Dec 15 2015

Video: Struggling with Re-entry

This week Root and Rebound launched a 3 minute video which highlights the struggles of currently and formerly incarcerated people navigating the reentry process. You can watch it below.

Letters From Inside from Margaret Katcher on Vimeo.

The video highlights a myriad of legal issues and discriminatory practices that people face upon release—including employment discrimination, denials of public benefits, exclusions from housing, and misapplied parole and probation rules. Root and Rebound has also launched a campaign called Reimagine Reentry: Disrupting Cycles of Poverty and Incarceration, to engage and educate the public, and expand its base of support.

Dec 04 2015

#FireGarryMcCarthy

I wrote a piece published in the Guardian a couple of days ago. Here’s an excerpt:

“There was dancing in front of Chicago police headquarters at 35th street and Michigan Avenue on Tuesday evening.

People were celebrating, in part, because Chicago police superintendent Garry McCarthy was fired earlier that day. Mayor Rahm Emanuel – who had spent days expressing confidence in his police chief – stood in a hot briefing room in front of the press corps and announced that McCarthy had become “a distraction”. Emanuel looked like a man undergoing a root canal without anesthesia.

After days of mass protests – including a shutdown of Michigan Avenue on Black Friday that cost retailers up to 50% of their sales – the mayor had apparently decided to cut his losses and throw McCarthy overboard to save himself.”

Below is a short video shot in front of CPD Headquarters the night of McCarthy’s firing.

Dec 03 2015

A Love Letter to Chicago Organizers…

I haven’t watched the videotaped execution of Laquan McDonald. I’m done with the televised spectacle of Black Death. This is my personal silent protest.

I don’t begrudge those in the streets in fact I am grateful to many of them for not going gently into the quiet night of apathy. My disgust and rage at the fact that the video was publicly released over the objections of Laquan’s family won’t let me engage in the ways that I regularly would.

As I’ve watched the many opportunists vie for facetime over the past few days, it’s become more urgent to narrate a history of continued protest and refusal regarding police violence in Chicago. There are people who have been consistently in the streets in this city for months now. This is a love letter to the incredible anti-police violence and anti-criminalization organizers/activists in Chicago.

For decades, Chicagoans have been organizing against the brutality and impunity of the Chicago Police Department. In the months since the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO, young people of color from across the city have consistently organized demonstrations, protests and actions to underscore the violence of the CPD. These protests are the visible outgrowths of grassroots campaigns that have sought and won reparations for police torture survivors, are calling for community control of the police, are insisting on an end to stop and frisk, are demanding a Federal investigation of the Homan Square police facility, are organizing for redirecting funds from police to other social goods, and are seeking individual justice for Damo, Roshad, Rekia, Ronnieman and more.

In other words, day in and day out in this city, we are resisting police violence. The press in Chicago largely ignores this ongoing grassroots organizing but they are quick to jump on moments like the release of the tape depicting Laquan McDonald’s execution to condescend to, moralize against, and incite Chicagoans who are working toward justice. We resist the local press’s continuing efforts to demonize and pathologize young people in this city (especially those who identify as Black and Brown). We are sick of it. We reject their depictions.

So my friend and comrade Tom Callahan and I collaborated on this visual love letter to Chicago organizers. We hope you appreciate it. If you, please share it with others who want to better understand Chicago’s resistance to criminalization and police violence.

Nov 18 2015

Video: The Case for Diversion

If you watch Danielle Sered speak for the next 15 minutes, you will be better informed about the current state of criminal justice reform. It is well-worth your time. Danielle runs the innovative program called Common Justice.

“Common Justice is an innovative victim service and alternative-to-incarceration program based on restorative justice principles. Located in Brooklyn, New York, the program works with young people, 16 to 24 years old, who commit violent felonies, and those they harm. Common Justice aims to reduce violence, facilitate the well-being of those harmed, and transform the criminal justice system’s response to serious crime. The program provides participants with a respectful and effective means of accountability, an equitable and dignified avenue to healing, and the tools to break cycles of violence.”

Click HERE to watch.

Nov 12 2015

Musical Interlude: Christmas in Prison

Nov 11 2015

No Fear: On Black Children and Racism

In 1968, seven-year old Lonnie Bell rode a bike around his “urban renewed” gentrifying Chicago community. Riding down the street, he was having fun in the afternoon. Suddenly, a police car came upon him. Two police officers approached. They accused Lonnie of stealing the bicycle. He was promptly put in the backseat of their squad car and the bike in the trunk. One of the witnesses to Lonnie’s arrest was a 17 year old neighbor who had actually lent him her bike. She and other children intervened to prevent the arrest. She told the cops that the bike was hers and that she had lent it to Lonnie. Their attempts to secure the release of their friend failed. The police ignored them and drove away with Lonnie in the backseat. The 17-year old neighbor rushed over to Lonnie’s house to alert his parents of his capture.

