Justice for Rasmea Odeh

(Editors’ Note: To learn more about Rasmea Odeh’s case, listen to an engaging interview with Nadine Naber on KPFA)

by Nadine Naber
(originally published at Middle East Research and Information Project)

This past wintrasmeaodeher, I was privileged to participate in several events in Chicago organized by Rasmea Yousef Odeh, associate director of the Arab American Action Network and leader of that group’s Arab Women’s Committee. The events brought together anywhere from 60-100 disenfranchised women, all recent immigrants, from nearly every Arabic-speaking country. The attendees were there to learn English, share meals and stories, and discuss personal struggles, in everything from marriage and parenting to navigating the US educational and medical industries and the US immigration system. The women also talked about fending off racism. Together, they developed solutions for their own lives.

One event I attended was a celebration of International Women’s Day, at which immigrant women performed a play that Rasmea Odeh had written. The play focused on several generations of women in an extended Arab immigrant family who grappled with gender-related struggles both in the family and in American society with recourse to their loving but often tense connections with one another. The audience was engrossed, laughing and commenting throughout the performance, perhaps because they rarely see their own life struggles thus affirmed in America. Rarely, in fact, do they see humane, nuanced representations of Arab women’s lives at all.

After the play, attendees listened to music and celebrated their own accomplishments. Several women were from countries like Yemen and Iraq and had come to the United States without knowing a word of English. They could now read and write. Odeh asked each of her students to bring something they had written in English to be read out loud. The first woman stood up and read: “I love my teacher.”

As the event went on, women spoke over and over about the affection and gratitude they felt toward Rasmea Odeh for touching and transforming their lives and making such a beautiful space possible. I then understood why scores of women were attending each class, workshop or event — even though they were under no obligation to do so and even though many had to walk by themselves through a polar vortex snowstorm (in Chicago, no less) to get there.

I could not help but recall the scenes at the Arab Women’s Committee events some months later, in May, at a historic Chicago conference in commemoration of the 1964 Freedom Summer, when civil rights icon Angela Davis insisted that every social justice activist in the US embrace solidarity with Palestine and the movement demanding that the US government drop its charges against Rasmea Odeh.

Charges? What charges? Why would the US government want to prosecute this 67-year old Palestinian-American community activist and teacher?

On October 22, 2013, also in Chicago, Department of Homeland Security agents arrested Odeh. She was subsequently indicted on one charge of unlawful procurement of naturalization, and released the same day on a $15,000 bond. The US government accuses Odeh of failing to answer a question truthfully on her naturalization application ten years ago in 2004. She is scheduled to stand trial in a Detroit federal court starting on September 8, 2014. If convicted, she could face up to ten years in prison and fines up to $250,000. She may also be deported and have her US citizenship revoked after the potential prison sentence is served. From national call in-days to student protests, petitions and mobilizations to pack the courtroom, a campaign to support Odeh has gained massive support.

US officials say they are after Odeh for immigration fraud. The Department of Justice alleges that Odeh failed to disclose on her naturalization application that she had served time in Israeli jail — even though her sentence was based on a confession she made in the midst of 45 days of sexual and physical torture while in detention. In addition, Odeh’s 1969 conviction in Israel was determined by a court system that systematically abuses Palestinians’ due process rights and convicts Palestinians at a rate of 99.74 percent. The Israeli military justice system that is applied to occupied Palestinians, in fact, has itself been found to be in immense violation of international law — from the lack of protections against torture and rape while in custody to the simple fact that virtually no Palestinian walks away free from an Israeli trial. The Israeli state also unlawfully imprisoned and tortured Odeh’s family and destroyed her family home soon after her arrest.

Odeh’s release from Israeli jail was followed by exile to Jordan and immigration to the US. Living in Michigan and Chicago since 1994, she has worked at the Arab American Action Network since the mid-2000s and led the Arab Women’s Committee, one of the most successful empowerment programs for Arab immigrant women living in poverty. For this service, Odeh received the Mosaic Award for Outstanding Community Service from the Chicago Cultural Alliance. Thanks to her leadership, the Arab Women’s Committee now has a base of nearly 600 Arab immigrant women and does much more than the typical social service program. Women may obtain language training and other services, but they also come to find emotional support, genuine human interaction, artistic and writing activities, political discussion and debate, and a level of solidarity otherwise absent from their lives.

