Jun 22 2017

Criminalizing Survivors of Violence: New Video Resources

I’m excited to share three new videos which are a collaboration between the Barnard Center for Research on Women and Survived & Punished (an organizing project that I co-founded). These very short videos tell part of the story of three criminalized survivors of violence. They are intended to provide a historical context for the criminalization of survival in the case of Joan Little, to highlight an example of a successful contemporary campaign to free a criminalized survivor in the case of Marissa Alexander and to introduce people to the case of a current criminalized survivor who needs community support and action in the case of Paris Knox.

I just got back from Detroit where I co-organized and participated in a national convening about the criminalization of survivors titled “No Perfect Victims.” I was overjoyed to finally meet Marissa Alexander in person. It was an amazing experience to see her free from prison and house arrest. She was grounded, smart and full of great ideas about how to support other women like her who were and continue to be punished for surviving. She has launched the Marissa Alexander Justice Project and I can’t wait to see what she does in the future.

Please watch the videos and share them with your networks. In particular, Paris Knox needs our support as she prepares to be retried. Paris Knox is a 38-year-old Black mother who, in 2007, was sentenced to 40 years in prison for killing her abusive ex-partner when he attacked her in her home in 2004. In early 2017, her conviction and 40-year sentence were vacated. Now, though presumed innocent and awaiting trial, her bail has been set at $500,000 with a $50,000 bond that she cannot afford. Today she remains in prison and separated from her mother, sister, and child, who is now 14 years old.

Like many other Black women, Paris is in prison for self-defense.

Expressing solidarity is an integral way to support survivors and reduce the isolation of prisons. Write Paris a letter of support and encouragement at the address below. For tips on letter writing to people in prison, check out the letter writing section in the #SurvivedAndPunished toolkit.

Paris Knox
Inmate No: 20170120230
P.O. Box 089002
Chicago, Illinois 60608

Criminalization of Survival and Defense Campaigns for Freedom:
From Joan Little to Marissa Alexander

In 1974, Joan Little was charged with first degree murder after she stabbed a prison guard who sexually assaulted her at Beaufort County jail. Joan’s case became a national cause for prison abolitionists, prisoners’ rights advocates, feminists, anti-violence activists, and people advocating against the death penalty and for racial justice. Protests in support of her case were widespread and global. After a five week trial, the jury, made up of both Black and white people, deliberated for less than 90 minutes before acquitting Little.

Joan Little was the first woman to be acquitted of murder on the grounds of of self-defense against sexual violence.

Marissa Alexander is a survivor of domestic violence who, in 2012, was sentenced to a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence for firing a single warning shot into the ceiling when her estranged abusive husband attacked her. Just over a year after Marissa was sentenced, George Zimmerman was on trial for the brutal, racist murder of Trayvon Marton and tried to invoke the stand-your-ground defense that Marissa was denied. After a one month trial, he was acquitted on self-defense. This put the workings of a racist criminal legal system on full display, and support for Marissa’s case surged.

Marissa’s supporters helped publicize her case, held protests and events, raised funds for her legal defense, and supported her through her probation. Eventually grassroots organizing and good legal defense led to Marissa’s case being overturned.

But State Attorney Angela Corey decided to retry her case, threatening Marissa with 60 years in prison for defending her life. In November 2014, Marissa accepted a plea deal for time served plus 65 more days in jail and 2 years of probation under house arrest. After serving a total of 5 years, Marissa Alexander was finally released on January 27, 2017.

I am grateful to Hope Dector, Dean Space, Cece McDonald and Lewis Wallace for their work in creating these terrific videos. Special thanks to all of the artists who contributed their work as well.

Jun 21 2017

New Assata Shakur Zine Available!

My latest collaboration with my friend artist & organizer Monica Trinidad is a zine about Assata Shakur. We are releasing this publication in time for Assata’s birthday in July. It includes an interview with Assata about her treatment by police and prison guards when she was arrested in 1973. The short zine features artwork by Billy Dee, Ariel Springfield, Rachel Marie-Crane Williams, and Monica.

You can view the zine online here. You can download a PDF version of the zine here.

Jun 01 2017

Postcasts Galore…

I am in the middle of another very busy stretch for work. I have been on quite a few podcasts this month however. I am sharing links below.

I was on This is Hell talking about police and prison abolition.

I was on The Lit Review discussing the book “At the Dark End of the Street” by Danielle McGuire.

I was on Intercepted talking about the history of prisons.

I was on the Spin and Sit Room talking about abolition.

I guest hosted on Delete Your Account this week and got to interview my friend and comrade Nesreen Hasan.

 

 

May 10 2017

Defense Campaigns as Abolitionist Organizing

I wrote an essay that was published in the New Inquiry on Monday. Here’s an excerpt:

How do we free millions of people currently caged in prisons and jails in the United States? As an abolitionist, who believes that we must create the conditions for dismantling prisons, police, and surveillance, I’m often asked how to build new institutions that will ensure actual safety. My answer is always the same: collective organizing. Currently, there are a range of decarceral/anti-carceral strategies being employed across the country to free prisoners, individually and collectively. People are organizing for bail reform, taking on individual parole support for prisoners, engaging in court watches, launching mass commutation campaigns, and advocating for laws that will offer new pathways for release.

