Praxis - Metro Justice

16 Trans Women Have Been Murdered This Year. Here's One Theory Why Cops Haven't Caught the Killers

We have a problem, transgender people, women of color in particular, are being murdered at an alarming rate. As of the writing of this post there have been 18 murders this year, surpassing the 2014 total for transgender people murdered. A greater, and not as accounted for, number have been assaulted. Even with local anti-discrimination laws protecting transgender people here, those laws don't equate to safety. 

At the end of July Nicole Clark was assaulted on Monroe Avenue. The incident began with verbal harassment centered around Clark's gender identity. One of the assailants was arrested shortly after, but was only charged with harassment and public intoxication. The local transgender community, along with over a dozen other organizations, rallied on the 6th demanding the RPD treat Clark's assault as a hate crime. A second assailant has since been arrested.

Clark is one of the lucky ones. With an active transgender community, and a city that recognizes the rights of transgender individuals, there is a support network standing behind her.  The media for the most part has recognized Clark as a woman as well. Others aren't so lucky. As Samantha Michaels's article for Mother Jones discusses, misgendering is one of the main reasons the murderers of trans people walk free. The debate over whether to use the names and pronouns an individual goes by vs. what's listed on official documents makes it difficult for investigations and reporting. For assaults, few come forward to report them. For murders, this convolution hampers efforts to investigate. Either there's concern that fewer people will help with the investigation if a preferred name is used, but when a birth name is used few people associate that name with the case, leaving for little to go by in terms of an investigation.

Fortunately there are some places working to make things right. San Francisco's Police Department hires transgender officers, and has a policy on using preferred names and pronouns. The FBI has also released a training manual on addressing crimes against transgender people. Locally, there are groups that will assure the right name and gender used. The big question now is how to get other police departments in the country to do what San Francisco is doing. 

 At about 2 a.m. on a Thursday in July, Kenton Haggard, a 66-year-old former security officer, walked through the streets of Fresno, California, wearing a white cardigan and a dress. Near the corner of Blackstone and Cornell streets, someone called Haggard over from the window of an SUV. Haggard crossed the street and approached the passenger side of the vehicle. As Haggard peered into the window, the person inside lunged and stabbed Haggard in the neck. Haggard was left bleeding in the street and died at a hospital later that morning.

The media and the police were both quick to report the July 23rd killing. But they disagreed over one detail: whether Haggard was a man or a woman. Some news outlets described the incident as the 11th homicide of a transgender woman this year—and the second such homicide within the span of a week, after a transgender woman was found murdered in Tampa Bay, Florida, on July 21. In Fresno, members of the community gathered at the scene of the crime to honor Haggard, with placards that read, "trans rights" and "we are everywhere."

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Why we Need to Defend Planned Parenthood

6142826975_d1d89d3dee_z.jpgPlanned Parenthood has been under attack for years by anti-choice "activists", with the latest wave ignited by a series of dubious videos released by an organization calling themselves The Center for Medical Progress. Broadly has an article outlining the illegalities of their actions ranging from fraudulent tax filings to the violation of patient privacy. It also goes into detail about their board's connections to the most violent branches of the anti-choice movement. This is just one of many vocal attacks against Planned Parenthood, an organization that primarily serves underserved populations. The people who work at these clinics should be applauded for their courage. Even when this movement is out of the media's eye, clinic workers are harassed and threatened daily by people claiming to be "pro-life".

Wisconsin State Rep. Chris Taylor's article for The Progressive is an op-ed on why Planned Parenthood needs to be defended. On the health and justice end, this is the main resource for reproductive healthcare for low income women. Healthcare that includes checkups, cancer screenings, STD testing, sexual assault services, education, and even services to assure a healthy pregnancy.  I'll also note that Planned Parenthood considers itself a safe space for LGBT individuals seeking their services as well. The popular argument by opponents is that there's always another clinic to go to, reproductive health clinics that serve low-income populations and are not Planned Parenthood are few and far between. 

