Archive for the 'police state' Category

Can the LGBT community spare some outrage for Duanna Johnson?

UPDATE: The Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition has set up a fund for Duanna Johnson’s funeral expenses that you can donate to via PayPal. This seems to be the most legitimate and secure way of donating. Any funds collected above the cost of the funeral will go to Johnson’s family. Please donate if and what you can, and do it soon. A special request to everyone (like me) who donated to the No On Prop 8 campaign: try to match that donation, or even just half of it if you can’t manage the whole thing right now. We can get this raised fast if we all commit to that.

UPDATE 2 (11/14/08 7:46 EST): TTPC reports that they have received $4745 in donations for Duanna’s family. “The response has been tremendous. We have received around 165 donations from as far away as Japan. Duanna’s family will be thrilled. Thank you world!” I echo their thanks to everyone who donated and helped spread the word today. I wish we hadn’t had to raise this money in the first place, but I’m glad that we did. While no amount of money can undo the tragedy of their loss, at least we can help ease their financial burden and give them one less worry as they grieve. (end update)

Duanna Johnson On February 12, 2008, Duanna Johnson was brutally beaten by a Memphis police officer after she refused to respond when the officer called her “he-she” and “faggot.” That night, Johnson became yet another of the countless trans women of color to be targeted and brutalized by police in this country. Two officers were fired after the attack; neither was prosecuted.

Just to be trans, just to be a woman, just to be a person of color in this country is enough to drastically increase one’s exposure to hatred and violence; when oppressions overlap, violence tends to multiply.

This past Sunday, Duanna Johnson was found murdered on the streets of Memphis. I didn’t hear about this until today, when I read a post on my friend Dean’s blog. When I read the awful news, I felt heartsick in a way that has become all too familiar and all too frequent.

After reading Dean’s post today, I was surprised to find out that Johnson was murdered nearly three days ago already and that I hadn’t heard about this until today. I know that I haven’t been very good at keeping up with the news or the blogosphere these past few days. But I can’t help but notice that despite this relative disconnection, I’ve read and heard no shortage of commentary, protest, and outrage about Proposition 8.

A Google News search for “Duanna Johnson” yields 50 results, many syndicated and therefore redundant. Much of the coverage is tainted by the transphobia and victim-blaming that tends to inflect media coverage of violence against trans women of color (like this Associated Press article). A search for “Proposition 8″? 18,085 results – 354.6 times more than for Duanna Johnson.

The skew in the blogosphere is less severe but still pronounced. A Google BlogSearch for Duanna Johnson: 2,300 results. For Prop 8? 240,839, or 100 times more.

Don’t think I’m being deliberately unrealistic or dismissive here. I don’t deny that the passage of Proposition 8 is harmful to the LGBT community and bears much anger, attention, and agitation. I understand the difference in magnitude of the number lives directly affected by the passage of Proposition 8 versus the number of lives directly affected by Duanna Johnson’s murder. I get that.

Yet still, the disparity in attention is damn stark. And that skew isn’t limited to this particular incident; it is a skew that is present in the collective coverage of and attention paid to all violence against trans women of color. And it is a skew that reflects what the GLb(t) mainstream chosen to prioritize with time, energy, and resources, and what it has chosen to address primarily with lip service and leftovers. An apt example of this: the Prop 8 op-ed written by Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese communicates more anger, more commitment to an enduring fight for justice, more of a sense of giving a damn than his brief, comparatively tepid statement in HRC press release on Duanna Johnson’s death.

There is a call out for people to donate money to help Johnson’s mother pay her funeral expenses, which are right now expected to total $1195. Unfortunately, there is some confusion about how to make donations and concern about whether the funeral home is doing right by Mrs. Skinner. I advise folks who wish to donate to use caution; I hope that a clearer, more secure way of donating is established soon. UPDATE: It’s been established.

But when it is possible to make donations safely, I hope that many people donate whatever they can. $1195 is a relatively small amount to raise. Given that the No On Prop 8 campaign was able to raise $37.6 million – or 31,464 times the cost of Duanna Johnson’s funeral – raising this far smaller amount should be no problem for our community. Right?

