Commentary Race

The #Justice4Jamar Protests Are a Reproductive Justice Issue

Andrea Plaid

The media coverage and governmental responses to the protests in Minneapolis are missing the message that the community is protesting that the police shot Jamar Clark before he had his day in court as someone facing domestic violence charges.

The way the press in Minneapolis, Minnesota, initially reported the Twin Cities’ reaction to the police shooting Jamar Clark is “Black Lives Matter is acting up again—and for no good reason.” That narrative loses the message of why the community is protesting: The police shot Clark before he had his day in court as someone facing domestic violence charges.

In the rush to keep up appearances that the Twin Cities are progressive and “nice,” even as white supremacists further belied that notion by shooting five protesters on November 23, the media coverage and governmental responses are missing the fact that the protests are a reproductive justice matter.

Facts are still unfolding, but here is what has become apparent so far. In the early morning of Sunday, November 15, police and paramedics responded to a domestic violence call in North Minneapolis between Clark and his girlfriend, who lived in the area. The paramedics were giving medical treatment to the girlfriend. Clark, according to reports, tried to interfere with the her treatment. Onlookers say Clark was then handcuffed, a claim the police have denied. One of the two officers on the scene—either Mark Ringgenberg or Dustin Schwarze—allegedly shot Clark in the head. According to Clark’s father, James Hill, he was brain dead when he arrived at the hospital. His family took him off mechanical support on November 16. As of this article, Ringgenberg and Schwarze are on administrative leave.

Black Lives Matter Minneapolis (BLM-Minn) acted like a social media first responder on November 15, alerting its Facebook community of nearly 20,000 people about the shooting as members also used the platform to gather more information about the details from the people who live in the community. The chapter, along with the local NAACP, led a peaceful march and occupation of the 4th Precinct police station later on that Sunday and stated activists would stay in the building and on the property until five initial demands were met.

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These demands were to see footage from the incident; for an independent organization—not the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), which is attached to Minnesota’s Department of Public Safety, also known as the police—to investigate the shooting; for the media to cover what eyewitnesses saw, not just the police’s perspective; for community oversight with full disciplinary power; and for police officers to live in the communities they serve. Thanks to laws advocated for by not only police unions, but also teachers’ unions and parents, this is not currently a requirement in Minneapolis.

On Monday, November 16, another mix of protesters—including leaders from Black Lives Matter and the local NAACP, other community organizers, and supporters—shut down Interstate 94, about a 30-minute walk from the 4th Precinct police station. Forty-three adults and eight youths were arrested, according to BLM-Minn, and they were released the next day.

Other Minneapolitans and St. Paulites who may not have been able to participate in the direct actions donated food, water, hand warmers, money, and other supplies.

And BLM-Minn ultimately boiled down their demands to three: a release of the footage from all of the available cameras that documented the incident on November 15, an independent federal investigation, and the immediate termination of the officers involved in Clark’s shooting.

So far, the Minneapolis Police Department refuses to release any videos from the paramedics’ vehicle, the Ames Elks Lodge across the street from where the police shot Clark, or any other cameras that could have caught the situation as it unfolded. Black Lives Matter did obtain footage from an onlooker of the cops’ treatment of Clark before the shooting. Minneapolis’ mayor, Betsy Hodges, and Minnesota’s governor, Mark Dayton, requested the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the shooting. The Hennepin County medical examiner has declared Clark’s death a homicide. The local media is slowly changing its coverage, reworking police statements and tired tropes about BLM-Minn instigating violent demonstrations to include what eyewitnesses said about the unfolding events.

In the process, the police are maintaining that the protesters are acting hostilely, if not violently, even though the videos and photos repeatedly appear to show police acting out—including lying about the protesters being paid operatives, displaying a militarized show of force to remove the protesters from the 4th Precinct, and macing protesters. Journalists and other community storytellers have been arrested for covering what’s going on.

