Our Carceral State
French philosopher, Michel Foucault once famously argued that society operates as a vast prison. While Foucault’s concerns were with an individual’s freedom constrained in such a system, maybe a more direct analogy to our current situation is how our judiciary and police force is used to control and literally imprison a vast swath of our lower classes.
It is no secret that in Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown was killed by police officer Darren Wilson, much of the city’s income was derived from fines and court fees for minor traffic violations, essentially converting area police work from “public safety” officers to revenue collectors. These violations disproportionately fell on poorer individuals and minorities who may not have had the money to keep their hedges trimmed and their vehicles perfectly equipped. In effect, the tickets and citations amount to a regressive tax on members of our society least able to afford it.
In the wake of the Brown killing, Governor Jay Nixon signed a broad municipal court reform bill that capped court revenue and imposed new requirements in an attempt to end what the bill’s sponsor called predatory practices aimed at the poor. Good. The bill’s primary sponsor, Senator Eric Schmitt, said people have the right “not to be thrown in jail because you’re a couple of weeks … late on a fine for having a taillight out.” He called the current system in place in Ferguson, “taxation by citation.”
“Under this bill, cops will stop being revenue agents and go back to being cops,” Nixon said.
This is all good, too, and certainly the caps on revenue collection by police is a step in the right direction, but in the larger scheme of things, I’m not nearly as sanguine as Governor Nixon is about “cops going back to being ‘cops.’”
…in Southern states groups of designated white men would set out on patrols to round up runaway slaves during the antebellum period. The phrase for these men—paddy rollers, or patrollers — has come down to us as patrolmen or patrol officers and it’s not too much a stretch to suggest that in areas of the deep American South their function is much the same.
For one thing, the historical precedent that they might ‘go back’ toward isn’t exactly edifying, especially in Southern states where groups of designated white men would set out on patrols to round up runaway slaves during the antebellum period. The phrase for these men—paddy rollers, or patrollers — has come down to us as patrolmen or patrol officers and it’s not too much a stretch to suggest that in areas of the deep American South their function is much the same; that is, ensuring the safe keeping of property for the wealthy. In the North, police officers often functioned as barriers between the wealthy elites and the immigrant “hordes.” The history of industrialization and unionization in this country is rife with struggles between union supporters and police officers or private firm surrogates operating in their wake (such as the Pinkerton Detective Agency –fun fact, at the height of its existence, the Pinkertons had more agents than the standing army of the United States of America).
We like to think of police officers as neutral arbiters of the law, itself a neutral amalgam of well thought out rules for living, but whether rounding up runaway slaves or busting union organizers, the police have historically found themselves on the side of property owners. What this means in contemporary America is a focus on things like illegal drug use and sale, vehicle violations, public disturbance rules, and zoning laws that disproportionately hit the poorest members of our society first and hardest. If we run back through just the most noteworthy police shootings in the last year (topping 1,000 according to an unofficial list compiled by the New York Times here: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/04/08/us/fatal-police-shooting-accounts.html?_r=0), most of the precipitating causes involved minor infractions, expired inspection stickers, broken signal lights, or tail lights, unpaid fines or alimony. Public service, protecting humans from harm to themselves or to others might be a nice ancillary outcome of a police officer doing his job, but it’s not the main event.
In fact, the idea that police are here to protect us is not much more than a happy slogan. In its landmark decision DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services,the U.S. Supreme Court declared that “the Constitution does not impose a duty on the state and local governments to protect the citizens from criminal harm.” The United States Supreme Court, in the 2005 case, Castle Rock v. Gonzales upheld that decision and extended it to include a state or municipality’s police force– codifying what many folks in poorer neighborhoods had long since suspected: neither the state nor the police have a constitutional duty to protect a person from harm.
Strictly speaking, the police are law enforcement officers, they are present to make sure the laws as passed by city, county, and state legislators are followed. Towards that end they write tickets, and citations for breaking the law, make arrest and testify in court about their actions. This narrow interpretation of their duties is often clarified in training on the so called ‘public duty’ doctrine that provides that a “governmental entity owes a duty to the public in general, not to any one individual.”
Police are also warned—constantly—to look out for themselves. According to ex-Officer, Seth Stanton, writing in the Atlantic Magazine, “police training starts in the academy, where the concept of officer safety is so heavily emphasized that it takes on almost religious significance.” Rookie officers are taught what is widely known as the “first rule of law enforcement”: An officer’s overriding goal every day is to go home at the end of their shift. One slogan that is bandied about squad rooms sums up the mind set: “Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.”
Police are trained to fear the public they are nominally intended to serve. During their training “they are shown painfully vivid, heart-wrenching dash-cam footage of officers being beaten, disarmed, or gunned down after a moment of inattention or hesitation. They are told that the primary culprit isn’t the felon on the video, it is the officer’s lack of vigilance.” Writes Stanton, “in most police shootings, officers don’t shoot out of anger or frustration or hatred. They shoot because they are afraid. And they are afraid because they are constantly barraged with the message that that they should be afraid, that their survival depends on it.”
“In most police shootings, officers don’t shoot out of anger or frustration or hatred. They shoot because they are afraid. And they are afraid because they are constantly barraged with the message that that they should be afraid, that their survival depends on it.”
If you happen to peruse Police Magazine, you’ll find that the majority of the stories are about violence against police—and the weapons or tactics they can use to keep themselves safe. This month’s issue features a large photo of an Armalite AR-10 20-Inch Tactical Rifle that was initially designed for the US military. To drive home the point, Police magazine’s logo shows the O in policeman segregated by cross hairs, like a target.