Cross-posted at Feministe and Racialicious

Update: Police continue to harrass and terrorize members of Rebel Diaz

G1 of Rebel Diaz, one of the two people beaten and arrested last week for observing the police, reports that his apartment was raided by the NYPD in the wee hours yesterday morning. From rebeldiaz.com by way of illvox:

The uniformed police officers did not knock, nor announce themselves, nor verbally identify themselves before or during their entry into my apartment.

They pointed their guns at us the whole time as they verbally barraged MM and I with questions as to who we were and what we were doing there.

As I lay on the ground with my hands up, I replied loudly and clearly that I lived there, and that everyone in the house was supposed to be there.

They replied incredulously, repeatedly yelling their questions as to who we were, with threats as to what would happen to us if I was found to be lying.

Requests for explanations from the NYPD have, not surprisingly, yielded nothing.

The questions as to why several armed police officers mysteriously and violently invaded my home without any clear legal justification remain unanswered.

One is left only to think that the occurrences of this morning are not a coincidence of mistaken identity, but a direct response by the NYPD to an incident of police brutality I was involved in last week in the South Bronx.

Until we have a clear understanding of the causes and the people behind this morning’s home invasion, Rebel Diaz will engage in limited communication outside of our legal representation.

We are not looking for the next NYPD scare tactic to turn into a tragedy.

Let’s all hope that the NYPD chills the fuck out and stops trying to intimidate people into silence and submission. It’ll take just one trigger-happy or nervous cop to make these sorts of scare tactics deadly once again.

Hip hop activists attacked and arrested for daring to hold the NYPD accountable

Members of Rebel Diaz being arrested

Sometimes there’s too much to blog and far too little time. I’ve been wanting to blog about this since I heard about it last week, but Vivir Latino and illvox and Racewire and a bunch of other folks have gotten to it already so I’ll refer to them. From VivirLatino:

Last Thursday, independent, radical, revolutionary, activist Hip Hoppers Rodstarz and G1, two brothers known musically and in the movement as Rebel Diaz [along with MC/vocalist La Tere], were walking in the Bronx, NYC when they witnessed an all too common occurrence. Police officers from the 41st Precinct were in the middle of a sting against street vendors, aggressively confiscating the fruit and vegetables of a street vendor. What happened next was a mix of the sadly uncommon and the everyday threat that is faced in many of our communities. Rodstarz and G1 didn’t walk by quickly or quietly, watching their extended community being attacked. They approached the officers to ask why the vendor was being treated in that manner and asked for their badge numbers. The police, who aren’t exactly keen on the idea of being monitored by the very same community they allegedly serve, turned their aggressions on the duo. After beating them and arresting them in front of over a dozen witnesses, they were taken to the 41st Precinct.

Within hours, over 75 friends, community members and activists gathered outside the precinct (1035 Longwood Avenue at Southern Blvd.) to sing, chant, drum and march for over 4 hours, demanding that all charges be dropped and that Rodstarz and G1 be immediately released.

The following morning more than 25 people gathered at the Bronx County Criminal Court for their arraignment. The men are charged with two misdemeanors: obstruction of justice and resisting arrest, and are scheduled for court on September 3rd, 2008.

Check out video of the arrests and the subsequent protests.

Obstruction of justice and resisting arrest should really be renamed the Activist Charges, since they seem to be what all of us are threatened with whenever we’re arrested for either protesting or observing the cops and holding them accountable for their actions. The latter seems to particularly piss the cops off. I know this from personal experience, having been pepper sprayed along with other community members and seeing two friends being violently arrested for doing just that – questioning police actions, asking for badge numbers, taking pictures of their activity. All the charges against the two people arrested were dropped. Three members of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement’s Cop Watch were arrested while videotaping an arrest in Brooklyn in 2005. All charges against them were later dropped. When the cops went on a bike-confiscating frenzy in the East Village last summer, two people who dared to observe and question them were arrested. It happens over and over again.

