Month: February 2015

Over 60 Organizations Demand Justice For NYC Mom In Open Letter to Mayor

Hon. Bill de Blasio
City Hall
New York, NY 10007

Commissioner William J. Bratton
One Police Plaza
New York, NY 10038

Dear Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Bratton:

The undersigned community organizations work with communities in New York City and around the country. We are writing to express our outrage and concerns over the ongoing discriminatory practices of the New York Police Department.

In particular, we draw attention to an incident that occurred to Chaumtoli Huq, a human rights lawyer and former public servant, serving as general counsel to Public Advocate Letitia James. Ms. Huq was unlawfully arrested on July 19 after NYPD officers used unreasonable and wholly unprovoked force after she left a pro-Palestinian rally.

On the day of her arrest, Ms. Huq was wearing a traditional South Asian tunic while waiting on a public sidewalk for her husband and their 6- and 10-year-old children to come back from a bathroom stop in Times Square when she was told by an officer to leave.

Ms. Huq was not blocking any passage that would prevent the public from free access to the sidewalk. When she asked why she had to leave, Officer Ryan Lathrop became irate. He continued to use force to arrest her, and when Ms. Huq said that she was in pain, Officer Lathrop told her “shut your mouth.” When Officer Lathrop found out Ms. Huq had a different last name than her husband, he told her “in America, wives take the names of their husbands.” Ms. Huq was arrested and held at the local precinct for nine hours. Officers falsely claimed she had refused instructions to move and had “flailed her arms and twisted her body” to make it more difficult for them to handcuff her.

This arrest is characteristic of a pattern and practice of the NYPD of aggressive overpolicing of people of color and persons lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights. It also shows a lack of gender sensitivity and ignorance towards diverse cultures in New York. No police officer should harass anyone, let alone question cultural norms of family relationships.

This incident did not take place in a vacuum, as over-policing, discrimination, and police brutality has been at the forefront of national dialogue. Police misconduct and civil rights abuses following the police shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri has shocked the conscience of the nation.

Even within New York City, however, we have plenty of examples of horrific over-policing. The entire nation watched as Eric Garner was killed, choked and thrown to the ground and jumped on by a physically aggressive officer as he wheezed “I can’t breathe.” Police officers bloodied the 84-year old Kang Chun Wong for jaywalking. The twitter feed for #myNYPD shows a litany of photos of NYPD officers using unnecessarily brutal means.

Today, we are writing to urge you to implement reforms and engage in proactive outreach to end the patterns of discrimination and over-policing that disproportionately impacts our communities, erodes trust, and separates our families at the hands of overzealous police officers.

Specifically, we urge you to:

  1. Ensure Accountability: The NYPD needs to show the communities it serves that it is serious about holding accountable those police officers who erode community trust. We urge the NYPD to remove Arresting Officer Ryan Lathrop from the streets and interacting with the public. He was allegedly involved in another incident of over-policing when he grabbed a civilian’s video camera. http://www.ny1.com/content/politics/213429/ny1-exclusive–tensions-rise-as-nypd-increasingly-recorded-by-camera-wielding-public/
  2. Increase Transparency: Mandate that all police officers wear body cameras while on duty. This will create a record of police interactions with community members that can be accessed if there is an allegation of misconduct.
  3. Enhance Training: Provide rigorous training to NYPD on interacting with South Asian/Muslim community members, and on gender sensitivity. Investigate allegations of police misconduct against New York Muslim Americans and incidents of sexual harassment by officers while arresting women.
  4. Cultivate Trust: Meet regularly with community members and leaders of diverse South Asian and Muslim American communities to discuss how police interactions impact their lives and how officers can better serve them.

As part of your mayoral campaign, you heavily emphasized the “tale of two cities.” The reality is that New York City is faced not only with economic inequality that needs to be addressed, but also a justice system that treats some New Yorkers as outsiders, as inherently suspect due to their identities. This is not just a political abstraction – this occurs everyday. New Yorkers require that this crisis be addressed not with a political response but with substantive reform that would assure an end to discriminatory tactics and over-policing of communities of color. We urge you to address this important issue as soon as possible by meeting with our organizational representatives and taking appropriate actions to reform the police practices in New York City.

