Marissa artwork by Molly Crabapple; Nan-Hui artwork by Dillon Sung

Free Marissa Now and Stand With Nan-Hui: A Conversation About Parallel Struggles

Marissa Alexander is a Black mother of three and a survivor of domestic violence from Jacksonville, Florida. She was prosecuted and threatened with 60 years in prison for defending her life from her abusive husband. She spent three-years behind bars and, beginning January 27, 2015, she is serving a sentence of two years of house detention while being forced to wear and pay for a surveillance ankle monitor.

Nan-Hui Jo is also a survivor of domestic violence who was convicted of child abduction after fleeing her abusive partner with her young daughter to her home country of South Korea. She has been incarcerated since July 2014, and has spent the last 3 months in immigration detention awaiting deportation proceedings. She has not seen her daughter since her arrest, and now faces the possibility of permanent separation from her.

Alisa Bierria, a member of the Free Marissa Now Mobilization Campaign and a member of INCITE! and Hyejin Shim, an organizer with the Stand with Nan-Hui Campaign and a member of Korean American Coalition to End Domestic Abuse (KACEDA) came together with Mimi Kim and Emi Kane of INCITE! to reflect on the common political ties between two women of color surviving the intersections of domestic violence, the U.S. carceral system and immigration control.

MK: Thanks everybody. I just wanted to start with the question, how did you first get involved in working on your specific campaigns? Alisa, I’ll start with you.

AB: I heard about Marissa’s case in 2012. She was one of those rare domestic violence cases that received mainstream media attention. She is based in Florida and unsuccessfully tried to invoke the Stand Your Ground law, which had a high profile due to the law’s influence on George Zimmerman’s acquittal after he murdered Trayvon Martin. So the public juxtaposed Zimmerman’s acquittal with Marissa Alexander’s 20 year mandatory minimum sentence. I was watching that play out and thinking about it in the context of other self defense cases—specifically, Cece McDonald in Minneapolis and the New Jersey 4—Black women who were attacked and, because they defended their lives, they were prosecuted and incarcerated. I started making some phone calls to investigate, and I learned that there was a beginning coalition of people around the country who were trying to get a campaign off the ground. [This amazing team included Sumayya Coleman, African American/Black Women’s Cultural Alliance; Helen Gilbert, Radical Women; and Aleta Alston Toure, New Jim Crow Movement.] So I started slow, but then it got fast! The more time builds, the more you committed you become, just to see it all the way through.

MK: What was it that first struck you and made you think that “I really need to get involved in this?”

AB: It’s really rare that domestic violence victims who are prosecuted for anything have a national profile because domestic violence is not politically interesting to most people. They think of it as a social service problem or some kind of pathology issue. It was such an opportunity to talk about domestic violence, Black women, the prison industrial complex and self-defense on a national level.

The #BlackLivesMatter call to action began in the shadow of the horrific murder of Trayvon Martin. Because Marissa’s case was often juxtaposed with Trayvon’s (and Jordan Davis’) murder, it received national attention, yet we weren’t really seeing a lot of gender analysis at that time. Also, for years INCITE! had been identifying these intersections that Marissa Alexander’s case was demonstrating so clearly, and it just became such an opportunity for us to show how the analysis was playing out in this woman’s case. This woman who some people actually knew about.

MK: Hyejin, how did you first get involved with the campaign to free Nan-Hui Jo?

HS: I got involved because of KACEDA, a small group of Korean women organizing around domestic violence. In the spring, we heard about the case from a former member who lived in Sacramento. There had been some organizing happening in the Korean church community for her. By this time she’d already gone through one trial that resulted in a hung jury. We learned that a retrial was about to begin—and that the situation was bad. She’d been incarcerated since July. She was denied bail because she was deemed a flight risk, was issued a no-contact order with her daughter, was under an ICE hold and had lost all parental rights. So there was really a sense of urgency when we started organizing. Her trial began on a Friday, and literally that week we began mobilizing. Another KACEDA member wrote a press release and I started making calls to figure out what was happening, kind of like you did, Alisa. I put a call out on Facebook to ask for help and said, look, there’s this domestic violence survivor who is being charged with kidnapping for fleeing abuse with her little girl. She’s lost all custody and has been in jail for the past 8 months. And she’s facing deportation. Come over tonight at 6. And people actually came! It all snowballed from there.

MK: I know that you also work with other domestic violence survivors in your work at Asian Women’s Shelter. I was wondering how this moved from being a case that you’d get on a crisis line to something that turned into a campaign. It sounds like it happened pretty quickly.

HS: I didn’t view this as a case where I’d be someone’s domestic violence advocate. At that point it was clear that what was needed most was not case management. What was needed was organizing. I didn’t feel like it was actually most useful for someone to be helping out in a direct services capacity, with prescribed roles and boundaries, especially because this person was being targeted so aggressively in an unpredictable and quickly-escalating situation.

The work that Free Marissa Now did, and the work that Black women and women of color have been doing around domestic violence and criminalization for decades, made it apparent that this was connected to a larger pattern of survivors being targeted by the system. They are targeted by a racist, sexist system for their survival strategies, particularly with the idea that a survivor must always be a perfect victim. There’s this belief that a domestic violence survivor must always be the victim of crime, and the abuser is always the perpetrator of crime. So in a way there’s not that much room or analysis about what happens when the survivor is actually considered the “perpetrator of a crime,” even in the anti-violence movement. Instead, we’re taking cues from the state to tell us who real “victims” and “perpetrators” are. In this case you had “domestic violence experts” like the district attorney saying that this was not a domestic violence case. So then what? We needed to organize.

MK: Alisa, I see you nodding. It seems like what Hyejin was saying was resonating for you, as well. Do you want say a little more about that?