Of course, in addition to the protect-thyself-first attitude, there’s also an underlying racial bias; probably because police officers fear blacks more than whites. In 2015, The Washington Post documented 990 fatal shootings by police, 93 of which involved people who were unarmed. “Black men accounted for about 40 percent of the unarmed people fatally shot by police and, when adjusted by population, were seven times as likely as unarmed white men to die from police gunfire.”
“The only thing that was significant in predicting whether someone shot and killed by police was unarmed was whether or not they were black,” said Justin Nix, a criminal justice researcher at the University of Louisville and one of the report’s authors. “This just bolsters our confidence that there is some sort of implicit bias going on,” Nix said. “Officers are perceiving a greater threat when encountered by unarmed black citizens.”
The only thing that was significant in predicting whether someone shot and killed by police was unarmed was whether or not they were black…
The report noted that officers may unconsciously develop biases over time. “In other words, the police — who are trained in the first place to be suspicious — become conditioned to view minorities with added suspicion,” according to the report.
So we have a fearful police force, over trained for self-protection with an underlying bias against minorities whose main job is not to protect citizens but to enforce legal codes that order society for the benefit of property owners (that will likely make a poor person’s life more difficult). Add to the brew, the over militarization of our police force (do we really need armored tanks on civilian streets?) and the fact that most police officer shootings are investigated by the police departments themselves and it shouldn’t be too difficult to understand how deeply dysfunctional the whole shebang is. I had one friend suggest that, given the stress our minority communities are under, it was surprising incidents like Dallas hadn’t happened more frequently.
But they haven’t– and perhaps that’s a testimony to what many police departments are coming to recognize—the necessity for retraining and community engagement. In fact, it’s a sad irony that the Dallas Police department has done an exceptional job in just this area. It’s obvious that Police Chief David Brown –whose own life is rife with personal tragedy—is dedicated to a community outreach program. Just hours before the killings began last Thursday night in Dallas, his officers took time to chat with protesters, even taking selfies with them.
“We saw police officers shaking hands and giving high fives and hugging people and being really in the moment with us,” demonstrator Sharay Santora said.
But then the shooting began, and, as if granted permission, police departments like those in Baton Rouge quickly reverted to form and began arresting activists on private property without cause or due process, much less warrants. In fact, they arrested the individual who provided video evidence of the Alton Sterling shooting. All of this should tell us that police forces in this country are as diverse as their leaders and the communities that they serve. Our own city, Richmond, Virginia, much like Dallas, has done excellent work in reaching out to the various communities here—including, surprisingly, the LGBT community. So it’s not hopeless, but no one solution will fit all the municipalities across the nation, and maybe one of the questions we should be asking is how well our expectations of police service match the reality? After all, as Chief Brown has noted, “Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve”
But then the shooting began, and, as if granted permission, police departments like those in Baton Rouge quickly reverted to form and began arresting activists on private property without cause or due process, much less warrants. In fact, they arrested the individual who provided video evidence of the Alton Sterling shooting
Many of our poor neighborhoods have a nearly round the clock police presence—from squad cars anyhow. Police appear, write up infractions, and arrest vagrants, keep an eye on shifty characters, “gangbangers” and the like. They do what they are trained to do. But the result isn’t a working society. The result, as I suggested in the beginning of this essay, is a carceral state.
Right now, if you are an Afro-American male, your odds of being in jail at some point in your life are 1 in 3. I doubt this is because 1 in 3 Afro-American males are genetically predisposed to periodic episodes of violence and criminal behavior. More likely, it has to do with the incredible dearth of job prospects made infinitely worse by a rap sheet and applying while black.
Police officers can’t solve that problem. They aren’t social workers or teachers or medical service personnel, as Brown correctly points out—but the nature of the system we have put in place allows all the problems of our society to flow downward to the cop on the beat whose one job is to enforce the law, but who we mistakenly believe can somehow catch all the detritus of a dysfunctional system and keep it working.
In Michel Foucault’s famous work, Discipline and Punishment, the ruling metaphor is society as a vast prison; a kind of panoptic nightmare—a word derived from Jeremy Bentham’s famous panopticon which was a prison designed so that every cell is view-able from a raised central location, like a watchtower plunked into the middle of a cell block. The point was to understand and react to the behavior of the individuals in the surrounding cells so as to control them. But even at this rudimentary level we are failing, for it’s obvious we don’t understand the individuals caught in our system and we aren’t really controlling behavior, we’re merely holding them in our prison cells precisely because we don’t know what else to do with them.
You can’t fix a mental health problem with an AR-10, any more than you can fix homelessness with a traffic citation, or drug abuse with an armored vehicle, or unemployment with a prison cell.
Our criminal justice system is trying to repair something it simply isn’t equipped to mend. You can’t fix a mental health problem with an AR-10, any more than you can fix homelessness with a traffic citation, or drug abuse with an armored vehicle, or unemployment with a prison cell. Perhaps if we, as a society, decided that the carceral state was a bad idea; if we decided, instead, to fund jobs programs and provide secure housing for those in need, if, indeed, we provided drug treatment programs instead of felony convictions we might resolve many problems before they become statistics. We can tinker with police community outreach, provide stricter guidelines for engagement and the use of force and institute better ways of policing the police (oh, please let us have a uniform standard for conduct and an external agencies that review police shooting across the nation), but in the end the panacea we are looking for won’t come from a guy or gal on the beat– with or without a gun. They will come from providing adequate resources to all our public workers, developing jobs programs and training for individuals from all walks of life, and from our own personal engagement with the community in which we live. Maybe it’s time to stop looking to the police to solve the problems of our deeply dysfunctional system. Rather, we should restructure the system so we don’t need the police—or not nearly as much. Maybe it’s time we all signed up.
When Apryl Prentiss first realized she was a lesbian, she decided to white knuckle it. She wanted to ignore the impulse, and if it couldn’t be ignored, she wanted to deny it, put it in a cage.
