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Free Ky Peterson

Updates from the blog -

​#FreeKy PLEASE SHARE & TAKE ACTION TODAY

Ky Peterson is a black trans man from Georgia. In 2011, as he was walking home from a convenience store, a man hit him over the head and knocked him out. When he woke up he was being raped. In the midst of his struggle with his attacker, he shot and killed the man. Ky waited over a year in jail to meet with a public defender, who thenonly met with him twice. According to statements made by Ky’s public defender, they denied his right to plead self-defense because Ky is black and “looks stereotypically gay”. Ky was forced to sign a plea deal while on heavy mental health medications. He pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail, according to Georgia law. But Ky was sentenced to 20 years, with 15 to serve in confinement. So far Ky has served over 5 years in prison.

In 2017, Ky was denied parole and put in solitary confinement for a month awaiting a sentencing hearing. At that hearing, the court changed his charge from involuntary manslaughter to voluntary manslaughter, claiming that the original charge was a clerical error.
Ky is asking people to join in a letter-writing campaign to Georgia Governor Nathan Deal. Sign Ky’s petition, get information about the letter-writing campaign, and follow Ky’s case at http://freeingky.com.

Learn about campaigns for other people like Ky who have been locked up for defending themselves and surviving at survivedandpunished.org.

This video was conceived by Mariame Kaba and narrated by CeCe McDonald. Directed and produced by Dean Spade and Hope Dector. Audio editing by Lewis Wallace. Art by Micah Bazant. Created by the Barnard Center for Research on Women and Survived and Punished.

TAKE ACTION! 


Filed under: Take Action! Tagged: LGBT/Queer, prison industrial complex, self-defense, sexual violence, survival, survived and punished

New Toolkit for Organizing Defense Campaigns

Updates from the blog -

#FreeBresha

National grassroots organization, Survived and Punished, just released a new downloadable toolkit for organizing defense campaigns for survivors who are criminalized.  Excerpt:

​#SurvivedAndPunished: Survivor Defense as Abolitionist Praxis is a collection of tools, tips, lessons and resources developed through our own experiences. It is also an effort to document and reflect on our own movement work. It is important for us to document especially because our organizing work has been led by Black women, women of color, immigrants and queer/trans people, who are so often erased from history. We hope to preserve some of these histories, build solidarity, and share hope as we continue our collective struggle.

Visit S&P’s website to read and download the toolkit.

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Filed under: General News

Statement on Bresha Meadows’ Plea Deal

Updates from the blog -

#FreeBresha

May 22, 2017

The #FreeBresha campaign is infuriated that 15-year-old domestic violence survivor, Bresha Meadows, has been forced by Ohio prosecutors to submit to a plea deal that would keep her in juvenile detention for a full year (which includes 10 months of time served) and an additional 6 months of incarceration in a “treatment facility.”  Though an earlier version of the plea deal would have released Bresha to the “treatment facility” today, the final plea deal has increased Bresha’s time in juvenile detention for another two months. Prosecuting Bresha, including the pointless punitivity of adding time in juvenile detention, should be condemned by all who care about the well-being of children.  

Bresha’s move from juvenile detention to the “treatment facility” is scheduled for July 30th.  Once transferred, this facility has the power to determine whether they will confine Bresha beyond the 6 months stated in the plea deal…

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Filed under: General News

Black Girl Altar Project

Updates from the blog -

#FreeBresha

We welcome supporters of Bresha Meadows to create Black girl altars in advance of Bresha’s next hearing on May 22nd. Download resources below:

TOOLKIT#DefendingBlackWomanhood: A Toolkit for a Community Altar Building Project for Black Women and Girls, by Black Feminist Future

CURRICULUM: Four Black Girl Altar Rituals for Grieving, Remembrance, and Praise, by Piper Anderson

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Filed under: Take Action! Tagged: art, Black women and girls, domestic violence, self-defense, survival, survived and punished, young people

#FreeBresha Campaign Statement on Proposed Plea Deal

Updates from the blog -

#FreeBresha

May 8, 2017

15-year-old domestic violence survivor, Bresha Meadows, was offered a plea deal at a pretrial hearing this morning at the Trumbull County Juvenile Court in Ohio. While the details of the proposed deal have not been finalized, our understanding of the terms is that Bresha will be under state control for a total of 18 months. This includes 9 months she has already spent behind bars and an additional 9 months of incarceration in a “treatment facility.” Bresha’s attorney hopes Bresha will be transferred from juvenile detention to the treatment center by May 22nd at the latest. A pre-trial hearing is scheduled for May 22nd. Bresha’s record, as it relates to this case, would be sealed on her eighteenth birthday.

