Emergency Town Hall Meeting — Community Rising Against Police Brutality and in Support of a Survivor

***The snow date for the Town Hall Meeting is Friday, January 24th 7:30pm, same location.***

On Tuesday, January 21st there will be a Town Hall Meeting in response to a young survivor who came forward about a recent sexual assault by a police officer who utilized racist “Stop and Frisk” laws to detain him.

This article contains information about the upcoming meeting and includes explicit descriptions of the assault and it’s aftermath.

There is a community crying out for support right now and mobilizing around this survivor who is seeking justice and safety. He still faces three misdemeanor charges from the arrest and requires continuing medical attention from the assault. This community of support is forming to help him as well as to address some of the major systemic conditions that allowed the police officers to assault him in the first place–racism and profiling, and police brutality and violence.

We are inspired by this survivor’s courage and the way this community is coming together. We will be attending this meeting at Catalyst for Change Ministries at 3727 Baring St. right here in West Philly to lend our support to this survivor and community. We encourage all our local supporters to come out to the meeting to show solidarity and see how we can be helpful in this struggle for racial justice and justice for survivors!

Emergency Town Hall Meeting
Tuesday, January 21st 7:30pm
3727 Baring St.
Convened by Techbook Online

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Picture reposted from the Philly In Focus article.

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Response to Crime Watch West Philly Local

In mid-November, West Philly Local’s “Crime Watch” had two posts on robbery and sexual assault.  The first headline, posted on November 12, read, “Police release video of suspect sought in robbery, assault of woman at 50th and Hazel” and the second posted November 15, “50th street robbery, assault suspect caught.”  Reportedly there were multiple robberies and assaults in this area around this time.  As individuals committed to creating collective community accountability and supporting survivors these reports raise many questions.   Perhaps most obviously are the racial implications of the video released of the suspect.  Watching the video is chilling. Here we are ostensibly being presented with a tool for making our community safer by identifying someone who is causing harm so that he can be stopped, but what we actually see is a video that features an ambiguous subject walking on the sidewalk with no identifying features other than him being a young black male. We have to ask the question: how does this actually help us as members of this community enhance our safety and the safety of our neighbors and the survivor of this assault? And though it goes against the prevailing cultural norms of policing and prisons, we come to only one answer: It simply does not.

And so, sexual assault and the very real need for survivors and communities to regain a sense of safety incite other forms of systemic harm – in this case, the harm caused by policing practices that target black males.  The institutionalization of racism through policing is particularly present in Philadelphia and the state of PA — where a $400 million dollar budget for prison expansion was recently approved amidst massive cuts to schools, job training, and other critical social services that actually keep our communities safe.

In no way do we mean to dishonor survivors’ experiences or the choices they make as they seek safety – especially given the limited scope of options available to them.  We are not trying to shame survivors choices, but rather we want to ask questions that both honor the needs and experiences of survivors of sexual assault, as well as survivors of the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC), and all those implicated in systems of harm that structure and influence our relationships and communities. We lament the fear, isolation and scarcity of options that survivors feel when it comes to seeking safety and healing after an assault which makes going to the police and relying on a racist and violent Criminal “Justice” System seem like the only answer–even knowing how much more harm these systems will cause, often to the survivor themself.

But we can’t stop there. We want to incite communities to ask these same questions that we are asking ourselves: why do survivors feel they have no other choices than calling the cops, implicating the PIC and other systems of violence?  And who is calling the cops even really an option for anyways?  What can we do to create alternatives that could actually address the needs of survivors, that could actually help heal and make our communities safer? What would that look like? What is it made of? What can WE do!?

In The Revolution Starts At Home, UBUNTU — a coalition led by women and gender nonconforming people of color, queers and survivors based in Durham, NC — speak about their experiences supporting survivors through alternative community responses/strategies.  In it Alexis Pauline Gumbs writes,

“In each case these responses were invented on the spot, without a pre-existing model or a logistical agreement.  But they were made possible by a larger understanding that we, as a collective of people living all over the city, are committed to responding to gendered violence.  This comes out of the political education and collective healing work we have done, and the building of relationships that strongly send the message, You can call me if you need something, or if you don’t.  You can call me to be there for you… or someone that you need help being there for. Since we have come to see each other as resources, we no longer think our only option is to call the state when faced with violent systems.” (Gumbs, 82)

To truly support our communities, we need to ask questions that come from a place of critical compassion; questions that recognize differences and honor multiple stories and truths, so we can act from a place that builds community through supporting one another.

Note: The Revolution Starts At Home started as a zine, the full text of which is available online!

No Justice Here

by Sarah Small and Hunter McCorkel

On October 3rd 2012, death row prisoner Terrance Williams narrowly avoided execution. If he had been executed, his would have been the first execution in Pennsylvania since 1999. However, his life still hangs in the balance. Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams is appealing the stay of execution, and if he has his way, Terrance Williams will be killed before the year is over.

Terry Williams was sentenced to die for killing Amos Norwood in 1984. He was eighteen years old. After his sentencing, it was revealed that Williams had been routinely sexually abused by Norwood, and had been sexually and physically abused by family members and men in his community since he was a child. After his arrest, Williams was also convicted of killing Herbert Hamilton, another man who had sexually abused him. Evidence of Williams’ abuse was not presented at his trial, and numerous jurors have since stated that they would not have voted for the death penalty if they had known about the violence perpetrated against Williams. The case has been gaining national attention due to the large number of supporters for Williams’ clemency, including Amos Norwood’s widow. Despite the national spotlight, it is becoming clear that Pennsylvania, under the leadership of Governor Tom Corbett, is poised to restart an era of executions.

