In the literary classic depicting the aftermath of the French Revolution, Les Miserables, lead character Jean Valjean is sentenced to prison for stealing bread to provide for his family. In 2021 Kabul, Afghanistan, under newly-imposed Taliban rule, Valjean’s crime would at the very least lead to amputation of the limb that stole.
In the wake of Kabul’s fall to the Taliban, the world watches with bated breath to see what emerges from the conquered nation’s new occupiers.
In 2021, nearly 20 years after Afghanistan was temporarily freed of the Taliban’s occupation, it becomes increasingly clear that this harsh interpretation of Sharia will return just like its occupiers. Mullah Nooruddin Turabi, head of the Taliban’s Ministry of Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in the 90s, told the Associated Press that punishments acted as strong deterrents for criminal activity and were to be reinstated. In fact, while many stand in opposition to such strong and inhumane repercussions for crimes, some Afghans appreciate the rapid decrease in crime that accompanied the arrival of the Taliban. Interestingly enough, despite the harsh treatment of women under the Taliban’s rule, Turabi explains that rather than having a judiciary strongly weighted in favor of Islamic clerics adjudicate the cases, this time judges, women included, would weigh in on the ultimate adjudication. Whether or not the Taliban will go public with these amputations and executions remains unclear.
What exactly justice looks like, at least visually, could be left up to the hands of those living in Taliban-occupied Afghanistan. Turabi further elaborates on what Taliban rule will look like with the surprising admission of technology—phones, television, videos, and photos—as an essential component of everyday life that the so-called changed Taliban will allow. In this sense, the potential role of those living under Taliban rule is paramount as harbingers of an inhumane justice system.
Social media has proven to be a radical tool for change and accountability for actions local, domestic, and global. Seemingly light-speed seeds of change plant themselves in individuals as cries of injustice lead to timelines and social media stories amplifying calls for reform. Should public executions under new Taliban rule wind up on Facebook or Instagram, there’s no telling what exactly will happen, but one thing is for sure, fast and swift as a sword may swing to behead, social media will light fire to the Taliban’s harsh practices in public outcry.
Keeping the embers of a fire of accountability perpetually burning is the best thing those seeking to check the Taliban’s rule from overseas can do. The new occupation of Afghanistan comes with a new need for social acceptance by larger nation-states, especially those in the UN. If the Taliban achieves social acceptability, it achieves acknowledgement as a valid form of government. Should a direct violation of Article 5 of the Universal Declaration for Human Rights arise—subjection “to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”—negative global feedback from the social media masses and more could waterfall into international political action against the Taliban. As of right now, nations have slowed their accusations against the Taliban with media not commenting or updating on the now occupied Afghanistan since late September.
For now, there is little chance that the Taliban will not partake in these harsh forms of justice from the get go, leaving many poor, hungry, trapped, and afraid as they aim to provide for their families. In this land that is no longer theirs to call home, for a stolen piece of bread, a prison sentence would be favorable to a limb amputation. The decision of which they’ll get is unfortunately out of their hands.
What can you do?
Those interested in aiding those currently residing or fleeing this occupied country can engage in:
(1) Reading the news to stay informed about what is happening under Taliban rule
(2) Using social media as a tool to amplify the voices that cannot be heard
(3) Writing to your local Senator and House of Reps legislators to engage in action that would either hold the Taliban accountable or altogether refuse acknowledgement of its rule as valid
(4) Donating time and money to help relocate the refugees.
Policing in America has a long history, one that dates back to the founding of this country. Although it has always been a controversial issue, the recent instances of police brutality that have come to light along with the increasing momentum behind the Black Lives Matter movement have forced it back into the social and political limelight. The differences in beliefs are influenced by popular political outlets and political activists on both sides of the spectrum. However, when examining the history and the facts surrounding the creation and implementation of the policing system in the US, it is clear that policing also shares a racially biased history.
The History of Policing in America
The history of policing can be traced back to the days of slavery in colonial America. In the South, where slavery was central to the economy, slave patrols, responsible for capturing runaway slaves and returning them to their masters, was the first unofficial police in America. Considering how slavery itself was one of the most egregious treatments of mankind in human history, slave patrols were especially cruel in the ways they captured runaway slaves and punished them for their daring escapes. Slave rebellions were a constant threat to the economic status quo of the southern plantation owners, and slave patrols ensured that these owners were able to intimidate and punish any insurgencies or revolts. In return, these wealthy plantation owners protected the interests of the slave catchers. As a result, this practice created a social hierarchy between the wealthy landowners at the top, the slave patrols separating the wealthy from the poor, and the slaves who were at the bottom of this hierarchy.
These slave patrols slowly morphed into policing units in charge of breaking up insurgencies that began to rise in the aftermath of the Civil War. When the Civil War ended, many colonists, especially Southerners, felt threatened by the population of freed African Americans, arguing that they would disrupt the social order. As a result, African American communities experienced an increase in violence committed against them in the form of police brutality. The Reconstruction Era, which came immediately after the Civil War, was a racially charged environment, as the newly freed citizens attempted to live peacefully amongst their oppressors.
During the Reconstruction Era, cruelty was the policing style, and protecting the economic interests of the wealthy proved very beneficial to these units. Police were used as a way to provide a sense of security for the white communities, keeping the black communities intimidated and segregated from the white population. Additionally, reconstructing the South after the war would require a lot of free labor, and much of the reconstruction that took place was achieved through the enforced hard labor of the newly freed populace, who were shortly enslaved again, this time through the prison system.
Known as the Jim Crow laws, a number of legislations were passed in an attempt to keep the black and white communities segregated, and racist policies were put in place to target and imprison people of color. In part due to the loophole in the thirteenth amendment, which abolished slavery except as a form of punishment, policing centered around rounding up and arresting African Americans for violating the racist Jim Crow Laws, denying them their fundamental rights as human beings. Racism was still rampant in the South and was especially tolerated under the prison system. Ironically, the loophole provided by the thirteenth amendment gave rise to today’s prison industrial complex.
These racist policies were further encouraged by the passing of the “separate but equal” verdict by the Supreme Court in the Plessy v. Ferguson case, and they continued to target African Americans for simply existing. The Plessy v. Ferguson case argued that as long as both white communities and black communities were able to have access to the same resources, they could remain segregated. The verdict only emboldened and encouraged policing to incorporate racism into lawful practice. Unfortunately, this legal segregation lasted almost a hundred years, until the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.
Continuing their roles of breaking up insurgencies, policing during the Civil Rights Movement centered around riot control. As the Civil Rights Movement took place, inspiring hundreds of people to come together to demand justice, police were on the frontline of the opposing end, protecting the economic interests of America at the expense of human beings. Police used water hoses, police dogs, tear gas, and other crowd control measures to break up protests and peaceful sit-ins. The police would also brutally beat up and bruise the peaceful protesters, while others were incarcerated for daring to protest for their civil rights.
Policing since then has evolved to incorporate discriminatory practices, such as the “stop and frisk” policy – which empowers police to stop and search someone without a warrant if they have a reason to believe that individuals are doing something wrong – or the practice of racial profiling individuals to “fit” the description of a suspect the police can then target. Along with these practices, the war on drugs further aggravated the situation, granting the police the power to detain drug users by racially targeting people of color, and further enabling discrimination and harassment of marginalized communities. Today, the discrimination that is present in policies like stop and frisk, and racial profiling; and the war on drugs upholds the social hierarchy created during the times of slavery. These unethical policies continue to bolster the wealth and income inequality between wealthy communities and marginalized communities.