Another important strategy to secure the freedom of criminalized people is participatory defense campaigns. These are grassroots efforts to pressure authorities, attend to prisoner needs, and raise awareness and funds. This essay argues that defense campaigns for criminalized survivors of violence like Bresha Meadows and Marissa Alexander are an important part of a larger abolitionist project. Some might suggest that it is a mistake to focus on freeing individuals when all prisons need to be dismantled. The problem with this argument is that it tends to render the people currently in prison as invisible, and thus disposable, while we are organizing towards an abolitionist future. In fact, organizing popular support for prisoner releases is necessary work for abolition. Opportunities to free people from prison through popular support, without throwing other prisoners under the bus, should be seized.

Read the whole essay here.

Apr 26 2017

Listen: A Very Good Consideration of the War on Drugs

I generally hate most reporting about the War on Drugs. The following piece by On the Media however is excellent and I highly recommend listening here.

Apr 09 2017

Why Protest? A Zine

The idea for this zine came when I read an anonymous Facebook post on a friend’s page several months ago. The post was about why protest matters. I shared the words on my own Facebook page and asked friends to add their responses to the list.

As months passed, I found myself trying to explain why protest matters to several children and young people I love. I started wondering if others were having similar conversations in their communities and if they needed a resource to help frame those discussions. So I decided to make a zine that included crowdsourced responses from social media to the question: ‘Why Protest?’

In addition to words from my Facebook friends and some Twitter followers, the zine includes photos by my friend, movement photographer, Sarah Jane Rhee of Love and Struggle Photos and from my personal collection of vintage images. The zine was generously designed by Megan Doty who I connected with through Design Volunteers.

Why Protest?’ is available for free downloading in the hope that everyone who can will make their own copies to share with their communities. Hand the zine out at protests, use it to start discussions about why protest matters, and pass it along to the people in your lives who are newly engaged in politics. Protest is just a start and is only one form of action that contributes to social change & justice. In the end, we need to organize if we want to build power.

Mariame Kaba
Project NIA
NYC (March 2017)

Feb 25 2017

Video: Beyond “Criminal Justice Reform”: Conversations on Police and Prison Abolition

Last Fall, I participated in a discussion about abolition at NYU Law School. Video and audio is now available online.

This colloquium featured a series of intersectional talks given by four community organizers, a movement lawyer, a poet, and a scholar who shared their work and reflections on abolition and building viable alternatives to policing and incarceration. Recordings of the talks, as well as the dialogue and Q&A that followed, are posted below in the order they were presented.

Watch all of the video here. I particularly appreciated the talk given by Dr. Liat Ben Moshe which focused on intersections between disability justice and abolition. I’m posting that video below. Also, you can listen to my talk here.

Jan 28 2017

Video: The Hard Road to Abolition// Strategies to Win

I was glad to join Dr. Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Mujahid Farid for a discussion about abolition in September 2016. The conversation was sponsored by Critical Resistance and is now available on video.

The Hard Road to Abolition// Strategies to Win, Profiles in Abolition event from Critical Resistance on Vimeo.

Jan 22 2017

#SurvivedAndPunished: A Week of Action

I’m a founding member of a formation called Survived and Punished. We came together in 2015 to leverage the work that our individual organizations are doing around the criminalization of survivors of violence in order to build collective power.

This week S & P is highlighting the cases of several women and gender non-confirming people who have been criminalized for survival and self-defense. The week of action kicked off with a focus on Bresha Meadows. The following video created by Love and Protect (one of the groups that is part of Survived and Punished) illustrates a solidarity action that was organized in support of Bresha in Chicago.

This week, my fellow Survived and Punished member Alisa Bierria and I co-wrote an op-ed (published In These Times) about the need to prioritize criminalized survivors in the Trump era even as we continue to fight for decarceration:

“On the eve of his inauguration, we think that it’s critical to ask what impact Trump will have on the criminal punishment system—and in particular, on criminalized survivors of violence like Bresha. We must carefully consider how to organize around prison and criminal legal issues in this new context. There will be a scramble to prioritize issues that need our attention and advocacy. It’s important that the experiences of criminalized survivors of domestic and sexual violence not be lost in the shuffle.”

Learn about the other criminalized survivors featured during this week of action here.

Jan 18 2017

Cop-Free Bystander Intervention: A Video Resource

I’m excited to share this abolitionist bystander intervention video today.

How can we defend each other? One way is to interrupt racist and transphobic attacks without calling the police (unless you are asked to). This new video has tips for how to respond, and talks about going beyond reacting to individual incidents, and getting involved with organizing for systemic change.

The video is narrated by Aaryn M. Lang, and was produced by friends at Barnard Center for Research on Women – BCRW and Project NIA, including Lewis Wallace. It’s part of a broader pre-inauguration collaboration with Mariame Kaba (me), the American Friends Service Committee, Showing up for Racial Justice, Jewish Voice for Peace, Black Lives Matter and a bunch of individual teachers and librarians around the country to create and distribute cultural responses to white supremacy and rising racist violence.

Watch and most importantly share the video far and wide. It’s a great resource.

Also there is an accompanying arts-based curriculum that can be accessed here.