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.

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. 

Trauma-to-Prison Pipeline: How Schools Are Reinforcing the Cycle of Mass Incarceration

Imagine this: your child goes to school, maybe they’re having a bad day and out of frustration talk back to a teacher, who sends them to the principal’s office where they’re suspended for three days. They become angry and get into a fight. Instead of another suspension, your child enters the juvenile justice system, drops out of school, and falls into a cycle of incarceration.

For many students, this is a reality. An episode of “acting out” as a child can lead to suspension, and eventually down a path of captivity. Students who are suspended more likely to encounter justice system involvement and are at a higher risk of  academic failure and dropping out of school altogether.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race in Virginia public schools. However, during 2014-15, African American students were 3.6 times more likely than white students to be suspended. Additionally, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibit discrimination based on disability in Virginia public schools, yet in 2014-15, students with disabilities were 2.4 times more likely than students without disabilities to be suspended.1

Part of the problem? Students of color are disproportionately disciplined for subjective offenses, such as “disrespect”, compared with white students. However, the rates at which African-American and white students “act out” are essentially equal. This disparity among Black and white students may also be a factor in the mass incarceration of Black people; being thrown into cells as juveniles, becoming a part of the criminal legal system, and increasing their chances of being arrested and convicted again in the future.

The US Department of Education suggests around 92,000 students were arrested during the 2011-2012 school year. This number has increased especially due to the use of School Resource Officers (SROs). Instead of being used to ensure the safety of students while in the school setting, more and more SROs are becoming part of the discipline system in schools.

Far too often, the root of the problematic disciplinary behavior is not addressed. What’s triggering the behavior: anxiety? Hunger? Problems at home? Trauma? Harsh disciplinary reactions to youth who are seeking attention and “acting out” may escalate and worsen the situation, creating a cycle of greater student distress and harsher and harsher disciplinary actions.

So how can we stop this cycle and create a new narrative? We can start by taking a lesson from Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore, Maryland which has begun offering their students meditation as a way to address problematic behavior. The Mindful Moment Room encourages students to breathe, meditate, and talk through what happened, allowing the student an opportunity to calm and re-center themselves.

Combined with their after-school program, Holistic Me, which allows students to practice mindfulness and yoga, the elementary school has not had a single suspension since the start of the 2015-2016 school year.

child-meditatesImage source: http://www.publicnewsservice.org/2016-03-10/juvenile-justice/juvenile-justice-reform-group-wants-nd-youth-prisons-closed/a50763-1

Other ideas for change?

  • End suspension for children younger than second grade;
  • No referrals for children under 13 to police for minor offenses;
  • Focus on forming relationships between school staff, giving students an opportunity to resolve problems by talking about them;
  • Schools, not police, deal with students’ nonviolent infractions;
  • Allow opportunities for students to get involved in their communities;
  • Teach students to be co-teachers and let them run sessions such as meditation and yoga

Several bills to address Virginia’s School-to-Prison-Pipeline are currently being considered in the Virginia General Assembly, including the following bills supported by the Action Alliance. Contact your legislator today to ask them support these bills:

  • SB 997 (Sen. Stanley) & HB 1536 (Del. Richard Bell) –Prohibits students in preschool through grade five from being suspended or expelled except for drug offenses, firearm offenses, or certain criminal acts.
  • SB 995 (Sen. Stanley) & HB 1534 (Del. Richard Bell) – Reduces the maximum length of a long-term suspension from 364 calendar days to 45 school days. The bill prohibits a long-term suspension from extending beyond the current grading period unless aggravating circumstances exist and prohibits a long-term suspension from extending beyond the current school year.
  • SB 996 (Sen. Stanley) & HB 1535 (Del. Richard Bell) –Public schools; student discipline. Provides that no student shall receive a long-term suspension or expulsion for disruptive behavior unless such behavior involves intentional physical injury or credible threat of physical injury to another person.

Have more ideas to end the cycle? Make sure to add them in the comments 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.

1 “Suspended Progress”, JustChildren Program Legal Aid Justice Center, May 2016. Retrieved 1/10/17 https://www.justice4all.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Suspended-Progress-Report.pdf

Featured image source: http://www.publicnewsservice.org/2016-03-10/juvenile-justice/juvenile-justice-reform-group-wants-nd-youth-prisons-closed/a50763-1

_____________________________________________________________________

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. 

“Rightful Owners of Equal Rights?”