Most importantly, Taylor talks about how Planned Parenthood opponents don't know the patients' stories. They don't know who is and isn't struggling with a wanted pregnancy that has to be terminated, they don't care about women making their own reproductive decisions. They don't care that comprehensive sexual education and encouraged contraceptive use lowers abortion rates. Or that poverty a major factor in choosing abortion, or that mothers are more likely to choose abortion than non-mothers.  They only care about stomping out an organization that provides a vital service for many, and justifying it with their own puritanical sense of morality. Reproductive health is economic justice. 

(Photo credit: Jason Taellious, licensed under Creative Commons)

When I went to work as the legislative director for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin in 2003, I was unprepared for the attacks this venerable women’s health-care group experiences on a routine basis. There are organizations solely dedicated to shutting down Planned Parenthood, and more pop up every day. Even before the 2010 Tea Party takeover in state capitols around the country, including ours, the relentless legal and political attacks on Planned Parenthood were unending.

I thought I knew something about courage, but what I learned at Planned Parenthood was that I knew nothing about it. The staff and physicians who walk into a health center every day, who are targeted and harassed while their workplace is sometimes vandalized and threatened, are the heroes. And they do it every day because there are thousands of women in our state who otherwise wouldn’t have access to birth control, cervical and breast cancer screens or testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. Even though abortion is only a tiny piece of the services Planned Parenthood provides, it is a critical service. And there are people who risk their lives every day to provide it.

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The Inclusive Strength of #BlackLivesMatter

11017707_1022448437770186_3193289110487806702_n.jpgThe intersectional approach to social action is becoming more and more practiced. Seeing how we all have various privileges and disadvantages that shape our lives, we also need to acknowledge how these connect in varying ways. To take a specific issue and see it as just that issue alone ignores how it relates to any other intersecting issue. In many ways this has allowed social movements to move beyond their initial roots, and work together to create a world better for all affected by disadvantage.

In Amanda Teuscher's article for The American Prospect, she looks at the intersections in the Black Lives Matter movement. Black Lives Matter began as a way to combat racist violence; beginning with the murder of Trayvon Martin, and taking off with the murder of Michael Brown a year ago. While still rooted in ending systematic, undisciplined violence, it is also embracing economic justice, feminism, immigration, LGBT rights, and other issues that affect people of color everywhere. To tackle these issues along with police violence will lift up the lives of people everywhere.

We have seen this in Rochester. The organization B.L.A.C.K works to educate the community on racial issues and justice, as well as provide tutoring, youth fitness camps, and the promotion of black owned businesses. Their big rally right after Thanksgiving addressed economic injustice and school-to-prison.  Our local Fight for 15 also takes an intersectional approach as different groups come to represent themselves at rallies and marches, and works to promote not just a living wage, but a comfortable, safe work environment for all.

Where else do you see different causes and groups working together in Rochester?

(Photo from our rally to protest racist firings at local McDonald's restaurants.)

It would be tempting to say the timing was surreal, if it didn’t happen so often.

Less than an hour after the close of last weekend’s conference of Black Lives Matter activists, attendees were pepper-sprayed by a Cleveland transit police officer while they were protesting the arrest of a 14-year-old boy.

The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) Convening at Cleveland State University brought together more than 1,000 activists and organizers from across the U.S., and even from other countries. Nearly one year after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, the goal of the convening was to provide a space for the activists to mourn the loss of those killed by police, to show support for one another, to demonstrate pride in their community, and to begin developing a strategy for a movement that had burgeoned exponentially during that time.

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Planned Parenthood Leader Speaks Out Against Highly-Edited Attack Videos

6905475544_b6a41e27c5_z.jpgReproductive health and the right to practice family planning is economic justice.  That right has been placed under attack thanks to some fringe groups who wish to end reproductive choice. Their tactics are downright illegal including defamation, violating patient privacy, and possible tax fraud just to name a few. The following article by Common Dreams breaks down all the ways the video produced by the "Center for Medical Progress" is just a steaming pile off bullshit.