Additionally, the Revolving Door Phenomenon continues the historical practice of sabotaging marginalized communities. The Revolving Door Phenomenon refers to the fact that even after prisoners have served their time and get released, many of them end up back in prison. This is largely due to the many difficulties they face upon re-entering society, like finding employment, finding housing, securing transportation, and not being able to vote and be represented, to name a few. They can also face homelessness, and as a result, become victims of police brutality. Unfortunately, police brutality is still rampant to this day with no accountability of the police. The Black Lives Matter Movement, which became a worldwide phenomenon during the summer of 2020, is attempting to bring an end to police brutality and the violent murders of unarmed African Americans committed by the police.
Police Brutality and Rise of the Black Lives Matter Movement
The Black Lives Matter protests began in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American boy that was murdered by a White man on Neighborhood Watch. The man, George Zimmerman, was acquitted, facing no form of accountability for his actions. The hashtag movement gained further popularity when Michael Brown was murdered by a White officer, and yet again, no one faced any charges for the killing of a Black man. The Black Lives Matter movement encouraged people to record and report any instances of police brutality they witness, and soon, hundreds of civilians reported such instances on social media.
The murder of George Floyd was caught on camera, and this recording enraged the public. As a result, the Black Lives Matter Movement expanded nationwide, and over the years, has become a worldwide phenomenon. This movement brought attention to the frequent instances in which innocent African Americans were brutally murdered by the police. An NPR investigation revealed that since 2015, there have been 135 instances in which the police have murdered unarmed African Americans. They also found that of these 135 instances, 75% of the time, the officers were White. Another source places the total number of people who have died at the hands of police as high as 1,126, and that’s just in 2020. They allege that 96% of those deaths were a result of being shot. Reprehensibly, these instances continue to occur, as people such as Tameer Rice, Bryanna Taylor, Ahmed Aubrey, Jamarion Robinson, Ronald Greene, and too many more have continued to face cruelty at the hands of the police.
Especially jarring is the cruel way in which Ronald Greene was murdered. The brutal death of Ronald Greene, an African American man who was beaten and shocked to death by a group of police officers, has been under investigation since 2019. The police falsely testified that he had died in a car crash, but body camera videos show the extent to which the police viciously killed Greene as he begged them to stop. Additional reports came back on Greene’s autopsy that further discredit the claims of the police that Greene sustained fatal injuries due to a car crash. Heartbreakingly, this is yet another instance of police brutality that was allowed to occur.
One of the main reasons why police brutality continues to take place is due to the fact that the police face no real consequences for their actions. As has been the case too many times, police are reported to be found in compromising situations, leading to the inhumane treatment and in many instances, death of innocent people. Following those reports of human rights violations, it has also become common-place to find that those officers accused of brutality rarely get charged or punished for their behavior. They are generally held accountable only due to public outcry. Unfortunately, even then, accountability comes in the form of simply getting transferred to a different department. Too many instances over the past decade have highlighted the dangers of a militant police force without proper policies in place that hold responsible those that abuse the law. Policing leads to a power dynamic between communities and authorities, and in the wrong hands, without the proper measures of liability in place, can lead to an abuse of powers and people alike. As a result of the racial history that plagues America, the relationship between the police and marginalized communities is one that is (understandably), very fragile and filled with distrust.
Reform or abolish?
Many people have proposed policies to reform the police system in America. This can get pretty complicated, as police departments all across the country follow different rules and regulations and are state-funded entities. This can mean that implementation and enforcement of regulations can be a difficult task, requiring different entities for each state. Furthermore, there is not much data collected on policing misconducts, and the available data can be biased or lacking details. Additionally, many of the acts of police brutality are explained away using legal powers vested in the police, such as the ability to use force while conducting an arrest. The vague language of the policy allows the police to use excessive force and justify their actions in court. Moreover, police unions hold a tremendous amount of political power and influence and protect their officers from facing any real accountability. Even the attempts at limiting qualified immunity, (which protects government officials from civil lawsuits) have gotten nowhere, as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 has yet to be passed in the Senate.
As a result, cries to abolish the police have increased since the Black Live Matter protests of summer 2020. While police may be effective in situations where a crime has occurred, the abolitionists of today argue that police only complicate things in some instances, including interactions with people of color or when approaching people with mental illnesses or disabilities. Without being educated on systemic racism and the role of the police or having the proper training to care for people with mental or physical disabilities respectively, the police can make things worse, even if they are attempting to de-escalate the situation. The abolitionist approach is to restructure the entire policing system in order to divide the undertaking of community safety and security into various different institutions that are tasked with protecting the human rights of individuals. This enables the option of having other agencies in place aimed at solving community issues and nurturing a relationship with people within the community, making it more accessible and reliable for the community members to ask for assistance. Doing so could eliminate the oppressive climate brought on by the social hierarchy that has been ever-present in policing throughout American history. By reshaping society and its structures, we can ensure that the needs of the people in society are met, while preserving their fundamental human rights.
The Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts (AEIVA) has welcomed a new exhibit, “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration”. The exhibit explores the United States’ criminal justice system, mass incarceration, discrimination and the very concept of justice with works from more than 70 different artists. Many of the pieces on display come from artists who are or were incarcerated, who used art as an essential outlet and form of expression within prison. Nonincarcerated artists are also featured, influenced by the damages of mass incarceration within their families and neighborhoods. The entire exhibit creates a critique of mass incarceration from a human right’s perspective, representing the voices of incarcerated persons that are typically silenced or ignored. “Marking Time” boasts three galleries of moving pieces that speak to the gravity and scale at which the human rights violations within our punitive justice system disenfranchise impoverished and minority communities throughout the United States, and features data and interviews that discuss ways these glaring problems should be addressed and combatted.
“Marking Time” was organized by curator Dr. Nicole R. Fleetwood, who has spent a decade researching the importance and development of visual arts and creative practices for incarcerated persons. Dr. Fleetwood deliberately removed any mention of charges or reasons for conviction for the incarcerated artists featured in the exhibit, forcing viewers to remove a layer of prejudice or thought regarding whether or not the artist is inherently a “good” or “bad” person, or deserving of their incarceration. As I progressed through the galleries of “Marking Time ”, one of the first things I noticed was exactly that; how I continuously perceived the artworks as being the creations of a fellow artist, not a criminal or prisoner. This intentional shift in perception creates an environment of thoughtfulness, analysis and depth that may not have been achieved otherwise, and makes the exhibit an excellent ignition for thought, conversation and activism.
When analyzing the works themselves, I was surprised to see how many were masterfully created from hair gel, sheets, uniforms, newspapers and contraband items when traditional art supplies were not accessible. Incarcerated artists are often limited in the tools they have to create art from, but countless works within “Marking Time” reveal the true resilience of an artist’s spirit, and how artistic expression can prevail above the smothering limitations of prison.
As this exhibit has been analyzed and discussed through its many travels from MoMA to AEIVA, I wanted to highlight a few of the pieces and discuss their particular significance to the conversation of human rights within the United States punitive justice system and mass incarceration.
Pyrrhic Defeat: A Visual Study of Mass Incarceration by Mark Loughney
Loughney’s series, Pyrrhic Defeat, is named for a theory within criminal justice studies that explores how a failing criminal justice system that discriminates in its criminalization of certain groups substantially benefits certain elites. Mark Loughney has created over 750 portraits of his incarcerated peers in order to mark the passage of time within his own sentence, as well as provide fellow inmates with a positive alternative to the dehumanization caused by mugshots and prison IDs. His pieces provide the individuals with a level of personalization, dignity, and respect that is often forgotten and ignored within the prison system. Loughney spends 20 minutes on each sketch, and has to carve a creative, open atmosphere for each session out of the typical chaos and disruptions within a prison environment.
