Afghan Women and Their Allies Call for Meaningful Participation Intra-Afghan Peace Talks

Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS) and Cordaid, a leading Dutch relief and development organization hosted a virtual discussion on Afghan women’s role in the upcoming intra-Afghan talks on July 28, 2020. Panelists included former Ambassador of Afghanistan to Norway Shukria Barakzai; former Afghan Minister of Mines, Petroleum and Industries Nargis Nehan; former UN Special Envoy to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria Staffan de Mistura; and Director of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs Department of Stability and Humanitarian Aid, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ambassador Marriët Schuurman.

Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Executive Director of Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security moderated the panel. She opened up the discussion by stating “this is a particularly critical moment to call world attention to the importance of Afghan women’s meaningful participation in the anticipated peace talks because the stakes are high for Afghanistan, the region and the international community.”

Former Ambassador Shukria Barakzai expressed that “the current peace process is not a peace process because it is lacking the nation’s voice.” She added, “what kind of peace is it when they are marginalizing 60% of the country?”  Madeleine Albright also noted during her remarks that “peace cannot be made on the backs of Afghan women. The best way to ensure that does not happen is for women to fully participate in the peace process. Women need to be a party to the negotiation, not just an issue to be discussed.” Former Ambassador Shukria Barakzai stated that negotiators must be aware that “when four women are facing 45 men (at the negotiating table) this is injustice.”

Participants called for national and international officials to ensure Afghan women’s meaningful participation in an inclusive peace process and to preserve Afghan women’s rights. “The future rights and role of women in Afghanistan must be a priority and that starts with their substantive involvement in the peace process,” said the former U.S. Secretary of State. They also demanded international assistance and funding to support women’s rights during and after the intra-Afghan talks, the inclusion of Afghan civil society women’s groups, youth groups, minorities, the private sector, academics, and other segments of society.

They asked the international community to oversee the peace process and assess the Afghan government to make sure it fulfills its commitments to support women’s rights and their meaningful participation, and have a sufficient exit strategy that will promote lasting peace from the international community. Nargis Nehan also explained that “oversimplification of the peace process by only including the Taliban is very dangerous. The settlement will not be getting us anywhere and it will rather be a quick fix with a temporary direction and permanent handing over of Afghanistan to the Taliban that none of us want.”

While talking about the concerns of Afghan women, the participants were hopeful. “The resilience, courage, and leadership of Afghan women is a story of hope. They are not victims, but agents in their own right with a diversity of opinions. The international community should be there to lend support. It should be a shared commitment with the equal participation of Afghan women on the ground,” said Ambassador Marriët Schuurman. “As for cooperating with the Taliban: the Afghan women are ready to teach the Taliban how to be a good citizen”.

Sources: GIWPS, 07/30/20

Teen Jailed for Skipping Online Class Released by Michigan Court of Appeals

Oakland County teenager, known as “Grace,” has been released from jail after public outcry surrounding her imprisonment. Grace was incarcerated for not completing her homework after courses moved online due to the pandemic.

The Michigan Court of Appeals voted to release the 15-year-old by overturning a previous ruling that cited missing homework as a probation violation. Grace was released into her mother’s custody.

The 15-year-old was originally arrested on assault and theft charges. But in May, Judge Mary Ellen Brennan of Oakland County Family Court sent her to Oakland County Children’s Village, a juvenile detention facility, after she did not complete high school class assignments. The missing homework occurred after Grace’s school, Groves High School in Beverly Hills, switched to remote learning.

On June 20, Judge Brennan refused to grant the teen early release. Grace is Black, and Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich) cited race as the reason for her excessive punishment – “if it was a white young person, I really question whether the judge would have done this… putting a young person in a confined area in the midst of COVID isn’t the answer.”

After Judge Brennan’s June decision, Grace’s lawyers appealed the ruling to the Michigan Court of Appeals. Her lawyers argued that Grace’s situation was not unique, and that many students across the country were having trouble adjusting to online learning due to the pandemic. ProPublica has also reported that the teenager was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which could’ve further exacerbated challenges with the change.

The judges that made up the panel ordering Grace’s release included Judge Deborah Servitto, Judge Elizabeth Gleicher, and Judge Jonathan Tukel. Her attorney said of their decision, “we’re so happy that Grace is going to go home with her mom and sleep in her own bed tonight… she’ll be where she belongs, really.”

News of Grace’s incarceration sparked outrage from activists. Hashtags #FreeGrace and #JusticeforGrace went viral online, and six members of Congress wrote to Attorney General William Barr and Education Secretary Betsey Devos asking them to intervene in Grace’s favor.

Sources: Michigan Radio 08/03, Detroit News 08/03, The Hill 08/03

Claire Rezba Documents Deaths of Healthcare Workers as U.S. Government Ignores Them

Claire Rezba, an anesthesiologist, has been working at a hospital in Richmond, Virginia for years. As the pandemic hit the United States, elective surgeries have been canceled and rescheduled, giving her time to worry about her peers. Her sister is a nurse practitioner, her husband a physician, many of her friends work alongside her. 

As Rezba scrolled through the news one day, she discovered a news story that spoke to her:  the death of Deidre Wilkes. Wilkes was a mammogram technician at a hospital in southwest Atlanta and a victim of COVID-19. Rezba was moved by this story and began to keep count of all the other healthcare workers that had passed away due to COVID-19. 

As Rezba found more and more obituaries, she felt as though she had control over her fears, “it’s a way of coping with my feelings.”

