Skip to main content


The Washington Post has published a report based on a leaked document. We don't know who leaked it to them. In it, a prisoner who was placed in the police van some time after Freddie Gray was restrained, claims that he heard banging from Gray's compartment. At no time did this anonymous prisoner see Gray.

That's news. A prisoner heard banging. That ought to get published.

Unfortunately, WaPo decided to go with a reiteration of the prisoner's suppositions.

A prisoner sharing a police transport van with Freddie Gray told investigators that he could hear Gray “banging against the walls” of the vehicle and believed that he “was intentionally trying to injure himself,” according to a police document obtained by The Washington Post.
The prisoner, who is currently in jail, was separated from Gray by a metal partition and could not see him. His statement is contained in an application for a search warrant, which is sealed by the court. The Post was given the document under the condition that the prisoner not be named because the person who provided it feared for the inmate’s safety.
The document, written by a Baltimore police investigator, offers the first glimpse of what might have happened inside the van. It is not clear whether any additional evidence backs up the prisoner’s version, which is just one piece of a much larger probe.
I frequently write about questioning official narratives. Here's another case where the narrative must be taken apart.

First, notice all the hypotheticals and room for doubt: "might have" "not clear" no "additional evidence" "written by a police investigator"  "could not see him" - there is literally no evidence here except that Prisoner 2 heard banging.

But instead, we get in the lede, the headline, and crawling across cable news channels, the message that Freddie Gray broke his own spine. It's not going to persuade many, but it will introduce enough doubt to keep pro-law individuals and policy-makers from vigorously pursuing justice for Gray.

Moreover, imagine this prisoner, now caught up in the Freddie Gray story. The police interrogate him about what he heard. I can imagine a scenario in which the investigator says, "You heard banging?" "Yes." "Like he was trying to hurt himself?" "Yes." And then writes down, "Prisoner 2 says Gray was trying to hurt himself."

Did that happen? No idea. And the Washington Post also has no idea either.

There is a good story to write about this leaked document, a necessary story even. Banging could mean an attempt to self-injure in an effort to get a big settlement (the implication here), but also could be the last pleas of a dying man for help, unable to call out anymore. Banging could be a lot of things. All we know is Prisoner A heard sounds.

The people who wrote this piece are journalist pros in a way I will never be, sludging through the day-job of it all for one of the great papers in America. But I believe the way this piece was written reflects poorly on the ethical decisions made by the writers and the editors. It serves the agenda of the leaker and those who want to introduce doubt to the investigation of the death of Freddie Gray.

Because when there is doubt, time and time again, in front of juries, the media, and the public, law enforcement officials receive the benefit of that doubt. And the Washington Post has made it easier for Gray's killers to escape justice.

Finally, let's imagine that the BPD had reliable evidence beyond this one prisoner that Gray's injuries were self-inflicted. They would have released that within 24 hours of his death as an attempt to forestall unrest, rather than letting the investigation play out. This leak is a sign of the weakness of the investigation to exonerate the police, rather than a sign of Gray's culpability.

----------------------
I am a freelance journalist focusing on disability issues. I have written for CNN, Al Jazeera, Chronicle of Higher Ed, New York Times, The Guardian, and many more. I'm also a blogger, long-time member of this site, and a history professor. You can read my blog at How Did We Get Into This Mess? This is a modified version of today's blog post.

To read more, you could 'like' my public Facebook page.

Or you could follow me on Twitter:

Discuss

Al Jazeera America: I have a new piece on the troubling case of Kayleb Moon-Robinson, a kid caught up in the racist and ableist regimes in our schools.

Kayleb Moon-Robinson is a 12-year-old boy who lives in Virginia. One day at school, he kicked a trash can and was charged with disorderly conduct in juvenile court. A few weeks later, he disobeyed a new rule (made just for him) that he stay behind in the classroom while his peers left. When the school resource officer (SRO) arrived to take him to the principal’s office for disobedience, Kayleb reportedly struggled and swore. The officer allegedly slammed the boy down on a desk and handcuffed him. Kayleb is now being charged with felony assault on a police officer, and his future is very much in doubt.

