Tag Archives: law

‘What Do You Say To People Who Think They Have Nothing to Hide?’

Hawa Allan Longreads | September 2017 | 3580 words (15 minutes)

“Big Brother” has become shorthand for the inescapable gaze of governmental authority, first defined by George Orwell in his novel 1984. Everywhere yet nowhere, Big Brother is all-seeing and all-knowing, surveilling not just every person’s movement, but every thought. Where Orwell referred to illicit states of mind as “thoughtcrimes,” Philip K. Dick called them “precrimes” in his 1956 short story “The Minority Report,” in which a futuristic police force arrests subjects for crimes long before they are committed. While Big Brother has become common parlance, the precrime unit illustrated by Dick is a more apt portrayal of the tools authorities have at hand to enforce the law, and commercial entities use to market their goods, in our digital age.

I reached out to Nathan Wessler, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project for a sober assessment of how the current state of governmental surveillance compares to the dystopian futures imagined by Orwell and Dick. When Target can determine if teenager is pregnant before her parents know, does the end of our anonymity as consumers mean the end of our rights to privacy as citizens?

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Ellen Pao Is Ready to Name Names

(Marla Aufmuth/Getty Images for Massachusetts Conference for Women)

Ellen Pao, who sued her Silicon Valley employer Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers for discrimination, was saving the names for her upcoming book Reset: Ajit Nazre, a partner who became hostile after she rejected his advances. Ted Schlein, a managing partner who explained he liked white, Eastern European sex workers — during a private flight in which a tech CEO in attendance bragged about meeting Jenna Jameson. In her six years at Kleiner Perkins, Pao was passed over for promotion, her clients were stolen, her performance maligned, and eventually she was fired after complaining about harassment to an independent investigator, who asked “Well, if they look down on women so much, if they block you from opportunities, they don’t include you at their events, why do they even keep you around in the first place?”

The competitive world of venture capital was familiar to Pao, and she played the game as best she could. But the game was stacked against her, she explains in an excerpt from her book featured at The Cut.

Predicting who will succeed is an imperfect art, but also, sometimes, a self-fulfilling prophecy. When venture capitalists say — and they do say — “We think it’s young white men, ideally Ivy League dropouts, who are the safest bets,” then invest only in young white men with Ivy League backgrounds, of course young white men with Ivy League backgrounds are the only ones who make money for them. They’re also the only ones who lose money for them.

Sometimes the whole world felt like a nerdy frat house. People in the venture world spoke fondly about the early shenanigans at big companies. A friend told me how he sublet office space to Facebook, only to find people having sex there on the floor of the main public area. They wanted to see if the Reactrix — an interactive floor display hooked up to light sensors — would enhance their experience. At VC meetings, male partners frequently spoke over female colleagues or repeated what the women said and took the credit. Women were admonished when they “raised their voices” yet chastised when they couldn’t “own the room.” When I was still relatively new, a male partner made a big show of passing a plate of cookies around the table — but curiously ignored me and the woman next to him. Part of me thought, They’re just cookies. But after everyone left, my co-worker turned to me and shrugged. “It’s like we don’t exist,” she said.

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A Roll of the Immigration Law Dice

A detainee at a Homeland Security detention center looks out from a room. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

In EsquireBrian Castner walks us through the case of Captain Noorullah Aminyar, an Afghan army officer seeking asylum in the U.S. following threats and retaliation by the Taliban that have already left his younger brother dead. He’s been in a Homeland Security detention center for three years now, his application subject to a system of immigration law that is both incredibly complex and incredibly capricious.

There is no legal definition of “de-facto government,” no clear standard that Borowski was asked to meet. U.S. asylum policy is administered case by case by several hundred immigration judges across the country. That makes decisions nonstandard, increasingly partisan, and—most frustratingly for the participants—unpredictable. Immigration judges have wide discretion, by design. “If I rob a bank and get arrested, I have a pretty good idea what my sentence will be,” said Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute, “but if I request asylum, anything might happen. The immigration legal code is second in complexity only to our federal income tax system.”