On April 14, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention published a count of health care workers lost to COVID-19. According to the report, 27 healthcare workers had been lost. But Rezba disagreed with these numbers, upset that they had been published. She said “I mean, I’m, like, just one person using Google and I had already counted more than 200 people and they’re saying 27? That’s a big discrepancy.”

This report began to fuel Rezba’s rage, as she began to see how quickly healthcare workers, who were framed as heroes, were forgotten and ignored once they had given their lives. After some time researching online, she got the sense that “hospitals and nursing homes were trying to hide what was happening” to healthcare workers, making it seem like they weren’t being incredibly impacted by the pandemic. Meanwhile, government and public health officials were primarily silent about the many deaths. 

Rezba also started looking for data and studies, hoping that there were lessons being learned from these deaths. She could not find any, but she began to notice her own patterns: many of those who had passed worked two or three jobs but had no insurance, had gotten their families sick, were young parents, were Black or brown, or were immigrants. These patterns make sense, as these are the identities that force people to be less safe and work in more high-risk jobs. 

Rezba was saddened and enraged. She felt the least she could do was show the government and the public how many people had passed, telling their stories, demonstrating how avoidable their deaths had been. “I feel like if they had to look at the faces, and read the stories, if they realized how many there are; if they had to keep scrolling and reading, maybe they would understand.”

Through the end of July, the CDC reported that nearly 120,000 medical personnel had contracted the virus and at least 578 had died. These numbers are a  “gross underestimate,” according to Kent Sepkowitz, an infectious disease specialist. Sepkowitz has studied medical worker deaths from tuberculosis, hepatitis, HIV, and the flu. Based on past epidemics and state data, he expects health care workers to make up 5 to 15 percent of all COVID-19 infections in the U.S. This would mean that the number of healthcare workers who have contracted the virus would be over 200,000 and maybe much higher. 

Other organizations have been counting different numbers. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has reported at least 767 deaths among nursing home staff, numbers which indicate that this job is “the most dangerous job in America,” according to the Washington Post. National Nurses United, a union composed of more than 150,000 members, has counted at least 1,289 deaths, with at least 169 of those being nurses. 

Christopher Friese, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Nursing points out how these deaths are not only the “tragic loss of that individual,” but also “one less person we have to take care of our loved ones.” He says “we had tools at our disposal” to prevent mass sickness and death. One tool that he feels that the U.S. has largely ignored is reliable data about infections and death. “We don’t really have a good understanding of where healthcare workers are at greatest risk,” Friese said. “We’ve had to piece it together. And the fact that we’re piecing it together in 2020 is pretty disturbing.”

The CDC’s basic mechanism for collecting data about health care workers has been through the coronavirus case report form, a standard two-page document filled out by local health departments. The form doesn’t ask for much detail, and the agency doesn’t know the occupations of almost 80% of people infected. The data among nursing home staff is a bit more robust, due to a rule that requires facilities to report directly to the CDC. 

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has prioritized COVID-related cases within the healthcare industry. But, it has suggested that employers are “unlikely to face any penalties,” according to ProPublica. More than 4,500 complaints have been submitted to OSHA about COVID-related working conditions in the medical industry and has closed nearly 3,200 of these cases. States have also failed to collect and report information about healthcare workers, with many not even documenting occupation.

With these huge rifts, people like Rezba have decided to make their own databases. Late at night, Rezba starts Googling local news stories, eventually turning to Legacy.com, an obituary site. With names on a list, she begins to look them up on Facebook, trying to find their occupation. Doctors and nurses are the easiest to find but Rezba is especially interested in those often overlooked: the intake coordinators, supply techs, the food service workers, and the janitors. 

Once Rezba has found someone who belongs on her list, she finds a photo of them and writes a few words in their honor. 

“As a child, she would wrap her clothes around Dove soap so they would smell like America. This poor baby should have his mother in his arms. Instead, he has her in an urn,” she wrote on one post.

By the end of July, Rezba had posted almost 900 names and faces of U.S. healthcare workers who had passed away. 

Sources: CDC 08/03/20; NCBI 08/03/20; CMS 08/03/20; Washington Post 08/03/20; National Nurses United 08/03/20; OSHA 08/03/20; ProPublica 08/03/20

Acting Director of ICE Announces Retirement

On Friday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) acting director Matt Albence announced his retirement from the agency, after serving in his position for just over a year.

Albence began his work in federal immigration enforcement in 1994 and has moved positions over the years. He had briefly led ICE before, between Ronald Vitiello’s departure and Mark Morgan’s appointment in May 2019. Shortly after, Morgan shifted to lead Customs and Border Patrol, leaving the position to Albence once again. He was never formally nominated for the job by Trump.

As director, Albence oversaw controversial and inhumane operations. During his time with the agency, he supervised the expansion of the largest immigration detention system in the world that has separated families as detention centers become a breeding ground for the COVID-19 virus. Just earlier this month, a federal judge rejected a plea to release immigrant families from ICE custody.

Parents are now having to choose between separating from their children or staying together and risking their exposure to the virus. Throughout the pandemic, immigrant advocates have become increasingly concerned over the health of families and children in ICE detention centers.

Albence has also tried to evade responsibility for the agency’s separation of families. In an August 2019 interview with NBC, he stated that “the parents or the individuals that are breaking the law are ultimately the ones that are responsible for placing their children in this situation.” Although the agency, under Albence’s lead, has the legal authority to keep or release families together, it has refused to do so.

