sexual victimization than men. A 2008 survey found three times as many females (13.7 percent) reported being sexually victimized by another prisoner than males (4.2 percent); and that twice as many women reported being sexually victimized by staff.”

All of this happens under the title of “correction.” 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.

 

(Image Credit: Vera Institute of Justice)

Women need more than a day to become visible and full human beings

March 8 was International Women’s Day. Two recent events in the United States show that we need more than a day to establish women’s rights.

While bills to ban shackling pregnant women in custody were being discussed in both Maryland and in Massachusetts, a Virginian lawmaker declared, “Once a child does exist in your womb, I’m not going to assume a right to kill it just because the child’s host (some refer to them as mothers) doesn’t want it.” After being roundly criticized, he said that his words were taken out of context and what he really meant was bearer instead of host.

Meanwhile, in Maryland at the hearing of HB 27 Healthy Births for Incarcerated Women Act, lawmakers pondered how to “manage pregnant women” in prison. They focused on security issues for guards and the general public and what possible incidents could occur if pregnant inmate walk without shackles. Responding to a delegate’s question on the history of escape by pregnant inmates, one witness for the Department of Public Safety said, “ We are not aware of any incident like this but we want to make sure.”

As they debated whether the bill was not too lenient on pregnant inmates, a delegate wondered, “How do we go back about writing a bill? Precisely what is the nature of the security issues?” Again the Department reported zero incidents. Throughout the discussions of `safety and security’, the actual facts and realities of being incarcerated while pregnant and possibly being shackled became invisible and the safety of the women was of no concern.

All that changed with the testimony of Delegate Mary Washington, the Bill’s sponsor; Sara Love, Public Policy Director of ACLU Maryland; and Jacquie Robarge, Executive Director of Power Inside, an organization that “serves women impacted by incarceration.”

Jacquie shared a report from inmates who witnessed pregnant women shackled during transport. No officials take notice of the lived situations of incarcerated women. A code of silence permeates prisons and jails, and so the only way to know what is happening comes from other inmates. That is why such a bill is necessary. For lawmakers, however, the main point of contention was to make sure that the “host” could be controlled at any time.

In Virginia, State Senator Steve Martin’s `host’ response to the valentines’ card sent by reproductive rights advocates, via Facebook, reminded women that their reproductive capacity made them less than a full being in a state that claims to protect democratic values. It comes as no surprise that Senator Martin supported both the mandatory ultrasound bill as well as the personhood bill. Fortunately, the `hosts’ organized and defeated both bills.

The Maryland and Virginia examples reveal the position of women in the minds of too many lawmakers today. Women need more than a day to become visible and full human beings.

(Photo Credit: Grassroots Leadership)

Judge Leonie Brinkema and the overwhelming fact of isolation

 

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema confirmed a decision she had made last November. In Prieto v Clarke, Judge Brinkema ruled that, despite the horrific nature of Alfredo Prieto’s crimes, which had landed him on Virginia’s death row, he still had rights, including his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. At issue was Virginia’s practice of automatically and permanently putting all death row prisoners into 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement.

In her November ruling, Judge Brinkema wrote, “Plaintiff’s conditions of confinement on death row are undeniably extreme, He must remain alone in his cell for nearly 23 hours per day. The lights never go out in his cell, although they are scaled back during the overnight hours. Plaintiff is allowed just five hours of outdoor recreation per week, and that time is spent in another cell at best slightly larger than his living quarters. He otherwise has no ability to catch a glimpse of the sky because the window in his cell is a window in name only. Nor can he pass the time in the company of other inmates; plaintiff is deprived of most forms of human contact. His only real break from the monotony owes to a television and compact disc player in his cell and limited interactions with prison officials. Such dehumanizing conditions are eerily reminiscent of those at the maximum-security prison in Wilkinson. … The Court likewise finds it significant that plaintiff has already spent five years in this placement, and there is no end in sight. Plaintiff has not even begun federal post-conviction proceedings, which are likely to play out over the course of several years and further delay the carrying out of his sentence. For all practical purposes, his placement `is for an indefinite period of time’.”