The Transactional Records Access Clearing House at Syracuse University publishes the asylum denial rates of every immigration judge. Those rates vary widely from judge to judge and city to city; for example, from 2011-2016, the El Paso, Texas court denied 96.6 percent of its 1,042 requests, while Arlington, Virginia approved 70.3 percent of its 3,717 cases.

Art Arthur, a fellow at the conservative Center for Immigration Studies and a former immigration judge (2011-2016 denial rate: 90.4 percent), said that his challenge as a judge was that “the law is very narrowly tailored. You want to be empathetic, to alleviate pain and protect someone. But asylum law doesn’t say that if something bad will happen to someone in their home country, they should be granted protection. There are specific guidelines, and it’s important to maintain fidelity to the law.” He is adamant that clear standards exist—”there’s fifty years of case law to follow,” he said—but he also admitted “at the end of the day, you can’t take human nature out of the system.”

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An Unforgiving Legal System Welcomes Black Immigrants to America

Carl Lipscombe, the deputy director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, helps black migrants navigate legal and racial complexities in the U.S. ( Photo by John Michael Kilbane)

Hawa Allan | Longreads | July 2017 | 3500 words (14 minutes)

Words are said to have settled meanings, yet their formal definitions are often eclipsed by the images they give rise to in our minds. An “immigrant,” for example, is defined as a person who moves to live in a foreign country. Yet in the United States this word has often come to symbolize persons of Mexican, or Central or South American descent. The term “white immigrant” has a dissonant ring; those who move to the U.S. from parts of Europe or Australia are often casually referred to as “expats,” connoting a leisurely freedom of movement not typically conferred to an immigrant. A “black immigrant” is deprived of easy free associations. Black immigrants are unmarked, indivisible from African Americans whose lineage extends to the country’s inception.

The Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) has been working since 2006 to identify the distinct legal issues black immigrants face, and the burden of racial discrimination they share with African Americans in the United States. Last year, BAJI published a report with NYU Law School that provides a detailed statistical analysis of the country’s estimated 3.7 million black immigrants. This population is often caught at the intersection of racial profiling and the unforgiving immigration laws that target those with criminal records for removal. Although black immigrants make up 5 percent of the unauthorized population in the U.S., they make up 20 percent of the population facing deportation on criminal grounds. Black immigrants, according to the report, have suffered disproportionately under Clinton-era immigration legislation aimed at sorting “good” immigrants from “bad” immigrants associated with crime or terror.

I recently spoke with BAJI’s Deputy Director Carl Lipscombe about the state of black immigration in America. This is the first in a series for Longreads about the challenges faced by lawyers working during the Trump administration.

***

Hawa Allan: What is the mission of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration?

Carl Lipscombe: BAJI tackles issues affecting black immigrants using a few different approaches. One way is organizing. We work with members of our community on issues that are important to them and we empower them to take action on their own behalf. We also do advocacy, working in partnership with other organizations towards policy change on local, state and federal levels. We have staff in New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta, and we also have a policy manager based in Washington D.C. who educates elected officials about broad topics affecting black immigrants. And we have two attorneys on staff that I supervise and who provide direct legal services to members of our community.

HA: So there are three aspects to BAJI’s work — public policy advocacy, organizing, and direct legal services. Was this three-pronged mission present at BAJI’s inception or did it develop organically over time?

CL: We were started in 2006 by civil rights and racial justice leaders, veterans who saw immigration as a continuation of the racial justice struggle. They soon realized that the immigrants’ rights movement was definitely not black-oriented. There were rarely black people at the center of immigrants’ rights cases, which were very Latino-focused, so they added the aspect of engaging black immigrants with the struggle for immigrants’ rights.

HA: At least anecdotally, I’m aware of tensions between black immigrant communities African American communities, although persons outside both groups tend to lump them together on a purely visual basis.

