By ERIN THOMPSON
Moath al-Alwi’s prayer rug is stained with paint. Every day, he wakes before dawn and works for hours on an elaborate model ship made from scavenged materials — one of dozens of sculptures he has created since he was first detained at the Guantánamo Bay military prison in 2002. Mr. al-Alwi is considered a low value detainee, but is being held indefinitely. His art is his refuge.
The sails of Mr. al-Alwi’s ships are made from scraps of old T-shirts. A bottle-cap wheel steers a rudder made with pieces of a shampoo bottle, turned with delicate cables of dental floss. The only tool Mr. al-Alwi uses to make these intricate vessels is a pair of tiny, snub-nosed scissors, the kind a preschooler might use. It is all he is allowed in his cell.
Three of Mr. al-Alwi’s model ships are currently on view in an exhibit at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, along with 32 other paintings and sculptures from other prisoners or former detainees. My colleagues and I curated this exhibit after learning that many lawyers who have worked with detainees have file cabinets stuffed full of prisoners’ art. In the atmosphere of surveillance and control that is Guantánamo, these artworks are among the only ways detainees have to communicate with the outside world.
But last week, the Miami Herald reported a change in military policy: The art of Mr. al-Alwi and the other remaining Guantánamo prisoners is now U.S. government property. The art will no longer leave prison confines and can now legally be destroyed. Attorneys for several prisoners were told the military intends to burn the art.
Art censorship and destruction are tactics fit for terrorist regimes, not for the U.S. military. The art poses no security threat: It is screened by experts who study the material for secret messages before it leaves the camp, and no art by current prisoners can be sold. Guantánamo detainees deserve basic human rights as they await trial. Taking away ownership of their art is both incredibly petty and utterly cruel.
Through this art, you can see what Guantánamo prisoners dream of in their cells, held for years without trial or without even having charges filed against them. They paint the things they wish they could see: sunsets, meadows, cityscapes and their homes. But most of all, they paint and sculpt the sea, rendering beaches, waves and boats in delicate colors and shapes. These prisoners have heard and smelled the sea for years, since the camp is only yards away from the Caribbean. But only for four days once, when a hurricane was approaching, did the guards take down the tarps that cover the fences, and allow prisoners to see it. The sea is central to their art, a symbol of freedom.
Making art is a profoundly human urge. Viewing this art has allowed thousands of visitors at John Jay College and elsewhere a chance to see that its makers are human beings. These detainees have been treated in fundamentally dehumanizing ways, from torture to denial of fair trials, and their art reminds us that we cannot ignore their condition.
Half of the artists featured in in our exhibit, like hundreds of other detainees before them, were released after showing that they pose no threat to the United States. Burning Mr. al-Alwi’s ships won’t help the war on terror. Making art is the only form of therapy available at Guantánamo. Art helps detainees keep sane, meaning that those who are guilty will one day be fit to stand trial. And restricting and burning detainee art offers another excuse for terrorist groups to encourage their followers by pointing to an irrational exercise of absolute power.
For each of his model ships, Mr. al-Alwi ruffles cardboard into feathers to create an eagle-shaped prow. As he spends months creating each one, he imagines that he himself is an eagle, soaring over the sea. Unless the military reverses its cruel new policy, he can no longer even launch his fragile creations into the world, to be free in his place.
Published on The NY Times on November 27, 2017
By Laura Castellanos
En su gira de seis días por el territorio zapatista, María de Jesús Patricio Martínez, Marichuy, representantes del Concejo Indígena de Gobierno (CIG) y las comunidades zapatistas que la acompañaron, transgredieron las formas tradicionales de hacer política al hacer patente su combate al machismo y visibilizar a niñas y mujeres indígenas.
En el país que registra siete feminicidios promedio al día, gobernado por una clase política masculina en crisis por su nivel de corrupción e impunidad, reverbera el mensaje de la primera mujer indígena aspirante a la presidencia en la historia de México.
En el evento de clausura en Oventic, Chiapas, cubierto por niebla y una llovizna fina e intermitente, Marichuy manifestó que las mujeres son quienes sienten el más profundo dolor por los casos de asesinatos, las desapariciones y los encarcelamientos cometidos arbitrariamente en el país.