Kayleb is autistic and African-American. The state of Virginia wants to brand him a criminal. The Center for Public Integrity names it as the state most likely to send students to jail. Virginia was also home to the Reginald “Neil” Latson case, in which a young man with autism encountered a police officer, didn’t comply with orders, started walking away and ended up in a brutal fight. He spent years in solitary confinement as a result before finally being pardoned.

Kayleb’s story has become national news, thanks to a new report from the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Center for Public Integrity. His case, unfortunately, is not at all unusual. Across the country, children are being severely punished for acting in atypical ways. A disproportionate number have disabilities or are nonwhite. Salecia Johnson, a 6-year-old girl in Georgia, was arrested for having a tantrum. In Virginia a 4-year-old boy with attention deficit disorder was cuffed and shackled. Colton Granito, an autistic 8-year-old in Tennessee, was placed in a straitjacket and charged with assault. No matter what these children were doing, anytime the solution involves placing a child in shackles, the people in charge have grotesquely failed.

Read the whole article, please, and share it. Disability is often excluded from the conversation about zero tolerance, and that's a mistake. Zero tolerance, the mission-creep of "School resource officers," racism, ableism, fear - it all comes together to form the cult of compliance.

----------------------
I am a freelance journalist focusing on disability issues. I have written for CNN, Al Jazeera, Chronicle of Higher Ed, New York Times, The Guardian, and many more. I'm also a blogger, long-time member of this site, and a history professor. You can read my blog at How Did We Get Into This Mess?

To read more, you could 'like' my public Facebook page.

Or you could follow me on Twitter:

Discuss

I have a new piece up on CNN today on the Bruce Rauner budget. It ruthlessly attacks programs that serve the most needy. It also saves money now by eliminating programs that would save the state much MORE money over time. I write:

The Rauner budget slashes state spending by over $4 billion, much of the savings gleaned by eliminating or reducing eligibility for programs based in the Department of Human Services (DHS). Each cut will come with costs to families and individuals who need the state's help most. Moreover, many of the cut programs actually save the state money over time.
Moreover, Rauner's budget is part of a nation-wide pattern of Republicans using budget deficits to de-legitimize social programs.
Rauner's cuts are taking place against the backdrop of a bigger attack on disability. Too many right-wing politicians and pundits see disability as a wedge issue with which they can divide interest groups, pit people who need help against each other and rip apart the core social safety net. Meanwhile, they reassure their base, which is filled with individuals who also need help from the state, that only they really deserve benefits.

Like Rauner, other governors are cutting services in the name of austerity. Kansas, under Sam Brownback, has pushed disabled people off Medicaid, making services less effective and efficient. Scott Walker, in Wisconsin, has proposed cutting long-term care services in such a way as to limit individual choice of caregivers and service providers, empowering the healthcare industry and not disabled Americans.

Florida has gutted benefits to severely disabled individuals in workers' compensation cases and eliminated countless positions in the Department of Health. And that's all just at the state level. Nationally, the new Congress began the year with a sustained attack on Social Security Disability Insurance, which some analysts see as a way to threaten the whole foundation of Social Security.

Last December, House Republicans insisted that the ABLE act, a bill intended to help people with disabilities and their caregivers save money, only be offered to those who were disabled before the age of 26, a limitation aimed at excluding people who become disabled through work, disease, accident or age.

Around the country, Republicans continue to try and divide and conquer. Illinois is just the latest battleground.

I focus on early intervention and respite care, but I could have written about almost every item being cut here. Meanwhile, revenue is not in the discussion.

We cannot cut our way to a better society. Of course, I'm not sure a better society is actually Rauner's goal.

----------------------
I am a freelance journalist focusing on disability issues. I have written for CNN, Al Jazeera, Chronicle of Higher Ed, New York Times, The Guardian, and many more. I'm also a blogger, long-time member of this site, and a history professor. You can read my blog at How Did We Get Into This Mess?

To read more, you could 'like' my public Facebook page.

Or you could follow me on Twitter:

Discuss

"The [naked] man who appeared mentally ill ran at the officer and ignored demands to stop before the officer shot him twice."

Yesterday, in DeKalb, GA, a police officer responded to a call about a naked, unarmed, man at an apartment complex. He was clearly in a mental health crisis. He ran at the officer and the officer killed him.