ICE has often been criticized for its aggressive policies that criminalize immigrants and separate families, but it has especially fallen under public scrutiny during the Trump administration. “The view of the agency as something that was purely malignant really happened after Trump was elected and ramped up interior enforcement in a way that was tied pretty explicitly to the creation of a white ethnostate,” said Sean McElwee, who co-founded Data for Progress and is credited with the creating of #AbolishICE. The agency, a central part of Trump’s campaign and platform, is now left without a clear successor.

Albence plans to leave his position by Labor Day, giving the agency just over a month to transition to new leadership.

Sources: Feminist Newswire 7/23/20; NBC News 8/13/20; Vox 7/9/20

Federal Judge Blocks Trump Administration’s Immigration Wealth Test

A federal judge blocked the Trump administration’s wealth test that denied people permanent residency if they used or were deemed likely to use public services such as Medicaid or food assistance.

The decision, from U.S. District Judge George Daniels, comes after New York and other states challenged the rule in light of the coronavirus pandemic, citing concerns of immigrants refusing to enroll in Medicaid or declining COVID-19 treatment for immigration reasons. Daniels supported this reasoning.

“As a direct result of the rule, immigrants are forced to make an impossible choice between jeopardizing health and personal safety or their immigration status,” he wrote in the ruling. “No person should hesitate to seek medical care, nor should they endure punishment or penalty if they seek temporary financial aid as a result of the pandemic’s impact.”

The newly issued injunction will be in place as long as the coronavirus remains a public health crisis, Daniels wrote.

While the government has in the past rejected green card applicants who relied on public services as their primary means of financial support, the Trump administration expanded the scope of the “public charge” rule significantly last year.

The announcement of Trump’s rule prompted legal challenges, with a case ultimately reaching the Supreme Court. The court’s conservative majority ruled in January that the rule could proceed and it was formally implemented the following month.

As the coronavirus swept through the nation in April, the state attorneys general of New York, Connecticut, and Vermont asked the high court to reconsider its decision. The court declined to hear the case but left lower courts the opportunity to make its own decisions.

“We secured an injunction to block the Public Charge rule from taking effect during the #COVID19 pandemic and while our legal challenge is pending,” New York Attorney General Letitia James wrote on Wednesday. “This is a major victory to protect the health of our communities across New York and the entire nation.”

Connecticut’s attorney general William Tong said in an interview that he expects the Trump administration to appeal the ruling. However, he recognized the decision as a win for public health.

“This is a big win for the rule of law and for fairness and public health,” he said. “This is about how utterly unsafe and insane it is to try to deter people from seeking treatment for COVID or any other condition in the middle of a pandemic.”

Sources: The New York Times 07/30/20; Buzzfeed News 07/30/20; CBS 07/29/20

Louisville Moves Toward Declaring Racism a Public Health Crisis

Government officials in Louisville are working to declare racism a public health crisis. The city has been the site of continued demonstrations protesting the murder of Breonna Taylor by police officers, and a growing number COVID-19 outbreaks – which will disproportionately impact Black people.

The Mayor of Louisville, Greg Fischer, along with three Metro Council members – Keisha Dorsey, Jessica Green, and Barbara Shanklin, are the officials leading the initiative. Their decision came after a council hearing chronicling the health impacts of systemic racism.

Mayor Fischer said on Twitter: “We must have a new sense of urgency to make this declaration and do the hard work of dismantling racism and creating real transformation… I look forward to partnering with Council on this work of declaring racism as a public health emergency.”

Kendall Boyd, Louisville’s Chief Equity Officer, presented a report at the hearing. His report found that Black people make up 27% of all Louisville COVID-19 deaths, despite making up only 23% of the city’s population, and that the life expectancy within the predominantly Black part of the city is about 20 years less than the predominantly white part of the city. He also spoke about “how minority populations are disproportionately exposed to conditions such as concentrated poverty, racism, limited educational and occupational opportunities, and other aspects of social and economic disadvantages that contribute to poor health outcomes, including heightened exposure to violence.”

Local governments across the country have already passed or are in the process of passing similar initiatives. These governments are from states such as California, Texas, and Georgia.

Declaring racism as a public health crisis potentially helps establish funding priorities and holds local governments accountable for addressing racism. But some residents are calling the initiative performative – not substantive.

Kendall Boyd said on the matter: “Just putting something on paper and declaring it a public health crisis is one thing… there has to be a specific intentionality and commitment of resources addressing this as a public health crisis.”

Sources: New York Times 07/30, The Hill 07/30, American Public Health Association 07/30

Idaho Inmate Becomes Second Ever to Receive Gender Confirmation Surgery

After years of legal disputes, Adree Edmo has received gender confirmation surgery, making her the second incarcerated person in the country to undergo the surgery while in prison.

 

Edmo, a trans woman, has been in the custody of the Idaho Department of Corrections since 2012. Upon her arrival at a men’s prison, she was diagnosed with gender dysphoria. The surgery was deemed as medically necessary, as her mental health was severely impacted. Edmo had previously struggled with suicidal ideation and during her time in prison, attempted self-castration twice.

 

In 2017, Edmo filed a lawsuit against the state of Idaho and the healthcare partner of the Idaho Department of Corrections upon their refusal to provide the surgery as a medically necessary treatment for her dysphoria. Last year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that denying Edmo gender confirmation surgery would constitute a violation of the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment.” The court upheld this ruling earlier this year when the state of Idaho asked for another hearing with a larger panel of judges.

 

Although the court ruled in Edmo’s favor, Idaho Governor Brad Little later announced his intentions to take the case to the Supreme Court. Little believed the court’s decision went against the original meaning of the Eighth Amendment and fought against Edmo’s right to receive the surgery.