The question remains: Why is Rasmea Odeh being prosecuted, and why now, for an alleged infraction that is a full decade old? Analysts connect her arrest with many previous US government campaigns against Palestinian-American activists and their supporters. Under the Nixon administration, there was Operation Boulder. The case of the Los Angeles Eight outlasted three (and almost four) presidents before it was finally set aside. Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, there has been increased spying, profiling and infiltration of Arab and Muslim communities and there have been prosecutions for sending charitable aid to Palestinians, as in the case of theHoly Land Five.

In all of these cases, as in Odeh’s, what the US government considers suspect is connected to what Palestinian-Americans and their supporters are permitted to say about Israel — and to Israel’s own systems of militarism, surveillance, repression and incarceration. There may also be a connection between Odeh’s indictment and the 2010 FBI raids targeting 23 anti-war and Palestine solidarity activists in the Midwest. And Palestine Solidarity Legal Support responded to more than 100 more incidents in 2013 alone. These incidents involve not only extra government scrutiny but also all sorts of intimidation and bullying. The Odeh indictment may also be related to the US government’s Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program, which delays and denies naturalization applications of members of Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian communities, solely on the basis of religion, ethnicity and/or national origin.

But again, why Rasmea Odeh, and why now? Why now, when so many Arab immigrant women in Chicago are celebrating their personal successes in America partly due to Odeh’s remarkable leadership? Why now, when the Palestinian struggle, typified by the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, is growing faster than ever before in Chicago and across the US?

We may never really know why, but this much is clear: The federal government is using immigration infractions as a political tool to target Rasmea Odeh with criminal charges. The circumstances of her case are especially aggravating: 1) Israel tortures and sexually assaults Palestinians like Odeh as a means of facilitating the colonization of Palestinian land; 2) the US is complicit going back decades in Israeli war crimes and violations of international law; and 3) the US is now excavating the naturalization papers of a 67-year old survivor of sexual torture in order to brand her as a criminal.

These circumstances are why the streets of Detroit will be filled and the courtroom packed on September 8. From now until then, the collective voice of those whose lives Rasmea has touched, and the growing number of others who support her, will continue to demand: Drop the charges now!

For more information on this case and how to support Rasmea Odeh, see here and here.

National Action to Free Marissa Alexander: Urge the State to Drop the Case!

PLEASE FORWARD WIDELY!

From Free Marissa Now:

National Action: Urge the State to Drop the Case! 

Have you heard the good news out of Florida? The Appeals Court threw out the guilty verdict in the Marissa Alexander case, citing a “fundamental error” in the jury instructions which unjustly required Marissa to prove her innocence, depriving her of a fair trial.

In mid-October, State Prosecutor Angela Corey will decide whether to drop the case or set a new trial date. We say drop the case! 

October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month – a perfect time to draw attention to how Marissa’s experience of domestic violence and incarceration exemplifies the widespread racial and gender bias in our criminal justice system.

We are asking you to send letters and/or call Angela Corey and encourage her to seek Justice, not a Conviction! Please send copies of your message to Attorney General Pam Bondi and Governor Rick Scott so that they know the strength of public opinion on this issue.

The sample letter below may help you get started.

— Free Marissa Now
FreeMarissaNow@gmail.com
facebook.com/FreeMarissaNow
http://freemarissanow.tumblr.com/

***

SAMPLE LETTER (download as pdf!):

Name __________________________

Address_________________________

_______________________________

Email __________________________

Dear Ms. Corey:

You have an opportunity to allow an innocent person to go free without further cost to the state of Florida and without further trauma to this woman and her family. I encourage you to drop the charges against Marissa Alexander, rather than pursuing a new trial which, if justice is served, will result in a not-guilty verdict.