Untitled by Gilberto Rivera
This Triptych by Gilberto Rivera places a spotlight on how mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic negatively impacted vulnerable communities throughout the artists’ hometown of New York. Rivera was a graffiti artist prior to his incarceration, and this piece truly reveals the artist’s emotions and style in a brilliant display of keywords, colors and figures. Rivera’s triptych incorporates newspaper clippings that highlight his disgust for how minority and immigrant essential workers were neglected as well as the fear incarcerated people experienced throughout the public health crisis. Prisoners across the globe were put into lockdowns to prevent the spread of Covid-19, and the result of this is an experience extremely similar to that of solitary confinement; a punitive mechanism proven to have extreme mental and physical health consequences. Despite these sweeping lockdowns, extreme overcrowding lead prisons to host the majority of the largest single-site outbreaks since the start of the pandemic. Despite these major outbreaks and casualties, prisoners fell to the bottom of priority lists for treatment and aid when medical equipment and essential items faced shortages. Rivera’s piece displays frustration and criticism of these issues that have hardly received the mainstream coverage they deserve.
Ellapsium: master & Helm by Jared Owens
With Ellapsium, Jared Owens addresses the racism of the criminal justice system as well as hierarchies and power struggles within Fairton, the correctional institution where Owens was imprisoned. This complex work features symbolism as a form of rebellion and disapproval, and bears an immediately recognizable resemblance to the infamous map of the Brookes Slave Ship from 1788 that displays how slaves were forced to live through their passage to America. This intentionally chosen symbol represents the violence, dehumanization, and other atrocities that slaves faced in early American history. The second and less known image present in this work is a blueprint of the Fairton prison; Owens’ combining of the two blatantly compares the horrors of the historical institution of slavery to the atrocities and discrimination committed by the United States’ current carceral state. Owens also utilizes color symbolically throughout his piece, and all of the colors used correlate to the artist’s daily life within a federal institution. The green of the institutional walls represents restriction and being subdued, blue represents the uniforms worn by prison guards, and brown represents the uniforms of those imprisoned. Orange, the most used color within the piece, was used within Fairfield to indicate areas that were off limits and unavailable to incarcerated persons, so Owens deliberately used that color for the boundary between the blueprint of the slave ship, of Fairfield, and the world outside of the two.
Owens is open about how his pursuit of art posed a legitimate threat to him within the Fairfield facility. Being caught with planks of wood to paint on or stretch canvas could have resulted in solitary confinement, extension of his sentence, or complete confiscation of personal possessions and art supplies. While these overwhelming restrictions greatly limited Owens while he was in prison, he has chosen to use his experience to create, raise awareness, and call for change- like so many artists featured alongside him in “Marking Time”.
Peace, Love, Harmony by Susan Lee-Chun
Women on the Rise! (WOTR) was a feminist art project founded by Dr. Jillian Hernandez to provide girls in juvenile detention facilities with a platform for self-expression and dialogue. Inspired by her participation in this project, Susan Lee-Chun worked with a group of girls in juvenile detention to explore the politics of fashion, and asked her participants to “Think about who you are, what words, images or symbols define you or your beliefs. Use them to create a fabric design”. The resulting hoodies on display conform to detention center uniforms on their exterior, and on the inside feature patterns with rainbows, checkers, and the word “Love”. Upon completion of this project, Lee-Chun attempted to give the girls she worked with the resulting hoodies of their creation; and was denied that request. None of the girls involved were allowed to wear the hoodies. In public defiance, Lee-Chun’s hoodies now hang among the many artworks of “Marking Time”, criticizing a system that would prioritize conformity and uniform over the individuality, creativity and expression of a child.
How To See “Marking Time”
If you would like to see “Marking Time” and any of the artworks or artists featured above first hand, the exhibit is free and available to the public until December 11. Reserve your free ticket to view the exhibition here. Spaces per time slot are limited to 10 for a one-hour long visit. If you cannot make your time slot for any reason, please cancel the booking or call 205-975-6436. If you have any issues with booking your ticket or would like to reserve a group tour, contact AEIVA at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visitors must wear a mask at all times inside the AEIVA building and keep socially distanced. Free and metered parking is available along the streets surrounding AEIVA. Safety is UAB’s priority. The pandemic is a fluid situation that UAB is monitoring, in consultation with infectious disease and public health experts; events will be subject to change based on the latest COVID-19 safety guidelines.
All upcoming “Marking Time” programs are designed as hybrid events, with both in-person and virtual components. AEIVA is prepared to move any of the events entirely virtual at a moment’s notice. Visit AEIVA on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for the latest updated information.
It has been estimated that each year 600,000 to 800,000 men, women, and children are trafficked across international borders. November 18 was established as Anti-trafficking day by the European parliament. This day is used as an opportunity to spread and raise awareness to prevent and combat human trafficking. Human trafficking is a “crime that involves compelling or coercing a person to provide labor or services or to engage in commercial sex acts.” Any person can be a victim of human trafficking. Human trafficking is a “global problem and one of the world’s most shameful crimes.” It affects the lives of millions while also “robbing them of their dignity.” The most known form of trafficking is for the purpose of sexual exploitation, but many other victims are trafficked for the purpose of forced labor, domestic slavery, child begging, or the removal of their organs. Every country is affected by human trafficking, it is important to understand why and how this happens, and the ways to prevent it or recognize the signs.
What is Human Trafficking?
There is no single profile or defining characteristics of a trafficking victim. Victims include men, women, and children from any age and any background. Traffickers are known to often prey on individuals that come from low socioeconomic statuses. They target victims who are poor, vulnerable, in search for a better life, or are living in an unsafe or unstable situation. Trafficking victims are misled by “false promises of love, a good job, or a stable life.” They are forced into scenarios where they are forced to work under terrible conditions with little to no pay. In Birmingham, Alabama, human trafficking is a major issue. The interstate I-20 is the “most heavily trafficked stretch of interstate in the U.S.” The 140-mile road between Birmingham and Atlanta is been known as the ‘sex trafficking superhighway.’ Additionally, the intersection of I-20, I-59, and I-65 makes the city of Birmingham a central exchange for trafficking activity.
Traffickers use different methods and resources to get their victims. Physical force, threats, psychological manipulation are mostly used. Newsome Law points out that there are two general ways traffickers are able to attain victims. First, victims are lured in. Traffickers will go to the lengths to “put up a ruse that their intended victim buys into.” They will make false promises, present desired relationships, large paycheck, or another prize that will seem worthwhile. These prizes are fake, they are just used to gain attraction and attention. In some cases, it’s found that the trafficker will play along to make it believable until they have the victim with them. Secondly, another way victims are recruited is through force and coercion. Some traffickers will use threats of physical harm or actually use physical violence to get their victims. They will use weapons of physical restraints to grab the victim off the street. Tactics of threats, violence, drugging are very commonly used with either method whether they are trying to capture the victim or when they already have the victim.
Who is most at risk?
Human trafficking is important for an array of reasons. First, in the United States, some of the most vulnerable populations include people within marginalized groups. These include “American Indian/Alaska Native communities, LGBTQ+ individuals, individuals with disabilities, undocumented migrants, runaway and homeless youth, temporary guest-workers, and low-income individuals.” These conditions make these communities and individuals more at risk than they already are.
As pointed out, there is not a clear picture of who and what type of person is most at risk. Human trafficking can happen to anyone, but there are some who are more vulnerable than others.