Wilkinson was a 2005 Supreme Court case in which the Court decided, among other issues, that being sent to supermax had to be based on certain considerations. As Judge Brinkema put it in November, “Courts have considered whether the conditions in question are particularly extreme or restrictive, whether the duration of confinement is excessive or indefinite, whether an inmate’s parole status is negatively affected, and whether an inmate’s confinement in such conditions bears a rational relationship to legitimate penological interests.” According to Judge Brinkema, Virginia had failed on all three counts: particular extremity and restrictiveness of conditions; indefinite duration of confinement; lack of legitimate penological interests.

To no one’s surprise the Commonwealth of Virginia objected, and this Friday, Judge Brinkema responded. She rejected Virginia’s request that her decision be delayed. Judge Brinkema reiterated her view of what counts here: “the overwhelming fact of isolation — plaintiff is left alone in a small cell for nearly every hour of every day.”

The overwhelming fact of isolation is an injustice. Indefinite and prolonged isolation is an injustice. Justice, as part of being human, matters. That’s what U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema confirmed on Friday, and therein some hope lies.

 

(Image Credit: ACLU)

Recognizing Virginia’s “non-violent felon” women voters

Great news from Virginia: “In a major victory for voting rights, Virginia’s Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell has announced he will automatically restore voting rights for people with nonviolent felony convictions. His decision will eliminate the two-year waiting period and petition process that currently disenfranchises thousands of nonviolent felons who have completed their sentences and satisfied all the conditions of their punishments. According to the Sentencing Project, 350,000 Virginians who have completed their sentences remained disenfranchised in 2010.”

Last year the Sentencing Project reported that 350,000 Virginians fell under the felony disenfranchisement regime. Virginia is one of six states where more than seven percent of the adult population is disenfranchised. Virginia is one of three states in which at least 20 percent of African Americans is disenfranchised. That’s three states – Florida, Kentucky, Virginia – out of fifty. Virginia is one of the seven states in which more than 7 percent of the adult population is disenfranchised.

The key phrase is “people with non-violent felony convictions.”

While it’s not particularly surprising that the gender of “people with nonviolent felony convictions” goes unnoticed, it’s worth noting. The majority of formerly incarcerated women in Virginia are “nonviolent offenders” … and are women of color.

In his letter to the Secretary of the Commonwealth, the Governor, not surprisingly, ignores the gender and racial component: “I believe that a person who is a non-violent felon, and has served his time as well as probation or parole, and fully satisfied all court costs, fine, restitution, and other court-ordered conditions, should be able to regain his civil rights and resume his life as a fully engaged member of society.”

Before you think this is too fine a point, the Commonwealth of Virginia Restoration of Rights page doesn’t speak of the restoration of his rights. It speaks of the restoration of his or her rights. The her matters.

Most of the press joins the Governor in ignoring the her side of rights restoration. Most, but not all.

For example, Benjamin Jealous suggested: “If you’re a drug addict and you’re poor, you tend to go to prison. You’re rich, you tend to go to Betty Ford, right? Or the equivalent. And when you go in, if you’re a woman—and that’s been sort of the huge increasing demographic over the last 20 years—your kids go to foster care. Well, you don’t get your kids out of foster care when you get home from prison. You get them home—you get them out of foster care when you get home from prison and find a job and can keep it. And for formerly incarcerated people, they find that they have this kind of scarlet “F” on their forehead, where it’s almost impossible in many places to get a job, where you can’t vote in places like Virginia, where—one woman spoke passionately yesterday about what it was like to be speaking to the Republican Women’s Club and asked to sign a petition for somebody who wanted to run for office, and be interrogated about why you couldn’t sign it, and finally have to sort of re-out herself as somebody who, on her worst day, had done something wrong and become a felon. And so, this is how we put people in—you know, kind of push people out of our society while having them live right amongst us.”

