Analysis Human Rights

Undocumented Farmworkers Make “Perfect Victims” for Sexual Harassers and Abusers

Joseph Sorrentino

The problem is also rampant in food processing plants, where often “a male supervisor will just walk down the line and run his hand along [female workers'] buttock," according to an attorney.

This piece originally appeared in In These Times and was published in partnership with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute.

Like millions of Mexicans, Carolina Martínez dreamed of coming to the United States to work. Her plan was to put in a few years in the fields, save up enough money to return to her hometown, and build a house there for her family. Her husband was already working on a farm outside of Albion, New York, so she knew there was money to be made, certainly more than the few dollars per day she typically made selling food on the street.

In 2004, at the age of 21, she took her 1-year-old child and traveled some 1,200 miles by bus to the U.S. border, where she handed off her son to a friend and found a coyote (smuggler) who would guide her and 10 others across for $2,000 each. It took a full week of hard and dangerous walking to get through the desert. She ran out of food and water, and at one point twisted her ankle, but she didn’t dare stop. “We passed people who were dead,” she recalls. But she made it out of the desert alive, reunited with her infant son—whom her friend had driven across the border—and eventually made her way to a small town outside of Rochester, New York, where she joined her husband. Martínez quickly found work packing potatoes and onions.

The work was hard. During planting and harvest seasons she might work 10 hours a day, six or seven days a week. But she had expected that. What she hadn’t expected was the near-constant sexual harassment on the job. The crew leader would, she says, “touch women in a sexual way … touch women on their asses.” When Martínez threatened to report him, he’d warn, “They’ll get rid of you. And if you do go to the boss, I’ll call Immigration.”

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So she didn’t tell the boss. And she didn’t tell her husband either, afraid he’d be so angry that he’d pick a fight and they’d both get fired—or worse, deported. “Women have to tolerate this in silence,” she says. “Because if you talk to the owners and you lose your job, then what? Many times during lunch, I cried. I felt I was alone.” The harassment continued every day for seven months.

Cheryl Gee, a domestic and sexual violence specialist in the Rochester office of the Worker Justice Center of New York, has heard countless such tales in the 12 years that she has provided victim advocacy to women farmworkers. “Many of them perceive rape and sexual harassment to be part of coming here and doing this work,” she says. “They believe this is what they have to go through to feed their families.”

The majority of women farmworkers interviewed in 2010 by the Southern Poverty Law Center and Human Rights Watch had experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault, which ranged from verbal abuse to rape. One 2010 study published in the journal Violence Against Women estimated that as many as 80 percent of women farmworkers in certain areas of the country have been sexually harassed or assaulted on the job. It’s so bad on some farms in Florida and California that women call the fields “the green motel” or “the field of panties.”

What NAFTA Sowed

Women make up slightly more than 20 percent of U.S. farmworkers, and of these, the majority are immigrants from Mexico. Women become migratory workers for the same reasons men do—in many cases, to escape rural poverty. The Mexican government estimates that 80 percent of all campesinos earn less than $2 a day. Increases in the cost of staples such as rice, beans, and eggs have made things more difficult for the working poor. Policies such as NAFTA have also strengthened agribusiness and driven up food imports, pushing small farmers and farmworkers even deeper into poverty—and, in many cases, off their lands.

Now, workers traveling to the United States are staying longer, and sometimes permanently; they can no longer count on earning even poverty wages back home, and those in the United States are afraid to leave because it’s no longer so easy to slip back across the border.

“People used to stay two, three years and go back to Mexico,” says Amí Kadar, the former director of the now defunct Congreso Independiente de Trabajadores Agricolos, an agricultural workers center in Albion, New York. “Now, with so much activity at the border, they’re staying seven, eight years or longer. A lot of women, their husbands are here and they want to join them.” She said some single women are coming, too. “They think, ‘Men can go and make money, I want to, also.’”

These women, like so many undocumented workers, often end up on farms, doing some of the most dangerous work in the United States. According to the National Safety Council and the Department of Labor, farm work consistently ranks among the top five industries for accidents and injuries. It’s also among the lowest paying. And for immigrant women, it’s rife with sexual harassment and abuse.