CL: I think the issues are still the same. There is obviously a distinct impact of harsh immigration policies on black immigrants, but both groups face criminalization, economic inequality, lack of access to adequate health care, and educational inequities.

HA: I suppose I was thinking about how competition over already meager resources can tend to pit groups that should otherwise be aligned against each other. How black immigrants, being newcomers who are uninitiated in America’s racial issues, think they can somehow “rise above” discrimination.

CL: Yes, I think those are historic tensions. But from our perspective, a lot of these tensions are manufactured by elected leaders, and by corporations in order to pit black people against one another. I think these tensions are fueled by outsiders and from the media. In reality, black immigrants and African Americans are similarly situated in certain contexts. When a black person is walking down the street and a cop stops them, they’re not going to be asked “Are you an immigrant or are you African American?”

HA: Of course.

CL: Last fall, we released a report on the State of Black Immigrants. Even though black immigrants have high educational attainment rates on par with Asian immigrants, they still have the highest unemployment rates and the highest poverty rates among all immigrants. They are over represented in the deportation system, we believe, largely because of their race. Black immigrants represent only about five percent of immigrants in the country but over twenty percent of those in deportation facilities.

Apart from refugee communities, black immigrants mostly live interspersed with African Americans in cities and face the same issues when it comes to criminalization: over-policing and the ramifications of broken windows policing.

HA: When you’re organizing, do you find you’re trying to convince black immigrants and African Americans that they have more in common than they think?

CL: We’re getting people to realize that we have a shared struggle. We have this amazing program at our national conference held every couple of years called the African Diaspora Dialogues, which gets people in small groups — black immigrants and African Americans — to share their migration story and how they experience race in the U.S. So we do a certain amount of work to break down those barriers.

HA: In terms of police brutality, some of the major figures who have symbolized the gravity of this issue include black immigrants, like Amadou Diallo, who was from Guinea, and Abner Louima from Haiti. And there was a more recent case on the West Coast…

CL: Yes, a Ugandan immigrant, Alfred Olango outside of San Diego. One thing that I find striking is that over the last couple of years, there have actually been quite a few black immigrants who have been killed by police. But their cases haven’t gotten as much publicity. Alfred Olango’s sister called the police because—he wasn’t necessarily violent, she just called them to calm him down.

HA: He had a mental health issue.

CL: And he wasn’t threatening her. She didn’t feel as though she was physically in danger but thought maybe the police could help her. Alfred was killed within moments of the police arriving. He was a black refugee, he was a chef, he was from Uganda, and the spin, the immediate spin, was “Oh he had a mental illnesses.”

HA: Right, the media narrative…

CL: It was also reported that he had been arrested before for traffic violations. Because he has been arrested before it means the police should show up and kill him?

HA: When organizing around police brutality do you find that you have to provide a different level of awareness to black immigrants as opposed to African Americans?

CL: I think because of the amazing work of Black Lives Matter over the last few years and the attention that police abuse has gotten, people get it. And that’s across the board. All black people get it. Any time I’m in a taxi or I’m on one of those ride-hailing services and I talk to the drivers, who are often black immigrants, and I tell them what I do, they talk about police brutality. What I find interesting is that they always talk about immigration along with policing. So I think people get it.

HA: I was wondering whether black immigrants who are very recent residents of the United States don’t have the same understanding of how their presence is threatening to the police.

CL: America has a very unique brand of racism. I think that a lot of black immigrants are just not used to it in their home countries where are ethnic tensions, xenophobia, even racism to a certain degree — but racism in the U.S. is very different.

HA: I’m thinking about bodily movements, gesticulation. People especially from the African continent…many have rather large presences, right?

CL: Yes, our communities talk with our bodies. Our voices are loud sometimes and those types of things can seem threatening — black people who are animated.

HA: There is a certain, I believe, experiential education you get from being a black person growing up in the United States. You learn to move your body in a certain way, how to move through the world.