Terry Williams’ abuse history and the role that sexual assault played in the murders have become central to both the media coverage and Williams’ court appeals. At the time of his trials, Williams did not tell his lawyers or the court that he had been sexually abused by the men he killed. It should come as no surprise that given our culture of silencing and shaming sexual assault survivors, Terry Williams would not disclose his abuse history. Since then it has been revealed that numerous community members knew of other young people who had been abused by Norwood or Hamilton, both of whom were in positions of local leadership. Williams was failed by these communities, which, through their own silence, allowed his abuse to continue for years. And for Williams, as well as so many other survivors of abuse, the intervention of the state only escalated a cycle of violence rather than breaking it. This execution would not offer justice for Terry Williams. It would not provide justice for Amos Norwood and Herbert Hamilton, for their families, or for Terry’s family. And it does not show a path forward for all of us in Pennsylvania who are struggling to address and prevent sexual abuse.

When solutions to sexual assault are put in the hands of the state, survivors are not helped — they’re criminalized. Survivors who fight back against their abusers often face harsh penalties from the state. Marissa Alexander, a Florida woman who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot towards her abusive husband, is just one recent example. We must recognize that state violence against sexual abuse and domestic violence survivors is also happening here in Pennsylvania. These cases demonstrate the urgent need for communities to develop solutions to violence and harm that support survivors rather than criminalizing them. Survivors of abuse do not and cannot receive justice through a court system that penalizes them. Likewise, incarceration does not address the systemic violence and trauma that leads people to engage in abusive behavior. People who go to prison for abusing others often leave prison with additional trauma and with few or no new tools to rejoin their communities. We must break these cycles of abuse and retribution and instead look for models that heal and transform us.

In Pennsylvania, many people are trapped at the intersection of policies of neglect and criminalization. Funding for institutions that keep people safe and healthy is being stripped away, while at the same time “tough on crime” policies funnel more and more young people into the prison system. Governor Corbett cut $840 million from public education in 2011 alone, while continuing to spend $685 million dollars on building more prisons. General assistance for low income Pennsylvanians has been cut while no additional job opportunities have been created. The loss of educational opportunities, health care and basic financial assistance is making it harder for all of us to survive and thrive in Pennsylvania. And while PA currently has 200 people on death row, over 4,500 more are serving “life without parole” sentences. “Life without parole” is often referred to as Pennsylvania’s other death sentence, because it condemns thousands of men and women to die in prison. Terry Williams’ case is making headlines due to the overt willingness of the state to execute a victim of violence, but thousands of Pennsylvanians are suffering slow deaths due to Corbett’s policies of neglect.

Right now, the state is breaking ground on two new prisons in Montgomery County. The prisons, which will cost over $400 million to build, include a brand new 100-bed death row. Just one year past the execution of Troy Davis, we are faced with the reality that Pennsylvania is one of a shrinking number of states still performing executions. These new prisons will expand Pennsylvania’s reliance on incarceration and capital punishment while diverting funding from basic human needs like housing, healthcare, and financial assistance for the poor. Governor Corbett is killing Pennsylvanians- by neglect because of lack of medical assistance, by closing schools and poisoning our water, by long prison terms and “life without parole” sentences that force people to die in prison, and, if he has his way, by the planned execution of Terrance Williams.

While Terry Williams no longer has a scheduled execution date, the state is still pursuing his death. Real justice for Terry Williams means fighting not just for a stop to his execution, but for his release. Terrance Williams should not die in prison, either from old age OR lethal injection. We believe that the interest of justice would be better served by an investment in funding life-sustaining programs like education, community mediation, healthcare, and general assistance. Now is the time to end capital punishment. Now is the time to end life without parole. Now is the time to stop building prisons and invest in a better future for all of us.

This statement is a collaboration between Decarcerate PA and the Philly Survivor Support Collective. It is an effort to broaden the conversation about capital punishment, state violence and sexual assault.

Sarah Small and Hunter McCorkel are members of Decarcerate PA, a grassroots campaign working to end mass incarceration in Pennsylvania. Hunter is also a member of Philly Survivor Support Collective, which supports survivors of sexual assault in directing their own healing, offers alternatives to the legal system for survivors seeking justice and safety and works to transform our communities to end sexual assault.

For more information about these groups, visit
http://decarceratepa.info/
https://phillysurvivorsupportcollective.wordpress.com/

New policies aimed at preventing prison rape

The U.S. Department of Justice recently released new National Standards to Prevent, Detect and Respond to Prison Rape. These standards include a number of victories for movements to end sexual assault. In a press release, Sylvia Rivera Law Project highlighted victories in the new standards that were the outcome of organizing by incarcerated transgender & gender non-conforming people. Two that will have a strong impact are: case-by-case consideration is required for housing in a male or female facility, not just a blanket decision based on genital status, which means more trans women will be housed in women’s facilities; and there is a ban on physical examination of transgender inmates solely for determining their genital status.

However, as SRLP’s press release points out, this “victory” is complicated for us who know that the only way to end the violence of the prison system is through abolition, not reform.

This step is an important effort in reforming systems of incarceration that target, isolate and expose our communities to violence and death. As we hold this rule as victory, we also recognize the limitations of reform in correctional systems that are in place to maintain systems of hierarchy, capitalism, violence and racism that formed the basis for slavery, convict-leasing, Jim Crow legal frameworks and ultimately provide the backdrop for many of our constitutional frameworks.

Read the full press release from Sylvia Rivera Law Project.