An article by BhamNow suggested several risk factors:
Those involved in the DHR system
Those placed in foster or group homes
Those with limited adult supervision
Those with a history of trauma (including being taken from your own home which is traumatic)
Those with a history of sexual and/or physical abuse
Runaways / homeless youth
Those suffering from substance abuse or with a family history of substance abuse
Young women who learn that their body is something they can use for money
Young men who are taught not to talk about abuse
Queer and trans youth are also vulnerable because they often experience rejection by their families, churches, schools, and communities
What is being done to limit it
With human trafficking being a global problem, many countries and organizations have been developing tactics to prevent and protect victims from being trafficked, while also prosecuting those who traffic. In 2017, the Department of State and Labor and the U.S. Agency for International Development handles a total of 120 international counter-human-trafficking projects among 40 countries. Their projects had three goals: to prevent, protect, and prosecute. They prevented trafficking through public awareness, outreach, education, and advocacy campaigns. They protected and assisted victims “by providing shelters as well as health, psychological, legal, and vocational services. Lastly, they prosecuted human trafficking by providing resources such as training and technical assistance for police, prosecutors, and judges.
Other organizations such as the United Nations (UN) uses similar tactics to prevent, protect, and prosecute when trying to limit human trafficking. The UN started a global project called Start Freedom. This project aims to “engage and raise awareness among young people.” It empowers young people to know the signs of human trafficking and how they can prevent it from happening to them. Both projects have a common conclusion that the best way to avoid being trafficked is through education and knowing the signs.
What can we do?
It is vital to spread awareness and learn about all the risks involving human trafficking and what to do if you are being trafficked or have reason to believe someone is being trafficked.
A would-be employer refuses to give workers a signed contract or asks them to sign a contract in a language they can’t read.
A would-be employer collects fees from a potential worker for the “opportunity” to work in a particular job.
A friend, family member, co-worker, or student is newly showered with gifts or money or otherwise becomes involved in an overwhelming, fast-moving, and asymmetric (e.g., large difference in age or financial status) romantic relationship.
A friend, family member, or student is a frequent runaway and maybe staying with someone who is not their parent or guardian.
A family member, friend, co-worker, or student is developing a relationship that seems too close with someone they know solely on social media.
A family member, friend, or student lives with a parent or guardian and shows signs of abuse.
A family member, friend, or co-worker is offered a job opportunity that seems too good to be true.
A family member, friend, or co-worker is recruited for an opportunity that requires them to move far away, but their recruiter or prospective employer avoids answering their questions or is reluctant to provide detailed information about the job.
Recognizing Labor Trafficking:
Feel pressured by their employer to stay in a job or situation they want to leave
Owe money to an employer or recruiter or are not being paid what they were promised or are owed
Do not have control of their passport or other identity documents
Are living and working in isolated conditions, largely cut off from interaction with others or support systems
Appear to be monitored by another person when talking or interacting with others
Are being threatened by their boss with deportation or other harm
Are working in dangerous conditions without proper safety gear, training, adequate breaks, or other protections
Are living in dangerous, overcrowded, or inhumane conditions provided by an employer
Recognizing Sex Trafficking:
Want to stop participating in commercial sex but feel scared or unable to leave the situation.
Disclose that they were reluctant to engage in commercial sex but that someone pressured them into it.
Live where they work or are transported by guards between home and workplace.
Are children who live with or are dependent on a family member with a substance use problem or who is abusive.
Have a “pimp” or “manager” in the commercial sex industry.
Work in an industry where it may be common to be pressured into performing sex acts for money, such as a strip club, illicit cantina, go-go bar, or illicit massage business.
Have a controlling parent, guardian, romantic partner, or “sponsor” who will not allow them to meet or speak with anyone alone or who monitors their movements, spending, or communications.
The University of Alabama in Birmingham hosted a re-entry simulation for mass incarceration on the 15th of October, 2021, partnered with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Alabama. This simulation, which featured around a hundred participants, was designed to enlighten both students and community members about the difficulties surrounding re-entry into society for those who have been previously incarcerated. The event featured different booths to portray the various obligations, both legal and personal that had to be met by individuals exiting the prison system into the civilian society.
These booths included responsibilities such as securing identification cards, attending treatment appointments or drug screenings on time, or even being able to get employed, all while having to figure out transportation to be able to fulfill these requirements. Each participant was provided with a new identity, a few transportation tickets, some money (depending on the person’s identity), and a list of obligations that needed to be met each week. The “weeks” were timed to be fifteen minutes each, and the participants got four weeks to successfully re-enter society.
Getting your IDs
The identity I assumed had no IDs to their name, and only $30 when exiting the prison system. One of the most difficult components of this exercise was securing the three required IDs. Without the IDs, all the other booths refused to be of any help, and securing the IDs took well over a “week.” In the real world, this also means that people are unable to find employment, housing, or even apply for government aid like food stamps until they are able to secure these IDs. Furthermore, as Jeremy Sherer, the Assistant United States Attorney who helped organize this event discussed, there is a possibility of being re-imprisoned for outstanding warrants that might have been acquired while individuals were serving time in the prison system. Therefore, people who attempt to get their IDs at the DMV might end up being reincarcerated for these outstanding warrants. An easy solution to this problem would be to issue government IDs to people as they are exiting the prison system. This would dramatically decrease the mental and physical stress on individuals, as this one act would open up resources and opportunities they might not have without the proper government-issued IDs.
Another enormous obstacle in the way of successfully re-entering civilian society can be transportation. Many people, upon entering the prison system have three options concerning their vehicles: they can sell their car and keep the cash, they can give the car to someone else, or if they are making payments on a car upon the time of their arrest, it can become repossessed by the time they exit the system. Even if your property was held by the police for “safeguarding” or for evidence purposes, if you cannot claim it within a certain time frame (which is impossible for people who are imprisoned), you face the risks of losing that property.
Transportation is a necessity, and if you live in an area where public transportation is unavailable, you will need to either purchase a car or rent one. In order to purchase any vehicle, you have to have an ID. Assuming you have your IDs, the next step is the background and credit checks. This can be a massive hurdle, as people who leave prison might not have the necessary credit history, nor have established employment history to purchase a car. They may not be able to afford the full price of the car, having just come out of jail or prison. For those who depend on public transportation in areas that offer the services, bus schedules can be very confusing and might not travel to the necessary destinations. Additionally, those who live in areas where public transportation is not an option have to figure out a way to find transportation for themselves. There are no agencies in place to provide any assistance to people in cases like these.
The Bail System
According to The Prison Policy Initiative, 74% of people in jail have not been convicted of any crime. If we were to follow the logic that people are “innocent until proven guilty,” 74% of the people held in jail are innocent. These individuals are only allowed to leave the jails by paying the set bail amounts for their particular case. These bail amounts are set based on the criminal charges and the complexities surrounding the crime in question. Although bail is not supposed to be a form of punishment, the bail system tends to punish the poor by setting a financial amount that has to be paid if the individual does not want to await their trial in jail. Most Americans are seldom prepared for a $400 emergency, and for people struggling with poverty, the set bail amount can be impossible to meet. This pretrial detention can also last months or even years before the trial date, meaning that innocent people might be held in jail for years simply for not being able to afford bail. The person’s identity I assumed at the re-entry simulation had $30 on their person, and their bail amount was the full $30, which ended up bankrupting them, leaving them with no money for food, transportation, or any other expenses.