Marissa Alexander was a victim of domestic violence who acted in self-defense by taking the only action she saw possible at that moment – an action that injured no one. Her case shines a light on how black women in domestic violence situations are often doubly victimized when they seek justice. Ms. Alexander has experienced at least two traumatic events: the first is being repeatedly abused by her husband, the second is being prosecuted and sentenced to prison for defending herself from that abuse.

Ms. Alexander’s experience bears out the fact that women of color are arrested more often than white women when police arrive on the scene of a domestic violence incident.

For this reason, fewer than 17% of black women call the police for fear they will be further victimized by the police or the courts. By allowing Marissa Alexander to be sentenced to 20 years for self-defense, you have given the message to women everywhere that if they defend their lives, they will be also targeted by police and prosecutors.

There is a widespread stereotype that survivors who fight for their lives, particularly if they are black women, are “too aggressive” and not genuine victims. This stereotype was carried out to such an extent in Marissa Alexander’s case that the whole premise of innocent until proven guilty was reversed, as the Appeals Court found.

Please do the right thing by stopping any further prosecution of this innocent mother and daughter. Drop the case, dismiss all charges, and free Marissa Alexander!

______________________________

Signature

***

Send your letter to the following addresses:
(Hard copies make more of an impact!)

Angela Corey, State Attorney
Courthouse Annex
220 East Bay Street
Jacksonville, FL 32202
Phone: 904-630-2400
Fax: 904-630-2938
Email: sao4th@coj.net

Office of Attorney General Pam Bondi
State of Florida
The Capitol PL-01
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1050
Phone: 850-414-3300 or 850-414-3990
Fax: 850-410-1630
Email: http://myfloridalegal.com/contact.nsf/contact?Open&Section=Citizen_Services

Office of Governor Rick Scott
State of Florida
The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001
Phone: 850-717-9337 or 850-488-7146
Email: rick.scott@eog.myflorida.com

***

Read INCITE!’s endorsement of the call to Free Marissa Alexander.

Transformative Justice and the Trayvon Martin Case: A Consideration

The fantastic Project Nia in Chicago recently organized a panel that considered radical alternative responses to the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin that do not rely on prisons and policing.  We’ve embedded the audio from the panel above and the description of the panel is below.  Beth Richie, panelist and co-founder of INCITE!, references the 2001 INCITE!/Critical Resistance Statement on Gender Violence and the Prison Industrial Complex as an important tool for imagining and developing organizing strategies to address violence.  For more info about that statement, visit this webpage.

Transformative Justice and the Trayvon Martin Case: A Consideration:

After the not-guilty verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman for killing 17-year old Trayvon Martin, some are asking what “justice” would look like for Trayvon. The conversation about whether the criminal legal system is the ‘best’ way to seek accountability for harm has been ongoing for several years. It continues in the wake of this trial. Some outstanding questions include:
1. What would transformative justice look like in this case?
2. How do prison abolitionists respond to the George Zimmerman trial?

Panelists include Erica Meiners, Beth Richie, Traci Schlesinger, and was moderated by Mariame Kaba.  More about the panelists here.

INCITE! supports the call to FREE MARISSA ALEXANDER!

INCITE! SUPPORTS THE CALL TO FREE MARISSA ALEXANDER!

  • Because we support black women’s right to self defense and support the call for freedom of Patreese Johnson, the last incarcerated member of the New Jersey 7, and CeCe McDonald in Minneapolis, MN,
  • and because we condemn the FBI’s continued and escalated pursuit of Assata Shakur,
  • and because collaboration programs between ICE and local police, such as Secure Communities (S-COMM), endanger the lives of undocumented immigrant survivors of violence,
  • and because law enforcement agencies routinely fail to respond to violence against Native women, allowing others to violate them with impunity,
  • and because organizers had to sue Louisiana to remove black women and LGBT people charged with prostitution from the state’s sex offender registry,
  • and because stop-and-frisk against women of color, including trans women of color, is state-enforced sexual harassment,
  • and because doctors pressure and coerce inmates in California women’s prisons to get sterilized as a cost-cutting measure,
  • and because the US is a prison nation that not only cages the most people in the world, but extends punishment and surveillance into the daily lives of low income women of color and our communities in the US and abroad,
  • and because we mourn the horrific murder of Trayvon Martin and send love, strength, and solidarity to his family and community,
  • and because we honor all of the women, queer, and trans people of color who have been attacked, brutalized, or murdered and who have been given no opportunity for redress or public recognition,
  • and because we call on our communities to support survivors of domestic and sexual violence and develop transformative community-based responses to violence so we aren’t forced to rely on an abusive criminal punishment system for safety and accountability…

