On False Equivalencies and Surviving Domination

Written by The NW Network of Bisexual, Trans, Lesbian & Gay Survivors of Abuse, Seattle, WA. We are grateful to NW Network for creating and sharing this work, and for granting us permission to reprint it.

For many years, the NW Network has talked with our communities about “survivor’s use of violence.” As an organization by and for survivors, we knew this was a crucial silence to break and information our communities desperately needed.

People are often confused when survivors use violence. They want to dismiss survivors who use physical force to survive as “mutual” actors in abuse. This idea asks less of people than recognizing the dynamics of abuse. It asks less than inviting survivors to come out of the shadows and stand in our full humanity–not as objectified victims, but as full, complex humans who want to survive and whose sparks of self-determination, of human will, still smolder despite even the most egregious attempts to extinguish us.

As survivors of battering, rape, bias harassment and violence, police harassment and violence, and all manner of violations by the state, the advocates of the NW Network are all too familiar with people making false equivalencies between abusive acts of intimidation and domination, and attempts to survive that abuse. We see the devastating impact of this erasure within our private lives and in the public square.

We know that survival under conditions of domination is as gritty as it is grace-filled.

[We are] all too familiar with people making false equivalencies between abusive acts of intimidation and domination, and attempts to survive that abuse.

Daily, we talk with survivors who were calculatedly pushed to the breaking point and are now being buried under such false equivalencies. Abusive partners tell survivors, “Look, you’re just the same as me, no one will help you.” The state tells survivors, “The fact that you survived means you couldn’t have been in danger,” or “If you were really afraid, why were you even there in the first place?”

Such false equivalencies are another in a long list of insults to our humanity, of the willful refusal to understand the dynamics of domination and to stand with people fighting against organized attempts to dehumanize and annihilate them.

Of course, sometimes abuse can be subtle, and it can be legitimately hard for friends and family to discern what is happening.  And then sometimes it is the Ku Klux Klan and white nationalists and skin heads and Nazis calling for your annihilation, and the lines are pretty clear cut.

Violent Clashes Erupt at "Unite The Right" Rally In Charlottesville

Getty Images

This week, while neglecting to name Heather Heyer, the social justice activist who was slain by a white nationalist, President Trump stood before our nation and rationalized and asserted tenets of KKK, white nationalist, Neo-Nazi propaganda. You are trying to change history, he said.  You are trying to change culture.

President Trump praised people who took up torches and marched through the streets of Charlottesville chanting violence against Black, Jewish and queer and trans people, calling them “very fine people.” He purposefully and repeatedly insisted that explicitly racist, anti-Jewish, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic actions taken to intimidate and violate communities were the same as actions taken to defend those communities.

The NW Network will continue to stand with survivors in their full humanity. We will not turn away when survivors defend themselves against domination with force.

We take courage from, lift up and stand with the work of Survived and Punished—a group that organizes to free “survivors of domestic and sexual violence whose survival actions have been criminalized.  Some are still in prison, some are confined to their homes, some are languishing in immigration detention, and some live with the threat of incarceration or deportation at any moment.  Some did not make it out of prison alive.”

Our hearts go out to Heather Heyer’s parents, family and comrades and to the Black, Jewish, queer and trans and activist communities of Charlottesville.

And for every survivor who was told “there is blame on all sides,” we see you. We see the lie for what it is, and we are here for you.

Call us if you need us.


The Northwest Network increases our communities’ ability to support the self-determination and safety of bisexual, transgender, lesbian, and gay survivors of abuse through education, organizing and advocacy.  We work within a broad liberation movement dedicated to racial, social & economic justice, equality and respect for all people and the creation of loving, inclusive and accountable communities.  nwnetwork.org 


Feature image: David Brown of Plymouth, Mass., sends a message during a protest Sunday, held in response to a white nationalist rally that spiraled into deadly violence in Charlottesville, Va., the day before. Credit: Steven Senne/AP. Source: NPR. 

#Charlottesville #racialjustice #whitesupremacy #falseequivalencies

Charlottesville: Acknowledging Our Trauma and Getting Our Normal Back

Minutes before James Fields slammed his Dodge Charger into the crowd, we had been marching jubilantly down Water Street.

Two marching groups of anti-racists/anti-fascists had merged near the Charlottesville Downtown Mall and as we converged, so did our chants. The crowd was celebrating the fact that large groups of white supremacists and nazis had been driven from downtown: “Whose streets? Our streets!”

Our group paused at 4th and Water. Several members were calling for a mic check, but their calls were drowned out by the noise of the crowd. We were standing in the middle of the intersection. The crowd looked as though it was about to turn up 4th Street toward the Mall, only one block away. My partner turned to me and shouted in my ear, “Let’s move to the side. I don’t like this. We shouldn’t be in the middle of this crowd.” She had noticed a few white supremacists infiltrating the group.

As she said this, the screams and quick series of sickening loud thuds happened almost simultaneously. My first thought was that a bomb or grenade had gone off, and more were on the way. What registered in my mind as bricks being hurled through the air at us were in fact not bricks, but people’s shoes that had been knocked off their feet upon impact. In the panic, we tried to run for shelter, but not before my foot snagged on a banner that had been dropped behind me. We both hit the pavement.

What registered in my mind as bricks being hurled through the air at us were in fact not bricks, but people’s shoes that had been knocked off their feet upon impact.

We crouched under a tree on the corner sidewalk and checked each other for damage. My body felt numb and sharply aching at the same time. Horrified, my partner said, “I swear to god I saw legs flying up in the air. I think those were legs. I swear they were legs.” She said the words over and over, as though repeating it would help it make more sense. We looked back at the scene. A burgundy minivan that had earlier been hidden in the crush of the crowd had lurched several yards into the intersection upon impact (trigger warning: drone video). It now rested a few feet from where we had been standing.