“Generally, [the perpetrator] will have some kind of legal immigration status,” says Liz Maria Chacko, a supervising attorney at Friends of Farmworkers in Philadelphia. “This gives them power over their victims. They’ll make threats like, ‘I have papers and you don’t.’” According to Chacko, a lack of fluency in English makes the women even more vulnerable. Their immediate supervisors, who tend to be their harassers, also tend to be bilingual. If a woman complains, the perpetrator can directly present his case to the farm owner in English. The woman who’s been victimized cannot.

That’s what happened at one farm where Carolina Martínez worked. She says the manager, a Mexican immigrant himself, routinely approached women for sex. (He didn’t bother her, probably because she lived with her husband.) “He told [women] if they did not have sex with him, they were going to lose their jobs,” she says. Many women complied. Finally, one woman spoke up about the abuse to the farm owner. But, says Martínez, the owner didn’t believe her. In fact, he may not have understood her at all, because the woman spoke only Spanish and the owner, like most, spoke only English—while the supervisor spoke both. The handful of bilingual workers who could have translated were afraid to get involved. Not willing to lose his manager, the owner instead fired the woman who complained—which sent a strong message to the other women.

Chacko says owners often react defensively to accusations of harassment. “The response we get is usually denial.”

A second group of agricultural laborers particularly vulnerable to harassment are those in food processing plants, says Chacko. “I don’t think I’ve spoken with a woman worker in meat packing or poultry processing who hasn’t experienced sexual harassment,” she says. “A male supervisor will just walk down the line and run his hand along their buttock, make sexual comments.” She represented one woman who worked in a food processing plant who was forced to have sex with her supervisor in order to keep her job.

Another client, Josefina Romero, grew up in Guadalajara and immigrated from Mexico eight years ago to escape working for poverty wages in a plastic bottle factory in Mexico City. Hoping to save money to help her mother, who was sick with diabetes, she headed north and eventually ended up working at a poultry plant in Pennsylvania. Romero’s new line leader liked to harass the women on the assembly line as they worked. “At first it was only words, and then he started touching women,” she says. “He’d walk behind you, make sure he wasn’t being watched, and he would grab your breasts, your ass.”

Romero considered approaching a supervisor, “but he was worse—he was harassing women, too.” She complained repeatedly to other management, but no actions were taken. She had no one to confide in; she was afraid to tell her husband because she thought he might attack her line manager.

At one point, Romero woke up to find half her face temporarily paralyzed. At the hospital, doctors told her the problem was most likely stress-related. “All that pressure to remain quiet made me sick,” she says.

A month after her last complaint to management, she was fired.

Who to Trust?

In its report, the Southern Poverty Law Center calls women agricultural workers “the perfect victims.” They are typically undocumented and don’t speak English. They desperately need the work to support their families back in Mexico. Those who work on farms often live in remote camps or farmer-owned houses, far from any town. If the harassment gets bad enough, they may finally approach their employer or an advocate. But these women almost never involve law enforcement. “A client has the right to file a criminal charge [in sexual harassment cases],” says Chacko, “but I’ve never had anyone do that.” One worker put it this way: “It’s a rule Mexicans have…never call police because they will call Immigration. If I get beaten and I call the police, then I’m beaten and deported.”

Sheriff John York of Livingston County in western New York says that in his experience, undocumented workers aren’t afraid of the police or sheriffs themselves—they’re afraid that these local law enforcement officers will call Immigration. Because Mexican farmworkers rarely speak English and officers rarely speak Spanish, most officers will call Border Patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for translation, York says. And when the federal officials show up, they’ll usually ask for identification, even from the victim—exactly what undocumented women most fear. “I don’t tell women they should go to law enforcement or they shouldn’t,” says Gee. “I tell them it’s an option, and we talk about the risk. The immediate risk is they’re going to be detained.”

Theresa Asmus is a rape crisis service supervisor in Batavia, New York—not far from Livingston County—who also works with victims of domestic violence, including some farmworkers. She says that undocumented women often wait to seek help until they have been “victimized so severely that seeking the protection of the police was a life or death choice.”

Occasionally, police involvement can have a happy ending. One young woman I spoke with, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala who worked on a vegetable farm in western New York, finally sought police help after being raped twice by a friend of her husband. The perpetrator was arrested and deported and, with Gee’s help, the young woman applied for a U-Visa, which grants crime victims temporary legal status and work eligibility for up to four years.

Harassed and Defeated

Mike Scioli is a lead Border Patrol agent based in Grand Island, New York. He says that crime victims have no reason to fear the Border Patrol or ICE. “If someone is a victim, that takes precedence over anything,” he says. “In a rescue, legal or illegal doesn’t come up.” (ICE officials did not respond to repeated calls and emails requesting an interview.)

