Archive for the '(in)justice system' Category Page 2 of 3

Jersey pride, well-founded.

I may be in Brooklyn now, but I’m not from Brooklyn – I’m from New Jersey and proud of it. Even prouder today, after NJ became the first state since 1976 to ban the death penalty. Of course, New Jersey also hasn’t executed anyone since 1963, so this may not be the most momentous of moves within the state itself. However, New Jersey is setting an important precedent and we can only hope other states (New York? Pennsylvania? Hope beyond hope, Texas?) will follow suit. So hurrah, New Jersey! I’m going to wear one of my Jersey pride t-shirts today in celebration.

SRLP Press Conference – Monday, October 1, 2pm @ City Hall

The Sylvia Rivera Law Project is holding a press conference on the steps of City Hall this coming Monday, October 1 at 2pm. We hope to have the folks who were arrested and attacked by the police, members of allied community organizations, and supportive city officials speak out against police violence against our communities. We would love to have as many folks as possible show up and demonstrate support. Please come if you can! More info below.



Contact: June Brown
E-Mail: june (at) srlp (d0t) org
Office : (212)337-8550(x114)
Cell: (646)334-3717

On Wednesday, September 26, 2007, officers from the New York Police
Department’s 9th precinct made an unprovoked, excessive use of force
against members of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and other community
members. While pepper-spraying a group of people who were gathered
outside of a celebration and benefit for the organization’s five year
anniversary, the police also violently arrested two people from the
crowd, Ileana Mendez-Penate and Reggie Gossett. These two people were
released the following night, and all charges were dropped. For more
details and for further updates on this issue, please see our full
press release at .

A press conference will be held on Monday, October 1st @ 2pm on the
front steps of New York City Hall in Lower Manhattan. We at The Sylvia
Rivera Law Project would like to thank all the local elected officials
and their staffers, especially Rosie Mendez and her staff, who had a
hand in the eventual release of the two detainees.

WHO: Community members and Allies of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project,
including the two arrestees, Reggie Gossett and Ileana Mendez-Penate.

WHAT: A press conference on the steps of New York City Hall.

WHEN: 2:00 pm, Monday October 1, 2007.

WHERE: On the Steps of New York City Hall, in City Hall Park between
Broadway, Park Row and Chambers Street.

WHY: By holding this press conference, transgender activists and
allies prepare to send the message that excessive unprovoked police
force and false arrests by the 9th precinct or any other precinct will
not be tolerated.

They’re out! All charges dropped!

From the SRLP website:

Reggie and Ileana have just been released from police custody! The DA declined prosecution, which means that no charges are being pressed. They are free and clear, and are now getting the support they need from their community – in person.

We are all thrilled by this result, the only truly just outcome after a long night and day of injustice. Thank you to everyone who has helped out and expressed support, including all of the allied organizations, fellow activists, community members and councilpeople who stepped up to support us.

Although they have thankfully been released, our work around this incident is not finished. Now it is time to hold the police accountable for the unnecessary force and community targeting that occurred last night, and work so that no more incidents like this happen again to our community. We will keep you all posted as to our next steps and ways to plug in.

ACTION ALERT: More police violence against queer and trans folks in NYC


At the Sylvia Rivera Law Project’s after-party following its fifth
anniversary celebration last night, two members of the community were
violently arrested and others were pepper sprayed by police without
warning or cause. The two folks who were arrested remain in police
custody and should be arraigned tomorrow. (More details of the
incident can be found below in the press release.)

We ask that people show up tomorrow, Thursday, starting at 9:30am and
continuing throughout the day to call for the immediate release of and
the dropping of charges against the people who were arrested. The
arraignment court rooms are at 100 Centre St (Directions: No. 4 or 5
train to Brooklyn Bridge Station; No. 6 train, N, R or C train to
Canal Street; No. 1 train to Franklin Street; M1, M6 and M15 bus lines
are nearby. 100 Centre Street is one block north of Worth Street,
three blocks south of Canal Street.) Ask for directions to the
arraignment rooms at the info desk when you enter.

