News Violence

In 7-to-3 Vote, Topeka City Council Fails to Reverse Decision Releasing Domestic Abusers From Jail to “Save Money”

Kari Ann Rinker

The Topeka City Council tonight failed to repeal an ordinance allowing domestic abusers to leave jail to save money, leaving the women of Topeka with no recourse against abuse within the city. If they wish for justice to be served, women will have to be geographically located outside of the city limits... and even that is no guarantee of protection.

Topeka, KSDomestic violence abusers will continue to roam free within Topeka city limits, now making Topeka, Kansas the homophobia and domestic violence capitol of the world.  A vote by the Topeka City Council tonight to repeal their municipal city ordinance allowing domestic abusers to leave jail to save money–approved 7 to 3–leaves the women of Topeka with no recourse against abuse within the city.  If they wish for justice to be served, they will have to be geographically located outside of the city limits, within Shawnee County. 

Mayor Bunten, who has made numerous promises of working toward a compromise, admitted tonight that he hasn’t even talked to Shawnee County DA Chad Taylor in ten days. Ten days of batterers being let free to repeat their abuse. 

Mayor Bunten also stated that the Shawnee County DA would be forced into the position of prosecuting domestic violence crimes with the repeal of the city ordinance.  That statement was incorrect, in fact, the DA’s prosecutorial power is discretionary.  This leaves the women of Topeka without any recourse against their abusers. 

The only thing accomplished by tonight’s action was to appoint the city manager to the task of negotiating with a County Commission that has repeatedly stated that they have “no control” over the DA Chad Taylor.  These negotiations are being entered into with absolutely no time line. If the recent histories of both parties are any indication, the women of Topeka could be waiting a very long time for any resolution.  While the City Council may believe that they have shirked their responsibilities and can now avoid the discussion, the citizens of Topeka should continue to hold them accountable for their unwillingness to prosecute dangerous criminals within their community.

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Kansas NOW was told that as of this morning the City Council had received 3,000 emails, almost causing a crash to their system.  I challenge those infuriated by the action of this Council to send more emails, make more calls and hold them accountable for this action of dangerous consequence.  

Kansas NOW thanks council members Denise Everhart, Larry Wolgast and Richard Harmon for standing up for the women of Topeka and not letting petty political fights interrupt the pursuit of justice. 

News Human Rights

Hunger Strikers to ICE: End Transgender Immigrant Detention

Tina Vasquez

“Detention has to end because transgender women, globally, are in a crisis. We are being targeted, we are being murdered, we are being discriminated against and denied basic access and rights," said transgender activist Jennicet Gutiérrez. "Putting us in detention isn’t the solution to that."

Three undocumented queer and trans activists on Monday in Santa Ana, California, launched a hunger strike demanding that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) end its detainment of transgender immigrants.

The activists, Deyaneira García, Jennicet Gutiérrez, and Jorge Gutierrez, were joined by the Orange County Immigrant Youth United (OCIYU), FAMILIA: TQLM (Trans Queer Liberation Movement), and DeColores Queer OC.

ICE, the federal agency overseeing immigration detention, “claimed it did not know how many transgender women were in immigration detention across the US, let alone where and under what conditions they are being held,” according to a recent Human Rights Watch report about the abuse of transgender women in immigration detention‪. “However, ICE officials estimate that there are approximately 65 transgender women in detention on any given day among a nationally detained population of approximately 30,000 migrants and asylum seekers.”

Gutiérrez, in a phone interview with Rewire, said she joined the hunger strike because she could no longer remain silent in the face of mounting attacks against the immigrant, transgender community.

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“Detention has to end because transgender women, globally, are in a crisis. We are being targeted, we are being murdered, we are being discriminated against and denied basic access and rights,” Gutiérrez said. “Putting us in detention isn’t the solution to that.”

ICE officials in 2011 began transferring queer and trans immigrants from detention centers all over the country and funneling them to Santa Ana City Jail’s segregated unit, the only in the country to have “pods” exclusively for the purpose of detaining queer people and trans women, the Orange County Register reported.

“Officials trained Santa Ana City Jail staff on [LGBTQ] matters in July 2013, June 2014, and again in 2015,” ICE said in a statement to Rewire. The training focused on “ICE policy and procedures addressing sexual assault prevention and response; searches; medical care; privacy; [LGBTQ] sensitivity and transgender detainee care; and specific instruction on the provisions of the Transgender Care Memorandum,” which were guidelines released by ICE in June 2015 outlining instructions for the care of trans detainees.

