By Javaria Khan- California Chapter
The 44th annual Castro Street Fair took place last Sunday, October 1, in what most people consider to be the most welcoming and lively neighborhood in all of San Francisco: the Castro District.
Founded in 1974 by Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician in the U.S and an icon of San Francisco’s LGBTQ+ movement, the fair is a reminder of battles that have been fought to keep the Castro diverse and thriving. Proceeds go towards funding local organizations and maintaining the giant rainbow flag that flies high above the neighborhood.
This year, there were dozens of resident vendors, artists, businesses, and musicians present with a wide variety of informational booths, food stalls, entertainment, and much more. Among the participating organizations were The Family Link, Most Holy Redeemer AIDS Support Group, and the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band. Thousands of people showed up to celebrate and enjoy a tradition that will hopefully remain strong for years to come.
So begins the tragic story of Kalief Browder, a sixteen year old who was incarcerated with no trial-- only an allegation that sent him to Riker's Island, New York's main jail center and ranked one of the most violent prison centers in the country.
Kalief Browder. A boy with a troubled past but bright future. We're going to fast forward to the incident that has activists calling for reforms of the New York criminal justice system.
Robert Bautiso accused 16 year old Browder of stealing a backpack containing valuable items such as a camera and a credit card. The police officers who stopped Browder and his friend in order to search their belongings, could not find any of the reported stolen items. Yet the officers arrested Browder and his friends anyway even though Bautiso kept changing his statement regarding the date/time of the robbery. Several hours late, while Browder's friend was sent home, Browder remained due to his shaky record with the police. He was brought into the Bronx Country Criminal Court where he was interrogated by a police officer and prosecutor. But Browder stood his ground and maintained his innocence. He kept telling his public defender, Brenden O'Meara, he was innocent. That, unfortunately, did little to persuade the judge. Without any sort of evidence to prove Browder committed the crime, he was sent to Riker's island where he endured several beatings, starved and tortured by inmates and prison guards. Browder's family was unable to pay the 3,000 dollar bail and just like that Kalief Browder was gone.
That was only the beginning.
The three years Browder spent in Riker Prison was three years of constant pain. The 16 year old was serving time for a crime he never commited in a prison center that is known to detain people who were never actually convicted of a crime. The guards at Riker beat the teenage inmates then later threatened solitary confinement if they were to report the incident or go to the clinic for medical attention. Through intimidation the guards ruled with an iron fist at Rikers. Browder himself was subject to abuse by both officers and angry inmates. "In a security footage acquired by the New Yorker of Rikers Island, Browder is seen slammed into the wall by a guard while he was handcuffed on September 23, 2012. The guard then proceeded to tackle Browder to the ground and two other guards joined shortly after." Despite pleading with his lawyer that he wanted to "go to trial". O'Meara never visited Browder in Rikers. This lack of communication between attorney and defendant cost Browder three years of his teenage life. The correction officers often sent Browder to solitary confinement where he had to beg for food and first attempted to commit suicide. Browder constructed a noose out of bedsheets, just when he was about to jump, a guard egged him to "go ahead and jump". Browder didn't jump because he was "scared of dying". But that wouldn't be the first time he attempted to take his life.
As for his trial status, the overwhelming nature of cases in the Bronx made it difficult for the prosecutor and defendant to be ready for trial. Mainly the prosecutor kept requesting for one more day which then led to weeks. This continuous game of trial tag lasted for the rest of the year so Browder had to suffer through another miserable year at Riker's. However, that did not stop Browder from asking his attorney this question: "Can you get me out?"
Prosecutors offered Browder plea bargains which ensured a set number of years in prison then freedom-- but only if Browder admitted he was guilty. Browder rejected any deal that would require him to give up his innocence, something he silently fought to prove. At this time, Browder had been imprisoned for 961 days and had seen 8 judges. With not luck, the trial was "not ready" to come into motion so Browder was stuck in a prison where he did not belong like a boat stuck on a beautiful, sunny day when all it wants to do is sail free.