“I was freaked out when I realized…when I started to understand what was happening.”
This was in high school in Virginia Beach, Virginia. She was raised a fundamentalist Baptist and her church and the community it provided were deeply important to her. At the time, she described herself as kind of a “Christian All Star.”
“I was the chaplain of my class. I was going on missions trips. My whole class was even on the Christian Broadcast Network for a show. I was hitting all the expectations.”
That’s why coming to terms with her sexuality was so difficult. According to her Christian based belief system, she was ‘being rebellious,’ she had a ‘broken sexuality,’ she was trying to separate herself from God.
“Homosexuality was the sin to trump all sins” She explains. “It’s spoken of with great disdain—it seemed to be a visceral reaction. They think of gays as ‘those people’ …people who are horrible and perverted. People who are sick. People are always so scared of what they don’t understand.” Though she never heard these messages at school that was what was preached from the pulpit of her childhood church in Virginia Beach.
When she attended Campbell University in North Carolina, her church connected her with counseling and what is referred to as reparative or conversion therapy. Like many other far right Christian denominations across the country, the church encouraged her to go to therapy to ‘cure herself’ of being gay.
The counselor also offered to exorcise her should the therapy prove insufficient.
Apryl describes those years as some of the darkest of her life: “I absolutely detested myself.” Although she didn’t kill herself, she came close; close enough to want to save others from the same trauma. That’s why she’s working with the Alliance for Progressive Values to ban the practice of reparative therapy that tries to “cure” minors of being gay.
Delegate Hope who introduced HB 1135* which would ban the practice in Virginia said that evidence suggests such conversion therapy doesn’t work and in fact harms many people. Apryl’s story is a case in point.
According to Apryl, the therapy she underwent on and off for nearly three years was intense and mind bending; the kind of practice you would not wish on your worst enemy, much less a vulnerable teenager.
“I remember after months of talking and fasting I was still told that I was rebellious. It was their explanation for why I wasn’t cured. They thought they could see demons in my eyes. And I believed it! They suggested that I undergo an exorcism. The therapist brought in a prayer partner and they circled me and prayed over me. They asked to speak to the demon of brokenness in me. They asked to speak to the demons of same-sex attraction. …it was unbelievably painful. I cried the entire time and, after it was over, I felt completely stripped bare.”
After the failed exorcism, Apryl turned to alcohol and other self-destructive behavior to anesthetize. She recounts having alcohol poisoning at least seven times after the exorcism. “Fighting my sexuality had become a daily battle and truthfully—I just wanted a break. My 21st birthday, which was at the height of the reparative therapy, consisted of a fifth of Smirnoff and a straw. I drank it in about an hour and a half.”
Apryl admits she was trying to kill herself, in a less than methodic fashion. “I thought if I die and go to heaven, I won’t have to deal with this anymore. That seemed like a good option. Death would have been a release from the constant inner turmoil.”
Shortly after, she met a woman and developed a relationship with her. “She was someone who had found peace with her sexuality.” This person told Apryl that she could be both “gay AND Christian and that God was okay with that. When I was with her, I felt more whole and authentic than I ever had before.”
The relationship lasted for a few months, but the guilt weighed on Apryl. She couldn’t handle it. “I freaked out and went back to the church. I confessed to my pastor what was happening and I went back to reparative therapy again.”
They came back with the same ideas, “gay people are all miserable, they’re all enveloped in darkness.”
But this time it was different, Apryl explains, “Their assertions no longer made sense. I had experienced the opposite.”
When they suggested a second exorcism, she just said no.
Apryl left North Carolina and went through a series of jobs in California, then back to North Carolina and even a short stint in Virginia at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. She tried different approaches to dealing with her sexuality, ‘white knuckling’, a short hand for celibacy, and when that didn’t work, another version of therapy, ‘Sought Out’ similar to reparative therapy, but incorporating some of the same principles developed for twelve step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous.
It was “twenty weeks of unbelievably hard introspection, confession, accountability and counseling. We started by examining possible causes of our homosexuality or sexual brokenness. A basic premise of the program was that no one is born gay so there must be a cause…a root of our same-sex attraction. Overbearing Mother? That’s why you’re gay. Sexual abuse? That’s absolutely why you’re gay. Only child and you grew up lonely? That’s why you’re gay. We did things like write down wrong ways we had been labeled on sheets of paper and burned them. Very cathartic and very meaningful. We wrote down things we believed about ourselves that contributed to our ‘sexual brokenness’ on mirrors then smashed them. We confessed our sins (mental and physical) both publicly to the entire group and privately to our small group leaders, wrote them down on special paper, immersed them in water (meant to be a picture of God’s forgiveness) and watched them dissolve. These activities were all designed to make us confront the causes of our sexuality, bring them out into the open and then destroy them.”
“I literally nailed my areas of brokenness, their causes, and my own sexual behavior to a cross then bowed below them begging for forgiveness and for restoration. I lay on the floor of a church weeping, begging to be delivered. This was a nightly experience.”
According to Apryl, the program suggested that “all homosexual relationships are born out of brokenness and cause nothing but pain and unhappiness.”
“This was drilled into us and because my own experience in a same-sex relationship had been wonderful, but riddled with guilt and constant turmoil, I couldn’t totally counteract the concept. In fact, most of us who sat in that room every Monday night had never met a happy same-sex couple. We didn’t understand that in the Christian circles we lived in there would naturally not be ANY healthy same-sex couples.”