AB: Yeah, I’m thinking, “Thank goodness that Hyejin was on the other line,” because I have found it rare for folks who are in direct service organizations to have the capacity to imagine a response outside of the usual paradigm of either direct services or pro-criminalization. It’s so drilled. Those of us who work in the field, it takes such a significant capacity to do some paradigm shift in your own mind to say, “This is actually more of a community organizing project; she needs a big push for support and let’s go make a Facebook page.”

Domestic violence organizations were actually pressured by State Attorney Angela Corey to not publicly support Marissa Alexander. So, there’s not only an imagination problem but also a real material problem, because people are worried about their funding. One argument was that groups couldn’t risk their funding to support one person when they have this whole other group of victims to support. But my pushback was, well, who gets to be part of the larger set of victims that they’re serving? It’s not just about Marissa not having support, it is also about any survivor who is being prosecuted having access to full support. As long as organizations make choices based on what Angela Corey or other prosecutors want, they’re never going to have autonomy in terms of who they support. There will always be this barrier to services for survivors who are more vulnerable to criminalization—that is to say, Black women. It’s so important to not only understand the ways that court system and police and prisons are impacting survivors of domestic violence, devastating people’s lives and so on, but also the ways that many service organizations are prevented—or prevent themselves—from supporting criminalized survivors.

MK: Hyejin, did you see anything like that in the case of Nan-Hui Jo?

HS: There were some domestic violence orgs that were very reluctant to get on board, or who acted like they were sympathetic as individuals but said they couldn’t be sympathetic as an organization. So people were saying that they felt for her, but they couldn’t and wouldn’t do anything about it.

MK: What do you think were some of the factors they perceived as barriers?

HS: I can’t say more on dynamics between this district attorney and these domestic violence organizations right now, but I do wonder if the reliance of domestic violence orgs on the DA to prosecute batterers and thus legitimize domestic violence work is a barrier.

AB: There’s this powerful fear of punishment. If an organization has funders or donors that just want to “do good,” meaning they want to donate to a domestic violence organization but they don’t want to give money to an anti-deportation project, for example, that organization is scared to look too radical.

MK: How much do you think Nan-Hui’s and Marissa’s incarceration was a factor in some of our expected allies stepping away? Is there a reluctance because of a notion that they might not be deserving in some way because of their criminalization?

AB: I was on a conference call early on in the Free Marissa campaign. There was a woman on the call who is Black and known as an anti-violence expert. She asked if Marissa was really a “genuine” survivor of domestic violence because she had heard that her husband had received a black eye from her. She didn’t ask about the context of that injury—which came about as a result of self-defense—she went straight to, “Is she telling the truth?” I couldn’t even speak. Because if we’re in a situation where this person—who should be the easiest ally in the world—is saying this really problematic stuff on this call, I don’t know how we’re going to win. So I think we had to fight for allies. Allies did not come easy. I think we had to convince people.

MK: Hyejin, do you have anything that’s comparable so far?

HS: It’s been lucky that I’m working currently at a domestic violence shelter in SF, which has some more progressive allies. The case is not in our county, and I think that makes it easier for us to be more visible in our support. But one question that comes to mind is, what if it was the other way around? What if this was a campaign to prosecute a batterer instead? It’s just interesting to think about. Who would find that politically safe, safer than this campaign to free a survivor? And why? Just think about domestic violence organizations and the commotion around Ray Rice.

MK: To go along those lines, there has been some attention paid to Nan-Hui’s abusive ex-partner in this case. What are some of the ways that people have talked about him?

HS: It’s funny because in court, the DA was talking about him as someone who’d really cleaned up his act. Like, so he hadn’t been that responsible in the past and yes, there was that one time he got violent… but you know, he’s a veteran, and all he wants to do is be a good dad now. And, in the DA’s closing remarks, he said Nan-Hui was clearly the better parent all along, more competent, mature and responsible. But also that she was also manipulative, vengeful, and too competent, essentially, to be a real victim. There was just a lot of focus on characterizing her as just another sneaky Asian immigrant trying to cheat the system. He called her a “tiger mom” too. Her attempts to survive with her baby through abuse and an immensely confusing legal system were all looked at through this lens of racist criminalization.

MK: I think it’s interesting how they raised “tiger mom” as a stereotype that many people are now familiar with now—and the stereotype that people could associate with an Asian woman. How did you see stereotypes with Marissa Alexander play out, Alisa, in terms of Angela Corey or the people that were trying to detract from sympathy for her situation?

AB: The biggest pattern that we saw was this idea that she was too entitled—too entitled to live, too entitled to take control of her life. There was definitely blaming her for being in the abusive relationship to begin with. She’s not considered entitled to defend her life because of this notion that she created the conditions for this to happen in the first place. Also, that attitude works seamlessly with the narrative about “uppity” Black women, especially in the South. Marissa Alexander did not know her place. The rhetoric Corey used was not coincidental. Her office circulated this ugly handout to state politicians because some seemed sympathetic to Marissa’s case. It said on the top, “The truth about Marissa Alexander,“ and included Marissa’s mugshots at the top and rhetoric about why she should be incarcerated. So there is this very intentional, very racialized framing they used to support the prosecution. Corey politically benefits if the person she is prosecuting could never be understood as a “victim,” so she had her own agenda. It wasn’t just to be racist in general, but to achieve an end.

Corey also constantly exploited the children for the sake of her argument. There were children in the home when Marissa’s husband attacked her and she defended herself, and there was a concern that they could have been hurt in that encounter. Angela Corey had this habit of saying, “Those children – those boys – those Black boys, those young Black boys, were endangered by this woman who acted out of anger.” So it was really interesting how she co-opted the rhetoric around violence against Black boys to argue for the prosecution of this Black woman. It happened again in the final hearing when Marissa was finally released from prison to serve a two year term of house detention. The prosecutor put one of the children on the stand, he read a statement that seemed clearly written by that office and, in that statement, they invoked #blacklivesmatter! They totally co-opted it. So the child said, “Doesn’t my Black life matter?” and it was heartbreaking, devastating, enraging, and it made me want to throw my computer out the window.

