Tag Archives: rape

In the News: Black lives within the political process

Between the on-going water crisis in Flint, Michigan and the dramatic swing in the presidential primary towards the South, all eyes have been on the ways that anti-Black racism continues to affect the lives of all people in the United States in myriad ways.

Flint as unnatural disaster

ThinkProgress has put together a more than century-long timeline of the demographics, budgeting, and general economic health of Flint to create a more contextual view of the city. After decades of growth and success, Flint is now grappling with several health problems as a result of under-investment in water infrastructure. To make the long story short, complex community investment decisions have been decided in ways to prioritize resources for predominantly White communities and to undermine particularly largely Black communities’ expectations of communal responsibility and a democratic process.

flint_river_better.png(The Flint River, from here.)

The results are expensive public amenities that offer virtually nothing of use or provide actively dangerous “resources” like toxic water. The surrounding economics are – perhaps deliberately – complicated, but the ultimate effect is that greater costs are extracted from communities like Flint for dramatically inferior products. It’s a racket, and the greatest beneficiaries of it are the wealthy White communities essentially absolved of any social expectations while places like Flint are asked to pay twice if not more – once for water and again for medical care.

Who isn’t accountable?

Faced with catastrophes like that, Black community organizers and #BLM activists have minced no words in describing how they will hold the entire system responsible. Chicago-based Aislinn Pulley drew directly on the situation in Flint itself when describing why she was dissatisfied with the meeting offered by the Obama administration:

We must ask what is criminal justice when children, the elderly, the disabled and everyday working people in the city of Flint, Michigan, cannot safely drink their water due to lead contamination which has occurred because the local government switched the city’s water sources in 2014 in order to allegedly save money.

That was only one of the calamities befalling Black communities that she covered, however, as she also describing among others the on-going problems unique to Chicago (namely Rahm Emmanuel’s shutdowns of public schools and potential involvement in covering up police violence). The list of unaddressed disasters, which Pulley describes the Obama administration and other powerful actors in our society as failing to adequately acknowledge let alone treat, makes clear the scope of the problem for Black communities – one that exists on an inescapably society-wide level.

New leaders, old problems

With the presidential primaries beginning to take up even larger shares of the national discussion and President Obama as one of the institutional figures who is viewed as having failed to tackle this issue, who will replace him has become a charged question.

With Donald Trump remaining for the most part in the lead in the Republican primary, more detailed attention is being paid to his background. The racially-charged elements of his business experience as a land developer in the New York area have garnered some attention, but the past couple days have specifically seen a remembrance of his volatile comments on a 1989 rape case. Trump was among the prominent New York voices that effectively lobbied for the reinstatement of the death penalty because of that case, in which five men of color were wrongly convicted as the police and state courts later admitted. Luckily none of them were actually put to death, but their years in prison cannot be undone. For many, Trump’s role in this was a testament to how second nature racist dynamics may be for him.

At the same time, Sanders caught many commenters’ eyes with a speech at Morehouse College, a historically Black men’s college in Atlanta, Georgia. He was essentially endorsed by nearby Clarkston’s Mayor Ted Terry, who is White, which came in the form of an upbeat comparison of him to Martin Luther King Jr. Statements and interactions like that by White participants at such a culturally significant location for many Black Americans seems to have struck a dissonant chord for many others. As one Black twitter user responding to a video of largely White supporters at the event noted-

Recent news on Hillary Clinton, alternatively, has focused positively on her speech on racism at Harlem. This bodes positively for her campaign, as she seems to be counting on a racial gap in support between her and Sanders. That said, her current success seems less like she has become a favorite among Black voters so much as that she hasn’t yet done anything to illicit the types of responses Sanders has gotten. As someone positioning her potential presidency as in many ways an extension of Obama’s, many of the more nuanced critiques of him and many more will likely be applied to her as well.