There were so many people hurt. So many people screaming. I called 911. I counted the time the line rang on the other end. 15 rings, no response.

36569860635_b0c2768e17_k flowers in road-Bob Mical

Getty Images

If you were part of or an observer in the counter protest in Charlottesville this weekend, you were likely either a target of violence or you bore witness to violence. Both can be traumatic experiences. Watching the scenes unfold on television can be traumatic too.

If you are a person of color, you have likely lived through being a target of traumatic racist oppression, and experienced the psychological and physical toll that racism exacts on people of color on a daily basis.

As advocates for survivors of sexual and domestic violence, many of us are familiar with the host of reactions that follow trauma. While everyone’s particular reactions to trauma are unique, the range of types of experiences is common. Here are four types of normal reactions to trauma that you may be experiencing after living through what Jelani Cobb has now called, “The Battle of Charlottesville“, along with some tips for helping yourself or a friend move through it over the next few days or weeks.

  1. A nervous system on high alert

What it looks like: Hyper-vigilance is a heightened state of awareness, which is part of our instinctual fight/flight response. It feels like being constantly on guard. Your brain is trying to protect you by constantly scanning your environment for danger (“That guy walking toward me with the short hair and khaki pants: is he a nazi?” “Do those tattoos/slogans on a shirt/bumper sticker tell me whether that person is a white supremacist?” “Am I close to an exit in case I need to run?”). An exaggerated startle reflex may mean you nearly jump out of your skin at the sound of a loud noise or startling sight. As a heightened state of anxiety and physiological tension, hyper-vigilance can be exhausting for both your body and mind.

What to do: Remember that this is your brain’s way of practicing risk assessment by gauging people, situations, and potential harm. Breathe; mindful breathing is a calming technique always available to us. If you need to, disengage with the stressor. As with any kind of healing, sleep is crucial. Reduce caffeine and/or alcohol consumption to promote better sleep and reduce jumpiness. Go for a walk or try any other physical activity that you enjoy, whether it’s sports, dancing, gardening, etc. Get some fresh air. Play outside.

2. Re-experiencing the trauma

What it looks like: This can often take the shape of intrusive thoughts: an unbidden replaying of the trauma-inducing scene(s) over and over again, often especially when falling asleep. Flashbacks may make you feel as though you are back in the situation, reliving the memory. Traumatic memories are heavily sensory-related; intrusive thoughts and/or flashbacks will often replay or are triggered by sights, sounds, and/or smells.

What to do: Mindfulness, breathing, and other grounding sensory strategies can help. Consciously slow down and deepen your breathing. Feel the weight of your body sitting in a chair, or your feet holding you to the ground. Rather than fighting the encroaching thought, notice that it is simply a thought, a way of your brain healing itself by trying to make sense of the event; there is no need to react to it. Do yoga. Turn off your screen and stretch before bed to help prepare your body for deep sleep.

  1. Problems concentrating

What it looks like: Inability to focus, or feeling mentally foggy. You may pause a task to start another and then wonder, “What was I supposed to be doing?” You may also notice impaired short-term memory and/or “checking out”.  You may constantly want to check news reports or other accounts of the incident (or avoid the topic altogether): the wealth of commentary and perspectives about the events and impact of what happened in Charlottesville seems limitless. It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of news stories, videos, eyewitness accounts, analyses, and troll comments, especially when the incident has captured national attention.

What to do: Consciously carve out a set time for no news consumption. Give yourself a time limit and then put down your phone. If possible, choose work and home tasks this week that don’t require a lot of mental focus. If you must focus to accomplish a series of tasks, keep a running list to help you remember. Get fresh air. Rest. Know that this will pass.

 4. Emotional responses

What it looks like: Anger, fear, sadness, guilt, numbness, feeling overwhelmed. Avoidance of things that remind of you of the trauma. Perhaps thinking the world is more dangerous than you did before. Guilt in the form of criticizing yourself for how you handled the trauma. Survivor’s guilt: feeling guilty for surviving the trauma when others were killed/seriously harmed. Isolation/traumatic bonding: feeling as though only the people who were there can truly understand how it felt. Isolating yourself from people who didn’t share the traumatic experience with you because words are insufficient for conveying the experience to others.

What to do: Activate your support system; find a friend to talk to and share your experience. Journal and/or make artwork about what you experienced and how you feel now. Make plans to expand your actions to build racial justice, and find a community who is working on the same thing. Seek physical comfort by cuddling with a loved one (person or animal). Cook (or order) a delicious and nourishing meal. Tap into your community (whether that community is family, faith, political, academic, athletic, etc). Make time to do activities that normally bring you joy.

Most of us will at some point in our lives encounter and be affected by trauma. Whether you are experiencing a few or many of these symptoms, often understanding that they are all related to the same source will help the symptoms feel more manageable. Most people will discover that the symptoms subside over a period of days to months. If you find yourself struggling to get back on track, seek a survivor advocate or other professional trained in responding to trauma reactions. It will get better.

Healing is happening right now; help it take root. There is much work to be done to confront and dismantle overt and covert racism and oppression; we need you here for the long haul…strong, resilient, feisty, and compassionate…to help build the world that serves and nourishes all of us. We need you here to help build collective liberation.

 


Helpful resources:

4 Self-Care Resources for Days When the World is Terrible (Self-care for people of color after trauma)

21 Common Reactions to Trauma: It helps to know what to expect after a terrifying event

Emotional and Psychological Trauma: Healing from Trauma and Moving On

Simple Self-Care Practices for When It Feels Like the World is Falling Apart

Featured image: Tasos Katopodis/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

#Charlottesville #racialjustice #whitesupremacy #DefendCville


Kate McCord is the Movement Strategy & Communications Director for the Action Alliance, a member of the Action Alliance’s Racial Justice Task Force, and has been working in the movement to end gender-based violence for over 25 years. Kate is working with other coalition leaders as part of the Move to End Violence initiative to mobilize against state violence and build racial justice nationally and in Virginia.