MK: I know this isn’t the first time you’ve been talking together. Can you talk a little bit about how you found the connections between these two campaigns?

HS: From the beginning, I thought of Marissa. One, because it’s so recent, and two, because it was such strong organizing I saw on behalf of a survivor who was being criminalized. I went to the INCITE! conference this past year and saw that there was a Free Marissa Now session, and thought, “I have to go to that!” So, we got there really early because we were so excited. And as people were sharing the lessons learned, challenges, and the values that guided the organizing—the ways that y’all described Marissa and holding her humanity intact instead of letting her become just a political symbol—so much of what you shared really resonated with me. And I had been feeling very isolated before that. A lot of our analysis and the ability to do the work was made possible by yours. The connections were obvious, and it was also important to note the real similarities and differences. They were prosecuted similarly and anti-violence “allies” responded similarly. Yet Nan-Hui and Marissa are racialized and gendered in very different ways, and they were aggressively targeted accordingly—one for twenty years, the other for indefinite detention and deportation. There was a lot to share.

AB: We were so excited to meet y’all at COV4. I had heard about Nan-Hui’s case because within 48 hours, three friends sent me urgent emails about it. I was like, “Ok, I got it, Nan-Hui Jo.” And then we met – and I was like right! The famous Nan-Hui Jo, I know who she is! So it was moving to meet y’all, especially along with members of the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander. And I’d had a little bit of conversation with Nadine Naber in Chicago who’s working with the Justice for Rasmea Odeh campaign – which is, again, another kind of ballgame. But it is kindred in that it is a freedom campaign for a survivor of sexual and state violence. So it’s true—both cases are different in very important ways, certainly in the ways they’re racialized and gendered. And the geographic politics are really important as well. But I was also disturbed about the ways that they were similar. The fact of the pattern, the fact of the structural problem feels clearer and more urgent. Knowing that there was this powerful campaign going on, and knowing that we weren’t alone, was grounding. It situated our work in a different kind of way. So it was wonderful to meet y’all.

MK: The people that often get forgotten in these cases – is the children. I’ve been struck by the ways in which Nan-Hui Jo might be elevated but her daughter is like the secondary character. But she has obviously suffered so much and still is because of the ways that she’s lost her mother. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Courtesy of Nan-Hui Jo

Courtesy of Nan-Hui Jo

HS: It’s been deliberate to keep her child out of it, out of respect to Nan-Hui. But, of course, there’s a huge way that this child is being impacted. She’s on a plane with Mom coming to Hawaii one minute, and the next her mom gets arrested and is whisked away. And she won’t see her for another year or more… and now she’s in an environment where none of her caregivers are Korean or speak the language. What we’d heard in court was that the child had suffered a lot in those first months of transition, and couldn’t communicate with anyone except her bilingual therapist. She missed her mom. She was having panic attacks.

On the bright side they recently started contact through supervised phone calls, but sadly they can’t be in Korean. But of course, one thing that does get erased about domestic violence is how it impacts children, too.


MK: And she’s with the father right now?

HS: Yes, he has full custody.

MK: Did she have a relationship with him before her mother was detained and incarcerated?


HS:
Not since she was less than one year old. She’s six now.

AB: I think women victimized by domestic violence are disproportionately punished if they have children who are harmed. Look at the case of Tondalo Hall — her boyfriend seriously injured their child and he was sentenced to 2 years in prison. Then they prosecuted Tondalo who received a devastating 30 year sentence. We have this idea that mothers are privileged when it comes to family court, and I really want to push back on that because I constantly see mothers being intensely punished. Particularly domestic violence victims.

MK: Alisa, could you reflect a little bit on the impact of the organizing on Marissa’s life and on social movements that are important to you?


AB:
We noticed that October is the month where there’s all this anti-police brutality action happening and it’s DV awareness month. And we were like, “Oh! What a coincidence.” So we put together this
handout that showed how domestic violence is a state violence issue using the analysis and the statistics. We distributed copies to our base and we urged people to make copies and bring them to DV awareness month and anti-policing events. And I think that that tradition should continue. I think we were able to identify opportunities, but you know, it wasn’t always easy. That said, so many people organized across the US and around the world to free Marissa, including making art, direct action, letter writing, fundraising, prayer circles, a caravan, coalition building, media advocacy…people really put their hearts and minds into this project.

MK: Same question for you, Hyejin? I know it’s a different situation for you—we don’t know if there will be something to celebrate and things are looking very difficult. But what do you think, right now. What are some impacts you’ve had on Nan-Hui Jo’s life and also on the larger movements?

HS: I think that with Nan-Hui… she has definitely seen a tangible difference since we’ve started organizing. And that has to do with the support that she feels from everyone, but it also has to do with gaining some real wins resulting from the organizing. Those wins include getting her some amazing legal representation for her immigration and criminal cases. She is also feeling seen and taken care of in a way that she wasn’t before. Before I know she was feeling very much isolated.

Though it’s still really hard, she says she doesn’t feel as lonely as she did. In the beginning she felt deeply afraid and alone. We’ve also formed a close relationship. I think it’s love and connection that will help get you through hard times, so I’m happy to be able to support her in multiple ways.

I’m not sure what kinds of larger impacts this might have, but my hope is that people will be able to make the connections more easily than they used to, and have a point of reference for people in our communities actually caring about domestic violence and criminalization. And I think one legacy of the Free Marissa organizing is that we don’t feel as alone. I see Marissa’s release, even with the terms that it’s on, as nothing short of a miracle. And I know this kind of miracle does not happen without so much work. These kinds of campaigns are incredibly time/resource intensive, and very emotional. So I hope that next time—because it will happen again—that there’s just more of a support network. That we are more aware of each other than we used to be. That the next time this happens we are more ready.

