Monday, October 28, 2013

Victory at Last! Louisiana has Removed Hundreds of Individuals Unconstitutionally Placed on Sex Offender Registry

From our friends at Women With A Vision.

Today, all of us at WWAV celebrate a huge victory not only for those who have been criminalized through the Crime Against Nature by Solicitation statute, but for all women and LGBTQ people who have been criminalized across the globe.  The class action lawsuit we filed with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Andrea J. Ritchie, Esq., and the Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, Law Clinic challenging the CANS statute finally wrapped up.  Over 800 individuals with CANS convictions have officially been removed from the Louisiana sex offender registry.

When WWAV started this fight five years ago, we were told that we couldn’t win – that a small, black-led organization in the South couldn’t win a victory on this scale.  But we pressed on.  We came together, using a grassroots framework to engage community to affect change.

To quote Ms. Michelle, one of our NO Justice clients who has been on the Sex Offender Registry since 1980, ” I can taste my FREEDOM!”  All of us can.

We also know that this is but one step in realizing the healing that our community needs.  The women and LGBTQ people that WWAV supports continue to bear the scars of the war on drugs, mass incarceration, systemic poverty, HIV/AIDS and domestic violence.

So today we celebrate.  And still we rise.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Police Harassment and Violence Against the Transgender Community

A shorter version of this article originally appeared on the Al Jazeera America website.
The modern gay rights movement was born on June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn, on Christopher Street in New York City’s West Village. Resistance broke out in response to a violent police raid against the gay community, and riots continued for several days. Many of the key leaders were transgender women, such as Sylvia Rivera, who had started her activism during the 1950s civil rights movement and continued until her death in 2002.

More than 40 years later, even in a place long considered a haven for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, many LGBT individuals are still living in fear of police violence. 

Advocates say the issues that ignited the Stonewall riots still are relevant today. Mitchyll Mora, a young activist, said police had harassed him for dressing feminine, and his friends for not fitting into narrow gender roles.

“Christopher Street is an historic location, and it's always been a haven for queer folks, especially young folks of color. But with gentrification, there's been aggressive policing here, and that's a really scary thing,” Mora told us. “It's scary when safe spaces are taken away from us.”

It’s not just in New York City. A 2012 study by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that transgender people across the U.S. experience three times as much police violence as non-transgender individuals. Those numbers are even higher for transgender people of color. Even when transgender people were the victims of hate crimes, 48 percent reportedreceiving mistreatment from the police when they went for help.

Andrea Ritchie, an attorney specializing in police misconduct, told us that law enforcement sees policing gender roles as part of their work.

“I think most people are familiar with racial profiling,” she told us. “But I think people are less familiar with how gender is really central to policing in the United States. That includes expectations in terms of how women are supposed to look, how men are supposed to look, how women are supposed to act and how men are supposed to act. And when they see someone who isn't acting in a way that they think they should be acting around gender, or isn't expressing gender in a particular way, or who is visibly someone who is queer or gender or sexually nonconforming, they often read that as disorder and they often perceive that person as already disorderly, as already suspicious, as already prone to violence.”

Andrea told us of a recent of a transgender woman Oklahoma who had been charged with disorderly conduct just for standing in public, demonstrating the idea that officers often find people who undermine expectations of gender to be intrinsically disorderly.

Ritchie says this tendency goes back to the roots of policing. “The first police forces in the United States were colonial armies,” says Ritchie. “And their mission was to seize land and control the people who were inhabiting the land, the indigenous peoples of this land. Scholars like Andrea Smith talk about how obviously policing of race, and controlling where a native people could and couldn't go was central to that project. She also talks about how policing gender was central to that project. And to communities who didn't necessarily have the kinds of hierarchies and social power relations, that colonizers had, there was a necessity of creating hierarchies in order to rationalize colonization. If you created these lines between male and female, and then you said that the male should have power over the females, then it made it easier to introduce the idea that there's a great white father somewhere else who should have power over indigenous populations.”

Dean Spade, a law professor and founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, a poverty law center that represents transgender people, agrees. “That's part of what policing is – is this kind of generalized suspicion,” he said. “Does something look out of place? And transgender people are often that thing that looks out of place.”

Transgender Americans are also more likely to be poor and homeless, because of discrimination in jobs, housing and access to social services.

“If we want to understand why trans people face such high rates of criminalization and incarceration, it helps to see how poverty feeds that," adds Spade. "So people are already more likely to be poor because of job discrimination, because of not being able to access social services or homeless shelters. If you are poor and you can't access those things you're more likely to be poor and on the street which puts you in the path of the police."
For transgender Americans, this cycle of poverty, homelessness and prison can start early, since many are rejected by their families as teenagers, and end up in foster care and the juvenile justice system. “Those systems are predictors for the adult punishment systems,” Spade said. “Let's say a young trans girl is placed in a boys' group home, and she doesn't feel safe there. She leaves, so she's possibly living on the street, doing whatever she can to get by. Then she ends up in the criminal justice system.”