For more information or to receive updates via email or text message,
contact Jack (post comments here on this blog).



Police Brutality Strikes Fifth Anniversary of Sylvia Rivera Law Project

NEW YORK – On the night of Wednesday, September 26, officers from the
9th Precinct of the New York Police Department attacked without
provocation members of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and of its
community. Two of our community members were violently arrested, and
others were pepper sprayed in the face without warning or cause.

The Sylvia Rivera Law Project ( is an organization that
works on behalf of low-income people of color who are transgender,
gender non-conforming, or intersex, providing free legal services and
advocacy among many other initiatives. On Wednesday night, the Sylvia
Rivera Law Project was celebrating its fifth anniversary with a
celebration and fundraising event at a bar in the East Village.

A group of our community members, consisting largely of queer and
transgender people of color, witnessed two officers attempting to
detain a young Black man outside of the bar. Several of our community
members asked the officers why they were making the arrest and using
excessive force. Despite the fact that our community was on the
sidewalk, gathered peacefully and not obstructing foot traffic, the
NYPD chose to forcefully grab two people and arrested them. Without
warning, an officer then sprayed pepper spray across the group in a
wide arc, temporarily blinding many and causing vomiting and intense

“This is the sort of all-too-common police violence and overreaction
towards people of color that happens all the time,” said Dean Spade,
founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. “It’s ironic that we were
celebrating the work of an organization that specifically opposes
state violence against marginalized communities, and we experienced a
police attack at our celebration.”

“We are outraged, and demand that our community members be released
and the police be held accountable for unnecessary use of excessive
force and falsely arresting people,” Spade continued.

Damaris Reyes is executive director of GOLES, an organization working
to preserve the Lower East Side. She commented, “I’m extremely
concerned and disappointed by the 9th Precinct’s response to the
situation and how it escalated into violence. This kind of aggressive
behavior doesn’t do them any good in community-police relations.”

Supporters will be gathering at 100 Centre Street today, where the
two community members will be arraigned. The community calls for
charges to be dropped and to demand the immediate release of those

– END –

ACTION ALERT: Make calls demanding justice for the Jena 6

Folks who have access to a phone and affordable or free long-distance should check out Color of Change’s phone calling tool. It’ll give you the number for a person in a leadership position who can have some impact on the Jena 6 case, along with a script tailored specifically for what that person can do about it. The page will also let you easily report back to the Color of Change folks to let them know you’ve made the call and inform them of the response that you got. You can also take part in Amnesty International’s campaign demanding that the Justice Department investigate what’s going on in Jena. And if you haven’t yet, sign Color of Change’s petition which has 256,276 signatures as of this writing, and check out their additional info for how to participate in today’s Day of Action.

An everyday story of modern America

I’m kind of amazed at myself for not having blogged about the Jena 6 yet, but better late than never, right? Today I read an article from the Guardian UK entitled Apart from the noose, this is an everyday story of modern America. It is a spot-on analysis of how, while the injustices being committed against these young Black men are particularly gross and getting more attention than usual, what’s happening in Jena is merely symptomatic of the racism that permeates American society – North and South, rural and urban. From the article:

According to the census, the top five segregated cities – Detroit, Milwaukee, New York, Chicago and Newark – are all in the north. According to the Sentencing project, a pressure group for penal reform, the 10 states with the highest discrepancy between black and white incarceration include Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York – which all consider themselves liberal – but there are none from the south. Jena’s problem is not that it has proved itself more racist than the rest of the country, but that it has manifested its racism with insufficient subtlety.

This Thursday, September 20 is a nationwide day of action to show support for the Jena 6 and outrage at the racist injustice with which they continue to contend. Organizers are estimating that more than 10,000 people are going to show up in Jena (a town of approximately 3,000) for the protest, but rallies and other demonstrations of support are being scheduled around the country, so try to find one near you. For Brooklynites, there’s a rally on the steps of Brooklyn Borough Hall scheduled from 9:30am to noon.