AB: Yeah. I also think that we have a lot of work to do to connect with other defense campaigns. There are a lot out there. One of the things we’ve been talking about is organizing a meeting with these organizers to do next steps. To do a more formal debriefing and visioning process of what comes next. I would really look forward to building on the solidarity of these two campaigns with many others.

HS: Yeah, absolutely. Another thing I want to add is that I think people do not see the ways that state violence can actually be leveraged as a way to abuse someone—that it is an extension of the domestic violence. It does count as abuse to intentionally criminalize your former partner in retaliation for self defense. It is violent to advocate for your ex-partner to receive the maximum sentence and get deported. The courts do not exist for “victims” alone. And in this case, her abuser is very much seen as the victim. Abusers sometimes make an effort to report the person they’re abusing for child abduction, domestic violence, or child abuse charges first, to retaliate, ruin their credibility, and reinforce a dynamic of control. It’s not some completely extraordinary thing. I work at a shelter; we know that sometimes batterers do these things to survivors we are actually housing. So I wish that part was more clear for people—that domestic violence doesn’t simply end with two people separating.

AB: Right. And these prosecutions extend domestic violence into the state and then the state legitimizes domestic violence. So…who’s the batterer? The batterer is the batterer, but now the batterer’s agenda is played out or taken up by the state, and the state is the batterer. And then it gets even more tricky when you look at things like mandatory policies. Mandatory arrest, mandatory minimums. Now it’s not even the judge, police officers or prosecutors, it’s just “the state.” Somebody somewhere passed a law, and now I have to go to prison for 20 years. There’s agency with no agent.

MK: Can we end with some words of appreciation for each other and the work of these campaigns?

HS: I have nice things that I want to say all the time. I appreciate how open and generous y’all have been, with both support and sharing your experiences. Organizing can feel very territorial at times. It’s been really great to just talk and bounce ideas around with you, and to think more about the future too. When this campaign ends, and it will end, and hopefully she’ll be free and here with her child… when it ends, all these problems we’ve talked about will still be there. And individual campaigns for everyone are just not possible. So what do we need to change so we’re not doing these fifteen years later?

AB: Right, I completely agree. So looking forward to figuring out how to strengthen that network and see how that can transform anti-domestic violence organizing in general. Thank you for saying all those nice things! I think it’s so important that the campaigns are independent from non-profits. And I think that might contribute to some of the openness that you’re talking about. I think it’s important to map the ways in which the campaigns are not institutionalized, which creates some level of freedom, even though having no staff is hard because they are, indeed, labor intensive. I think the Stand With Nan-Hui campaign has been brilliant, I’ve learned a lot from y’all. In addition to the question about what impact our work has had on existing social movements, we can also reflect on the movement that we built. Build on our own terms, with our own politics that we advanced, and with the base that we made. I’m excited about the potential impacts on social movements that I think the campaigns have created or can create in the future. So thank you so much for your political work.

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June 10: National Day of Action for Nan-Hui Jo

From #StandWithNanHui:

On Wednesday, June 10, join the National Day of Action for Nan-Hui and tell ICE: Release Nan-Hui so she can reunite with her daughter!

Now, more than ever, we need your support to demand that ICE release Nan-Hui immediately so she can reunite with her daughter. Despite the fact that Nan-Hui has multiple immigration applications pending, including a VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) petition, ICE is still rushing to deport her. Recently, ICE filed a motion to cancel her immigration court hearing scheduled for August. Why is ICE so intent on deporting a mother away from her daughter?

Meanwhile, Nan-Hui continues to pass the weeks in a detention center that does not get any sunlight, where inmates are not even allowed outdoors to exercise.

Will you join us in taking action for Nan-Hui Jo and her six-year-old girl?

6/10/15 National Day of Action for Nan-Hui Jo

10am – 5pm PST, everywhere

Make calls, emails, and faxes to ICE!

Toolkit with scripts and resources coming soon.

Follow our Facebook event for more updates and details to come.

Organizations: Sign up here to get involved in the June 10th National Day of Action for Nan-Hui!

For questions, or to get involved, please contact standwithnanhui@gmail.com.

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#StandWithNanHui

#StandWithNanHui and Stop the Deportation! Reunite a Domestic Violence Survivor with Her Daughter!

The verdict is in.

After an aggressive retrial in Yolo County, CA, Nan-Hui Jo, devoted mother and survivor of domestic violence, has been convicted on charges of “child abduction.” Supporters of Nan-Hui are outraged and deeply saddened over this verdict. In light of this conviction, deportation proceedings may be imminent, which would result in permanent separation between Nan-Hui and her daughter.

Nan-Hui Jo (A 098 906 641) is currently at high risk for deportation. In 2009, Nan-Hui fled the United States with her infant daughter, Vitz Da, to escape the physical and emotional abuse of the child’s father,  Upon her escape, her ex-partner filed child abduction charges, for which Nan-Hui was tried twice. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have continued to leverage their institutional power to maintain an immigration hold and pursue deportation, which would permanently separate Nan-Hui from her daughter. 

When In July 2014, Nan-Hui re-entered the United States for a 3 month visit to Hawai’i with her daughter. At the airport, she was immediately arrested and forcibly separated from her child. Nan-Hui was tried five months later on alleged child abduction charges, resulting in in a hung jury..  Ignoring all evidence of domestic violence–including two calls to the police in Sacramento after her child’s father physically abused her and testimony from her former partner admitting to physical assault and threats–the Yolo County District Attorney aggressively pursued a retrial. Assistant District Attorney Steve Mount tried to paint Nan-Hui as an abuser in his cross examination, accusing her of leaving the country with her child in a malicious attempt to retaliate against her ex-partner. To smear her credibility, Mount refused to acknowledge Nan-Hui as a survivor of domestic violence, accusing her of being a “tiger mom” who was “clearly a very capable woman” and who knowingly exploited welfare and immigration systems. We see the District Attorney’s remarks for what they are: racist, anti-immigrant, and sexist tropes that have no place in a “justice system.” 