CL: Yes, to make yourself smaller.

HA: Make yourself smaller and make yourself safer. But as a newcomer to this American situation you don’t have that kind of education, and that can put you in danger.

CL: I was born here and I grew up in the Bronx. I was taught how to deal with the police by my family. I was told to always carry my ID to the point that I thought I had to carry ID by law. I was taught to always speak respectfully to the police so that nothing happened to me, so I didn’t get arrested or worse. A lot of immigrants aren’t taught this. They aren’t taught to cower to the police or to be afraid of the police.

HA: I was just thinking about Amadou Diallo reaching for his wallet…a simple movement like that obviously doesn’t justify the violence that followed. But I imagine him thinking that all he had to do was to prove who he was and everything would be fine.

CL: Yes.

HA: From the report on the State of Black Immigrants, I was surprised to learn that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service doesn’t track immigration data by race, only by country of origin.

CL: I was at a conference recently where the history of immigration was being discussed. There were a number of court cases defining whiteness, and it’s surprising, given the history of our immigration laws, that we don’t track this data by race. It actually makes research on black immigrants very difficult because we have to use a combination of USCIS data and census data.

HA: Which makes the category of “black immigrant,” as defined in the report, both over-inclusive and under-inclusive.

CL: Specific communities were particularly difficult to track. For example, it is very hard to get an accurate number of Afro-Latinos in the country because some Afro-Latinos don’t self-identify as black. Latinos generally don’t self-identify as black in U.S. Census surveys.

Even among those who might self-identify as black, many of their home countries are only recently starting to recognize that some of their residents are black. It was only a year or two ago that Mexico acknowledged that there were black Mexicans.

HA: It’s fascinating that a country that was organized around race, both in the context of slavery and immigration, wouldn’t be tracking this data.

CL: Well, if they did track this data by race, it would make it a lot easier for attorneys to sue for discrimination.

HA: So BAJI was founded in 2006, and I understand that particularly damaging immigration laws discussed in the report came into effect in 1996 — crystallizing the link between the criminal justice system and immigration enforcement. Would you mind discussing this legislation: the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA)?

CL: I think it’s important the two bills are taken together. The first one, IIRIRA, expanded the criminal grounds for deportation as well as mandatory detention. Originally, there were only less than a dozen offenses that could get one deported. And even in those cases, judges had discretion over whether or not to detain someone and to ultimately deport them.

After 1996 those grounds expanded to about two dozen. IIRIRA expanded the grounds for deportation and AEDPA was terrorism-related. It established a means of restitution for victims of “terrorist activity” and enabled the federal government to detain individuals believed to be involved in terrorist activities.

Up until the passing of these laws, the U.S. removed on average maybe a couple of thousand people a year. While Obama was in office, we removed on average 375,000 people a year. Obama removed more people in eight years than in the entire history of the U.S. going back to 1892.

HA: Obama used the rhetoric about wanting to keep “families” in the country and get “felons” out — the good immigrant versus bad immigrant.

CL: What a lot of people don’t realize is that the definition of “felon” under immigration law is expansive. A teenager who throws an orange at a teacher—if they are charged with assault — would be considered an aggravated felon.

HA: In your view, are these the laws that created this nexus of racial profiling and the over representation of black immigrants in deportation proceedings?

CL: Yes, they are. These laws were passed during the Clinton years, but the administrative infrastructure for their enforcement was really set up during the Bush years, after 9/11 when immigration was moved under the newly-established Department of Homeland Security.

HA: Immigration effectively became an issue of national security.

CL: Yes, and Obama further funded Bush’s administrative infrastructure.

HA: And now, of course, we have Trump.

CL: Yes — now we have Trump.

HA: His rhetoric might be bolder—

CL: But he’s using the same laws and infrastructure as Obama.