ACTION ALERT: Update on Mariah’s Case

Last week, I posted an action alert for Mariah Lopez’s unjust imprisonment. I went to court last Tuesday to participate her support, but wound up having to leave after a few hours. Her case was called last, at the very end of the day; you’ve gotta wonder whether that’s just another way for the judicial system to stick it to folks. “Oh, you all want to come and support this person? Well then, you can wait around all day.” Doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to see that happening.

Anyhow – Mariah is still in jail, and her next court date is tomorrow (Tuesday.) In advance of her appearance, there’s an additional call to action; this time, folks are being asked to called the prosecutor on the case and the LGBT liaison in the district attorney’s office. Read on for the text of the action alert.


Thank you to the many people who turned out to support Mariah Lopez in court on Tuesday! Mariah asked me to pass on her thanks to everyone as well.

Mariah’s defender used the powerful showing of widespread community support in her argument to have Mariah released on bail. She discussed not only Mariah’s incredible work for and ties with the community, her strong reasons for showing up to court, the strength of Mariah’s case and the many people who cared enough about what happening to her to spend the day in court, but also the terrible abuse Mariah is experiencing in jail. Based on her past record, the judge nonetheless chose to keep the bail at the same amount, $1500, which is much more than she can afford to pay—so Mariah was sent back to jail. Mariah’s defender took her argument to another court the same afternoon, but that court let the first judge’s decision stand.

Mariah had to deal with more threats, abuse, and harassment even on the way back from court.

She and her defender are asking that everyone call the District Attorney’s office before Mariah’s next court date on Tuesday to encourage them to agree to Mariah’s release.

Who to call:
Mirella DeRose (212) 335-9000 (prosecutor assigned to Mariah’s case—most important)
Katie Dorin (212) 335-9291 (LGBT liaison in the D.A.’s office)

What to ask for:
Mariah’s release on her own recognizance! If not that, reduction of bail to $500 and lowering their recommendation of jail time to 30 days.

What to tell them:
It’s great to share a couple of things about the important work she does in the community (such as speaking, writing and activism for transgender youth), her strong ties to and support from people and organizations in the community, and the terrible abuse she is facing in jail.

What not to tell them:
If you know anything about the facts of the case against Mariah, do NOT share any of that info with the D.A. Instead, if you think you might have useful info, talk to Mariah’s defender. (Contact me at if you want me to put you in touch.)

When to call:
Before her next court date on Tuesday, August 14th at 10:30 am.

Please call if you can and help free Mariah!

ACTION ALERT: Pack the Courts tomorrow in support of Mariah Lopez

In March of this year, I posted about Mariah Lopez, a young Latina trans woman whose case against the City of New York – as well as her very identity and existence – were being vilified in the New York Post. I’m writing about Mariah again because, almost unbelievably, she has been targeted and seriously abused by the NYC police. Mariah Lopez has a long history of being targeted by the police, as do many trans people, especially trans women of color, in NYC. Unlike most, though, her abuse has been repeatedly documented by Amnesty International as part of their Stonewalled report on police violence against LGBT communities. You know, wouldn’t you think that someone whose abuse at the hands of the police has been so highly publicized and protested would maybe not be so attractive a target to the NYPD? A cynical thought, perhaps, or maybe the police really just don’t care what’s said about them, seeing as they continue to get away with the constant abuse of Mariah, other trans women of color, and other disenfranchised and therefore vulnerable people.

Mariah Lopez needs our support, the support of any New Yorker who gives a damn that someone has been not only arrested under apparently dubious circumstances (she was at the police station filing a complaint about getting assaulted in the West Village), but also degraded, abused, harassed and assaulted while in custody. And even if she had done something that “justified” her arrest, there can be no justification for the transphobic abuse that she’s suffered since. I think that’s another important note here: people who are held in police custody, whether justifiably or not, are often stripped of their rights and abused, amounting to extrajudicial cruel and unusual punishment. This must be stopped, not only for Mariah, but for everyone unlucky enough to find themselves at the mercy of an incredibly corrupt system.



