Category Archives: human rights

Funds Needed Immediately: Help Save Lakota Sioux Sacred Land!

The Pe’ Sla area of the Black Hills in South Dakota is sacred to the Lakota people, the indigenous inhabitants of that land. As a result of colonization, a non-Native family now privately owns this area and is planning on auctioning it off to the highest bidder. The Lakota people need this land to perform sacred ceremonies, but it is expected that the state of South Dakota will buy it to build a highway and develop industrially. To save their land from this irreparable “development,” the Lakota people are going through the only legal means at their disposal and attempting to buy back what is rightfully theirs — or at least as much as is possible. The full text from their Indiegogo page:

Pe’ Sla is an area in the Black Hills of South Dakota (just west of Rapid City) that is considered by the Lakota people to be the Center and heart of everything that is. It is part of our creation story. It is a sacred place. We perform certain ceremonies at Pe’ Sla which sustain the Lakota way of life and keep the universe in harmony. This area is currently owned by the Reynolds family. They plan to auction off almost 2,000 acres on August 25, 2012 to the highest bidder. It is likely that the state of South Dakota will put a road directly through Pe’ Sla and open up this sacred place for development. The seven bands of the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota Oyate (people) aka Oceti Sakowin (Great Sioux Nation) have a collective effort to buy as much of Pe’Sla as we can at this auction (although we also believe that the land cannot be owned and that our sacred places were illegally taken by the United States). Yet we are trying to work within the current U.S. laws to regain custody of our sacred sites and prevent future road and industrial development. Our sacred ways must be protected and passed on to our future generations so that our children may live. This area of the Paha Sapa (Black Hills) is also home to many plants and animals who should also be protected. In fact, many consider that the area should possibly be a historical site, which would also assist in protecting it from future development as well. As Lakota people, our ancestors prayed here, at Pe’ Sla, at certain times of year, when the stars aligned. We cannot go elsewhere to pray. We were meant to pray here. This is what they do not understand. Please help the Lakota people. “Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.” Chief Sitting Bull, 1877 We have a group of young professional Native people that are dedicated to the promotion of education, health, leadership, and sovereignty among our indigenous Nations. Our goal is to assist in any way possible the purchase of Pe’ Sla by a collective effort of the seven bands of the Oceti Sakowin (Great Sioux Nation) – the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota people. All proceeds from this campaign will go towards that effort. This area would be open to tribal nations for ceremonial purposes. The plants, animals, water, and air in the area would be respected and honored. Please see… for more information. We thank you for your hope in the future.

We are hoping to buy as much of the land that is being put up for auction as possible. The total amount of land is 1,942.66 acres which is in 5 tracts (300 – 440 acres each).  It is difficult to say how much this land would be sold for as developers may increase the true western “value”.

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe has designated $50,000 for the purpose of purchasing Pe’ Sla land.  By contributing to the effort of all the Sioux Tribes, we aim to purchase at least some of the tracts, if not all.  Many of the Sioux Tribes continue to exist in poverty and do not have a thriving casino-based economy as the media may have portrayed.  Yet we continue to fight for what is sacred, because it matters!

A more general background as to why land and the spiritual ceremonies performed on it are so important to Native peoples can be found in Andrea Smith’s Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide (bold emphasis mine; italics are the author’s):

Native spiritualities are land based — they are tied to the landbase from which they originate. When Native peoples fight for cultural/spiritual preservation, they are ultimately fighting for the landbase which grounds their spirituality and culture. For this reason, Native religions are generally not proselytizing. They are typically seen by Native peoples as relevant only to the particular landbase from which they originate; they are not necessarily applicable to peoples coming from different landbases. In addition, as many scholars have noted, Native religions are practice centered rather than belief centered. That is, Christianity is defined by belief in a certain set of doctrinal principles about Jesus, the Bible, etc. Evangelical Christianity holds that one is “saved” when one professes belief in Jesus Christ as one’s Lord and Savior. But what is of primary important in Native religions is not being able to articulate belief in a certain set of doctrines, but being able to take part in the spiritual practice of one’s community. In fact, it may be more important that a ceremony be done correctly than it is for everyone in that ceremony to know exactly why everything must be done in a certain way. As Vine Deloria (Dakota) notes, from a Native context, religion is “a way of life” rather than “a matter of proper exposition of doctrines.” Even if Christians do not have access to church, they continue to be Christians as long as they believe in Jesus. Native spiritualities, by contrast, may die if the people do not practice the ceremonies, even if the people continue to believe in their power.

