Speaking of Craig Charles: Thoughts on Policing

I found this on youtube today and I thought to pass it along b/c of how astute it is about the policing of race regardless of which side of the Pond you are on. My mom and I had just been talking about an encounter she had with the police in which she was intentionally humiliated in front of colleagues and my youngest niece for driving while black. As she spoke, I thought of my own moment on the other end of a screaming police officer, my oldest niece in the back of the car starting to wail as only a child witnessing centuries of trauma can, I too had made the mistake of driving while black. It was not the first time for either of us, and it will likely not be the last. We are lucky, we were not arrested nor shot and we are also not undocumented.

I like that this poem ends with Charles saying how he knows people will claim he doesn’t know what he is talking about as if police brutality is an urban legend. I like it because it points out the continuing disconnect between the apparati of the state and its citizens.

The same cynicism is evidenced in this NBC affiliate news broadcast in which a Latina reports that she was physically assaulted by Sheriffs in AZ as part of the Arpaio inspired policing of brown people on the border.

Increasingly, women have become the targets of police action in the Americas. Women are the largest growing population in prisons from the U.S. to the tip of South America. While some may be engaged in criminal activity, many are simply guilty of being female and brown (of color)  or female and poor (and possibly brown).

In Central and South America, women from all over the world are being sweeped up as “drug mules.” While some were aware of carrying the drugs, many claim that they were either asked to carry their boyfriend’s bags or gifts that couldn’t fit in his bag. (See the doc Pack, Strap, or Swallow for an indepth look at this). Others, say they were specifically targeted by street vendors or gang members to carry items that were still largely disguised and undisclosed to them. In the vast majority of these cases female transmigrants or higglers (women who travel regularly buying goods to sell back home) and tourists were specifically singled out by drug traffickers. This in turn has resulted in an unspoken criminalization of such women throughout the area. Further research would be needed to know if the state’s decision to target these women for incarceration holds a completely unrelated economic component, however it is clear that women are being criminalized while the men targeting them are going free.

The criminalization of migrants, and suspected migrants, in the U.S. is the latest justification for a long history of racial profiling that includes: fear of terrorism, the myth of the black rapist,  and/or black, brown, Asian, or indigenous criminality (depending on your area of the country). As reported here and elsewhere, this kind of policing leads to particular engendered results. Men and women are criminalized differently and the abuse heaped upon them also takes on gendered aspects, like emasculating men and sexually abusing or degrading women and girls.

Often, women and children are also the unintended victims of false or questionable criminalizations of communities of color and poor communities. When men are arrested, the women in their lives are also victimized through loss of income and social status, as well as potential victimization by the courts and prison system as they attempt to fight erroneous charges or to visit their loved ones. Immigrant women shackled with alert bracelets in places like Potsville are criminalized alongside jailed male and female workers despite having not been present during any raids. Their crime, being married or related to a caught undocumented worker while being undocumented themselves.

When women are the ones arrested, children lose their primary caregivers, their mothers, their confidantes, their comforters. Stories circulate of women being separated from their children in immigration sweeps where children are left to fend for themselves on the side of the road or at the end of their daycare or school day.  Nursing women have complained that they were not allowed to nurse their babies or to pump milk for children left behind when they were swept up in raids. The result of the criminalization of immigrants in the U.S. has also been the overtaxing of the foster care system as children are dumped on the state by the state through not fault of parenting. This in turn impacts the safety and security of children actually being abused as their not enough workers or facilities to house them all. A precedent is also being set to deport citizens, since children born in the U.S. are U.S. citizens. and family reunification acts include the right of children and spouses to apply for the legal status of their parents, spouses, and/or siblings.

In the video below, we see that Sheriffs under the authority of notorious Arizona Sheriff Arpaio have now started giving teddy bears to traumatized children, witnesses to police abuse and immigration sweeps predicated on racial profiling. The teddy bear system was started in this nation as part of an effort to alleviate children’s initial anxiety during DSV related arrests. However, unlike the child witness programs that dot the nation, there is no similar sensitivity training and skill building workshops for those meting out a frontier justice at the border. Instead, these teddy bears are after thoughts meant to make the police look less guilty and have very little comfort value to the children left behind.

Many organizations are currently planning solidarity events against Sheriff Arpaio for Chavez’s birthday. These events and the recent decision by the Department of Justice to investigate his policing tactics are essential to not only stemming the tide of abuse against criminalized immigrants but also other racially targeted groups.

As this video shows, Arpaio has been using tent city jails (that he admitted on Conan O’Brien were meant to be unbearable as they reach 114 degrees) and chain gangs long before his push against immigrants. His first targeted population: women. While he maintains the chain gang is voluntary, he readily admits that in order to receive any privileges (which include basics) one has to do a stint on the chain gang.

What is important here is that Sheriff Arpaio’s unchecked potential abuse of stigmatized groups – poor women, women of color, youth, etc – led to his unabashed extension of these tactics to immigrant populations. The perception of criminality coupled with racism, sexism, and classism allowed people to look the other way when HR and CR violations occurred. This is not a Sheriff Arpaio issue, this is a national and increasingly global one, known as the prison-industrial-complex.

Please contact the immigrant rights activists in your area to see if solidarity are planned there. Please also consider supporting the work of Critical Resistance or starting a Courts Watch or Police Watch program in your area.

As always, these are not isolated events they are interconnected and part of a larger system of interlocking oppressions. While combating the specific instances of abuse we must also educate ourselves and each other and participate in dismantling the root causes.

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