But immigrant advocates tell a different story. Lew Papenfuse, co-executive director of the Rochester-based Worker Justice Center, says that, in his experience, whether an undocumented crime victim is detained and deported depends on “the enlightenment” of the law enforcement agent. In some domestic violence cases, immigration is called; in others, officers focus on helping the victim.

“We do call Border Patrol or ICE when there’s a language issue,” says Sheriff Scott Hess of Orleans County, on Lake Ontario in New York. “It’s at the deputy’s discretion.” Hess is aware that calling federal agents for translation presented a problem for undocumented crime victims. “There are a lot of crimes in the Hispanic community that go unreported because of ICE or Border Patrol and the language issue. [But] we don’t have the luxury of calling a paid interpreter.”

Sheriff York’s department does things differently, relying instead on volunteer interpreters from the community. He has also worked with advocates to “build trust”—and send a message: “We’re not going to treat them as illegals.” But, he adds, “Not every police department does what we do.”

Women who are the victims of serious crimes, including rape, domestic violence, and sexual harassment, are eligible to apply for a U-Visa. But in order to qualify, they must cooperate with law enforcement—and thus risk deportation. Several of the women in this article, including Martínez, have been granted U-Visas, but they described it as a long and complicated process fraught with risk.

Most of the women farmworkers I interviewed who experienced harassment ended up feeling defeated.

Ana Gutiérrez, like the other women I spoke with for this article, came to the United States seeking a better life for her family. She’d been working in a stationery store in Copala, Mexico, earning about $25 a week, barely enough to provide for her infant daughter. Like Martínez, her plan was to save enough to build a home in Mexico by working in the United States for a few years. She entered the country in 2003 and ended up in New York’s Hudson Valley, where she found work on a duck farm. The farm produced paté, which requires that the ducks be force-fed every few hours. “It was very hard work,” she says.“Very dirty.”

In addition to the brutal work schedule, Gutiérrez found herself subjected to nearly constant sexual harassment by a Mexican coworker. “He said he would help with my work if I paid him with my body,” she says. The abuse got so bad that she finally quit. But at her next job, on another farm, men also harassed women. When she spoke to me she was between jobs, desperately hoping to get another job and save enough money just to return home to Mexico, her dream in tatters. “The United States is not a pretty place,” she says. “It is like a prison. I have a sister and niece who wanted to come here. I told them not to come. To live here is to suffer.”

Names of agricultural workers have been changed to protect their anonymity.

Analysis Abortion

‘Pro-Life’ Pence Transfers Money Intended for Vulnerable Households to Anti-Choice Crisis Pregnancy Centers

Jenn Stanley

Donald Trump's running mate has said that "life is winning in Indiana"—and the biggest winner is probably a chain of crisis pregnancy centers that landed a $3.5 million contract in funds originally intended for poor Hoosiers.

Much has been made of Republican Gov. Mike Pence’s record on LGBTQ issues. In 2000, when he was running for U.S. representative, Pence wrote that “Congress should oppose any effort to recognize homosexual’s [sic] as a ‘discreet and insular minority’ [sic] entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws similar to those extended to women and ethnic minorities.” He also said that funds meant to help people living with HIV or AIDS should no longer be given to organizations that provide HIV prevention services because they “celebrate and encourage” homosexual activity. Instead, he proposed redirecting those funds to anti-LGBTQ “conversion therapy” programs, which have been widely discredited by the medical community as being ineffective and dangerous.

Under Pence, ideology has replaced evidence in many areas of public life. In fact, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has just hired a running mate who, in the past year, has reallocated millions of dollars in public funds intended to provide food and health care for needy families to anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers.

Gov. Pence, who declined multiple requests for an interview with Rewire, has been outspoken about his anti-choice agenda. Currently, Indiana law requires people seeking abortions to receive in-person “counseling” and written information from a physician or other health-care provider 18 hours before the abortion begins. And thanks, in part, to other restrictive laws making it more difficult for clinics to operate, there are currently six abortion providers in Indiana, and none in the northern part of the state. Only four of Indiana’s 92 counties have an abortion provider. All this means that many people in need of abortion care are forced to take significant time off work, arrange child care, and possibly pay for a place to stay overnight in order to obtain it.