Why? Because, as they’ve demonstrated on countless occasions, the NYPD has zero interest in being held accountable by the communities that they purportedly serve. In fact, even the threat of accountability seems to make them angry. So in response to peaceful observation and requests for badge numbers, they respond with rage, with violence, with threats, and ultimately with arrests on trumped up charges that are almost always dropped. It’s not about arresting people who are actually doing anything wrong – after all, observing the police is not officially a crime, though I’m sure they wish it were. No, they do it to scare us, make us too scared of arrest or other retaliation to hold them accountable.

And you know what? Sometimes their fear tactics work. Getting arrested is fucking scary, and even just getting messed with or threatened by the cops is daunting. Especially when I’m alone, I get nervous to stop and watch the cops. Not even question them, not even take pictures, and certainly not even anything close to intervening – I get scared of standing nearby and looking at them. And that fear pisses me off. When I’m with someone else, it’s easier; with a group, even easier. The fear makes sense – cops and the power they wield are scary – but we can’t let it stop us from practicing our civil rights and our civic duties in holding them accountable.

Another important issue raised by this incident: illvox posted a press release from VAMOS Unidos (Vendedoras Ambulantes Movilizando y Organizando en Solidaridad — Street Vendors Mobilizing and Organizing in Solidarity) expressing solidarity and thanks to Rodstarz and G1. The release gives some background on the NYPD’s frequently awful treatment of street vendors, often low-income folks, people of color, and immigrants – all vulnerable populations:

Street vendors experience state repression day to day as they deal with arrests, crippling fines, confiscations, beatings, and abusive treatment by the NYPD. Members of VAMOS Unidos are often incarcerated for 1-3 days, severely beaten, victims of theft by the NYPD, and endure humiliating treatment. Marcela, a flower vendor in the Bronx for seven years, was violently forced to the ground as the police yelled xenophobic comments. She was handcuffed and placed against her cart as police gave her merchandise away. She was then taken to jail where she was kept all day.

It’s important to remember that even while it might be scary for some of us to observe the police and hold them accountable, there are often people who are even more vulnerable than us; even if it’s scary, we have to do what we can to stand in solidarity with them. Big ups to Rodstarz and G1 for doing that.

Examining the justice that we seek

Thanks to Margarita for helping me talk and think and rethink through these issues today.

Like the other people I know with politics similar to mine, I was angry when I heard about the verdict in the Sean Bell case this morning. And I’m still angry, for sure. I still feel like justice has been controverted yet again. I still feel like a few sad messages have been reinforced by the verdict: that the lives of people of color are given little worth in our society; that the “justice” system is of little use for many classes of people, including people of color; and that the police pretty much have a carte blanche when dealing with people of color, amongst other oppressed people.

However, I’ve also had time to do a lot of thinking and talking about the case, the verdict, what “we” (me, my friends, others with politics like mine) would have liked to see happen today, and what that all means. And it’s really complicated stuff.

I was reminded of this complication when I saw this picture of the cops who killed Sean Bell in the NY Times:

Since the shootings in 2006 and throughout the subsequent trial, I’ve found it jarring to be reminded that two of the three cops being charged in relation the incident are people of color. It’s almost as if that detail gets lost for me in the bigger picture of the case and I need to be reminded of it again and again. When I saw this picture this morning, it troubled me more than usual, because it made me realize that I was angry that three people, two of whom are men of color, are not going to prison.

I’m not used to being in that position.

If all of the cops being tried for the shootings were white, I think that my anger over the verdict would have been much more clear cut. I would have interrogated it far less. It would been black and white, quite literally; another case of white cops working within a racist police department taking the life of an innocent Black man. If they were convicted and sent to jail, I wouldn’t have shed a tear for them. If they were acquitted, I would have been enraged.

But feeling anger over the acquittal of two men of color? Yeah – that’s a weird spot for me to be in. Probably in part because that doesn’t happen very often; usually the story is the other way around and I’m getting angry over people of color being unfairly convicted and sent to prison. I don’t believe that imprisonment is the answer to any of society’s ills; in fact, for the most part I believe in prison abolition. As has been demonstrated many times, including some reports that have received a bit of public attention, the United States imprisons an appalling amount of people, and the vast majority of those people being imprisoned are people of color and poor folks.