Because of all of these reasons, INCITE! endorses the call to FREE MARISSA ALEXANDER from prison immediately.  Marissa Alexander is a black mother of three and survivor of domestic violence from Jacksonville, FL.  In August 2010, she fired a warning shot in the wall to defend herself from a life-threatening beating from her estranged husband.  She had just given birth to a premature baby nine days before.  Despite the fact that Marissa Alexander caused no injuries and has no previous criminal record, and despite the fact that Florida’s self-defense law includes the right to “Stand Your Ground,” she was subsequently arrested, prosecuted, and sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison.  She plans to appeal.  More details on her experience can be found here and this pdf download.  The treatment of Marissa Alexander is a consequence of the growing crisis of prisons and policing in the US as well as a product of anti-black racism and sexism which drives individuals and institutions to punish black women when they defend themselves from violence. Her case is one of many that shows us how black women and other marginalized people are especially likely to be blamed and criminalized while trying to navigate and survive the conditions of violence in their lives.  We call all members of anti-violence, reproductive justice, and anti-police/prison movements and our allies to also support the call to Free Marissa Alexander!

TAKE ACTION!


ORGANIZE
 to free Marissa Alexander!  Hold rallies, do a banner drop, have house parties, blog, write letters, organize workshops, make art, fundraise and donate, and sign this petition.  Visit http://freemarissanow.tumblr.com/action for more ideas.

Urge your campus, organization, faith community, collective, union, or business to ENDORSE the call to Free Marissa Alexander: tiny.cc/EndorseFreeMarissa

CONNECT with the global campaign to Free Marissa Now at freemarissanow.tumblr.com, facebook.com/FreeMarissaNow, and e-mail at FreeMarissaNow@gmail.com.

Thank you for all you do to create communities and movements based on radical freedom, mutual accountability, and passionate reciprocity!

Image

Art by Melanie Cervantes at Dignidad Rebelde
Download in high resolution

FREE PATREESE JOHNSON!

A message from the Bay NJ4 Committee:

Dear friends and comrades,

Patreese Johnson of the New Jersey 4 is coming home in August after 7 years of incarceration by the State of New York. She will be released on parole with a felony charge on her record.

For those who may not remember the details of this case, On August 18, 2006, seven young African American lesbians traveled to New York City from their homes in Newark for a regular night out. When walking down the street, a man sexually propositioned one of the women. After refusing to take no for an answer, he assaulted them. The women tried to defend themselves, and a fight broke out. The women were charged with Gang Assault in the 2nd degree, a Class C Felony with a mandatory minimum of 3.5 years. Patreese Johnson was additionally charged with 1st Degree Assault. Three of the women accepted plea offers. On June 14th, 2007 Venice Brown (19), Terrain Dandridge (20), Patreese Johnson (20), and Renata Hill (24) received sentences ranging from 3 1⁄2 to 11 years in prison.

We in the Bay NJ4 Solidarity Committee need your help in spreading the word about her release and promoting various ways of helping throw down for her reentry and legal defense needs, as a civil suit is also still pending. Please repost links and information to your blogs, networks, listserves, tumblrs, etc.

Please do what you can to let folks know about a go fund me campaign online where everyone is encouraged to contribute. The link is http://www.gofundme.com/2xjwpg

Also, for those in the San Francisco Bay Area, the NJ4 solidarity committee is having a happy hour fundraiser at El Rio on June 14th from 4-6. The committee would love to reconnect with folks and hear about your work as well.