Going back to economic justice and choice, Web MD lists the main reasons abortion is chosen. For many, the inability to support a child is a common one. Another reason are health complications that are noticed in late second to third trimester. For some of those defects, a child can live and have a good life, providing they have access to affordable, high-quality health care.  We still don't have that, nor do we have a country that actively fights to end poverty. We could say that being able to choose life is an economic privilege. An unexpected pregnancy where you know you can food, clothe, shelter, and afford proper health care for a child is different from an unexpected pregnancy when you're working for minimum wage.  

On a final note: choosing abortion is not something done out of caprice. Like any other major life decision it is something that's been thought out, and may even be a heartbreaking decision for the person making it depending on circumstances. To shame someone for bodily autonomy and wish to take it away is the exact opposite of freedom. You don't know what that person is thinking, or what they're going through.

(Photo Credit: Fibonacci Blue, licensed under Creative Commons)

In her first major televised interview since a pair of "highly-deceptive" videos emerged trying to discredit her organization, the president of Planned Parenthood Cecile Richards appeared on 'This Week' on Sunday to discuss the orchestrated campaign.

"Planned Parenthood has broken no laws," said Richards and explained how the "highly-edited videos" show no wrong-doing but are a clear attempt by the most extreme elements of the anti-abortion movement to undermine a women's right to choose. "We have the highest standards," she said of her non-profit organization. "The care and health care and safety of our patients is our most important priority." 

As Common Dreams previously reported, the shadowy anti-choice group behind the effort, the Center for Medical Progress, used hidden cameras and fake interviews to make spurious and unsubstantiated claims that Planned Parenthood was involved in the illegal selling of human tissue obtained while performing late-term abortions. However, the full video provides no evidence that Planned Parenthood sells fetal tissue for profit, as many—including the organization itself—have noted.

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The Violence of Police Politics

15850137036_f7a5af69b4_z.jpgEvery day private citizens are subject to police violence ranging from brutality to death. It's become so commonplace now it's almost desensitizing as we add yet another name to the list of deaths. Yet another incident where a cop felt "threatened" by a black child, or felt the need to use excessive force for a small to nonexistent infraction. 

The latest name in the news is Sandra Bland, a woman with a promising life ahead of her, was assaulted and arrested on July 10 after a traffic stop for failure to use a turn signal. On the morning of the 13th she was found dead in her cell, a death that was ruled as suicide. Many have called the death suspicious as Bland was an active Black Lives Matter activist, and on Tuesday it was announced that her death would be investigated as murder.

Law enforcement and politics go hand in hand, as law enforcement is there to push a political hegemony upon society. It is the enforcement of privilege lines in action. Were Bland white and not an activist, she would still be alive today and at worst she would have received a ticket if she really hadn't made that turn signal. Steve Martinot's article for Counter Punch goes further in depth with this power imbalance, and in paticular, police violence against black people. Martinot also brings up the relationship between the police and the prison industrial complex.

Two years ago Rochester made the news when an RPD officer assaulted a pregnant woman. Other incidents have been discussed through the grapevine relating to assaults by local officers. Our city is one of many with a police violence problem, one that is only openly discussed when it makes national headlines. As a society we need to encourage our police forces to serve and protect all, not just the ideals of the powerful. 

Photo credit: Elvert Barnes, Licensed under Creative Commons.)

Insofar as the state, and the prison administration, know that solitary confinement drives people insane through isolation and torture, its use signifies that the state desires this outcome. That is a political desire, a desire to do irrevocable damage to people. It happens silently, as punishment for thinking autonomously, for self-respect against the violence of imprisonment, as a political stance. On the street, however, when comparable irrevocable damage occurs, as when a cop shoots someone, he must give an account. “He was reaching in his waistband, and I felt threatened” (Gary King). “He attacked me and tried to grab my gun” (Michael Brown, shot as he stood a 100 feet away). “She became uncooperative, and made a threatening gesture.” These appear as mantras in all parts of the country. The uniformity of these excuses give them away as formulas, not reasons. They are tacit admissions that no threat existed, only disobedience, and self-defensive resistance.