“I ended up working as a counselor for the Sought Out program, teaching the same repressive techniques. I stopped one day when I sat there with this vulnerable 17-year-old. You could see at 100 feet that she was a lesbian. She had no attraction to men whatsoever, but she desperately did not want to be gay. I had to tell her that her only two choices were celibacy or learning to date men. This was the message I had been taught and what I believed about myself. It was the depressing reality that I was grappling with. But, when I realized I was telling a 17-year-old who had only begun to live life that those were her only two options—it just didn’t add up. I couldn’t do it. I saw myself in her and I thought, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t do this. I’m done with this. I can’t do it anymore. That was the beginning of the end.”
But there’s nothing easy about transitions, about coming out or staying in denial. Apryl still loved the church and didn’t want to leave it. She was on a mission in Serbia and Slovakia teaching English through bible lessons before she realized how much about her life still needed to change.
“It was summer camp and I had spent it with the Serbians who have a real love of life. When some missionaries arrived from Canada they acted prudish and started scolding the Serbians for wearing short skirts or dancing and hugging. They were trying to impose westernized Christianity’s rulebook on these vibrant and passionate people. I realized the missionaries were missing the point. The Serbians were praising the Lord in their own way, just as David had danced. Why would God make them this way, just to condemn them? Why would he make me this way, just to condemn me? All of these ideas about correct behavior, correct sexuality were inventions. They were Westernized ways of trying to control people and put them in a box. My eyes were opened and I began to evaluate what I knew of God on my own and not through the fabricated conventions of the conservative church. All of a sudden, it was like I experienced the true God, a force of love for the first time.”
“There was no guilt, there was no shame. I finally got it. As cliché as it sounds, I went to one of those fields of sunflowers as tall as your head in Serbia, I sat there for hours and I made my peace with God.”
Since that summer in 2005, Apryl has undergone therapy to ‘repair’ the reparative therapy. She has been married to her wife for 7 years and she says that people who had previously rejected her in the church are coming back.
“I miss the community of the church. But, there’s a real sense of us vs. them. It’s fine when you’re the ‘us’, it’s cool and beautiful. But when you’re all of a sudden part of the ‘them’, it’s a cruel, cruel thing.”
Her family has been surprisingly supportive. In fact, one of Apryl’s main regrets is that for years she avoided visiting her Christian grandmother because she was afraid that her grandmother would be disappointed that she was gay rather than pursuing ministry. After her grandmother died, her aunt was unpacking a box of old photographs. Near the bottom, at least two years old, was a photograph of Apryl with her wife, Adrian.
“I should have visited. I should have known …” Apryl tilts her head, a nod toward what might have been. “She knew about us all along and, like the amazing woman she was, she loved me anyway… That’s a true example of a Christian.”
*Full Text of HB1135 can be found at this link:
Note: Major medical groups like the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association and others have moved to discourage reparative therapy.
According to the American Psychological Association, “The terms reparative therapy and sexual orientation conversion therapy refer to counseling and psychotherapy aimed at eliminating or suppressing homosexuality. The most important fact about these “therapies” is that they are based on a view of homosexuality that has been rejected by all the major mental health professions.”
Out of Many, One!
The one is made up of all things, and all things issue from the one. ~ Heraclitus’s 10th fragment
In 1782, the Great Seal of the United States said E Pluribus Unum – “Out of Many, One”.
I’ve always liked that a lot. Solidarity is what perpetuates the rule of the American people.
“Divided we fall” is pretty basic and understandable.
Then in 1956, Congress passed and President Eisenhower approved of a Joint Resolution of the 84th Congress declaring “In God We Trust” the national motto of the United States. However you feel about the intention to erect a wall of separation between church and state, on that day it went legislatively and divisively over the dam.
But here’s the thing: In 2011, our lawmakers (Forbes, R-VA) wasted all the time it takes and taxpayer dollars to reaffirm “In God We Trust‟ as the official motto of the United States. Why did they do that when it was already a law on the books? They were pandering to a voting bloc – the religious right. It served no other purpose.
Laws without cause are a rip off and they’re dangerous. If there’s no realistic purpose for a bill, it should go to File 13 and the bill’s sponsors should go with it. There’s too much else that needs to be done for us to put up with dubious bills and legislators with hidden agendas. Examples of that are so prevalent today it’s sickening. And meanwhile, needed legislation is ignored.
Iris Scanning – As Occupy Arrestees Arraigned, Iris Scans Affect Bail
Protesters “and their legal advisers were surprised yesterday to learn that the size of their bail was being affected by whether defendants were willing to have the distinctive patterns of their irises photographed and logged into a database.”
There is no law on the books for the ongoing use of Iris Scanning. Peaceful, non-violent, Occupy protesters in New York have once again been arrested and are being subjected to a hand-held scanning device that photographs and collects distinctive biometric information to be logged into a national database.
According to Paul J. Browne, chief spokesman, “a legal review by the department had concluded that legislative authorization was not necessary.”
In America, if there’s no law on the books, there can be no penalty for non-compliance. When someone hasn’t been charged with a crime, much less convicted, it seems to me that a “policy” leveraging the amount of the people’s bail and time spent in jail would be considered an issue worthy of the time and resources necessary for lawmakers to do their jobs and determine its legality.
The voting bloc for that is all the American people.
“This is an unnecessary process,” Mr. Banks said. “It’s unauthorized by the statutes and of questionable legality at best. The statutes specifically authorize collecting fingerprints. There has been great legislative debate about the extent to which DNA evidence can be collected, and it is limited to certain types of cases. So the idea that the Police Department can forge ahead and use a totally new technology without any statutory authorization is certainly suspect.”
Suspect? The NYPD is the world’s seventh biggest army! With that kind of power, I would have to say this policy is more than suspect, and that it needs to be yanked until legislated and the American public can catch up with the massive shift in private data handling that is progressing at an uncanny pace without public debate.