 …

Doubtful Rape?

Sorry to interrupt the very pertinent social commentary about the authenticity of Beyonce’s newfound feminism, but it turns out that the two teenage cousins who were raped and lynched in Badaun, Uttar Pradesh this past May weren’t actually raped at all. Well, not necessarily gang-raped as first reported, but rather “doubtfully” raped. Make sense? Now, you can go back to discussing Beyonce lighting up the VMA’s in the light of her feminism…

Her words ring out, I know when you were little girls you dreamt of being in my world… But wait, Beyonce.

In May, two teenage girls stepped outside to find a place to relieve themselves in the middle of the night. The next time they were seen was hanging like strange fruit, limp and lifeless from a mango tree. Initially it was reported that the father of one of the girls, and the uncle of the other went to the police to solicit their help. They filed a complaint, which was ripped up in the men’s faces by the officers.

Early that morning, villagers made their way to the tree to ensure that these girls—hanging like brutalized human ornaments of man’s violent, misogynistic brutality—weren’t tampered with by the police. But why were they fearful of the police from the onset? And why were they worried that the girls’ deaths would be ruled as suicides?

Days later the Superintendent of the Budaun Police, Man Singh Chouhan, relays, as chronicled by India Times journalist Sonal Bhadoria, “The post-mortem report confirmed rape of the two girls, the autopsy confirmed they were strangled.” The DNA from the post mortem was used to track down and arrest three men belonging to the Yadev caste and later two more men of the same community—who just so happened to be police officers.

Seemingly, the men who committed this crime were behind bars, the police who laughed in the faces of the victims’ families still had their jobs, and the world declared a war on the lack of sanitation in response to these rapes.

Just days after the world decided that the answer to rape was to increase sanitation, Uttar Pradesh State Chief Secretary Alok Ranjan proclaims, “Rape is a trivial incident…” Maybe he needs a dose of Beyonce-strength empowerment:

I heard your boo was talking lip, I told my crew smack that… Hold it, Beyonce.

Women should unite, against the scourge of idiocy, which in its narrowness reiterates that violence against women is trivial.

Or perhaps Beyonce can provide her own anthem: Smack that trick, smack that trick.

Something doesn’t seem right. First the murders are gang rapes, and then only one girl was raped, followed by rape just being “trivial” according to an official of the state. The girls were lynched from trees and the world was silent. Something isn’t right. Subsequently, Uttar Pradesh Director General of Police, A. L. Banerjee, intervenes to bring some order to this situation. His words galvanize the people who surrounded the tree, to raise their fists in the air as their initial fear comes to fruition: “According to the postmortem report of the deceased, one of the girls was not raped and it appears to be a case of honour killing.”

What does this mean for the entire journalistic community and United Nations, who think that solving the problem of rape requires building more toilets? Do toilets solve honor killings, too? Does this mean that the article Price of Silence published in Youth Ki Awaaz called “The Problem With Insisting Lack Of Toilets Cause Rapes” (their title, not ours), was way ahead of its time? So many unanswered questions.

Following this new development in the case, the CBI filed a petition for the bodies of the dead girls to be exhumed, BUT the Ganges had flooded and the bodies couldn’t be found.

So, all the CBI had to go on was a shoe from one of the victims, the original vaginal swab, which was used to illuminate the original claim that the girls were raped, then to support the claim by authorities that there was no rape, and that it was an alleged honor killing.