People exiting the prison system have to meet certain legal requirements upon their re-entry into civilization. These legal responsibilities include regular check-ins with the probation or parole officer, regular drug screens, and even clinical or treatment appointments that need to be attended. For one, as mentioned earlier, formerly incarcerated people need to be able to secure a stable form of transportation to get to these appointments. They also have to be able to provide their IDs, so not having one could result in a violation of the conditions of parole. The demands of parole or probation are different for each case, but conditions of release can include finding and holding stable employment, as well as showing up to take a urine analysis, blood tests, or a drug screening whenever requested of them. These drug screens can also interfere with the individual’s employment (if they do manage to secure one), as they would be required to leave their workplace to comply with this stipulation. People that are required to meet these conditions of release are also personally billed for these tests, something that they might not be able to afford. These stipulations can become even more complex based on the history of the person’s criminal offense. Those that have served time for sexual offenses are also required to register as a sex offender in their area, further complicating their ability to acquire employment or housing, and as a result, making it near impossible to meet their conditions of release.
Additionally, some people being released from prison might have to attend clinical appointments or treatment sessions. This may be a weekly obligation, and again, transportation and IDs are essential to meeting this condition. These treatment sessions, while helpful and certainly necessary in many cases, might only add stress to those who are financially compromised.
Recent studies show that many people who enter the prison system without any mental illnesses can come out with serious issues related to their mental health. While there may be many factors that influence an individual’s mental stability inside the prison walls, research shows that solitary confinement, a practice that is used in most jails and prisons in the United States, can play a fundamental role in someone’s mental health. At times, placing an inmate in solitary confinement can exacerbate pre-existing conditions of mental illness. Solitary confinement can also lead to a number of mental health-related illnesses, including depression, paranoia, or even trigger hallucinations. As a result, many people who enter the prison system with no history of mental health issues can develop mental illnesses or acquire trauma while serving out their sentences. This inhumane practice can be suspended, which would dramatically affect the mental health of prisoners and lighten the load on some of their legal obligations.
Along with legal responsibilities that have to be met, people attempting to re-enter society also have personal obligations they may have to fulfill, including responsibilities regarding their children (if it applies), their own personal care (such as food, and shelter), and their attempts at professional success, including employment and education. Many individuals, upon re-entering society, regain custody of their children, meaning that they have to ensure both their needs as well as their children’s needs are met. This can prove to be very stressful and traumatic, both for the individual re-entering society and the children involved. As discussed previously, people exiting the prison system might not have the resources or the mental stability to be able to accept such a huge responsibility, often resulting in the parents neglecting their own needs for the needs of their children, and as a result, increasing the mental and physical strain they might place on themselves.
Even still, many parents that are not awarded custody of their children might be forced to pay child support upon their release. Unless they ask for a suspension or reduction of child support, the amount can continue to accumulate while the person is serving time, and upon release, the person is mandated to pay the full amount owed. Failing to pay the amount can be considered a violation of their conditions of release and can result in the reimprisonment of the individual.
Another personal responsibility that an individual re-entering society has to meet is self-care. An essential part of personal care includes food and water, yet many people might not be able to afford three square meals a day. As I learned from the re-entry simulation, contrary to popular belief, churches are not as forthcoming with assistance as many like to believe. This may be due to a variety of reasons, ranging from funding problems to religious or ideological reasons. Applying for food stamps is an option, but it can take weeks, requiring both transportation and IDs. Even when an individual is awarded food stamps, it might not cover all their nutrition expenses, leading many to become food insecure.
Additionally, many people re-entering society may face housing insecurities. Due to the social and sometimes cultural stigma around imprisonment, family members might refuse to provide adequate shelter for the individual. In order to qualify for an apartment, the applicant has to provide proof of employment as well as a security deposit. Many job applications require a background and criminal history check, at many times refusing to hire an individual if they have been convicted of a crime. Without a job and proper shelter, many risks facing the possibility of becoming homeless.
Expanding on the complexities of getting employed, many people re-entering society have to cross so many hurdles to be successful professionally. Depending on the age at which they were incarcerated, many individuals returning to society might not have the necessary education or skills to qualify for employment. Some might even have to train for and take their GEDs, a base requirement to get jobs, even low-wage ones. To add to the complexities, people with traditional High School Diplomas receive a higher pay rate than those who obtain GEDs.
Once they are able to acquire their GEDs if they choose to pursue higher education, formerly incarcerated people have to do so at a private university or college. This is due to the fact that most public universities and college applications include a section asking about the applicant’s criminal history. This can indirectly discriminate against those who are struggling with poverty, fundamentally impacting their ability to compete with the growing skilled and educated labor forces of society. Moreover, people who have been incarcerated face many challenges when applying for financial aid. Their ability to receive financial aid is very limited, as they can be denied student loans as well as Pell grants due to their criminal history. Consequently, this usually means that people coming out of prison are stuck with working labor-intensive, low-wage jobs without the prospect of advancement in their professional careers.
As part of his concluding remarks, Jeremy Sherer reminded the participants at the simulation that almost 60% of people who are released from prison can end up being incarcerated again. This is a sign that the current system is designed to fail these individuals who are just attempting to survive after their punishments have been served. The lives of these individuals are impacted forever by their criminal history through the taxing obligations they have to meet in order to lead a successful life. They are not provided any form of guidance yet punished constantly for the failures of the system. If the components of racial discrimination in the prison system are taken into consideration, (which will be covered in my next blog post), some might even believe that this injustice intentionally targets certain marginalized members of the community.
Everyone makes mistakes; this is a universally accepted concept. Yet, part of the process of learning and growing involves being provided with the necessary opportunities and resources to learn from the mistakes of our past and strive to become better individuals. Having participated in the re-entry simulation, I attempted to meet all my requirements as best as I could with the resources I was provided with, yet I was sent to “jail” for failing to visit my probation officer, and by week four, I was begging the “police officer” in the exercise to just send me to “jail.” I could not handle the mental, emotional, and physical stress that resulted from the realities this simulation strived to convey, and my participation was voluntary. Many individuals who have to deal with these systems on a regular basis do not have a choice.
Indigenous women face overwhelming rates of violent crime, more than twice the amount of their non-Indigenous counterparts in the United States and 3.5 times in Canada. A 2016 study published by the National Institute of Justice revealed that approximately 84.3% of American Indigenous women have experienced violence against them in their lifetime and 56% of these women would become victims of sexual violence as well. In Canada, only 53% of Indigenous women’s homicides have been solved; drastically less than Canada’s national solve rate of 84%. That statistic becomes even more damning when we take into account that Indigenous females only make up 4% of Canada’s population, yet account for nearly one quarter of all homicide victims in Canada. For decades, Indigenous leaders, tribal governments and human rights organizations alike have called for national reviews in both Canada and the United States into the treatment of cases regarding Indigenous women. A publication from the US Department of Justice states that Indigenous female victims in the United States are far more likely to need services that aid survivors of such violence, but are the least likely group to have access to these services. The majority of Native American women will face physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, and more than a third will be unable to access necessary services after the event due to drastic disparities in access to healthcare and treatment by law enforcement. With each new set of data we have re-confirmed the existence of a plight sweeping through native communities, robbing women within them of their security, safety, and visibility.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (#MMIW)
In recent years, social media pushes have been made to raise attention for what is now known as “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women”, a simple catchphrase encompassing decades of neglect from all channels that is now spearheading a movement for justice. This hashtag and social media campaign generates hundreds of thousands of interactions and impressions on social media every day, and brings attention to the individual stories of missing indigenous women or families of women lost to homicides that are still unsolved. However, indigenous women rarely get the national media attention that white women experience when they go missing; and when every minute and resource makes an empirical difference in the likelihood of that woman being found alive. A prior article from the Institute of Human Rights speaks specifically about the recent Gabby Petito case, and the disproportionate response of the American public for missing white women in comparison to women of color and indigenous women here. These drastically different responses only amplify the vulnerability of indigenous women.