“Out of Many, One” is a fearful concept for those who would deem the power of the people a threat. We, all together, are the voting bloc that counts – and the one lawmakers and police departments are expected to protect and serve.
The many ways in which we’re being divided into subgroups as election pawns is counterproductive to our freedoms, our rights and true national interests.
“Divided we fall” is pretty basic and understandable.
Dying for Work
Worker safety comes before corporate profit only when politicians and business alike understand the advantage to being “on the side of the angels“.
Once learned and understood, we’re supposed to have safe working conditions for good reason. This morning, in Dying for Work, Leo Gerard, International President, United Steelworkers, brings back to the surface something we know, or should know, in the light of new-found accountability under corporate personhood.
If corporations are people, as Mitt Romney and the Republican majority on the Supreme Court claim, then their privileges as humans come with the responsibility to act humanely. Corporate-people must fulfill their obligations to workers and communities. Profit can’t be their sole raison d’etre. That’s not how it is with flesh-and-blood people. If it were, then society would condone profit-motivated murder, like killing a parent for insurance money. Now that they’re people, corporations have an even greater duty to prevent deaths on the job. And if they don’t, they must be held accountable in criminal court the same way a money-grubbing son would be if he murdered his parents for the life insurance
The legacy of those who died on March 25, 1911 should be honored, but unless enforcement effectively deters profit-driven corporate offenders, it’s meaningless.
March 3rd, 2012 – Of Protests and Bitch Slaps
Part 1, Protests – View from Top
By all rights, this should have been a boring article. Saturday, March 3, over a thousand activists converged on the steps of the State Capitol building. They assembled there to petition their government for a redress of grievances, in this case, asking Governor McDonnell not to sign into law a piece of legislation—HB462. Many of the marchers argued that HB462 was designed to shame and humiliate women seeking to end an unwanted pregnancy; something that had won the Republicans of the Virginia General Assembly overwhelming ridicule and nationwide notoriety. A massive protest barely two weeks earlier, organized by Speak Loudly With Silence, had flooded the State Capitol with protestors lining the walkway from the General Assembly building to the State Capitol. Saturday Night Live made jokes about the invasive transvaginal ultrasounds required by the language of HB462, with one wit noting that she really enjoyed ‘Transvaginal Airlines.’ Realizing that his conservative base had badly overstepped, Governor McDonnell suggested that they soften the language somewhat lessening the ‘transvaginal’ part of the bill and allowing for a less invasive abdominal ultrasound. The amendment passed, but it hardly lessened the fury of Pro-Choice activists who saw the bill as an intrusion of government into women’s reproductive rights, the proverbial war on women.
One activist, Sheila Jones, noted that over a million women marched to block such governmental overreach in reproductive health matters years ago. “I thought we’d taken care of these atrocities [on women’s rights] back then, and we haven’t,” On that Saturday, she wore a t-shirt from the 1992 Pro-Choice rally at the National Mall, “So I had to come back down here and do this for all of the young women that now are fighting for the same thing that we thought we had taken care of 20 years ago.”
If you happened to be standing on the top steps of the Virginia Capitol this last Saturday at around 2:00 pm, you would have seen something to make Sheila proud: a stream of hundreds (over a thousand by most estimates) Pro-Choice activists, many wearing red arm bands, filling the State Capitol grounds and waving signs that read “Life Begins when you Stand Against Madness”, “Gov. McDonnell Get Out Of My Vagina” and “Mind Your Own Private Parts.” All the while they chanted “Kill the Bill.” You may also have seen two or three Capitol Police officers on bicycles creating a mini phalanx attempting to block the protestors as they ascended the Capitol steps, but impotent against the sheer number of outraged citizens the General Assembly of Virginia had managed to piss off.
Now, as in the first protest march, the activists had a permit to assemble by the Bell Tower, but not on the Capitol steps. Eileen Davis, who helped organize the original Speak Loudly With Silence along with APV board member, Clair Tuite, saw this and quickly spoke to Capitol Police Col. Pike. “Just let this play out,” she pleaded. She asked for time. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes. No good. According to Ms. Davis, Col. Pike argued that if he did this for one group, he’d have to do it for every group. Luckily for Col. Pike, State Police just happened to be on hand that day; State Police in full riot gear, as chance would have it….
Shortly, thereafter, the call went out that the activists had to leave the steps. “Alright everyone we have 5 minutes and then Capitol Police are bringing in the troopers!”
They weren’t kidding. State Police Troopers went quickly on the march themselves. Over-armored and over-weaponized, they made a tidy black row, creating an ominous phalanx of plexiglass covered helmets and body-length shields to separate those who refused to move off the steps from those who were further out on the State Capitol grounds. They wore the familiar body armor reminiscent of Darth Vader with padded elbows and padded knees and bullet proof vests, and thick scarves around their faces in case they might need to use tear gas (in order to disperse, through chemical weapons if necessary, the group of men, women and children requesting a redress of grievances by sitting peaceably on the Capitol steps). Captain Goodloe of the Capitol Police refused to say how many State Troopers in riot gear were on hand that day, but the number was right around 20, and even that number, apparently, wasn’t sufficient. To protect the Commonwealth from the dreadful depredations of 31 protestors sitting in silent protest, his men needed back up.
That’s why they brought in the Capitol Police tactical force, or the Men in Green. At a distance I mistook them for an armed military presence. Close up, I realized they were not, but they are no less scary. I was assured, later, that they were indeed just ‘police’… A somewhat rarefied variety of the Capitol Police, like our S.W.A.T. teams, apparently. They were decked out entirely in green camouflage, with green helmets that looked exactly like military helmets and they wore the same specialized padding the State Troopers wore and they carried –this is the scary part—assault weapons (like the kind they use in the military when they are ‘assaulting’ something deadly – an enemy military force equipped with Light Weight Anti-Tank Weapons, say, or bombs made of plastic explosives or nuclear weapons hijacked by maniacal terrorists for that matter—not, however, American men, women and children interested in petitioning their government for a redress of grievances). They also, by the way, spent a fair amount of time passing canisters back and forth that may have been tear gas, or, as I was told, flash grenades. No one was sure, and when asked, the officers refused to answer.
