Damaris Rodriguez died in jail, in agony, screaming and begging for care. Who cares?

Damaris Rodriguez and family

The story of Damaris Rodriguez’s slow torturous death is as horrifying as its familiarity.  Damaris Rodriguez lived with bipolar disorder. Damaris Rodriguez also lived a fully functional life. Damaris Rodriguez, 43 years old mother of five; resident of SeaTac, a suburb of Seattle; married to Reynaldo Gil. Damaris Rodriguez had never been arrested and had never “engaged” with the so-called criminal justice system, until the night of December 30, 2017. Five days later, Damaris Rodriguez was dead, after a period of torture by neglect.

On December 30, 2017, Damaris Rodriguez suffered a mental health episode. Her husband call 911. The police arrived before the ambulance. Reynaldo Gill is a first-language Spanish speaker. His English was rudimentary, plus he was under great stress. The police did not speak Spanish. With no evidence and despite Reynaldo Gil’s protestations, the police determined that Damaris Rodriguez was perpetrating domestic violence. They threw her into the police car and took her to the South Correctional Entity Jail, SCORE, in Des Moines, Washington. There Damaris Rodriguez was thrown into a cell, where she was videotaped constantly. 

Within five days, Damaris Rodriguez was dead. First, she suffered mental health episodes. She stripped naked, crawled, and refused food. In response, she was placed in a cell without any sink or water. There she “became lethargic”, and so the staff stopped providing her with food. Without food or water, Damaris Rodriguez’s body shut down, and she died. All in plain view, all on film: “Almost every second that she was in jail was captured on video, and I think the only way to describe that video is as a window into hell.”

Now the family is suing, and people want to know what happened to Damaris Rodriguez. Everything and nothing. The details are specific, and the story is general and altogether familiar. What happened to Damaris Rodriguez? A woman of color needed help, her family called for help, and she was tortured and assassinated. In other words, nothing out of the ordinary. Along with the questions of what happened to Madaline PitkinAbby RudolphMichelle BewleyKelly ColtrainRobin ArrajJoyce CurnellTanna Jo FillmoreMadison JensenSarah Lee Circle Bear, Damaris Rodriguez and so many others, maybe it’s time we asked ourselves, “What happened to us?” These women’s deaths are our collective doing and responsibility. In communities across the country, women are seeking help and we respond by dumping them in local jails where they are tortured, most often through neglect, and murdered. We do this, every day, everywhere. What happened to Damaris Rodriguez? What happened to us?

(Photo Credit: KIRO7)

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)

Violence against women haunts independence

 

Egyptian men and women in one hand

“After the revolution”. In Egypt and Tunisia, women who made the revolution, women who pushed Mubarak out, are now facing the struggle for more rights, autonomy, and physical safety. This should come as no surprise to the rest of the so-called independent world.

Yesterday, August 6, Jamaica celebrated 49 years of independence from the United Kingdom. There were celebrations. At the same time, sexual violence against girls is both increasing and intensifying.

Across the African continent, August is celebrated as Women’s Month. August was chosen to commemorate the August 9, 1956, women’s march in Pretoria, in protest of the infamous pass laws. The women chanted, shouted, screamed: “Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo!”. “Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock!”

That was 55 years ago. Today, the women are still being `touched’, and in the most violent ways. Across the nation, campaigns, such as the One in Nine Campaign, and organizations, such as the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, struggle to address and end violence agains women. Organizations such as Free Gender struggle to address and end violence against lesbian, and in particular Black lesbian, women. All of these women’s organizations, all of these women, all of these feminists, struggle to address and end the hatred that is rape.

In many places, such as in the United States, that hatred often takes the form of legislation. For example, in 2005 Wisconsin passed a law that barred access to hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery for prison inmates and others in state custody. Three transgender women prisoners, Andrea Fields, Jessica Davison, Vankemah Moaton, challenged the law, and this week, after six years, won their case in a federal appeals court.

Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, the nation’s capital, transgender women are hunted, attacked, often killed. For the crime of being transgender women. For the crime of being women.

What is independence? What is a revolution? Across the globe, women continue to struggle for the basics of independence, of autonomy. That begins with real recognition, that begins with the State as well as the citizenry and the population ensuring women’s safety. Women are not specters and are not promises to be met. Until women’s simple physical integrity is ensured, rather than promised, violence against women will continue to haunt independence.

 

(Photo Credit: NPR / STR / AP)