And then there’s this case. Three cops shooting three unarmed men of color and killing one of them with 50 bullets. Two men of color on the trial for shooting three other men of color and killing one of them. Two men of color acquitted, one dead.

In a situation like this, where and how could we possibly find justice?

This is the crux of the problem: the situation is framed within a system that is so completely fucked up to the point that little good could possibly come out of it. Our ability to achieve justice is limited by the fact that the only recourses for justice available in our society are inherently unjust. So instead, we’re left grasping for approximations of justice that will invariably be unsatisfactory in the end.

Many of the organizations involved in the People’s Justice coalition – ALP, FIERCE! and SRLP among them – do not believe that imprisonment equals justice. Some of the organizations are explicitly abolitionist. And yet the emails and web postings coming from these organizations and their members about the protest at the Queens D.A.’s office, a protest that was planned no matter what the verdict wound up being, today all began with the news that all three cops were acquitted. One can only infer that these organizations don’t think that was the right verdict. Like me, these organizations are taking a stance that seems to conflict with their larger politics.

But what are we supposed to do? In this society, we take what justice we can get. A guilty verdict in this case would have sent the message that no, it is not all right for the NYPD to shoot and kill unarmed people of color with abandon, that yes,Sean Bell’s life and the lives of other people of color are worth more than that, that no, the NYPD can’t kill and injure and oppress with impunity and walk away scott free. The family of Sean Bell would have felt like someone was truly being held accountable for the murder of their son, their brother, their husband-to-be, their father.

And yet, a conviction would still be no more than an approximation of justice. First, because nothing that could possibly be done could make up for Sean Bell’s death. Second, because these three cops aren’t really the problem. Imprisoning them wouldn’t suddenly make the NYPD stop being the racist, classist, homophobic and transphobic force that it’s been for its entire existence. These three cops would take the fall, but the system that shaped them, trained them, set them up to fear and distrust and undervalue people of color – that system would emerge relatively unscathed. And in the end, two more men of color (and one white guy who’s probably not terribly high on the white male scale of privilege else he wouldn’t be a cop) would be in jail. All of that doesn’t add up to justice to me.

But we’re still angry, and we’re right to be. There is no justice here, not even a conflicted approximation of justice. What little recourse we have for achieving justice, flawed as it may be, has failed us yet again. And what’s perhaps most galling is that, time and time again, it fails us in the opposite direction. This tremendous “burden of proof” that the judge didn’t think the prosecution met in this case so often seems to disappear when the defendants are poor people of color who aren’t cops and don’t have the protection and support afforded to Gescard Isnora and Marc Cooper. If Isnora and Cooper weren’t cops and the same scene had played out that night, I’m pretty sure that both of them would be in jail already (and most of us probably wouldn’t have ever heard about it.)

no justice. none.

Reactions outside of the courthouse
Reactions outside of the courthouse. Brendan McDermid/Reuters

The cops who murdered Sean Bell have been acquitted of all charges. I would say that it’s unbelievable, but it’s not. It’s all too believable, but no less shocking and appalling.

There may be civil, federal or departmental charges filed against the cops, and those cases may wind up approximating some sort of justice. But in truth, justice could never be served in this case, even if these officers had been convicted on all charges. Nothing could possibly make up for another life taken by the NYPD.

A protest has been organized by the People’s Justice coalition for 5:30pm today at the Queens district attorney’s office. I will probably get my ass out there (ETA: didn’t make it) but admit that I am nervous about it; hopefully the cops will be held in check because of the nature of the case and the protests, but one never knows. We can’t let the police scare us into silence and submission, but be careful, folks.

cross-border bullying

U.S. Border Patrol agents on the Mexico-U.S. border are apparently the frequent targets of rocks, bricks, and bottles hurled over the reprehensible walls and fences on the border. Their response? Firing tear gas and pepper spray canisters, which are wide effect weapons, into the neighborhoods of shanties where innocent people are just trying to survive. From the AP/NY Times article:

Esther Arias Medina, 41, fled her shanty in Tijuana with her 3-week-old grandson last week in the midst of an attack. The boy had begun coughing, Ms. Arias said, after smoke seeped through the walls of the three-room home, which she shares with six others.

