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 the 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.

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.  

 

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.

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 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/

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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. 

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