“I’m not homophobic but…” statements typically end with a clause that is actually homophobic [editor’s note: or transphobic]. Such was the widespread reaction to the start of the repeal of House Bill 2 or “HB2”. Also known as the “Bathroom Bill,” HB2 is a bill that prohibits people from using public bathrooms that don’t correspond to their sex as listed on their birth certificates, reversing a Charlotte ordinance that had extended some rights to people who are transgender. [editor’s note: homophobia is about hostility toward same sex relationships and/or behaviors; transphobia is a hostility toward behaving in a way that does not fit with socially accepted gender norms.]

HB2 passed in March of 2016. Since then, a number of businesses and individuals have chosen to boycott North Carolina due to the bill’s discriminatory nature. Two prominent corporations which made steps to keep their business ventures outside of the state were the NBA, which moved its all-star game from Charlotte, North Carolina to New Orleans, and PayPal, which cancelled the construction of a new center in Charlotte.

hb2Image Credit: citizen-times.com

While protests of the bill continued in the months following its passing, it wasn’t until recently that lawmakers called for action concerning the bill. On December 19, 2016, it was announced that outgoing North Carolina Governor, Pat McCrory, would be calling for a “special session” to repeal HB2. It was implied that as long as Charlotte overturned its anti-discrimination ordinance,  said to be one of the laws that prompted HB2 to be passed, then HB2 would be repealed.

While many people were in high spirits regarding the seemingly imminent demise of HB2, others were not.When the news about HB2 resurfaced, so did the voices of those against equality for the trans community. The latter made posts that expressed their disapproval by attacking the very same people the bill oppresses. They wrote of being fearful for their children if  transwomen were allowed to use the women’s restroom, claiming that such integration could lead to sexual assault on women and children. In fact, zero cases of sexual assault in a bathroom by a transgender person have been documented.

The reality is that trans people are the ones most at risk in bathrooms, and in the community at large. Transgender people experience violent victimization at significantly higher rates than cisgender people. One TIME News article cited a study from UCLA’s Williams Institute to stress the true stats involving transgender people and their experiences in public restrooms.

“Nearly 70% of transgender people said they had experienced verbal harassment in a situation involving gender-segregated bathrooms, while nearly 10% reported physical assault. And, advocates argue, laws that force transgender people to use restrooms where they can look out of place makes them more likely targets.”

Arguments in favor of HB2 have no logical foundation. Forcing trangender people to use restrooms that don’t match their gender identity only heightens their safety risk. It is essentially choosing to put them in danger for the sake of others’ prejudice.

Nevertheless, with claims based on nothing but prejudice views, people continued to put out homophobic [editor’s note: and transphobic] posts, often with disclaimers they believed made their statements appear less harmful. “I don’t have a problem with LGBTQ people but…” “Everyone can do what they want but…” Some showed their ignorance on the matter by using “gay” and “transgender” interchangeably. “I have gay friends but…” These statements attempt to make those who posted seem open-minded and victimized, all while they oppressed an entire group of people in the same sentence.

hb2-1Image Credit: wspa.com

The repeal of HB2 did not end up taking place during the special session. Instead, legislators passed a bill that would buy them more time. The new bill stated that cities across the state could not, for a period of time, alter or create any anti-discrimination ordinances. This was just an added blow to the fact that lawmakers did not hold up their end of the bargain to repeal HB2 following Charlotte’s repeal of its anti-discrimination ordinance.

hb2-2Image Credit: charlotteobserver.com

“‘This wasn’t the deal,’ said Sen. Jeff Jackson, who argued that Charlotte officials had acted in good faith in overturning its ordinance before the special session. ‘This bill breaks that deal.’”

While it was a disappointing blow for equal rights, the General Assembly will beconvening again on January 11, at which time the repeal of HB2 may again be a topic of discussion. Until then, the fight for LGBTQ rights will continue, in particular, the fight for the rights of people in the trans community.

In Virginia, a bill similar to HB2 has been introduced this session by Del. Bob Marshall. If you’d like to let your legislators know what you think of  Marshall’s bill, HB1612, you can find your legislator here.


Terms used

Transgender: An umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of people whose gender identity or expression may not match the sex they were assigned at birth. (Source: Forge)

Cisgender: A term used to describe an individual whose self-perception of their gender matches the sex they were assigned at birth (Source: AVP)

Gender Identity: A term that describes how a person identifies their gender. A person’s gender identity may be different than social norms and/or stereotypes of the sex they were assigned at birth. There are a wide range of gender identities and expressions, including identifying as a man, woman, transgender, genderqueer, and/or identifying as gender non-conforming (Source: AVP)


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. 

Yes, Hate Has Consequences

“My mom literally just texted me ‘don’t wear the Hijab please’ and she’s the most religious person in our family….”

When we must choose between our safety and the freedom to be who we are, there is a problem. Following the election of President-Elect Donald Trump, there has been a substantial rise in the number of hate crimes being reported in the United States. Over 800 cases have been reported since Election Day, November 8th.