Mr. Bell, Lonnie’s father, accompanied by two neighbors, Mrs. Myers and her husband Michael, made their way to the 18th police district. It was around 6:15 pm when they arrived. Mr. Myers, an attorney, asked the desk Sargeant if Lonnie was in custody. The cop said that the child was not at the station. So they waited for an hour with no news of Lonnie. At 7:30 pm, the desk Sargeant announced that Lonnie had been returned home.

What happened between 5:30 pm when Lonnie was picked up by police and 7:30 pm when he was purportedly returned home? Mr. Bell rushed to find out. The police told neighbors that as they were driving to the station, a report came over the radio saying that an armed man was on the loose. With 7 year old Lonnie in the car, the cops drove to where the armed man was spotted. They patrolled the area in their car. Finding no one, they locked Lonnie in the squad car and set off on foot to apprehend the armed man. They didn’t find him so they drove Lonnie to the rear of the station. Once there, they decided not to take him inside and drove him home instead. It’s unclear what prompted them to change their minds.

I read about this incident in a Chicago publication called “Second City Magazine.” The article contended that such incidents made it important for communities to police the police. As I read about Lonnie’s ordeal though, I could only focus on one thing: ‘fear.’ I imagined a terrified Black child falsely accused of being a thief at 7 years old. I could picture his scared face as he was locked in a squad car while the police searched for an armed suspect who could very well have harmed him while he waited alone. Then I thought of his father’s terror at not finding his son at the station. I put myself in his place waiting for over an hour for any news of my son’s whereabouts. And though she wasn’t mentioned in the article, I saw Lonnie’s mother frantically pacing at home praying for her son’s safe return.

I drew a straight line from Lonnie in 1968 to the racist backlash experienced by Black students at Mizzou yesterday. On Twitter last night, I felt fear produced by racist death threats and unsubstantiated reports of KKK presence on the University of Missouri (Columbia) campus. I worried for the safety of the Black students who might be targeted. I prayed that no harm would come to them.

I thought too that my fear, Lonnie’s fear, Black Mizzou students’ fear are illegible to most people who don’t consider us human. I don’t know if I’m supposed to talk about being Black and afraid. Not afraid for myself but rather fearful for those who look like me. Who besides other Black people understand or care? Speaking the words gives more ammunition to our terrorizers and tormentors, no? But the fear is real and ever-present. I reject the cancerous tough love gospel which insists that Black people must ‘buck up’ and be preternaturally brave because to live Black is to live in and with unending danger and terror.

I don’t know if I am using the right words. I don’t know if fear adequately describes what I mean. What do you call a thing that robs you of peace and rest and time? Maybe there are no words. Maybe it’s only emotion. I don’t know. Whatever it is, I wish I could live free from and of it.

Nov 08 2015

Musical Interlude: Ellis Unit One

Oct 28 2015

Creative Organizing, Political Education and Abolition in Chicago…

In Chicago, in this historical moment, groups of people are relying on creative organizing to envision and struggle for a radically transformed world where policing and the violence it produces are abolished. This fight is inherently connected to a vision of a world where housing is affordable, quality education is accessible, and health care is available to all. The organizers, activists, artists, and community members engaged in the daily struggle for a more just world under a #BlackLivesMatter umbrella in Chicago keenly understand that poetry, visual art, and other modes of creative expression are important in, as Angela Davis has written, “provoking new understandings of persisting social problems.” Together, we’ve been actively experimenting with different ways to lay out the core issues related to criminalization and social transformation.

A key aspect of organizing is storytelling and here in Chicago, some of us have been relying on multiple methods to tell stories about the police. Over the past few weeks, members of a group that I am part of called “We Charge Genocide” (WCG) has narrated a story about how policing dominates the city budget to the exclusion of social goods. 39% of Chicago’s operating budget is devoted to the police. We want every person in Chicago to know this fact. As such, we’ve been engaged in a kind of guerilla political education project that relies on social media, dramatizations, train takeovers and traditional organizing methods.

When Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a series of community budget townhalls, members of WCG got to work by creating a set of memes that would encourage our supporters and other Chicagoans to attend these meetings.

#CHIBUDGET2016_2 (1) (1)

We also encouraged people to let the Mayor know that they were unhappy with the priorities expressed in the budget by circulating memes on social media.

#CHIBUDGET2016_4 (1)

#CHIBUDGET2016_3

On September 22, members and supporters of WCG (including a few middle school students from Village Leadership Academy) planned an action outside City Hall to coincide with the Mayor’s unveiling of his 2016 budget proposal. WCG members and allies held a banner that visualized how our money has been spent in Chicago–the biggest portion by far going to CPD.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (9/22/15)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (9/22/15)

Read more »

Oct 27 2015

Black Girl Down… and Up

I should express requisite shock but I haven’t the energy to perform. Another viral video shows a Black girl thrown across her classroom by a white cop who outweighs her by 150 pounds (at least).