"Pero justamente porque somos las que sentimos el más profundo dolor, porque vivimos la mayor de las opresiones, también nosotras las mujeres somos capaces de sentir la más profunda de las rabias", expuso. "Y entonces debemos ser capaces de transformar esas rabias en organización con el fin de pasar a la ofensiva para desmontar el poder de arriba, construyendo con determinación y sin miedo el poder de abajo".
En el templete estaba palpable el carácter histórico de ese dolor en México: la escuchó la señora Regina Santiago Rodríguez, del legendario Comité Eureka, madre de Irma Cruz Santiago, desaparecida en 1977 en el periodo conocido como el de la guerra sucia, así como la señora Hilda Hernández, madre de César Manuel González, uno de los 43 estudiantes de la Normal Rural de Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, desparecido en 2014.
A su paso por comunidades campesinas de la selva fronteriza, la selva central, la zona Norte del estado, la Tzots Choj y la de Los Altos de Chiapas, Marichuy expresó de igual modo su defensa del territorio nacional y de los recursos naturales amenazados o despojados por el gobierno o por empresas multinacionales poderosas.
La posición feminista de la nahua oriunda de Tuxpan, Jalisco, quedó plasmada en su discurso, pero también en la manera en la que sus actos de campaña fueron realizados en el sureste marginado, con profundas desigualdades de género.
Medio centenar de concejalas indígenas del CIG, venidas de distintos lugares de la nación, la acompañaron en cada evento y con ella compartieron el micrófono y los asientos colocados en el templete. Mientras en la bienvenida, la conducción y los eventos artísticos únicamente participaron niñas, muchachas y mujeres tzeltales, tojolabales, tzotziles, choles, mames y zoques.
La voz de la comandancia militar del Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN), de igual manera, se hizo escuchar solamente a través de sus comandantas: Everilda, Amada, Rosalinda, Miriam y Hortencia.
Sí, fue la hora de las mujeres. Asombrosamente, ningún hombre intervino en el micrófono durante la gira realizada del 14 al 19 de octubre, y los concejales del CIG se mantuvieron en un segundo plano en todos los foros. Los hombres fueron visibles especialmente en los cordones de seguridad de milicianos zapatistas provistos de macanas, entre los que también había presencia femenina.
El escenario fue tomado por muchachas indígenas que externaron su posición anticapitalista, y realizaron performances en los que representaron su empoderamiento en el terreno de la salud, la educación y los trabajos productivos de sus comunidades.
Lo sorprendente fue que en los eventos de Marichuy no solo asistieran bases zapatistas, sino también familias indígenas apartidistas, e incluso priistas, a pesar de que no hubo distribución de despensas o afiches publicitarios de recuerdo.
En víspera de iniciar el evento de clausura en Oventic, por ejemplo, una joven pareja priista venida de San Andrés Larráinzar, comunidad vecina de vieja tradición caciquil, vendía café y atole sobre la carretera. La muchacha de nombre Karla tenía 18 años y estaba por realizar su primera incursión en territorio zapatista para escuchar la palabra de Marichuy. Sus padres eran apartidistas y sus suegros priistas. Todos asistirían por igual al acto de campaña.
Vivir en autonomía
Marichuy recorrió los cinco Caracoles zapatistas, como le llaman a las sedes administrativas en los que el Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) ejerce un gobierno autónomo, al haber roto toda relación institucional y partidista para crear sus propios sistemas de educación, salud, justicia, gobierno y seguridad.
Esos cinco Caracoles aglutinan a una treintena de municipios autónomos creados en 2003, dependiendo de la geografía étnica, en los que cohabitan alrededor de 250.000 indígenas que viven de su producción de café, maíz, y diversas microempresas productivas.
El caminar de la caravana de vehículos de un Caracol a otro fue lento, enfrentaron descomposturas, caminos con pavimentación incompleta, aguaceros bravíos, calores desbordados. Pero en cada lugar la gente esperó su llegada, en ocasiones, por más de cinco horas a la intemperie, como fue el caso del Caracol de Morelia.
En los eventos de los Caracoles cada una de las comandantas zapatistas citadas hizo distintas recapitulaciones: una crítica al capitalismo que destruye al país y deja impunes los feminicidios, una histórica sobre las violaciones sexuales y maltratos que sus abuelas vivieron de parte de los finqueros de la región, otra más sobre la violencia cotidiana que han debido confrontar en sus propias familias y comunidades.