Without a plea deal, Bresha would face an aggravated murder charge for defending herself and her mother against the unrelenting abuse of her father, Jonathan Meadows. A conviction…

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Filed under: General News, Guest Post Tagged: Black women and girls, domestic violence, prison industrial complex, survived and punished, young people

#FreeBresha DAYS OF ACTION: OCT 5 & 6

Updates from the blog -

#FreeBresha DAYS OF ACTION: OCT 5 & 6

by Molly Crabapple (2016)

Bresha has an important court hearing on Thursday, Oct 6th when the prosecutor will determine if Bresha will be prosecuted for a crime (possibly charged as an adult) instead of given the support & safety that she needs.

We take action in solidarity with Bresha and demand that she is returned home to her family and that all charges against her are dropped.  We call on #SayHerName / #BlackLivesMatter supporters, victim advocates, feminists, racial justice activists, young people, and people of faith to take action in solidarity with Bresha and all survivors of domestic & sexual violence who are criminalized for surviving.

Events are being planned across the US! Visit here and here for an updated list. We want to help promote your event! Please send us info about your action.

WAYS TO PARTICIPATE (Download as PDF): 
  1. TAKE DIRECT ACTION! On Oct 5th & 6th, organize a march & rally, a speak out, a vigil, a flash mob dance party, a concert, a block party, or a fundraiser. Use media! Create zines, short videos, postcards, music, and poetry.
  2. DONATE to the fund to support Bresha Meadows’ freedom:https://www.gofundme.com/BreshaM

  3. SIGN the petition to demand that Trumbull County Prosecutor, Dennis Watkins, drop the charges against Bresha and free her now:bit.ly/FreeBreshaNow

  4. WRITE letters of encouragement and support to Bresha and send to: Bresha Meadows, c/o Ian N. Friedman, Esq., Friedman & Nemecek, L.L.C., The IMG Center, 1360 E. 9th Street, Suite 650, Cleveland, Ohio 44114
  5. JOIN the “Open Letter to Dennis Watkins” project. Send us an open letter to Prosecutor Dennis Watkins who has the discretion to decide to drop charges against Bresha. https://freebresha.wordpress.com/open-letters/

  6. EDUCATE communities about the criminalization of black girls and survivors of domestic violence! Organize discussions and workshops about domestic and sexual violence, explore community strategies for safety and support, resist the criminalization of our communities.
    Educational Resources:
    #FreeBresha curriculum template
    *  fact sheet on domestic violence and the criminalization of girls
    * educational tools at survivedandpunished.org and No Selves to Defend

  7. ENDORSE the call to free Bresha Meadows. Urge your campus, organization, union, faith community, or collective to endorse the statement posted by Love & Protect:  http://loveandprotect.org/bresha-meadows/

  8. CONNECT WITH FAITH COMMUNITIES. If you are part of a faith community, join community prayer sessions for Bresha’s freedom and mobilize your community. More here:https://freebresha.wordpress.com/faith/

  9. SPREAD THE WORD with friends, families, communities, co-workers, and via social media. Write letters to the editor to your local news media. Blog, tweet, and spread the word on social media. #FreeBresha

Let us know what you’re up to!  Stay in touch via e-mail atFreeBreshaMeadows@gmail.com or connect with us @FreeBresha on twitterand facebook. All updates can be found at freebresha.wordpress.com.


Filed under: Events, General News, Take Action! Tagged: domestic violence, prison industrial complex, self-defense, young people

Sign Petition Demanding Prosecutor to Free Bresha Meadows

Updates from the blog -

Free Bresha Meadows

The Bresha Meadows Freedom Campaign urges supporters to sign this petition addressed to Trumbull County Prosecutor, Dennis Watkins, demanding that he free Bresha Meadows and drop all charges against her. Brief excerpt from the petition:

TO: TRUMBULL COUNTY PROSECUTOR, DENNIS WATKINS

Drop all charges against Bresha Meadows & release her immediately!

Bresha Meadows is a child survivor of domestic violence who just turned 15 while incarcerated at the Trumbull County Juvenile Detention Center. Bresha is charged with aggravated murder for defending herself, and her family from a father who had a long history of abusing them. We demand that the Trumbull County Prosecutor’s office drop all charges against Bresha Meadows and release her immediately.