His name was Anthony Hill. Here's more detail about his life and death. He was an Air Force veteran, a musician, and a recent critic of police violence. He also had bipolar disorder.

Readers of my blog and my journalism know the story all too well, but there are specific points worth emphasizing. Each death operates within the general trend of the cult of compliance and the war on the unpredictable, but each death is a tragedy in its own specific details.

Hall was naked, so there's no question whether or not he was armed. Instead, we have an officer, in admittedly a split-second situation, ordering a naked man to stop, then firing when he didn't. This is another case in which, as I wrote about for Kajieme Powell and other deaths, the police officer is demanding that the disabled person choose between not being disabled or getting shot.

There are three key takeaways that I'd like to offer this morning.

1. Failure to obey commands while in mental health crisis is not, by itself, a capital crime.
2. Failure to obey commands for anyone is not, by itself, a capital crime.
3. When assessing this incident, we need to ask why the officer ended up in this position both tactically and strategically.

For one and two, we have to ask officers to make split-second evaluations of risk. Hall didn't have a weapon, but was he big? Was he charging or running away? Was he screaming? At what point does any risk of bodily harm justify the use of deadly force? These are questions I can't answer in the specific case, but I do believe that police generally are too quick to use lethal force. In many ways, this is a learned response to policing a heavily armed society, but Hall was naked, so it's not like he was reaching for his belt.

Still, we don't fix this problem just by giving individual officers better training. Cedric Alexander, director of the county public safety department, said this:

DeKalb officers receive some training in dealing with the mentally ill while in the academy before they join the force, Alexander said, but on Monday he said perhaps the training needed to be bolstered.
“That is becoming more and more apparent,” he said.
More individualized training for officers is an unmitigated good. It is, however, also a limited solution. As with the death of Kristiana Coignard and Charley Robinet, along with so many others, we have to expand our lens and not look only at the moment of death.

What I want to know is why, in a situation that so clearly involved mental health issues - I mean, a naked man crawling around acting erratically is a mental health call - this officer ended up in the position where he killed Hall. Where is the crisis intervention team? Where are the mental health professionals? What teamwork has already been put in place between law enforcement and mental health?

De-escalation and crisis training are good. They might have kept Hill alive. I hold the officer responsible for shooting an unarmed naked man. But I want to know what the whole department, the whole state, is doing to prevent such deaths. The solutions have to be structural.

------
I am a freelance journalist focusing on the intersections of disability and police violence. I have written for CNN, Al Jazeera, Chronicle of Higher Ed, New York Times, The Guardian, and many more. I'm also a blogger, long-time member of this site, and a history professor. You can read my blog at How Did We Get Into This Mess? This is a modified version of my most recent post.

To read more, you could 'like' my public Facebook page.

Or you could follow me on Twitter:

Discuss

So Erik Bolling, of Fox News says zero people have ever been killed in the name of any religion, except for Islam. Bolling said:

Reports say radical Muslim jihadists killed thousands of people in the past few months alone. And yet when you take Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, whatever, their combined killings in the name of religion––well, that would be zero.
This is all in the context of Obama's remarks at the nation prayer breakfast. I am a freelance journalist and medieval historian. I wrote about this for the Guardian.

I wrote, among other things:

It’s a mistake to believe in Christian exceptionalism – the idea that Christianity alone has solved its problems – while other religions are still “medieval”. One of history’s lessons is that any ideology, sacred or secular, that divides the world into ‘us versus them’ can and will be used to justify violence.

But when we talk about the past, we’re often really talking about ourselves. In my scholarship, for instance, I look at the ways in which medieval people developed stories about holy war as a response to contemporary problems – which often had little to do with the Crusades.

So, now we have Mr. Bolling, showing us exactly why it's vital to stop Christian exceptionalism AND the other side of the coin, Islamic demonization. And maybe he meant only in the last few months, but it's not what he said, and it reflects this idea that somehow Islam is the only religion whose adherents are currently being violent.

Below the fold, I'll offer some links of violence against all kinds of people by people of all kinds of religions. They will be useful to share with your right-wing neighbor or uncle who recite Bolling's points back at you verbatim. Some are recent (Central African Republic's Christians killing Muslims, Hindus forcing conversions in India, the Sikh temple massacre). Some less so.