Finally, one judge offered Browder to plea guilty which would allow him to immediately return home. But, Browder politely declined because he was adamant of proving his innocence. Whether it was a stroke of luck or a miracle the man who had originally accused Browder of stealing a backpack had returned to Mexico. Since the prosecutor's on the case no longer had a witness, the case was dropped and Browder was sent home. Browder is now 20 years old.
Browder may physically be free but his mind will be forever trapped. He was mentally scarred from all the abuse he faced at Rikers from the officers and inmates. Coming home was supposed to be a moment of happiness but instead it was filled with paranoia. Browder no longer engaged in his previous hobbies such as playing video games and playing basketball. He rather felt it necessary to lock himself up in his room and pace back and forth, just like he did back in solitary confinement. Browder separated himself from any social interaction since he anxious being people who looked at him like he wasn't worth anything. Ultimately, Browder had been robbed of his happiness. He was given paranoia and anxiety which resulted in another suicide attempt and being admitted to a psychiatric ward (on three separate occasions).
Browder and his brother were seeking justice from the New York City criminal system, but they were turned down by 11 attorneys. Eventually they were introduced to Paul V Prestia, a prosecutor in Brooklyn who helped them in their fight for justice. Several others joined Browder, his brother and Prestia in this fight-- Preet Bharar (then United States Attorney for South District of New York) revealed plans to sue New York City for the "unnesscary and excessive forced used on adolescence in Rikers Island".
In January 2015, New York City lawmakers voted to end solitary confinement for inmates under the age of 21.
Browder began telling his story to famous celebrities like Rosie O'Donnell and Jay Z (Jay Z who would later produce a documentary about the injustice Browder and other inmates face at Rikers). However, it was difficult for Browder to relive the terrible experiences he faced in the Prison so he was very private about his media presence.
It was insanely hard for Browder to pretend everything was alright, that he could just go about living life again. Paranoia leered over Browder like a dark cloud never leaving him. "He had thrown out his television because he said he feared it was watching him" said journalist Jennifer Gonnerman from the New Yorker.
Kalief Browder was 22 years old when he commited suicide.
I admit that this blog does not serve Browder much justice. There is so much more to his story that I failed to mention. So, I encourage those who took the time to read a little about Kalief Browder's story to click on the following links to get more information on what activists are doing in New York to fight for Kalief and all those who were failed by New York City's criminal Justice system.
I wish to conclude this blog by reminding everybody- no matter your gender identity, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, religion, culture, political affiliations and opinions and mental health state- you all have rights. We all have a voice. Let's be the future you and I can be proud of and get Kalief Browder the justice he deserved.
10% of women have been raped, another 35% sexually assaulted.
25% of the victims have been attacked repeatedly.
66% knew the person who perpetrated the attack.
83% didn't report it to the police.
29% did not tell friends or family.
The overwhelming response to this question was that "they would be too embarrassed or ashamed of the incident to admit it" and the "low conviction rates."(Data compiled from Mumsnet)
The Obama Administration made excellent progress in imposing rigid regulations and policy on college campuses regarding prioritization and reexamination of college campus rape policy in order to remedy the widespread sexual violence issue that plagues American universities.
Today, Betsy DeVos is holding a press conference today that decides the future of rape and sexual harassment policy on college campuses. After an era of progress, an eight years of pushing forwards under Obama's leadership in the field of gender equality and justice for sexual abuse victims, DeVos will pull us backwards in her alterations of rape and sexual violence policy for college campuses.
DeVos argues that the Obama Administration's policy for handling sexual violence on campuses across the nation has resulted in a new type of victim: men. She claims that the existing policy leads to men being falsely accused, and in response, men's lives being ruined. While DeVos claims that she is not attempting to undermine a sense of security for women on campus, and is instead trying to protect the rights of the accused, that is not the case. She is instead implying that there is an incentive system to the current policies regarding rape and sexual abuse, and withdrawing a system that is essential to the safety and wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of women nationwide.