Labor organizer, Muna Hijazi, was dismayed by the heavy police presence: “The show of force was amazingly ugly and over the top.” Delegate Delores L. McQuinn, D-Richmond also spoke out. She said she had “never seen a similar police presence [even] when guns rights advocates assembled on Capitol Square on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.” She thought there was a slight political slant in such policy decisions.“ The men and women who marched on Capitol Square have a right to peacefully protest without the threat that they will be arrested for exercising that right,” McQuinn said in a news release. “At several recent women’s rights events, there has been an overabundance of police presence. In fact, the Capitol Police tactical team has been at all of the events,” she said.
Despite this show of force, thirty-one protestors chose not to relinquish their right to assemble on the Capitol Steps that day. Some were arrested to assert their first amendment right to peaceably assemble, after all the protestors had a permit for their assembly at the Bell Tower about 50 yards away and were within their time frame for that permit. No other like-sized protests were met with this ugly show of a police presence. Others who were arrested were protesting in favor of a woman’s right to choose. They were given numbers to call, legal advice and opportunities to leave. But they refused.
As an historical note, up until the 1970s, protests were allowed anywhere on the State Capitol grounds—or more accurately were not required to be ‘permitted’. This picture, taken in 1969 by APV member Mike Garrett, shows hundreds of anti-war protestors flooding the steps and covering the entire front of the of the State Capitol building. No arrests, no State Troopers and certainly no Men In Green. That’s mostly because up until then there weren’t that many protests to worry about. But by the 1970s –in the aftermath of the civil rights marches and the beginning of the anti-war protests– the Virginia Assembly decided that protests required permits with limited time durations and specific geographic areas –down to the foot and yards, apparently.
Protestors of this Saturday, March 3rd, 2012, locked arms and huddled. One by one they were pried apart and handcuffed, then led, dragged or carried to awaiting white buses emboldened with the initials DCP that drove them to the station at Ninth and Leigh Street.
Now, here’s where things get interesting. Those arrested Saturday afternoon were charged with either trespassing or unlawful assembly and were taken to the Richmond City Jail. Both charges are Class 1 Misdemeanors, usually processed with a summons (basically, like a traffic ticket) to return to court at a convenient date. But that’s not what happened to our March 3rd protestors. Not by a long shot.
Part 2, Arrests & The Long Wait.
Ninth and Leigh is an nondescript block, which, if you didn’t know better you would mistake for a faceless bureaucrat building ringed by a large parking lot. Maggie N., who works everyday as a Registered Nurse at MCV just across the street from Ninth and Leigh, had no idea what went on there. “I didn’t even know there was a jail here.” It’s easy to miss because the spot is actually about 10 -20 feet below street level, dug out, effectively, so unless you knew that the police vans backing up to the garage doors held desperate criminals, or, in this instance, disoriented women’s rights protestors, you’d never guess its true function.
On the afternoon of March 3rd, two white buses containing handcuffed activists parked in front of those two double garage doors and essentially spent three to four hours while the activists waited in handcuffs, either on the bus or inside the garage doors without water, without food and without access to a lawyer. Keep in mind, every one of them was ultimately charged with a Class 1 Misdemeanor that should have required the equivalent of a traffic ticket. Said one Richmond Police Officer (who preferred anonymity), “I think that this is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen.”
That’s how the male protestors that day were treated. But there was special treatment for the female activists. Many of them were made to wait a total of eight to nine hours before the last of them was finally processed and released. They were made to wait eight to nine hours with hands tied behind their backs, without food and without water and without access to a lawyer.
The wretched conditions for the activists were well known. Fellow protestors had taken up a position around the block-wide dug-out at Ninth and Leigh and spent all of that Saturday night banging on the metal rails, chanting “Give Them Water” and “Take off the cuffs” and trying to update anyone of influence in the city to let their general condition be known. Stories trickled out about their treatment. Apparently, one bus contained a primitive bathroom facility while the other did not. The women were kept on the bus without the bathroom, so, if nature should happen to call within their 5-9 hour wait, they were taken off one bus, transported to the other bus and allowed to use the restroom. Each time this happened the activists circling the lot would shout, “Give them water.” When women were finally released, one of the first things they looked for was some soap and water to clean up, because none had been provided in the primitive bathroom.
Initially, when asked why they couldn’t receive water, the protestors were told that while on the buses, the prisoners were under jurisdiction of the Capital Police. The Richmond City Police claimed that they were not supposed to assist them until they were taken into the building and processed. When the Capitol Police heard that, they repudiated it in the strongest terms, and said that, in fact, it was the City Police who had a policy of not allowing prisoners to drink water. Either way, the women did not receive water for easily seven hours that day, even when complaining of headaches or nausea.
In some instances, the treatment of the women approached the absurd. When Gabi S. was asked what country she came from, she replied “Israel”…. Before she was led away, the police officer asked her, “How do you spell that?” She was later placed in solitary confinement for two hours, apparently because she hailed from a different country. She noted in a short summary of her time there: “So yesterday I was arrested for peacefully protesting. I was pulled from the group of women to be fingerprinted, given a mug shot, strip searched and put in solitary confinement. After 2 hours in there without any updates I was allowed out to see the nurse because my wrists were swollen from the handcuffs [a frequent complaint from other protestors]. When I was eventually released I was told that I had been processed differently because I was born in another country, Israel….” But Quincy M. who hailed from Scotland and didn’t have a social security number (or US citizenship), was not put into solitary confinement, and was released hours before Gabi so it’s difficult to determine if there was any rational procedure being followed, outside of general harassment.