Continue Reading

Recently, video has surfaced of police trying to throw a man in a wheelchair from his chair. Allegedly, the individual ran over the officer's foot.

Here are some other incidents worth remembering. And these are just the ones caught on tape. Video at each link.

Brian Sterner: thrown from his wheelchair by an officer who thought he might be faking (I write about this as the "pencil test" for wheelchair users).

Dwight Harris: thrown from his chair in DC in 2011. He was allegedly intoxicated and not complying.

Indiana police officer knocks Nicholas Kincade from his wheelchair for bumping into an officer.

Here's an Oakland school security officer beating and throwing a student from his chair. He was arrested and fired [Note - Not technically "police" but school culture, I argue, is part of the broader cult of compliance. If you are new to my writing, please start here for that concept].

That's just five that happened to be caught on video. How many more are out there?

There are circumstances in which a person in a wheelchair might indeed threaten an officer. Wheelchair users are human. They can carry firearms. They can break the law. I do not believe, based on what we know, any of these incidents meet that standard. I would suggest the following guideline - if you, as a law enforcement officer, would not consider breaking the individual's legs, also do not knock them from their chair.

If a wheelchair user does something requiring a law-enforcement response, such as intentionally rolling over a foot (those chairs are heavy), two legitimate choices emerge.

1) Arrest/cite them.
2) Let it go, the way one might at a little nudge from a shoulder as someone brushes by you.
There is no legitimate option #3 - dehumanize them.

Because that's what these acts are - dehumanizing and intentionally so, stripping away the one tool which allows a wheelchair user real independence. They say - your ability to be a human is contingent on our say-so.

And as always, notice the intersections. It isn't necessary to be black and a wheelchair user to be victimized, but when race and disability intersect, things get dangerous fast.

------------------
I am a freelance journalist focusing on the intersections of disability and police violence. I have written for CNN, Al Jazeera, Chronicle of Higher Ed, New York Times, and more. I'm also a blogger, long-time member of this site, and a history professor. You can read my blog at How Did We Get Into This Mess? This is a modified version of my most recent post.

To read more, you could 'like' my public Facebook page.

Or you could follow me on Twitter:

Discuss

In Texarkana on Monday, a woman called 911 (click for the call) at around 2 AM to report a person in her garage. The woman was frightened and said that she heard banging on the windows from the person in the garage. A police office came to investigate, and found an African-American man holding something in his hand. The officer said the individual came at him in an aggressive manner, and so fired at him, killing him.

The man was Dennis Grigsby. From the article, "Family members say Grigsby had mental problems." He was holding a spoon, the officer said with the handle up, and the officer thought it was a knife.

The local NBC affiliate reports:

"Grigsby then allegedly made an aggressive move towards the officer while carrying a metal object. The officer said he ordered Grigsby to stop but he continued to approach, forcing the officer to fire a shot into Grigsby's chest."
His mother said.
"He was real sweet. He would never hurt anybody. He had a mental illness," said Evelyn Grigsby, Dennis Grigsby's Mother.
She was asleep inside their home when the shooting happened and she says she didn't know her son had left home.
I don't have any information on Dennis' disability, but people who read my blog and my articles around the web know how these stories play out, because they happen again and again and again, following much the same pattern. I've spent most of the last two years following and writing about cases in which police harm or kill people with disabilities, often in circumstances much like this.

In this case, Dennis wandered from his house, ended up in the garage, and then started making noise. Perhaps he was trying to get out and was confused. Perhaps he merely was interested in the spoon and the windows. We don't know.

The police officer demanded he comply and shot him when he didn't. It's fairly clear to me that the police officer followed his training (which is a problem), although a man alone in a garage with a metal object is, I believe, someone you could back away from instead of forcing compliance. That's a police strategy point I come back to a lot. There are often other options unless someone is in imminent danger, but we lack the details to judge this one right now.

So, another person with disabilities killed by police, as is true of at least 50% of all people killed by police. This one had a spoon. Whether or not the officer should be held accountable is a question I can't answer, but I can demand that this be considered a tragedy and that our thoughts be with Dennis and his family.