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Reproductive freedom is economic stability

Trigger warning: abortion, sexual assault / rape, sexism, cissexism

Against the backdrop of the Colorado Springs shooting at a Planned Parenthood, that and other abortion-providing organizations have seen not only intimidating violence but institutional attempts to shutter their doors of the past few years.

Concentrated in Republican-controlled states, one of the strictest provisions on abortion providers is set to advance to the Supreme Court for review with a decision expected in late Spring of next year. That ruling will affect the legality and further room available to legislatures in at least a score of states which if current trends continue would likely restrict abortion further if given the option.

Former Texan state Senator Wendy Davis appeared on national news recently to discuss the potential ramifications of that ruling. As part of a changing voice within the debates surrounding abortions and other reproductive healthcare, she explained that to her and others like her abortion access is not only a means of physical, bodily autonomy, but also a lifeline to basic control over personal financial planning. In her own words, “when women’s reproductive autonomy is controlled, their economic opportunity is controlled.”

Wendy Davis during her Texas Senate filibuster

Former state Senator Davis, while filibustering a new set of restrictions on abortion in 2013, from here.

With her limited time, Davis couldn’t expand on her point about the economics of reproductive healthcare to those seeking abortion or similar services. Others have made it clear how the people most in need of an option other than pregnancy, let alone parenthood, typically have the fewest resources to devote to simply accessing an abortion. With a dwindling number of providers in many of these states, someone finding themselves in that sort of situation would have to spend more money to travel further and most likely take off time from work to avoid the huge economic costs of pregnancy or parenthood.

This is typically where the moralizing starts. The unnecessarily incurred costs to access an abortion under these increasingly difficult restrictions are, supposedly, just the price paid for failing to abstain from sex or to use birth control. The people most likely to seek out abortions for economic reasons, however, are also the people with most inconsistent and mistaken sex education and the fewest resources to commit to a birth control regimen.

Running through that understanding of how they became pregnant, there’s a presumption that the pregnant person necessarily consented to have sex. In addition to sexual assault, there’s also the (not at all hoped for) failure of birth control plans, which is more likely the less consistent and less accurate the sex education on receives. There’s a number of factors at play here, but it’s clear that people with fewer resources to draw on are more likely to end up stuck in this type of situation.

Likewise, overwhelmingly the opponents of access to abortion want to similarly restrict sex education and access to contraceptives, offered by organizations like Planned Parenthood far more often than abortion services. The intent doesn’t appear to be preventing abortion, so much as making it a shameful and shame-able activity. The political goal isn’t to end abortion, but to hide it within a nightmarish corner of the world that the broader society doesn’t have to consider.

The moralizing isn’t just another conversation intruding into others’ personal reasons for preferring to have an abortion, for those with that perspective, it is the conversation. The desire to be a parent, filled with a kind of urgency that accepts the financial and other costs of that, is either treated as universal or is evangelized – without hearing that other people, directly living the effects of that decision, have different priorities.

Even as abortion in popular conversation is increasingly a part of an economic plank – argued for in combination with improved education, greater access to other healthcare, and better personal financial standing in general – there’s ways in which it is left out of a broader economic argument. It’s still often thought of as a separate issue, even if one increasingly harmonious with a broader view of how to structure the economy.

The Economic Policy Institute, for example, excluded it from their recently released twelve-point Women’s Economic Agenda. Aspects of their policy plank address the underlying economic issues by calling for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, asking for policies to encourage labor organization, and specifically for an end to wage theft and wage discrimination. All of those are key financial factors that weigh heavily in the decisions of many to have an abortion.

Some policy prescriptions even more directly confront the economic situation that many pregnant people find themselves in. The agenda also called for greater access to childcare, as well as paid family and sick leave. Those are often specific economic realities that motivate people unsure if they can become parents to decide that they aren’t in a place where they can have children. In short, the policies here are designed to give people the resources to become parents, if they so choose.