More toilets would not have solved this problem. And there is no way that the media can bury this glaring inconsistency and make any deceptive statements, like CNN’s headline, “Investigations cast doubt on rape claim in teen-hanging case.” Suddenly, months after the attack, there is a shadow of doubt. Just three months ago the initial report, when those young bodies with so much more life to live were still warm, hanging from mango trees, the autopsy and post mortem declared that rape had taken place. So, how does CNN respond to this inconstancy, “Two teenage girls, who were found hanging from a tree in northern India in May, were not raped as originally alleged”? Subsequently, Barbara Frost publishes an article for Huffington Post, aligning with our original discontent with this solution, titled “Toilets Can’t End the Violence – But Are Part of the Solution.” Soon, the lame stream media will understand the inalienability of rights, and that the neglect of one right (like the right to sanitation for your health and wellbeing) isn’t rectified by the realization of another right (like your right to walk in public without being harassed, groped, leered at, intimidated, stalked, or sexually assaulted), because you were already entitled to all of these rights by way of being born a human being.

We spoke to one activist on the ground, Jenny Lovesu with 16th December Kranti, in Delhi about the very suspect nature of these latest conclusions. He immediately responded in heartfelt distress that the CBI “is nothing more than a puppet of the government.” The same government whose Defense and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley just days before the new post mortem report was released by the Medical Board spoke ignorance to power by stating that the brutal infamous rape and murder of Jyoti Braveheart Singh on December 16th, 2013 was a “small rape incident” which has cost “billions” in tourism.…

Blurred Lines of Justice: Defining A Culture of Equality for the 21st Century

How do you change society without changing the subparts of how society constructs its social perspective? Whenever there is a case of severe violence against a woman we hear the chants of “No More.” No more rape, no more domestic violence, no more dishonor killings, no more slavery, no more unequal pay, no more. Subsequently, we speak about tougher penalties. We talk about hanging rapists. We talk about tougher prosecutions in courts. We talk about an end to police corruption. We talk about building toilets, making acid illegal, creating all-women modes of transportation. Name any one of the aforementioned that has brought a dead woman back to life. Name one of the aforementioned that has unraped a woman. Name one of the aforementioned that has rejuvenated the skin scarred by acid. Name one of the aforementioned that has recognized the inherent dignity and potential of a woman.

Beyond the problems of everyday society, you have the dialectical social theorizing of violence and equality by academics. There are “western” solutions, or “eastern solutions.” We have these imaginary lines in our arguments—east and west.

Then of course we must invoke nationalism. “End rape in India.” “End rape in South Africa.” “End rape in the United States.”

After all of this posturing, there is our current reality.

Right now, as I write this, students are being brutalized at Jadavpur University as they seek justice for a student raped with impunity. At Columbia University, the so-called pinnacle of academia in the United States, a young woman is dragging her mattress—symbolic of the mattress she was raped on—across campus, from class to class to protest the administrators’ impunity of her rape. Do we want justice for these women? Yes and we want it now. We want assailants and those who covered up their crimes, fired, arrested, and brought to trial. But will firing them, arresting them, and bringing them into a courtroom end violence against women? No. Will it even end it at Columbia University or Jadavpur University? No. How do we exert the social message that men have power over women, and that women’s point and purpose in life is singular—to serve and fulfill men—and then expect change? Misogyny is the social, ritualistic tool of patriarchy. So we must first examine the social rituals that engender patriarchy and limit women. Equality is freedom and without freedom there can never be peace.

I am the artistic director of the global grassroots theatre company, Price of Silence. We strive to bring courage to women to stand up and shout out for real change. On stage we bring to life the violence that women face all over the world for our audience to live and breathe activism in action.

Our most recent show, Blurred Lines of Justice (a spinoff of Robin Thicke’s sexist anthem Blurred Lines) brought to life the concurrent stories of three rapes on three continents to illuminate universal injustice against women, which occurs without borders and beyond all cultural boundaries; this is a cause for unity among women, not division.