That's not, of course, what's happening, at least not in some places. I want to focus now on the combination of hate, mistrust, ignorance, and ableism in this Facebook thread from the local news, in which some white folks show just how much they either don't get it or don't care.

Go to the thread or click below the fold to see some of the worst examples.

------------------
I am a freelance columnist (CNN, Al Jazeera, Chronicle of Higher Ed, The Atlantic, etc.), blogger, long-time member of this site, and history professor. You can read my blog at How Did We Get Into This Mess? This is a modified version of my most recent post.

To read more, you could 'like' my public Facebook page.

Or you could follow me on Twitter:

Continue Reading

The ABLE (Achieving a Better Life) Act is a good idea with massive bipartisan support. It would make it possible for people on Social Security Disability Insurance to earn and save a little money in special accounts, spending that money on qualified expenses like job coaching, extra medical help, long term care insurance, education, housing, and so forth.

Now some of the GOP is trying to kill it. Others are just trying to restrict it, allowing people with childhood diagnoses to benefit, but not anyone who becomes disabled later in life (as almost all of us will).

I have a new piece on Al Jazeera America called "Playing Politics with the Disabled." Please read it and share it. I think the bill may well pass next week, but we need to fight for a bill that supports everyone, not just the GOP's chosen "good" disabled.

Here's the politics:

In recent weeks, the Heritage Foundation has launched an attack on ABLE. It’s unclear whether they can sway enough members of Congress to derail the legislation, but the writers of a Heritage Foundation report have tapped into two arguments embedded in Republican discourse about poverty and disability. First, they call ABLE a welfare bill, even though ABLE doesn’t provide benefits, because there will be some people currently not on SSDI (because they work or have a little savings) who will be able to join the program.

The more interesting Heritage Foundation criticism emerges at the end of the report. The authors write that if ABLE passes, “eligibility for ABLE accounts should be limited to children with clear clinical conditions that create severe disability; for example, blindness or Down’s syndrome.” Those two examples reveal profound ignorance about disability. Both conditions can create severe challenges but are nothing like each other in kind, especially in the context of the work environment.

Both conditions are, though, generally sympathetic ones. Here, the Heritage Foundation is attempting to separate out only the most worthy among the disabled in order to narrow the bill. The House bill, in which only those who became disabled before the age of 26 would be eligible, does something similar. For the House, children born blind would be eligible but not people who became blind in their 40s.

The House bill and the Heritage critique emerge from the Republican worldview about poverty and disability. As recently as last July, Senate Republicans were attacking SSDI as packed with fraudsters, comparing the bad people of SSDI with the ostensibly more worthy elderly poor who rely on the main Social Security funds.

Much worse, North Carolina’s Sen.-elect Thom Tillis said in 2011, “What we have to do is find a way to divide and conquer the people who are on assistance. We have to show respect for that woman who has cerebral palsy and had no choice in her condition, that needs help and that we should help. And we need to get those folks to look down at these people who choose to get into a condition that makes them dependent on the government.” Tillis wants people with cerebral palsy and similar conditions to “look down” on those deemed less worthy. That’s the underlying perspective for the Heritage Foundation as well and a bias built into the House bill.

Support the sympathetic, divide and conquer, cut off the rest.

We've seen this before. We need to stop it.

Thanks for reading.

--------------------------------------------
I am a freelance columnist, blogger, long-time member of this site, and history professor. You can read my blog at How Did We Get Into This Mess?

To read more, you could 'like' my public Facebook page.

Or you could follow me on Twitter:

Discuss

WARNING - The descriptions of dehumanizing acts of torture to people with psychiatric disabilities in prison are very upsetting and may be triggering.

This is what happens when the prison becomes the default first-line of care for people with serious mental health issues. This is what happens with prison guards grow up in a culture demeaning people with disabilities. This is what happens when you feed the cult of compliance. This is what happens when you crowd the prisons to overflowing in the name of the war on drugs.