Early in the morning on July 17, Mariah Lopez, a young Latina transgender woman and community activist, got arrested after she went to the police department to file a complaint about getting beaten up in the West Village. She has been in jail since then, held on bail ($1.500) that she cannot afford to pay.

Since she has been in jail, we have had reports that:

  • She was first taken to a women’s jail, then ordered to drop her pants to show her genitals so they could decide if she belonged there. When she refused a ‘genital check,’ she was moved to a hospital and then lock-in (isolation) in a men’s jail.
  • She had her clothing, bra, and underwear withheld from her.
  • A male prisoner sexually harassed and assaulted her.
  • An officer assaulted her.

Mariah’s lawyer got her case moved up and is making an argument about her bail this Tuesday. She has asked that as many people as possible come to court because a strong showing of community support will help her argument. It also means a lot to Mariah to know that there are people on the outside who care about what’s happening to her.

The details:
Tuesday, August 7
Criminal Court, 100 Centre St., Part B on the fourth floor (all the way to the right)
The time is never sure, but it will probably in the late morning—be there by 10:30!

Please come if you can—your presence will increase the chances that Mariah will get out of jail and cut short the abuse she’s facing there!

ACTION ALERT: Call for last-minute clemency for a Georgia man unjustly sentenced to death

Somehow, I managed to miss Troy Davis’ story until this morning, when I was listening to today’s podcast of Democracy Now. I’m a steadfast opponent of the death penalty in any case. But Davis’ story is one of the most enraging and saddening examples of how deeply flawed the judicial system can be.

Troy Davis is on death row in Georgia, where he was convicted in 1991 for the murder of a Savannah police officer. His execution is scheduled for tomorrow (Tuesday) night at 7pm, despite an abundance of evidence of his innocence. The case against him was comprised entirely of witness testimony, which even at the time of the trial contained inconsistencies. Since the trial, seven out of nine of the non-police prosecution witnesses have recanted their testimony. Some of the witness have even stated that they were coerced into giving testimony against Davis. Jared Feuer, Southern Regional Directory of Amnesty International, said this in his interview on Democracy Now!:

You know, what we have to talk about when we discuss the witnesses is that in some cases they were sixteen years old. They had a number of children. Some of them did have prior records. And they were told that if you do not tell us what we want to hear, you will be going away to jail, or we will actually be fingering you. And the witnesses were scared out of their minds. I mean, they had a number of police who would, you know, arrive at their house and tell them, “You sign this, or you’re going to go to jail.” One of the witnesses was given a signed statement, and he can’t even read.

Only two of the non-police witnesses have not recanted: a witness who said they could not identify the shooter, only the clothing they wore; and Sylvester Coles, the original suspect in the shooting, whose testimony swung the police’s case against Davis.

So, from the get go, Davis’ situation looked grim. As Feuer says, “there was an officer who was down, and the police really wanted to make sure that they got their suspect.” Such tales are as old as american racism itself: a white person is killed, especially a white cop, and “justice” must be had, even if it comes at the expense of an innocent young Black man. Amy Goodman gives this related statistic from the American Bar Association: “Among all homicides with known suspects, those suspected of killing whites are 4.56 times as likely to be sentenced to death as those who are suspected of killing blacks.”

Davis wound up being convicted and sentenced to death; the appeals process up to the state level was unsuccessful, at times because of “procedural defaults” that prevented the defense from introducing new witness statements. One of Davis’ final avenues – turning to the federal appeals court – was closed off to him in 1996 with the signing of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. This law, passed by the Republican-controlled Congress and signed by President Clinton not long after the Oklahoma City bombings, severely limits the ability of federal appeals courts to consider cases like these.
Earlier, in 1995, Congress voted to eliminate federal funding for legal organizations which provide legal assistance to death row prisoners, hobbling these organizations to help those inmates with the fewest resources.