In Virginia incarcerated women are the huge increasing demographic for the last two decades, and the overwhelming majority are in for non-violent offenses. Since 1990, Virginia has had one of the highest increases in time served by prisoners and keeps people in prison for longer than most states. Recently the Commonwealth established the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission to address the possibility of diversion and alternative sentencing.

The Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission found that for drug and fraud offenses, women are a much, much better `risk’ than men, nine times better. For larceny, men are a somewhat better risk, about 1.5 times better. Most recently, these numbers translated as follows: 635 drug cases for review; 951 fraud cases; 185 larceny cases. In the overwhelming number of cases, then, women are a much better prospect for anywhere but behind bars. That’s according to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Virginia has taken a historic first step. It’s not quite a leap, but it’s an important step. Now, revoke the lifelong ban on access to welfare. Virginia still has a complete lifetime ban on welfare receipt for formerly incarcerated people. Less than a third of the states have such a ban. That ban targets women, and especially women of color, most directly and intensely.

At the same time, invest in diversion programs. Keep those convicted of non-violent offenses out of prison. Do it now, Virginia.

 

(Photo Credit: Eve Arnold / Magnum Photos / Slate)

Virginia’s war on women of color

Earlier this week the Virginia House of Delegates refused to restore the rights of nonviolent felons who have paid their debt to society … again. Governor Robert F. McDonnell had made re-enfranchisement a priority of his final year in office. The Governor spoke compellingly of “a nation that believes in redemption and second chances.” His Republican confreres in Richmond were not impressed.

Virginia is one of four states that permanently bars felony offenders from voting or running for office. At present, only the Governor can restore those rights, and that takes a long time, a great deal of work, and, not insignificantly, the commitment of a Governor who thinks it’s worth the time and effort. Most don’t.

In Virginia, as elsewhere, the disenfranchisement of former felons stems from, and adds to, centuries-old histories of racial and ethnic exclusion, oppression, and State violence. Approximately 378,000 Virginians, or 6.8 percent of the Commonwealth, fall under the `felony’ ban. This lifelong ban affects one of every five African Americans in Virginia. That’s no accident. That’s public policy.

These numbers are particularly noxious when one recalls that sixty percent of Virginia felony convictions do not merit jail time, and many are for nonviolent offences.

The lifelong voting ban in Virginia has always been an assault on African Americans immediately, and on communities of color, more generally. In recent years, however, it has also been a weapon in a war against women of color.

The so-called war on drugs has targeted women of color, in particular through conspiracy laws. These laws basically catch women for the crime of intimate relationships with someone involved in the drug trade. The women often, perhaps usually, receive extraordinarily harsh sentences. In Virginia, the case of Santra Lavonne Rucker is illustrative. Her boyfriend was thought to be a major dealer, in Virginia and New York. Rucker was charged with him, as an accomplice, and convicted, despite what many think was flimsy evidence of her actual involvement. But here’s the kicker. Rucker was sentenced to life, lives actually, in prison. Despite overwhelming evidence that, at most, she was a bystander, she was sentenced as a major kingpin in a statewide conspiracy. Santra Lavonne Rucker is still waiting to see the light of day.

Malinda Jenkins, of Lynchburg, Virginia, discovered that, thanks to drug conspiracy laws, absolutely ordinary everyday interactions between intimate partners can result in a narcotics prosecution. Jenkins was brought in with her boyfriend and others. Despite the agents’ testimony that they had never witnessed her or knew of her having any relationship to any drug deals, Jenkins was convicted with the whole crew. On appeal, her conviction was reversed because there was no evidence. It wasn’t insufficient evidence. It was nonexistent evidence.

These are just two cases, but they speak to the last thirty years of the war on drugs and its impact, nationally and in Virginia. In Virginia, being convicted of a drug offense can mean a lifelong ban on welfare benefits as well as a lifelong ban on voting. For women and their children, the ban on welfare has meant an impossible life. This has particularly affected Virginian women of color. That’s no accident. That’s public policy.