HA: After immigration was placed under this anti-terror rubric, we now have the so-called Muslim ban. With respect to the Supreme Court recently reinstating certain portions of the ban, does BAJI have any specific response?

CL: Yes—well, for a start, Trump wanted all citizens from those countries to be banned from entry, which he didn’t get and which is good. But I think the Supreme Court did create confusion by carving out an exception for individuals that have a “bona fide” relationship with a person or entity in the U.S. The definition of that term is very unclear. The administration last week issued guidance on what they considered a bona fide relationship to be. It’s limited to immediate family and fiancés and stepchildren, so grandparents will be unable to enter the U.S. As you know, a lot of this community, particularly the black community, don’t come from nuclear families. We come from cultures where the entire community is involved with child rearing and care-taking.

HA: There was a very interesting editorial in the Washington Post that used the recent Supreme Court decision as a basis for refuting the idea that lawyers alone could save us in the age of Trump.

CL: Oh yes, I saw that.

HA: When the travel ban was first instituted, there were a lot of lawyers who went to airports to represent affected persons. Then lower courts decided the travel ban was unconstitutional. There was this hope, especially with figures like Sally Yates, that maybe the law could curb the excesses of the Trump administration.

CL: I agree with that general sentiment — that the law is an important protection for immigrants and a strategic tool that can support those in crisis — but we definitely need more than the law. If we’re really going to change the system, we need to organize, we need to change the leadership, we need to change those who are creating the laws and those that are enforcing them in this harsh, egregious way.

HA: Two of the countries affected by the travel ban are in sub-Saharan Africa: Somalia and Sudan. When Trump was campaigning in Minneapolis, he called the Somalis who resettled there terrorists.

CL: Yes.

HA: Of course people have focused on Trump’s statement about Mexicans being rapists and the idea of criminalizing immigrants in general, but can you speak to his statements about not only Somalis but also Haitians with regard to TPS (Temporary Protected Status)?

CL: Historically, when we’ve talked about Latino immigration, the context has been the “valedictorian” and the “Dreamer,” the business owner and the immigrant worker—the person who is here to work. But the narrative about black immigrants has been similar black people in general: That Black immigrants are charity cases who are here to take advantage of whatever resources there are in the U.S.

HA: So when Donald Trump’s administration said they were going to review whether or not to extend temporary protected status for Haitians who fled here after the earthquake….

CL: Yes, one thing that they did, which was unprecedented, was Trump had his administration look into the criminal backgrounds of Haitians. That has never happened before.

HA: I wanted to ask you about your personal history. I see that you started off as a labor organizer and then you were a public defender, and then you moved onto doing communications for social justice organizations.

CL: I started off in labor organizing when I was in college. I was active at Brooklyn College with adjunct faculty that was organizing. I was in student government and they came to us for support. I started getting interested in the labor movement because I just saw the power of unions and that we could actually make changes in our workplace and shift power dynamics. After undergrad, I interned with an organization called Jobs With Justice, which is a coalition of unions, students, faith groups and community organizations.

What I liked at Jobs With Justice was that we worked at different intersections. It was broadly a worker’s rights and economic justice organization, but we worked on those issues as they impacted immigrants and black people and the environment and healthcare and so on. So I was exposed to these different issues. And I have always had an interest in fighting on behalf of black people and immigrants, that’s why I got into this work. When I got burnt out from organizing I decided to go to law school.

HA: Is that because you wanted to address these issues from a legal perspective?

CL: I think that legal advocacy and organizing compliment one another. When I was an organizer, we often had to work with lawyers on policy — experts and what not — and I found a lot of them just didn’t understand my community, and saw it as their jobs to tell us what we can’t do and what isn’t possible.

When I was an organizer, I felt as though the job of lawyers was to take our power away. They took power away from communities rather than adding to it. And I thought to myself that it would be great to have that skill set and to really be able to use it in a way that merged with organizing and complimented organizing. So I became a public defender after law school. And I’m from the Bronx, so I was fortunate enough to be able to work as a public defender in the Bronx.