 

In the Wake of Charlottesville: A Message to our Members

As our work week begins, here at the Action Alliance we are pausing to reflect on the violence that was perpetrated by predominantly male, white supremacists in Charlottesville over the weekend. Our hearts go out to our members, friends and colleagues who live and work in Charlottesville, and those who chose to travel from elsewhere in the state to join the counter-protest. You have our love and our compassion as you process and recover from the experience of being the targets of/witnessing hate-filled, identity-based violence. Those of you who work at the Shelter for Help in Emergency and the Sexual Assault Resource Agency are most especially in our hearts as you hold both the trauma of the racial and ethnic violence in your community with the violence that you confront in your work every day.

The images over the weekend of white supremacists shouting angry words, pumping their fists and raising weapons into the air looked far too familiar. In our work to end sexual and domestic violence we know that intimidation and violence are tools used by those who feel entitled to have power over others—especially when that entitlement feels threatened. We also know that there is no more dangerous time than the hours that follow a challenge to that controlling and violent behavior. We all witnessed this phenomenon as we watched one of the white men who had come to perpetrate racial violence intentionally drive a car into a crowd of anti-racists, taking a life and damaging countless more.

Twitter-Sofia Armen

Twitter/Sofia Armen

The lessons tens of thousands of us across the country have learned as we have taken on the work of trying to end sexual and domestic violence provide a filter through which we viewed the events of the weekend. We know that gender-based violence is rooted in oppression—and inseparable in both cause and effect from other forms of identity-based violence, most especially racism. Survivors have taught us that hateful language can sometimes leave deeper scars than physical violence. Perpetrators have taught us that it is not the behavior of their target that leads them to violence, but rather their own deeply held beliefs in their right to use violence to get what they want. Attempting to coordinate a community response has taught us that there is tremendous value in learning from our mistakes—taking the time to do a careful review of system responses when a life is lost to determine how those systems might have acted differently to prevent that loss of life and then making changes in the response.

Most of all we have learned that real power does not come from social status, from access to resources, from controlling others. Real power comes from truth telling. Truth telling about the history of our country, including our great Commonwealth. Truth telling about the origins and the impact of privilege, hate and violence. Truth telling from each of us about the harm that we have experienced—and the harm that we have caused.

…Real power does not come from status…access to resources…or from controlling others. Real power comes from truth telling…equity…and love.

Chip Somodeville-Getty Images

Chip Somodeville/Getty Images

Real power comes with equity. Equity is valuing all beings and all living things—letting go of our hierarchical notions that place some at the top of pyramids while others bear all of weight at the bottom. Equity is leveling the playing field for everyone—and celebrating all who choose to play. Equity is making reparations for harm caused by historical violence, including racism and ethnocentrism. Equity is seeing current injustice and making the changes it demands.

Real power comes from love. Love is compassion for ourselves and others. Love is forgiveness for ourselves and others. Love is naming violence and setting boundaries around behaviors—while holding open the possibility of rejoining the circle. Love is working together to build communities where children and adults can be curious, resilient, joyful, loving human beings able to respect and care for each other.

On behalf of all of us at the Action Alliance, take good care of yourselves and those in your close circle this week. Know that you are loved and the work that you do every day is making a difference. The Action Alliance will continue to work every day to end violence. Today we recommit to building racial justice; among our many efforts, we are partnering with Black Women’s Blueprint, Trans Sistas of Color Project, Black Youth Project (BYP100) and many other statewide groups to sponsor the March for Black Women September 30 in Washington, DC. We will soon be sending out a call for volunteers and support and we hope that you will join us.

In Peace,

The Leadership Team of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance


Featured image source: Democracy Now

#Charlottesville #DefendCville #whitesupremacy #racialjustice


Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335. 

 

Mass Incarceration and Children’s Toxic Stress

About 2.7 million children in America have at least one parent who is incarcerated. That’s about 1 of every 28 children today as compared with approximately 1 in 125 children 25 years ago. Across America, 11.4% of Black children, 3.5% of Hispanic children, and 1.8% of white children are included in the 2.7 million children living with at least one incarcerated parent.

Incarceration affects many more people than just those incarcerated. From families to communities, cycles of incarceration affect our entire society. Children and families are impacted in a major way, especially when a parent becomes incarcerated.

Families of incarcerated individuals are often disadvantaged financially long term. Parents  lose out on wages and paid work while they are physically incarcerated, and economic impacts after release can  follow them for the rest of their lives. There is a stigma around having an arrest, even without a charge or conviction, that often prevents formerly incarcerated people  from consistent employment, public assistance, and even housing opportunities.

In addition to the financial strain on families, mass incarceration also takes an emotional toll on children with incarcerated parents. Cycles of jail create uncertainty for children as they don’t know when their parent will return. The stress of having an incarcerated parent may show up in school children as lack of focus, inattention, or other problematic behaviors that may be misinterpreted as “acting out”.

Many of the impacts of incarceration on a family and community can be seen in the story of William Black. I came across the autobiographical piece about William Tank Black, father and husband. Black was the owner of Professional Management Inc., a sports management company that was worth more than $125 million, until one day his whole life changed when he was arrested and incarcerated. He tells the story of how being incarcerated impacted not only himself, but his family and the people he loved.

From financial instability, separation, loss of assets, and divorce, to fear, anger, loss of control, hopelessness, and desperation, Black was flooded with emotion when he realized just how much his mistake affected every single person in his life. I found myself empathizing with Black and his family as they endured his incarceration. This is the cycle of emotion and uncertainty that millions of children in our country are constantly going through. In an instant, this could even be my family.