What’s more, some of those policies useful to parents are also useful to those who for other reasons aren’t interested in having children at this time. The call for longer term scheduling, to ease planning, is vital for parents to be able to best interact with their children. It also is one of the key ways for someone who needs an abortion to plan ahead and not face the prospect of forgoing a potentially significant amount of pay to avoid the even larger costs of pregnancy and parenthood.

In short, this emerging set of policies, which has deep ties to a progressive vision of how to improve the current economy,  is rather compatible with the increasingly economic argument for retaining or even improving access to abortion. Still, abortion remains another issue for now, and has yet to be specifically invoked in the broader policy plank.

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Can’t look away

TW: racism, sexism, rape apologetics, classism

Nick Gillespie’s recent article in the Washington Post which attempts to “debunk” popular myths about Libertarians is absolutely fascinating, in much the way a dramatic car accident or Roland Emmerich disaster flick can hold your attention longer than you want it to.


(All Gillespie needs is a fedora to complete his ensemble, from here.)

He starts with a muddled point that Libertarians aren’t “the hippies of the right” (whatever that even means) because there’s a lot of them according to a poll put out by an avowedly Libertarian media outlet (Reason, which Gillespie edits). The conservative framing here should be obvious: hippies are recently formed and marginal agitators who ruin everything, which Libertarians can’t be compared to because they’re historied (at least for a few more decades by Gillespie’s odd count) and central to the political culture in the US.

Both Gillespie’s logic for classifying assorted movements from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as “libertarian” and the rational behind his magazine’s polling are the same – that Libertarianism is semantically devoid outside of a distaste for government policy (quirkily defined). He argues that libertarianism wasn’t a strange reaction to communism (which others have argued), but instead rooted in movements within the United States against formal imperialist structures over the proceeding century.

That libertarians arguably only oppose government-run imperialism today when it’s convenient to them is one quibble, but it’s also worth noting that disinterest in imperialism is being reduced by Gillespie to disapproval of it when conducted by the government. It’s apparently unthinkable that those liberal movements might be the antecedents to calls for governmental intervention to prevent commercial groups or other organizations from profiting from and reinforcing the conditions left by overt government-run colonialism.

This is revealed in the simplistic questionnaire that Reason used, which merely asks-

“1. ‘The less government the better’; OR, ‘there are more things that government should be doing’.

2. ‘We need a strong government to handle today’s complex economic problems’; OR, ‘People would be better able to handle today’s problems within a free market with less government involvement’.

3. Some people think the government should promote traditional values in our society. Others think the government should not favor any particular set of values. Which comes closer to your own view?”

Occasionally (as the article states) over the years this survey was put out, a question actually pertaining to an issue (only marijuana decriminalization though!) rather than a vague philosophical moral would be asked. A nuanced perspective that governments’ actions are legitimate or unacceptable depending on what those actions are, is apparently by and large anathema to getting the results that 24 percent of US citizens agree with them (compared to 27 with “liberals” and another 27 with “conservatives”).

His other points are poorly strung together, and really amount to two admissions: that libertarianism doesn’t offer much to people of color and women, as well as that libertarians are a contentious political bloc that is already contending with others within the Republican Party for the 2016 presidential nomination. For the former, he only points to opposition to the drug war, support for “school choice”, and the idolization of Ayn Rand (and a few other decades-dead women, none of whom were a part of libertarianism in the past 31 years).

Prominent libertarians quite clearly only want to soften the drug war, namely by reducing the penalization for drugs which like marijuana are commonly used among more affluent Whites. School choice is openly a means of shifting the cost of maintaining de facto segregation from White families on to the government (while also making parochial education more competitive). And do we really need to run down why Ayn Rand isn’t a feminist idol? (Hint: she wanted her audience to excuse rape.)

In the end, Gillespie is left arguing that it’s a myth that “Libertarians are destroying the Republican Party” and yet that the party leadership is “worried about the party’s growing libertarian streak” so much so that Chris Christie (presidential nominee apparent, unless libertarian Rand Paul has his way) called libertarians “dangerous”.