I saw that there just weren’t attorneys who were experts in the issues affecting black immigrants. There weren’t many attorneys who were expert at litigating in immigration court, or representing immigrants with criminal backgrounds or with mental illness or histories of substance use.

When I was a public defender, I realized a lot of my clients were black immigrants and I didn’t know that there were legal organizations devoted to black immigrants. There were a lot of organizations focused on Latino immigrants and Asian immigrants but not black immigrants. I was the first person at BAJI with a legal background, so I was able to get our legal program off the ground.

HA: Progressive movements often have to be reactive because they respond to the immediate needs of people who have the least access to resources to defend themselves. Right-wing movements, to the extent that we can call them movements, tend to be more ideological: the purpose of taxes, or questions about “liberty.” They’re not immediately responding to the needs of particular groups of people.

Is there a sense that BAJI in particular, or progressive movements in general, are implementing a vision for moving society forward? Is this even possible when progressive movements are constantly on the defense?

CL: You’re right that progressives are responding to crises. We’re trying to protect the few decent laws that we have on the books, or at least prevent the worst from happening. But at the same time this work is tied to a broader vision of the world that we want see—a world where black people, immigrants, Muslims, woman, trans and queer communities are able to live with freedom and dignity.

I think that we need to keep our eye on the long-term goals. There are times when the people we work with are facing an emergency and we want be there for them, but we do it in the context of fighting for our dreams. Working with other organizations, and being a part of the Movement for Black Lives and other similar groups, I can say the same thing for them. We’re all working toward a broader vision.

These Activists Say Marijuana is a Gift from God

Marijuana Book Cover
Marijuana Book Cover (Public Domain)

With Jeff Sessions banging the drum to bring back the war on drugs, access to marijuana — even for medical use — seems more and more remote for red state users. At BuzzFeed, Alyson Martin meets activists who take a faith-based approach to ending marijuana prohibition.

Decker, 49, tells anyone in Texas who will listen why cannabis is, in fact, a permitted therapy for Christians — not a sin. She hopes her openness will help generate support for medical cannabis among state lawmakers, and in April she submitted passionate testimony in hopes of swaying them. She described being rushed to the ER, “gasping for air” on New Year’s Day in 2014, when her COPD was first diagnosed, and the blur of medications and treatments she’s endured since then. “I live 80 miles from a legal state line,” Decker wrote, referring to New Mexico, where medical cannabis is permitted. She questioned why such treatment should be off-limits to her, “just because I choose to live and work in Texas, where I was born?”

Genesis 1:29, which Decker formed in 2010, is named after a Bible verse that’s oft-repeated by Christians in favor of medical marijuana: “And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.” To Decker, a nondenominational Christian who follows the Bible’s verses in a literal way, it means that cannabis is “meant to be eaten, whether in oil, whether in an edible,” she said.

Obviously, not everyone in Texas is receptive to Decker’s interpretation of the Bible — none of the laws covering medical or recreational cannabis were likely to pass before the legislative session ends in late May.

“People in the Bible Belt say, ‘You’re using the Bible to promote drugs,’” she said, drawing out the word “drugs” for emphasis. Decker disagrees. “We’re using the Bible to promote what God gave us. We say that God made the perfect medicine. Man is the one that made it illegal.”

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Norma McCorvey Versus Jane Roe

Norma McCorvey and Gloria Allred leave the Supreme Court on April 26, 1989 after a Missouri abortion case failed to overturn Roe v Wade. (AP Photo / J. Scott Applewhite)

Norma McCorvey | I Am Roe: My Life, Roe v Wade, and Freedom of Choice Harper Collins, 1994 | 19 minutes | 4,650 words

 

When journalist Andy Meisner met Norma McCorvey to work on her memoir, “she was cashing checks at the 7-Eleven” and living with her partner Connie Gonzalez in Dallas. The New York Times visited McCorvey before the book’s publication in the summer of 1994, and McCorvey showed the reporter the steel door they’d had installed after their house was shot at in 1989 — as well as her dream keeper, a closet full of prized coats, and a collection of clowns she had purchased for Gonzalez. “Once people read I Am Roe, I think they’ll understand where I’m coming from,” she told the Times. “I’m a simple woman with a ninth-grade education who wants women not to be harassed or condemned.”