The stories of these three rapes were acted out in an interwoven narrative to give life on stage to those who lost their lives in the misogynistic world we face today. Daisy Coleman, drugged and gang-raped at a party, her body left in sub-zero freezing cold, had a positive-identifying rape kit, yet her rapists never served a day in jail. Her house was burned down, leaving her remaining family to flee Marysville, Missouri in the United States. A teenage girl dubbed Liz by the press was gang-raped and brutally beaten; she is now mute and bound in her wheelchair. Liz’s assailants were sentenced to community service—cutting grass in front of the courthouse—and then freed. A young girl in Kolkata was gang-raped twice, and later set on fire, from which she passed from this world. We dubbed this young girl Lahara, and her attackers were never found.

We knew little about the character we called Lahara, because her young life never extended beyond being a minor. Given the little we knew, we decided to match the spirit in which the Kolkata girl struggled for her life within the narrative of Lahara’s fight, and countless other young girls who challenge the norms that disintegrate their spirit day after day. The monologue below is adapted from a poem Lahara wrote within the show after doing chores. She runs out into the street to greet a friend who really wants to go with the social flow aligned with her expectations as a girl; the friend sees marriage as her only way of upward social mobility. Lahara rips into the idea of marriage by connecting the social aesthetics for beauty, consumption, and materialism, with the objectification of women. Lahara compares being a wife in a loveless marriage to that of being a hand bag. She shows how every investment made in her as a person is one that helps elevate her in the marriageability ladder:

Handbag wife. Magazine cut-out wife. Luxury car wife. They send you to school to get married. Can’t afford school? No worries, you can still get married. Your only prerequisite is you must pass the virginity test. They ask you: Why do you color your hair? They tell you: Cover your hair. Whiten your face. Cover your face. Close your mouth. Do not speak up. You are a gift for him to unwrap. When you learn to dance, it is only for him to see: “Look how she moves, and bends, and hangs,” and he thinks, “Oh, in bed I bet she…” You learn to play the violin and he thinks, “Oh look parents what she has mastered, she’s refined.” A Gucci bag, a luxury car, a BMW Lady he can drive. You looks good in pics, his friends will be impressed, the neighbors will say that Ashvin did fine for himself. You’re a fine Fendi bag, but when no one looking, he’ll throw you in the corner. You will be stuffed, stretched—you’re just a bag. He doesn’t mind hitting you, because you’re just a bag. You serve one purpose: carrying his things. You carry his food to the fire, his laundry to the water, and if you forget something, he can throw you away. You’re a fucking bag. A useless, bag.

The monologue, which was brought to life by the talents of actress Nandanie Devi, encapsulates the heavy social pressure weighted upon girls. As a man, I couldn’t even begin to comprehend the intelligence, grace, and courage with which women negotiate this world while constantly being under such sociocultural scrutiny. We force women to see themselves as the subtotal of their cosmetic appearance. By promoting this perspective, we are promoting the ideals of subservience. Subservience is a mechanism of dehumanization, and dehumanization is an instrument of violent social coercion. Cultures are not meant to be stagnant. If how we organize socially and culturally is not appraised and changed, in the face of everyday stories of depraved violence, then we are all guilty in being accomplices in the largest human rights crisis in history, that of violence against women. Progress is a beautiful word, but progress only comes by way of change and change has enemies, because change shifts power structures. Change is uncomfortable for those enjoying power and those who benefit from power, whether that power is economically, socially, or culturally. Still, I would rather my power as a male be diminished than have to listen to another story, from any continent, of any girl, of any religion or ethnicity being bludgeoned by any weapon in the arsenal of gender terrorism. We must define the culture of the 21st Century into a vision of action. This action must illuminate the realities too often silenced. You don’t get progress following the values of fifty years ago, you get progress by setting the rules for today. The children who grow up fifty years from now, grow up in the light of our actions.…

Reyhaneh Jabbari’s Final Message

Today I learned that it is now my turn to face Qisas (the Iranian regime’s law of retribution). I am hurt as to why you did not let me know yourself that I have reached the last page of the book of my life. Don’t you think that I should know? You know how ashamed I am that you are sad. Why did you not take the chance for me to kiss your hand and that of dad?

