Category Archives: policing/justice

Quebec Niqab Ban: No/Non to Bill 94!

By Deputy Editor Thea Lim

Last week Jean Charest, premier of the province of Quebec in Canada, proposed legislation that would ban Muslim women from wearing the niqab/face-veil.

How does Quebec intend to ban the niqab? By refusing essential services to women wearing one. From the Toronto Star:

[Bill 94] effectively bars Muslim women from receiving or delivering public services while wearing a niqab.  According to the draft law, they would not be able to consult a doctor in a hospital, for example, or even attend classes in a university.  Two words: Uncovered face,” Charest told reporters during a press conference in Quebec City. “The principle is clear.” However, Charest reaffirmed the right to wear other religious symbols, such as crosses, skullcaps or headscarves, which was met by some as evidence of hypocrisy and discrimination…

Charest explained that the legislation, Bill 94, demands a face in plain view, for reasons of identification, security and communication. He further clarified that even public-service employees who do not interact with the public – the majority of the provincial bureaucracy – would also not be permitted to wear the niqab…

The legislation doesn’t stop at driver’s licence or health card offices. It encompasses nearly every public and para-public institution as well, including universities, school boards, hospitals, community health and daycare centres.

There are many things about this bill that are horrendous.  For example, that whole universal healthcare thing – of which many Canadians are so proud – will become pretty UNuniversal; since if you’re wearing a niqab you can’t see a doctor.  Bill 94 returns us to suffragette era politics, where some women (i.e. white ones) got the vote while others didn’t; since if you’re wearing a niqab you can’t vote.

To me one of the most appalling things about Bill 94 is that it is actually being sold as a gender equity thing. More from the Star:

Critics of the niqab say they subjugate women and their right to equality. After a woman was removed this month from a French-language class for refusing to remove her niqab, Christine St-Pierre, Quebec’s minister responsible for the status of women, called niqabs “ambulatory prisons.” On Wednesday, St-Pierre said Quebec was a “world leader” when it comes to gender equality, and with Bill 94, “we prove it once again.”

How many times does it have to be said that gender equity is about giving women the right to make their own choices?  If a woman’s choice is to wear a niqab, BARRING her from wearing one by removing access to work, childcare, healthcare and education is the absolute opposite of gender equality.

I cannot say enough how disgusting and dishonest this is.  If this bill was motivated by a real concern for women made to wear the niqab against their will, wouldn’t it make more sense to partner with organisations for Muslim women and/or organisations for women fleeing abuse and violence?

Instead, this legislation is being championed primarily by white men and women who are not Muslim.

Since I am getting too apoplectic to be articulate, let’s see what other people are saying about Bill 94.

The Non/No to Bill 94 Coalition writes in their statement:

Bill 94, if approved, will perpetuate gender inequality by legislating control over women’s bodies and sanctioning discrimination against Muslim women who wear the niqab. Instead of singling out a minuscule percentage of the population, government resources would be better spent implementing poverty reduction and education programs to address real gender inequality in meaningful ways. Barring any woman from social services, employment, health, and education, as well as creating a climate of shame and fear around her is not an effective means to her empowerment….“Rescuing” women is paternalistic and insulting. Further marginalizing Muslim women who wear niqab and denying them access to social services, economic opportunities and civic participation is unacceptable.

Forcing a woman to reveal part of her body is no different from forcing her to be covered. Continue reading

Want to know what’s wrong with the War on Drugs?

By Guest Contributors Madhuri Mohindar and Ishita Srivastava, originally published at Restore Fairness

It’s the first time that 1 in every 100 adult Americans is in prison, proof of an exploding prison system that our country can ill afford and a movement away from rehabilitation programs. Even more disturbing are the racial disparities within the prison system. More than 60% of people in prison are racial and ethnic minorities which means that 1 in every 36 Hispanic adults and 1 in every 15 black adults are in prison. How did this all happen? A change in laws and policies over the past decade have convicted more offenders, including non violent offenders, and put them away for increasingly lengthy sentences. For many, it is a system that is not providing the same returns in public safety in relation to this growth, and a rapid movement to change unfair laws has seen growing progress.

The 1980’s saw the “War on Drugs” launched in a big way. It was also the time for many federal policies that disadvantaged communities of color. One example: sentences for crack cocaine offenses (the kind found in poor Black communities) that were treated a 100 times more severely than powder cocaine offenses (the kind that dominates White communities). According to the Drug Policy Alliance Network,

Reform advocates say no other single federal policy is more responsible for gross racial disparities in the federal criminal justice system than the crack/powder sentencing disparity. Even though two-thirds of crack cocaine users are white, more than 80 percent of those convicted in federal court for crack cocaine offenses are African American.

