Oil up the guillotine

All this ink spilled hand-wringing over the minimum wage and not a single inch of column space dedicated to executives signing off seven figure bonuses for themselves. I have no patience for those kinds of thinkpieces. But this is more like it.

[Read more…]

Ending cash bail

Or, “ending extortion by law enforcement,” if you want a less whitewashed description. A stunning proportion of America’s incarcerated population has yet to even go to trial because of the practice of cash bail, penalizing poor people doubly for being unable to post their own bounty. Such incarceration disrupts their employment, which feeds back into their original problem of not being able to afford bail. The cruelty inherent in the logic of this system is a feature rather than a bug for those with authoritarian (and white supremacist) inclinations, but there is plenty of work to end the practice.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, imprisoning 2.24 million out of the world’s total of 10.2 million incarcerated people as of 2013, according to the International Center for Prison Studies. The ICPS also reports that, in 2013, 480,000 people were held in U.S. jails before even being tried for their charges. The system of cash bail targets poor people who can’t afford their bail, and several major insurance companies make billions in profits from the cash bail system.

Critics of the cash bail system point to research demonstrating that cash bail discriminates against the poor, and especially poor people of color. According to a 2015 report from the Vera Institute of Justice, two in five people held in America’s jails are behind bars because they cannot afford their bail. The report also notes that 75 percent of people in jail are accused of non-violent crimes, such as shoplifting or minor traffic offenses. There’s also evidence of profound racial bias within the cash bail system. The Vera Institute reports that black Americans are jailed at almost four times the rate of their white counterparts.

While the statistics for cash bail are staggering, the cruelest injustices of this system become clear in the context of real people’s lives.

The article is relevant for any jurisdiction that still engages in the practice, even if the United States is its specific context. Read more here.

-Shiv

Sabotage the institution, then blame it for poor performance

A cornerstone of Conservative policymaking is to create the conditions for failure, then use the ensuing failure as justification for further cuts. Nowhere is this more apparent than the shameless gutting of British healthcare infrastructure, ordered by billionaires who pitch their thievery under the rhetoric of “tightening our belts,” while themselves flying out to private healthcare providers knowing full well how abysmal the public system is.

Throw their sales pitch back in their face.

In 2013, the NHS said it had a £30 billion funding gap, and the Tory response to this was to provide £8 billion in extra funding and require the NHS to find the other £22 billion in cuts. To this day, the government claims it has fully funded the NHS, by requiring it to find its own cuts. It gave the NHS a hacksaw, told it to choose a limb to amputate, and tells everyone else it saved its life by not shooting it in the head. But everyone else is not fooled. Nigel Edwards, chief executive at the health think tank the Nuffield Trust, said in 2016 that “the NHS has never experienced this level of austerity for this long a period.”

The Conservative government response to this latest crisis has been predictably shite. The NHS minister Philip Dunne caused outrage when he said “There are seats available in most hospitals where beds are not available,” in response to a question from a Labour MP about patients sleeping on the floor. May planned to demote Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in a cabinet reshuffle this week. Instead, after he “argued strongly with the prime minister that he should be allowed to stay in his role,” she not only relented but expanded his brief to include social care, too.

Presumably, the logic behind this is that the NHS crisis is really a social care crisis, too. “Bed-blocking,” where elderly patients who have been treated can’t leave hospitals because they have no arrangements for care when they leave, is a rising problem. In January 2017, the Telegraph reported that bed-blocking had risen 42 percent in one year, with 193,680 “bed days” lost in November 2016.

-Shiv

Who gets to be a brave survivor?

Rape culture has many strongholds, and one that stands out is incarceration. Because of the naive perception that incarcerated people have done something wrong (most plea bargain and are never proven guilty in court), many people will excuse prison conditions as being “part of the punishment.” [Content Notice for extreme sexual violence at this link] We see this in how sexual assault is weaponized as a consequence for high-profile offenders like Brock Turner–despite the fact that survivors ourselves often object to this.

I’ve quoted the less gorey details here:

When Tarana Burke started the Me Too movement, she hoped it would elevate the voices of survivors of sexual abuse—especially the voices of women of color. Although Burke’s Me Too has molded into a viral movement and hashtag, made famous mostly by celebrities and those who have access to platforms like Twitter, the survivors whose abusers are actually facing consequences are still mostly white women with resources and power. Some women with privilege are attempting to be better allies to those often erased from these conversations, by putting money behind their words, but some members of marginalized groups, like people in prison who’ve experienced abuse while incarcerated, have no voice.

The public seems to care less about the stories of incarcerated survivors than others, as Victoria Law has reported, and does not work as hard to end their abuse or the normalization of abuse in prisons. The result is a culture of sexual violence so extreme that speaking out could put prison abuse survivors in serious danger. The mainstream Me Too movement as cultural effort falls short for them.

Reporting sexual abuse can always put a survivor in danger, but in prison that threat is elevated because survivors are either detained alongside their abusers or their abuser is the one who holds the key to their cell.