 The Yolo County DA, CBP, and ICE have done irreparable damage to Nan-Hui and Vitz Da. Mother and daughter have not been allowed to talk in over seven months. Nan-Hui has been imprisoned without bail and without due process since July 2014 because of the immigration hold, despite her status as a survivor and a pending U Visa application on file. Vitz Da is currently in the full custody of her former partner.

We stand with Nan-Hui against an unjust system that criminalizes survivors and immigrants, as well as separates families. We call on CBP and ICE to immediately release Nan-Hui and stop all deportation proceedings.  

 TAKE ACTION NOW TO #STANDWITHNANHUI:

1. Sign this petition for Nan-Hui directed to CBP Support Director Ricardo Scheller and ICE Field Director Craig Meyer. 

2. Make a QUICK phone call in support of Nan-Hui:

Call CBP Support Director Ricardo Scheller at (415) 782-9201 and ICE Field Director Craig Meyer at (415) 844-5512 ext. 4 to demand that CBP and ICE exercise its prosecutorial discretion to drop Nan-Hui’s case.

Sample Script: “I am calling to ask Director Scheller/Humphrey to drop the immigration hold against Ms. Nan-Hui Jo (A 098 906 641) and allow her to reunite with her six-year-old daughter. Ms. Jo is a survivor of domestic violence and her case should be considered under the parental interests directive. I ask that ICE/CBP exercise its prosecutorial discretion and drop Ms. Jo’s deportation case.”
 

4. Raise awareness on social media about Nan-Hui’s case. 

Click on the share buttons on this petition and Tweet about it and spread the word using hashtags #StandWithNanHui, #WeSurvived, and #Not1More..
 

In Solidarity,
Korean American Coalition to End Domestic Abuse (KACEDA)

Immigrant Youth Coalition (IYC)
Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus Advancing Justice (ALC)

(for a more complete list of organizations that have signed on to support Nan-Hui, please click here: http://www.kaceda.org/standwithnanhui/)

Language & Action back from hiatus!

Welcome back to Language & Action, a periodic collection of news about organizing, ideas, interventions, and opportunities, with an emphasis on the lives of women of color, trans people of color, and queer people of color.  We need your help to keep this feature going, so if you spot an amazing blog post, some under-reported news that you think really needs more attention, some critical info from organizing fronts, or just a question you want to chew on with others, please share it with us to post on the next L&A!  Send us an e-mail at incite.news@gmail.com.

WIN! Sex Offender Registration for Sex Workers Ends in Louisiana

Louisiania’s policy to force sex workers to register as sex offenders is finally over!  Most of the people impacted by this law were poor women of color and transgender women of color.  Jordan Flaherty at the Louisiana Justice Institute:

While police continue to harass sex workers across the state, and many women are still imprisoned under these regressive laws (even as US Senator David Vitter faced no penalty for his admitted liaisons with prostitutes), this is a step forward. And much credit should go to the NO Justice Project, convened by Women With A Vision, which worked to raise awareness about this unjust law and fought on multiple fronts to bring it to an end.

Congrats to Women With A Vision, the NO Justice Project, and other partners for this huge step!

Young Women’s Empowerment Project Launches New Website, New Awesome Campaign CD

YWEP has a brand new website – go check it out!  They also report back from June’s Allied Media Conference where they launched their campaign CD, Street Youth in M.o.t.i.o.n., Moving on The Institution of our Needs, and they’re calling for monthly sustainers, so please support their important work!

Skin Color & Prison Sentences for Black Women

A recent study by Villanova University suggests that prison sentences for black women correlate with skin color: the lighter one’s skin, the lesser the sentence tends to be.  Topher Sanders at The Root:

Villanova researchers studied more than 12,000 cases of African-American women imprisoned in North Carolina and found that women with lighter skin tones received more-lenient sentences and served less time than women with darker skin tones.

The researchers found that light-skinned women were sentenced to approximately 12 percent less time behind bars than their darker-skinned counterparts. Women with light skin also served 11 percent less time than darker women.

Wakefield University sociology professor, Earl Smith, raises some questions about the study’s methodology.

Half of LGBT People Who Experienced Violence Did Not Call Police, Audre Lorde Project Organizing for Alternative Safety Strategies

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs‘ annual report on hate violence revealed that, of the 27 tragic murders of LGBT people in 2010, 70% were people of color and 44% were transgender women.  Of the people who experienced anti-LGBT violence, half did not contact police.  The Audre Lorde Project is working on developing safety strategies outside of the criminal justice system.  Michael Lavers at Colorlines:

The Audre Lorde Project is among the groups that organize LGBT people in communities of color that are increasingly looking beyond law enforcement and the criminal justice system for a solution. The Safe OUTside the System Collective works with bodegas, businesses and organizations within Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood and surrounding areas to create safe spaces for LGBT people of color to curb violence.

“What’s true and important is our communities have been and continue to organize around issues of harassment—whether it’s neighborhood or community harassment or [harassment] by the police,” said Kris Hayashi, executive director of the Audre Lorde Project.

Raquel Nelson Prosecuted for Trying to Cross the Street, Needs Your Support

Raquel Nelson

Sarah Goodyear at The Grist:

In case you haven’t heard of her, [Raquel] Nelson is the Atlanta-area single mother who was convicted of vehicular homicide after her 4-year-old son was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver who later admitted to drinking and being on painkillers.