A year later, McCorvey publicly converted to born-again Christianity — and later, to Roman Catholicism — and she would spent the next twenty years of her life campaigning furiously against the pro-choice movement and the abortion she never received. “Roe has been her life, but it’s no longer much of a living,” wrote Vanity Fair in 2013.

McCorvey died in Dallas of heart failure at the age of 69 on February 18, 2017. In her review of I Am Roe, Susan Cheever writes: Norma McCorvey is an angry shadow from the dark side of the American dream…That Jane Roe and Norma McCorvey are the same person is just another example of the randomness and absurdity of a politics marked by an unbridgeable gulf between myth and reality.”  I Am Roe is currently out of print, and this excerpt is courtesy of Harper Collins.

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On Becoming a Woman Who Knows Too Much

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice waits for remarks by President Bush after he attended a military briefing at the Pentagon Monday, May 10, 2004. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Hawa Allan | “Becoming Meta,” from Double Bind: Women on Ambition | April 2017 | 18 minutes (4,661 words)

For many women, the idea of ambition is complicated. Too often when we’re are described as ambitious, it’s hard to tell whether it’s a compliment or a criticism. Often, it’s an all-out accusation. For the essay collection Double Bind, editor Robin Romm tasked 24 women writers with considering their own relationships to ambition. Hawa Allan‘s essay “Becoming Meta” is a meditation on the mantra of I’ll show you that drove her to achieve—first as the only black student in her elementary school’s gifted and talented program, then as a law student, and finally as a law firm associate, hungry for the validation of the “rainmaker” partners whose ranks held no one that looked like her.

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A noun is the proper denotation for a thing. I can say that I have things: for instance that I have a table, a house, a book, a car. The proper denotation for an activity, a process, is a verb: for instance I am, I love, I desire, I hate, etc. Yet ever more frequently an activity is expressed in terms of having; that is, a noun is used instead of a verb. But to express an activity by to have in connection with a noun is an erroneous use of language, because processes and activities cannot be possessed; they can only be experienced. —Erich Fromm, To Have or to Be?

I have been to a few Madonna concerts in my day, so I may or may not have been straining to get a view around the pillar planted in front of my discount seat when I beheld the superstar kick up into a forearm stand in the middle of the stage. For non-initiates, a “forearm stand” is a yoga pose wherein you balance your entire body on your forearms—lain parallel to one another on the ground, and perpendicular to your upper arms, torso, and legs, all of which are inverted skyward. Imagine turning your body into an “L.” And then imagine Madonna doing the same, except spotlighted before thousands of gaping fans in a large arena.

I hadn’t done any yoga at that point, so the irony of Madonna flaunting her ability in a discipline meant to induce inner awareness was totally lost on me. I just thought it was cool. Precisely, I interpreted Madonna’s forearm stand as a demonstration of power—power that was quiet yet fierce. An expression of power that I immediately decided I wanted to embody. So, not too long thereafter, I went ahead and enrolled in a series of free, introductory lessons at yoga studios across Manhattan and Brooklyn. My modus operandi: take advantage of the introductory classes and skip to another studio (once I no longer had a discounted pass). I was doing this, I told myself at the time, to test out different teachers—to find “the right fit.” In hindsight, I can see that this was just an excuse for being itinerant and cheap.

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‘They Would Try to Love Whoever Killed Her, and Forgive.’

In 1985, Cliff and Wilma Derksen’s daughter Candace was abducted and left to die in the severe cold of Winnipeg, Manitoba. While the couple did not yet know the killer’s identity, they made a decision early on to forgive — and to save themselves and the good left in their lives.