Since 1990, Virginia has had one of the highest increases in time served by prisoners and keeps people in prison for longer than most states. This is true for those convicted of nonviolent as well as violent offenses. Only recently has the State, with the establishment of the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission, begun to address the possibility of diversion and alternative sentencing. As is so often the case, the Commission was a result of prison overcrowding in the Commonwealth. Nationally, prison overcrowding has often resulted in men being released much earlier than women for exactly the same offense. The State simply needed the men’s beds more than the women’s.

The Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission applies a point system to each prisoner to establish `risk’ of recidivism. For drug and fraud offenses, women are deemed a much, much better `risk’ than men, nine times better. For larceny, men are a somewhat better risk, about 1.5 times better. In December 2012, these numbers translated as follows: 635 drug cases for review; 951 fraud cases; 185 larceny cases. In the overwhelming number of cases, then, women are a much better prospect for anywhere but behind bars. That’s according to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

It’s time to return the right to vote to those who have paid their debt, especially when much of that debt is the result of legerdemain. It’s time to stop the war on communities of color. It’s time to stop the war on women of color. Do it now, Virginia.

 

(Photo Credit: Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos/Slate)

The women of Arlandria are organizing … and they vote

On December 17, 2011, the Alexandria City Council overwhelmingly voted to ignore low- to moderate-income residents of the Arlandria neighborhood who came to City Council to oppose a so-called redevelopment plan. Most of the residents who came and spoke were Latinas. Some were high school or college students. Some were young women workers. Some were women elders, who have lived in the neighborhood for decades. Many were members of the Tenants and Workers United, others small business owners, and some simply neighbors and friends.

Women who had grown up in the neighborhood, joined youth groups and women’s leadership groups and now attend college. Women from outside women’s leadership groups who had moved to the neighborhood because of its diversity and promise. To a person, they described their fears and aspirations, and a planning process that actively excluded them. To a person, they were ignored.

Each woman looked the Council members in the eyes and asked, or pleaded, or demanded that they slow down the process, that they listen, really listen, to what was being said. Each woman explained that she has had a critical role in building and sustaining the vibrant community of Arlandria. Each woman was ignored.

The women argued that the plans for upscale development [a] are a lousy deal, [b] threaten the fabric of the community, and [c] were devised without any real consultation.

Here’s the plan: turn a low-lying strip mall into two massive six-story buildings that will include 478 residential units. If the buildings are too high, as they are by city standards, throw in 28 `affordable’ housing units … out of 478, and get a waiver. This `affordable’ is designed for those earning around $50,000 a year. Basically, no one currently living in Arlandria earns that. So, no one currently living in Arlandria will qualify.

Then, claim that 450 upscale units in a tight neighborhood will have no impact on the rest of the housing market in the neighborhood. Nearby landlords will not raise their rents. No one will be dislocated. There is no need to worry about gentrification.

When the actual neighbors look at you in disbelief, tell them that they’re getting 28 new units that weren’t there before. Those units will go to someone else, but that’s not `our’ problem.

If anything else comes up, such as questions of traffic and parking, questions of public lands and recreational centers, respond with assurances and vague promises that everything will turn out fine when the time comes.

That was the plan and that was the argument presented to the residents of Arlandria by the Alexandria City Council and its staff.

The Council altogether ignored the fabric of the community. For almost thirty years, the Arlandria community has struggled to create a decent place for working people across generations; for Central and South American, African and Asian immigrants and their children, many of them US citizens; a decent place for all low income people; a decent place for all people. The Council refused to recognize that labor of dignity. Sometimes, decades of creating a community fabric must be tossed onto the trash heap of history… in exchange for 28 `affordable’ units.