Nelson and her three children, ages 9, 4, and 2, were trying to get from a bus stop to their apartment complex directly across a busy road, and there was no crosswalk or pedestrian signal to protect them. It was a shocking, and fatal, case of bad street design. Such autocentric design is only too common around the country; in this case, it was compounded by a mystifyingly aggressive prosecution.

Nelson was offered the choice of a new trial or a 12 month probation.  Visit change.org to lend your support.

California Legislation to Protect Labor Rights for Domestic Workers Passes Senate Committee!

Press release:

Today the California Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee voted 5-2 in favor of AB 889. The bill – also known as the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights, extends basic, humane labor protections to thousands of nannies, caregivers, and housecleaners and improves the quality of care for California’s families.

“Today’s Senate vote was a historic step forward for the rights of domestic workers in California. For decades domestic work has been excluded from both state and federal labor laws and worker exploitation in this industry has remained invisible and unmonitored. AB 889 will end that by establishing the same basic protections under the law that many of us take for granted,” said [Assemblymember Tom] Ammiano.

Check out this Colorlines article about how the National Domestic Workers Alliance is transforming long-term care.

Displaced Women Organize for Housing Justice in Port au Prince

Haitian women and their communities are organizing against government agents who are forcing people out of post-earthquake displacement camps who have nowhere to go.  Bill Quigley and Jocelyn Brooks at the Lousiania Justice Institute:

“We women demand!…” sang out a hundred plus voices “…Justice for Marie!” Marie, a 25 year old pregnant mother, was injured by government agents when they slammed a wooden door into her stomach during an early morning invasion of an earthquake displacement camp in Port au Prince. The government is using force to try to force thousands to leave camps without providing any place for people to go. The people are fighting back.

The people calling for justice are residents of a make shift tent camp called Camp Django in the Delmas 17 neighborhood of Port au Prince. They are up in arms over injuries to Marie, one of their young mothers, and repeated government threats to demolish their homes. Despite the 100 degree heat, over a hundred residents, mostly mothers, trekked across town to demand the government protect their human right to housing.

800 Protestors in Quebec Demand Action To Stop Violence Against Aboriginal Women

Aboriginal women in Canada are putting pressure on the Canadian government to address the murders and disappearance of hundreds of aboriginal women.  The Canadian Press:

[Women’s status] ministers concluded a two-day meeting in Gatineau, Que., just as about 800 protesters took to Parliament Hill demanding action to prevent violence against aboriginal women, and to bring attention to more than 500 who have been murdered or disappeared.

“Our missing and murdered women and girls are suffering from neglect — neglect by the Canadian government that does not recognize them,” said Laurie Odjick, whose 16-year-old daughter Maisy disappeared in 2008 from her reserve near Maniwaki, Que.

Sterilization and Reproductive Justice

Considering the politics of choice and sterilization, Iris Lopez studied the conditions in which Puerto Rican women in New York City “chose” to undergo sterilization.  Lisa Wade at Ms. blog:

Lopez found that 44 percent of the women she surveyed would not have chosen the surgery if their economic conditions were better. They wanted more children, but simply could not afford them.

Lopez argues that, by contrasting the “choice” to become sterilized with the idea of forced sterilization, we overlook the fact that choices are primed by larger institutional structures and ideological messages. Reproductive freedom not only requires the ability to choose from a set of safe, effective, convenient and affordable methods of birth control developed for men and women, but also a context of equitable social, political and economic conditions that let women decide whether or not to have children, how many, and when.

Meanwhile, North Carolina is preparing to have hearings and provide restitution to people the state sterilized without consent in the Eugenics era that listed through 1974.

Young Women United Successes in Reproductive Justice

Young Women United in Albuquerque reports in their most recent newsletter that they were able to help pass four powerful bills and defeat five crappy ones in New Mexico.  Get it, YWU!

YWU asked New Mexicans to share why our families need access to Treatment Instead of Incarceration. With only four days notice you responded, and with your voices we made an incredible scrapbook that we presented to the governor. (and will be sharing with others too.) To see the online version visit our page at facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Young-WomenUnited/115921231790158).

We had media coverage from several TV stations, and radio stations who wanted to hear our stories, perspectives and community needs.

We had three opinion pieces printed in Albuquerque media; Reflections on Justice for the West Mesa Women, Truths About Addiction and Families, and Landscape of Addiction in New Mexico.  Links to the opinion pieces can be found in the Related Links  section of our website  AVAW page (http://www.youngwomenunited.org/whatwedo/avaw.html).

We spoke at a congressional breakfast in DC to connect and carry our work to federal policy makers.

We continued to connected with organizations around the country doing this amazing work too…and these connections will help strengthen our movement as we go forward.

OTHER IMPORTANT STUFF!

Solidarity with Pelican Bay Hunger Strike, which is organizing to end solitary confinement and other institutional violence within and of prisons.  They need your support.

The Center for Women’s & Gender Studies at the University of Texas, Austin seeks Seed Money Applications for projects related to gender and human rights in (or in relationship to) the Americas.

Here’s a list of ten self-defense techniques.

Queers for Economic Justice and FIERCE, fantastic queer organizing groups in NYC, both seek Executive Directors.

To submit a news item, please send us an e-mail at incite.news@gmail.com.

No Simple Solutions: State Violence and the Sex Trades

A response posted by an INCITE! affiliate and collective of radical women  of color, queer people of color, and Indigenous people who identify as people in the sex trades.