DeColores Queer OC organizer Roberto Herrera told Rewire that while ICE seems intent on making Santa Ana City Jail “a model facility for the nation” in detaining trans and queer immigrants, advocacy groups are pushing against the notion of detaining this population.

“This model practice of incarcerating queer and trans people is not something that we stand by,” Herrera said. “It is our intention to end this collaboration with ICE here in Santa Ana, and what that would mean is we want the city to shut down this trans detention center and the [LGBTQ] pod in Santa Ana [City] Jail. We can’t incarcerate this vulnerable trans and queer population.”

The hunger strike is being held near Santa Ana City Hall as part of a months-long effort to, as Herrera said, “push the city council to stop profiting off of trans and queer communities” to the tune of as much as $105 per person per day.

Advocates report there are 200 beds available in the queer and transgender pods in Santa Ana City Jail. The number of queer immigrants detained in the jail is unknown, but in December 2015, Univision reported that there were 36 transgender women in a segregated unit at Santa Ana City Jail. This is the same facility many of the trans women featured in Human Rights Watch’s report cited as subjecting them to “humiliating and abusive strip searches by male guards,” not granting them access to necessary medical services, including hormone replacement therapy, and subjecting them to solitary confinement.

Reports of abuse against trans women at Santa Ana City Jail have emerged even after ICE’s Transgender Care Memo. In a statement to Rewire, the federal agency said “Santa Ana City Jail, which houses the overwhelming majority of ICE’s detained transgender population, has medical professionals on staff who have experience providing health care to transgender individuals, including hormone therapy.” A spokesperson from the federal agency also reported that “ICE has not received any recent official complaints from transgender detainees regarding medical treatment at the Santa Ana City Jail facility.”

Many organizations were wary of ICE’s Transgender Care Memo, but considered it a “step in the right direction.” The organizations behind the hunger strike condemn the memo, saying it will only “solidify the detainment of trans and queer people,” according to Herrera.

“We need city council to shut this program down and we need to work at a national level and advocate to free all queer and trans people from detention. Incarceration will never be the answer,” Herrera said. “We can’t be complacent. The city can’t be complacent. We have to tell the city they can not adopt or continue implementing this ‘model practice.’ First, we need to shut this down locally and then do this nationally. We are advocating for the release of all trans women.”

The DeColores organizer told Rewire it’s important to consider why the city of Santa Ana has agreed to pilot these practices. It’s not out of concern for queer and trans immigrants, he said. Santa Ana City Jail has debt “estimated at $27 million through 2024,” the Orange County Register reported.

There were plans to expand queer and trans detention at the jail from 200 beds to 300 beds to help repay that debt, but the plan was nixed this year because of protests from queer and trans immigrant rights activists. The expansion would have resulted in $2.2 million annually. Even without the expansion, advocates said the city is making $7 million each year off of the detention of queer and trans immigrants.

“ICE has taken advantage of the city and the city is taking advantage of the trans and queer population,” Herrera said. “The city is more than willing to incarcerate queer and trans people in order to accept money from the Department of Homeland Security and allow officers to keep their jobs. Santa Ana City Council is leading the effort to detain queer people and trans women. It is the model being set for the rest of the country, and it’s all for profit. The city is profiting on the backs of our communities.”

Virginia Kice, an ICE spokesperson, told Rewire that Santa Ana City Jail’s special housing unit “is NOT a means to ‘target’ transgender individuals. It is a protective custody environment established by ICE to ensure that transgender individuals who are subject to detention while their immigration cases are being adjudicated can be housed in a safe setting.”

Gutiérrez disagreed.

“You know where the best place for our queer and trans brothers and sisters is? It’s with their communities,” the activist said. “In detention, no matter where, we are harassed, we are made fun of, we are threatened, we are misgendered. We are denied medical access. If you complain about this, they put you in solitary confinement and say it’s for your ‘safety’—and that is punishment. I believe that is torture. Trans women who have been detained verify this. The Human Rights Watch report verifies this. They say they care, that they are doing everything they can to treat trans people fairly, but the reality is a different story.”

Herrera said ICE officials and the city of Santa Ana are pushing a narrative intended to create fear and doubt in the community, positioning the queer and trans pods at the jail as “the most humane option” for queer and trans undocumented immigrants in detention. Herrera said he is distrustful of being told to pick the lesser of two evils.

“We really have to be resistant against this messaging. Being incarcerated is not the best or only option for these populations,” Herrera said. “The intent is to create fear and we can’t accept the lie that detention is the solution to how best to deal with immigration and how best to handle queer and trans immigrants. We do not accept that ICE knows what’s best for our communities or they know how best to care for this population.”