Many organizations have ignited movements to end mass incarceration and/or to support children dealing with the stress of an incarcerated parent.

Sesame Street introduced a campaign, Little Children, Big Challengesto help children work through many difficult situations, including having an incarcerated loved one.

#Cut50 is working on making communities safer while reducing the number of people in our prisons and jails.

Has incarceration affected you? Are you already a part of the movement to end mass incarceration? Tell us about your experiences in the comments.

Ki’ara Montgomery is a recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a bachelor’s degree in public relations, and minors in business and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. While in school, she had opportunities with VCU AmeriCorps, Culture4MyKids, VCU School of Education, and the Richmond Raiders. She is currently working with the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance as Member and Donor Liaison.

____________________________________________________________________

 This article is part of the Action Alliance’s blog series on Virginia’s Trauma-to-Prison-Pipeline.

The Trauma-to-Prison-Pipeline (aka “School-to-Prison-Pipeline”) fails young trauma survivors and young people experiencing high levels of toxic stress by responding in overly punitive ways to youth who exhibit normal reactions to trauma.
Youth of color and youth with disabilities are particularly targeted for disproportionately high levels of heavy-handed, punitive responses to vague and subjective infractions in school, such as “being disrespectful”, or “acting out”. Viewed from a trauma-informed lens, these same behaviors may signal youth who are suffering and struggling with ongoing effects of trauma.

The Action Alliance believes that everyone deserves racially equitable responses that are compassionate and trauma-informed, and which build individual and community assets.

____________________________________________________________________

Sources:

http://whopaysreport.org/

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/10/the-black-family-in-the-age-of-mass-incarceration/403246/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/06/19/i-went-to-prison-and-it-nearly-destroyed-my-family/?utm_term=.ec00936860ee

Featured image source: https://www.ebpsociety.org/2016-q3/221-family-relationships-and-the-incarcerated-individual

Survived and Punished: The story of a 14 year old girl and the system that failed her

Bresha Meadows of Ohio was 14 years old the night she is alleged to have shot and killed her father in what her mother describes as an act of heroism to save the family from his ongoing violence and threats of murder. That was in July 2016; she has been incarcerated ever since awaiting trial.

The system failed her long before that night.

Bresha on bus

Photo provided by Martina Latessa. Photo source: Huffington Post

In the months leading up to the shooting, Bresha’s grades dropped, she ran away from home twice, she told relatives that she was in fear for her life, and that her dad was beating her mom, threatening to kill them all.

In a 2011 petition for a Protective Order, Bresha’s mother, Brandi wrote, “In the 17 years of our marriage he has cut me, broke my ribs, fingers, the blood vessels in my hand, my mouth, blackened my eyes. I believe my nose was broken,” she wrote at the time. “If he finds us, I am 100 percent sure he will kill me and the children.”

Bresha is one of many girls and women of color who have survived and are being punished. Many survivors of domestic and sexual violence are targeted by systems of policing and incarceration, including juvenile and immigration detention, because their survival actions are routinely criminalized.

84% of girls in juvenile detention have experienced family violence.1

When adolescents are arrested for domestic battery, girls were more likely than boys to be defending themselves from abuse by a parent or caregiver.1

Free Bresha Teach-in poster

The Action Alliance, in partnership with the VCU Wellness Resource Center (The Well), and VCU OMSA (Office of Multicultural Student Affairs) will be hosting a #FreeBresha Teach-In this Thursday, April 20, 5:30pm-8pm at the Action Alliance office. Join us as we discuss the criminalization of youth of color, the trauma-to-prison pipeline, and the work being done in Richmond to reduce the incarceration of suffering and traumatized youth.

Rise for Youth has been invited to participate. Confirmed speakers for the #FreeBresha Teach-In include:

  • Fatima M. Smith, Assistant Director for Sexual & Intimate Partner Violence, Stalking, & Advocacy Services and Adjunct Faculty, VCU
  • Reginald Stroble, Assistant Director, Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, VCU
  • Jonathan Yglesias, Prevention & Community Wellness Director, Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance

From 1992 to 2012/2013, girls’ share of arrests increased by 45% and girls’ share of detention increased by 40%. Black girls were almost three times as likely as white girls to be referred to court. Black girls were also 20% more likely than white girls to be in detention, while Native girls were 50% more likely.1

To take action beyond the #FreeBresha Teach-In, here are 5 ways you can help Bresha:

  1. Write to Bresha
  2. Use the #FreeBresha curriculum to spark conversations in your community about trauma and overcriminalization of youth of color.
  3. Organize a #FreeBresha book drive for incarcerated girl and women.
  4. Donate to Bresha and her family via GoFundMe.
  5. Write an open letter to the prosecutors in Bresha’s case.

In Virginia, find out more about amazing groups working to shut down the trauma-to-prison pipeline locally:

  1. Rise for Youth
  2. Legal Aid Justice Center
  3. Performing Statistics
  4. Art180

 

1 Sherman, Francine T. and Annie Balck, in partnership with The National Crittenton Foundation and the National Women’s Law Center. 2015. “Gender Injustice: System-Level Juvenile Justice Reform for Girls.” http://nationalcrittenton.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Gender_Injustice_Report.pdf

Featured image source: #FreeBresha: A Night of Abolitionist Art & Action, Love and Struggle Photos, @loveandstrugglephotos


RSVP now to the #FreeBresha Teach-In: Overcriminalization of Youth of Color this Thursday, April 20, 5:30pm-8:00pm at the Action Alliance office.

Register now for April 26-27 Building Healthy Futures: Linking Public Health & Activism to Prevent Sexual & Intimate Partner Violence conference, where we will be talking more about the trauma-to-prison pipeline and work being done to shut it down.


