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!

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Read Breaking Concrete

“Shame, an emotion common for survivors, is often framed as a ‘bad’ feeling to be excised in privatized settings like therapy. On the other hand, forgiveness, imbued with a religious-patriarchal sense, is a ‘good’ feeling to have, tied into personal liberation.

These binaries of ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ limit feelings like shame, to the realm of personal work. It obscures interrelated shaming systems like the prison system which can complicate our frameworks for survivor liberation…”

We found this article super powerful. Please read more of:

Breaking Concrete: Queer Shame and Sexual Violence

by Peggy/Kyoungwon writing on blackgirldangerous.org!

Why Enhancing Criminalization Won’t Make Us Safe

In a recent interview on the radio program Against the Grain, Dean Spade talks about “five realities about violence and criminal punishment that are helpful for analyzing the limitations of… any enhancement of criminalization that we’re told will make us more safe.”

Here is one that’s particularly relevant to our work:

The third reality is that most violence doesn’t happen on the street between strangers, like it seems to on TV, but between people who know each other, in our homes, schools and in familiar places. Images of out-of-control serial killers and rapists who attack strangers feed the cultural thirst for retribution, and the idea that it’s acceptable to lock people away for life in unimaginably abusive conditions. In reality, the people who hurt us are usually people we know, and usually are also struggling under desperate conditions, and/or are victims of violence. Violence, especially sexual violence, is so common that we couldn’t possibly lock away every person who engages in it. Most violence is never reported to police because people have complex relationships with those who hurt them, and the whole framing of criminalization where bad guys get put away does not work for most survivors of violence. If we deal with the complexity of how common violence is, and let go of a system built on a fantasy of monstrous strangers, we might actually begin to focus on how to prevent violence, and heal from it. Banishment and exile, which are the only tools offered by the criminal punishment system and immigration enforcement system, only make sense when we maintain the fantasy that there are evil perpetrators committing crimes, rather than facing the reality that people we love are harming us, and each other, and that we need to go to fundamental root causes to change that.”

Follow the link to listen to the whole interview.

Call for submissions for Everyday Abolition/Abolition Everyday Project

This new project will be launching a blog where people can post stories, art, poetry, interviews, etc. about what resistance to the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) looks like in our everyday lives.

Everyday Abolition/Abolition Everyday Project

The organizers of this project are hoping to create a space for folks to connect and think creatively about not only the ways the PIC impacts people’s lives and ways we respond to that and resist it, but also what we are doing everyday to create alternatives to that oppressive system. This resistance is happening in large and small ways, in the public and private spheres of life and community, and this project hopes to capture some of the complexity of this work and the vision for a different world that drives it.

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/

Survivors in Solidarity with Prison Abolition — Anthology Call for Submissions — DEADLINE EXTENDED

DEADLINE EXTENDED: June 15, 2012.

Survivors in Solidarity with Prison Abolition

ANTHOLOGY CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS:

Working Title: Challenging Convictions: Survivors of Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Writing on Solidarity with Prison Abolition.

Completed submissions due June 15, 2012.

Like much prison abolition work, the call for this anthology comes from frustration and hope: frustration with organizers against sexual assault and domestic violence who treat the police as a universally available and as a good solution; frustration with prison abolitionists who only use “domestic violence” and “rape” as provocative examples; and, frustration with academic discussions that use only distanced third-person case studies and statistics to talk about sexual violence and the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC). But, this project also shares the hope and worth of working toward building communities without prisons and without sexual violence. Most importantly, it is anchored in the belief that resisting prisons, domestic violence, and sexual assault are inseparable.

Organizers of this anthology want to hear from survivors in conversation with prisonabolition struggles. We are interested in receiving submissions from survivors who are/have been imprisoned, and survivors who have not.  Both those survivors who have sought police intervention, as well as those who haven’t, are encouraged to submit. We are looking for personal essays and creative non-fiction from fellow survivors who are interested in discussing their unique needs in anti-violence work and prison abolitionism.