In California, a small 80 year old black woman, a grandmother, was shot 6 times as she stood in her driveway with a one inch kitchen paring knife in her hand for having ignored the cops’ screams to “drop your weapon.” A black teenager in North Carolina, while undergoing some emotional trauma, was shot on his own living room floor in front of his mother for resisting being handcuffed.

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The Economics of the New Jim Crow

360px-New_York_Homeless.jpgBetween the heartbreaking attack on Emmanuel AME Church in South Carolina, and the suspected arson of a number of Black churches in the South, we have more than enough proof that racism is not over. Contrary to belief though, racism doesn't have to manifest as blatant violence. Racism can be much more quiet. Racism can manifest as economic oppression, employment rejection, predatory lending, education disparity, and even infant mortality.

Paul Bucheit's article for discusses how the New Jim Crow is economic oppression. He presents some depressing statistics related to employment, health, financial assets, and the prison system in relation to race. 

Rochester, NY, as a city of high racial diversity, is no stranger to this quiet form of oppression. According to the 2010 Census, there is only a 2% difference between the number of black and white residents. Rochester is also one of the poorest cities in the US, with much of that poverty concentrated in Black neighborhoods. That's close to 42% of the city's population potentially struggling with poverty, jobs, infant mortality, and yes, police profiling. 

Remember, many of these issues are interesectional. When you stand against racism, you also stand against poverty wages, punitive discipline policies in school, and the acceptance of police violence. When you stand for a cause like the Fight for $15, you're standing for economically oppressed minority communities who can be lifted up and out of poverty. We are our neighbors' keepers, and need to continue to improve the quality of life for our most disadvantaged citizens. Please keep on fighting the good fight.

(Photo Credit: "New York Homeless" by Lujoma ny - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

 In 1931 the New Republic reported on a lynching in Mississippi: “Jim [Ivy] was staked with heavy chains and dry wood was piled knee-high around him. Gasoline tanks were tapped for fuel. Three men set the wood and Jim on fire. I saw the flames climb high on Jim. Jim screamed, prayed and cursed; he struggled so hard that he snapped one of the log chains that bound his ankles to the stake. I was looking into his eyes that second. They were popping with pain and terror…the flames reached up and burned his screaming voice into silence. The mob turned to go. It was about time for supper.”

In Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963, four 11- to 14-year-old girls were in the basement restroom of the 16th Street Baptist Church when a bomb went off. The ground floor collapsed on them. As shocked and bloodied churchgoers wandered through the smoky aftermath, community members began to gather outside, and Governor Wallace sent the police in to disburse the crowd. Two young black men were killed that night, one by the police and one by white thugs. 

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What Would a Sanders Administration do on K-12 Education?

4802941163_0335005af2_z.jpgBernie Sanders has been making waves in the political world as the main contender who will be going against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary for the 2016 Presidential Election. His primary fanbase are those millenials who feel Clinton is too tied to big money to serve as a president of and by the people. To many, Sanders feels more in touch with the voter base than his opponents.

Another reason many young adults are flocking to Sanders is because of his stance on higher education. Sanders supports a system much like many socialized governments in Europe, where college is either free or extremely affordable. It's both seen and treated like a necessity, as opposed to our seen as a necessity priced like a commodity approach. But what are Sanders' thoughts on K-12 education? Rachel M. Cohen in The American Prospect gives us some information on what we do know regarding Sanders and K-12 education, as well as a little on what we don't know. 

If Sanders wants to secure his nomination, he may want to pay more attention to K-12 education. He supports Common Core standards, but does he also support reshaping those in ways that better benefit students, teachers, and parents? What about discipline policies and school-to-prison? What exactly are his thoughts on charter schools? 

Do you support Sanders? Is there anything you wish you knew when it comes to his ideas on education?

(Photo credit: Marie, licensed through creative commons.)

 Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has excited his base with some bold ideas surrounding higher education. He’s said college should be a right, that public universities should have free tuition, and that public universities should employ tenured or tenure-track faculty for at least 75 percent of instruction, as a way to reduce the growing dependence on cheap adjunct labor. But Sanders’ stances on K-12 issues—arguably more contentious topics for politicians to engage with compared to higher ed and universal pre-K—have garnered far less attention.

Here’s what we know so far:

1. He wants to roll back standardized testing, but still supports Common Core.

Sanders opposes the expansion of standardized testing we’ve seen through the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB); he argues that such tests narrow school curriculum and hurt student creativity and critical thinking. However, this past March he voted against an amendment that would have allowed states to opt-out of the Common Core standards without a federal penalty. The amendment also would have barred the federal government from “mandating, incentivizing, or coercing” states into adopting the standards.

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This Restaurant Pays A $15 Hourly Wage With Health Insurance, A Retirement Plan, and Paid Leave

11597058135_d74165dcb8_z.jpgHappy employees are the key to a successful business, especially one that relies on serving the public. Jen Piallat, owner of Zazie in San Francisco knows this as all of her employees make a minimum of $15 an hour with benefits. Her workers are overjoyed, and have found that they are able to perform their jobs better without worries over industry standards like tipping. Instead they can solely focus on providing quality service to their customers.

Bryce Covert's article for Think Progress gives us the scoop on what led to Piallat's decision to raise wages, abolish tips, and offer full benefits. While prices have gone up, and some customers may leave, there are many who would likely be delighted by the more streamlined service thanks to waitstaff having more time to focus on them. One perk of ending tips is that time is saved by not having to manually enter them in credit card transactions!

The movement to end tipping in favor of paying livable wages is still small, and primarily focused on high-end restaurants. In the future it will hopefully become a greater reality for all restaurant workers, as federal minimum wage for waitstaff is only a measly $2.13 an hour. Not all customers will tip the customary 15-20%, which can mean lost wages not only in lack of tips, but taxes being taken out for the standard amount regardless of if the money is there or not. If you served a table, you will be taxed for the tips at that table as if they were 15-20%, regardless of what you actually receive.

The fight for $15 has focused on fast food which already has a "No tips allowed" system, but it will help workers across the board. As seen in this article, it can help the restaurant industry as a whole if servers are paid a livable hourly. Please continue supporting this crucial movement. 

(Photo Credit: David McSpadden, licensed under Creative Commons)

Jen Piallat, the owner of Zazie in San Francisco, knows what it’s like to work in the American restaurant industry. “I worked on the restaurant floor for 30 years before I owned my own,” she said. “I didn’t have savings or health insurance until I was 35.”

The story is very different for her employees today. She had already offered them 401(k) plans with a match, fully funded health and dental insurance, and paid sick leave. And now she’s gone even further, getting rid of tips in favor of increasing pay and offering even more benefits.

At the beginning of the month, the restaurant increased its prices across the board by about 20 percent. She noted some restaurants that have done away with tips have added a mandatory service charge at the bottom of the check instead. “I didn’t want to do that,” she said. “I like the all-inclusive model…of everything, not just service, not just a tip, it’s also full benefits.”

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How Many People are Killed by Police? We're Only Beginning to Find Out


The Washington Post and Guardian US have a great new project called "The Counted". "The Counted" is an interactive record of people who have been killed by police in the US in 2015, their sources being through news and verified crowd sourcing. Each entry gives demographic details, location of incident, cause of death, whether or not person was armed, details of incident, investigation status, and links to news reports. Deaths both justified and unjustified alike are reported in this database. Interestingly enough, "The Counted" went online last week around the time Rochester experienced two police fatalities occurring only a day apart from one another.

Leslie Savan's article for The Nation discusses how this project is more comprehensive than other of its kind, and some of the disturbing statistics that can be found in the demographic breakdowns. While merely being a record of police fatalities, the stats reveal trends that are unsettling to read and illustrate the racial divide in America. Savan lists some of these in her article. It is also mentioned that The Guardian is publishing a series of articles on the effect police violence has on various socially disadvantaged communities in America.