More hate crime laws might seem like one way to better protect transgender Americans. But advocates point out that much of the violence trans communities face is at the hands of the police itself. “And so the notion that expanding that system’s power to punish will somehow save us is really harmful,” Spade explained.

Advocacy organizations are working to change the discrimination LGBT people face. The group TransJustice, for example, trains transgender New Yorkers on their on their rights in interactions with police.

But it isn’t just the police who have attitudes that hurt the LGBT community, advocates told us. The media is guilty too. One example advocates gave was the case of the Jersey Four.

In 2006, a group of black lesbians from New Jersey were arrested for stabbing a man on Sixth Avenue in the West Village.

The women said a man, Dwayne Buckle, made crude sexual advances that they rejected, telling him they were lesbians. In response, they said, he spat at them and tried to choke two of the women. The women say they fought back in self-defense.

“The police responded to the scene and read the women not as people who were survivors of a violent attack, but as perpetrators of violence,” Ritchie told America Tonight. “This was because they were young, because they were black, because they were gender nonconforming.”

In 2007, four of the women were convicted of gang assault. The following year, two of those convictions were overturned.

We spoke to two members of the Jersey Four, Patreese Johnson, who served almost eight years in prison, and Renata Hill, whose assault conviction was vacated. Looking at these women, it was hard to imagine the severe sentences they had received. Patreese is under five feet tall hardly seems threatening. They described a legal system stacked against them from the beginning. They said the police immediately profiled them as criminals, a newspaper called them “killer lesbians,” Fox News called them a lesbian gang, and the prosecutor called them animals.

“Now this is a group of girls who never had any criminal history,” said Hill. “Who was in school and college, working, family, with our own apartments, everything. And none of that was spoken about.”

No reporter tried to reach out to their attorneys to try to get their story, according to Johnson. “What they had was off of assumptions in the police reports,” she said. “None of our statements were considered, so we were automatically found guilty throughout the media.”

“Good girls don't defend themselves. Good girls don't walk on the streets at night,” says Ritchie. “Those are the kinds of perceptions and gender norms that are being policed in those moments.”

PHOTO ABOVE: Alasia Farell, a young woman interviewed as part of this story.

Friday, October 4, 2013

RIP Herman Wallace - The Muhammad Ali of the Criminal Justice System

From the Angola 3 Newsletter.

This morning we lost without a doubt the biggest, bravest, and brashest personality in the political prisoner world.  It is with great sadness that we write with the news of Herman Wallace's passing.

Herman never did anything half way.  He embraced his many quests and adventures in life with a tenacious gusto and fearless determination that will absolutely never be rivaled.  He was exceptionally loyal and loving to those he considered friends, and always went out of his way to stand up for those causes and individuals in need of a strong voice or fierce advocate, no matter the consequences.

Anyone lucky enough to have spent any time with Herman knows that his indomitable spirit will live on through his work and the example he left behind.  May each of us aspire to be as dedicated to something as Herman was to life, and to justice.

Below is a short obituary/press statement for those who didn't know him well in case you wish to circulate something.  Tributes from those who were closest to Herman and more information on how to help preserve his legacy by keeping his struggle alive will soon follow.

On October 4th, 2013, Herman Wallace, an icon of the modern prison reform movement and an innocent man, died a free man after spending an unimaginable 41 years in solitary confinement.

Herman spent the last four decades of his life fighting against all that is unjust in the criminal justice system, making international the inhuman plight that is long term solitary confinement, and struggling to prove that he was an innocent man.

Just 3 days before his passing, he succeeded, his conviction was overturned, and he was released to spend his final hours surrounded by loved ones.  Despite his brief moments of freedom, his case will now forever serve as a tragic example that justice delayed is justice denied.

Herman Wallace's early life in New Orleans during the heyday of an unforgiving and unjust Jim Crow south often found him on the wrong side of the law and eventually he was sent to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola for armed robbery.  While there, he was introduced to the Black Panther's powerful message of self determination and collective community action and quickly became one of its most persuasive and ardent practitioners.

Not long after he began to organize hunger and work strikes to protest the continued segregation, endemic corruption, and horrific abuse rampant at the prison, he and his fellow panther comrades Albert Woodfox and Robert King were charged with murders they did not commit and thrown in solitary.

Robert was released in 2001 after 29 years in solitary but Herman remained there for an unprecedented 41 years, and Albert is still in a 6x9 solitary cell.

Herman's criminal case ended with his passing, but his legacy will live on through a civil lawsuit he filed jointly with Robert and Albert that seeks to define and abolish long term solitary confinement as cruel and unusual punishment, and through his comrade Albert Woodfox's still active and promising bid for freedom from the wrongful conviction they both shared.

Herman was only 9 days shy of 72 years old.

Services will be held in New Orleans. The date and location will be forthcoming.

For more information visit and