Monthly Archives: December 2010

Sisters Given Life in Prison for Stealing $11 Going Free

I previously wrote about the case of Jamie and Gladys Scott, African-American sisters who were given life in prison for their role as accomplices in a robbery that physically harmed nobody and netted $11. (The armed men who actually committed the crime got out after just a few years.) Sixteen years into their sentence, 38-year-old Jamie developed a medical condition that could kill her, sparked a renewed push to get the sisters released. For the nature of the crime, 16 years was more than long enough a sentence. Over 10,000 Change.org member signatures later, the women are going free.

As Matt Kelley reports on the Criminal Justice blog, Mississippie Gov. Haley Barbour finally decided to suspend both sisters sentences. This after a petition drive by the Action Committee for Women in Prison and the intervention of the NAACP, whose director, Benjamin Jealous, had just landed for a talk with the governor when Barbour decided to set the sisters free.

Kelley does point out one creepy part of the decision to free the Scott sisters: Gladys donating her kidney to Jamie is a requirement of the deal. Essentially, Gov. Barbour doesn’t want the state to pay for the surgery while the sisters remain behind bars, so his decision to set them free had a strong money-motivation behind it. I’m glad the sisters will be escaping their absurd and unjust sentence at long last, but seriously, ick.

For the sisters, though, whatever the motivation, this is a second chance at life, one that would not have been granted without the action of their thousands of supporters.

GOT A TIP FOR US? Is there a story or campaign in your area that we’d want to know about? E-mail us at womensrightstips@change.org. Please also follow Change.org’s Women’s Rights page on Facebook and Twitter.

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Dying Betsie Gallardo Won’t Be Forced to Starve to Death in Prison

A few  days ago, Betsie Gallardo was slowly starving to death in a Florida prison. Her fatal gallbladder cancer had spread to her intestines blocking the passage of food, and prison authorities were refusing to provide the IV nutrients she needed to survive because “She’s going to die sooner or later.” Her mother, Jessica Bussert, began to publicly campaign for her daughter to be fed and released from prison on compassionate grounds for her dying days, receiving sympathetic news coverage, particularly a call for a Christmas miracle from The Bilerco Report, and the support of hundreds of Change.org members. The Parole Board moved up her hearing from February to January 5, but without nourishment, it was doubtful that she would remain alive long enough to attend that meeting and be sent home.

Finally, the Michigan Messenger reports that Betsie has been transferred from the Broward Correctional Facility to a hospital where she is receiving the necessary nutrients. Betsie’s mother writes: “Betsie is finally being fed, and thank God for that! She is very weak and thin, and I’m not sure how much longer she could have held on.”

For a prison to force one of its inmates to starve to death by denying nutrients that could nourish her is horrific, a cruel and unusual punishment nobody should have to face. Only in her 20s, Betsie’s death is a tragedy. But we don’t have to worsen it with inhumane treatment, turning her five year prison sentence for resisting arrest (with her HIV-positive spit as the “weapon,” her actions triggered by flashbacks of being repeatedly raped by a police officer) into a life sentence. Betsie has people who love her and want to share her dying days; to keep her from them serves no purpose and provides no benefit to anybody.

GOT A TIP FOR US? Is there a story or campaign in your area that we’d want to know about? E-mail us at womensrightstips@change.org. Please also follow Change.org’s Women’s Rights page on Facebook and Twitter.

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Texas School Outs Lesbian Student, Kicks Her Off Softball Team

A student’s sexuality should be nobody’s business but her own, and the choice to come out hers to make. But softball coaches at a Texas school begged to differ. Brandon Miller writes on Gay Rights that they first cornered a female student in the locker room, accusing her of being gay, and threatening to tell her parents. Then they said she wouldn’t be allowed on the field unless she outed herself. Finally, they called the student’s mother, insisted she come down to the softball field, and tattled that her daughter was a lesbian, following this by kicking the girl off the team.

The one positive element of this story is the mother’s reaction: pissed off. Not at her daughter for her sexual orientation, but at her coaches for making a decision about sharing private items without the girl’s consent, and for kicking her off the team.

The school principal, district superintendent, and Board of Trustees have rejected the mother’s complaint about the coaches’ bullying of her daughter, defending all of their decisions as absolutely right. This stance by the Kilgore School District sets a precedent that jeopardizes the privacy of other LGBTQ students, and sanctions what is really bullying and harassment by an authority figure.

What if the student had not been lucky enough to have a mother more concerned with the violation of her daughter’s civil rights than her sexual orientation? A teenager choosing not to reveal her sexuality might have strong reason for doing so, such as homophobic parents or a history of abuse. Softball coaches don’t know what kind of harm they’re opening up a student to by outing her against her wishes.

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Let Betsie Gallardo Spend Her Dying Days at Home

Betsie Gallardo is only in her 20s, but she’s dying of cancer. And she doesn’t have many days left. It’s a tragedy for anyone to die so young, but even worse, Betsie is forced to spend her last days on earth separated from her family, locked up in a miserable cell, starving to death. Unless somebody takes action to bring her home.