“We’ve seen the power wielded by an abusive person like Harvey Weinstein,” said Jesse Lerner-Kinglake, communications director for Just Detention International, a nonprofit whose mission is to end sexual abuse in detention centers worldwide. “But for inmates, the stakes are raised, because even if they could participate in these hashtags, then their personal safety would be very much at risk.” Often that means their stories go untold and do not receive the kind of attention necessary for real change.

You can read the rest here, though again, content notice for graphic violence.

-Shiv

Funny how those whining about safe spaces are advocating for safe spaces

I’ve seen the concept characterized as a “protective bubble against the wrong kind of thinking,” a position tenable only if you have never actually accessed a safe space. In reality I might just want to talk about something without some dipshit shrieking “MAN! UR A MAN!” into my ear through a blow horn. You would never know this judging by the complaints leveled about safe spaces by people who don’t use them, though–such as apologists of white supremacy and colonization calling for the banishment of scholarship on colonial history.

Nigel Biggar’s research project proposes to take a cost-benefit analysis of British imperial history, weighing the bad things against the good. In defending the project he called on “usBritish to moderate our post-imperial guilt” (emphasis added) in an article in The TimesThere have been some excellent critiques of the naive simplicity of the research methods proposed, most notably an excellent open-letter drafted by a range of prominent Oxford academics of different disciplinary backgrounds. This led to a backlash from right-wing newspapers against these academics.

For me, any defence of British imperialism is by implication a defence of white supremacy. To take the example of British India—my own field of study—there were always exceptions and protections for white populations written into the laws. Similarly in the political sphere there were always positions of authority reserved for white rulers only. Elizabeth Kolsky’s amazing book on white violence in colonial India is a great place to learn more about how these privileges operated. To judge British colonial rule by its effects without taking into account its fundamentally racist legal and bureaucratic structures is to suggest that there are circumstances when white supremacy is acceptable. The argument that positive things were done through British imperialism that might excuse its inherent racism (let alone the numerous atrocities committed by British colonial regimes across the world) is, thus, also a subtle defence of white supremacy.

The claim that colonial rule did good because it “developed” colonized societies (with proponents of this position often citing improvements in medicine and infrastructure) rests on the implicit counter-factual that without imperial intervention these societies would not have participated in modernity. The assumption here is that pre-colonial polities were stagnant, static and disconnected from wider historical changes. This is an assumption that work on pre-colonial histories have shown to be demonstrably false. For instance, Victor Lieberman’s colossal comparative global history shows that there were parallels between Europe and other parts of the world prior to 1830. Moreover, colonized people engaged with modern practices without the direct instigation of the colonial regime, and sometimes in the face of imperial opposition. The assumption that the apparently “positive” changes that occurred during colonialism can be attributed to the British presence is unsustainable. It implies that only white rulers could have brought about these changes.

Read more by Jonathan Saha.

-Shiv

More plaintiffs in the brutality lawsuit stemming from J20 arrests

It’s been one year since the mass arrest at Trump’s inauguration. 240 people were rounded up by police for their proximity to half a dozen vandals–some 1,800 charges would be pressed against 230 defendants, 194 of which are going to trial. While the first six defendants were acquitted of all charges in December last year, there remain dozens of trials yet to go, and any of them can secure the precedent that would further empower prosecutors to smash activist movements. The second trial group had their second round of procedural hearings on the 18th.

Coinciding with this criminal litigation is a competing police brutality and false arrest lawsuit by the ACLU. During the first trial Police Commander Keith DeVille admitted the Metropolitan Police Department’s liability “would be limited” in the event of convictions stemming from the J20 protests.

Now a mother, Gwen Frisbie-Fulton, and her child have joined the brutality lawsuit. [Content Notice: This link has footage and descriptions of police brutality]

We left early in the morning and bought day-long Metro passes. They were special inauguration passes with a picture of Donald Trump on them. A. thought these would be good for his memory box. But the memory we left D.C. with that January day felt much more sinister.

After we spent a few hours protesting, I learned that a friend was being detained. When we got to the location, people had gathered across from where a large group of protestors had been cornered by police. A. stood on the base of a lamp post so he could wave to the people he knew. He chanted “Let them go!” gleefully with other protesters. We talked with friends. We shared some of the snacks I had packed in my backpack. We were there for more than half an hour without incident.

But then, without warning, everything changed.

Colour me stunned that another 188 people are going to trial over 1,550 charges pressed during an arrest we’re not even sure is legal because they walked past a broken window.

Read more about the events that day and the lawsuit here.