“We don’t deserve this,” she said. “The people who live here don’t throw rocks. Those are people who come from the outside. But we’re paying the price.”

Witnesses in Ms. Arias’s neighborhood described eight attacks since August that involved tear gas or pepper spray, some that forced residents to evacuate.

The Border Patrol claims that they have to protect themselves from these “attacks,” but come on – is the collateral damage worth it? I know that these rocks and bricks can really hurt someone, but frankly, I can’t seem to work up much sympathy for pinche Border Patrol agents. Hell, if I lived on the other side of one of those damn walls and had to look at those american brutos every day, I’d probably be throwing stones at them, too. Yeah yeah, individual agents aren’t necessarily the bad guys, yadda yadda, fuck that noise. They’re the little bully agents of the biggest bully of them all, a country that owns the lion’s share of the responsibility for the economic conditions that created those shanty towns in the first place. It’s really a David and Goliath type situation, even right down to the weapons of choice:

Mexico’s acting consul general in San Diego, Ricardo Pineda Albarrán, has insisted that United States authorities stop firing onto Mexican soil. Mr. Pineda met with Border Patrol officials last month after the agency fired tear gas into Mexico. The agency defended that action, saying agents were being hit with a hail of ball bearings from slingshots in Mexico.

Now, the US claims that the Mexican authorities aren’t doing anything about the rock-throwing and that they therefore need to act to protect themselves, but isn’t it weird that they can just fire into another country like that? Much less with chemical weapons that are banned from use in warfare? (Funny, huh, that tear gas and pepper spray can be used fairly indiscriminately for civilian law enforcement but can’t be used in an actual war.) I mean, it’s not like Border Patrol can just plod on into Mexico and start fucking shit up; why, then, are they allowed to fuck shit up from this side of the border?

United States officials say the new tactics may spare lives. In March, an agent shot and killed a 20-year-old Mexican man whose arm was cocked; that fatality occurred in Calexico, Calif., where attacks with stones have soared. And two years ago, an agent fatally shot a stone thrower at the San Diego-Tijuana border.

“Hey, Mexicans, wouldya stop complaining already? We could be shooting you instead, you know!” Just… wow.

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.

***

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: SEPTEMBER 28, 2007

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 www.srlp.org .

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.

Donate money for Mariah Lopez’s bail

Gael Guevara, a collective member of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, is personally organizing efforts to raise money for Mariah Lopez’s bail (see the original story and more recent update.) Note that this is a personal effort and not one being organized by SRLP or another organization; therefore, donations must be made in one of the following ways:

  1. Stop by the SRLP office, where Gael works, to drop off the money early next week – 322 8th Ave, 3rd Floor, NYC (the entrance itself is on 26th Street).
  2. Make a donation directly from your bank account using PayPal.com, sending it to the account of jesse(*at*)tmcnetwork(*dot*)com
  3. Credit card donations can only be accepted through the PayPal account of merch(*at*)tmcnetwork(*dot*)com; however, PayPal charges a fee for credit card transactions, so free bank account transactions sent to the jesse account is preferred if at all possible.

As of early Saturday afternoon, $576 of the $1500 bail had already been raised, with $924 left to go. Since bail is only paid to ensure that the defendant won’t flee the charges, the money will be returned at the end of the trial and will then be split between the New Jersey 4 campaign of FIERCE! and the Safe OUTside the System Collective of the Audre Lorde Project. So your one donation will actually be a donation to three important causes at once.

For more info on the case or the fundraising efforts, please contact Gael at wapinpana(*at*)yahoo(*dot*)com.

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.

***

PACK THE COURTS IN SUPPORT OF MARIAH LOPEZ

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!