The world allowed me to live for 19 years. That ominous night it was I that should have been killed. My body would have been thrown in some corner of the city, and after a few days, the police would have taken you to the coroner’s office to identify my body and there you would also learn that I had been raped as well. The murderer would have never been found since we don’t have their wealth and their power. Then you would have continued your life suffering and ashamed, and a few years later you would have died of this suffering and that would have been that.

However, with that cursed blow the story changed. My body was not thrown aside, but into the grave of Evin Prison and its solitary wards, and now the grave-like prison of Shahr-e Ray. But give in to the fate and don’t complain. You know better that death is not the end of life.

You taught me that one comes to this world to gain an experience and learn a lesson and with each birth a responsibility is put on one’s shoulder. I learned that sometimes one has to fight. I do remember when you told me that the carriage man protested the man who was flogging me, but the flogger hit the lash on his head and face that ultimately led to his death. You told me that for creating a value one should persevere even if one dies.

You taught us that as we go to school one should be a lady in face of the quarrels and complaints. Do you remember how much you underlined the way we behave? Your experience was incorrect. When this incident happened, my teachings did not help me. Being presented in court made me appear as a cold-blooded murderer and a ruthless criminal. I shed no tears. I did not beg. I did not cry my head off since I trusted the law.

But I was charged with being indifferent in face of a crime. You see, I didn’t even kill the mosquitoes and I threw away the cockroaches by taking them by their antennas. Now I have become a premeditated murderer. My treatment of the animals was interpreted as being inclined to be a boy and the judge didn’t even trouble himself to look at the fact that at the time of the incident I had long and polished nails.

How optimistic was he who expected justice from the judges! He never questioned the fact that my hands are not coarse like those of a sportswoman, especially a boxer. And this country that you planted its love in me never wanted me and no one supported me when under the blows of the interrogator I was crying out and I was hearing the most vulgar terms. When I shed the last sign of beauty from myself by shaving my hair I was rewarded: 11 days in solitary.

Dear Sholeh, don’t cry for what you are hearing. On the first day that in the police office an old unmarried agent hurt me for my nails I understood that beauty is not looked for in this era. The beauty of looks, beauty of thoughts and wishes, a beautiful handwriting, beauty of the eyes and vision, and even beauty of a nice voice.

My dear mother, my ideology has changed and you are not responsible for it. My words are unending and I gave it all to someone so that when I am executed without your presence and knowledge, it would be given to you. I left you much handwritten material as my heritage.

However, before my death I want something from you, that you have to provide for me with all your might and in any way that you can. In fact this is the only thing I want from this world, this country and you. I know you need time for this. Therefore, I am telling you part of my will sooner. Please don’t cry and listen. I want you to go to the court and tell them my request. I cannot write such a letter from inside the prison that would be approved by the head of prison; so once again you have to suffer because of me. It is the only thing that if even you beg for it I would not become upset although I have told you many times not to beg to save me from being executed.

My kind mother, dear Sholeh, the one more dear to me than my life, I don’t want to rot under the soil. I don’t want my eye or my young heart to turn into dust. Beg so that it is arranged that as soon as I am hanged my heart, kidney, eye, bones and anything that can be transplanted be taken away from my body and given to someone who needs them as a gift. I don’t want the recipient know my name, buy me a bouquet, or even pray for me. I am telling you from the bottom of my heart that I don’t want to have a grave for you to come and mourn there and suffer. I don’t want you to wear black clothing for me. Do your best to forget my difficult days. Give me to the wind to take away.

The world did not love us. It did not want my fate. And now I am giving in to it and embrace the death. Because in the court of God I will charge the inspectors, I will charge inspector Shamlou, I will charge judge, and the judges of country’s Supreme Court that beat me up when I was awake and did not refrain from harassing me. In the court of the creator I will charge Dr. Farvandi, I will charge Qassem Shabani and all those that out of ignorance or with their lies wronged me and trampled on my rights and didn’t pay heed to the fact that sometimes what appears as reality is different from it.