I’m not shocked. Not in the least. I don’t wear this admission like a badge of honor. I’m not desensitized or blase. I just know that treating Black children carelessly and roughly is the norm. We all know this even those who want to pretend they don’t.

There are cops in schools. Everyone also knows this. The proponents of this policy say that it’s to ‘keep students safe.’ These words pour out without irony even as research suggests that having police in schools usually escalates minor discipline issues.

Last year, in Chicago, there were over 3000 youth arrests inside our public schools. The vast majority of these (77%) were Black students. Girls made up 32% of the school-based arrests. How many Black children were thrown across their classrooms with no video evidence?

cpdincps6TW

The myth of officer friendly will not and cannot die. It doesn’t matter how many videos are produced showing Black children being brutalized. Too many people need and want cops to do their dirty work. The cop in that video is a stand-in for a society that hates Black children. Break the Black girl before she grows. Beat her down and then make sure she knows that anyone who comes to her defense will be punished too. Neutralize the threat. The message is clear as day: ‘You are insignificant, a nothing and we can crush you at will.’

The sad spectacle of impotent and complicit adults online and offline does nothing to inspire confidence in the young. Black children learn early that no one will save them from brutalization by the state and its agents. In fact, most adults like the teacher in the viral video will invite state brutalization in the name of ‘safety.’ At best safety as a concept is rendered a meaningless farce. At worst, safety becomes an additional means or tool of subjugation and oppression.

While Rome burns and you with it, you’ll hear some adults offer prescriptions for the problem that will make you despair. More ‘training’ for school resource officers, some will confidently assert. More cameras in schools, others will counter. Meanwhile, you and your friends will wonder who will simply remove the cops from your schools. Wouldn’t that be the first place to start, you’ll ask. You’ll likely be greeted with the sounds of crickets because so many adults have ceilings on their brains. The result of decades of oppression that has left them without imagination or even good sense.

So you’ll band together with your friends and organize to change the depressing reality. I know so many Black girls leading campaigns to end the school-to-prison pipeline.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee

It’s you who give me hope. Black girl, I’ve seen you and continue to see you standing up in defense of your life and that of your sisters. #NiyaKenny, we speak your name.

A Long  Walk Home March 4 Rekia, photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (10/17/15)

A Long Walk Home March 4 Rekia, photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (10/17/15)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (8/14/15)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (8/14/15)

You do the same for your brothers even as too many of them refuse to stand up for you. I’ve shed tears with you about this as you’ve continued to show up time and again in defense of their lives.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (1/15/15)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (1/15/15)

I’m blessed to witness your resistance. Perhaps it’s why I don’t despair for the future. How can I when I am privy to so much #BlackGirlMagic? There are few viral videos of your beautiful resistance and too many of your degradation. That isn’t your doing, it is ours and we have to do so much better by you.

Oct 25 2015

#SurvivedandPunished: Criminalizing Survivors of Violence

It’s domestic violence awareness month. I’ve been wanting to write about this all month. Sadly, between work and life, I’ve had little time to post regularly. I hope that 2016 will allow me to do so more consistently.

As some of you know, I was a co-founder and co-organizer of the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander (CAFMA). CAFMA has become Love and Protect. The mission of Love and Protect is to “support those who identify as women and gender non-conforming persons of color who are criminalized or harmed by state and interpersonal violence.”

This month, in partnership with other defense committees and organizations, Love and Protect launched a project called #SurvivedandPunished.

#DVAM2015_ImmFreedom

#SurvivedandPunished released its vision statement last week. I am republishing it below:

For many survivors, the experiences of domestic violence, rape, and other forms of gender violence are bound up with systems of incarceration and police violence. According to the ACLU, nearly 60% of people in women’s prison nationwide, and as many as 94% of some women’s prison populations, have a history of physical or sexual abuse before being incarcerated. Once incarcerated or detained, many women (including trans women) and trans & gender non-conforming people experience sexual violence from guards and others. Being controlled by police, prosecutors, judges, immigration enforcement, homeland security, detention centers, and prisons is often integrated with the experience of domestic violence and sexual assault. This is especially true for Black, Native, and immigrant survivors. The Survived And Punished Project demands the immediate release of survivors of domestic and sexual violence and other forms of gender violence who are imprisoned for survival actions, including: self-defense, “failure to protect,” migration, removing children from abusive people, being coerced into acting as an “accomplice,” and securing resources needed to live. Furthermore, we demand that these same survivors are swiftly reunified with their families.