On November 20, Black Lives Matter reported on its Facebook page that white supremacists showed up to the 4th Precinct occupation—complete with one carrying a gun—and promised to show up at a candlelight vigil later this past week. The majority of the Minneapolis City Council is either silent or against Black Lives Matters’ demands, as of this writing.

Those are the facts so far.

As Black Lives Matter leaders and supporters have said locally and nationally, the police are killing Black people regardless of innocence or guilt. Clark was killed before he faced charges of domestic violence. The police accord the expectation to live and breathe to other people for the same crimes. Thus, the protesters and supporters feel the case should have been the same for Clark. Law enforcement, however, gave no regard to that. Constant law enforcement and extralegal threats, such as white supremacists, lessen the quality of life for individuals and for any family they want to form or have formed—a core tenet of reproductive justice.

And these threats from the cops and the racially driven citizen groups are bolstered by stereotypes about Black people, namely that Black men are only hyperviolent brutes and Black women are never victims worthy of genuine empathy. Clark’s girlfriend and sister are offered in the media as indictments of Black Lives Matter and the NAACP. Anti-BLM individuals state, under the guise of caring for Clark’s girlfriend, that BLM-Minn supporters are misguided in their protests because Clark allegedly abused his girlfriend, so, the subtle implication is that the Black women running the organizations are choosing to support the Black man over the woman. The naysayers also offer the video of Clark’s sister, Javille Burns, telling the protesters that their actions “have no goal” and are “pissing people off.” In doing so, they are essentially using her as a Trojan horse for their own racially couched arguments of BLM-Minn mindlessly defending “guilty” Black men and, more to the point, pointlessly disrupting the lives of Minnesotans to seek this unearned justice, which they perceive as “violent” even as the videos have shown the protesters staying peaceful.

Again, the protesters aren’t saying that Clark is innocent; they are saying that he didn’t deserve to die before he was able to have his day in court. Black female activists, from Ida B. Wells to Combahee River Collective members to Angela Davis, haven’t separated themselves from Black men or their defense of Black men dealing with the legal and extralegal system from their feminism. More importantly, none of the people raising these counterarguments are publicly offering help, particularly to the girlfriend they wish to use as a proof against the protests. As studies have proven, such stereotyping—like the belief that Black women don’t deserve genuine empathy—further impacts the lives of Black women as we navigate what Melissa Harris-Perry calls the “crooked room” of racism and sexism. We must deal with our familial, reproductive, sexual, and romantic lives in the midst of couched dismissal of our existences in order to serve as the so-called allies’ political counterarguments to those issues directly affecting us.

Yet, in all of this, very few in the media and government are addressing the systemic structures that allow the reproductive justice issues to fester in North Minneapolis and the state itself. That the Huffington Post and 24/7 Wall Street ranked Minneapolis-St. Paul as the third-worst city in the United States for Black Americans is, at best, met with white progressive hand-wringing and the weird double-talk that is the fine art of “Minnesota Nice.” More often than not, the reports and the statistics as to why the Twin Cities ranked so high—high unemployment, low median income, poverty rates, redlining then gentrifying communities of color, and disproportionately high rates of STIs—are met with relative silence, compared to the screaming outrage a person here sees as the reaction to the protests in North Minneapolis.  

Where reproductive justice is manifesting itself, however, is in the coalitions—which are deeper and broader than BLM-Minn and the local NAACP—that have come to support the #Justice4Jamar protests, with individuals across the racial and religious spectrums within and around North Minneapolis attending the protests and representatives from Indigenous, Asian and Pacific Islander (AAPI), and Muslim and Arab communities, among others, coming down to show support. Mayor Betsy Hodges may have run on a “One Minneapolis” platform, but she is showing so far that it’s a platitude and not a policy with regard to this situation: She endorsed the police’s behavior, it took her a few days after the shooting to request a federal investigation, seemingly only urging from protesters, and, when confronted about her responses, replied in double-talk. But there are Minneapolitans who are actually engaging in that promise.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.