Kate McCord is the Movement Strategy & Communications Director for the Action Alliance, a member of the Action Alliance’s Racial Justice Task Force, and has been working in the movement to end gender-based violence for over 25 years. Kate is working with other coalition leaders as part of the Move to End Violence initiative to mobilize against state violence nationally and shut down the trauma-to-prison pipeline in Virginia.

4 Ways to Reverse the School-to-Prison Pipeline…Now

Virginia sends more schoolchildren to the criminal legal system than any other state in the nation, but it doesn’t have to be this way. We can change our policies and practices to support (rather than punish and incarcerate) youth who “act out”…youth who may be struggling. In this piece, we take a look at four promising practices to shut down the “pipeline”. 

The term “trauma-to-prison pipeline” (a.k.a. “school-to-prison pipeline“) is used to describe the increasing pattern of contacts between students and the juvenile and adult criminal justice system as a result of practices implemented by educational institutions. This system leaves students as young as the age of four susceptible to suspension, detention, and other punishments that could  lead to a life of incarceration and captivity.

Destiny, then an eighth grader at Lyons Community School in Brooklyn, New York, was fortunate enough to be attending a school that saw a need for a change. When she got into an altercation with another student that resulted in her throwing her teacher’s jacket out of the classroom window, Destiny would likely have faced detention or suspension—had she been enrolled in a typical middle school. Destiny’s school handled the situation differently – through restorative justice.

This gave Destiny the opportunity to stand before a “justice panel” comprised of four of her peers who took the time to listen to her story and then determine how best to address the harm done. Destiny was able to reflect on her actions, apologize to her victims, and improve her community without instantly being criminalized because of one incident. Restorative justice has helped Lyons Community School reduce their suspension rate by more than 20%. Check out these promising ways to reduce or eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline.

  • 1: Practice Restorative Justice

Not only is restorative justice a way of holding students accountable for what they have done, but it also opens the door for positive reinforcement. Students like Destiny have the opportunity for reconciliation with those they may have harmed through their actions. Many schools have dramatically reduced their number of suspensions by using restorative justice tools to handle nonviolent offenses as it is a better opportunity to get to the root of the initial problem and change the behavior.

  • 2: Enforce Less Police Punishment

The presence of School Resource Officers (SROs) has greatly increased in recent years. Many students make their first contact with the criminal legal system because of interactions with SROs and typically because of nonviolent offenses. Less involvement from SROs in the discipline of students for nonviolent offenses has the possibility of lowering the chances of troubled students falling into a cycle of suspension and incarceration. If police are in schools, reducing the pipeline requires limiting the role of police to public safety, rather than enforcing school discipline.

Counselors not cops

Source: http://wechargegenocide.org/art

 

  • 3: Improve Staff-to-Student Ratio

Suspension and incarceration are correlated; being removed from school increases a student’s chances of being incarcerated – and ultimately dropping out of school altogether. Virginia averages 13.2 students per teacher in elementary and secondary schools (the overall U.S. average is 15.5-to-1). This isn’t a bad starting point, but because of how crucial school counselors can be in a student’s life, improving the counselor-to-student ratio should also be a priority. The American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of 250-to-1, however during the 2013-14 school year, Virginia schools averaged 381-to-1.

  • 4: Place Less Emphasis on Standardized Tests

When students’ primary measurement of success is determined by test scores,  they may be likely to become disengaged from their education. Disengagement often leads to lower grades, disruptive behavior, and often dropping out. Preparing students to pass a test instead of preparing them to succeed in life could ultimately be preparing students for the school-to-prison pipeline.

What effect do you think these changes could have on incarceration rates? What other ways do you think the school-to-prison pipeline can be reversed? Let us know in the comments!


Ki’ara Montgomery is a Senior at Virginia Commonwealth University with plans to graduate in May 2017. She is obtaining a bachelor’s degree in public relations, and minors in business and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. While in school, she has had opportunities with VCU AmeriCorps, Culture4MyKids, VCU School of Education, and the Richmond Raiders. She is currently interning with the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance with a focus in development, policy, and communications.


This article is part of the Action Alliance’s blog series on Virginia’s Trauma-to-Prison-Pipeline.

The Trauma-to-Prison-Pipeline (aka “School-to-Prison-Pipeline”) fails young people who are experiencing high levels of toxic stress and/or trauma by responding in overly punitive ways to youth who exhibit normal reactions to trauma and toxic stress.

Youth of color and youth with disabilities are particularly targeted for disproportionately high levels of heavy-handed, punitive responses to vague and subjective infractions in school, such as “defiance of authority”, or “classroom disruption”. Viewed from a trauma-informed lens, these same behaviors may signal youth who are suffering and struggling with ongoing effects of trauma.

 The Action Alliance believes that everyone deserves racially equitable responses that are compassionate and trauma-informed, and which build individual and community assets.


[1] http://www.jeffersonpolicyjournal.com/time-to-stop-criminalizing-mere-misconduct/

[2] http://www.statemaster.com/graph/edu_ele_sec_pup_rat-elementary-secondary-pupil-teacher-ratio

[3] https://www.schoolcounselor.org/asca/media/asca/home/Ratios13-14.pdf

Featured image source: http://www.westsidestorynewspaper.com/


Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335. 

 

Why I Stand Behind RISE For Youth

Did you know that the average annual cost of confinement in a state juvenile prison in Virginia is $137,000 per youth? Did you know youth as young as 11 years old can be confined to a state juvenile prison?

These are just a few quick facts you will learn after taking a look at the RISE (Re-Invest in Supportive Environments) For Youth Action Kit. RISE for Youth is a nonpartisan campaign that supports investing in youth in their communities, rather than youth in prison.

I encourage others to take a look at RISE for Youth’s Action Kit. Not only does it include great facts that everyone should know in order to help make a positive change in their community, but it also contains many helpful tips.

