Category Archives: race and racism

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.

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.

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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.

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New Congo Rape Statistics Inspire Competitive Headlines, Not Much Else

A new study about the ongoing rape epidemic in the Congo has some rather terrifying statistics to offer. According to USA Today, 420,000 women are raped in the DRC every year.

Or, if you ask the Boston Globe, 1,152 women are raped every day. The Guardian reports that 48 women are raped every hour. And the Sydney Morning Herald ups the ante even further by putting the number at one rape every minute.

Even if all of the varying numbers did add up just so, I can’t be the only one wondering when exactly this ongoing campaign of sexual terrorism against women turned into a competition over which Western newspaper could write the most shocking headline. Nor can I refrain from asking what, exactly, is the magic number of rapes that will suddenly make us care? Would the headlines still be blaring if it were 30 rapes an hour? Is one rape every one and a half minutes just too few that the numbers needed to be fudged and made even more sensationalistic? Do we, as Western observers, care more now than we would if the number were actually one rape every five minutes?

Do we care now? Will the subject merit our true attention? Will we suddenly start listening to Congolese survivors? Are we ashamed for not having listened more closely before, for not believing the full magnitude when women were already telling us the truth? Do we feel better now that a U.S. organization has officially verified their lived experiences? Or will we remain indifferent until the numbers hit two rapes every minute? Five rapes every minute? One every second? Where precisely is the cut off point for compassion and a sense justice? How many women must be raped before we start to care enough to look at the causes? How high do the numbers have to be?

I am in no way trying to suggest that these numbers do not matter. Nor am I arguing that they are not horrific, that they do not deserve attention, or that headlines on the topic are unwarranted. What I’m condemning is the objectifying and imperialistic tendency towards disaster porn. What I’m criticizing is the refusal to engage with the issue of violence in the Congo in an in-depth and ongoing basis that puts these numbers in context, and the decision to instead resort to pearl-clutching headlines designed to shock Western readers with information we already had and will continue to ignore.

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Louisiana Law Forces Many Sex Workers to Register as Sex Offenders

A black and white scan of a Lousiana identification card. The woman's indentifying personal information and photograph have been blurred beyond recognition. The most prominent text on the card are the expiration date, a notice stating "THIS IS NOT A DRIVER'S LICENSE," and bolded type below the photograph reading "SEX OFFENDER."Trigger Warning for descriptions of sexual violence and abuses against sex workers

Last week, Jordan Flaherty wrote an article at Colorlines about how sex workers are being punished under an archaic and punitive law that specifically targets those who are convicted of selling oral or anal sex (as opposed to vaginal sex). The law makes these sex workers open to being labeled as felons by police and prosecutors, and worst of all, forces them to register as sex offenders.

Last month, a coalition of advocates, including Women With A Vision and the Center for Constitutional Rights, filed a federal lawsuit challenging the statue:

Eve, who asked that we not reveal her real name or age, spent two years in prison. During her time behind bars she was raped and contracted HIV. Upon release, she was forced to register in the state’s sex offender database. The words “sex offender” now appear on her driver’s license. “I have tried desperately to change my life,” she says, but her status as a sex offender stands in the way of housing and other programs. “When I present my ID for anything,” she says, “the assumption is that you’re a child molester or a rapist. The discrimination is just ongoing and ongoing.”

Eve was penalized under Louisiana’s 205-year-old Crime Against Nature statute, a blatantly discriminatory law that legislators have maneuvered to keep on the state’s books for the purpose of turning sex workers into felons. As enforced, the law specifically singles out oral and anal sex for greater punishment for those arrested for prostitution, including requiring those convicted to register as sex offenders in a public database. Advocates say the law has further isolated poor women of color in particular, including those who are forced to trade sex for food or a place to sleep at night.

In 2003, the Supreme Court outlawed sodomy laws with its decision in Lawrence v. Texas. That ruling should have invalidated Louisiana’s law entirely. Instead, the state has chosen to only enforce the portion of the law that concerns “solicitation” of a crime against nature. The decision on whether to charge accused sex workers with a felony instead of Louisiana’s misdemeanor prostitution law is left entirely in the hands of police and prosecutors.

Prior to the lawsuit, Colorlines was covering the issue over a year ago. Melissa Gira Grant wrote about the suit at Third Wave right after it was filed last month, and the INCITE! Blog was on it both last year and earlier this month. You should definitely go check those articles out, as there’s no doubt that I’m behind. But I still think the issue is worth writing about and getting further attention.

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Arizona Bill Would Require Hospitals to Check Patient Immigration Status

Arizona legislators are working on a new anti-immigration bill that is essentially the hospital equivalent of their notorious SB 1070. The new bill, SB 1405, would require all hospitals within the state to verify the immigration status of all patients. If a patient cannot prove that sie is in the country legally, hospital staff would be required by law to contact immigration officials.

A new bill making its way through Arizona’s state legislature is drawing a lot of attention. It’s Senate Bill 1405. Some call it the hospital version of SB 1070.

Anyone who has spent a day at Maricopa County Medical Center knows people from all walks of life are wheeled through the halls.

But if a new piece of legislation passes, some of those patients will be wheeled from the emergency room to immigration officials.

If SB 1405 passes, hospitals would be required to check a patient’s citizenship status after administering any emergency medical care.

If the person isn’t in the United States legally, the law would require they be turned over to immigration officials.

Yes, this bill is real. It can be read in full on the Arizona State Legislature’s website, and view the official fact sheet.

Now, the bill itself does not actually require that hospitals refuse treatment to those who are undocumented or cannot prove immigration status. SB 1405 doesn’t go quite that far — at least, in this draft.

But do not be at all mistaken — if passed, an inability to access medical care will be precisely what occurs all the same.

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