 

“Sadly, the elected officials in Idaho, both in the Legislature and the governor, have taken a particularly hostile attitude towards transgender people… The governor is doubling down on that attitude and willingness to harm transgender people by appealing this lawsuit,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director at the Human Rights Campaign. Just a few weeks after the governor’s announcement that he would be appealing the case, the Supreme Court turned down the request to hear the case, and let stand the appellate court’s ruling in favor of Edmo.

 

In upholding their ruling, the appellate court marked a milestone in LGBTQ rights. “With its decision today, our court becomes the first federal court of appeals to mandate that a State pay for and provide sex-reassignment surgery to a prisoner under the Eighth Amendment,” said the opinion. According to her lawyers, Edmo received the surgery earlier this month.

 

Edmo is the second person to receive gender confirmation surgery while in prison, after the state of California agreed to provide the surgery for an inmate in 2015. Although Edmo has finally received the surgery, her legal disputes will likely continue. According to her attorney, Edmo has a claim for damages after years of refusal from the state to provide the treatment.

 

Sources: CNN 7/29/20; NBC News 5/8/20; NY Times 5/21/20

18-Year-Old Transgender Activist Pulled Into Unmarked Van by NYPD

A popular video of an unmarked Kia minivan stopping near a protest against the New York City Police Department (NYPD) shows a group of plainclothes officers using physical force to push a protester down to the pavement and shoving her into the unmarked car. 

The protester, named Nikki Stone is an eighteen-year-old transgender woman who was peacefully protesting against the NYPD. She was physically assaulted by officers as about 200 people were leaving a small plaza during a demonstration against police brutality. As protestors rushed to record the violence and help her, several officers arrived on bicycles, pushing the crowd away from the vehicle. Protestors at the scene described the incident as a “kidnapping.” Stone has since been released from police custody, facing multiple charges. 

Late Tuesday, the NYPD confirmed that officers had arrested a protestor and moved her into an unmarked van. They claimed that she had been taken into custody for damaging police cameras around City Hall Park. 

“The Warrant Squad uses unmarked vehicles to effectively locate wanted suspects,” NYPD said. “When she was placed into the Warrant Squad’s unmarked gray minivan, it was behind a cordon of NYPD bicycle cops in bright yellow and blue uniform shirts there to help effect the arrest.”

This behavior and violence perpetrated by the NYPD was eerily similar to the extremely violent tactics seen in Portland, Oregon. Earlier this month, reports claimed that in Portland, protesters were being “detained and placed into unmarked vans,” according to The Hill

Although the NYPD claimed that they were “assaulted with rocks and bottles,” videos and protesters told different stories. Clara Krabber, a 20-year-old Oxford student who was at the protest said “we literally turned the corner and were met with a line of police who attacked us without warning.”

Stone is currently experiencing houselessness, please donate to her housing here.

Sources: NYPD News 07/29/20, The Hill 07/29/20, The Washington Post 07/29/20, Insider 07/29/20

U.N. Report Documents State Violence Against Repatriated North Korean Women

The U.N. human rights office released a report Tuesday showing women in North Korea faced violent human rights abuses in prison after being forcibly returned to the country when seeking employment abroad.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights report cites testimony from more than 100 women who escaped after their detention. Detainees described unsanitary conditions in prisons and gender-based violence including rape and forced abortion by guards.

“There were two pregnant women, three months and five months pregnant, who were kicked very badly so that they would have lost their baby by the time they left the facility,” one of the women said.

Tuesday’s new report is the newest document illuminating systemic human rights abuses taking place in North Korea. The country has been repeatedly criticized for abuses in the past and has been sanctioned for violating human rights and threatening to use nuclear attacks against other nations.

Women who testified in the report were often victims of human trafficking as they desperately attempted to escape North Korea. Many faced labor and sexual exploitation.

“It is heartbreaking to read these stories of women who fled their country looking to make ends meet, but who ended up being punished,” High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said in a statement. “These women have a right to justice, truth and reparation.”

North Korea did not immediately respond to this report but has said in the past that criticism of its human rights record was aimed at overthrowing its current regime.

Along with the report, the U.N. human rights office also urged countries to which the women fled, including China, to respect the principle of “non-refoulement,” meaning not deporting people to countries where they could face a real threat of human rights abuses.

Detainees were tortured more severely if they had visited churches while abroad, a witness recounted.

“If one is found to have gone to a South Korean church while staying in China, they are dead,” the woman said. “I therefore tried hard not to reveal my life in China. I was beaten up as a result. I was beaten to a level that my rib was broken. I still feel the pain.”

Sources: Time 07/28/20; Reuters 07/28/20; DW 07/28/20

Judge Temporarily Blocks Tennessee Abortion Ban

A federal judge temporarily blocked Tennessee’s abortion law on Friday. The law – or “heartbeat bill” – would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks.

The bill was previously stopped through a temporary restraining order by District Judge William L. Campbell less than an hour after being signed into law. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Planned Parenthood were among the groups that filed the lawsuit against the bill. The temporary restraining order was set to expire by July 27.

The ruling Friday granted a preliminary injunction on the bill, meaning the state won’t be able to implement the ban while it is being tried in court.

Alexis McGill Johnson, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood, said of the bill: “As Tennessee and the rest of the country grapple with the dueling public health crises of systemic racism and COVID-19, relitigating the constitutional right to abortion is the last thing politicians should be wasting valuable time and resources on… Let’s be clear — abortion bans are part of a larger, racist public health infrastructure that systematically forces people of color to navigate more barriers just to get the health care they need.”