Activists, Glen B., who works for the Sierra club and was released after being held for about four hours, said that holding the women under such conditions was abominable. “We can’t let them get away with this. This state, remember, Virginia, has a history of abusing prisoners, of sterilizing its own citizens. What they are doing here is inexcusable, unacceptable and un-American”
Eileen Davies put it more bluntly, “Attorney General Cucinelli is trying to bitch slap all these women.” Indeed, rumors that someone in the nether reaches of State government was requesting a particularly long and punitive process for the detainees did not seem outlandish. Each activist arrested had a thorough background check which is unusual for a Class 1 Misdemeanor. Wayne Powell, a criminal defense lawyer running against Eric Cantor in the 7th district, offered to represent the detainees pro bono and was outraged by the delays, the fact that he was not allowed to speak with his clients, and the enforced background checks. “This is nowhere close to standard operating procedure for this kind of offense.” A few of the arrestees were even given relatively large bails – up to $500, some for prior offenses, but at least one was given the large bail for putting into words what many of the activists felt—a resolve not to be ground down by the excessive use of force, the government overreach, and the punitive harassment involved in their detention.
When asked by the magistrate if he intended to return to the Capitol grounds after he was released, activist Jonathan C. answered simply, “What time is it?”
If you appreciate that 31 of the courageous M3 protestors chose to be taken to jail in defiance of Virginia’s attack on women’s rights, rather than retreat and just go home when they were given the option, you might consider donating to their legal fund today. You can do that here. I’m grateful for what they did and wish them a speedy and fair experience with Virginia’s court system! Big thanks to all 31!
One more important thing: The ACLU is investigating the conditions of detention for March 3rd, 2012 protestors at the State Capitol. If you or someone you know has information regarding the arrests and/or detention conditions, please contact Tom Fitzpatrick at 804-644-8080 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And stay tuned for updates, as I imagine this story will be unfolding for some time to come ….
(All photos, unless otherwise identified, are from Style Weekly Magazine’s Facebook page.)
Yesterday, Judge Victoria A. Graffeo, New York Court of Appeals, returned a decision that could have broad impact on the enforcement of federal consumer protection and securities laws.
In her conclusion, “an injured investor may bring a common-law claim (for fraud or otherwise) that is not entirely dependent on the Martin Act for its viability. Mere overlap between the common law and the Martin Act is not enough to extinguish common-law remedies.”
From FDL, David Dayen:
“Until now, only the State Attorney General could bring action under the Martin Act, a securities fraud law in New York State that is much more expansive than federal statutes. Typically the plaintiff must prove intent to commit fraud; under the Martin Act the plaintiff need only prove that fraud was committed. Now, as a result of a new ruling, any aggrieved private actor can use the Martin Act as part of their lawsuit. This empowers investors of all sizes to go after the banks on securities fraud.”
Though commenter, Sanctimonious Purist, foresees some complication down the road, for now this appears to be a significant consumer victory.
“Theoretically, this decision cannot be appealed. The New York “Court of Appeals” is really NY’s highest state court. Misnomers abound in the NY judicial system: there are a zillion NY “Supreme Courts,” which are their low level trial courts.
So, now that NY’s highest court has interpreted NY’s own Martin law to allow a private right of action (civil only, to be sure), that should be the end of the issue. Federal courts are supposed to defer to the interpretation of a State law by the State’s highest court.
But don’t be surprised or appalled if/when the banksters take this matter up in the Federal courts, arguing that the Martin Act impinges on some Federal securities law or other Federal statute, that the Federal statute “occupies the field,” and therefore the Martin Act is pre-empted by Federal law. And you can bet your last dollar that at least 5 of the Supremes will agree once the case gets there.” ~Sanctimonious Purist
What’s behind the scorn for the Wall Street protests?
I was gonna write this article, but Glenn kinda beat me to it.
“I’m beginning to wonder whether the right to assemble is effectively dead in the US. No one who is a wage slave (which is the overwhelming majority of the population) can afford to have an arrest record, even a misdemeanor, in this age of short job tenures and rising use of background checks.”
via What’s behind the scorn for the Wall Street protests? – Wall Street – Salon.com.
Protesting Wall Street – Is there a fire in your belly?
Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky…. Hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency.~ Rebecca Solnit
Yesterday, some Americans and others around the world began a well planned effort to protest our governments’ ills by occupying the Wall Street area in New York City among other locations. Whether it is the first of many, or the only effort needed by the people – how successful they will be depends largely on those who join, support and share information about the progress and deterrents of their noble peaceful efforts.
“Even though estimates have varied from hundreds to as many as 50,000 – protesters flooded into Manhattan and others cities to take part in events around the country to, “nonviolently disrupt the disloyal, incompetent, and corrupt special interests which have usurped our nation’s civil and military power, spawning a host of threats to our liberty, lives and national security,” the three cable news networks have devoted no airtime to the story.”
As anticipated as the news blackout may have been by the planners of the movements, it is still disconcerting – or should be, to realize that the Wall Street “news” in the Wall Street segments of our mass media sources in America yesterday excluded all news of the protesting.
This morning, the coverage is scant, but will improve as the movement gains strength. As Daily Kos puts it, “The way these protests are portrayed by the mainstream media tends to send a negative image about the protests, sometimes in subtle ways, and other times in not so subtle ways.” Suggestions, as in this article, for improving the effectiveness of solidarity in peaceful protests will not come from the main streamed media, but from those whose efforts are rooted in helping the people.