You get guards inventing the sadistic "retard olympics" for their amusement, as alleged in the following lawsuit from a former prisoner with bipolar disorder. Here's the gist:

[Hicks] claims that jail guards staged the "Retard Olympics" on several occasions at the York County Prison from 2008 through 2013.
         He claims that he and other inmates were subjected to "events" that included:
         being choked to the point of unconsciousness before pressure was released;
         being punched in the arms and legs until their limbs were numb;
         being punched repeatedly in the legs with the goal of inflicting a "dead leg," which had no sensation and prevented walking;
         being punched in the shoulders to see if prisoners could take the blow without falling;
         having inmates wrestle each other until an officer decided there was a winner;
         forced consumption of food to make prisoners sick and vomit, including drinking a gallon of milk in one hour, eating an entire spoonful of cinnamon, snorting spicy ramen noodle flavoring powder, snorting crushed hard candy, eating entire pieces of fruit, skin and all, drinking a bottle of water containing pepper spray foam from prison security supplies, and drinking a concoction known as "Mystery Soup" containing olives that had been left unrefrigerated for several weeks, mixed with Windex or similar cleaning supplies.
This is obviously an extreme case, but I contend that other kinds of casual ableist depictions of people with disabilities as objects for amusement feeds into this model of torture.

Welcome to Down syndrome awareness month.
Next week is Mental Illness awareness week
October 10 is World Mental Health day

Are you feeling more aware now? This is what happens when people with disabilities are objectified.

EDIT: From Terrypinder - Two more articles from the past year, none of which use the phrase "retard Olympics."

---------------------------------
I am a freelance columnist, blogger, long-time member of this site, and history professor. You can read my blog at How Did We Get Into This Mess? This is a modified version of today's post.

To read more, you could 'like' my public Facebook page.

Or you could follow me on Twitter:

Discuss

In Washington State, the Special Olympics organized a number of "Run From the Cops" events, with the final one taking place next week. I'll let them explain.

Grab a “partner in crime” and support the more than 10,000 Special Olympics Athletes across the state in this unique nighttime 5K. Walkers, runners, kids and costumes are welcome. All participants will receive an event t-shirt!

Special Olympics Slammer!

Law enforcement will be staged throughout the course “encouraging” participants to finish in under 45-minutes to avoid being corralled and placed in the Special Olympics Slammer! Those not finishing in under 45-minutes will be ticketed for not out running the cops.

I know this is meant to be in good fun, but it reflects a lack of understanding of the fraught relationship between police and people with disabilities in this country. Moreover, it embodies a kind of privilege that needs to be called out. More on that at the end.

Most of all, it offends me on behalf of all the dead bodies of people with disablities, bodies of men and women who ran from the cops, or didn't obey the cops, and were killed by them. This is not a joke. It's life and death for the people we are and the people we love.

First, as most of us unning from the cops is among the most dangerous actions a person with disabilities can take. Running from the cops violates compliance, violating compliance leads to tasing, beating, and shooting. At least once a week, I find a new story about someone with a disability failing to comply properly in the eyes of the police, and gets hurt. So this event is lampooing a behavior that results in death for far too many. There is, for example, speculation that Darren Hunt in fact had special needs (though this as not been confirmed). He was shot repeatedly in the back while running from police. Linking disability to running from the cops is not, in fact, fun or funny.

Second, the whole "slammer" language also bothers me. Prisons are intensely dangerous places for people with disabilities, while also becoming the default place to put an "unruly" person with psychiatric disability.  The Rikers Island cases, reported by the New York Times, focus heavily on the such abuse. Linking disability to being thrown in the slammer is not, in fact, fun or funny.

Third, there are all the the false confessions from people with intellectual disability, resulting in unjust convictions, jail terms, and even death sentences. Some have died. Others, like in North Carolina, were released after 31 years.

I have asked Special Olympics Washington for comment and will publish it if they respond. I'd like to know who came up with this event.

To me, the whole thing emerges from privilege, and it's a privilege I share. Today I was walking with my kids towards a playground. A police officer left her car and came walking quickly towards me. I never panicked. I never got defensive. I never ran. She gave us free "slurpee" coupons, then, as my son (a 7-year-old boy with Down syndrome) approached the police cruiser, she asked me if he would like it if she turned on the lights. He did. He made his "lu-lu-lu" siren sound and was difficult to pry away from the car so the police officer could go back to looking for motorists using their cellphones. Only a passing train took his attention away.