If you don’t know how to begin taking action in your community, the action kit gives you five intimidation-free ways that you can start today! Using these tips, it will be easy for you to begin voicing your opinion and sharing information with others to start a movement in your community.

Virginia’s length of stay for youth in juvenile prisons is over twice the national average: 18.2 months in Virginia compared to 8.4 months nationally.

                                                                                                                –RISE for Youth Action Kit

RISE for Youth encourages you to speak up about issues that you’re passionate about, which is why their action kit even lists some tips for writing your own opinion editorial. They list six simple tips that will give you the courage to write to your local newspaper, start a blog, or share your opinion on Facebook.

 

Make sure to check out RISE For Youth’s Action Kit. Also, be sure to head to their website for other resources, such as statistics, stories, and a letter than you can send to Virginia lawmakers.

About Rise For Youth

RISE for Youth is a nonpartisan campaign in support of community alternatives to youth incarceration.

Goals:

  • Increase the likelihood that youth will become law-abiding adults by investing in community-based alternatives to juvenile justice system involvement.
  • Reduce the number of youth arrested, referred, under the supervision of the Department of Juvenile Justice or committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice.
  • Close Virginia’s juvenile prisons and re-invest savings from their closure into evidence-informed, community-based alternatives that will keep youth at home with their families and communities and keep communities safer.
  • Build a true continuum of evidence-informed placements for youth that cannot safely remain in their homes.

Join RISE For Youth in their movement to transform Virginia’s juvenile justice system! Already joined the movement? Tell us about your experience and/or how you plan to take action in the comments!

Featured image Source: http://www.riseforyouth.org


Ki’ara Montgomery is a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University with plans to graduate in May 2017. She is obtaining a bachelor’s degree in public relations, and minors in business and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. While in school, she has had opportunities with VCU AmeriCorps, Culture4MyKids, VCU School of Education, and the Richmond Raiders. She is currently interning with the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance with focuses in development, policy, and communication.


This article is part of the Action Alliance’s blog series on Virginia’s Trauma-to-Prison-Pipeline.

The Trauma-to-Prison-Pipeline (aka “School-to-Prison-Pipeline”) fails young trauma survivors and young people experiencing high levels of toxic stress by responding in overly punitive ways to youth who exhibit normal reactions to trauma.

Youth of color and youth with disabilities are particularly targeted for disproportionately high levels of heavy-handed, punitive responses to vague and subjective infractions in school, such as “being disrespectful”, or “acting out”. Viewed from a trauma-informed lens, these same behaviors may signal youth who are suffering and struggling with ongoing effects of trauma.

The Action Alliance believes that everyone deserves racially equitable responses that are compassionate and trauma-informed, and which build individual and community assets.


Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335.  

 

Dear Daughters of the World: I Did March for You

The Action Alliance’s Real Story Intern, Dominique Colbert, was one of nearly a half a million people who headed to Washington D.C.  January 21, 2017 to join the Women’s March on Washington. She shares her reflections here of the March, and her response to the anti-feminist critique that followed. 

A few weeks ago, history was made. On January 21st, one day after the 2017 Presidential Inauguration, over 3 million people took part in what has been referred to as the largest demonstration in U.S. history. The Women’s March on Washington, held at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. drew around 500,000 people, while more than 1,000 sister marches took place in all 50 states and in over 32 countries across the globe.

As someone who attended the march, I can attest to the abundance of positive energy spread throughout the day by all in attendance. The feelings of unity and empowerment in one cause was indescribable and unforgettable. Attending was one of the best decisions I have made, and the spark it ignited to continue to create positive change has been so rewarding.

Following the march, many news organizations released stories detailing the event’s unity, message, and impact. However, anti-feminist articles were also put into high circulation. Most were written by women who claimed to be against the march and feminism altogether. Two such articles were How the Women’s March Reinforced Every Negative Stereotype About Women EVER and Dear Daughter: Here’s Why I Didn’t March For You. Another article, published prior to the march, I Am a Female and I Am So Over Feminists was recirculated heavily. All three articles attempt to disgrace feminism all while showing through their words, their ignorance of the true goal of feminism.

Susan Goldberg, author of How the Women’s March Reinforced Every Negative Stereotype, makes an effort to vilify the march on the idea that it ignores issues which she sees as more valid. A poster-child for the Fallacy of Relative Privation, Goldberg writes “America’s women have more freedom and dignity than most women in the world.” She states that the march should have been for women in other countries who are “working against [their] wills as sex slaves…or [who face] a lifetime of harassment and abuse because [they live] in an Islamic society, or [who are] suffering in silence after having an abortion, or [who are] still suffering the trauma of being tossed away because she was born a girl.” She overlooks the fact that the march was worldwide in attendance as well as being centered around the treatment of women worldwide. While some marched across the globe in solidarity with America, some marched for issues more relevant to where they live. Depending on where one lives, the immediate effects of feminism may look different. However, feminist agendas around the world intersect to accomplish the same goal. Oppression is not a contest. One form does not minimize the seriousness of another.

marchers-in-australia

Image credit: GQ.com.au

I Am A Female and I Am So Over Feminists is another article which fails to recognize this. Author Gina Davis claims that “Women have never been more respected. Women have more rights in the United States than anywhere else in the world.” Ironic, considering for example, that the United States ranks 101st in the world for percentage of women who hold national office. Early in the article, she writes “God forbid a man has ideas these days,” implying that feminists fight to keep men from having and sharing opinions. On the contrary, feminism is a resistance to the erasure of women’s voices, not an effort to erase men’s.

abr-org

Image credit: abr.org

Mary Ramirez, author of the Dear Daughter article chimes in with the same assertion. Ramirez writes that the Women’s March was unnecessary because we live country where we “already enjoy all the freedoms and rights that men do.” She goes on to list off said rights; women can vote, run major companies, or even run for president. It is ironic that in her list of women’s freedoms in this country, Ramirez fails to bring up any of the rights women were actually marching for at the Women’s March. The rights she did list, were, in another ironic twist, fought for by feminists in the past so that we may have them now.