Y a contracorriente de los discursos de otros precandidatos presidenciales, la comandanta Hortencia convocó a mujeres profesionistas, estudiantes, científicas, empleadas, artistas, a sumarse a la causa del abanico de la diversidad sexual para confrontar al neoliberalismo:
"Tenemos que unir nuestra lucha con loas otroas que tienen sus propias luchas y que la política de arriba ni siquiera toma en cuenta. Como si fuera que loas otroas necesitan permiso para existir, para ser, para luchar. Porque a la política de arriba le da vergüenza que somos mujeres del color que somos de la tierra, y le dan vergüenza los homosexuales, las lesbianas, los transgénero, y todo lo diferente".
La comandanta Hortencia puntualizó: "El mundo es muy grande y cabemos todas, todos, todoas. Lo único que ya no cabe es el sistema capitalista porque ocupa todo y no nos deja ni respirar siquiera. Y peor que el capitalismo no tiene llenadero, no le bastan las muertes, la destrucción, la miseria, la desolación. No, quiere más. Más guerra, más muerte, más destrucción".
La gira de la sanadora
Marichuy fue acompañada en su gira por 156 mujeres y hombres del CIG de 63 regiones indígenas del país, hablantes de 39 lenguas originarias, como la wixárika de Jalisco, la rarámuri de Chihuahua, la mazahua del Estado de México, la yaqui de Sonora.
Este Concejo, que forma parte del Congreso Nacional Indígena (CNI), conforma un frente de resistencias en contra de mega proyectos mineros, hidroeléctricos, de carácter energético, o de diversos tipos de construcción empresarial o pública, como lo es el nuevo aeropuerto internacional que se erige en Texcoco, Estado de México.
El pasado mayo 1.480 concejales eligieron a Marichuy como aspirante a la candidatura presidencial en un proceso de selección que les tomó seis meses. En ese lapso consultaron en sus comunidades si contenderían en las elecciones presidenciales y decidieron elegir una terna femenina.
La nahua de 53 años, dedicada a la medicina herbolaria, fue la seleccionada por su trabajo participativo e incluyente en el Congreso desde hace 20 años.
En busca de las necesarias
Marichuy necesita recolectar 866.593 firmas en 17 entidades federativas para poder ser incluida en la boleta como candidata independiente a la presidencia. Su fecha límite es el 12 de febrero del 2018.
La nahua denunció que si bien ha logrado el apoyo de 1.480 personas voluntarias para recoger esas firmas electrónicas, su correo dado de alta ante el Instituto Nacional Electoral (INE) ha sufrido bloqueo, la señal de internet y telefonía fue cortada a su paso por Altamirano y Ocosingo, y la información proporcionada por el INE fue errada sobre el tipo de teléfonos celulares aptos para realizar la operación.
Pero Marichuy dice no doblegarse. Planea recorrer distintos lugares del país para reunir esas firmas, entre los que están centros universitarios como el de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).
En su intervención en Palenque, ella anunció que estos días tendrá el reto de duplicar el número de auxiliares en la colecta de las firmas. En la plaza central de la ciudad maya, bajo un sol absoluto, la indígena advirtió que no claudicará en su esfuerzo para recabar el apoyo ciudadano para aspirar a la presidencia.
"Pero sobre todo para ampliar y fortalecer la estructura organizativa de nuestras rabias y nuestros dolores, que en todo el país haga retemblar en sus centros la tierra, y permita la supervivencia de los pueblos originarios y la reconstrucción de un México que ha sido intencionalmente despedazado por quienes tiene el poder", finalizó.
La infraestructura electoral de Marichuy es sostenida por las propias comunidades indígenas. También por simpatizantes, como la asociación "Llegó la hora del florecimiento de los pueblos", a la que pertenece el escritor Juan Villoro, el politólogo Pablo González Casanova y la antropóloga Sylvia Marcos. El reto que tienen es solventar los gastos de la campaña, pues la precandidata y el CIG decidieron rechazar el financiamiento del INE.
Published on VICE on October 27, 2017
By Roli Srivastava
On a busy afternoon in the southern Indian city of Visakhapatnam last month, a young man raped a destitute woman on a pavement. Many pedestrians walked by as he forced himself on the woman, but a few paused - to record the rape on their smartphones.