Gutiérrez initially signed on to hunger strike for two days, hopeful the Santa Ana City Council would “do the right thing” at tonight’s city council meeting by triggering a 90-day cancellation clause in its agreement with ICE, effectively canceling its contract to detain queer and trans immigrants. If the city council makes no such announcement, Gutiérrez said, the hunger strike could last as long as two weeks until the next city council meeting.

At the core of all of this, the organizer said, is transphobia. Trans women should not be expected to trust an agency that has a long history of abusing them.

“We know that detention is not the answer, but this idea that ICE knows what’s best for us or how to care for us—it’s so offensive,” Gutiérrez told Rewire. “It’s crucial that we make the connection that violence inside detention centers is a symptom of transphobia. I want us to keep talking about transphobia. As a transgender immigrant, I’m going to keep being outspoken and being visible and providing a strong stance on this issue.”

Commentary Abortion

As Threats to Autonomy Intensify, Alabama Feminists Fight for Reproductive Freedom

stephaniegilmore

The virulently anti-choice, anti-gay Operation Save America spent a week in Alabama last month for its "Let Justice Roll" event. But local feminists met the invasion with calls for justice of their own.

Despite temperature warnings of over 90 degrees with unbearable humidity on the horizon, the group Operation Save America (OSA) descended last month on Montgomery, Alabama, bringing hundreds of anti-choice, anti-gay activists of all ages to the state’s capital city. Opening the “Let Justice Roll” week-long event was Alabama state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who warned the crowd—commonly inflated in mainstream media to be more than 300 people, though on-the-ground activists only witnessed about 100—that “America is under attack.”

From what, you might ask? Abortion rights and marriage equality, of course.

“Well, are you prepared for the consequences?” Moore asked the crowd at Fresh Anointing House of Worship on July 11. “There will be consequences.”

Yes, there are and will continue to be consequences, as Alabama politicians and anti-choice activists remain determined to undermine the rights of fully formed people. But some of these consequences are perhaps not the ones Moore envisions. Indeed, as Operation Save America and its ilk pursue their agenda in a state hospitable to their own, feminists and pro-choice activists are pursuing reproductive freedom at every turn.

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Let’s back up to discuss what happened in Alabama during the OSA inundation.

Operation Save America Invades

OSA activists spent a week in mid-July protesting in front of clinics in Montgomery and Huntsville, as well as outside of the statehouse, Huntsville city hall, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that has renewed its ethics complaint against Moore and identified several organizations affiliated with OSA as “hate groups.” But local activists—including Alabama Reproductive Rights Advocates (ARRA), for which I am coalition liaison—were prepared for the onslaught of anti-choicers.

In Montgomery, pro-choice activists rented the house next door to the local clinic to help protect the facility, providers, staff, and patients. While OSA members chanted, prayed, yelled, held signs featuring gruesome and inaccurate images of aborted zygotes that one clinic defender called “fetal porn,” and more, advocates sang, observed, and of course, escorted. Because yes, clinics remained open the entire week. In Huntsville, where anti-choice activists have a history of violence, OSA affiliates and supporters gathered a crowd of approximately 100 adults and 75 children over the day. There, they too were met with about 40 pro-choice clinic defenders. Not only did these activists escort patients, they also parked moving vans draped with signs reading “Team Dalton” (for the clinic owner) and quoting rock singer Tom Petty: “You can stand me up at the gates of hell, but I won’t back down.” No one from OSA could see the clinic or anyone seeking its services.

These strategies speak to the power of clinic defenders to maintain both order and safety under siege. And they weren’t alone—the actions of the feminists and pro-choice activists throughout OSA’s event show Alabaman advocates’ potential power to push back against these growing threats to bodily autonomy.

In fine—and fun!—feminist form, ARRA turned the weeklong OSA event into a fundraiser. About a month prior to the OSA action, ARRA launched an “adopt-an-anti” campaign online, wherein people could “Let Reproductive Justice Roll!” and sponsor a particular protester or adopt people for a day or the entire week. This online fundraiser depended on ARRA members counting anti-choice activists every day to account for 5-, 10-, or 25-cent donations. One participant donated a dollar for every child present and $10 for every child outside at an OSA event when the temperatures were over 90 degrees. When it was all said and done, ARRA raised more than $3,100—all of which went to help women in Alabama obtain an abortion even when finances stand in their way. Local artist Pamela JoAnn Willis also used her talent—as well as a pair of handcuffs delivered anonymously to the Huntsville clinic—and auctioned off this painting as a fundraiser for ARRA, raising another $550. Using art and online activism, ARRA turned OSA into a lot of money to help Alabama women obtain abortions.