This environment is why a contract quietly signed by Pence last fall with the crisis pregnancy center umbrella organization Real Alternatives is so potentially dangerous for Indiana residents seeking abortion: State-subsidized crisis pregnancy centers not only don’t provide abortion but seek to persuade people out of seeking abortion, thus limiting their options.

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“Indiana is committed to the health, safety, and wellbeing [sic] of Hoosier families, women, and children,” reads the first line of the contract between the Indiana State Department of Health and Real Alternatives. The contract, which began on October 1, 2015, allocates $3.5 million over the course of a year for Real Alternatives to use to fund crisis pregnancy centers throughout the state.

Where Funding Comes From

The money for the Real Alternatives contract comes from Indiana’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, a federally funded, state-run program meant to support the most vulnerable households with children. The program was created by the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act signed by former President Bill Clinton. It changed welfare from a federal program that gave money directly to needy families to one that gave money, and a lot of flexibility with how to use it, to the states.

This TANF block grant is supposed to provide low-income families a monthly cash stipend that can be used for rent, child care, and food. But states have wide discretion over these funds: In general, they must use the money to serve families with children, but they can also fund programs meant, for example, to promote marriage. They can also make changes to the requirements for fund eligibility.

As of 2012, to be eligible for cash assistance in Indiana, a household’s maximum monthly earnings could not exceed $377, the fourth-lowest level of qualification of all 50 states, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service. Indiana’s program also has some of the lowest maximum payouts to recipients in the country.

Part of this is due to a 2011 work requirement that stripped eligibility from many families. Under the new work requirement, a parent or caretaker receiving assistance needs to be “engaged in work once the State determines the parent or caretaker is ready to engage in work,” or after 24 months of receiving benefits. The maximum time allowed federally for a family to receive assistance is 60 months.

“There was a TANF policy change effective November 2011 that required an up-front job search to be completed at the point of application before we would proceed in authorizing TANF benefits,” Jim Gavin, a spokesman for the state’s Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA), told Rewire. “Most [applicants] did not complete the required job search and thus applications were denied.”

Unspent money from the block grant can be carried over to following years. Indiana receives an annual block grant of $206,799,109, but the state hasn’t been using all of it thanks to those low payouts and strict eligibility requirements. The budget for the Real Alternatives contract comes from these carry-over funds.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, TANF is explicitly meant to clothe and feed children, or to create programs that help prevent “non-marital childbearing,” and Indiana’s contract with Real Alternatives does neither. The contract stipulates that Real Alternatives and its subcontractors must “actively promote childbirth instead of abortion.” The funds, the contract says, cannot be used for organizations that will refer clients to abortion providers or promote contraceptives as a way to avoid unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.

Parties involved in the contract defended it to Rewire by saying they provide material goods to expecting and new parents, but Rewire obtained documents that showed a much different reality.

Real Alternatives is an anti-choice organization run by Kevin Bagatta, a Pennsylvania lawyer who has no known professional experience with medical or mental health services. It helps open, finance, and refer clients to crisis pregnancy centers. The program started in Pennsylvania, where it received a $30 million, five-year grant to support a network of 40 subcontracting crisis pregnancy centers. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale called for an audit of the organization between June 2012 and June 2015 after hearing reports of mismanaged funds, and found $485,000 in inappropriate billing. According to the audit, Real Alternatives would not permit DHS to review how the organization used those funds. However, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in April that at least some of the money appears to have been designated for programs outside the state.

Real Alternatives also received an $800,000 contract in Michigan, which inspired Gov. Pence to fund a $1 million yearlong pilot program in northern Indiana in the fall of 2014.

“The widespread success [of the pilot program] and large demand for these services led to the statewide expansion of the program,” reads the current $3.5 million contract. It is unclear what measures the state used to define “success.”

 

“Every Other Baby … Starts With Women’s Care Center”

Real Alternatives has 18 subcontracting centers in Indiana; 15 of them are owned by Women’s Care Center, a chain of crisis pregnancy centers. According to its website, Women’s Care Center serves 25,000 women annually in 23 centers throughout Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

Women’s Care Centers in Indiana received 18 percent of their operating budget from state’s Real Alternatives program during the pilot year, October 1, 2014 through September 30, 2015, which were mostly reimbursements for counseling and classes throughout pregnancy, rather than goods and services for new parents.