Is it hard to be so very wrong about everything, Mr Gillespie?

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The unfolding disaster

TW: islamophobia, racist criminalization, police brutality, violence against protesters, institutionalization, sexual assault


(Until recently, almost all substantive coverage of this has been actually from foreign media, like the above protest sign that explains “We don’t want a spying, lying NYPD commissioner” which was published in the UK newspaper, The Guardian.)

There’s astoundingly little for me to say about Alex Pareene’s piece on the on-going early contest for the position of mayor of New York. It’s rare to see the larger context of corruption, racism, and fear mongering so effectively pulled together to provide a detailed account of what the current political situation in that city is, so it seems definitely worth a quite read. To give you a taste:

Let’s run down the record quickly: Kelly’s NYPD acts (to the annoyance of the FBI) like an international intelligence agency devoted entirely to spying on Muslims. The department has a network of informants spying on American Muslims known as “mosque-crawlers.” NYPD spies monitored Muslims in Newark as well, compiling a vital list of… restaurants. The NYPD even spied on Muslims who sought to ally themselves with the city against terrorism. (You can read the Associated Press’ award-winning coverage of the NYPD’s inept/counterproductive spying operations here.)

The NYPD has “trained” its officers with a virulent Islamophobic movie called “Third Jihad,” which claims that “much of the Muslim leadership in America” has a “strategy to infiltrate and dominate” the U.S.. Kelly appeared in this movie in an interview. When questioned about this, NYPD spokesperson Paul Browne lied about Kelly’s appearance, because everyone in the NYPD, from the highest levels to the beat cops, lies constantly, to juries and judges and the press.

Kelly’s NYPD costs the city a lot of money. Not just in the “buying drones and military-grade noise cannons while people starve in the streets” sense (though that is one way) but in the constantly getting sued for brutality and wrongful imprisonment and so on way.

The 2004 Republican National Convention took place in New York, and in preparation for the convention Kelly and Bloomberg spent a lot of time spying on activists in order to figure out how best to illegally arrest hundreds of protesters. A judge ruled the NYPD tactics unconstitutional, opening the door to more lawsuits.

The NYPD is a world-leader in marijuana arrests. The vast majority of those arrested have been black men, a group the city has explicitly persecuted under Kelly and Bloomberg in a depressing variety of ways. Between 2002 and 2012 the NYPD made 440,000 arrests for low-level marijuana possession. Until Kelly finally told officers to stop doing so in 2011, a common police tactic was to trick or coerce people being frisked into taking drugs out of their pockets themselves, putting the marijuana in “public view” and making it an arrestable offense. (This is also illegal.)

Of course, another common NYPD tactic is to simply plant drugs on suspects.

And we haven’t even gotten to the massive ticket-fixing thing, which led to charges against 16 officers. And the mass demonstration of NYPD officers outside the courthouse following those arrests, in which the cops said they were “just following orders” and mockingly chanted “E.B.T.” at people lined up to receive benefits across the street. (And the officer indicted for trying to pay to have a witness against him killed.) At least the ticket-fixing was one of the very, very few incidents of NYPD criminality that was actually uncovered by the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau, which has otherwise failed to police the police.

There are also the tapes produced by Adrian Schoolcraft, an officer who recorded NYPD activity in Bed-Stuy and revealed the widespread manipulation of arrest data designed to game “CompStat,” the much-vaunted Bloombergian data-driven police management program. Schoolcraft found that an NYPD cop “is expected to maintain high ‘activity’—including stop-and-frisks—but, paradoxically, to record fewer actual crimes.” Schoolcraft also confirmed the existence of “quotas” for arrests, summons and frisks — something else the NYPD lied about for years. Cops were told to arrest people for petty crimes (or for nothing at all) and downplay more serious ones, in order to show that the police were busy but that serious crime wasn’t a problem. Schoolcraft’s superiors sent the whistleblower to a psych ward for six days. Kelly then kept the NYPD’s own internal investigation into his allegations secret for two years.