-Shiv

Trans feminism and the law

Florence Ashley opens this essay by distinguishing between the “rule of law” and the “rule of man,” describing the latter as a widely undesirable state of governing (or lack thereof) while the former is supposed to be a steady and reliable foundation of order:

The rule of law is a lot like gender. The analogy is puzzling, at first glance. Coming from a trans experience, the parallels are much more visible to me: “Then an analysis can focus not on what the rule of law is, or what it should be, but on what it does, what it accomplishes, what it produces. Indeed, if the only thing we know for sure about the rule of law is what any of these many state actors say it is in any particular instance, the rule of law will turn out to be as messy and diffuse a concept as the state[2].” This passage is perfectly intelligible, and yet every reference to the rule of law in the passage was a replacement of the term “sex”. Both the rule of law and gender, in legal contexts, are normative notions which seek to define the proper relationship between citizens and between citizens and the state. Whereas the supported relationship is a cisheteronormative[3] one with regards to gender, the rule of law promotes a law-abiding relationship between citizens and state. In the negative chasm of each conception, we find transgender people and emancipatory actors. Gender as a state construct makes trans lives either impossible or difficult, whereas the rule of law makes emancipatory lives either impossible or difficult. That trans lives are often led as emancipatory lives attests to importance of transfeminist analyses of the rule of law. The analogy is also interesting insofar as the enforcement of gender as a legal-administrative category to the disadvantage of trans people is frequently defended by appeal to the rule of law.

However, Ashley argues that it’s a false distinction: Man must apply the law, and discretionary power brings us back to square one.

The notion of the rule of law implies that we are ruled by law. However much a truism as this sentence may be, it is not a trivial point. There must be a meaningful way in which laws, rather than people, are what rule our lives[4]. For some rule of law theorists, the enforcement of laws satisfies the rule of law if it is exercised by those in power in their role as agents of the law, in a good faith belief that the law mandates them to exercise their powers in that manner[5].

Inherent in this notion is that being ruled by law is possible. We have room to doubt this assertion on two grounds. First, discretionary power is distributed widely and unevenly. Too many people have too much discretionary power for us to realistically ensure that they always act in accordance to such a good faith belief. Second, good faith beliefs cannot be so detached from the agents which hold them that their imposition can be reasonably interpreted as a rule by law rather than by men.

Ashley then examines what it means for the agents of law to import their own experience of the world into legal constructs, and relates that to the current state of struggle for trans folk. I thoroughly recommend it.

-Shiv

 

 

Canadian exceptionalism

Exceptionalism has typically been used in the past to describe the mentality that justifies the United States’ many many contradictions–the USA can do something because it’s “different” but when another country does the same it’s suddenly bad. This contradiction can be found in, for example, someone who supports the actions of the United States but condemns the actions of Israel: Israel’s colonization of the West Bank is horrific, but also par for the course in terms of colonization, something which can be extensively described in American history.

Anthony Morgan coined the term “racial exceptionalism” to describe a similar occurrence in Canada, where our self-perception of being “nice” is used to avoid frank conversations about racism. The situation in Flint is horrible, see, but the fact that we have piped poison water into Indigenous reserves is different because mumble mumble something mumble we’re nice.

Melayna Williams has a more comprehensive review of racial commentary in Canada:

It’s difficult to determine what qualifies as “nice.” The words “nice” and “kind” are often used interchangeably. When Canadians are characterized as nice, it has more to do with being polite. And 66 per cent of Canadians believe we’re as nice as the world thinks we are, according to a survey conducted as part of   The Canada Project Survey, in partnership with Abacus Data. But this Canadian niceness is worth a closer look, particularly because “nice” is how the world often defines us and how Canadians define themselves. Yet it’s used to erase and undercut many things that aren’t so nice.

Niceness has historically been utilized to undercut progress toward dismantling systemic oppression. In a piece published earlier this year entitled “You Can’t Kill Racism with Kindness,” Lindsay King-Miller wrote: “I can think you’re an asshole and still fight for your rights. You can find me unbearable and still fight for mine. And when we simplify oppression into mere unkindness, we provide cover for friendly people who support oppressive policies.” In Canada, this is all compounded by the fact that nuanced and accurate conversations on race remain rare. Here, niceness and politeness are utilized to shut down race discourse and create what Anthony Morgan calls Canadian “racial exceptionalism”—the falsehood that positions Canadians as too nice to take racist actions and to talk about racism itself. “Having avoided the depth and scope of American Jim Crow, we imagine ourselves innocent,” wrote Rosemary Westwood in a 2016 piece that asked “Is Canada too Polite to Talk About Racism?”

The problem is that there’s a wealth of evidence that racism can actually look like it’s nice. Characterizing racism as mean and blatant is misguided and inaccurate. It also means there’s no accountability for subtle, harmful behaviour that is indeed racist.  What Christy DeGallerie aptly describes as “nice racism”—subtle “microagressions” and friendly forms of discrimination—can easily describe what Black Canadians tolerate dressed up with the veneer of niceness. Among these “nice” actions: Being asked where you are from, being told you’re intelligent for a Black person or offhand comments about a hair style. They all serve to center whiteness and frame a racialized identity as different. Blackness (and by default Black experience and Black thought) remains characterized as irrational, angry and misguided, while whiteness remains juxtaposed as rational, calm and intelligent.

Read more here. And never let a Canadian tell you they’re too nice to be racist.

-Shiv