It is horrific to think about a situation in which no one will come looking for you if you go missing. That nightmare has become an internalized reality in so many indigenous communities, where young women are being raised with impressive levels of advocacy for their missing sisters, but are witnessing first hand how much of a struggle that advocacy is. Social media is beginning to catch up to decades of research that has been waiting for a time like now, where the general public may be ready to listen and push for change. The Murder Accountability Project (MAP) has tirelessly collected data on unsolved homicides in the United States to apply pressure on law enforcement in communities with disproportionately high unsolved homicide rates, and put a spotlight on communities that fail to report important information to federal databases. The Indigenous community is heavily reflected in both of those categories.
A broken chain of command and lack of communication is often cited for why so few of these reported cases are ever investigated, as local, state and federal law enforcement agencies struggle to find a balance of working with native land and sovereign tribes through the reporting process. Many violent crimes against indigenous women occur on sovereign native land, however, 96% of the perpetrators are non-indigenous. This causes major confusion as tribal governments are unable to prosecute non-indigenous persons, and most standard law enforcement agencies have no jurisdiction over any crimes that occur on native land. This complicated mess of jurisdiction and authority confuses law enforcement, tribal governments, and victims alike.
Unfortunately, law enforcement has repeatedly made glaring errors that are impossible to ignore; tribal organizations have found that the United States National Crime Information Center recorded 5,712 reports of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls in 2016, but the US Department of Justice’s federal missing persons database shows that only 116 of those 5,712 cases were never logged. Essentially, this information means that only 2% of all cases of missing indigenous women were properly reported. This cannot be ignored; many families, friends and loved ones are left wondering why our government has forgotten and neglected their sisters, mothers, wives and daughters. While the answer may not always be clear, movements like #MMIW are bringing this conversation to the forefront of politics and media. In order to provide justice for these women, we must demand increased preventative and investigative efforts to protect these women when they need it the most.
Truths of Targeting
The vast majority of homicides of indigenous females go unsolved for years, and even the solved cases display how this systemic neglect has been repeatedly exploited. As determined by the FBI, “vulnerability” is a key factor in a killer’s process of victim selection; a category most indigenous women have been forced into by countless factors beyond their control. Prolific serial killers like Robert Pickton (Canada) and Robert Hansen (United States) specifically targeted indigenous women and sex workers during their killing sprees, and doing so allowed them to murder dozens of women completely undetected by law enforcement for decades. More than half of Pickton’s victims were thought to be aboriginal women, though many were never identified, and Hansen’s victims were often young indigenous women who had turned to survival sex work out of financial desperation. While describing research confirming how killers have manipulated vulnerabilities to their benefit, Co-director of MAP and criminologist Michael Arntfield determined that “Serial killers prey on marginalized populations, and indigenous women make up a disproportionate number in the victim pool”.
How to Help
There are many exceptional campaigns, research organizations and nonprofits to get involved that are currently on the forefront of the fight to end violence against indigenous women. If you wish to learn more about the topic, you can explore other Institute of Human Rights articles promoting Indigenous rights here, or click here to find an excellent resource sheet with educational sources and ways to get involved with MMIW. There are countless petitions for reform in both the US and Canada as well; this petition calls for the passing of Savanna’s Act, which will require the Department of Justice to update their missing persons database to better help identify missing and murdered Indigenous women and prevent further discrepancies in reported cases. This petition is a plea to the US Senate, calling for the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to be re-authorized and receive greater funding as VAWA increases abilities for tribal nations to prosecute non-native offenders as well as providing resources for responses from law enforcement on all levels when cases of violent crimes or missing women are reported. The Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women offers ways to donate, volunteer, attend community training, and other incredible opportunities to get involved in the movement. The Sovereign Bodies Institute utilizes donations to collect culturally-informed research on gender and sexual violence against indigenous peoples.
The only way to protect these women is to take drastic steps towards change. We can no longer ignore, deny or neglect the truths of everything both systemic and societal that has consistently failed the indigenous community, and the women within it. Please research, donate, volunteer, and find a way to become an advocate for the missing and murdered. We can have no more stolen sisters.
On October 10, 2021, seventeen migrants fleeing from Cuba were apprehended after coming ashore near Key West, Florida. Arriving on a “chug”, or small, rustic boat that is common for those fleeing Caribbean nation-states, the migrants were given breakfast by police. Despite this small gesture of kindness, the migrants will most likely end up being deported back to Cuba.
As reported by the Miami Herald, in the fiscal year of 2021, the United States Coast Guard arrested 838 Cuban migrants, a staggering number considering that only 49 were detained in 2021. This recent uptick in Cuban migration reverses a downward trend that was seen after President Obama ended the “wet foot, dry foot” policy in 2017, which had allowed most migrants who made it to American soil to stay in the nation. The policy had first been introduced in 1995, and it’s reversal was an attempt to “normalize” diplomatic relationships with Cuba. Since the Cuban Revolution in 1959, over one million Cubans have uprooted their lives to come to the United States.
But perhaps even more alarming to those watching over the rights of undocumented persons is the plight of over 30,000 Haitian migrants who were expelled back to Haiti by Texas immigration authorities in record time in September 2021. Twitter exploded when a photo of U.S. border control agents on horseback chasing Haitian migrants was posted, highlighting the inhumane treatment many fleeing refugees face when making the dangerous journey to the United States. Immigration, an issue that has been a hot-button topic in the United States for decades now, has once again come into the collective conscience of domestic issues in the United States. Reform, now perhaps more than ever, is the call of all Americans, regardless of political alignment.
The Causes of Haitian Migration to the United States
To understand the migration crisis that is currently occurring at the southern border of the United States, it is paramount to explore the issues that are causing people to make a life-threatening journey of thousands of miles for the wish of a better future.
Haiti has experienced both natural disaster and political instability this year. On July 7, 2021, Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in his home in Pourt-a-Prince, leaving the county in a vacuum of political unrest. And barely one month later, the already unstable state was rocked by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake, killing over 2,300 people and injuring over 12,000. 77% of those affected were already experiencing poverty.
Haiti has also been unable to recover from the 2010 earthquake, with over 300,000 people still living in unofficial housing or displacement camps. The cholera epidemic that was introduced by United Nations peacekeeping forces in the aftermath of the earthquake has infected over 800,000 people and claimed the lives of over 10,000. Haiti continues to hover in the bottom 10% of nations on the Human Development Index, with 2020’s report seeing Haiti at #170 out of 189 nations tracked by the system, the lowest of any country in the Western Hemisphere.
The promise of economic opportunity for Haitians, who are expected to earn $1,709 dollars per capita as Gross National Income, is enough to draw many away from Haiti. But as climate change continues to make tropical storms more numerous and severe in the Caribbean, we are not only seeing economic and political refugees flee to the United States, climate refugees have already begun to flee the immense poverty and misery present in Haiti and other Caribbean island nations. Climate refugees, This multitude of push factors have led hundreds of thousands to flee to the United States on the often unobtainable promise of a better life in a new country.
Attempts to Reform Immigration in the United States
The immigration debate in the United States has existed for almost as long as our nation itself. While immigrants from nations such as Ireland and Italy faced harsh discrimination throughout the 19th century, immigration remained relatively open and free. After the Supreme Court declared immigration regulation a federal responsibility in 1875, immigration controls were put in place quickly, with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 beginning over a century of isolationist, anti-immigration political rhetoric and policy that lasts to this day.
After current President Joe Biden declared that the current United States immigration policy was a “moral failing”, human rights activists were excited for changes that would allow asylum-seekers and refugees an easier path to shelter. Biden also promised to “tackle the root causes of irregular migration”, sending a message that human rights abuses causing the crisis we are seeing out of Haiti and other Central American countries may finally be dealt with, raising the standard of living throughout these states and limiting the need for refugees to uproot their livelihoods to come to America.