The Tennessee law was set to take action immediately after passage. Along with banning abortion after fetal heartbeat detection – which can occur as early as six weeks, and before many people know they are pregnant – the law also bans abortions due to sex/race or diagnosis of Down syndrome, as well as for juveniles within the custody of the Department of Children’s Services. The bill offers an exception in the case of life endangerment, but not in the cases of rape or incest. If a doctor performs an abortion under the law, they would face a Class C felony charge.

The Governor of Tennessee Bill Lee has boasted the ban to be the most conservative in the nation, and many lawmakers see it as a potential challenge to Roe. V. Wade.

“As the deep roots and tragedies of white supremacy are laid bare, and the pandemic exposes long-ignored health inequities, these anti-abortion lawmakers chose to utilize the state’s limited resources to defend clearly unconstitutional abortion bans that prey on stereotypes, disproportionately harm communities of color, and further entrench systemic racism,” said Jessica Sklarsky, the lead attorney on the case.

Sources: Tennessean 07/27, Reuters 07/27, New York Times 07/27, Feminist Majority Foundation Newswire 07/27

New Planned Parenthood Clinic in Alabama Offers Abortion Services

In Birmingham, Alabama a Planned Parenthood clinic in the Southside area has opened and plans to offer abortion services to the community. The clinic had a soft opening on July 14 and is now open for business. 

The vice president of external affairs for Planned Parenthood Southeast, Barbara Ann Luttrell said “It’s 11,000 square feet, a state-of-the-art facility…we will offer a full spectrum of reproductive health services.” According to Luttrell, at some point, it will start providing abortions. “I don’t have an exact date,” she said. Abortions hadn’t been offered regularly in Southside since 2017. 

In 1988, the Planned Parenthood clinic in Southside was a gathering point for anti-abortion protests, especially for Operation Rescue, a “leading pro-life Christian activist” organization. Eric Robert Rudolph bombed the New Woman All Women Health Care Clinic, killing Robert Sanderson. The clinic was not affiliated with Planned Parenthood. 

Anti-choice groups often surround and picket abortion clinics with volunteer “sidewalk counselors.” These “counselors” attempt to dissuade people from having an abortion. Anticipating trouble, the new facility has a “fenced-in parking area with a gate and security cameras,” according to AL News. Luttrell stated that “security is our number one concern” and “we want our staff to feel safe and secure. We want our patients to feel safe and secure.” Already, there have been protests in front of the construction site. 

As the Birmingham clinic opens, Luttrell assured interviewers, saying “we are absolutely used to having anti-abortion protesters, that’s nothing new.”

Soon after the construction of the new facility began in January 2019, the Alabama Legislature passed the Human Life Protection Act. The act made abortion illegal in Alabama except when the birther’s life is in danger. Planned Parenthood and the ACLU sued to stop the law from taking effect. The law was later deemed unconstitutional by U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson. 

Luttrell stated that Planned Parenthood wants to “make sure that abortion is safe, legal and available in Alabama.” This clinic will be the fourth clinic in Alabama to provide abortion services.  

Sources: FBI 07/27/20, AL News 07/27/20, LegiScan 07/27/20, ABC News 07/27/20

U.N. Women Calls Attention to Shadow Pandemic of Domestic Violence, Economic Insecurity

As gender-based violence and job loss become growing concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the executive director of U.N. Women highlights the struggles faced by women during this time.

In a statement released earlier this year, U.N. Women reported rising numbers of calls to domestic violence helplines and shelters worldwide during the pandemic. Alongside this, government authorities and women’s rights activists have seen an increase in reports of domestic violence.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the executive director of U.N. Women, points out the gender lens of the coronavirus pandemic. “One of the worrying factors…is the shadow pandemic of the violence against women. Because in order to protect people from infection, people have had to shelter in and be locked in with their abusers. This has given us a bigger problem of how we intervene to save women in an abusive situation,” she said.

With over 243 million women and girls subjected to sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner in the last year, Mlambo-Ngcuka stresses that services supporting and protecting victims of domestic abuse must remain open as essential services during the lockdown. She also believes abusers must be removed from homes in order to prevent victims from having to move around to find safety.

U.N. Women has been working in tandem with several organizations to end gender-based violence, including the World Health Organization. However, they have faced challenges with President Trump’s withdrawal of funding from the organization. “We need international institutions more than ever before. We need global solidarity. In the context of the virus, a virus anywhere is a virus everywhere … It means that the WHO will have lesser resources to support the countries that are struggling … All of that means that the fight against the virus is even more complex and more difficult,” she said.

Not only has the pandemic fostered an increase in gender-based violence, but women worldwide are also facing the challenges of job loss. With many women working in the informal sector, they are left without savings, insurance, and enforceable contracts, according to Mlambo-Ngcuka. In addition to their work on gender-based violence, U.N. Women is pushing for governments to provide a clear path of assistance for women in order to prevent economic setbacks.

Sources: U.N. Women 4/6/20; CNBC 7/24/20

Michigan Judge Declines to Release Black Girl Detained for Skipping Online Class

A Michigan judge declined on Monday to release a Black teenage girl from juvenile detention for failing to complete her schoolwork after classes transitioned online because of the pandemic.

The judge deemed that the 15-year-old, referred to with her middle name Grace, was benefitting from the detention and should not be allowed to return home. Grace had previously been put on probation after getting into physical arguments with her mother and stealing a classmate’s phone.

After she was charged for assault and larceny in March, the judge placed her in probation instead of detention, citing the coronavirus pandemic, ProPublica reported. The terms included regular check-ins with a caseworker and keeping up on schoolwork.