As a collective of radical women and queer people of color and Indigenous people who identify as sex workers, people in the sex trades, people doing what we have to do to survive, and people who have been trafficked into sex work and other forms of labor, we wanted to respond to Rinku Sen’s recent Colorlines blog post The Complexities of Sex Trafficking, and Some Simple Solutions because, for us, there are no simple solutions to the complex circumstances that inform our lives. Simplified responses do not do justice to our lived realities, or to the systemic conditions that inform them. While we appreciate Sen’s distinction between trade and trafficking, unfortunately this distinction is not made within the laws currently being promoted to respond to harms experienced by people in the sex trades. In fact we believe that in all too many cases these laws increase harm to the very people they  intend to help.

As young people and adults with experience in the sex trades who are directly impacted by current responses to prostitution and trafficking, we recently came together as an affiliate of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence to think more deeply about how to respond to the wave of legislation, funding, and conversation about sex work and trafficking in a way that represents our truths and realities. We are deeply rooted in INCITE!’s analysis of state violence as integrally connected to interpersonal violence, and its commitment to community-based solutions to violence that do not rely on law enforcement, which is in and of itself a source of systemic and widespread violence against women and transgender people of color. Indeed, a ground-breaking youth-led participatory research project conducted by the Young Women’s Empowerment Project, to which Sen refers in a comment addressing responses to her piece, found police and social services to be the primary sources of harm experienced by young people with experience in the sex trades.

Like Sen, we oppose and resist any and all forms of violence, including but not limited to: coercion, extortion, violence by police and other law enforcement agents, structural economic, gender- and sexuality-based violence, and racial violence against all people, including people in the sex trades. Such violence also includes the denial of affordable housing, health care, and access to living wage employment. We also challenge those in both the anti-trafficking and sex workers’ rights movements who claim to speak on our behalf, and those who use our lives and experiences to advance their own agendas without recognizing our leadership.

We know that each of our experiences of the sex trades are unique, and there are no one-size fits all solutions. We are members of families and communities struggling to survive and make the best possible choices given the options available to us. For many of us, the truth about the sex trade is somewhere between a completely empowered experience of the sex trade, which requires only decriminalization to eliminate harms, and a completely harmful experience of the sex trade which negatively presumes all of us to be victims in need of “rescue.”

The Safe Harbor Act, along with initiatives like it that Lloyd and others are promoting across the country, are NOT simple or solutions for most of us. First, they don’t stop arrests of young people for prostitution-related offenses, or the police abuses of young people in the sex trades that, including police trading sex in exchange for promises of dropping charges. They also don’t stop arrests of young people in the sex trades that involve “charging up,” i.e. charging young people with weapons or drug-related offenses which may be easier to prove. Second, while they may stop criminal prosecutions of young people for prostitution-related offenses, these laws do not eliminate detention and punishment of young people involved in the sex trades, they just shift young people from the jurisdiction of the criminal courts to family court systems, where they can remain entangled until the age of 21. And, in the end, only a very narrow group of people can benefit from these laws.

For example, in order for the Safe Harbor Act to benefit a young person, they must be under 16 and arrested for the first time and must never have been in family court before.  Young people between the ages of 16-18 continue to be charged in adult court. Even those under 16 who can meet the Act’s criteria must still convince a judge that they are a “victim” of a “severe form of trafficking” – a hurdle that both Sen and Lloyd acknowledge is almost impossible for young girls of color.  This is also a problem because most young people’s stories do not fit into a neat box.  A National Institutes of Justice funded study by researchers at John Jay College in New York City found that only 8% of young people involved in the sex trades in New York City had been forced into prostitution by a “pimp,” and only 10% currently worked with one. The same study found that 16% of girls and 6% of boys trading sex were coerced, but the vast majority of girls (84%) engaged in the sex trades in New York City had never come into contact with a “pimp.” When young people can’t respond to police and prosecutors’ pressure to give up a “pimp” they never had  they get punished  by law enforcement and service providers alike, and find themselves back on the delinquency and detention track.  Even when the Safe Harbor Act (and other laws like it) is found to apply to a young person, they must still follow the rules a family court judge sees fit, which can involve attending a court-mandated program like GEMS, many of which enforce Christianity on participants. Additionally, for young people for whom no such services are available, including LGBTQQ young people and young men in the sex trades, such legislation offers little or no relief whatsoever.

In fact, current ways of thinking about trafficking and the sex trade make LGBTQ youth invisible. The 2007 study Lesbian, Gay, and Transgender Youth: An Epidemic of Homelessness found that, of the estimated 1.6 million homeless young people in the United States, between 20 and 40%, or approximately half a million, identify as LGB or T.  Research also reveals that LGBTQ teens are more likely to remain homeless because they also experience homophobia and transphobia in foster care, shelters, and from service providers. A recent study, Hidden Injustice documented the systemic homophobia and transphobia LGBTQ youth experience in family and juvenile courts and in service provision, and the increased rates and lengths of detention they experience as a result. For these reasons, many LGBTQ homeless youth stay on the streets because they feel safer there.  Once homeless, LGBTQ youth, and particularly LGBTQ youth of color are also at increased risk of profiling and police abuse in the context of “qualify of life” enforcement. They are also likely to become involved in the sex trades and street economies as a means of survival. Yet young men and transgender women, including those who are coerced into the sex trades,  are denied access to programs such as GEMS, remain invisible as “victims” in the eyes of law enforcement, judges, and service providers.   Additionally demands for increased penalties for prostitution-related offenses expose young people, including LGBTQ youth, who work in non-exploitative peer networks, to significant jail time for sharing resources and engaging in practices aimed at increasing safety and survival.  They also drive the entire industry further underground, and the young people we reach further away from help.

As we work to develop a comprehensive statement that centers the voices of Indigenous people, people in the sex trades, and radical women and queer people of color, we call on movements for racial justice, civil rights, reproductive justice, LGBTQQ rights, immigrant justice, and those struggling against racial profiling, police brutality and abuse, criminalization and mass incarceration to develop responses that reflect the complexities of our lives and experiences. Most importantly, there are no simple answers.