The police seized one cellphone - of the person who alerted them to the crime - but found he had already shared the video on social media, officers in Visakhapatnam told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Women's rights campaigners in India said countless rape videos circulate online with few of them reported to the police.
"I receive a dozen rape videos a day from people who are afraid of reporting the crime themselves," said Sunitha Krishnan, a rape survivor and founder of the charity Prajwala.
As the country strengthens anti-rape laws and activists demand better safety for women on the street, public transport and in the workplace, sexual violence in India has moved online.
Krishnan lodged a petition in the Supreme Court in 2015 against rape videos circulating on social media, seeking action from the government and social media giants to end the menace.
Last month, the court asked the Indian government to report by December on the steps it will take to allow the safe and anonymous reporting of videos showing rape and child sexual abuse - as the country witnesses a surge in social media use.
"I had submitted nine rape videos to the Central Bureau of Investigation (India's top crime-fighting agency). The investigation into these videos brought to light how big the problem is," Krishnan said.
More than 750 cases related to obscene and sexually explicit content posted on the internet were registered with the India police in 2015, government data shows - but the official figures fail to reflect the prevalence of the crime, campaigners said.
In 2015, 35,000 rape cases were registered in India, an increase of 40 percent since 2012 when the fatal gang rape of a young woman on a bus in Delhi sparked a national outcry.
"We have (now) taken precautions (to stem sexual violence) but given the scale of digital sexual violence, I am not sure how effective they are," said Asha Bajpai, professor of law at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai.
VIDEOS FOR SALE
Mobile internet users in India account for nearly 95 percent of the 400 million internet users in the country, which is the world's second largest smartphone market, according to studies.
And with 241 million active users, India has the world's highest number of people on Facebook and is the biggest Whatsapp market with over 200 million users.
"We don't have data (to link rise in smartphone numbers with rape videos) but plenty of anecdotal evidence," Anja Kovacs, director of the New-Delhi based Internet Democracy Project told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"When I speak to people who work on these issues, technology is involved in almost all the cases, particularly in gang rape cases where it (recording of the crime) is very common."
Local media in India often carry reports of rapes that were recorded on mobile phones and circulated on Whatsapp. Last year, gang rape videos were found to be up for sale in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
"While sex or rape videos on Whatsapp are circulated to defame or threaten, many make these videos to sell them to porn portals," said Kislay Chaudhury, whose cyber crime agency advises Delhi police and has a helpline for victims of online sexual violence.
When activist and rape survivor Krishnan received a gang rape video on her cellphone two years ago, she retched. She then got the video edited - removing the woman but retaining images of the eight rapists and uploaded it on YouTube to shame the attackers.
Two years on, however, she is hopeful that circulation of rape content on social media will become more difficult.
Responding to her petition against rape videos, India's Supreme Court has made recommendations drawn up by a court-appointed committee including staff of Facebook and Whatsapp.
The court asked internet companies to provide technical support to law enforcement agencies investigating such crimes and to ensure warning messages pop up for key words people use to search for rape videos and child sexual abuse online.
It has also suggested a central body where all the complaints can be registered.
"There will be a good amount of deterrence to circulate offensive videos. This is the beginning," Krishnan said.
By Colin Packham and Tom Westbrook
Australians have voted overwhelmingly for same-sex marriage, paving the way for legislation by the end of 2017 and sparking rainbow celebrations on Wednesday, with people wearing wedding dresses and sequined suits and declaring "our love is real".
Australia will become the 26th nation to formalise the unions if the legislation is passed by parliament, which is expected despite some vocal opposition within the government's conservative right wing.
Thousands of people in a Sydney park broke into a loud cheer, hugged and cried as Australia's chief statistician revealed live over a big screen that 61.6 percent of voters surveyed favoured marriage equality, with 38.4 percent against.
Australian Olympic swimmer Ian Thorpe, who came out as gay three years ago, said the result was a huge relief.
"It means that the way you feel for another person, whoever that may be, is equal," Thorpe told reporters at the Sydney celebrations.
The voluntary poll is non-binding but Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull immediately said he would fulfil a pledge to raise a bill in parliament with the aim of passing laws by Christmas.
Turnbull played down concern of a split in his coalition government over the policy as the conservative faction presses for amendments to protect religious freedoms that discriminate against same-sex couples.
"It is unequivocal, it is overwhelming. They have spoken in their millions and they have voted overwhelmingly yes for marriage equality," Turnbull told reporters in Canberra after the survey results were announced.