When President-Elect Trump used his campaign to call for a “total and complete shutdown of all Muslims entering the United States,” many Muslim-Americans began to fear for their lives. When he spoke about the entire African American community synonymously with this country’s inner cities, many in Black America felt silenced. To generalize an entire group of people under statements like, “You’re living in your poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed — what the hell do you have to lose?” not only gave those outside of this community a false sense of all Black American lives, but disregarded the accomplishments and contrasting lifestyles of so many African Americans. In the same way, the President-Elect’s comments on Mexican immigrants as well as promises of a physical wall to keep them out of America have painted a detrimentally false narrative of Mexican Americans and immigrants in general.

President-Elect Trump’s comments are not the only ones to make sweeping and harmful assertions about entire groups of Americans. Vice President-Elect, Mike Pence has openly opposed equal rights for the LGBTQ community and has fought for public funding of so-called “conversion therapy”, a practice that has been deemed harmful to LGBTQ persons and rejected for decades by every mainstream medical and mental health organization.

The targets of these generalizations are primarily people of color and people who already feel vulnerable and isolated in this country due to the systematic oppression that thrives in America. Accordingly, when Donald Trump won the election, some Americans felt it validated his portrayal of people of color in this country. Statistically, the amount of reported hate crimes soared. A few of these cases, both reported and unreported, are exemplified in the following online posts.

womenin-hijabs

Image Credit: mashable.com

car

Image Credit: facebook.com

whiteagain

Image Credit: facebook.com

 

twitterpost

Image Credit: Facebook.com

Even online, however, those sharing their stories are met with criticism. Still, there are online spaces that remain open and accepting. The victims of post-election hate crimes and allies have joined together to combat hatred through a variety of media from protests to online safe spaces. In these spaces, people have open discussions about how to deal with the increase in blatant racism, whether they are victims of it themselves or allies of these victims.

In a time that is leaving so many scared to merely exist as they are, advocates for survivors of trauma have extra work to do to provide trauma-informed help in this context. Two articles, listed below, are examples of helpful resources for survivors of trauma and their helpers.

“How to Cope With Post-Election Stress”

“I’m a therapist: Here’s how I help patients traumatized by the election.”

 

Dominique 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.

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

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

For The Last Child

On the first day of October Artemis House Staff began their celebration of Domestic Violence Awareness Month at Northern Virginia PRIDE Festival (NOVA PRIDE). We tabled and mingled, networked and shared cards, and felt the energy and joy of safe spaces. Near the end of my shift at our resource table a blended family stopped to learn more about Artemis House services, and as we began to converse I felt hopeful that I was speaking with “The Last Child.”

picture2In September, at a membership meeting for Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance (Action Alliance) a group of advocates invested in the anti-violence movement were tasked with identifying a “North Star”, a potential guiding statement for Action Alliance work. Though the process was difficult, this gathering of diverse people agreed that what gave us hope when the work makes us weary is the shared idea that we have committed ourselves to creating safe spaces until “the last child” is able to live free of violence and oppression.

Since leaving Richmond I have carried the hope that I am working towards the day of “the last child” with me everywhere. The last child has been to all of the Artemis House staff, Domestic Violence task force, and budget meetings this month. I see them take shape in our monthly review of data and program reports. I look for “the last child” in daily interactions with community partners, friends, loved ones, and strangers. This child reveals their self in the gaps of our data, the conflict and resolution in each meeting, and fellowship with others to remind me that there will be an end to our work.

On that day at NOVA PRIDE I was relieved to find hope in these children while discussing their experiences with violence and their love of Artemis, goddess of fertility and the wilderness. Unknowingly they shared a few truths of what the last child needs from those of us invested in this work: a seat at the table (inclusion); a voice in the dialogue (representation); a safe place for disclosure (accessibility); and unshakable support during post-traumatic growth (advocacy).

“Success is not one more woman in shelter, one more man in jail, one more child in foster care.”  

–Sandra Camacho

Most importantly I was reminded that the last child needs our investment in the anti-violence movement to be extended outside of our typical 9-5 work day. They require that we challenge our privilege in safe places so that they too may be included while maintaining awareness of our differences to increase representation. Though Domestic Violence Awareness Month has ended for this year, Artemis House staff will continue our investment in increasing the awareness and reach of the anti-violence movement until we meet “the last child.”

Raven Dickerson is the Director of Artemis House, a program of Shelter House Inc. Artemis House is Fairfax County’s only 24 hour emergency shelter for victims of domestic and sexual violence, human trafficking, and stalking. For more information on Artemis House services and opportunities to volunteer or donate contact us at (703) 435-4940.