Despite the hope for immigration reform on all sides of the American political spectrum, misinformation and fear have brought the possibility of positive change to a grinding halt. The most popular plan as of now is to introduce a path to citizenship for those who came to the United States before 2010. While this is amazing progress, it does not address the modern immigration crisis we have seen occur in the 2010’s into this new decade. It also would not provide amnesty for any Haitian refugees or asylum seekers who came to America in the aftermath of the 2010 Haitian earthquake.
There has been positive progress towards providing refuge from international crisis. The United States has seen a massive decrease in immigration arrests in fiscal year 2021. With the lowest numbers reported in a decade, the level of arrests in 2021 was 4.5x less than it was in 2011. Despite this progress in policy enforcement, actual changes in policy that tackle the systemic causes of mass migration from Central America and allow asylum seekers to more easily enter the United States would truly alleviate the migration crisis at our southern border.
If you casually partake in nightly news television, or are one of the 3.6 billion social media users worldwide, you have more than likely been overwhelmed by the constant updates pertaining to the disappearance and murder of Gabby Petito. While the unfolding of this tragedy has been heart-wrenching to watch, the excessive day-to-day news updates have sparked a growing concern over the disproportionality in news coverage compared to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) women that have gone missing. More commonly referred to as “Missing White Woman Syndrome,” the law enforcement efforts and public attention attached to Petito’s story illustrates how physical appearance and race can be a life-or-death determinant in cases of missing persons. In Wyoming, the state in which Petito went missing, 710 Indigenous people, mostly girls, have gone missing in the last decade. None of those 710 cases have become household names or become national news stories.
Representation is Especially Critical in Cases of Missing Persons
As cases of missing BIPOC continue to have a lack of news coverage and public attention, it is important to understand the ramifications of what we see – and what we don’t see – covered by various news outlets. According to a report in a recent article from The Insider, “50% of missing Indigenous people are found within one week, while 21% remain missing for 30 days or longer. Only 11% of white people remain missing for that long.” The report also looked at media coverage of homicide victims, finding that only 30% of Indigenous victims made the news, compared to 51% of victims that were white. The relationship between news coverage and the likelihood of a missing person being found alive illuminates what is actually at stake when a story is reported: the ability for a person, in many cases a young woman or girl of color, to be rescued and brought back home to her loved ones.
Social Media Platforms like TikTok shed a New Light on the Issue
Due to law enforcement’s inadequate service, those who have witnessed the effects of ‘Missing White Woman Syndrome’ have recently begun to take matters into their own hands. The social media app TikTok, in which users make and share short video clips, has been a tool many have used to spread information and share case updates with the public. Eye-catching graphics and hashtags such as #MMIW (murdered and missing Indigenous women), are used by social media users in videos and posts to gain the attention of anyone willing to help find missing Indigenous women. The MMIW movement across TikTok and other forms of social media has led to critical conversations, specifically amongst young people, about why the statistics of missing persons are so disproportionate, not only regarding media coverage, but action from politicians and law enforcement as well. As Petito’s story began to unfold, many began to wonder why the FBI was involved in her case. With cases of non-white victims their loved ones must create flashy videos in hopes of reaching a point in social media algorithms that they are viewed by a larger audience.
What can be done to help those at the highest risk?
The topic of missing minority women is initially discouraging; however, there are many actions that can be taken to support the current rescue efforts. First, it is vital to realize not only why current news stories are being reported but the bigger issues behind the cover story presented, such as the reason why some cases are covered but almost identical cases are not. In addition to spreading awareness about underrepresented cases of missing persons, you can directly reach out to your state representatives, law enforcement agencies, and rescue teams about what they are currently doing to look for missing persons. Monetary donations are accepted by organizations that have already established efforts to bring women of color home safely, including MMIW and the Black and Missing Foundation .
For more on this subject and to learn about specific cases, click here.
I would like to start with a land acknowledgment, a practice I was introduced to during a 21-day racial equity challenge I participated in over the summer. I extend my gratitude for the people of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek and Chickasaw nations for their preservation of the land that I live on today, and more generally, to all the members of the First Nations spread across the American continents for their wisdom, respect, and the deep cultural relationship they share with nature. The history of the First Nations’ People in America overwhelmingly encompasses examples of atrocities and genocidal acts committed against them. On October 11, 2021, America officially recognized the inhumane treatment that the Native Americans faced for centuries and honored the brave warriors who fought against the oppression and genocide of their people. Yet, many continue to believe that America owes its discovery to Christopher Columbus. In an effort to set the record straight, it is vital to investigate why American society should stop idolizing Columbus and instead honor the people that have the original rights to this “Land of the Free.”
A Brief History and Lifestyle of the First Peoples’ Arrival to the Americas
We must explore the history of the indigenous people to truly understand the full context of why we should even acknowledge the land as belonging to the Native Americans. Tens of thousands of years ago, many humans crossed into the Americas, enduring tough terrain and temperatures while crossing the Bering Strait. This was an ice-covered land bridge that got destroyed as a combined result of great climate catastrophes and shifts in plate-tectonics. The break in the land bridge made travel between the two land masses impossible, and people in the rest of the world soon forgot that the Americas even existed. The people who managed to cross the bridge before its break, spread out through the North and South American continents and began to establish civilizations. Contrary to what our education systems professes, these great civilizations included trade routes between tribes, farm lands that practiced polyculture crop cultivation, and had even established impressive cities such as Cahokia, Chaco Canyon, and Tenutchtitlan.
Additionally, many Native American societies were matriarchal, believing that women were the wise members of their communities that were responsible for creating life, educating their children, and tending to the harvests, among other things. This empowered women to make important decisions surrounding faith, as well as gave them political and economic powers that pertained to the governance of their societies. The matriarchy appeared to be a direct threat to the European settlers, who were primarily patriarchal, believing that the women’s place was at the home, and that men would be the ones to make all the decisions for them. This clash of ideologies led to more conflicts between the Native Americans and the European settlers.
Furthermore, the Native Americans had perfected polyculture crop cultivations, a sustainable method of farming that enables different crops to grow together and provide support to each other in the form of nutrients, shade, or prevention of soil erosion, among other things. The Native Americans planted beans, corns and squash together, famously known as the Three Sisters, using polyculture methods to both protect their crops and also produce an abundance of food. When the colonial settlers first arrived, the Native Americans not only provided them with a warm welcome of food and shelter, but also taught them how to grow the Three Sisters to survive. Similarly, the Native Americans also provided the settlers with insight on how to practice hygiene, as Europeans believed that changing into clean garments was good enough and did not associate water with hygienic rituals until their arrival to the Americas. The Native Americans essentially played a tremendous role in ensuring the survival of the settlers that continued to arrive on their lands.
Columbus and his Treatment of the Native Americans
The arrival of Christopher Columbus brought with it death, destruction, and devastation to the Native Americans. The first interactions with the Europeans introduced the Native Americans to diseases that they had not developed immunity to, killing hundreds of Natives as a result. Columbus arrived with his crew members into the New World believing it to be India, and thus naming the people who greeted him and his crew members as Indians. Although he had set out in search of spices, upon seeing the Native Americans adorned in some gold jewelry, Columbus became greedy for their gold. His new mission was to bring back as much gold as he could, and so his cruel rampage began. He tortured innocent Native Americans for their gold, cutting off the hands of those who refused to give up their gold, and sometimes even burning down entire villages for the precious mineral. Columbus was also a slave trader, forcing hundreds of Native Americans onto his ships to take them back as slaves to Spain. As if this wasn’t atrocious enough, he also managed to kidnap young Indigenous girls and force them into sexual slavery to provide pleasure for himself and his crew members. To make matters worse, he became a sex trafficker, preferring to kidnap girls between the ages of 8-10, noting that they bring the best profits.