As Charles Davis writes on the Criminal Justice blog, Betsie’s past isn’t all frolics in the park either. Poverty in Haiti. HIV-positive from birth. Orphaned. Repeatedly raped by a police officer. Things took a positive turn after she was adopted and brought to America, but then Betsie got into a traffic accident a couple years ago. When police arrived, she had a traumatic flashback to being repeatedly sexually assaulted by an officer in Haiti, identifying the responding officers with her rapists in her panic.

“That’s when my little five-foot-nothing dancer of a daughter decided to resist arrest,” says adoptive mother Jessica. Betsie was charged with spitting on a police officer while HIV-positive, which is considered a bio-weapon, despite the little medical problem that you cannot contract HIV from saliva.

Now, Betsie is slowly dying in a Florida prison from gallbladder cancer. Jessica says that the Broward Correctional Facility has refused to give her regular access to share her daughter’s dying days. They have refused to give Betsie the appropriate IV nutrition she needs to survive, now that an intestinal blockage makes eating no longer an option, condemning her to swiftly starve to death against her wishes and those of her family. Their reason: “She’s going to die sooner or later.” Nice. I guess sooner would be cheaper for the state, right?

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6 Years After “Temporary” Relocation, Roma Still Live Near Sewage Plant

When living in shacks next to a garbage dump is the preferable option for families, you know something is seriously amiss.

Meredith Slater reports on Human Rights that when 100 Roma living in Miercurea Ciuc (Cskszereda), Romania, were forcibly relocated to “temporary” metal cabins situated near a sewage treatment plant, some families chose shacks near a garbage dump over the plant’s hazard zone. That was six years ago. Guess who’s still living in those so-called temporary toxic digs?

The Roma, a nomadic group in Europe, often face mistreatment and high levels of poverty. Though a few countries, like Spain, have handled their Roma population better, many have mimicked France’s xenophobic purging of the Roma from their borders. And while the Roma often get sent back to Romania from other countries since many were born there, the Romanian government also treats them like outsiders and has subjected them to a string of abuses.

This relocation to a sewage plant isn’t the only human rights violation of its kind (it is also against both Romanian and international law). And it’s setting the stage for copycat actions: last week, Roma in the city of Clug were removed from their homes with only a couple days warning that their homes and possessions would be demolished, left either homeless or in unsuitable housing near a garbage dump.

Amnesty International has denounced this mistreatment of the Roma population, and is insisting the the Roma government stop the forced eviction of numerous Roma families and provide decent housing for those who are removed. Please sign this petition to the Mayor and Vice-Mayor of Miercurea Ciuc (Cskszereda) telling them to stop the illegal evictions and relocate the families living in hazardous conditions to adequate housing.

Photo credit: futureatlas.com

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After Imprisonment for Blogging About Women’s Rights, Iranian Teen Set Free

Bloggers are powerful people. Don’t believe it? Iranian officials feared the power of a blogger so much, they had 18-year-old Navid Mohebbi arrested, beaten, and imprisoned for the desperate crime of keeping a blog supporting women’s rights. If words on a blog didn’t have great powers of change, why would they be so afraid of a teenager’s musings?

Since we first covered Navid’s imprisonment, hundreds of Change.org members signed on to a petition from A Safe World for Women, demanding the release of this admirable young defender of women’s rights. On Christmas Day, that petition was successful.

Benjamin Joffe-Walt writes on the Human Rights cause that Navid received three years suspended sentence. “Suspended sentence” means unlock the cell doors, the boy’s going free. Joffe-Walt refers to this as “likely a face-saving tactic by Iranian authorities” acting in response to pressure from international and domestic human and women’s rights activists — and coverage from other scary blogs, while the mainstream media largely missed the story. Mighty bloggers unite!

Christine Crowstaff, Founder of A Safe World for Women, told Change.org this morning, “Our Iran correspondent sends you many thanks for all you have done for Navid! And so do we all!” Yes, thanks to the over 600 Change.org members who took part in calling for Navid’s release. And thanks to women’s rights advocates like A Safe World for Women, who turned out in force in defense of one of their male allies in the battle for gender justice.

Photo Credit: NavidMohebbi3.blogfa.com

GOT A TIP FOR US? Is there a story or campaign in your area that we’d want to know about? E-mail us at womensrightstips@change.org. Please also follow Change.org’s Women’s Rights page on Facebook and Twitter.

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Rally Demands MA Gov. Reject “Terminally Flawed” Secure Communities Program

When Massachusetts immigrant organization Centro Presente learned this summer that Boston had been secretly participating in Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s misnamed Secure Communities program, they decided to launch their own little project to educate and mobilize opposition: Just Communities. So when Gov. Deval Patrick announced plans to approve the program for the entire state, Centro Presente and supporters such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts were ready to do something about it.

Over 100 immigrant rights advocates from a coalition of groups took to the State House a couple days before Christmas in protest, chanting “Police State? No. Democracy? Yes.” Secure Communities, under which police check the fingerprints of arrestees against an immigration database, was sold to the public as a program that would protect America from dangerous criminals, but actually wastes resources deporting many people convicted of nothing or minor violations. “Far from making our communities secure, this program counters decades of community policing and outreach efforts in places like Greater Boston by casting doubt on the intentions of the actions of local law enforcement in immigrant neighborhoods,” stated Patricia Montes, Executive Director of Centro Presente. The Just Communities/Comunidades Justas campaign further warns about racial profiling and due process violations.