With Appreciation,
The NJ4 Solidarity Committee: Cynthia, Deeg, Eric, Io, Ralowe, Tory, Xan

More about the New Jersey 4 (also known as the New Jersey 7):
http://www.incite-national.org/media/docs/9908_toolkitrev-nj7.pdf

Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation

Black feminist anti-violence activist, professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and INCITE! co-founder, Beth E. Richie, released a powerful new book entitled Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation.

Girl Talk will host a discussion with Beth on Thursday, June 21st from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m at Depaul University Student Center, 2250 N. Sheffield Ave, Room 324, Chicago, IL.

Here is an excerpt from an interview with Beth at Salon.com about  the relationship between dominant anti-domestic/sexual violence efforts and the “prison nation.”

You describe the U.S. as a “prison nation.” What do you mean by that?

The prison nation, which is a broader concept than the prison industrial complex, for me represents the combination of both incarceration in the literal sense – an influx of people into the criminal legal system in all of its apparatus: jails, prisons, detention centers, etc. … [It is an] increase in arrest and removal of people from their communities into facilities, but it also represents the ideological shift and policy changes that use criminalization and punishment as a response to a whole range of social problems. Not just crime, but also things like policing people who are on welfare, using the child protective services system to control families, the ways that schools have become militarized. So it’s a broad notion of using the arm of the law to control people, especially people who are disadvantaged and come from disadvantaged communities.

How does this affect violence against black women?

It’s kind of an interesting parallel and a convolution of things. Anti-violence work has been going on in this country for years and years, and many people see the early 1990s as the time when there were big shifts in public consciousness about the problem of violence against women, as well as changes in policies that really took the crime of violence against women – domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, etc. – more seriously. So there were new laws, there were more sanctions, police were trained, domestic violence courts were opened up – there were a lot of policy changes that made the problem of violence against women a crime. And a lot of that harsh sanctioning of violence against women really grew out of, not feminist organizing to end the problem of violence against women, but a parallel criminalization of everything. The Violence Against Women Act really lined up right against the other crime bills that were passed primarily in the mid-1990s. So on the one hand, this is good news for anti-violence activists, in terms of criminalizing violence against women. But on the other hand, these crimes disproportionately impacted black communities, and so it was kind of a mixed result for African-American people. It created a schism, especially for African-American women, but also I think for African-American families and communities more generally, because we were taking position against mass incarceration at the same time that mass incarceration was being used as a tool to respond to the crime of violence against women.

This is an interesting development given the “everywoman” emphasis of the ’60s feminist anti-violence movement — which argued that all women, regardless of race and class, were vulnerable to domestic violence. 

Yes. We began doing training to try to raise public consciousness and make public the private care of domestic and sexual violence, in particular, by saying: This is not an isolated problem, it can happen to any women; it’s not just an issue for poor families or families of color. So — regardless of your religion, your race or ethnicity, your income, what region of the country you live in, what age you were … it didn’t matter what you wore, it didn’t matter if you didn’t cook well – there was nothing demographically or behaviorally that would protect women from male violence. We used that as a kind of anchor to our analysis: It can happen to any woman. And I think we were successful, at least initially, in making sure that it wasn’t another stigmatizing problem that was associated with other social problems of poverty and racism, etc. And people heard us. There was an increase in general public consciousness, and in particular, there was an increase in attention to the problem of violence against women by power elites – by executive decision-makers at corporations, elected officials, presidents of universities.

And when power elites started paying attention to it, they took seriously what could happen to women in their social context and started designing services for and passing laws that would protect women in their social context. So it became ultimately paradoxically kind of a narrowing of an understanding of the problem. That white middle-class or wealthy heterosexual married women or women on elite college campuses were at risk of violence against women and the attention, the resources, the analysis, went toward protecting those women at the expense of women who didn’t fall into those more normative categories. So it became hard to understand how a prostitute could be raped, for example. Or how a woman who is a substance abuser could be battered in her household. It became a sense of victimization tied to a sympathetic image of who could be hurt and how terrible it was that those women were hurt, as opposed to the real everywoman that we were trying to argue for.

You can find the full interview here.