Like Bresha, an estimated 15.5 million children in the U.S. are exposed to domestic violence each year. Girls and women incarcerated for actions taken in self-defense are disproportionately Black. 84% of girls incarcerated in the US…

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Filed under: General News

For Bresha On Her 15th Birthday

Updates from the blog -

(Image: Kara Rodriguez )

We write this post for Bresha Meadows, on this, her 15th birthday. As Black and Brown organizers, many of whom have experienced violence in our own lives, it pains us that Bresha will spend this day incarcerated, rather than celebrating her life at home with her family. On July 28, acting in her own defense, and in defense of her mother, Bresha allegedly took the life of her father, Jonathan Meadows.

Jonathan Meadows was killed with his own gun — a firearm he is said to have repeatedly pointed at his own family, throughout the years of abuse they suffered. It is well documented that abusers with a history of violence are five times more likely to subsequently murder an intimate partner if there is a firearm in the home. Brandi, Bresha’s mother, was trapped in a cycle of violence, that both she and Bresha had…

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Filed under: General News, Guest Post Tagged: Black women, domestic violence, prison industrial complex, self-defense, young people

Night Out for Safety and Liberation on August 2nd

Updates from the blog -

From Allied Media Projects:

Allied Media Projects is excited to partner with local and national organizations, including the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan and the Ella Baker Center of Human Rights, to present the “Night Out for Safety and Liberation” on Tuesday, August 2, 2016, 5:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. at the Detroit Public Library. The event in Detroit is one of several events taking place in 20 cities across the country, that aim to redefine what safety means in our communities, beyond the current frame of safety through policing.

The National Night Out for Safety and Liberation’s mission is to “start a different conversation about what #SafetyIs—one that is focused on how we can build equity, power, and opportunity in our communities.” In the context of police brutality and mass criminalization in black and brown communities, the question organizers of the event are asking is: “Does an increased police presence in a community necessarily translate to more safety?”

AMP invites our network of media-based organizers to participate in this important national conversation about what safety and liberation means for our communities. How do we use art, media, and technology to change the narrative of safety? How can we shift public policy from prioritizing policing, incarceration, and surveillance to instead prioritizing investment in Black and Brown communities and the creation of a stronger social safety net?

Photo Taina Vargas-Edmond

Organizers of the event in Detroit shared this description:

“On Night Out for Safety and Liberation, we will bring together people with powerful visions for the future: a cross-section of community leaders, thinkers, artists and activists from all around Detroit. Together, we will envision building safe communities where public resources are reinvested from a wasteful criminal legal system and invested in other ways to ensure community safety and accountability like restorative justice hubs and peacekeepers.”


Photo Tawana Petty

To kick off the event, the the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights will host a 1 hour TweetChat on Tuesday, August 2nd at 2pm EST. The TweetChat is an online conversation that will take place on Twitter. Participants can tweet their questions to @EllaBakerCenter using the hashtag #SafetyIs and or #NOSL16. Organizations can register for the TweetChat in advance here.

Stay up to date on the Night Out for Safety and Liberation Facebook page and Detroit event page.


Filed under: Events, General News Tagged: community accountability, community organizing

On Sex Work & Survival: Why We Must Stand With Alisha Walker

Updates from the blog -

Transformative Spaces

Like all criminalized people, Alisha is more than a mugshot. (Photo: Sherri Chatman)

This guest post from Support Ho(s)e, a coalition of Chicago sex workers and advocates,  explains why those of us who believe in the rights of sex workers and the sanctity of self-defense must stand with Alisha Walker, a young woman who has been criminalized for taking a life in defense of her own. If you would like to learn more or get involved in the fight to free Alisha, you can visit the “Justice for Alisha Walker” Facebook page.

We recently became aware of an article published in the Chicago Sun­-Times, originally titled “Hooker gets 15 years for stabbing Brother Rice teacher to death” (they have since amended the title), that promotes an anti-sex worker, misogynistic gloss on the traumatic events it purports to report on.

The Chicago Sun-Times not only saw fit to publish…

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Navigating Neoliberalism in the Academy, Nonprofits, and Beyond

Updates from the blog -

The Octopus, drawing by Nicci Yin

Scholar & Feminist Online has published an exciting collection of articles & videos that builds from the reflections in INCITE’s 2007 anthology, The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Nonprofit Industrial Complex! This important multimedia resource is entitled Navigating Neoliberalism in the Academy, Nonprofits, and Beyond, and edited by Soniya Munshi and Craig Willse. The editors outline the core goal of the issue:

The essays that comprise this special issue tackle the nonprofit and school as two key sites in which neoliberal social and economic reforms are both constituted and contested. The issue demonstrates that these two realms are not distinct, but are deeply implicated in one another, often in joint projects of producing for neoliberalism—producing knowledge and producing communities. Put simply, this collection asks: What are the possibilities for transformative politics given the capacity of neoliberal capital to incorporate, absorb and/or neutralize demands for social justice? And what can we produce in excess of neoliberalism? Considering the nonprofit and the university together offers an opportunity to rethink the relationships between activism and scholarship, as well as a chance to re-theorize neoliberalism from the bottom up.