And let’s not forget the gun-running, the rapes, the various incidents of casual racism, and arrests of black public officials at the West Indian Day Parade. And, of course, lying about arresting journalists at Occupy Wall Street, and destroying the library, and everything else.

It’s hard to be more damning than that in my mind, and keep in mind that’s just a portion of the article.

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Not just what’s said but who’s saying it

TW: sexual assault, violence against protesters, political killings

There’s been a bit of a tussle developing in Egypt as Mohamed Morsi’s presidency especially has lost a lot of its luster and with it quite a bit of its legitimacy. If you seek out Egyptian sources, you’ll get a pretty vivid picture of what’s going on. Sharif Kouddous, although writing for the US-based Nation, pointed out that there’s a fundamental if slow-motion breakdown of law and order brewing, with even something as simple as violence between competing football teams’ fans ending with verdicts and political decisions that many deem unsatisfactory. Egypt is the on the brink, Kouddous essentially states with the piece’s title, because “legitimacy of the Egyptian state appears to be eroding even further” than it had under Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorial rule.

The Egyptian media went reporting in Egypt and on Egypt really pounds out that feeling, with many sources quite openly suggesting that it looks like protesters are being executed, not accidentally killed. Besides those concerns, it’s quite clear that the organizers of Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment, which tries to prevent sexual harassment throughout Cairo but particularly against protesters in Tahrir Square, see the Morsi-headed government as an opponent. Salma el-Tarzi, a spokesperson for the group, makes it quite clear in this interview that the physical intimidation and brutality against male protesters and journalists seems to be coordinated alongside the sexual harassment and assault of female protesters and journalists. Egyptian activist Mona Eltahawy, although currently living in New York, pointed out that even if we don’t believe the allegations that the government is perpetuating sexual assault as a weapon against female protesters, the government in general and Morsi in particular haven’t really explained that they have a plan to deal with the problem, let alone done anything.

So while the troubles of Egypt have been swept under the rug in much media coverage outside of the Arab world, what little peeks through sharply contrasts with Egyptians own words. Look no further than Colin Moynihan’s recent concerns over anarchist protests in Egypt – that’s the real problem over there, seems to be his argument. Nevermind that the Egyptians he quotes talk about how the anarchists are mimicking and seemingly mocking the government’s new security forces’ uniforms. He ends by quoting a few different Egyptians without context or explanation. One worries that the group might be infiltrated by government-backed counter-protesters, but Moynihan doesn’t address that what she’s really afraid of is government manipulation of this imagery, not the people currently using it. Another worries about how their appearance might hurt their fellow protesters, and again Moynihan doesn’t seem all the concerned about why she feels that this battle has such high stakes that protesters must be extremely careful in how they look.


(A Black Bloc protester in Egypt, from here.)

Apparently the real issue here are “scary” Egyptians in black clothing, because a White guy said so.

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Power rather than merits

TW: brief mention of sexual assault

It’s not great shock that power rather than merits determines what messages are widely disseminated, as several recent articles show. To live in a country with a less democratic government is to have your speech coerced if not outright monitored and controlled. Egypt’s President Morsi is pursuing a policy of rather intently shutting down parodies and satires that appear to reflect poorly on him, namely one extremely popular video satirist who has mocked his overuse of the word love in recent speeches and other mannerisms.


(He hasn’t seemed to consider not giving himself extensive political powers if he doesn’t want to be mocked as power hungry. Photo from here.)