But it is more than using OSA’s presence to further pro-choice causes. Upon the conclusion of the anti-choice organization’s weeklong visit, seven executive board members of ARRA filed an ethics complaint against Moore for his involvement with the event. In this complaint, which will be taken up by the Judicial Ethics Commission, ARRA charged, “By aligning himself with these domestic terrorists, Judge Moore is guilty of domestic treason by association, conflict of interest, misconduct, collusion and consorting with the enemy.” Indeed, known clinic bomber John Brockhoeft as well as sex offender Howard Scott Heldreth were both in the area during the week—and Judge Moore praised this “radical for God” organization openly, with both his words and his presence.

The Struggle for Bodily Autonomy Continues

“Let Justice Roll” came and went, but a month later, anti-choicers’ beat goes on.

Three weeks after OSA left the area, a woman known as Jane Doe sought an abortion—something well within her legal rights in the state as a person pregnant for less than 20 weeks. Of course, in addition to the time restriction, abortion is already difficult to obtain in Alabama: 48-hour mandatory waiting period, two clinic visits, and cost of travel, time, and procedure. But Jane Doe’s choice was exacerbated by the fact that she is imprisoned in the Lauderdale County jail. The state ACLU sought to get her a temporary furlough to travel 75 miles to the Huntsville clinic; ARRA agreed to lend financial support if Doe was able to obtain the procedure but lacked financial resources to do so. However, the Lauderdale County District Attorney Chris Connolly refused to let her go, citing the 2013 criminal endangerment act under which she is currently charged, and instead sought to appoint an attorney for the fetus. He also stated that if the court approved her petition to obtain an abortion, he would have her parental rights terminatedwhile she is still pregnant. These legal machinations effectively threatened to turn Jane Doe into a reproductive vessel, not a woman with rights to determine what could happen to her own body.

Doe has since decided not to have an abortion and instead will carry her fetus to term. No one knows for certain if she was coerced into this decision—she signed an affidavit that she was not—but it is easy to see how few choices she actually has as someone imprisoned and pregnant. She also still faces the potential loss of her parental rights because of the criminal endangerment charge.

Beyond this particular—and particularly horrifying—case, the state legislature is in special session and using this time to push through devastating anti-choice bills. Governor Robert Bentley had to call a special session, which convened on Monday, August 3, because the legislature did not pass a budget during regular session. The focus of the special session must be on the budget, but the legislature passed a Budget Isolation Resolution allowing it to take up “emergency measures.”

Two such measures include SB 44, sponsored by Sen. Bill Hightower (R-Mobile), which prohibits the exchange of money or anything of value for fetal tissue. Of course, this bill is related to the attack videos that have had forced-birthers pushing to defund Planned Parenthood at the federal level for the last two weeks. Meanwhile, SB 26, a bill Sen. Gerald Dial (R-Lineville) proposed, would set up the state to charge a woman who has an abortion with homicide. As the bill is worded, it would revise the definition of criminal homicide to include abortion, even if the woman consents. The Alabama legislature is poised, once again, to challenge the very foundation of Roe v. Wade and subsequent legal precedent that affirms a woman’s right to abortion. In so doing, it undermines the reality that women are fully formed human beings. If SB 26 is successful—and history shows that in the Alabama legislature, anything is possible—the consequences for any person who can and does get pregnant are very real.

To cap all of it off, last week, Alabama Gov. Robert J. Bentley announced that he was cutting off state funding to Planned Parenthood.

Getting Radical for Reproductive Rights

Forced-birth activists in Alabama and around the country will be protesting Planned Parenthood agencies later this month. ARRA and clinic defenders will greet them and anyone who needs clinic services with more goodwill toward patients and providers, and a firm commitment to women’s human rights. And we will continue to work in the courts, in the statehouse, at the clinics, and alongside each other.

Now that Gov. Bentley has decided to defund Planned Parenthood, pro-choice activists are donating money in honor of (and more than one activist, “in memory of”) Bentley and his administration. Monday, August 10 was a “storm the statehouse” day, in which people around the state protested, among other things, the governor’s cuts to the organization. And on August 22, the day identified as a national day of protest against Planned Parenthood, ARRA will counter-protest those activists. We, along with other advocates, will be working in coalition with local, state, and national organizations to launch lawsuits, file ethics complaints, and stop abusive legislation that undoes women’s human rights. Alabama feminists and pro-choice activists are poised to get radical for reproductive rights.

CORRECTION: This piece has been updated to clarify the waiting period in Alabama.

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