In fact, instead of the dispensation of diapers and food, “the primary purpose of the [Real Alternatives] program is to provide core services consisting of information, sharing education, and counseling that promotes childbirth and assists pregnant women in their decision regarding adoption or parenting,” the most recent contract reads.

The program’s reimbursement system prioritizes these anti-choice classes and counseling sessions: The more they bill for, the more likely they are to get more funding and thus open more clinics.

“This performance driven [sic] reimbursement system rewards vendor service providers who take their program reimbursement and reinvest in their services by opening more centers and hiring more counselors to serve more women in need,” reads the contract.

Classes, which are billed as chastity classes, parenting classes, pregnancy classes, and childbirth classes, are reimbursed at $21.80 per client. Meanwhile, as per the most recent contract, counseling sessions, which are separate from the classes, are reimbursed by the state at minimum rates of $1.09 per minute.

Jenny Hunsberger, vice president of Women’s Care Center, told Rewire that half of all pregnant women in Elkhart, LaPorte, Marshall, and St. Joseph Counties, and one in four pregnant women in Allen County, are clients of their centers. To receive any material goods, such as diapers, food, and clothing, she said, all clients must receive this counseling, at no cost to them. Such counseling is billed by the minute for reimbursement.

“When every other baby born [in those counties] starts with Women’s Care Center, that’s a lot of minutes,” Hunsberger told Rewire.

Rewire was unable to verify exactly what is said in those counseling sessions, except that they are meant to encourage clients to carry their pregnancies to term and to help them decide between adoption or child rearing, according to Hunsberger. As mandated by the contract, both counseling and classes must “provide abstinence education as the best and only method of avoiding unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.”

In the first quarter of the new contract alone, Women’s Care Center billed Real Alternatives and, in turn, the state, $239,290.97; about $150,000 of that was for counseling, according to documents obtained by Rewire. In contrast, goods like food, diapers, and other essentials for new parents made up only about 18.5 percent of Women’s Care Center’s first-quarter reimbursements.

Despite the fact that the state is paying for counseling at Women’s Care Center, Rewire was unable to find any licensing for counselors affiliated with the centers. Hunsberger told Rewire that counseling assistants and counselors complete a minimum training of 200 hours overseen by a master’s level counselor, but the counselors and assistants do not all have social work or psychology degrees. Hunsberger wrote in an email to Rewire that “a typical Women’s Care Center is staffed with one or more highly skilled counselors, MSW or equivalent.”

Rewire followed up for more information regarding what “typical” or “equivalent” meant, but Hunsberger declined to answer. A search for licenses for the known counselors at Women’s Care Center’s Indiana locations turned up nothing. The Indiana State Department of Health told Rewire that it does not monitor or regulate the staff at Real Alternatives’ subcontractors, and both Women’s Care Center and Real Alternatives were uncooperative when asked for more information regarding their counseling staff and training.

Bethany Christian Services and Heartline Pregnancy Center, Real Alternatives’ other Indiana subcontractors, billed the program $380.41 and $404.39 respectively in the first quarter. They billed only for counseling sessions, and not goods or classes.

In a 2011 interview with Philadelphia City Paper, Kevin Bagatta said that Real Alternatives counselors were not required to have a degree.

“We don’t provide medical services. We provide human services,” Bagatta told the City Paper.

There are pregnancy centers in Indiana that provide a full range of referrals for reproductive health care, including for STI testing and abortion. However, they are not eligible for reimbursement under the Real Alternatives contract because they do not maintain an anti-choice mission.

Parker Dockray is the executive director of Backline, an all-options pregnancy resource center. She told Rewire that Backline serves hundreds of Indiana residents each month, and is overwhelmed by demand for diapers and other goods, but it is ineligible for the funding because it will refer women to abortion providers if they choose not to carry a pregnancy to term.

“At a time when so many Hoosier families are struggling to make ends meet, it is irresponsible for the state to divert funds intended to support low-income women and children and give it to organizations that provide biased pregnancy counseling,” Dockray told Rewire. “We wish that Indiana would use this funding to truly support families by providing job training, child care, and other safety net services, rather than using it to promote an anti-abortion agenda.”

“Life Is Winning in Indiana”

Time and again, Bagatta and Hunsberger stressed to Rewire that their organizations do not employ deceitful tactics to get women in the door and to convince them not to have abortions. However, multiple studies have proven that crisis pregnancy centers often lie to women from the moment they search online for an abortion provider through the end of their appointments inside the center.