The differences in sentencing were based on a myth that crack cocaine was more dangerous than powder cocaine and that it was instantly addictive and caused violent behavior, all of which has been disproved. What it’s actually led to is a costly system that focuses on low-level offenders and users instead of dealers and suppliers, imprisoning addicts that could benefit from rehabilitation programs. One analysis by Senator Richard Durbin, a Democrat of Illinois, estimates that an increased focus on community programs and an end to the sentencing disparity could lead to a savings of half-a-billion dollars in prison costs.

With mounting pressure on Congress to do away with legislation that has devastated communities, we are at an opportune moment to instill justice back into the system. While The House Judiciary Committee has already passed a bill that ends the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, the Senate Judiciary Committee will likely vote on a bill soon. Some Senators want to reduce the sentencing disparity instead of eliminating it but this watered-down compromise will do little to restore fairness. Let the Senators hear your voice.

Does your race and income matter if you face the death penalty?

By Guest Contributor ishita, originally published at Restore Fairness

This post elaborates on the excerpt we ran last week about David Dow.

It is no secret that our country’s criminal justice system has consistently proven to be biased against minority communities of color. Statistics published by the NAACP show that even amongst those found guilty of crimes, African-Americans continue to be disproportionately sentenced to life in prison, face higher drug sentences, and are executed at higher rates when compared to people of other races. Michelle Alexander speaks of a “color-coded caste system” in The New Jim Crow that marginalized communities who encounter the criminal justice system.

Seasoned Texas attorney David R. Dow’s new book The Autobiography of an Execution provides an exploration of the death penalty, written through the eyes of a man who has spent 20 years defending over a hundred death-row inmates, most of whom died, and most of whom were guilty. As the head litigator for the Texas Defender Service, a non profit legal aid organization in the state that boasts the highest number of executions since 1976, Dow presents a powerful argument against the death penalty system. Candidly exploring how he balances such a trying job with being a good father and husband, Dow’s extremely personal book only works to strengthen the argument that the broken criminal justice system operates on a vicious cycle based on racial and economic disparity.

In his book, Dow opposes the unequal basis on which some criminals are sentenced to be executed while others aren’t, and deems the criminal justice system “racist, classist (and) unprincipled.” He opposes the death penalty as a flawed and unjust facet of the criminal justice system. Based on his experience, he notes that while he believes that a majority of the clients he represented were, in fact, guilty, there was very little separating those criminals from others who were guilty of the same crime, other than “the operation of what I consider to be insidious types of prejudice.” Most unsettling is his severe mistrust of members of the justice system – police officers, prosecutors and judges – whom he believes would “violate their oaths of office” and put men and women on death row who they think “deserve to be there”.

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Quoted: David Dow On Race, Class, and The Death Penalty


On a regular basis, I’m sitting face to face with murderers. When I imagine sitting face to face with somebody who might have injured somebody I love or care about, I can imagine wanting to injure that person myself. I used to support the death penalty. [But] once I started doing the work, I became aware of the inequalities. I tell people that if you’re going to commit murder, you want to be white, and you want to be wealthy — so that you can hire a first-class lawyer — and you want to kill a black person. And if [you are], the odds of your being sentenced to death are basically zero. It’s one thing to say that rich people should be able to drive Ferraris and poor people should have to take the bus. It’s very different to say that rich people should get treated one way by the state’s criminal-justice system and poor people should get treated another way. But that is the system that we have.

— Appellate lawyer David Dow, interviewed for “The Death Penalty: Racist, Classist and Unfair”, Time

How Do We Talk About Police Brutality When The Cops Aren’t White?

By Guest Contributor Julianne Hing, originally published at Racewire

mineo_022210.jpgYesterday, the verdict in the trial involving three New York police officers accused of abusing a young man of color was announced.

Without even knowing the particulars of the case—say, for instance, that one of the police officers in question allegedly abused a man named Michael Mineo with a baton, which led the other two cops to orchestrate a cover-up—you probably know exactly what the jury decided yesterday.

That’s right, all three cops were acquitted of all charges, on the claim that there was not enough evidence to prove that Mineo had actually had a baton shoved inside of him. The news came just days after it was announced that the cops involved in the shooting death of Sean Bell will not receive federal charges.

People of color, especially young Black and Latino men, get shot at and killed by the police at disproportionately high rates. That much seems to be common enough knowledge these days. And the white cops who’ve shot them? They’re all typically acquitted, but that is less common knowledge and more irrefutable fact.

But much of the way we talk about police brutality as a manifestation of racism rests on a classic narrative of individual white aggressors who brutalize Black and Latino men. So what happens when not all of the officers involved are white? In Michael Mineo’s case, the three accused officers were white (Officer Richard Kern) and Latino (Officers Andrew Morales and Alex Cruz).

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Is the criminal justice system “The New Jim Crow”?

By Guest Contributor Ishita Srivastava, originally posted at Restore Fairness

Jarvious Cotton’s great-great-grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Klu Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation; his father was barred by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole – From ‘The New Jim Crow’.