As schools nationwide transitioned to online learning amid the pandemic, Grace no longer had access to the support systems at school that previously helped her deal with her ADHD and mood disorder. Despite her teacher saying that Grace was trying hard, Grace was put on probation after her caseworker found out she went back to sleep after their morning check-in one day.

The judge says that she was detained not for missing homework but because she was a threat to her mother. By being in detention, however, Grace did not have as much access to education, therapy, and other support systems that previously improved her mental health.

“This situation is an emotional challenge, but is also a window into the brokenness that demands and deserves attention and repair as to prevent other children and families from being negatively impacted by a system that is supposed to offer protection and support,” Grace’s mother said in a statement.

After the ProPublica report prompted national attention, local residents showed up outside of the courthouse Monday to protest her continued detention. Grace’s case has also renewed the focus on the school-to-prison pipeline, which disproportionately affects young Black people in the United States.

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) suspected race was a factor in Grace’s detention.

“If it was a white young person, I really question whether the judge would have done this,” Dingell said Monday on MSNBC. “Putting a young person in a confined area in the midst of COVID isn’t the answer.”

Grace’s case is a symptom of the larger system that puts Black children in the legal system through school, according to Rai LaNier, Wayne County director at Michigan Liberation.

“A lot of Black children get their introduction to the criminal legal system through school, through detention, through the police getting involved because they have no other place to go,” LaNier said.

Sources: ProPublica 07/14/20; The New York Times 07/21/20; NBC 07/20/20

Elderly Cancer Patient Patricia Wright Released from Prison Amidst COVID-19

Patricia Wright, a 69-year-old cancer patient and inmate, was released from prison Tuesday morning. Wright was granted an emergency release by California Governor Gavin Newsom amidst the pandemic.

“I’ve been waiting for this day for 23 years, it is really indescribable,” said Wright. “Oh my God! I’m walking on cloud nine … I just want to sit down at the table with my family and embrace my children.”

Advocates and family members have been pushing for Wright’s release for years, but COVID-19 made the matter all the more urgent. Wright has had breast and ovarian cancer and is legally blind. She is currently undergoing chemotherapy, and doctors have said she has only months left to live.

On Friday, advisors to Governor Newsom announced that the state would be expediting the release of up to 8,000 incarcerated people. Those eligible would include incarcerated people over 30 who have less than 180 days left on their sentence. The goal of this initiative is to create more space in prisons and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in California prisons – which has already infected over 5,841 incarcerated people and caused the deaths of 31. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the United States could see up to 100,000 more deaths due to mass incarceration. This is because “the two things the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] recommends for Americans to fight the virus – social distancing and personal hygiene – are both impossible in jails.”

Wright is only one of many elderly and vulnerable people incarcerated in California but is the first to be granted emergency release by Governor Newsom. The Governor has been hesitant to release people serving time for “violent” or “serious” offenses – even those who are at a high risk of dying due to the pandemic. According to advocates, there are at least 5,000 people incarcerated in California who are 65 years and older and at least 50,000 who have conditions that make them high-risk. Under the new initiative announced Friday, Wright would not have been eligible for release.

Chantel Bonet, Wright’s sister, said of the Governor: “I hope he will look at other inmates who are terminally ill, especially the elderly. You don’t know how meaningful it would be to help them and their families. And they are not a threat to society.”

On her release day, Patricia Wright was wheeled out to cheers of “you’re free!” Family members from across the country, including a granddaughter who had only ever known her grandmother behind bars, greeted her outside.

“We built a relationship over 20-plus years behind prison walls and over 15-minute phone calls,” said Wright’s daughter, Mistey Saffore. “In some ways, I still feel like I’m that 12-year-old little girl when my mom went to prison. I’m ready to just be in her presence.”

Sources: The Guardian 07/23, Feminist Newswire 07/23, Los Angeles Times 07/23, NPR 07/23

Federal Judge Rejects Release of Detained Immigrant Families

On Wednesday, a federal judge rejected a plea to release immigrant families from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody in response to growing concern over the spread of COVID-19.

Judge James Boasberg, U.S. District Court Judge for the District of Columbia, denied the blanket release of all families, believing that other options need to be considered. He said ICE had shown its adoption of safety guidelines to protect detainees from the virus, but concurred that “the agency continues to fall short of full compliance with its policies in practice.” This rejection means that parents will have to choose between separating from their children or risk exposing them to the virus by staying together in a confined setting.

Immigrant advocates have been encouraging the Trump administration to release families in custody, arguing that the most effective way to halt the spread of the virus is a release of all detainees. Last month, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee ordered the release of children detained for more than 20 days. However, there were concerns that ICE would force families to separate since the order didn’t cover children’s parents. Lawyers were intentional this time in asking for the release of parents as well.

In the ruling, Boasberg acknowledges the issues raised by the plaintiffs, including a failure to implement mask-wearing and social distancing practices at ICE facilities. Individuals detained at these facilities have described bleak conditions where social distancing is actually impossible and COVID-19 symptoms are managed improperly. Although these conditions are frequently denied by ICE, a June report by the Inspector General found that “facilities reported concerns with their inability to practice social distancing among detainees, and to isolate or quarantine individuals who may be infected with COVID-19.”

Attorneys for the detained families are reviewing their options. “Holding asylum seeking families in facilities with active COVID outbreaks or making them give up their kids to protect them is constitutionally punitive,” said attorney Amy Maldonado.