Check it out now!  To purchase The Revolution Will Not Be Funded anthology, it’s now available as an e-book


Filed under: General News, INCITE! Announcements Tagged: academic industrial complex, capitalism, neoliberalism, nonprofit industrial complex

Misogyny on the Mag Mile: A Turning Point

Updates from the blog -

Originally posted on Radical Faggot:

After Black, queer women organizers were physically attacked on the Magnificent Mile, we must ask what the next steps of our movement will be–and who will be leading us.

Several prominent Chicago youth organizers—all of them Black women, and the majority of them queer—were physically assaulted on Black Friday during the hugely successful shutdown of the Magnificent Mile in honor of Laquan McDonald.

The religious leaders and community elders who called for the demonstration rallied early in the day at the Water Tower in the Loop. Several youth organizations—BYP100, FLY and Assata’s Daughters—were invited to participate, and appeared in several photo ops with Jesse Jackson Sr. and other public figures, the majority of them men.

As organizers began to address the crowd, several well-known Black elders forced their way to the front, pushed youth organizers back from the mic, and one man actually began elbowing a young, Black, queer woman in the…

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Filed under: General News

Oct 22nd: #SurvivedAndPunished Twitter Discussion

Updates from the blog -

#SurvivedAndPunished Twitter Discussion Thursday, Oct 22, 2015​
11am PT / 2pm ET

Everywhere!Join us on twitter to discuss connections between prisons, policing, immigration enforcement, and gender violence, and organize more support for survivors of domestic and sexual violence who are behind bars or trapped within systems of punishment.

Use #SurvivedAndPunished and #DVAM2015
More memes HERE. Subscribe to the SurvivedAndPunished twitter list.

Facilitated by @freemarissanow, organized by @standwithnanhui, @womenprisoners, @loveprotectorg, and @freemarissanow

More about the SurvivedAndPunished project: http://www.survivedandpunished.org


Filed under: General News

Oct 22nd: #SurvivedAndPunished Twitter Discussion

Updates from the blog -

#SurvivedAndPunished Twitter Discussion Thursday, Oct 22, 2015​
11am PT / 2pm ET

Everywhere!

Join us on twitter to discuss connections between prisons, policing, immigration enforcement, and gender violence, and organize more support for survivors of domestic and sexual violence who are behind bars or trapped within systems of punishment.

Use #SurvivedAndPunished and #DVAM2015
More memes HERE. Subscribe to the SurvivedAndPunished twitter list.

Facilitated by @freemarissanow, organized by @standwithnanhui, @womenprisoners, @loveprotectorg, and @freemarissanow
Filed under: General News

Justice for Rasmea! Support her Oct 14th Appeals Trial

Updates from the blog -

Rasmea Odeh is a 67 year old Palestinian American community leader who was tortured by the Israeli government in 1969. On November 10, 2014 in front of supporters in the courtroom, Rasmea was found guilty of one count of Unlawful Procurement of Naturalization. Her appeals trial begins October 14, 2015 in Cincinnati.  Learn how to help here!

Chicagoans & All: everything you need to know about Rasmea’s appeal in Cincinnati

Stand with Rasmea and fill the appeals courthouse in Cincinnati!  Buses and carloads attending from Chicago; Ft. Wayne & Indianapolis, IN; Cleveland, Youngstown, Columbus & Cincinnati, OH; Florida; Milwaukee & Madison, WI; Grand Rapids, Flint, Dearborn & Detroit, MI; Minneapolis; and more!

Chicagoans:

  • Still a few spots left if you wanna GET ON THE BUS from Chicago for the appeal!
  • We’re only about $1,500 short of raising the money to pay for the two buses we’re taking from Chicago to Cincinnati.  Please help us reach the goal here!
  • We will be gathering at 10 PM the night before the appeal, Tuesday, October 13th, 2015, but you cannot just show upYou’ve gotta sign up first, and then you’ll be told where the pick up points are.
  • Those who are driving their own cars and can take others, or would like to carpool, should contact Joe Iosbaker (joeiosbaker@gmail.com) by Tuesday morning, October 13th, at the absolute latest.