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

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

Radical Transformation and Doing 180’s – A Story and An Invitation

Content warning: white supremacy

I grew up in a family that was steeped in Southern racism, not saying there was not Northern racism or West Coast racism, just saying it was a racism that was steeped in a legacy of slavery and exploitation that felt different than other parts of the country, at least to me, and at least in relation to what I was able to gather about the world through library books and encyclopedias at the time.

I grew up before the internet was in every house and became a teenager just as diverse faces started to emerge in prime time television. I spent much of my childhood in a small Louisiana town with my grandparents. When friends called my grandma’s house, she would ask what color they were before determining whether or not I could receive the call. I was told it would be better to bring a girl home than a Black man. My grandpa thought it important for me to know where the hanging tree was, pointing it out on our drives “to town”. I was a child and these are the lessons I was taught. There was us and there was them and ne’er the twain shall meet.

texas

Image source: nicklosdrilling.com

I spent the rest of my childhood in Houston, Texas where my experience was tempered by a desire from my parents to white-wash my experience. They moved us to the suburbs to escape our Mexican neighbors. Ironically, they could not escape our class situation so I grew up in the most diverse school in our suburban district – the one all the working class folks attended. I share all this because I used to believe the things my parents told me, my grandparents told me, the preacher at my grandma’s church, the teachers at my school (who shared a white-washed legacy of the story of Texas and Mexico), the other white kids around me – I believed it because it was what I knew, what information I had access to at the time – to me, it was truth.

My radical transformation came in the shape of punk rock music and culture. I joined local groups working on things like housing access and police brutality. I went to meetings where folks actually talked about all of this and I heard people of color speaking about their experiences. I started to learn about systemic exploitation of people of color in service of white supremacy and capitalism. I also learned about feminism and reproductive justice and it was like a mask I had been wearing for 16 years shattered. Needless to say, I was a radically changed person and I remember my mother telling me she did not like who I was becoming. But I did.

There have been a few twists and turns in my path since my first 180 in life and I continued to be challenged to learn and grow.

180

Image source; moaablogs.org

I used to believe that our work to end sexual and intimate partner violence could be achieved in a vacuum. I did not necessarily have the words for that thought, but I used to think working on things like economic justice and racial justice and reproductive justice was work for folks like Virginia Organizing, Planned Parenthood, and the Richmond Peace Education Center. As a member of the Action Alliance, I remember taking my dots during a strategic planning session nearly a decade ago and diverting them from strategies like economic justice initiatives. I remember struggling to understand why that would be “our thing”.

Then, like before, I had a radical transformation. I learned from people who were talking about systemic oppression versus individual acts of prejudice. I learned about how self-determination and autonomy were often linked to one’s capacity to navigate a web of oppression and how financial exploitation was both a systemic tool and an individual weapon that hindered a survivor’s ability to determine their own path. It was such a lightbulb moment for me, that, much like when I first latched on to punk rock, it is so hard for me to remember the before, when I believed in another truth.

Because of these radical transformations and my openness to see the bigger thing of it, making the leap to seeing racial justice as a necessary part of our work to address sexual and intimate partner violence was easy. Easy for me. And because of my radical transformations, I can see how it can be difficult for others; for folks who have not had opportunities like I have had, to learn another way, to learn from others who have also moved on this path, to learn from mistakes, to be open to other truths. It can be difficult to see larger connections when the work of serving individual survivors and families feels so immediate and so enormous. It can be difficult to see the way to a 180 when the other side is beyond the shadow of the moon.

It can be difficult and yet I am inviting folks to try it. To consider what a world would look like if our efforts in service of a world free from sexual and domestic violence were linked up tightly in the work for liberation of all who are suffering from systemic oppression. It will require a radical transformation or revolutionary change which Brene’ Brown describes as “tumultuous, turning things upside down, you can’t go back”. She talks about vulnerability and courage a lot and I am inviting those of you reading this to dig in to your vulnerability and practice it, dig in to your courage and lean on it, and get ready for revolutionary change and radical transformation. We need to be in this together. Let me know if you’d like to talk!

brene brown

Source: Tibalsimplicity.com

Quillin Drew Musgrave is a Programs and Services Manager at the Action Alliance, a Board member of the Virginia Anti-Violence Project, and operates Harrison Street Café with their partner. Quillin is learning to engage the world from a place of connection and gratitude and gets great joy from seeing their child, StaggerLee, learn to navigate life as a four-year old.

 

The Action Alliance is hosting the The Warmth of Other Suns Conference  August 10-12. Come join the conversation.

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call804.377.0335.

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org