Aug 10 2017

#FreeKy #SurvivedAndPunished

Ky Peterson – Survived and Punished from BCRW Videos on Vimeo.

Ky Peterson should be free, but right now he is in prison for defending his life.

In 2011, on a fall evening in Americus, Georgia, Ky Peterson, a young Black trans man, was walking home from a convenience store when he was attacked and knocked unconscious. When he came to from the blows, he was being raped. Fearing for his life, Ky fought back. In the midst of the struggle, Ky shot his attacker, killing him.

Though he survived, Ky feared for his life again, knowing too well the police and criminal legal system’s brutal record on anti-Black racism, transphobia, and criminalizing survivors of sexual and physical violence. He was right.

Neither police nor prosecutors believed Ky was a victim.

Instead, he was charged with involuntary manslaughter with a twenty year sentence, fifteen of those years to be served in prison. Abused by the courts and neglected by the public defenders assigned to his case, Ky was coerced into signing a plea deal.

Ky’s community mobilized. They appealed to the court to reduce Ky’s sentence, which exceeded Georgia’s limits for involuntary manslaughter. Five years later, in 2017, Ky was granted a re-sentencing hearing, but the judge denied his request for parole. Instead, his sentence was changed from involuntary to voluntary manslaughter, providing the state of Georgia legal justification for the twenty-year sentence. In prison, Ky faces an isolation known for magnifying psychological torture and physical and sexual violence at the hands of corrections officers.

Ky has now been in prison for over five years with fifteen years left on his sentence. His community continues mobilizing in his defense.

by Micah Bezant

Free Ky, Free Them All

Ky is not alone. Prisons are filled with survivors of physical and sexual violence, as well as survivors of state violence. Black and Brown people, immigrants, low-income and no-income people, women, queer and trans people, and people with disabilities are routinely criminalized for daily acts of survival.

Take Action: Community Self-Defense

We know from the successful campaigns to free Joan Little in the 1970s to the more recent campaign to free Marissa Alexander that grassroots mass mobilizations work. That’s why the Ky Peterson Defense Committee, including support from organizations Freedom OvergroundSurvived and PunishedBlack and Pink, and Southerners on New Ground, are organizing to free Ky from prison.

NYC student activists are collaborating with Freedom Overground and Survived and Punished on a letter writing campaign to demand that Georgia Governor Nathan Deal pardon Ky and release him from prison.

If you live in New York City, you can join these activists at a letter writing party next Wednesday, August 16.

If you don’t live in NYC or you can’t make it next Wednesday, check out the Freeing Ky Support Guide from Freedom Overground to organize a letter writing party in your own community and learn about other ways to support Ky and others locked up in prison. You can also learn more by visiting the Freedom Overground website. Please use these resources and share them widely.

If you are on social media, you can help build momentum to support Ky’s freedom by posting a photo of yourself with a message of solidarity, using the hashtag #Justice4Ky and tagging @KyPeterson1 on Twitter and The Free Ky Project on Facebook.

Many people like Ky Peterson, Joan Little, and Marissa Alexander are in prison all over the United States, doing time for defending themselves and surviving.

Visit the Survived and Punished website to learn about ongoing campaigns for freedom and to support the work.

Download the Survived and Punished toolkit for resources on starting a defense campaign.

Aug 09 2017

Abolishing Bail…

A few weeks ago, I was the keynote speaker at a national gathering of community bail funds. I spoke about a number of things. Here’s an excerpt from my talk:

The National United Committee to Free Angela Davis framed bail as a political weapon that was being used against Black and poor people as a way to unjustly and illegally detain them. They write:

“In NYC, however, money bail is set in 85% of all felony cases – and well over half of these alleged felons are held because they can’t afford bail. But of these people, more than 1/3 are later acquitted of all charges, and another large percentage are convicted but given suspended sentences. Who ae these people who spend months and years behind bars despite their right to bail and freedom? In NY, there are poor Blacks and Puerto Ricans, for the most part – and they number in the tens of thousands ever year, jamming and overflowing the city’s ancient and dilapidated jails.