Indeed, it looks like the government has been doing more and more to ensure that “justice” be served by executing people as quickly as possible, wrongful convictions be damned. As Feuer put it, “we have a death penalty system in this country that favors expediency over getting it right.” Read that over a few times. Let the awful truth of that sink in. Because this is the ultimate punishment; get something wrong here, and the mistake is irreversible.

Troy Davis’ lawyers appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court in late June to try, one last time, to convince a court to stay the order of execution and reopen the case. The Supreme Court declined. Now, Davis’ only recourse is the Georgia Board of Clemency, which can exonerate him, grant a stay of execution (and possibly a new trial), or allow the execution to take place. Davis’ clemency hearings began at 9am this morning; the clemency board has until 3pm tomorrow (just four hours before the time set for his execution) to make their decision. I encourage everyone to take a few moments to visit the Amnesty International page and send a fax to the clemency board demanding that they make the only right decision — to save an innocent man’s life.

UPDATE: The clemency board granted Troy Davis a 90-day stay of execution, within which the defense will have one last opportunity to present the case for his innocence. While this in itself is an important and heartening victory, the case can still go either way, so I encourage people to continue to send in faxes, make calls, spread the word and take action. And let’s hope that this case can do much to bring attention and an eventual end to the deeply-flawed and inherently unjust system of capital punishment in this country.

(cross-posted at AngryBrownButch)

Hierarchies of health care: who deserves what?

There’s an interesting conversation going on over at Feministe, where Holly’s posted about various aspects of health care: universal health care and the lack thereof in this country; the very limited state-provided health care that does exist in this country, specifically for prisoners, foster children, and other “wards of the state;” and trans health care and the constant uphill battles for access and coverage free of societal prejudice. Both Holly’s posts and the ensuing comments elucidate the wide range of responses that people have to these topics, especially when they’re all mixed together into one big messy dilemma.

Some people wonder why convicted criminals should have access to free health care far and beyond what’s available to most people on the outside of the bars; here, I find it necessary to point out that, of course, due to our royally screwed up (in)justice system, it’s not just criminals behind the bars and upstanding citizens outside of them, this being just one of the many arguments against making access to health care a merit-based system. Other folks question whether trans health care is really a necessity; in the face of countless trans people and medical professionals who maintain that, yes, trans health care in its various forms is medically necessary for some people, this is simply another form of meritocracy, with trans people’s needs falling rather to the wayside, being deemed less important than – what – “normal” health needs? Still others take the “divide and conquer tack”, asserting that by advocating for the inclusion of trans health care in universal health care, we’re providing conservatives with ammunition that can take down the whole damned cause. Funny, this sounds familiar: hasn’t social movement after social movement tried to shunt their less popular members and issues out of sight, asking them to take the back seat so as to not prevent the more publicly palatable people and issues from getting a pass from the establishment?

I found one point that was made in the course of the commenting to be particularly interesting and something I haven’t considered before: even if we did end up with universal health care, who’d have the power to decide what would be covered and what couldn’t? Individual patients and their doctors? The larger medical establishment? Or, heaven forfend, the government? With the latter especially, what kind of frightening roles will religiosity, moralizing, and prejudice take in deciding who and what are worthy, and who and what are not?

Holly ties up her entry quite well here: “If you accept that trans health care is neither experimental nor unnecessary, and a doctor has prescribed it to a patient, then you have to provide it to those patients who the state has an obligation to provide health care for.” And, it would follow, in the push for universal health care, no medically sanctioned health care should be pushed to the wayside, whether out of misunderstanding or prejudice or some sort of subjective “morality.” Universal health care should be just that: universal, for all people, regardless of where they and their needs fall on some sort of hierarchy of normalcy and necessity that conveniently places the needs of the people in power right up top.