Native communities argue that Native peoples cannot be alienated from their land without committing cultural genocide. This argument underpins many sacred sites cases, although usually to no avail, before the courts. Most of the court rulings on sacred sites do not recognize this difference between belief-centered and practice-centered traditions or the significance of land-based spiritualities. For instance, in Fools Crow v. Gullet (1983), the Supreme Court ruled against the Lakota who were trying to halt the development of additional tourist facilities in the Black Hills. The Court ruled that this tourism was not an infringement on Indian religious freedom because, although it would hinder the ability of the Lakota to practice their beliefs, it did not force them to relinquish their beliefs. For the Lakota, however, stopping the practice of traditional beliefs destroys the belief systems themselves. Consequently, for the Lakota and Native nations in general, cultural genocide is the result when Native landbases are not protected.

There are only 3 days left to raise funds. Donations as low as $1 are being accepted. Please give as generously as you can and spread this information as widely as possible.

Sexual Assault Victim Faces Contempt of Court Charges for Naming Attackers

A 17-year-old sexual assault victim named Savannah Dietrich — who has given permission for her identity to be made public — has been held in contempt of court and faces a potential jail sentence and fine for tweeting the names of her assailants. Dietrich did not make a false allegation, or even an unfounded one; in fact, her assailants pleaded guilty to first-degree sexual abuse and misdemeanor voyeurism last month. But they are juveniles — like Dietrich, who they victimized — and therefore their “confidentiality” is considered of the utmost importance, and a court order had been issued for her to not speak about the case.

Frustrated by what she felt was a lenient plea bargain for two teens who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting her and circulating pictures of the incident, a Louisville 17-year-old lashed out on Twitter.

“There you go, lock me up,” Savannah Dietrich tweeted, as she named the boys who she said sexually assaulted her. “I’m not protecting anyone that made my life a living Hell.”

Now, Dietrich is facing a potential jail sentence, as the attorneys for the boys have asked a Jefferson District Court judge to hold her in contempt because they say that in naming her attackers, she violated the confidentiality of a juvenile hearing and the court’s order not to speak of it.

A contempt charge carries a potential sentence of up to 180 days in jail and a $500 fine.

“So many of my rights have been taken away by these boys,” said Dietrich, who waived confidentiality in her case to speak to The Courier-Journal. Her parents also gave their written permission for her to speak with the newspaper.

“I’m at the point, that if I have to go to jail for my rights, I will do it,” she said. “If they really feel it’s necessary to throw me in jail for talking about what happened to me … as opposed to throwing these boys in jail for what they did to me, then I don’t understand justice.”

Dietrich’s very interview could also be considered contempt of court on the same grounds that her tweet of the boys’ names likely will be:

The boys’ attorneys, however, have asked the court to continue the order barring Dietrich from speaking to the media about the assault case or allowing the newspaper or anyone else to witness the contempt hearing.

Emily Farrar-Crockett, deputy division chief of the public defender’s juvenile division and one of Dietrich’s attorneys, said her client was advised that her interview with the newspaper could “potentially” be a violation of the judge’s order.

“But she feels it’s important to speak out and chose to do so,” Farrar-Crockett said.

This is how defense attorneys and criminal courts work — to revictimize sexual assault survivors in order to protect rapists.

Dietrich’s assailants not only sexually assaulted her while she was unconscious at a party, they also took photos of the attack and spread them around to their and Dietrich’s peers. While enacting sexual violence against her, documenting it, and joyfully sharing it, they most certainly were not concerned with her “confidentiality.” But now theirs has been deemed of the utmost importance — at the expense of the right of their victim to publicly name what they did to her.

Continue reading

Arrested at Hospital for Demanding Medical Care, Woman Dies in Jail Cell

Anna Brown, a Black woman with a ponytail, looks at the cameraTrigger Warning for medical neglect and abuse, police abuse, and discussions of the child welfare system

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports:

Anna Brown wasn’t leaving the emergency room quietly.

She yelled from a wheelchair at St. Mary’s Health Center security personnel and Richmond Heights police officers that her legs hurt so badly she couldn’t stand.

She had already been to two other hospitals that week in September, complaining of leg pain after spraining her ankle.

This time, she refused to leave.

A police officer arrested Brown for trespassing. He wheeled her out in handcuffs after a doctor said she was healthy enough to be locked up.

Brown was 29. A mother who had lost custody of two children. Homeless. On Medicaid. And, an autopsy later revealed, dying from blood clots that started in her legs, then lodged in her lungs.