These studies have also shown that publicly funded crisis pregnancy centers dispense medically inaccurate information to clients. In addition to spreading lies like abortion causing infertility or breast cancer, they are known to give false hopes of miscarriages to people who are pregnant and don’t want to be. A 2015 report by NARAL Pro-Choice America found this practice to be ubiquitous in centers throughout the United States, and Rewire found that Women’s Care Center is no exception. The organization’s website says that as many as 40 percent of pregnancies end in natural miscarriage. While early pregnancy loss is common, it occurs in about 10 percent of known pregnancies, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Crisis pregnancy centers also tend to crop up next to abortion clinics with flashy, deceitful signs that lead many to mistakenly walk into the wrong building. Once inside, clients are encouraged not to have an abortion.

A Google search for “abortion” and “Indianapolis” turns up an ad for the Women’s Care Center as the first result. It reads: “Abortion – Indianapolis – Free Ultrasound before Abortion. Located on 86th and Georgetown. We’re Here to Help – Call Us Today: Abortion, Ultrasound, Locations, Pregnancy.”

Hunsberger denies any deceit on the part of Women’s Care Center.

“Clients who walk in the wrong door are informed that we are not the abortion clinic and that we do not provide abortions,” Hunsberger told Rewire. “Often a woman will choose to stay or return because we provide services that she feels will help her make the best decision for her, including free medical-grade pregnancy tests and ultrasounds which help determine viability and gestational age.”

Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky told Rewire that since Women’s Care Center opened on 86th and Georgetown in Indianapolis, many patients looking for its Georgetown Health Center have walked through the “wrong door.”

“We have had patients miss appointments because they went into their building and were kept there so long they missed their scheduled time,” Judi Morrison, vice president of marketing and education, told Rewire.

Sarah Bardol, director of Women’s Care Center’s Indianapolis clinic, told the Criterion Online Edition, a publication of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, that the first day the center was open, a woman and her boyfriend did walk into the “wrong door” hoping to have an abortion.

“The staff of the new Women’s Care Center in Indianapolis, located just yards from the largest abortion provider in the state, hopes for many such ‘wrong-door’ incidents as they seek to help women choose life for their unborn babies,” reported the Criterion Online Edition.

If they submit to counseling, Hoosiers who walk into the “wrong door” and “choose life” can receive up to about $40 in goods over the course their pregnancy and the first year of that child’s life. Perhaps several years ago they may have been eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, but now with the work requirement, they may not qualify.

In a February 2016 interview with National Right to Life, one of the nation’s most prominent anti-choice groups, Gov. Pence said, “Life is winning in Indiana.” Though Pence was referring to the Real Alternatives contract, and the wave of anti-choice legislation sweeping through the state, it’s not clear what “life is winning” actually means. The state’s opioid epidemic claimed 1,172 lives in 2014, a statistically significant increase from the previous year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV infections have spread dramatically throughout the state, in part because of Pence’s unwillingness to support medically sound prevention practices. Indiana’s infant mortality rate is above the national average, and infant mortality among Black babies is even higher. And Pence has reduced access to prevention services such as those offered by Planned Parenthood through budget cuts and unnecessary regulations—while increasing spending on anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers.

Gov. Pence’s track record shows that these policies are no mistake. The medical and financial needs of his most vulnerable constituents have taken a backseat to religious ideology throughout his time in office. He has literally reallocated money for poor Hoosiers to fund anti-choice organizations. In his tenure as both a congressman and a governor, he’s proven that whether on a national or state level, he’s willing to put “pro-life” over quality-of-life for his constituents.

Analysis Human Rights

Activists Seek Justice as Verdict Looms for Officer Involved in Freddie Gray’s Death

Michelle D. Anderson

Freddie Gray, 25, died from spinal cord injuries in April 2015, a week after police arrested and took him into custody. Last year, Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby brought criminal charges against six of the officers involved with his arrest. Since then, three officers' trials have been completed without convictions.

The bench trial of Lt. Brian Rice, the highest-ranking Baltimore Police Department officer involved in the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, began on Thursday, July 7. Rice faces involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, and reckless endangerment; the state dropped a misconduct charge after acknowledging Rice was not directly involved in Gray’s arrest. The closing arguments in his trial are scheduled for this Thursday; the judge is expected to share his verdict Monday.

The Rice trial started just as the public began grappling with the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling—and the subsequent murder of five police officers at a Dallas protest.