As her defense attorneys have said since the beginning of this ordeal, “You [Rasmea’s supporters] provide public testimony when you rally outside the courthouse and then file in to fill the courtroom.  Public testimony of not only the power of Rasmea’s positive influence on her friends and colleagues, and the people she organizes, but public testimony also of the fact that she did not receive a fair trial and that there are people who are going to hold the system—prosecutors and judges—accountable.”

While in Cincinnati, we will organize a support rally in front of the courthouse at 8 AM EST on Wednesday, October 14, 2015, and then fill the courtroom immediately thereafter, as Rasmea’s defense and the prosecution each present their oral arguments to a three judge panel.

WHEN: Wednesday, October 14, 2015. Rally outside the courthouse at 8 AM EST.  Oral argument for the appeal starts at 9 AM EST. WHERE: U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit
540 Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse
100 E. 5th Street
Cincinnati, OH 45202

More here: http://uspcn.org/2015/10/12/chicagoans-all-everything-you-need-to-know-about-rasmeas-appeal-in-cincinnati/


Filed under: General News

Justice for Rasmea! Support her Oct 14th Appeals Trial

Updates from the blog -

Rasmea Odeh is a 67 year old Palestinian American community leader who was tortured by the Israeli government in 1969. On November 10, 2014 in front of supporters in the courtroom, Rasmea was found guilty of one count of Unlawful Procurement of Naturalization. Her appeals trial begins October 14, 2015 in Cincinnati.  Learn how to help here!

Chicagoans & All: everything you need to know about Rasmea’s appeal in Cincinnati

Stand with Rasmea and fill the appeals courthouse in Cincinnati!  Buses and carloads attending from Chicago; Ft. Wayne & Indianapolis, IN; Cleveland, Youngstown, Columbus & Cincinnati, OH; Florida; Milwaukee & Madison, WI; Grand Rapids, Flint, Dearborn & Detroit, MI; Minneapolis; and more!

Chicagoans:

  • Still a few spots left if you wanna GET ON THE BUS from Chicago for the appeal!
  • We’re only about $1,500 short of raising the money to pay for the two buses we’re taking from Chicago to Cincinnati.  Please help us reach the goal here!
  • We will be gathering at 10 PM the night before the appeal, Tuesday, October 13th, 2015, but you cannot just show upYou’ve gotta sign up first, and then you’ll be told where the pick up points are.
  • Those who are driving their own cars and can take others, or would like to carpool, should contact Joe Iosbaker (joeiosbaker@gmail.com) by Tuesday morning, October 13th, at the absolute latest.

As her defense attorneys have said since the beginning of this ordeal, “You [Rasmea’s supporters] provide public testimony when you rally outside the courthouse and then file in to fill the courtroom.  Public testimony of not only the power of Rasmea’s positive influence on her friends and colleagues, and the people she organizes, but public testimony also of the fact that she did not receive a fair trial and that there are people who are going to hold the system—prosecutors and judges—accountable.”

While in Cincinnati, we will organize a support rally in front of the courthouse at 8 AM EST on Wednesday, October 14, 2015, and then fill the courtroom immediately thereafter, as Rasmea’s defense and the prosecution each present their oral arguments to a three judge panel.

WHEN: Wednesday, October 14, 2015. Rally outside the courthouse at 8 AM EST.  Oral argument for the appeal starts at 9 AM EST. WHERE: U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit
540 Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse
100 E. 5th Street
Cincinnati, OH 45202

More here: http://uspcn.org/2015/10/12/chicagoans-all-everything-you-need-to-know-about-rasmeas-appeal-in-cincinnati/


Filed under: General News

#Blacksexworkerslivesmatter: White-Washed ‘Anti-Slavery’ and the Appropriation of Black Suffering

Updates from the blog -

by Robyn Maynard
Originally published at The Feminist Wire, republished here with permission.

Art by Robyn Maynard and Jessica MacCormack

Claiming to be a modern-day anti-slavery ambassador is a highly profitable cause, one that is increasingly popular in Hollywood circles. Most recently, hundreds of celebrities endorsed an open letter to derail Amnesty International’s draft policy to decriminalize consensual adult prostitution. The letter was written by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women International (CATW), a U.S-based anti-prostitution lobby group who frequently lobbies for the criminalization of the sex industry while using the term interchangeably with “contemporary slavery.” Indeed it has developed into, quite literally, a ten-million dollar industry; it has become common-place to see organizations seeking large-scale donations for some take on a “movement to re-Abolish slavery.” Yet if fighting the supposed legacy of slavery is this popular of a social cause, how is it that crowd-funding remains one of the only means of fundraising by families of Black persons killed by the police? In what some are calling the Age of Ferguson, an era where police killings of Black men, women, and children are institutionalized and enshrined in law in the same way that slavery once was, the question must be asked: how legitimate can a ‘new’ anti-slavery movement be when the legacy of the transatlantic slave-trade is a living, breathing horror for anyone living with Black skin in the Americas? And what does this say about the value placed on Black lives that fighting ‘slavery’ is only popular when it is whitewashed of any Black-led struggles for justice?

