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Posts from February 2002

End Sexual Misconduct in Alabama Prisons

I gave this speech on 28 February 2002 at the Alabama capitol building in Montgomery, as part of a press conference held by Amnesty International USA and Alabama state Representative Barbara Boyd (D-Anniston), in support of Boyd’s House Bill 136, which outlawed sexual conduct and harassment by guards in Alabama prisons.

In a society where men sexually assault one out of every five women, where rape and the threat of rape keep women in a state of fear, what can we do to defend the fundamental human rights of women and girls?

What can we do today, for women and girls who do not have time to wait for things to be fixed? What can we do right now for women’s human rights in Alabama?

Right now, the Alabama legislature has a choice to make. Right now, Alabama is one of only four states where there is no law protecting prison inmates from custodial sexual misconduct. Right now, there are over 1,700 female inmates in Alabama prisons. Most of them are guarded by male corrections officers in violation of international correctional standards. Because there are no legal protections against custodial sexual misconduct, women in Alabama prisons have been subjected to sexual extortion, rape, and other abuse by members of the correctional staff to whom they are entrusted.

Rape is a crime of power. It happens when the rapist wants power over his victim, and uses power to force sex. More than any other institution, the prison is a place in which the agents of the state are entrusted with power over other people. With that power must come responsibility.

Most people who are entrusted with this power do not abuse it. Most men would never even consider committing a sexual assault. But we must create an environment in which those who do abuse their power are held responsible. Without legal protections against custodial sexual misconduct, those few who do choose to abuse their power over inmates inflict suffering on their victims that can only be described as a form of torture.

Young people, students such as myself, have been taking the initiative all across Alabama to work against sexual violence. We have volunteered to support rape crisis centers and peer education groups to raise awareness and support the survivors of sexual violence. Through student government and activist groups, we have put our energies into improving safety on our own campuses. And now it is time for the legislature to take up the struggle with us. Last month, Representative Barbara Boyd introduced House Bill 136, which would finally enforce legal accountability for officers who abuse their power over inmates through sexual violence. We are one of only four states without such a law. For Alabama to fully protect the human rights of women, the legislature must approve this bill, as one more step in the fight against sexual violence, one more step in the struggle for women’s fundamental human rights.

Moore’s Defenders Should Think Twice

Everyone’s favorite local Right-wing crank, Malcolm Cutchins, published a column in February 2002 supporting Roy Moore’s outrageous, homophobic concurring opinion in Ex parte H.H., even though Cutchins said he had never taken the time to actually read the opinion. The problem, Cutchins informed us, was the homosexual bloc, which he went on to compare to East German Communists and the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center. I wrote a letter in response quoting Moore’s opinion verbatim, and asking if Malcolm Cutchins still stood by Chief Justice Moore. I have yet to receive an answer.

Editors, Opelika-Auburn News:

Since Malcolm Cutchins’ most recent column compared the homosexual bloc to Communists, Nazis, and modern-day terrorists, I have little doubt that Cutchins would have approved of Roy Moore’s words, had he read the decision. Moore wrote:

Homosexual behavior is a ground for divorce, an act of sexual misconduct punishable as a crime in Alabama, a crime against nature, an inherent evil, and an act so heinous that it defies one’s ability to describe it.

And also:

The State carries the power of the sword, that is, the power to prohibit conduct with physical penalties, such as confinement and even execution. It must use that power to prevent the subversion of children toward this lifestyle, to not encourage a criminal lifestyle.

Take a moment and read back over that. The Chief Justice of our state’s Supreme Court argued that the state is fully within its prerogatives to imprison and execute gay people in order to protect children from their evil influences.

Those of us who are not so enthusiastic about concentration camps and a Final Solution to the homosexual question, have understandably been upset by Moore’s statement.

Many of the homophobes trying to recruit children into their lifestyle have used overt threats such as Moore’s, and violence, as in the murder of Billy Jack Gaither, to terrorize gay youth and force any evidence of gay life back into the closet. They even want homophobia brought into schools, threatening any teacher who doesn’t tell kids that anti-gay bigotry is the only valid lifestyle.