Castile and Sterling, both Black men, died during encounters with police in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, triggering nationwide protests against police brutality and implicit racial bias that have continued into this week.

And just like the days following Gray’s death, social media sites like Twitter and Facebook were flooded with images, videos, and hashtags demanding justice.

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Gray, 25, died from spinal cord injuries in April 2015, a week after police arrested and took him into custody. Activists and some Maryland legislators accused police of giving Gray an intentional “rough ride,” when inmates or persons in custody are transported in police vans without a seat belt and subjected to frantic driving, ultimately causing them injury. Last year, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby brought criminal charges against six of the officers involved with his arrest. Since then, three officers’ trials have been completed without convictions—and as activists on the ground in Baltimore wait for more verdicts, they are pushing for reforms and justice beyond the courtroom.

The first police trial, which involved charges against Officer William Porter of involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, and misconduct in office, ended in a mistrial in December 2015 after jurors failed to reach a verdict.

Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Barry Glenn Williams acquitted Officer Edward M. Nero of all charges in May. Mosby had charged Nero with misconduct, second-degree assault, and reckless endangerment for putting Gray into the police van without a seat belt.

But many viewed the trial of Caesar R. Goodson Jr., who drove the van, as the most critical of the six. Last month, Judge Williams announced that Goodson, too, had been acquitted of all charges—including second-degree depraved-heart murder, the most serious of those brought against the officers.

Kwame Rose, a Baltimore activist, told Rewire he was not surprised.

“The judicial system of America shows that police are never held accountable when it comes to the death of Black people,” said Rose, who was arrested in September and December during peaceful protests related to Gray’s death.

During Goodson’s trial, Williams said there were several “equally plausible scenarios,” that could have transpired during Gray’s arrest. He also rejected the state’s argument that police intentionally gave Gray a “rough ride,”according to a New York Times account.

Ray Kelly, community relations director for the No Boundaries Coalition of West Baltimore grassroots group and a community interviewer for the West Baltimore Community Commission on Police Misconduct, said he was disappointed by the Goodson verdict. However, he noted that he was heartened by Mosby’s decision to bring criminal charges against the officers in the first place. “It’s a small change, but it is a change nonetheless,” Kelly said in a recent interview with Rewire.

In addition to the charges, Gray’s death eventually sparked a major “pattern or practice” investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Local activists, including the No Boundaries Coalition, which issued in March a 32-page report that detailed police misconduct in Baltimore and helped to trigger the DOJ, expected the findings of the DOJ investigation in late June.

However, the document has yet to be released, said Kelly, who is a native of the same West Baltimore neighborhood where Gray was detained.

Kelly is expecting a consent decree—similar to the ones in Ferguson, Missouri, and Cleveland, Ohio—and a continued partnership with federal officials in the near future.

For Kelly, the trials—and the lack of convictions—have proved what leaders in groups like the No Boundaries Coalition have been saying in their advocacy. One of those messages, Kelly said, is that the community should continue to focus less on the judicial process for theoretically punishing officers who have committed wrongdoing and more on initiating policy changes that combat over-policing.

Baltimore Bloc, a grassroots group, seemed to echo Kelly’s sentiment in a statement last month. Two days after the Goodson verdict, Baltimore Bloc activists said it was a reminder that the judicial system was not broken and was simply doing exactly what it is designed to do.

“To understand our lack of faith in the justice system, you must first recognize certain truths: the justice system works for police who both live in and out of the city; it works against Black people who come from disinvested, redlined Black communities; and it systematically ruins the lives of people like Keith Davis Jr., Tyrone West and Freddie Gray,” Baltimore Bloc leadership said, referencing two other Baltimore residents shot by police.

The American Civil Liberties Union, citing the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Illinois v. Wardlow, said in a May blog post that police had legal case for stopping and arresting Gray, but also said the action constituted racially biased policing and diminished rights for Black and Latino citizens.

“The result is standards of police conduct that are different in some places than other places. It is a powerful example of institutionalized and structural racism in which ostensibly race-neutral policies and practices create different outcomes for different racial groups,” ACLU leaders said.

Right before issuing its statement in May, ACLU released a briefing paper that said at least 21 individuals had been killed in police encounters across Maryland in 2015. Of those fatal encounters, which included Gray, 81 percent were Black and about half were unarmed.

The ACLU said it was impossible for the agency to determine whether any officers were disciplined for misconduct in most cases because the police refused to release crucial information to the public.