For anti-prostitution campaigns pushing for the criminalization of the sex industry, ‘slavery’ has been decontextualized from Black struggle and repurposed to describe the multiplicity of workplaces where sexual services are exchanged consensually and for remuneration, such as strip clubs, brothels and massage parlours and on the street. As a black woman with experience in the sex industry and as a long-time outreach worker with both street-based and indoor sex workers in Montreal, this rhetoric has always troubled me. Mobilizing slavery in this way has always seemed a deeply disrespectful appropriation of Black suffering, disrespectful both to our deceased ancestors and to our still-endangered lives as Black folks.

But by hijacking the terminology of slavery, even widely referring to themselves as ‘abolitionists’, anti-sex work campaigners have not only (successfully) campaigned for funding and legal reform; but they do so without any tangible connections to historical or current Black political movements against state violence. Indeed in pushing for criminalization, they are often undermining those most harmed by the legacy of slavery. As Blacks persons across the Americas are literally fighting for our lives, it is urgent to examine the actions and goals of any mostly white and conservative movement who deign to be the rightful inheritors of an ‘anti-slavery’ mission which deigns to abolish prostitution but both ignores and indirectly facilitates brutalities waged against Black communities.

What is this ‘New Anti-Slavery’ Movement Devoid of Black Solidarity?

It is not only CATW that appropriates the anti-slavery narrative. Politicians, highly influential and well-funded international NGO’s, women’s groups, high-profile celebrities and Evangelical and Catholic organizations across Canada and the United States regularly and repeatedly invoke Black suffering under chattel slavery in a push to criminalize the sex industry. Canadian Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament Joy Smith frequently invokes ‘modern slavery‘ to pass legislation criminalizing sex work in Canada. This is part of a broader anti-prostitution movement that self-identifies as ‘abolitionist’, nominally assuming a direct lineage with those who fought and opposed chattel slavery. Vancouver women’s organization Vancouver Rape Relief explicitly link their own efforts to criminalize all forms of prostitution to the anti-slavery movements in 18th century West Indies, the United States and Canada; and go on to place themselves as modern anti-slavery ambassadors, claiming their role in “a new international abolitionist movement [which] has recently emerged.” Joy Smith directly parallels her work to the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade. Writer and sex worker Maggie McNeil has pointed out in the Washington Post, the use of the historically and emotionally loaded term ‘slavery’ is deliberate and not accidental: activist group Demand Abolition openly state that they strategically use the word slavery as a stand in for prostitution in order to garner popular support.

Slavery Without the Slaves?

Anti-prostitution and right wing government agencies frequently repeat the (rarely cited) statistic that sexual slavery is the ‘third largest world economy’, yet these claims have repeatedly been demonstrated to be baseless. The oft-repeated statistic that the average of entry into the sex trade is 12-14 in North America have been categorically debunked since they are based on studies which excluded adults,[1] to the point of being excluded as evidence in the Ontario Superior Court by Justice Susan Himel. Even those horrific instances of conditions that could arguably be called ‘sex slavery’ are not definitive of the entire sex industry; despite anti-prostitution advocates’ frequent but inaccurate claims to the contrary. In Canada the only large-scale national peer-reviewed study investigating the topic found that most women working in the sex trade do not consider themselves victims, let alone could they be considered slaves by any legal categorization. Working conditions in the sex industry, like in many unregulated or criminalized industries, can be far from ideal, and indeed can be coercive and even violent in many instances. Yet ‘slavery’ is an empirically inaccurate description of the sex industry as a whole; only made possible by misrepresenting facts and conflating sex work and sex trafficking statistics to drum up support to criminalize prostitution.

Using ‘Abolition’ to Promote Human Rights Abuses

Though they invoke slavery and abolition, neither the money raised nor the visibility of prohibitionist movements goes towards the Black-led movements against continued state violence. In borrowing this narrative, these ‘abolitionists’, who, as I have argued elsewhere are more rightly termed prohibitionists, exploit Black suffering to provide emotional weight to their own cause.