"They voted yes for fairness, yes for commitment, yes for love."
A marriage equality bill was introduced into parliament later on Wednesday.
The result marks a watershed moment for gay rights in Australia, where it was illegal in some states to engage in homosexual activity until 1997.
"It's a g'day. Way to go Australia," tweeted U.S. TV host Ellen DeGeneres, who is married to Australian actress Portia de Rossi in the United States.
Almost 80 percent of eligible voters took part in the survey - a higher turnout than Britain's Brexit vote and Ireland's same-sex marriage referendum.
Mark Barry, 59, wiped away tears as he took in the result with his partner of 35 years, Gerrard Boller.
"I know a celebrant who is going to be very happy about this," Barry told Reuters.
Irish-born Qantas Airways Chief Executive Alan Joyce, one of the few openly gay business leaders in Australia, told the Sydney crowd, many of whom sheltered from the sun under rainbow umbrellas, that the result was "an amazing outcome" and urged Turnbull to move quickly on legislation.
Turnbull has been under pressure amid a citizenship crisis that has cost him his deputy and the government's majority in parliament and political analysts said the resounding "yes" vote presented him with his first opportunity in months to exert decisive control.
Nick Economou, a political scientist at Monash University, said Turnbull "should feel emboldened by the result and this is the sort of thing he has been looking for to show some assertive leadership".
The 'no' campaign had sought to leverage powerful religious organisations in a survey campaign that was criticised by some in the 'yes' camp as divisive and aggressive.
Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher said he was "deeply disappointed that the likely result will be legislation to further deconstruct marriage and family in Australia".
On the strength of the "yes" vote, conservatives dropped a plan for a competing bill that would have allowed private businesses to refuse services like wedding cakes for same-sex weddings by objecting on religious grounds.
Published on Reuters on November 15, 2017
More than 2 million people across Mozambique, especially in the southern and central regions, have been affected by severe drought since 2015. The prolonged crisis has exhausted household food stock, disrupted lives and livelihood. For Mozambican women and girls, who are primarily responsible for managing food and water for their families, the drought has also meant increased work burden and earlier marriages, leading to lost childhood, education and opportunities.
“My wish is to be able to influence other girls so that they don’t drop out of school,” shared Guelsa Chivodze, who was married off at 17 years of age. For years, she took care of the household and endured physical and financial abuse.
My husband refused to allow me to go to night school because he thought I would meet boyfriends there... After all that I have gone through in my life, I took it upon myself to become an activist in my community and raise awareness of other girls about the need to go to school and defend themselves against child marriage and gender-based violence,” adds Chivodze.
For Chivodze, the chance for a new beginning came after her husband was convicted of criminal offences. Today, at 30 years of age, she has gone back to school. She studies at the Guiljá Secondary School in the Chinhacanine village in Gaza, a southern province of Mozambique, where UN Women has supported efforts that mobilized students, teachers and parents’ associations to end violence against women and girls. She aspires to become a nurse, and help survivors of gender-based violence.
Chivodze’s older brother, Helónio Chivoze, is her hero. He provides financial support for Chivodze and her two boys, and encourages her to complete her education and become self-reliant. “My dream is to have Guelsa become a professional, and stop looking for marriage to sustain her family,” he says. But the drought is making it difficult to meet all the expenses: “I used to farm 2015 cattle before. But since the drought, I am left with only 37 cattle and I lost 12 hectares of crop,” he says.
In a context where early and forced marriages were already prevalent, The prolonged drought and the accompanying economic hardships have led to more parents marrying off their girls early because there would be one less mouth to feed. In Mozambique, 48 per cent of girls are married before age 18 and 14 per cent are married before age 15.
Glória Mabunda’s life was similarly impacted. A survivor of violence from Chinhacainine village, Guijá District, Gaza Province, Mozambique (southern region of Mozambique), she was forced to leave school in grade seven because she was pregnant.
“In my community, men seldom let their women go to school for fear of women’s empowerment and change in the power relations,” said Mabunda, who now empowers girls and young women in her community.
“When they marry a young woman, it is a lifetime of deprivation and abject poverty [for the girl/woman] from the very onset of marriage. Physical and financial violence is the following stage,” she added.