The Joint Solidarity Statement by US Day of Rage and the October2011 Movement serves to explain some of the nonviolent resistance actions that have been planned and the different demands made by the groups.
This Internet channel, globalrevolution, features live streaming from the protest revolution spreading across the globe, with the first broadcasts from the Wall Street Occupation in NYC. The channel also features live streaming from events in Spain, Greece, France, Belgium, Iceland and other places around the globe.
Internet links to information about current solidarity protesting tend to “time out” for whatever reason, and that isn’t surprising either, so be patient, don’t give up, and please be kind enough to share updated information with others. I notice that it has been stalled for now, but some updates, videos and pictures should be available soon, here.
This morning, Thinkprogress asks, “Given these facts, the question is not why more than a thousand people demonstrated on Wall Street yesterday. The question is, why aren’t even more people in the streets of the financial district in New York City?”
The answer to why Wall Street is being protested is simple: “Their Actions Impoverished More Than 60 Million People.” The answer to the second question is largely unknown by experts, though they blame it in part on the media and seem to believe Americans have become fearful of our government and those in power. But that is clearly something we need come to grips with if we want to have country, a world, worthy of passing on to our children. The power rests with the people, and we should not be resting this one out.
If there’s a fire in your belly, let’s see it. If not, Keith Ollberman’s speech from Current’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann, broadcast Aug. 1, 2011, is a poignant reminder of why we need to do what we can, peacefully, to change the direction of neoliberal politics and the corruption it has seeded and fertilized in governments world-wide. Watch it to the end … get mad, and please help.
Friday Grab Bag: Yes, black people still face discrimination!
For many self-righteous whites, racism against blacks can only exist if there is a white sheet, a burning cross or a lynching involved. By making these overt, violent acts (now largely consigned to history), the de-facto threshold for discrimination, they effectively sidestep any responsibility for ongoing, lingering prejudice and its effects on our society. In fact in a nation where the standard of living is dropping and competition for employment is cutthroat, many have embraced a new cult of white victimhood and resentment. SP
“Republican guru Karl Rove recently appeared on Fox News to dispute the idea that America is a “Christian nation.” And he was right to do so, but not because our country lacks an overarching canon. We certainly do have a national religion — it’s just not Christianity. It’s Denialism.
Some branches of this religion deny the science documenting humans’ role in climate change. Others deny tax cuts’ connection to deficits and deregulation’s role in the recession. But regardless of the issue, Denialists all share a basic hostility to facts.
As this know-nothing theology expands, none of its denominations claims a bigger membership than the one obsessed with race. Today, many reject the fact that black people typically face bigger obstacles to economic and political success than whites. Instead, they insist that whites are oppressed.”
via Yes, black people still face discrimination – Race – Salon.com.
The Passion of Apathy….
We’re all too aware of the verdict in the Casey Anthony trial. The onlooking crowds, the lawyers and press members quietly bemoaning the verdict’s injustice and of those well versed in legalese citing the “burden of proof” argument inherent in the judicial system as vindication. While both arguments are legitimate, it’s the lack of action and outrage from both sides of the fence that raises a huge red flag with me.
When the drag queens of Stonewall in the summer of 1969 had had enough of police profiling, the distribution of publicly humiliating photos and lists of the names of its patrons along with the obvious fallacies of the law as written regarding gay folks, they simply said NO! And in no small way either. They barricaded themselves inside the bar, thus defying the harassment of the police while ultimately venturing outside to physically and verbally demand their equality and the right to simply be left alone in “the pursuit of happiness”.
In the late 60’s there was an unlicensed after hours bar in Detroit named the Blind Pig; frequented almost entirely of local blacks. The police profiled this bar because of the racial makeup of its patrons under the guise of enforcing liquor laws but they made one huge mistake. On the night of July 26, 1967 they decided to raid the place. What ensued were five days of demonstrations reeling in anger, violence and retribution. Those involved were simply not going to “take it anymore” as notably quoted from the film, “Network”.
While you may not agree with the manner in which these two events took place; there is an undeniably inflamed commitment by both groups to demand equal treatment within the law. The Revolutionary War was just that: a war. It was the refusal of a people to continue to be burdened with extreme taxes and unfair treatment by a monarchy which did little or nothing to ensure their well being. When an existing judicial system condones the practice of discrimination and alienation of any people, history shows us that a display of oneness and courage does indeed create change. Action produces results. The definition of courage is taking a stand even though fear is present in those trying to induce change. All of these groups were certainly unsure and afraid of what they were confronting, but they did it anyway. After countless measures well within the law to produce non-discriminatory legislation, they laid aside the niceties of being compliant and subservient. They did not wallow in the passion of apathy so evident in the silence of those unwilling to walk through their fears and demand change.
And here we are today. An errant mother accused of murdering her child who receives a not guilty verdict by a jury of her peers. While the verdict personally enrages me, the lack of vocal or physical response from the public who side with me is the epitome of apathy and the execution of a political correctness that ignores the validity of common sense. The shame of the jury is evident in their refusal to talk to anyone, the call for calm from the local police projects the fear of knowing that wrong has been done, and the silence of even her parents hints at the same shame; but I DO believe they all followed the law to the letter. Therein lies the rub.
I’ve received some concerned comments about condoning violence to reach resolution. I don’t know that I can calm those concerns. Believe that I wholeheartedly encourage going through the processes that exist first. The other side of that coin is that sometimes, and less often than not, something more than signing petitions, embracing lawmakers or massaging the quills of the opposition is necessary.
So when you’re stewing in your own juices about demeaning and obviously incorrect legislation, I urge you to stand up, walk through the fear, and make yourself known. Trust your gut and be heard.
Kirk Sparrow 7/6/2011