Now that he has read Moore’s bloody-minded words, will Malcolm Cutchins be any different? Or will he continue to stand with the homophobic bloc, threatening and demonizing peaceful people asking for nothing more than a life of their own, free of fear and violence?

Charles W. Johnson

Alabama Lags Nation in Pay Equity

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Alabama’s gender wage gap is $0.69 earned by a woman for every $1.00 earned by a man (Alabama is in the bottom third in the country; the worst is Wyoming at $0.63 on the dollar, and the best is the District of Columbia, at $0.86 on the dollar). You can see how your state stacks up in the state-by-state gender wage gap map [link courtesy of Merge].

More Police Brutality in Montgomery

Montgomery, Alabama has a long history of racist police brutality. And they’re at it again. Most recently, five Montgomery police officers resigned and three have been put on suspension amidst charges of police brutality [Nando], as well as abuse of authority, mistreatment of citizens, and false reporting of incidents. One officer, Michael Clark, is being charged with criminal use of mace in the brutality against a 17 year old prisoner. As usual, seven of the eight cops were white, and all of the victims were Black.

Just about every year or couple years, there’s another big high-profile incident with the Montgomery PD, and everyone acts all shocked, like this isn’t shit that goes on every day. Should it surprise anyone that police officers end up acting like jackbooted thugs when we send them on a war, constantly train them that their first job is to take down criminals (rather than, say, assisting the community), jack them up into militarized units, and run them through what amount to little more than paramilitary raids on low-income neighborhoods? There are housing projects in Montgomery which are raided regularly, whether there is any report of a crime or not, by heavily armored police in black SUVs. Poor people of color in Montgomery are basically living under military occupation. Holding these officers accountable is a necessary first step, but we also have to deal with the militarized culture and practice of policing, as well as end the insane and racist War on Drugs, and address the class disparities trapping people of color in high-crime ghettoes in the first place, if we are ever going to see a real solution to police brutality.

For further reading:

How Bob Barr Became the Tinhorn Dictator of DC

Bob Barr holds his hands out, as if to say...

Whoa there, democracy!

(The Hon. Rep. Bob Barr)

District of Columbia citizens have long had to face the frustrations of being deprived of home rule and micromanaged by the federal Congress, which maintains ultimate control over the government of D.C., while having no members at all who are elected by D.C. residents. In 1998, the antidemocratic nature of D.C. government was made clear to the point of ridiculousness, as Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) banned D.C. elections officials from releasing the results of a referendum on allowing the use of medical marijuana, fearing that the majority of D.C. voters would approve. Barr thus managed to effectively mimic Third World tinhorn dictators such as Nigeria’s Sani Abacha, who seized ballot boxes and refused to announce results of elections he feared he had lost.

Since the Barr amendment banned the counting of the results of a referendum solely on the basis of the content of the referendum (that it was to legalize a certain use of marijuana), the ACLU filed and won a First Amendment challenge to the Barr amendment, thus allowing the votes to be counted. As expected, the initiative to legalize medical marijuana in D.C. passed by an overwhelming margin of 69%-31%. However, Rep. Barr quickly went back to work in suppressing the will of the D.C. voters, eventually managing to push through a bill overriding the initiative and banning D.C. from enacting or carrying out the bill that they had overwhelmingly voted to pass.

When the Founders created the District of Columbia as a special area set aside from all the several states, the idea was to create a space for the federal capital which would not be beholden to the sectional interests of any of the several states. However, since the 18th century, D.C. has exploded far beyond merely being a city for the top branches of federal government. Within the borders of D.C. lies one of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation. It is long past time that the federal area of D.C. be reduced into a much smaller area for the federal office buildings, monuments, and possibly residential space for federal office holders; the rest of D.C. should be granted the full rights and responsibilities of statehood under the U.S. Constitution, thus restoring democratic rights to home rule and representation in Congress to the hundreds of thousands of people within its borders.

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