“It is essential that we understand the relationships between the effects of climate change and the persistence of violence against women, including through harmful socio-cultural practices such as child marriage. Integrating these gender issues in our disaster and humanitarian response is about doing our job right,” stressed Ondina da Barca Vieira, UN Women Programme Specialist in Mozambique.
Mabunda and Chivodze are among the lucky few who got a second chance at education and opportunities, after early marriages.
At age 34, Mabunda finally divorced her husband because he wouldn’t allow her to complete her studies. She took over her mother’s poultry farm in 2016, after attending a UN Women-supported training delivered by the Mozambican Institute for Agrarian Research, which taught poultry farming management techniques to rural women. “I want to grow my poultry farming business, be a role model and help other young women and girls in my community empower themselves,” she says.
In 2014, with support from the Government of Belgium, UN Women implemented the project, “Expanding Women’s Role in Agricultural Production and Natural Resource Management,” to combat climate change and improve food security in Mozambique. The project empowered rural women, as well as men, but by providing training and agricultural benefits to women, it challenged the pervasive gender stereotypes that denied women equal opportunities.
As Inês Zitha, a community animal health worker based in Djavanhane, in the district of Guijá, Gaza, explains, women were not expected to work with cattle; it was perceived as a man’s job. In a region where livestock is one of the most valuable assets, it’s an important job.
“They said that women should not get into cattle stables… if a woman entered a stable during her menstrual cycle, it would reduce the livestock’s productivity. After attending the trainings and awareness sessions supported by UN Women, I realized that it was a power relations issue,” says Zitha.
With the revenue from her business, Zitha can now pay for her daughter to attend school, and has started building her own house to replace the one destroyed by a cyclone. She is among 200 rural women from the southern province of Gaza, who directly benefited from the project.
In the course of three years, the project has resulted in more women securing land tenure rights, civil registration and licenses for their businesses. As empowered, economically resilient women, they are setting better examples for girls and women in their communities and showing that early marriage is not the only way out.
Published on UN Women on November 8, 2017
By Peter Edelman
In the United States, a system of modern peonage – essentially, a government-run loan shark operation – has been going on for years. Beginning in the 1990s, the country adopted a set of criminal justice strategies that punish poor people for their poverty. Right now in America, 10 million people, representing two-thirds of all current and former offenders in the country, owe governments a total of $50bn in accumulated fines, fees and other impositions.
The problem of “high fines and misdemeanors” exists across many parts of the country: throughout much of the south; in states ranging from Washington to Oklahoma to Colorado; and of course in Ferguson, Missouri, where, in the wake of the killing of Michael Brown, revelations about the systematic criminalization of the city’s poor black residents brought these issues to national attention.
As a result, poor people lose their liberty and often lose their jobs, are frequently barred from a host of public benefits, may lose custody of their children, and may even lose their right to vote. Immigrants, even some with green cards, can be subject to deportation. Once incarcerated, impoverished inmates with no access to paid work are often charged for their room and board. Many debtors will carry debts to their deaths, hounded by bill collectors and new prosecutions.
Mass incarceration, which has disproportionately victimized people of color from its beginning in the 1970s, set the scene for this criminalization of poverty. But to understand America’s new impulse to make being poor a crime, one has to follow the trail of tax cuts that began in the Reagan era, which created revenue gaps all over the country.
The anti-tax lobby told voters they would get something for nothing: the state or municipality would tighten its belt a little, it would collect big money from low-level offenders, and everything would be fine.
Deep budget cuts ensued, and the onus of paying for our justice system – from courts to law enforcement agencies and even other arms of government – began to shift to the “users” of the courts, including those least equipped to pay.
Exorbitant fines and fees designed to make up for revenue shortfalls are now a staple throughout most of the country. Meanwhile, white-collar criminals get slaps on the wrist for financial crimes that ruin millions of lives. Though wealthy scofflaws owe a cumulative $450bn in back taxes, fines and fees from the justice system hit lower-income people – especially people of color – the hardest.
“Broken windows” law enforcement policy – the idea that mass arrests for minor offenses promote community order – aided and abetted this new criminalization of poverty, making the police complicit in the victimization of the poor. Community policing turned into community fleecing. Enforcing “quality of life” rules was touted as a way to achieve civic tranquility and prevent more serious crime. What it actually did was fill jails with poor people, especially because those arrested could not pay for bail.