As he spoke, the Derksens saw for the first time what faced them. They would come to know it as the darkness, an abyss of sadness and anger that could swallow a person and take away everything they loved, that would spread until it destroyed all that was beautiful. Alone in their bedroom after he left, they made a decision: They had lost Candace, they wouldn’t lose everything else, too. They couldn’t.

“We kind of looked at each other and said, ‘We have to stop this,'” Cliff says. “We have to forgive.”

But what does it mean to forgive the person who killed your daughter? The person who bound her hands and feet in a way so dehumanizing it is called “hog-tying,” then left her alone and helpless to die in the cold? How do you forgive a person you have never met? Who has never asked your forgiveness? How do you forgive a person who may not even be sorry?

Thirty-two years later, the suspect in the case awaits his verdict in a second trial, as Jana G. Pruden reports in the Globe and Mail. Today, the Derksens reflect on their decision to forgive, to let go, and to face the light.

They admit it’s strange that the man at the heart of their story somehow doesn’t play a bigger role, but yet he is nearly invisible. Through the years, they have come to know that their forgiveness must be offenderless. They have fought so hard to keep him from destroying their lives, that in some ways it is not really about him at all.

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The Bitter History of Law and Order in America

Illustration by Kjell Reigstad

Andrea Pitzer | Longreads | April 2017 | 11 minutes (2,800 words)

 

During his heady first days in office, Donald Trump developed his now-familiar ritual for signing executive orders. He began by swapping a large sheet of paper for a hinged portfolio, then he started revealing the signed documents to onlookers a little awkwardly, crossing his forearms to hold the folio up, or bending it backward to show the press his signature. Finally, he perfected the motion by turning the open folder completely around to face the audience, displaying it from three angles, as if delivering tablets of law from Mount Sinai. By the end of the week, he seemed pleased with this bit of theater in which he could star as the president. The ritual, of course, became a meme.

Shortly after he perfected this performance, Trump signed three executive orders promoted by the White House under the heading “Law and Order.” The first required the Attorney General to look at crimes against law enforcement; the second directed the AG to create a task force on crime reduction and public safety, with specific mention of illegal immigration; the third delegated cabinet members to review strategies for finding and prosecuting international drug cartels. All three called for studying crime rather than implementing new programs—they also heightened anxiety over purported crime by blacks and immigrants while making it seem like only Trump was willing do something about it.

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Why Women Are Less Likely to Be Exonerated Using DNA Evidence

In a recent piece for Mother Jones, Molly Redden looked at why it can be particularly hard for wrongfully convicted women to be exonerated (Women make up about 11 percent of the people convicted of violent crimes, but just 6 percent of those exonerated of violent crimes). Despite their good intentions, most innocence projects fail to bring justice to wrongly convicted women.  Why? Karen Daniel and Judy Royal—lawyers with Northwestern University Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions —spent three years pursuing that question. Their research brought them a number of insights, including the fact that women are far less likely to be exonerated using DNA evidence:

Daniel and Royal started by digging deep into the exonerations database. Their first insight had to do with DNA evidence—the very breakthrough that launched the innocence movement a quarter century ago. “Women tend not to be convicted of the types of crimes that can be overturned based on the results of DNA testing,” Daniel explained. Men perpetrate the overwhelming majority of rapes and murders of strangers. These crimes are much more likely to leave behind DNA evidence that can rule out an innocent suspect, or point to the real rapist or killer.

But when women kill, they usually kill someone close to them. And in most of those cases, DNA isn’t relevant. When a woman is suspected of killing her husband or her child, investigators are likely to find her DNA all over the crime scene whether she’s guilty or innocent—so DNA testing can do little to exonerate her. Sure enough, 27 percent of the men in the exonerations registry were freed using DNA evidence. The same was true of only 7.6 percent of the women.

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