Instead of making valid arguments against any of the issues feminists fight to change, all three articles attempt to discredit the entire feminist movement. Dear Daughter describes the marchers as “very loud” women who “screamed” and wore “funny outfits.” She goes on to generalize their concerns as “terrible, horrible, no good very bad lies,” basing all of her arguments against feminist issues on her altered idea of what feminism actually is. As opposed to paying attention to the marchers’ messages of equal rights — equal pay, control of our own bodies, equal treatment of all races, equal opportunities, etc. — they paint their own ideas of what went on at the march and what it meant.

marchers-close-up

Image credit: wate.com

Ironically, Dear Daughter and I am a Female conclude with statements that line up with the exact point of feminism; all genders should be treated equally. Davis concludes, saying, “There is no ‘dominant’ gender… Time to embrace it.” Meanwhile, Ramirez states, “…[women are] biologically and physically and emotionally different from men, but that doesn’t mean we’re less.” So congratulations ladies, you too have feminist ideals. Once the time is taken to understand what feminism actually is and what it stands for, a lot more anti-feminist arguments will be dismantled.

marchers-pink-hats

Image credit: scmp.com


Dominique Colbert is a Hotline Crisis Services Specialist at the Action Alliance as well as an Intern for the Real Story journalism internship. She graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a B.S. in Mass Communications and a B.A. in African American Studies. She is an aspiring filmmaker and loves to create as well as watch others’ creations on the big screen.

The Real Story Internship analyzes and rewrites news stories to reflect a trauma-informed, survivor-centered and racial justice lens.


Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335. 

 

Mass Incarceration: Lessons Learned from Ava DuVernay’s 13th

As part of our efforts to deepen understanding and conversations around our racial justice work, the Action Alliance held a staff screening in November of Ava Duvernay’s documentary, “13th”. DuVernay, who directed the award-winning movie, “Selma”, created “13th” to examine the ways in which state control over African-Americans in the U.S. has changed shape since the 13th amendment was passed to abolished slavery. Action Alliance intern, Ki’ara Montgomery, shares her reflections on the film.

I was at my internship at the Action Alliance when I received the invitation: Join us for the showing of the documentary 13th. I heard about the film for the first time the night prior to receiving the invitation and I immediately knew that 13th was a film I didn’t want to miss.

As I watched 13th I was surrounded by troubling truths that I assumed true, but never had the information to fully believe because it was based on a history that wasn’t taught to us in school. Despite the feelings that were building up inside me as I continued to watch, I held myself together… until a little over halfway through the film.

I couldn’t control myself any longer. What started as a few tears falling down my face turned into uncontrollable sobbing and me fleeing the room in anger. It left me angry and confused. How could we let ourselves go back so far? Why are we accepting a new-age form of slavery? Why are we repeating the history that our ancestors and many of us have been fighting so hard to reform? I didn’t understand and honestly, I still don’t.

This film shows how the adoption of the 13th Amendment transitioned African-Americans from being enslaved in a historical context, to a new-age slavery due to a loophole that abolished slavery for everyone except criminals. This new-age form of slavery includes Jim Crow, lynching, and criminalization. Director Ava DuVernay gathered a unique group of people from various backgrounds to talk about these issues, including a representative from ALEC, a group that was heavily criticized in the film for their contributions toward laws that only worked to increase incarceration rates. That aspect is one that makes this documentary notable, in my opinion. Much like DuVernay’s use of words.

In 13th, not only do we hear the words that are used to criminalize black people in America, but DuVernay constantly shows us those words. The word CRIMINAL appears on the screen each time it is verbalized in the documentary. For me, each time this word was said and showcased, it invoked a deeper level of emotion than the time before. We hear and see the use of words such as super-predator, wolf pack, and gang on the news, in newspapers, and even from political figures. These words instantly lead your mind to the word CRIMINAL and some associate them all to the word Black.

History has played its part in this word association and the word choice. The documentary takes you back to 1915 and the release of The Birth of a Nation. This movie glorified the Ku Klux Klan, portraying them as heroes for ridding the nation of the ”black beasts.” These “beasts” would rape your wives and kill you if they weren’t tamed. These “beasts” were Black men. This was the beginning of criminalizing language and depictions of Black men.

Do you understand the architecture around an idea that you hold in your head? The design of it, the very construction of it is most likely not truly yours, but something that was given to you. The idea you have in your head was not built by you per se, but built by preconceived notions that were passed down generation after generation. – Ava DuVernay

Leon Neyfakh made a great point in his article covering 13th. “Ava DuVernay’s new documentary about mass incarceration made me feel ashamed[1],” the article began. “I thought about how much I’d gotten used to in just under two years of covering the criminal justice system.”

Neyfakh not only recognized his gradual blindness to mass incarceration, but he also tackled a communal ignorance to the situation. “How it could be that so many people could have ever grown used to the moral catastrophes that were slavery and Jim Crow,” he states. “How did they not wake up every morning, nauseated and panicked about what was happening? The same way people like me wake up in 2016 and take it as a given that there are 2.3 million people living in cages, a third of them Black.”

13th-infographic

Image source: Ki’ara Montgomery

Not being aware of these harsh realities and not taking the time to educate ourselves on the injustices that people in our society face daily, only makes us part of the issue. If more people were aware of the actual truth, would take advantage of the opportunity to view and analyze this information, and realize that we are living in a cycle that will never end until we end it ourselves, this film could be beneficial to most of our society. But if we don’t take the time to educate ourselves or we refuse to believe the truth that is constantly staring us in the face while stabbing our communities in the back, we will continue to be stuck in this vicious cycle.