This is normal in the white middle class suburban world in which we live, and I am grateful for that. I am grateful to the police and would rely on them to help if my son ever got lost. I am so very privileged in my relationship to law enforcement. I know this, and the goal is to extend that privilege to every community, of all races, classes, genders, and levels of ability.

But I would never make the mistake of thinking everyone shares that privilege, or that being thrown in jail or running from the cops was funny.

Because it's not funny. On the other hand, if Special Olympics Washington wanted to get attention for their event, they got it! We're all paying attention and the next move is yours.

---------------------------------
I am a freelance columnist, blogger, long-time member of this site, and history professor. You can read my blog at How Did We Get Into This Mess? This is a modified version of today's post.

To read more, you could 'like' my public Facebook page.

Or you could follow me on Twitter:

Discuss

News broke this week that Go Fund Me, the popular crowd-sourcing site, bans all funding projects for any pro-choice campaigns, but accepts pro-life campaigns. I hope you will join me in the following pledge.

I will not contribute to any GoFundMe campaigns started after 9/9/14 until they treat abortion the same way they treat all other personal medical procedures.

I have contributed to many campaigns in the past, including just last week (funeral expenses for an unexpected death). I watched as the Darren Wilson GoFundMe campaigns soared into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, as the campaign profited off of racists (based on the many comments on the pages before they were deleted). Still, I didn't want to NOT be able to help good people in genuine need when they used the site, so I held off from boycotts.

This week, another story broke. GoFundMe refuses to let any abortion-related campaigns start - not to fund abortion, not to fund pro-choice messaging. Pro-life groups though; they're fine.

Salon has the story.

Last week, crowdfunding platform GoFundMe pulled a campaign to raise money for an Illinois woman’s abortion. In a message to the woman, identified only as Bailey, GoFundMe said that the fundraiser was not “appropriate” for the site because it contained “subject matter that GoFundMe would rather not be associated with.” In an earlier comment to Salon on its decision to shutdown the campaign, a “customer happiness” representative said that each review is handled on a “case-by-case basis” and, “In this particular case, GoFundMe determined that the fundraising campaign titled ‘Bailey’s Abortion Fund’ would be removed from the site.”
But as of this week, the site will no longer handle campaigns to fund abortion on a case-by-case basis. According to GoFundMe’s updated guidelines (“What’s Not Allowed on GoFundMe“), abortion fundraisers are banned without exception. In addition to prohibiting crowdfunded abortion campaigns, “content associated with or relating to” abortion is also banned.
Clear enough. No abortion. And not for any legal issues, but because it's “subject matter that GoFundMe would rather not be associated with.”

That language is important. What GoFundMe is saying is that their management chooses campaigns and content by what makes them feel comfortable. They are comfortable profiting off racists. They are not comfortable profiting off people seeing help with their abortions or people advocating for pro-choice groups.

Pro-life, on the other hand, is just fine. The article details numerous groups fighting against choice who are fine with GoFundMe. That includes a campaign dedicated to "Bailey's healthy pregnancy," started by someone who thinks that Bailey does with her body is her business (link not provided intentionally).

I could have accepted, grudgingly and barely, a decision to stay out of the abortion issue altogether. Now that they have taken sides, I have offered my pledge.

Abortion is a personal medical decision.

GoFundMe must treat it that way or it deserves to be boycotted, to lose revenue, and to fade into internet oblivion.

Or maybe it can reinvent itself as "crowdfunding-for-bigots." I'm sure that's a fine business model, but count me out.

Take the pledge.
---------------------------------
I am a freelance columnist, blogger, long-time member of this site, and history professor. You can read my blog at How Did We Get Into This Mess? This is a modified version of today's post.

To read more, you could 'like' my public Facebook page.

Or you could follow me on Twitter:

Discuss

Yesterday, in something of a rage, I wrote the story of an African-American boy with Down syndrome who was heading to his first day of school in Syracuse. His parents were with him and, as they entered the school, they paused to take a picture.

A white security guard intervened and pushed the boy against the wall to 'assume the position' as if he were being frisked. Here's the upsetting story:

Brandon was accompanied on his first day at Huntington K-8 School in Eastwood by his mother, Brandiss Pearson, her husband and her father.