Placed within the context of the euphoria around the election of President Obama as the nation’s first black President, Michelle Alexander’s first book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” argues that while on the surface it seems like racial subordination is no longer entrenched in the law books, the truth is Jim Crow laws have simply been redesigned and appropriated by the criminal justice system.

Some shocking stats. One in every eight black men in their twenties are in prison or jail on any given day. There are more African Americans who are in jail, prison, probation or parole today, than were enslaved in 1850. Alexander reacts against the dominant narrative of racial justice which says that while there is still a way to go, America has come a long way from it’s history of racial discrimination, and instead explains the way that the system works to exercise a contemporary form of racial control, a process that continues long after the individuals are officially released out of the system. From Chapter 5 of the book-

The first stage is the roundup [when] vast numbers of people are swept into the criminal justice system by the police, who conduct drug operations primarily in poor communities of color… Once arrested, defendants are generally denied meaningful legal representation and pressured to plead guilty, whether they are or not. Once convicted… virtually every aspect of one’s life is regulated and monitored by the system. The final stage… often [has] a greater impact on one’s life course than the months or years one actually spends behind bars. [Parolees] will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives-denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Unable to surmount these obstacles, most will eventually return to prison and then be released again, caught in a closed circuit of perpetual marginality.

In Alexander’s opinion, far from living in a post-racial utopia, the last few decades have seen the United States move towards a “color-coded caste system” where minority groups are targeted, maligned and marginalized by the criminal justice system. She attributes this increase in the mass incarceration of African Americans over the past thirty years to draconian laws that have been constructed to wage “The War on Drugs”, a battle waged against low-income communities of color, even though research consistently counters the claim that any one racial community uses and sells illegal drugs more than any other.

It’s a moment to contemplate race and class in today’s America. To go beyond the illusion that all is well to a striking reminder that racial injustice is still deeply entrenched in the country. According to Alexander, nothing short of an informed and agitated movement will put an end to this perpetuation of racial inequality in the guise of enforcing justice.

Extreme Bumbling: FBI Steals Image of Spanish Politician to Make Bin Laden Poster

By Deputy Editor Thea Lim

Reader Carleandria sent us this sorry piece of news:

Spanish lawmaker [Gaspar Llamazares] was horrified to find out the FBI used his photograph as part of a digitally enhanced image showing what Osama bin Laden might look like today.

When I first saw this bit, it seemed like a pretty laughable piece of police work, to be quickly forgotten. But when I think about it more, it seems to exemplify the profoundly inefficient and superficial way that the US Government has carried out the War on Terror, usually to the detriment of Arabs & Muslims the world over (not to mention its own citizens) – or simply anyone who might look remotely like a “terrorist’.

I have to wonder if the FBI has done something like this before and no one has noticed.  It just so happens that this made headlines because the FBI – for some unthinkable reason – used the image of someone with rank; a leftist politician, of all things.

At a press conference last week Llamazares said:

“I was surprised and angered because it’s the most shameless use of a real person to make up the image of a terrorist…It’s almost like out of a comedy if it didn’t deal with matters as serious as bin Laden and citizens’ security.”


Image courtesy of AP Photo/Getty Images via ABC

Why Hate Crimes Legislation Is A Terrible Idea: A Reminder

By Guest Contributor Yasmin Nair, originally posted at The Bilerico Project

We’ve seen a number of posts supportive of hate crimes legislation. The widespread perception is that only hate-mongering Republicans are against it, but in fact a lot of queer radical activists and groups are against it for entirely different reasons. Below are excerpts and links to just two examples of dissent. The first is a Sylvia Riviera Law Project Statement in April of this year that addressed the addition of hate crimes legislation to NY’s Gender Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and the second is a piece I wrote for Bilerico some months ago. Note that the SRLP statement was co-signed by FIERCE, Queers for Economic Justice, Peter Cicchino Youth Project, and Audre Lorde Project.

I’m working on collecting statements from a number of grassroots queer radical groups that are also against HCL; if you know of one in your area, drop me a line. I don’t want to give the impression that queer resistance can only be counted if it occurs within the framework of the Non Profit Industrial Complex. There’s a lot of amazing and usually unfunded queer radical work being done on prison abolition work, for instance, and I know those folk are against HCL as well.

I know this is likely to incite, shall we say, intense discussion. My point in providing the links below is to simply offer an alternative perspective on the issue, one that a lot of people may not have encountered or considered, given the way in which the gay media in particular portrays HCL as a progressive and much-needed reform. I’m writing a much longer critique of HCL, and I haven’t yet revisited my own earlier piece as I collect more data and analysis. I’m happy to have questions and critiques addressed to this post, and would be especially happy to be pointed to other critiques of HCL, or sent updates in relation to specific pieces of legislation. My hope for this piece is that it will encourage people to debate the matter in civil terms. Or at least to reflect on why we’ve invested so much hope in HCL.

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