Budget cuts and the new criminalization have inflicted other cruelties as well. Under “chronic nuisance” ordinances created by underfunded police departments, women in some poor communities can be evicted for calling 911 too often to seek protection from domestic abuse.
Public school children, particularly in poor communities of color, are arrested and sent to juvenile and even adult courts for behavior that not long ago was handled with a reprimand. The use of law enforcement both to criminalize homelessness and to drive the homeless entirely out of cities is increasing, as municipalities enact ever more punitive measures due to shortages of funds for housing and other services.
In addition, low-income people are deterred from seeking public benefits by threats of sanctions for made-up allegations of benefits fraud. As elected officials have moved to the right, laws designed to keep people from seeking assistance have grown more common. Budget cuts have also led to the further deterioration of mental health and addiction treatment services, making the police the first responders and jails and prisons the de facto mental hospitals, again with a special impact on minorities and low-income people.
Racism is America’s original sin, and it is present in all of these areas of criminalization, whether through out-and-out discrimination, structural and institutional racism, or implicit bias. Joined together, poverty and racism have created a toxic mixture that mocks our democratic rhetoric of equal opportunity and equal protection under the law.
A movement to fight back is showing signs of developing. Organizers and some public officials are attacking mass incarceration, lawyers are challenging the constitutionality of debtors’ prisons and money bail, judicial leaders are calling for fair fines and fees, policy advocates are seeking repeal of destructive laws, more judges and local officials are applying the law justly, and journalists are covering all of it.
The Obama administration’s Department of Justice stepped into the fray on a number of fronts. Ferguson was a spark that turned isolated instances of activism into a national conversation and produced numerous examples of partnerships between advocates and decision-makers.
Now we must turn all of that into a movement. The ultimate goal, of course, is the end of poverty itself. But as we pursue that goal, we must get rid of the laws and practices that unjustly incarcerate and otherwise damage the lives of millions who can’t fight back. We must fight mass incarceration and criminalization of poverty in every place where they exist, and fight poverty, too.
We must organize – in neighborhoods and communities, in cities and states, and nationally. And we must empower people to advocate for themselves as the most fundamental tool for change.
Published on The Guardian on November 6, 2017
By Charles Anderson
New Zealand’s new government is considering creating a visa category to help relocate Pacific peoples displaced by climate change.
The new category would make official the Green party’s pre-election policy which promised 100 visas for those affected by climate change.
As part of the new Labour-led coalition government, the Green party leader James Shaw was given the role of climate change minister.
He told Radio New Zealand on Tuesday that “an experimental humanitarian visa category” could be implemented for people from the Pacific who are displaced by rising seas resulting from climate change.
“It is a piece of work that we intend to do in partnership with the Pacific islands,” Shaw said.
Before the election, the Greens also proposed increasing New Zealand’s overall refugee quota from 750 each year to 4,000 places over six years.
Shaw’s announcement comes after the New Zealand immigration and protection tribunal rejected two families from Tuvalu who applied to become refugees in New Zealand due to the impact of climate change.
The families argued rising sea levels, lack of access to clean and sanitary drinking water and Tuvalu’s high unemployment rate as reasons for seeking asylum.
The tribunal ruled they did not risk being persecuted by race, religion, nationality or by membership of a political or religious group under the 1951 refugee convention.
International environmental law expert Associate Professor Alberto Costi, of Victoria University, told the Guardian that the current convention could not accommodate environmental refugees. “The conditions are pretty strict and really apply to persecution. These people who arrive here hoping to seek asylum on environmental grounds are bound to be sent back to their home countries.”
In 2014 Ioane Teitiota, from Kiribati, made headlines after he applied in New Zealand to become the world’s first climate change refugee “on the basis of changes to his environment in Kiribati caused by sea level rise associated with climate change”.
The case was dismissed by New Zealand’s supreme court and Teitiota was deported the following year.
Costi acknowledged Shaw’s proposal would allow that gap in the refugee convention to be filled but said the problem would be legally determining whether an environmental migrant was still able to live in their home country.
“I have sympathy but legally it creates a big debate. There needs to be clear guidelines.”
Costi said there would be a difference in an application from someone from Tarawa in Kiribati, where conditions are obviously worsening every year, to those whose countries are only affected seasonally.
“It’s an idea to be explored. I would welcome more clarity.”
Published on The Guardian on October 31, 2017.