Discussions of sexual assault, domestic violence, police violence, prejudice within courts, and imprisonment cannot be separated from experiences of privilege and marginalization. Overwhelmingly people who are perceived to be white, straight, able-bodied, normatively masculine, settlers who are legal residents/citizens, and/or financially stable are not only less likely to experience violence but also less likely to encounter the criminal injustice system than those who are not accorded the privileges associated with these positions. At the same time, sexual assault and domestic violence support centers and shelters are often designed with certain privileges assumed. We are especially interested in contributions that explore how experiences of race, ability, gender, citizenship, sexuality, or class inform your understandings of, or interactions with cops, prisons, and sexual assault/domestic violence support.

Potential topics:
·      What does justice look like to you?
·      Perspectives on police and prisons as a default response to sexual assault
·      What do you want people in the prison abolition movement with no first hand experiences of survivorship to know?
·      How did you overcome depression/feelings of futility when dealing with these systems?
·      Critical reflections on why the legal system has or has not felt like an option for you
·      Perspectives on the cops/PIC participating in rape culture
·      Restorative justice and other methods for responding to sexual violence outside of the PIC? (if you are a settler be conscious of appropriations of indigenous methods)
·      How have you felt about conversations you’ve had about the PIC?
·      How sexual assault inside and outside of the PIC is treated by organizers against sexual assault, domestic violence, and the PIC
·      Police and prison guards as triggers
·      Responding to sexual assault and domestic violence when communities weren’t there for you
·      What the legal system offers survivors and what it doesn’t
·      Rants at manarchists, the writers/directors of televised cop dramas, and communities that let you down
·      Survivor shaming for reporting and for not reporting to police

Please submit first-person accounts, critical reflections, essays, and creative non-fiction to survivorsinsoli@gmail.com by June 15, 2012. Early submissions are encouraged. First time authors encouraged.

If you have questions, we welcome emails to survivorsinsoli@gmail.com with “Question”in the subject line. We are looking for both shorter pieces of writing and longer pieces, but if your piece is more than 20 pages consider sending us an email to run the idea by us.

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VISIT THEIR WEBSITE FOR MORE INFO: survivorsinsoli.blogspot.com/

Open letter from the Philly Survivor Support Collective to SCI Rockview Superintendent Marirosa Lamas and PA DOC Secretary John Wetzel

Open letter from the Philly Survivor Support Collective to SCI Rockview Superintendent Marirosa Lamas and Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel:

We are responding to a call from people incarcerated at SCI Rockview’s Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) whose human rights and safety are being violated by the prison’s lieutenants and guards. Prisoners at SCI Rockview are demanding investigation into a recent rise of abusive conditions including a pattern of routine sexual assault by guards, retaliation for using the internal grievance procedure, double-celling, excessive use of solitary confinement, and arbitrary placement on the restricted release list. These abuses violate the human rights of all people to physical safety and bodily integrity, whether we are incarcerated or not.

People incarcerated in the RHU at SCI Rockview have been attempting to access the official grievance procedure but are faced with threats and retaliation for voicing their objections. Because this single recourse has been taken from them, individuals in the unit have called for external support to shed light on and bring an end to the abuses they face.

The Philly Survivor Support Collective is a group based out of Philadelphia that is working to end sexual assault. We support individuals and communities who are healing from assaults, and work together to transform the conditions that allow sexual assault to be perpetrated and those who cause harm to remain unaccountable. We organize to create alternatives to the legal system for survivors seeking justice and safety, because we believe that police, prisons and the legal system all increase the violence in our communities.

The abuses being inflicted on people incarcerated at SCI Rockview have impact beyond the prison walls; they strengthen the conditions that condone sexual assault and allow it to continue to ravage all of our communities. We all deserve to live without being sexually assaulted, and to have access to the physical, economic and emotional resources that allow us to heal from assault when it does occur. We cannot hope to build a world free of sexual violence while people who are incarcerated are subjected to it with no recourse.

We urge you to investigate the abusive conditions at SCI Rockview’s RHU and take action to remove perpetrating officials from this prison. Everyone has a right to physical and emotional safety. Disregarding the abuses faced by people who are incarcerated at SCI Rockview is an unjust and inexcusable act of violence.

— Philly Survivor Support Collective