Commentary Human Rights

The Democratic National Convention Was a Remarkable Victory for Disabled People

s.e. smith

This year's convention included disabled people every evening, as part of a larger inclusive policy that made 2016 a banner year for disability rights activists.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

On Thursday night, Hillary Clinton formally accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. Her speech included many of the elements one expects from a nominee, but there were some standout moments—like when she mentioned disability rights, which she did repeatedly.

Clinton integrated disability into her discussion of her record, talking about her work to ensure that disabled children have the right to go to school and bringing up the health-care needs of disabled youth. Her commentary reinforced the fact that she has always cared about disability issues, particularly in the context of children’s rights.

But she did more than that. She referenced shortages of mental health beds. She explicitly called out disability rights as necessary to defend. And at one point, she did not mention disability, which in itself was radical. When she outlined her plans for gun reform and clearly stated that she wanted to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them, she referenced people with criminal histories and terrorists, but not mentally ill people, who have been fighting a surge in stigma thanks to perennial (and wildly incorrect) assertions that mental illness causes violence. That omission was clearly deliberate, given the meticulous level of crafting that goes into writing one of the most important speeches of a presidential candidate’s career.

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The nominee’s speech would have been remarkable on its own, but what made it truly outstanding is that it was far from the first appearance of disability at this year’s Democratic National Convention (DNC). The convention included disabled people every evening as part of a larger inclusive policy that made 2016 a banner year for disability rights activists, who are used to being invisible. These kinds of appearances normalized disability, presenting it as a part of some people’s lives and a source of pride, not shame or misery.

On Monday, for example, disability rights activist Anastasia Somoza rolled out to give a sharp, compelling speech that didn’t cast disability in a tragic or exceptional light. She wasn’t the only wheelchair user to appear on the DNC stage—Paralympic athlete Mallory Weggemann led the pledge of allegiance on a different evening. Dynah Haubert, an attorney for Disability Rights Pennsylvania, took the stage on Tuesday. Nor were wheelchair users the only disabled people represented. Ryan Moore, a longtime friend of Clinton’s, spoke about health care and his experiences as a man with spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenital syndrome, a form of dwarfism. Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy talked about his learning disabilities. Musician Demi Lovato, who has bipolar disorder, took on mental health.

Former Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, a nondisabled man who played an instrumental role in the push to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, taught the crowd sign language during a lively speech about the fight for disability rights on Tuesday, the 26th anniversary of the landmark legislation.

On Wednesday night, former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) strode out onto the DNC stage in Philadelphia, smiling and waving at the crowd, to make a few short remarks. “Speaking is difficult for me,” she concluded, “but come January 2017 I want to say these two words: ‘Madam President.'” Her speech was about gun violence—a subject with which she’s intimately familiar after being shot in the head in 2011.

This level of representation is unprecedented. Some speakers, like Somoza, explicitly talked about disability rights, putting the subject in the spotlight in a way it’s never been at previous conventions. Others, like Giffords, came up on stage to talk about something else entirely—and happened to represent disability while they were at it. Similarly, Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), a decorated combat veteran and double amputee, talked about military policy.

This is a striking contrast from the treatment of disability at previous Democratic National Conventions: When disabled people have appeared, it’s often been in the form of a lackluster performance that objectifies disability, rather than celebrating it, as in 1996 when former actor Christopher Reeve framed disability as a medical tragedy.

Disability rights activists have spent decades fighting for this kind of representation. In 1992, two years after the passage of the ADA, the platform included just three mentions of disability. This year, the subject comes up in 36 instances, woven throughout the platform for an integrated approach to disability as a part of society, rather than as something that needs to be walled off into a tiny section of the platform, tokenized, and then dismissed.