Our coalition of freedom campaigns and organizations believes that policing, immigration enforcement and the prison industrial complex are violent institutions that primarily target poor communities of color. They are fundamentally racist, anti-family, anti-trans/queer, anti-woman, anti-Black, anti-Native, anti-poor and anti-immigrant. Black women are constantly policed, controlled, and dehumanized by these systems. Immigrant and refugee survivors face constant threat of detention and deportation. Native women’s high rates of incarceration are part of the colonial conditions of ongoing gender violence waged against them. Trans women, trans, & gender non-conforming people are violently profiled and targeted by police officers and prison guards. All are threatened with being separated from their children and families. Poverty, which disproportionately impacts communities of color and trans/queer communities, renders survivors even more vulnerable to all forms of violence, including police violence and imprisonment. It is in this context that self-defense and other survival actions are often criminalized.

“GOOD VICTIM” VS “NON-VICTIM CRIMINAL”

In the face of epidemic rates of domestic and sexual violence, anti-violence advocates have partnered with police and district attorneys to try to find protection for survivors, and to institutionalize gender violence as a “crime.” However, this pro-criminalization approach to addressing violence has created a racial divide between “good victims” and non-victim “criminals.” A “good victim” is one who readily accesses and cooperates with the criminal legal system in order to prosecute and incarcerate their batterer or rapist. But when a survivor of sexual or domestic violence is only supported when seen as a “victim of crime,” survivors who are already criminalized are not recognized as people in need of support and advocacy. Survivors are criminalized for being Black, undocumented, poor, transgender, queer, disabled, women or girls of color, in the sex industry, or for having a past “criminal record.” Their experience of violence is diminished, distorted, or disappeared, and they are instead simply seen as criminals who should be punished. They face hostility from police, prosecutors and judges, and they are often denied the support “good victims” receive from anti-violence advocates. These “criminal” survivors are then particularly vulnerable when racist pro-criminalization policies (such as mandatory minimums, the war on drugs, “Felons not Families” deportation enforcement, and increased police authority) are waged against our communities because those policies facilitate and reinforce domestic and sexual violence. For example:

Marissa Alexander defended her life from her abusive husband by firing one warning shot that caused no physical harm. She was targeted by a racist smear campaign by Florida State Attorney Angela Corey designed to frame her as an “angry black woman,” but never as a victim of domestic violence. She was prosecuted and sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison.

When Marcela Rodriguez called the police during a domestic violence incident, the police came, arrested her, and turned her over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which detained her and forced her into deportation proceedings.

Nan-Hui Jo fled her abusive American citizen partner with her child to seek safety for her and her young daughter. She was then arrested for child abduction, and the district attorney who prosecuted her tried to portray her as a manipulative illegal immigrant seeking to cheat U.S. systems, calling her a “tiger mom” who was too competent to be a victim.

The New Jersey 4 were called a “killer lesbian gang” by both prosecutors and media after they defended themselves against racist, misogynistic and homophobic sexual violence in a gentrified neighborhood.

Ky Peterson was told that he, as a transman, was not a “believable victim” of rape after defending himself against a brutal sexual assault, and he was bullied into signing a “plea deal” of 20 years in prison.

All of these survivors of violence were prosecuted using racist, sexist, anti-trans/queer and classist logic. Many were prosecuted by using policies that target poor communities of color, and many did not receive support from anti-violence organizations. The same system that criminalizes, re-traumatizes and further abuses victims is also the one that the anti-violence movement entrusts and authorizes to protect survivors and create safety. The institutionalization of this racialized “good victim/criminal” dichotomy has left a huge portion of survivors, overwhelmingly Black women, unsupported and unaccounted for by the anti-violence movement.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

We affirm the lives and self-determination of all survivors of domestic and sexual violence. We endorse efforts to abolish these anti-survivor systems and create new approaches that prioritize accountable, community-based responses to domestic and sexual violence. Knowing that abuse and incarceration are both meant to isolate and diminish the person, we hope for more restorative resources and options for survivors. We must organize for a world in which survivors are always supported by their communities. We look forward to the day when survivors do not have to resort to calling 9-1-1, anonymous hotlines, restrictive shelters far from home, and broken legal systems in their attempts to find support. We reject false dichotomies of “good victim/prisoner/immigrant” and “bad victim/prisoner/immigrant” that individualize the problems of domestic and sexual violence, and choose to instead target the systemic issues that further facilitate abuse. We focus on survivors because we want to highlight the specific pipeline between surviving sexual and domestic violence and being arrested, locked up, and/or deported.

We call for the anti-domestic violence and anti-rape movements to seriously contend with how their enmeshed relationships with prosecutors and police limits the ability to see criminalized victims as deserving of resources and advocacy, undermining their safety and well-being. We call for racial justice and migrant justice movements organizing against the violence of policing, immigration enforcement, and prisons to consistently highlight survivors of gender violence in political analysis and strategies. We call for your fearless support of survivors who live within the intersection of gender violence and criminalization. They need and deserve our solidarity.