Not only is Black suffering appropriated and evacuated from so-called ‘new abolition’, but this movement is being used to champion a pro-criminalization movement which has been documented to harm those it purports to support. After much lobbying, Canadian prohibitionists championed a recently passed federal legislation intended to eradicate the sex industry in the name of ‘protecting vulnerable peoples’, (officially the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act). Sex workers, racial justice and human rights advocates across the country fiercely opposed this legislation, however, because it continued to criminalize sex workers and their necessary safety practices both directly and indirectly. Hailed as an ‘abolitionist victory’, the law continues to criminalize street-based sex workers, even though a nearly-identical law was recently struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada as unconstitutional because it put street-based sex workers lives in danger[2] and left sex workers vulnerable to police abuse. Incidentally, street-based sex workers are disproportionately Indigenous, Black, and trans women. One recent application of this new ‘rescue’ law saw Quebec-based ‘abolitionist’ group the Concertation des luttes contre l’exploitation sexuel (CLES) call (successfully) on the police to increase surveillance and enforcement of sex work locations during Montreal’s June 2015 Grand Prix; another saw 11 migrant sex workers deported in an Ottawa-based sting in May of this year. In the wake of both empirical evidence and consultations with sex workers demonstrating the harms caused by criminalization, UNAIDS, and the World Health Organization have come out in favor of decriminalization of the consensual exchange of sexual services for money, in order to better support sex workers’ multifaceted struggle against human and labour rights abuses, including violence at the hands of law enforcement, and vulnerability to contracting HIV/-AIDS.[3] For the same reasons, hundreds of sex worker organizations around the world, notably in post-colonial nations across the continent of Africa and the Caribbean islands, continually advocate for decriminalization. Criminalization, regardless of its purportedly benevolent intentions, places sex workers in harm’s way, and invoking black slaves who lived and died fighting for their humanity to this purpose is an abuse of history.

Robbed of Our Narratives: Black Slavery and Abolition Are Not Metaphors

Yet it is simply false to parallel the entire sex industry to an economic, social and political system based on the full subjugation of one race to another, wherein Blacks in the United States and Canada were systematically chained, raped, beaten, branded, used, and disposed of by their white slave owners under the trans-Atlantic slave trade and plantation economies, categorically deemed subhuman for hundreds of years. For too long, Black communities have been robbed of our bodies, languages, and innovations, and here we are also robbed of our own historical narrative.

How is it that a quintessentially pro-criminalization movement is called ‘new abolition’ when it works directly against efforts taken to combat anti-Black policing and Black incarceration? Abolition is an important part the Black tradition; Black ex and runaway slaves played a crucial role in the formal abolition of the institution of slavery in the Americas, and were without question the original abolitionists, alongside white supporters. The significance of those Black slaves that escaped and fought for abolition cannot and must not be abstracted into mere metaphor, for the purpose of evoking strong emotions against prostitution, or any other means of working, trading, surviving or thriving.

Abolition belongs not only to Black history but also to contemporary Black-led struggles against incarceration and policing. The words of formerly incarcerated ex-Black Panther Angela Y. Davis on her involvement with anti-prison activism demonstrate this lineage clearly:

I choose the word `abolitionist’ deliberately. The 13th Amendment, when it abolished slavery, did so except for convicts. Through the prison system, the vestiges of slavery have persisted. It thus makes sense to use a word that has this historical resonance. (Davis, (1996: 26).

Though it goes ignored by the Hollywood, white-feminist, and Evangelical-church-based version of abolitionism, there exists a vibrant contemporary Black, indigenous, and women of colour-led abolitionist movement against the prison-industrial complex; pushing instead for a transformative justice which does not rely on law enforcement; INCITE!,TGI Justice, and #BlackLivesMatter are only a few. In their push for criminalization, anti-prostitution advocates under the borrowed term of ‘abolitionists’ are taking the space that rightfully belongs to grassroots Black-led/allied abolitionist movements against the prison industrial complex and the ongoing lived effects of slavery. And they do so while promoting practices that harm Black communities and Black organizing efforts against law enforcement.

Criminalization is No Friend to Black Women: #Sayhername #Blacksexworkerslivesmatter

It is not arbitrary that many Black feminist writers and racial justice activists advocate and organize to create anti-violence measuresbeyond the state, and are less likely than our white feminist counterparts to push for more policing to ‘protect’ us. The most significant violence Black communities face is still at the hands of the state. Black (and Indigenous) communities always bear the brunt of criminalization, be it via laws against sex, drugs, or even inhabiting public space. Indeed the Black inmate population at federal institutions in Canada has grown by nearly 90 per cent since 2003, the result of unapologetic police profiling, hyper-surveillance, and harassment, experienced by the Black population in every Canadian and American city. Recently, #BlackLivesMatter has made some gains in highlighting the erasure and silence of the state’s silent War on Black Women. Profiling, and indeed police murder of Black women is less mediatized, but it is no less a reality; as black feminists and others continue to point out, notably here and here. Still, our lives (and our deaths) are accorded little value in the Americas.