How Do Indigenous People Continue to Suffer Today?
Ultimately, to the First Peoples of this nation, Columbus has become the face of the brutalities and genocidal acts committed against the Native American population in the United States. To this day, Native Americans simultaneously deal with the systemic racism and the consequences of colonization as a result of a loss of culture leading to depression, and elevated levels of alcoholism, to name a few. Native Americans feel invisible to the larger society, as women are also disproportionately disappearing, and no one seems to notice or care. America has continued to disrespect the Native Americans, polluting the lands and rivers that they share a spiritual connection with, and even defiling their sacred mountain, Mount Rushmore, with the images of American leaders that represent colonialism and the genocide of their people.
Why We Should Honor the First Nations’ People Instead
The Indigenous People of America have taught us so much about the world we live in. They played a crucial role in the survival of the settlers that arrived in a new world without the slightest idea of how to survive its harsh conditions. They have also vigorously fought against their oppressors, and more recently, against climate change. They are at the forefront of many environmental movements, including the protests that were led against the building of the Dakota Access Pipelines that would prove to be an environmental disaster for those who live in surrounding areas. This Pipeline was projected to cut through the reservations of the Standing Rock Sioux (which is protected under a treaty), and the members of the Sioux nation argued that the pipelines would lead to environmental concerns in their waterways, and if it were to burst or have accidental spills, would prove to have enormous ecological consequences while simultaneously endangering the residents in the surrounding areas. Due to the fact that Native Americans share a special spiritual relationship with nature, the First Nations People practice sustainable farming and protect their environments from pollution. Their practices can provide a very important skill that we can incorporate into our larger society and even on a global scale, to help combat climate change.
Overall, we should dedicate a day to celebrate the Indigenous People of America and all their heroic actions, from their significant roles in the survival of the settlers when they first arrived, their courageous efforts to fight back the oppression and genocide targeted at them, as well as their ability to practice sustainability and preserve natural ecosystems from pollution and destruction. This day should replace the current celebrations of Columbus Day, a day that continues to celebrate an individual who was directly responsible for genocide, inflicting pain, suffering, and torture on thousands of Native Americans. We shouldn’t just add Indigenous Peoples’ Day to the calendar alongside with Columbus Day; we should stop celebrating Columbus Day altogether.
On September 6th, 2021, six Palestinian prisoners escaped from what is known as Israel’s most secure and guarded prison, Gilboa Prison. An escape conducted only with a spoon has been heralded as a heroic victory for the Palestinian people and a major security breach to the Israeli government. The conflict between Israel and Palestine is nothing new. In fact, it’s known by many as a “100-year-old issue.” Since 1948, there have been continuous arguments and battles about land control, but it has now come to be much more. Today, Israel occupies most of the West Bank and has built settlements that are illegal under international law. Aside from speaking about which country controls what land, it is vital to recognize and understand the countless human rights violations happening—most of which were committed by Israel.
Since 1967 over one million Palestinian people and supports have been arrested in Israel by the IDF. In June 2021 alone, a total of4650 political prisoners were detained. 200 which were children, 40 women, and 544 serving life sentences. In 2020, there were 700 sick patients arrested and not receiving theproper care. It’s been noted that the Israeli police have targeted Palestinians with discriminatory arrests, torture, and unlawful force. The main targets of arrest are typically Palestinian activists, like the six prisoners who escaped.
In Israeli prisons, Palestinian prisoners live in “appalling conditions that are subjected to harsh treatment.” The United Nations hasnoted that techniques used by the Israeli General Security Service during prison interrogations constitute torture. Once arrested, prisoners and detainees begin to endure physical abuse and humiliation—allviolations of international humanitarian and human rights law. When interrogated, they become exposed to “physical torture and psychological intimidation.” They are beaten, put into solitary confinement, inspected, deprived of medical and sanitary resources, and many more things. The report confirmed these conditions and the treatment of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons through multiple letters sent to the UN and posted.
In addition to the illegal conditions of arrests and detention, Palestinian children have become increasingly targeted by Israeli detention. These children have been abducted and denied their fundamental human rights, sentenced, and convicted throughout the night. About 95% of the Palestinian children released from Israeli jails suffer from torture and ill-treatment during their time spent and throughout the interrogation process. Sick detainees have also been a massive problem within these prisons. More than 1,500 Palestinian prisoners—including those with disabilities—suffer from different physical and mental illnesses due to the poor conditions and no access to medical attention. Prisoners with cancer are denied any type of access to medical attention unless it is an emergency. Meaning chemotherapy is not an option. Routine doctor’s visits, medicine, anything a typical cancer prisoner should be provided, is not allowed. The condition of these prisons continues to worsen and violate human rights.
The Re-Capturing of the Six Prisoners
The news of six prisoners escaping comes as a surprise to everyone. Not one person, Israeli or Palestinian, would have imagined that not one but six people could ever escape again. Once the world knew six people had escaped, the Israeli government began a search to find all six of them. The escape set off anuproar within the Israeli government as it was the biggest jailbreak seen in more than twenty years. Since the escape, Israeli prisoners have doubled down on their security, causing many Palestinian prisoners to protest and go on hunger strikes. With the current prison situation, it’s not imaginable what constitutes stronger security conditions. This is known as “collective punishment”, which is deemed illegal under humanitarian law. Posts around social media show the different forms of protests the prisoners have been doing. In addition, the manhunt included harassment of family members and violent raids across the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. The recapturing of the prisoners resulted in protests in the occupied West Bank and around the world.Thousands gathered to protest the rearrest and the reasons for the original arrests. Protesters in Palestine went out “in solidarity without prisoners in the occupier’s jails… it’s the least we can do for our heroic prisoners,” saidJihad Abu Adi.
Since being captured, the escapees have all been tortured and beaten by the Israeli occupation forces. The worst being towards Zakaria Zubaidi. After he was rearrested, he was tortured so badly; he had to be sent to the ICU to receive urgentmedical treatment. He was taken toRambam Medical Center, located in Haifa, for treatment. It has been suspected that Zubeidi was tortured with electricity. His brother released a statementsaying, “my brother is being subjected to the harshest form of torture.” Along with the electric form of punishment, it is noted that Zubeida’s leg was broken, and the Israeli prison forces did not allow him to sleep. Israeli security forces also did not allow lawyer visits for any of the recaptured. Palestinian human rights groups have asked the International Red Cross to get involved and facilitate interactions between their legal counsel and their families.
Many Palestinians continue to live in fear of what is to come after the prison break. In the midst of fear, victory is sensed. Many journalists, Palestinians, and supporters have called this a momentous victory that showcases the strength and resilience of countless Palestinians.
The most important thing one can do is learn the history, educate themselves, and read. Many individuals are being treated in an unfair manner which is deemed illegal under International Law.
Check out these links, social media accounts, and books to learn more. @eye.on.palestine, an account on Instagram, posts daily updates on the occupation forces attacking Palestinians. Additionally, their accounts share pictures and post stories of what it’s like to live in an Israeli prison, access to medical care, and the food strikes conducted in protest.
My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, Ari Shavit
In Search of Fatima: A Palestinian Story, Ghada Karmi
Arabs and Israelis: Conflict and Peacemaking in the Middle East, Abdel Monem Said Aly, Shai Feldman, Khalil Shikaki
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