As Clara Long writes on the Human Rights cause, Gov. Patrick used to be seen as someone who would stand up for justice and immigrant rights. So why the about face? The governor’s office states that, since ICE has informed them that all states will have to participate in the program by 2013, it’s better to join the gang now and “have a seat at the table.” Um, what table? As the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) states, “There is no table. In prior discussions between state officials and ICE, ICE has said that there is no flexibility and that they are not willing to put any limitations on their enforcement authority.”

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Sex Trafficking Victims Arrested by L.A. Cops

Police walk into a shady club full of women “dancers,” including at least one minor, being paid next to nothing, forced to make up selling quotas with sex acts, without proper immigration documentation. They arrest the 81 women and aim most toward deportation proceedings, while the club is free to hire replacement dancers and continue its illegal and exploitative business practices. The club is obviously happy, and the police are happy, because they get to claim usefulness with a mass arrest. The only people not happy are the women. Oh, and people who care about sex trafficking.

A recent raid on Club 907 in Los Angeles was ostensibly to investigate club management’s illegal behavior, as Lauren Markem points out on Immigrant Rights, it ended up being nothing more than an excuse for an immigration raid, which law enforcement would not have been allowed to conduct. The people arrested as “criminals” were the dancers, while the patrons were sent home, and the club management left free to hire replacement dancer, despite police uncovering cocaine, unauthorized alcohol, and evidence of illegal prostitution.

As Amanda Kloer writes on End Human Trafficking, this incident gives off clear red flags for sex trafficking. The 17-year-old missing girl, first off, cannot be a criminal, because of her age, and is automatically a sex trafficking victim if engaged in prostitution. And an illegal brothel front full of vulnerable undocumented women kept as essential slaves because the “owe” the club a certain amount of money each night before they can get paid, women who have no idea of their rights in this country or ability to escape the forced labor or sex, should inspire police to charge management with human trafficking like a red flag in front of a bull.

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Catholic Hospital Stands Up Against Bishop to Provide Life-Saving Abortions

St. Joseph’s, a Catholic hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, generated a heap of controversy earlier this year for making the apparently profoundly un-Catholic decision to save a woman’s life. Even though the woman had a “close to 100 percent” probability of dying without the recommended abortion, meaning her 11-week-old fetus also had no chance of survival, the Catholic Church’s stance remained that it’s better to allow a mother of four to die than perform that evil medical procedure. Now, due to the hospital’s principled refusal to deny life-saving medical care to women, it has been kicked out of the Catholic Church.

No matter how hard I try, I cannot understand the stance of Rev. John Ehrich, medical ethics director for the Diocese of Phoenix, who argued that, making the right decision under Catholic doctrine, “There are some situations where the mother may in fact die along with her child.” Even though, abortion or no abortion, the fetus will not survive, the woman must also be sacrificed. His viewpoint enjoyed the support of Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmstead, who issued an ultimatum: promise to let women die in the future, or you’re out of the Catholic Church. St. Joseph’s chose life.

St. Joseph’s gave a statement about their principled refusal to give in to the bishop’s demands: “Morally, ethically, and legally we simply cannot stand by and let someone die whose life we might be able to save.” This hospital’s stand is heartening, but Bishop Olmstead’s decision that Catholic hospitals cannot provide live-saving medical care has frightening ramifications. Fifteen percent of all hospital beds in the United States are Catholic-run. And not all Catholic hospitals are willing to reject this anti-life decree to protect women; in fact, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) raises concerns about other religiously affiliated hospitals denying emergency care. They are asking Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to investigate these infractions, since these hospitals, receive federal money and are bound by law to provide emergency abortions.

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Michael Moore Stands Up for Rape Victims and Thanks #MooreandMe Protesters

The success of the #MooreandMe Twitter protest, launched by Sady Doyle of Tiger Beatdown, has demonstrated the power of internet activism and a swift netroots campaign.

On Tuesday, I wrote that Michael Moore was being targeted by Twitter protesters using the hashtag #MooreandMe to decry his decision to dismiss the rape charges against Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder, as “hooey” and donate $20,000 to the accused’s bail. At that time, Moore remained silent. But the Twitter protest turned its focus toward Rachel Maddow, who was hosting Moore on her show last night, requesting that she ask her guest about his statements on air.

“Every woman who claims to have been sexually assaulted or raped has to be, must be, taken seriously. … For too long, and too many women have been abused in our society , because they were not listened to, and they just got shoved aside. … So I think these two alleged victims have to be taken seriously and Mr. Assange has to answer the questions.” That’s not one of the protesters speaking. It’s Michael Moore himself, answering Rachel Maddow. Standing up for the women who charged Assange with rape.

And Sady Doyle writes that she received her own Twitter message from Moore: A thank you. An apology for not responding sooner, because, wrote Moore, “I needed more than 140 charctrs 2 say what I said 2night-& it needed 2 b said on TV.” Oh, and a “Merry Xmas.”

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