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Violence against Women and Immigrant/Refugee services oppose new directive from Canada Border Services Agency

Violence against Women and Immigrant/Refugee services oppose new directive from Canada Border Services Agency

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – February 14, 2011

Toronto, February 14, 2011: Women’s rights experienced a serious set-back when the Canada Border Services Agency issued a new policy directive that will impact immigrant and refugee women who are seeking safety from abuse across Canada.

Over the last two years anti-violence against women service providers, migrant women and anti-racist organizers with the Shelter | Sanctuary | Status Campaign (SSS) in Toronto have mobilized forums, rallies, protests, press conferences, delegations and actions to ensure that women fleeing abuse can access services without fear of deportation. These actions led the Greater Toronto Enforcement Centre of the CBSA to pass a policy that it would prohibit their officers from entering any space that serves survivors of violence to arrest undocumented women. The policy was originally signed in October 2010 with the endorsement of Violence against Women organizations in the GTA.

On February 11, 2011, the National Office of CBSA called a meeting with organizations that work with women who experience and are fleeing violence in Toronto to announce that a new national policy would be implemented immediately, that would replace the previously agreed to policy. Women at the meeting were shocked to find that a policy that would be effective in ensuring that women with precarious immigration status could receive essential services was being replaced by a much weaker one, which reiterated the CBSA’s priority to conduct surveillance at and enter women’s shelters in the name of national security.

Women’s advocates present at the meeting with CBSA voiced their concerns about this policy and the complete lack of consultation prior to its implementation. The lack of consultation and absence of a gendered analysis of immigration policy, including the enforcement of deportation orders in violence against women spaces, raises serious concerns about the commitment to uphold women’s rights under provincial, national and international legislation and covenants.

In response to the new CBSA policy, Eileen Morrow of the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses states, “Services that work with women and children who experience violence are dedicated to keeping women safe from violence and maintaining their confidentiality.  That is our mandate and it is the mandate of all services that work to end violence against women.  We’ll continue to follow that mandate. If CBSA isn’t prepared to comply with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada, we still are.  Services will need to make decisions about how they can do that to protect women and their children from violence.”

We will continue to oppose any policy or action on the part of the CBSA or any other government agency that endangers women and their children.  We demand that the policy that was enacted on February 11, 2011 be revoked immediately, and that the policy that was originally endorsed by anti-violence organizations be reconstituted for Toronto and the whole of Canada.

– 30 –

For more information contact:

Eileen Morrow – Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses, 416-977-6619

Notisha Massaquoi – Women’s Health in Women’s Hands, Toronto, 416-593-7655

Check out this website for more info on the campaign: http://toronto.nooneisillegal.org/sss

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Take Action Against State Violence Against Immigrant Families

[tweetmeme source= ‘yourtwittername’ only_single=false]Michelle Chen at Colorlines reports on recent “child welfare intervention” policies in which states terminate the parental rights of undocumented immigrants and take away their children.  Chen quotes a paper by Prof. Marcia Anne Yablon-Zug of the University of South Carolina School of Law:

Increasingly, states are removing the children of undocumented immigrant parents and then terminating their parental rights. Such terminations represent a significant, but largely unnoticed, change in the law. There is no Supreme Court case or Congressional Act heralding this development. This is an unofficial change that comes directly from the child welfare agencies and family courts and their shifting conception of what justifies the termination of parental rights.

The article also points to a case in which a child was taken from his Guatemalan mother by a US judge and placed with a richer American family who the judge claimed were more “fit” parents.

Meanwhile, Alto Arizona reports on a delegation of children from Arizona and throughout the country who, on July 15, 2010, and along with mothers, aunts, and women’s advocates, testified before Congress about the police/ICE violence their families have endured.  Here are some excerpts:

It was five or six thirty in the morning when my sister jumps on the bed crying saying that she overheard my dad talking to the babysitter.  We decided to talk to my dad and he  told us what was going on.  He promised us that she would be back the next day, but she wasn’t.  So my sisters and brothers were really upset.  They started crying because they wanted their mother.  But it was really painful to tell them, oh she’ll be there the next day, and keep on lying to them until she came home.  It was really heartbreaking because we saw her with a broken jaw.
– young person giving testimony

Children are being terrorized and traumatized by these programs that are taking effect in Arizona.  They are being torn apart by ski mask officers that take their moms away.
– Sylvia Herrera, Puente Arizona

I live in Maryland and I’m from El Salvador.  I have a daughter that is 1.5 years old.  One day I called the police because of a domestic violence issue.  I thought they would help me, but instead they began harassing me because they thought I was selling illegal phone cards.  I was detained for 5 days.  I thought I would never see my daughter and husband again.  They released me, but with a tracking device.  Now I have an order for deportation.
– woman giving testimony

Here’s the full video:

The relationship between gender violence and immigration violence is profound.  Anti-immigrant racism and violence is destructive to immigrant families and puts immigrant women and queer/trans folks at more risk for domestic & sexual violence, economic exploitation, police brutality, and reproductive assaults.

The National Women’s Caucus Against ICE and Police Collaboration has written a letter asking President Obama to stop ICE and local police collaboration programs, such as 287(g) and “Secure Communities,” which opened the door to the passage of Arizona’s SB1070.  Here’s an excerpt:

We, supporters of women’s and children’s rights, urge you to address the growing human rights threat against women and children in the United States as a result of failed immigration enforcement programs. In the last two years, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Bureau has expanded programs that enlist local law enforcement to help enforce federal immigration law with particularly disastrous consequences for women and children. Programs like 287(g) and the “Secure Communities” initiatives undermine family safety, deter women survivors of violence from seeking protection or help, facilitate workplace harassment and employer abuse, and create tremendous suffering and psychological trauma for separated mothers and children.

Please sign on to this letter here.

Art by Favianna Rodriguez

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