The number of positive coronavirus cases in ICE facilities continues to grow. There have been over 3,700 confirmed cases in custody, and there are currently over 900 detainees who are in isolation or monitoring.

Sources: CNN 7/22/20; Washington Post 7/22/20; Feminist Newswire 7/16/20

Trump Signs Memo to Exclude Undocumented Immigrants from Census Numbers

President Donald Trump signed a presidential memo Tuesday aiming to exclude the number of undocumented immigrant populations when redistributing congressional seats following the 2020 census.

The unprecedented move, which civil rights advocates say is unconstitutional, comes a year after the Trump administration tried and failed to include a citizenship question in the census. If implemented, the measure would diminish the political power of areas with more concentrated immigrant populations, which often vote Democratic.

Trump’s move is prompting legal action from groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and New York and California, all of whom also litigated the originally proposed citizenship question.

“His latest attempt to weaponize the census for an attack on immigrant communities will be found unconstitutional. We’ll see him in court, and win, again,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

After the Trump administration announced a citizenship question last year, immigrant rights groups challenged the proposal in a suit that ultimately arrived at the Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Roberts ruled with the liberals, writing that the administration’s attempt to include a citizenship question was “contrived.”

Despite the question being struck down and immigrant advocacy groups’ vigorous outreach, activists are still worried that undocumented immigrants and mixed-status families may have lingering fears about the question and not respond to the census.

Without the citizenship question, the Trump administration is trying to gather the information from states through driver’s license and state identification data, which do include citizenship status. So far, the administration has agreements with Iowa, Nebraska, South Carolina, and South Dakota to gather the data.

As written in the Constitution, the census ultimately falls under Congress’s authority, not the president’s. In the 14th Amendment, which repealed the racist “three-fifth” clause in the original document, the census is required to count the “whole number of persons in each state,” not only citizens or residents with documentation.

Democratic leadership in Congress have also released statements pushing back on the move, with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi pledging that the House will fight the order.

“Trump’s unlawful effort is designed to again inject fear and distrust into vulnerable and traditionally undercounted communities, while sowing chaos with the Census,” Pelosi said. “The House of Representatives will vigorously contest the President’s unconstitutional and unlawful attempt to impair the Census.”

Sources: NPR 07/21/20; CNN 07/21/20; NBC 07/21/20; NPR 07/14/20

“Anti-Feminist” Lawyer Allegedly Shoots Female Judge’s Family, Killing Her Son

Roy Den Hollander, a lawyer from George Washington University Law School, who described himself as an “anti-feminist” and someone who defends “men’s rights”, shot himself and is the primary suspect in the shooting of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas’ husband and son. The FBI has confirmed his death and the death of Salas’ son. When investigators found Hollander’s body, they also found an empty package nearby that was addressed to Judge Salas.

Hollander entered the Salas’ home in New Jersey dressed as a FedEx driver, shooting her son the moment he opened the door. The judge’s husband was also shot multiple times. After hearing screams and gunshots, Salas ran upstairs from the basement.

Salas’ husband was critically injured but is stable. According to the New Jersey Globe, Salas was unharmed in the attack. 

Judge Salas was nominated to her current position in 2010 by President Obama and was the first Latina to serve as a federal district judge in New Jersey. 

In his personal writings, Hollander revealed a “toxic stew” of sexist and racist bigotry, according to CNN News. Hollander had unsuccessfully filed lawsuits against night clubs and bars that offered “ladies’ nights,” saying that these nights violated the 14th Amendment. In 2011, he told the Times that “feminists have taken control over every institution in this country — they want to take control over men,” and that he would “fight them to my last dollar, last breath.” 

He also challenged the constitutionality of the Violence Against Women Act, or as he called it, the “Female Fraud Act,” and filed lawsuits against Columbia University for its women’s studies program. Included among writings found on his website were a “Cyclopedia,” a 152-page document on anti-feminist musings and an “Evolutionarily Correct Cyclopedia,” where he discussed chilling “solutions” to what he called “political commies” and feminists. 

One line reads “things begin to change when individual men start taking out those specific persons responsible for destroying their lives before committing suicide.”

Hollander had argued a case before Judge Salas where he represented a woman and her daughter attempting to register for the military’s selective service. He argued that the draft was unconstitutional because it did not allow women to register. The case asked complex questions about the treatment of women in the military. Salas sided against some of Hollander’s arguments but agreed with some as well, allowing the lawsuit to continue forward. 

In June of 2019, Hollander left the case, giving it to the larger law firm Boies Schiller, saying that he “would not be able to see the case through” because he was terminally ill, according to Nick Gravante, Boies Schiller’s managing partner. Boies Schiller had known about Holladner’s anti-woman past, but felt as though this case could advance equal rights for women. Gravante says that he did not know of any anger that Hollander had for Judge Salas and did not even know why he argued the case. 

On his website, Hollander wrote disparagingly about Salas in racist and sexist terms, saying that he often ran into trouble with Latina judges as they were “driven by an inferiority complex” and that Salas was “a lazy and incompetent Latina judge.” He pushed a white nationalist belief that organizations are “trying to convince America that whites, especially white males, were barbarians, and all those of a darker skin complexion were victims.”

Sources: CNN News 07/21/20; New Jersey Globe 07/21/20; New York Times 07/21/20

Supreme Court Rules Against Reinstating Florida Felon Voting Rights

The Supreme Court upheld a lower court order on Friday that will prohibit thousands of formerly incarcerated people in Florida from voting.