She told officers she couldn’t get out of the police car, so they dragged her by her arms into the station. They left her lying on the concrete floor of a jail cell, moaning and struggling to breathe. Just 15 minutes later, a jail worker found her cold to the touch.

Officers suspected Brown was using drugs. Autopsy results showed she had no drugs in her system.

Six months later, family members still wonder how Brown’s sprained ankle led to her death in police custody, and whether anyone — including themselves — is to blame.

The way the Post-Dispatch exploits family members’ personal sense of guilt that is a normal part of grieving, equating it with much larger forces, would have you believe that Anna Brown’s death was just a tragic accident. But the way Brown died was not the result of a few bad choices. It was the result of a myriad of institutional violences: white supremacy, the broken health care system, police brutality and the prison industrial complex, the racism and classism of the child welfare system, ableism and its intersection with racism, dehumanization and criminalization of (suspected) drug users, and the lack of housing as a human right, among others. Anna Brown did not die with the dignity we afford to human beings, but with the contempt we reserve for garbage. And a woman’s humanity is not just forgotten and cast aside with no systemic reason.

Continue reading

Fund for Troy Davis’ Family

Troy Davis (seated) surrounded by family members

On September 21, 2011, Troy Davis was killed by the state of Georgia for the murder of a white police officer, despite incredible doubts about his guilt and many years of strong efforts to save his life. Hopefully you’re familiar with his story; I was writing about it years ago, and many others never stopped. To call his execution a travesty of justice doesn’t quite cover it.

Davis’ family has suffered a terrible string of tragedies. Shortly before Troy’s execution, his mother Virginia died, having long been brokenhearted about what was done to her son. Less than two months after Troy was killed — following a cruel delay in which his family briefly thought Troy was getting another stay of execution — his sister Martina Correia died from cancer.

The Davis family still has outstanding funeral and medical bills for Martina that they must pay.

Jen Marlowe, a journalist who knows the family and has written extensively about Troy Davis’ case for years, has started a fund to help them pay their bills, setting a goal at $8,000. Unfortunately, fundraising efforts plateaued around the $6,000 mark, and I’ve watched over the past couple of weeks as the goal has struggled to be met. The deadline has already been extended, but even with two weeks remaining, at the current rate of fundraising the total will surely wind up short.

Troy Davis’ case mobilized countless racial justice and anti-death penalty activists, and the day after his execution thousands of people donated to organizations working to end the death penalty. Undoubtedly, that’s how both Troy and Martina would have wanted it, being valiant fighters not just for Troy’s life, but to end the death penalty as a whole. (Correia was a dedicated board member at the Center to End the Death Penalty.) But surely, they would have also wanted to see their own family provided for and free of the incredible stress of unpayable debt.

The Davis family has been through unfathomable pain and injustice; and for their long, hard, courageous fight, they deserve all of our support and gratitude. Though we cannot grant them justice, the least we can do, if we have the resources, is help minimize their hardships in this small yet important way.

Please give if you are able; even the smallest amounts will help. And just as importantly, help spread the word through your networks to help meet the goal.

Book Review: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

The cover of the book "The New Jim Crow" by Michelle Alexander. A pair of Black hands grip vertical wooden bars against a dark background.

Few find it surprising that Jim Crow arose following the collapse of slavery. The development is described in history books as regrettable but predictable given the virulent racism that gripped the South and the political dynamics of the time. What is remarkable is that hardly anyone seems to imagine that similar political dynamics may have produced another caste system in the years following the collapse of Jim Crow—one that exists today.

— Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

The thesis of Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness is exactly what the title implies: the U.S. criminal justice system has become a formal if unnamed means of anti-Black racial discrimination and social exclusion analogous to though distinct from Jim Crow. In the United States, Alexander argues, all aspects of this system — from policing to prosecutions to sentences to prisons to post-release restrictions — have not only a disparate impact on racial minorities, Blacks in particular, but were actively designed as a racial caste system and means of social control in the wake of Jim Crow’s collapse. And yet, because the system is officially race neutral and overt racial hostility by individual actors generally cannot be proven, the bulk of society goes around acting as though this racial caste system does not actually exist.

Continue reading

Send a Holiday Message to an Incarcerated Survivor of Prison Rape

Currently incarcerated persons are probably already the most isolated individuals in the United States. Those who are not only incarcerated but also the victims of sexual violence while imprisoned face little support, few mental health and recovery services, the ongoing threat of violence, and even retaliation should they speak of the abuse. With their support networks ripped from them, their right to safety revoked, and their abusers (who are most frequently prison officials) having control over every aspect of their lives, they are among the most vulnerable sexual assault survivors.