Meanwhile, Chinese officials similarly shot themselves in the foot, as they initially allowed broad coverage of the sexual assault and subsequent death of a 23 year old Indian woman, as that fit into their narrative of India’s form of development as inferior to China’s. As protests erupted across India (TW: sexual assault as “defilement”, some less reasonable than others), however, internet users speaking anonymously asked questions including, “If such things happen in China, will we have a large scale protest?” Searching for articles or coverage on Chinese networks now turns up no results, as the state has now censored discussion of the incident or ensuing protests.

In contrast to those two other examples that have to swim upstream against their own governments, Howard Schultz’s interest in some sort of a deal on the “Fiscal Cliff” didn’t face state-based censorship within the US. But furthermore, it didn’t have to compete on an open market of ideas. As the CEO of Starbucks, he could simply demand that his employees propagate his message, no matter how nonsensical its content or unclear its meaning. So even in many comparatively open and uncensored media markets, what views are represented speak more to the power of those stating them than their own merits or popular appeal.

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The year gendered violence got on everyone’s radar

TW: sexual assault, rape culture, condoning of sexual assault

2012 was the year in which sexual assault, and particularly its gendered dimensions, became something everyone had to acknowledge. And I mean everyone.

There’s a lot of different issues that could be said to have defined the Republican Party during the US’s elections this year. From the racism to the classism, a constant refrain was that those with little deserved even less. Beyond those steps taken by the party, women, particularly if affected by sexual assault or other violence related to their gender, were subject to similarly stupid proposed policies. Jezebel’s Erin Gloria Ryan wrote excellently in August about the fatigue of beginning to lose track of how many horrifying statements about rape and sexual violence had floated around the Republican Party, at times translating into actually disgusting political proposals. The dangers were quite clear: electoral victories by the GOP would legitimize legal decisions that reflected these admitted beliefs. Women voters (especially when young or of color) by and large got that message and sent their own response back.

Blowback against these sort of attitudes was hardly an exclusively American or even first world phenomenon, this year. As allegations surfaced that the new government in Egypt had maintained the prior regime’s use of sexual violence against female protesters to discourage public dissent, there was a clear public outcry. Protesters have since embarked on a campaign to actively shame participants in sexual violence (Egyptian Arabic only, sorry) and to establish procedures to help anyone attacked by the police or others in the public places. Reports of sexual assault in Tahrir have declined since then, but whether a long term solution has been reached remains to be seen.

Indian protester women holding up placard: "Not as a Mother / Not as a Sister / I want my rights as a Human-being"
(One of the countless protests continuing throughout India since mid-December. From here.)

Most recently, however, an especially violent sexual assault in India has mobilized much of the country there. Protests and vigils have held everyone responsible – from parents to the police. New Years celebrations have been dampened or canceled out of some mixture of automatic respect and demanded contemplation of the issue at hand.

Across the world, 2012 seems to have been the year that women made themselves heard when they said that they weren’t going to take it anymore.

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On Egypt, sexual violence, and twitter

TW: political violence against protesters, sexual assault, rape culture

Posting anything other than a let-me-link-you today would feel cheap as some fantastic online coverage is perfectly capturing the complex struggle going right now in Egypt. The tweeting of even just simple details by Sharif Kouddous is creating a rather vivid image of the way protest, political violence, and media are all interacting over there at this very moment. As long as you’re keeping tabs on him, you might as well pay a bit of attention to Mona Eltahawy as well, who isn’t in Egypt at the moment, but has been doing some insightful signal boosting for sexually assaulted protesters and their families.


(Clashes between different protesting groups in Cairo during the evening, midday US time. Originally from here.)

Looking over her recent coverage has put a lot of things in perspective when it comes to the politicization of rape. It was certainly interesting to take breaks from writing this piece on rape culture over at Velociriot only to read about the use of sexual assault to threaten or “legitimately” exercise violence over female protesters. The weaponization of rape is profoundly horrifying, and only grows more worrisome when you realize how utterly pervasive the trivialization of sexual assault and permissiveness towards rapists actually is.

Hopefully tomorrow’s news is less grim.

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