Have you seen the documentary 13th? What are your thoughts on mass incarceration? Let us know in the comments!


Ki’ara Montgomery is a Senior at Virginia Commonwealth University with plans to graduate in May 2017. She is obtaining a bachelor’s degree in public relations, and minors in business and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. While in school, she has had opportunities with VCU AmeriCorps, Culture4MyKids, VCU School of Education, and the Richmond Raiders. She is currently interning with the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance with a focus in development, policy, and communications.

Featured image source: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/10/03/the-13th-ava-duvernay-s-damning-netflix-doc-finds-the-truth-about-mass-incarceration.html

[1] Neyfakh, Leon. “I’m a Criminal Justice Reporter, and Ava DuVernay’s New Doc About Mass Incarceration Shocked Me.” Slate Magazine, Slate, 6 Oct. 2016, www.slate.com/articles/arts/movies/2016/10/ava_duvernay_s_netflix_documentary_13th_reviewed.html.

_____________________________________________________________________

 This article is part of the Action Alliance’s blog series on Virginia’s Trauma-to-Prison-Pipeline.

The Trauma-to-Prison-Pipeline (aka “School-to-Prison-Pipeline”) fails young people who are experiencing high levels of toxic stress and/or trauma by responding in overly punitive ways to youth who exhibit normal reactions to trauma and toxic stress.

Youth of color and youth with disabilities are particularly targeted for disproportionately high levels of heavy-handed, punitive responses to vague and subjective infractions in school, such as “defiance of authority”, or “classroom disruption”. Viewed from a trauma-informed lens, these same behaviors may signal youth who are suffering and struggling with ongoing effects of trauma.

 The Action Alliance believes that everyone deserves racially equitable responses that are compassionate and trauma-informed, and which build individual and community assets.


Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335. 

Debtor’s Prisons for Kids: The High Cost of Fines and Fees in the Juvenile Justice System

 

A new report by the Juvenile Law Center, entitled “Debtor’s Prisons for Kids: The High Cost of Fines and Fees in the Juvenile Justice System” reveals that fines and fees levied in the juvenile justice system are forcing kids to be locked up longer when their families can’t pay—which could be unconstitutional.

In 1983, the Supreme Court made a ruling in the Bearden v Georgia case which held that a judge must first consider whether or not a defendant has the ability to pay court fines and restitution before revoking their probation. However, not only has this ruling seemed to become overlooked, but it has been taken to the extreme. Judges are now imprisoning minors for fines and restitution that they are not able to pay—essentially punishing them for their family’s poverty.

About one million youth must appear in juvenile court each year. These youth and their families are then faced with fees, fines, and restitution for the minor’s infraction. When juveniles and/or their families are not able to afford these fees, the consequences often include extended probation or even incarceration. Being faced with these options, families are often pushed even further into debt, while their child becomes entangled in the criminal legal system.

orange-kids1

Image source: http://voiceofdetroit.net/2012/07/02/nations-high-court-ends-mandatory-life-without-parole-sentences-for-youth/

Much like the Trauma-to-Prison Pipeline (aka School-to-Prison-Pipeline) these Juvenile Debtor’s Prisons lead to an increase in recidivism and a cycle of mass incarceration, ultimately eroding entire communities.

In the Commonwealth of Virginia, fines are levied on children’s families in the following ways:

  • Care, Treatment, Placement, and Support
    • Courts can charge a fee for any treatment, counseling, or rehabilitation that may be needed for the child, without requiring finding of guilt.
    • These fees can also include child support, costs of the child’s custody, detention, or placement in a facility, and the costs of their shelter, food, and clothing.
  • Evaluation and Testing
    • If examinations or assessments are required (such as mental health evaluations, drug and alcohol tests, tests for STIs, and DNA and blood tests), the child’s family is required to pay the costs.
  • Fines and Restitution
    • The child’s family is responsible for paying any fines and restitution that the child may incur, including $100 per day for failure to participate or comply with conditions and limitations set for the rehabilitation of a child engaged in truancy.

Though research is still being done on Juvenile Debtor’s Prisons, some studies suggest that the fees and fines that these families incur have a very limited benefit to the states and counties that they are paid to.

The Juvenile Law Center has released an accompanying “Toolkit for Eliminating Costs, Fines, and Fees in the Juvenile Justice System”, which offers recommendations for developmentally appropriate policies on costs, fines, and fees for youth.

What are your thoughts on the Juvenile Debtor’s Prison? How can Virginians help to make a change? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!


Ki’ara Montgomery is a Senior at Virginia Commonwealth University with plans to graduate in May 2017. She is obtaining a bachelor’s degree in public relations, and minors in business and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. While in school, she has had opportunities with VCU AmeriCorps, Culture4MyKids, VCU School of Education, and the Richmond Raiders. She is currently interning with the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance with a focus in development, policy, and communications.

Featured image source: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/01/the-cost-of-keeping-juveniles-in-adult-prisons/423201/

_____________________________________________________________________

This article is part of the Action Alliance’s blog series on Virginia’s Trauma-to-Prison-Pipeline.

The Trauma-to-Prison-Pipeline (aka “School-to-Prison-Pipeline”) fails young people who are experiencing high levels of toxic stress and/or trauma by responding in overly punitive ways to youth who exhibit normal reactions to trauma and toxic stress.

Youth of color and youth with disabilities are particularly targeted for disproportionately high levels of heavy-handed, punitive responses to vague and subjective infractions in school, such as “defiance of authority”, or “classroom disruption”. Viewed from a trauma-informed lens, these same behaviors may signal youth who are suffering and struggling with ongoing effects of trauma.

 The Action Alliance believes that everyone deserves racially equitable responses that are compassionate and trauma-informed, and which build individual and community assets.


Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335.