It's important that we remind our authorities that the motto "to serve and protect" should apply to every citizen, and not just the wealthy, white, able-bodied, neurotypical, etc. While it's understandable that force may be needed in cases where a suspect is an actual danger, police fatality statistics in the US are far higher than in any other country, a 70% higher likelihood than in other developed countries if we want to be more precise. We need to do something to reduce these fatalities, especially for unarmed and socially disadvantaged individuals. We need to assure that every citizen is protected, and that those who are encountering police forces are treated with the justice and dignity that is their right as a citizen.

Amazingly, although people are killed by police virtually every day in the United States, there is no government agency, no bureaucracy, and no database that counts them all. Nor is there any national prayer wall or shrine where images of the dead and their stories are collected in an effort to portray them as individuals.

Last week, almost simultaneously, The Washington Post and The Guardian US unveiled large-scale journalistic projects that tried to supply a comprehensive, independent accounting of citizens killed by police since the beginning of this year. Same story, similar journalistic standards. So far, The Guardian story, with its interactive database linking to photos and stories of the dead, has come closest to filling the shameful gap.

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5 Ways Being Poor is a Crime

11392917_1076379269043769_6315814078340303701_o.jpgIn the United States being poor is a crime. While you can't be arrested simply for being below a certain income bracket, you can face challenges in employment, legal bias for minor infractions, or face greater scrutiny based on the neighborhood you live in. Many of the  things on this list are things we are familiar with and actively fight against, like the school to prison pipeline and poverty wages. Others are a matter of helping citizens know their rights, like laws that protect citizens from being jailed for debt. Terrell Jermaine Starr's article for, originally published on Alternet, "5 Ways Being Poor is a Crime" outlines just how poverty is used against those suffering under it.

Another thing of note is how much race is intertwined in these reasons, as Starr puts it, this is a both/and issue. Systematic racism is the leading cause of systematic poverty, but doesn't have to be present for poverty to be used against someone. Black and latino people face greater scrutiny in schools, and traffic stops, but anyone who lives in a neighborhood with "broken window" policing policies is at equal opportunity for petty arrest. Students with disabilities are also likely to fall into the school to prison pipeline regardless of race. 

Intersectional approaches are the best way to tackle issues such as poverty. It is key we see racial justice as a part of economic justice due to the number of people who fall into both categories of social disadvantage. Lifting up one group will help lift up the other. There are many ways you can help the fight locally, whether you approach the school board about changing the discipline policy, or join us in the Fight for $15 movement, or even educating people on their rights in the case of legal problems, there are ways you can help!

(Photo from our rally at the Board of Education urging a new, reformative discipline policy.)

The criminalization of America’s poor has been quietly gaining steam for years, but a recent study, “The Poor Get Prison” co-authored by Karen Dolan and Jodi L. Carr, reveals the startling extent to which American municipalities are fining and jailing the country’s most vulnerable people, not just punishing them for being poor, but driving them deeper into poverty. “In the last ten years,” Barbara Ehrenreich writes in the introduction, “it has become apparent that being poor is in itself a crime in many cities and counties, and that it is a crime punished by further impoverishment.”

A few months ago, the Department of Justice’s Ferguson report revealed how that city has disproportionately targeted its majority minority population with traffic and other minor infractions that heavily support the municipality’s coffers. But Ferguson is far from alone. Municipalities like New York City have greatly increased the number of minor offenses that are considered criminal (like putting your feet up in the subway) or sitting on the sidewalk. Wealthy white people in business attire are rarely targeted for such summonses, and if they are, they can quickly pay the fine or hire counsel to get out of it. The over-punishment of minor offenses is just another way the rich get richer, and as the report says, the “poor get prison.” They also get poorer and more numerous. In one striking statistic, the Southern Educational Foundation reports that 51 percent of America’s public schoolchildren are living in poverty.

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