The ACLU began compiling information about police custody deaths after learning that Maryland officials were not tracking those cases. In 2015, state politicians passed a law mandating law enforcement agencies to report such data. The first set of statistics on police custody deaths is expected in October, according to the ACLU. It is unclear whether those will include reports of officer discipline.

In line with those efforts, activists across Maryland are working to bring forth more systemic changes that will eliminate over-policing and the lack of accountability that exist among police agencies.

Elizabeth Alex, the regional director for CASA Baltimore, a grassroots group that advocates on behalf of local, low-income immigrant communities, told Rewire many activists are spending less energy on reforming the judicial process to achieve police accountability.

“I think people are looking at alternative ways to hold officers and others accountable other than the court system,” Alex said.

Like the No Boundaries Coalition, CASA Baltimore is part of the Campaign for Justice, Safety & Jobs (CJSJ), a collective of more than 30 local community, policy, labor, faith, and civil rights groups that convened after Gray’s death. CJSJ members include groups like the local ACLU affiliate, Baltimore United for Change, and Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle.

CJSJ leaders said the Goodson verdict underlined the critical need for “deep behavioral change” in the Baltimore Police Department’s culture. For the past year, the group has pushed heavily for citizen representation on police trial boards that review police brutality cases. Those boards make decisions about disciplining officers. For example, the city’s police commissioner might decide to discipline or fire an officer; that officer could go to the trial board to appeal the decision.

This spring, recent Baltimore City mayoral candidate and Maryland Sen. Catherine Pugh (D-Baltimore), helped pass an omnibus police accountability law, HB 1016. Part of that bill includes a change to Maryland’s Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights (LEOBR) giving local jurisdictions permission to allow voting citizens on police trial boards. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan signed the changes into law in May.

That change can only happen in Baltimore, however, if the Baltimore Fraternal Order of the Police union agrees to revise its contract with the city, according to WBAL TV. The agreement, which expired on June 30, currently does not allow citizen inclusion.

In light of the current stalled negotiations, Baltimore Bloc on July 5 demanded Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young instead introduce an amendment to the city charter to allow civilian participation on trial boards. If Young introduced the amendment before an August deadline, the question would make it onto the November ballot.

Kelly, in an interview with Rewire, cited some CJSJ members’ recent meeting with Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis as a win for Baltimore citizens. During that meeting, held on June 29, Davis outlined some of his plans for implementing change on the police force and said he supported local citizens participating on police trial boards, Kelly said.

This year, the Baltimore Police Department has also implemented a new use-of-force policy. The policy emphasizes de-escalation and accountability and is the first rewrite of the policy since 2003, according to the Sun.

The ACLU has welcomed the policy as a step in the right direction, but said the new rules need significant improvements, according to the Sun.

For example, the policy requires reporting to the department when an officer flashes or points a weapon at a suspect without shooting; the data will be reviewed by the police commissioner and other city officials. However, it doesn’t require the same from officers who use deadly force.

Notably, the policy requires officers to call a medic if a person in custody requests medical assistance or shows signs that they need professional help. Gray had requested a medic, but officers were skeptical and didn’t call for help until he became unresponsive, according to various news reports.

Rose, who recently received legal assistance from the ACLU to fight criminal charges related to his arrests last year, said citizens should continue to demand accountability and “true transparency” from law enforcement.

In the meantime, with four trials—including Rice’s case—remaining and no convictions, many are looking to see if Mosby will change her prosecution strategy in the upcoming weeks. Roya Hanna, a former Baltimore prosecutor, has suggested Mosby showed poor judgment for charging the six officers without “adequate evidence,” according to the Sun.

Meanwhile, Baltimore City’s police union has urged Mosby to drop the remaining charges against officers.

The trial of Officer Garrett E. Miller is slated to begin July 27; Officer William Porter, Sept. 6, and Sgt. Alicia D. White, Oct. 13. All officers charged pleaded not guilty.

Baltimore Bloc, citing its dissatisfaction with her performance thus far, demanded Mosby’s removal from office last month.

Kelly, who counts Baltimore Bloc among his allies, has a different outlook. Calling’s Mosby’s swift decision to charge the six officers last year  “groundbreaking,” the Baltimore activist said the ongoing police trials are justified and help give attention to police misconduct.

“She should follow through on the charges ….We need that exposure,” Kelly said. “It keeps the debate open and sparks the conversation.”