Most people have no idea of the larger number of brothers and sisters who languish behind bars because they can’t make bail. It’s generally thought that everyone has access to bail bondsmen whose activities are carefully regulated by law.”

Doesn’t this sound eerily familiar?

What is our current coherent political argument against the coercive use of bail/bond? What is our consistent argument that is being articulated across our movements?

[…]

The National United Committee to Free Angela Davis was clear-eyed in linking its fight to free Davis with a broader fight to free all prisoners:

“A political attack on the bail system as a racist system of pre-trial detention has to be mounted in all prominent political cases. But the attack, to be successful, must not only result in the freeing of a particular captive. It must also bring massive, organized pressure to bear on the whole oppressive bail system itself. Political activists are captured and incarcerated because their struggles point towards the liberation of all oppressed peoples. Only when the burden of oppression has been lifted from the shoulders of all their brothers and sisters will political prisoners be truly free.”

Recently, Critical Resistance hosted a discussion for donors about abolishing cash bond and ending pre-trial detention. You can hear the discussion below.

CR also produced a set of guidelines for considering bail reforms from an abolitionist perspective. You can download those guidelines here. You can find more resources that were shared on the webinar/call here.

Aug 08 2017

New Resource: Ending Child Sexual Abuse – A Transformative Justice Handbook

Ending Child Sexual Abuse: A Transformative Justice Handbook (PDF) is freely available online and features relevant information regarding child sexual abuse as well as an accessible introduction to transformative justice and concrete action steps for those seeking to prevent, heal, or transform the impact of child sexual abuse in their lives.

This handbook seeks to update and make more widely available the ideas first put forward ten years ago through generationFIVE’s document “Toward Transformative Justice.”

generationFIVE has spent the last decade, with allies across movements and across the country, developing Transformative Justice. Transformative Justice is an approach to respond to and prevent child sexual abuse and other forms of violence that puts transformation and liberation at the heart of the change. It is an approach the looks at the individual and community experiences as well as the social conditions, and looks to integrate both personal and social transformation.

Their aim was to develop intervention and prevention that aligned with:

  • our analysis of child sexual abuse as both one of the symptoms and perpetuators of oppression and violence
  • a politic committed to systemic change and liberation
  • our commitment to healing, agency, and accountability
  • the actual relationships and situations in which child sexual abuse happens
  • the oppression and limitations of state responses

More here.

Aug 07 2017

Invisible No More: First Comprehensive Book about Police Violence against Black Women & WOC

Since I’m currently on vacation for the next couple of people, I’ll try to post more regularly. I am excited to share a new book from my friend and comrade Andrea Ritchie that was just released last week. Invisible No More: Police Violence against Black Women and Women of Color explores how Black women, Indigenous women, and women of color experience racial profiling, police brutality, and immigration enforcement.

I am honored to have written a foreword for the book. Here are a few words from that:

“By centering the experiences of girls and young women of color Invisible No More extends and enlarges the carceral landscape, insisting that we consider the streets, schools and the home as sites of oppressive policing. Previously obscured, sexual and reproductive violence come into view. Invisible No More also argues that paying attention to these issues expands and transforms how we consider policing. As more people address the ever-expanding prison industrial complex (PIC), this book finds itself in dialogue with others addressing the history and impacts of mass incarceration on women of color (particularly Black women and girls). After all, the police are the gatekeepers of the PIC. But racialized gender violence doesn’t stop with police.

This book doesn’t just document police violence against women of color, nor does it simply offer policy prescriptions to reduce the harms of oppressive policing. Invisible No More is also an invitation to resistance to each of us, and will serve as a long overdue and invaluable resource to anchor and inform the efforts of young people organizing today against state violence in all its forms.”

I recommend reading this book. You should take care as you do read it because it is a lot to process. You can learn more about the book at its website.

You can listen to Andrea speaking about the book on the Lit Review podcast.

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)