In the intervening years, disabled people in the United States have fought for the enforcement of the ADA, and taken the right to independent living to court in 1999’s Olmsted v. L.C., which was namechecked in the 2000 platform and then forgotten. Disabled people advocated to have their rights in school codified with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2004, pushed for inclusion in 2010’s Affordable Care Act, and are fighting to pass the Community Choice Act and Disability Integration Act (DIA). Disability rights in the United States has come a long way since 1990’s infamous Capitol Crawl, in which disability rights activists dragged themselves up the steps of the U.S. Capitol, pleading with Congress to pass the ADA.

And as activists have pushed for progress in the courts and in Congress, disability rights have slowly become more prominent in the Democratic party platform. The ADA has been a consistent theme, appearing in every platform since 1992 alongside brief references to civil rights; historically, however, the focus has been on disability as a medical issue. The 1996 platform introduced Medicare, and health care in general, as issues important to the disability community, a refrain that was reiterated in years to come. In numerous years, Democrats addressed concerns about long-term care, in some cases positioning disabled people as objects of care rather than independent people. Disabled veterans have also played a recurring role in the platform’s discussion of military issues. But beyond these topics—again, often approached from a dehumanizing angle—and the occasional lip service to concerns about discrimination and equal rights, until the 2000s, education was the only really consistent disability issue.

In 2000, however, the Democrats went big, building on eight years under President Bill Clinton, and the influence of his then-first lady. For the first time, disability wasn’t simply lumped under “civil rights.” The platform explicitly called out the need for protection from disability hate crimes, but it also began to introduce the idea that there were other issues of relevance to the disability with a discussion of the digital divide and the obstacles that held disabled people back. Almost 30 years after the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which barred disability discrimination by government agencies and contractors, the Democrats were starting to embrace issues like accessibility and independent living, which also played a prominent role in 2000.

It was a hint that the party was starting to think about disability issues in a serious way, especially when in 2008, the Democrats discussed the shameful delay on ratification of the United Nations’ Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, took on the Community Choice Act, talked about the need to enforce IDEA, and, again for the first time, explicitly addressed voting rights issues. By 2012, they were also calling out discriminatory voter ID laws and their disproportionate effect on the disabled community.

That’s tremendous, though incremental, progress.

And this week, the efforts of a generation of disability rights activists are on display everywhere in Philadelphia, where Daily News columnist Ronnie Polaneczky observed that accessibility is a top priority across the city. The DNC is providing expanded accessible seating, wheelchair charging stations, service dog relief areas, Braille materials, closed captioning, American Sign Language interpreters, medication refrigerators, and more. That’s radical inclusion at work, and the result of incredible efforts by disability rights organizers—including the 400 delegates who disclosed disabilities.

Those same organizers have been hounding the presidential candidates, holding them accountable on disability over and over again. They’ve brought up concerns about independent living, wage disparities, education, access to services, accessibility, hate crimes, reproductive rights, the “marriage penalty” and government benefits, and casual disablism in campaign rhetoric and practices. Advocates leaned on the Clinton campaign until it began captioning its content, for example. RespectAbility sent journalists out on the trail, #CriptheVote organized Twitter, and Rev Up encouraged people to register to vote and get involved. The disability community may be more explicitly politically active this year than ever before, and the DNC has been responding accordingly.

Clearly in consultation with disability rights activists, the Democrats have brought a host of new issues into this year’s platform, acknowledging that disabled people are part of U.S. society. Some of the many issues unique to this year’s platform include: abolition of the subminimum wage, concerns about economic opportunities with an explicitly intersectional discussion of the racial wealth gap, affordable housing, accessibility at the polls, the role of disability in the school-to-prison pipeline, and the need for more accurate Census data.

Notably, in a platform that has loudly called for a Hyde Amendment repeal and pushed for other abortion rights, the Democrats have also reinforced the need for access to reproductive health for disabled people, a revolutionary clause that’s gone virtually unnoticed.

This is a platform—and convention—of aggressive inclusion, and it reflects a victory for disabled people in the United States. It does still lack some components the disability community would like to see, like a shoutout to the DIA, which Clinton supports. This is, however, the start of what looks like a robust and real relationship between the Democrats and the disability rights community.