The City Council did respond, at length, to the claims of lack of inclusion. They insisted that they had tried to `include’ the residents, but the residents had proven themselves to be difficult. The City Council, with one exception, Alicia Hughes, then began to express resentment at the exclusion claims and its claimants.

What’s going on here? The City Council outsourced inclusion, and democracy, to its staff. The staff reported that they were doing the very best job possible. Who monitors the staff? The staff monitors itself. When over forty people came to the City Council to say that the staff had not included them and never had a real consultative process, and that the so-called advisory groups were mostly developers and landlords, what did the City Council do? It turned to the staff, and the staff said, “We tried.”

And nobody on the City Council asked, “Why then do all these people say you have created a culture of exclusion?”

What happened in Alexandria happens everywhere. The State outsources inclusion, under the mask of liberal democracy, and then, when those who have been excluded protest, the State resents their presence, their voices, and their claims.

Meanwhile, in Arlandria, as everywhere, the women are organizing. And, as one Latina college student said, they vote.

 

(Photo Credit: WAMU.org/Emily Friedman)

Deported children haunt the world

Emily Samantha Ruiz

A radio broadcast town meeting was held today in Fairfax, Virginia, a community renowned for its public school system, to discuss discipline in the Fairfax County schools. Near the end of the hour-long discussion, the moderator, Kojo Nnamde, presented a scenario based on a recent event, in which a six year old child was found to have brought cocaine into school and shared it with his friends. What is to be done? Should the child be expelled?

Tina Hone, Fairfax County School Board member, responded, “He’s a six-year-old. And what lesson are we teaching a six- or seven-year-old child by expelling him?… It is a six-year-old child. I am not going to label a six-year-old child for the rest of their lives as a drug dealer. I’m not going to do that… It’s a six-year-old child, for God’s sake. I think we need to think about that.”

We need to think about children, because children are being actively forgotten by the State. Children are addressed instead as surplus populations and disposable objects. Nowhere is this more evident than in the willingness of modern so-called democratic nation-States to ship off children, six years old, seven years old, four years old. The line from primary school expulsion to national deportation of very young children is a straight line, and it is the measure of our current historical moment.

Consider Emily Samantha Ruiz.

Emily Samantha Ruiz is four years old, a Long Island tot, a four-year-old little girl, a very little girl. Emily Samantha Ruiz is caught in an immigration snafu or perhaps quagmire. Emily Samantha Ruiz is currently in Guatemala, to which she was deported. Emily Samantha Ruiz is a United States citizen. Her parents are both undocumented residents.

Emily and her grandfather, who has, or had, a work visa, went to Guatemala, to visit family, to get away from the harsh winter and its impact on her asthma. On their return, as they came through Dulles Airport, in Virginia, the grandfather’s name came up at Customs and Border Protection, CBP, as having perhaps committed some immigration infraction twenty some years ago. CBP won’t reveal the exact details. The grandfather was detained. The parents were calling everywhere to find their daughter. They contacted a CPB agent, who asked if either was in the country legally. Mr. Ruiz responded they were not. The agent replied that the options were Emily could go enter the custody of the State of Virginia or return to Guatemala with her grandfather. The Ruizes were terrified that `custody’ would result in adoption. Likewise, they had reason to fear that if they showed up to pick up their daughter, her `custodians’ would arrest them. They `opted’ to have Emily return to Guatemala with her grandfather. The government says it did nothing wrong, played by the book, followed the rules.

What are the rules?

The public discussion of this event has focused, rightly, on the fact that Emily Samantha Ruiz is a U.S. citizen. Her citizenship is indeed important. So is her racial and ethnic status. So is her language.

But let’s not forget, Emily Samantha Ruiz is a four-year-old child, for God’s sake. “I think we need to think about that.” Emily is part of a global phenomenon in which nation-States – in the name of sovereignty, security, protection, even democracy – actively forget their responsibility to remember that children are children. What lesson are we teaching those children? Deported children haunt the modern world.

(Photo Credit: NY Daily News)