In 2018, the Florida electorate voted to amend the constitution to allow felons to vote. Felons who finished their parole or probation periods would be eligible, but felons convicted of murder or sexual offenses would be ineligible. In total, the amendment would restore the voting rights of about 1.4 million people.

In a move to limit the extent of the amendment, the Florida state legislature passed a law that only allowed felons to register on the condition that they had settled all fines and fees related to their sentence. But no central log of these fees existed, making it hard to even locate the true amount owed.

If a person voted without fully paying their fines, they would face potential prosecution.

After the passage of this law, two felons challenged it in court and won. Judge Robert Hinkle found that the majority of felons would be unable to vote due to an inability to pay or locate their fines, and likened the rule to an unconstitutional poll tax. His decision permanently barred the law from going into effect.

However, at the beginning of July, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked Hinkle’s ruling and set a hearing for August 18th – the day of the Florida primary. Because of this order, the Florida state legislature’s law is in effect and felons who have not settled all fees cannot vote.

The Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday upheld the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decision. Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Elena Kagan made up the dissent.

“Under this scheme, nearly a million otherwise-eligible citizens cannot vote unless they pay money,” wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

According to Rick Hansen, a law professor at UCI, the court’s decision will not only have implications on Florida’s primary, but also the November general election.

Sources: NPR 07/20, The Hill 07/20, Politico 07/20

Wall of Moms Tear Gassed by Federal Agents in Portland, Oregon

Dozens of mothers linked arms in Portland, Oregon on Sunday in order to create a “Wall of Moms” around Black Lives Matter protesters, about 400 people, who have been under attack from federal law enforcement for weeks. 

Chanting “Feds stay clear, moms are here!” “Feds go home!” and “Leave our kids alone!” the group demonstrated clear support for protestors. The Wall of Moms began with a rally by a group called Moms Against Police Brutality, with some of the women involved saying that their children had been tear-gassed by law enforcement in earlier protests. Bev Barnum, an organizer of the Wall of Moms, said in an interview with BuzzFeed News that they “are about protecting peaceful citizens’ right to protest.” The group protested peacefully, locking arms and chanting. Later, photos and videos show officers using tear gas to disperse the moms and the other protesters present. 

On Sunday, protesters “toppled a fence erected around the federal courthouse,” according to NBC News. Federal agents responded to these actions with tear gas and flash bangs. Once the fence was down, protesters cheered and approached the doors of the courthouse with protective gear on, such as hockey sticks, gas masks, helmets, and umbrellas. 

Portland police were not present at the protest and did not deploy gas or engage with the crowds. The law enforcement present were federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security. Mayor Ted Wheeler, the city’s mayor, blamed them for “escalating the situation.” On CNN, he said “their presence here is actually leading to more violence and more vandalism… They’re not wanted here. We haven’t asked them here. In fact, we want them to leave.” Federal agents from the U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group and an “elite U.S. Customs and Border Protection team based on the U.S.-Mexico border” have been deployed to try to crush protests and protect federal property. 

On Friday, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies, alleging that federal law enforcement officers sent to Portland violated the Constitution by unlawfully detaining and arresting demonstrators without probable cause. Videos shared on social media document federal agents using unmarked vehicles, detaining people without explanation, and driving off. Rosenblum has asked for a restraining order in order to prevent officers from the Federal Protection Service, Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the U.S. Marshals Service from making further arrests. 

After the murder of George Floyd, Portland has seen sustained protests, with tensions recently escalating after one protester was critically injured by an officer with the U.S. Marshals Service. 

President Trump claimed in a tweet that the government is “trying to help Portland, not hurt it,” blaming local leadership for having “lost control of the anarchists and agitators.”

Sources: NBC News 07/20/20; USA Today 07/07/20;  BuzzFeed News  07/07/20; The Hill 07/07/20 

New Applications Rejected Despite Supreme Court DACA Ruling

Although the Supreme Court voted to uphold the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program nearly a month ago, the Trump Administration is still not accepting new applications. Renewals are being accepted and processed, but hundreds of thousands of first-time applicants are left fearful of their future in the United States.

The DACA program protects undocumented immigrants who arrived as children from deportation. Although it does not provide a path to citizenship, it allows recipients to work and study in the United States. The Trump Administration has long been at odds with the Obama-era program, and critics are now demanding that the administration complies with the court’s decision.

“That’s insane. That’s a violation of the order…Legally, there’s no basis to reject any new applications,” said Bill Ong Hing, professor of law and Director of the Immigration and Deportation Defense Clinic at the University of San Francisco. The Center for American Progress (CAP) has also issued a release stating that by rejecting new applications, the administration is defying the court. Tom Jawetz, vice president of Immigration Policy at CAP said that the Supreme Court “gave the administration a command to restore the program to the way it was operating before September 2017’s attempted rescission. By failing to do that, the administration is at this moment in open defiance of the law.”

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that oversees DACA applications, has said they are still underway in reviewing the Supreme Court’s decision, but that it lacks a legal basis. USCIS will renew status for about 650,000 recipients but will reject the applications of more than 300,000 youth who are eligible for first-time applications.

Many fear that Trump will attempt to overturn DACA once again, but it is unclear if new attempts will comply with the Supreme Court ruling or will have to be challenged again. Trump has also made several conflicting statements on his stance on DACA, making the situation more complicated for young people seeking protection in the United States. “He has continued to make threats to end this very successful and popular DACA policy, while making these nonsensical and confusing statements that…create a level of stress and anxiety for DACA recipients and their family members,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.

Sources: Feminist Newswire 6/18/20; NPR 7/15/20; Center for American Progress 7/13/20; NBC News 7/16/20

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