In light of this, sending a 250 character message of support and greeting during the holiday season may seem a truly underwhelming gesture. It is precisely these same conditions, however, that makes such a small act able to speak volumes. Incarcerated persons are cultural pariahs, socially treated as subhuman, and/or told that they deserve sexual violence as a condition of their detention. A few kind and compassionate words, under those circumstances, could mean the world.

Rafael, a recipient of a holiday card through Just Detention’s 2010 campaign and victim of multiple assaults by state corrections officers, stated:

Here I was in my cell sitting on my bed on Christmas Eve, sad but hanging in there. My thoughts were on my mom who passed on in 2004, and thinking ‘man, this is my 24th Christmas behind bars.’ Then at about 4 pm the officer gave me some mail from JDI. I was surprised because I don’t get much mail. Being incarcerated for so long, friends and family have forgotten me or passed on. When I read the holiday cards my heart skipped a beat and I started to cry. Yes, this 46-year old hard-core convict was crying. The kind words of encouragement, blessing, and letting me know that I’m not forgotten from total strangers from far away shattered my emotions. Please let them all know that I love them all and will cherish their words in my heart. And yes, I will walk with my head up high and will share my story with no shame and will help others that find themselves in similar situations.

Another (anonymous) survivor said:

I have been down since 1998 and have not had a card or letter sent to me, nor a visit. To receive those cards has totally left me speechless. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

While Just Detention International works to eradicate sexual violence in prisons — and other activists do work to more fundamentally dismantle the racist (classist, transphobic, homophobic, misogynistic, ableist …) prison industrial complex — please take a few short moments today to send a message to a person who has experienced sexual violence while incarcerated. Your message will be transcribed by hand into a card by a JDI volunteer and delivered to a currently incarcerated person who has experienced sexual violence while detained.

If you’re having trouble knowing what to say, JDI has provided me with some examples of actual messages written by others:

“I wish you hope, healing, and support. Please know there are people fighting for you, even if you have never seen us. Know there is love.”

“May you take comfort in knowing that countless people in the free world care deeply about you and will not stop fighting for justice.”

“From one survivor to another, I send you hope for peace of mind and heart. On both sides of the bars, we give one another strength to go on.”

“Dear Friend, I guess this time of year may feel particularly hard. Please let me take a minute to say that I recognize that your humanity and your safety are worth fighting for regardless of your detention. I wish you hope and joy every day. Be well.”

It is imperative that work to support those currently suffering under oppressive conditions be done simultaneously with work to dismantle the oppressive systems that create those conditions. Ultimately, your words may mean a lot more than you know. Please send a card today and help spread the word.

Trans Woman Transferred to Male Prison After Being Raped by Cis Guard

Trigger Warning for discussions of sexual violence, prison violence, anti-trans violence, rape apologism, and transphobia and misgendering.

Recently, a woman was allegedly raped orally by a prison guard at Riverside Correctional Facility. She reported the assault to authorities, and an investigation was begun. During that investigation, officials learned that she was not cis, as they had apparently been assuming, and promptly transferred her to a male prison (trigger warning on the link).

Jovanie Saldana, who has been named by prison authorities and the media despite being the victim of sexual assault, has now had her basic rights violated many times over. She was violated when a prison guard entered her cell and forced her to perform oral sex on him. She was violated when her brave decision to report this assault resulted in an investigation that placed her under scrutiny and revoked her right to privacy. She was violated when she was sent to a male prison, both denying her true gender and placing her at extreme risk of further physical and sexual violence. And she was violated when her name was released and spread without concern for her privacy or safety.

Clearly, trans prison inmates are not seen to be deserving of the same rights as their cis, non-inmate counterparts. That Saldana is a black woman also could not have helped these already abusive and oppressive figures to see her as more human. (Indeed, trans women of color are at much higher risk of violence than white trans women.) Saldana’s cousin strongly believes that the transfer to a men’s prison is retaliation for her rape allegations; the timing, media attention, and reaction of the prison guard’s union certainly make these charges credible.

If true, it means that the Pennsylvania prison system essentially punished an inmate for reporting rape by subjecting her to likely future rapes. (Fifty-nine percent of trans women are sexually assaulted while incarcerated, and the vast majority of trans women inmates are housed in men’s facilities.) Even if retaliation was not the primary motive behind the decision to move Saldana, the facts remain the same; a victim of prison rape has not been protected, but instead placed in a position where future prison rape is more likely than not.

Continue reading