When they stopped in front of a hallway mural to snap pictures, a school sentry, or security guard, who is white, inserted himself. Brandon and his family are black.

"Wait, wait, wait, hold on,'' Brandiss Pearson recalls the sentry saying. Then the sentry turned Brandon to face the wall and lifted Brandon's hands above his head on the wall, as if to be frisked, she said.

"And he starts laughing and says, 'Now take the picture, he's in the right position,' '' Pearson recalled.

The parents were shocked and took a little while to figure out how to respond to it, but gradually decided to the principal.
Pearson reported the incident to Huntington's principal Tuesday afternoon. She tearfully confronted the security guard, or school sentry, Wednesday when she saw him in the hallway. He responded that he thought it was "a funny joke,'' she said.

School administrators put the sentry on leave Wednesday while they look into the incident, said Michael Henesey, coordinator of communications for the school district. Henesey declined to identify the sentry. Pearson said she did not know the sentry's full name.

As always, I suggest we engage with such stories through intersections. This is racism, yes. This is ableism, yes. This is authoritarianism. Racism because the "right position" for a black boy in this guard's eyes is against the wall. Ableism because he's relying on the fact that Brandon has Down syndrome to make it funny - indeed, Brandon thought it was all a game. To me, that intensifies the awfulness of it.

I want to explore the third part a little more though. It's authoritarianism because this is one way that the cult of compliance has entered our schools.

I don't want to overlook this last point as I wallow in the anger at the racism and ableism. Schools are not militarized yet, not in the ways our police forces are, but they are increasingly a part of our compliance-driven state.

Within the school, the guard has intensifying power to control the space and control the bodies - especially the bodies belonging to people of color - all in the name of safety. And sure, safety is important, but as Bruce Schneier says, 1) We're bad at assessing risks and 2) all security comes with trade-offs.

There are consequences when we fill our schools with guards, with metal detectors, with draconian dress codes, with zero tolerance policies, with the constant drumbeat of fear that your school or your kids' schools or your neighborhood school is beset by armed gangs ready to do battle or psychopaths ready to commit a massacre! There are consequences and we have not properly assessed the trade-offs here between security and not just loss of freedom, but loss of sense of self-worth and the price of empowering men like this security guard.

Our schools do need security, sadly. What they don't need is a demand for total compliance. They need guards who understand their job is to protect and empower the students as they chase their future, not control, not dominate, not bully.

This guard is a bully. He's the same as the kids who dumped feces and urine over an autistic boy who thought he was doing the ice bucket challenge. He's the same as the people who sent mean texts to a girl with seizures. He's the same as the "teachers" who use electrical shocks to "control" people with autism. He's the same.

But he has a kind of power in the school that he's used to exercising, and it seemed like it would be funny to him, and if it's funny to him, surely it's funny to the parents and boy too.

The incident is disgusting. The guard will likely be fired (he's been suspended). If he talks to the press, he'll express regret, he'll say that he was just trying to make a joke and didn't think about it. I believe him that he didn't think. Such acts of petty control have become normal, and if Brandon didn't have Down syndrome, if the guard just pushed another black boy up to assume the position, we probably wouldn't hear about it.

I'm going to end with a quote from Alice Goffman's controversial book On the Run. One thing that even her critics agree is that she did a good job showing the consequences of police abuse, not just on the people arrested, but on the whole community. She writes:

I saw children give up running and simply stick their hands behind their back, as if in handcuffs; push their body up against a car without being asked; or lie flat on the ground and put their hands over their head. The children yelled, “I’m going to lock you up! I’m going to lock you up, and you ain’t never coming home!” I once saw a six-year-old pull another child’s pants down to do a “cavity search.”
These are the trade-offs of our pursuit of perfect safety and total compliance - Brandon against the wall, the six-year-old pretending to do a cavity search.

UPDATE: The guard has been fired! That's good. The harder part is working on the culture that enables such a guard to exist in the first place.

-----------------------------------
I am a freelance columnist, blogger, long-time member of this site, and history professor. You can read my blog at How Did We Get Into This Mess? This is a modified version of today's post.

To read more, you could 'like' my public Facebook page.

Or you could follow me on Twitter:

Discuss
You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.

RSS

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site