Where do the pro-law enforcement strategies promoted by these ‘anti-slavery advocates’ leave Black sex workers, and Black cis and trans women more generally? In the context of unchecked anti-Black racism, more police on the streets and surveillance of indoor sex work locations inevitably means more abuse of Black women and Black sex working women at the hands of the police, particularly trans women. The Ontario Human Rights Commission found that many Canadian Black women were profiled because “they were assumed to be prostitutes [by police] because they were in a car with White men who was assumed to be a customer.”[4] Black women who sell or trade sex are specifically targeted by law enforcement; the Red Umbrella Project based in New York recently documented that Black defendants in Brooklyn made up 94 percent of charges on the offense of “loitering for the purposes of prostitution.” Where there is profiling, already a form of harm, there is abuse and violence, and sex workers have been documented to experience high rates of sexual assault at the hands of the police.[5] The violence of the criminal justice system is most notably silenced when it involves Black transgendered sex workers; as tragically exemplified by the recent death of Mya Hall, a black transgender sex worker killed by police, and near media silence. Black sex workers too often live in fear of losing their children, fear losing of their only source of income with which they support their families, and sometimes fear losing their lives.

#Realabolitionnow – Our Abolition Movements Are Not Over

The abolition of ‘formal’ slavery was accomplished, but the abolition of its horrific legacy is far from over, and so abolition cannot rightly be borrowed to enhance the popularity of the political causes of celebrities and highly-funded NGO’s. Though ‘abolition’ has been appropriated, I do not intend to easily surrender the legacy of Black slavery and abolition to those who would abuse it. Co-opting the horrors of Black slavery in order to push for increased policing of women’s (often Black and cis and trans women’s) workspaces and bodies is dangerously misinformed: the harms wreaked on Black women’s bodies by hundreds of years of racist policing and imprisonment stand for themselves. The legacy of the abolition of slavery belongs to those who are still living (and dying) in its wake; there is no place for an ‘abolitionism’ that organizes for more, and not less, law enforcement, in a context in which hundreds of thousands of Black lives have been lost to law enforcement or vigilantes in the United States and Canada in recent decades.

It is only in allying ourselves to end the state’s war on Black women, including trans Black women and Black sex working women, and for an end to Black suffering, can we truly deign to call ourselves abolitionists. To fight the modern legacy of slavery, we must be part of fighting, and not contributing to Black suffering.

[1] For more information on Canadian prohibitionist’ misuse of statistics including ‘age-of-entry’ see John Lowman’s Brief to the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs on the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act.

[2] Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford, 2013 SCC 72, [2013] 3 S.C.R. 1101.

[3] World Health Organization: “Violence against sex workers and HIV prevention” 2005; UN AIDS, UNAIDS Guidance Note on HIV and Sex Work, 2009.

[4] Report of the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System. Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, December 1995.

[5] A 2007 report for the United Nations brings forth a 2002 Chicago-based study that found that 30% of exotic dancers and 24% of street-based sex workers who had been raped identified a police officer as the rapist.   Approximately 20% of other acts of sexual violence were also committed by the police. This study was entitled In the shadows of the war on terror: Persistent police brutality and abuse of people of color in the United States A report prepared for the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, published in December 2007 and written by Ritchie and Mogul, DePaul College of Law Civil Rights Clinic, 28.

Robyn Maynard is a Black feminist writer, activist, and most recently, a brand-new mama. She is a full-time outreach worker Stella, a by-and-for sex workers service and advocacy organization in Montreal. She is a frequent media commentator on the harms caused by the criminalization of sex work and the harms of systemic racism, and her voice has been featured on CBC, CTV, the Globe and Mail, the Nation, Maisonneuve Magazine; she also recently testified before Canada’s Parliamentary Justice Committee on the new prostitution laws. For nearly 10 years she has been part of grassroots efforts against police racism and brutality in Montreal and she is a co-founder of Justice for Victims of Police Killings, a group of family and supporters of people killed by the police across Canada.


Filed under: Guest Post Tagged: Black women, law enforcement violence, prison industrial complex, sex trade / sex work

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