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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Support Decarcerate PA and prison abolition

Decarcerate PA is a grassroots campaign made up of organizations and individuals throughout Pennsylvania working to maximize public health and safety by putting a halt to the state’s broken and bloated prison system.

We signed on to their new platform calling for 1) No new prisons in PA, 2) Decarceration, and 3) Reinvestment in our communities.

“Thirty years of limitless spending on prisons has been more than enough. This massive social experiment is over, and the conclusion is clear. Mass incarceration destroys families and communities. It disproportionately targets poor people and people of color. It means fewer jobs and more environmental devastation. It makes us less safe and more afraid.” ~Decarcerate PA

Read their platform for yourself and show your support by signing on!

And come to the launch party on March 30!

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

Call to action: Stop Sexual Abuse at State Prison

In this week’s HR Coalition PA Prison Report, there is a call to action about a system of routine sexual assault by guards in the Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) at SCI Rockview, a Pennsylvania state prison in Centre County.  Prisoners in SCI Rockview’s RHU are requesting that supporters contact Department of Corrections (DOC) officials and demand an investigation into abusive conditions, including sexual assault, retaliation, double-celling, and excessive use of solitary confinement.

Here’s a script to use when calling.

Just remember that the important thing is to call and make sure they know that you’re calling about conditions at SCI Rockview.  They are most likely just keeping track of how many people are calling on this issue, not whether each person made a convincing argument.

“My name is _____________ and I am calling in support of prisoners in SCI Rockview’s Restricted Housing Unit. I am concerned that there are abusive conditions, including sexual assault, retaliation, double-celling, and excessive use of solitary confinement.  I am calling to demand an investigation into these conditions and for corrective actions to be taken immediately.”

Call SCI Rockview Superintendent Marirosa Lamas: 814-355-4874

Call PA DOC Secretary John Wetzel: 717-975-4918