The current system provides no incentive to women who choose to report their case of sexual assault, abuse, harassment, or rape to officials on campuses. Most women find it embarrassing to report incidents of sexual violence to officials, and feel as though they are not taken seriously. There is no reward for reporting incidents. There is nothing but courage and bravery required to tell the truth about a traumatizing event like sexual violence. I will clarify now and admit that in the history of this policy, there have been those who have been wrongfully accused. No system is perfect. But, the vast majority of cases have been reported truthfully, and are crucial to justice and safety of women everywhere. If every case reported is considered a falsified report of sexual violence for the sake of a vendetta, then no justice will ever be served to those who are victims, and sexual assault will never be taken seriously or avoided. It is very difficult to falsify sexual violence or rape due to the injuries and trauma sustained to the victim and the rigorous investigations that follow the reporting of the incident, and this fact must be recognized by DeVos. The men being accused of sexual violence do maintain their rights in the manner that an intense investigation ensues, and they get to plead their case as well.
DeVos seems to ignore this fact, and instead recount all of the stories that she has heard from parents of young men accused of rape or other forms of sexual violence that have had their lives "ruined". This is an interesting component of her argument, as it seems that parents of the accused seem to be the most enraged. The simple fact of the matter is that men are finally being held accountable for their actions, and the ugly truth of college campus rape and sexual abuse have come to life. Parents are unable to believe that their child could ever be capable of such an horrific action, but it is an unfortunate reality, not a falsified accusation.
The only remedy DeVos should be making to the rape and sexual violence policies on college campuses is one that clarifies the standard procedures for rape investigations. Implementing a thorough, routine, clarified, and universal procedure for all universities would silence all ridiculous complaints of men being "targeted" by rape policies, and instead serve justice.
Men are not being targeted by rape policies.
Women are not being incentivized to accuse men of rape.
Instead, men are being held accountable for their actions as policy continues to evolve and provide a platform of justice for women.
Betsy, don't take a step backward for your fellow sisters. Take a step forward. Help justice persist. Don't give men more leeway when it comes to college rape policy. Instead, let's ensure that colleges respect the current investigative procedures and serve justice.
By Eunji Yoo
Photos: [Left] Elders line up in front of a South Korean church for food, [Right] Elders eat on the sidewalk upon receiving their meals (via NPR)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA is a glowing metropolis known for its dazzling pop culture, prestigious research universities, and frighteningly fast Internet speed. It holds a reputation as one of the most tech savvy cities in the world and receives hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. But behind the fortress of luxury makeup stores and high rise condos, hidden in the shadows of the wealthy Gangnam district of Seoul, sits a small patch of low income apartments, where a severely underrepresented portion of South Korea’s population quietly resides: the elderly.
The elderly, anyone over the age of 65, make up over 14% of the South Korean population, according to The Hankyoreh. With the advent of the brutal Korean War in the 1950’s, the Baby Boomer generation carried the daunting task of recuperating following the conflict. To say that they succeeded in their task would be an understatement. A former rural community, Seoul is now one of the most technologically advanced and fastest growing cities in the world. The Baby Boomers are entirely responsible for building the foundation that the country of South Korea currently sits on. The Asian technology and culture hub that we know to be Seoul would not be present without the Baby Boomer generation. To see that these people have grown old being forgotten by the very society they constructed is heartbreaking.
When one thinks of growing old, most people envision a relaxing retirement filled with enjoyable vacations, bubbly grandkids, and a sense of contentment. However, over half of the elderly in South Korea live in stagnant poverty, dreadful loneliness, and desperate despair for an activity to fill their days. There is not much an 80 year old living in poverty with little means of transportation can do for fun.
Much of the adult population invests lifelong savings into furthering their children’s academic experience, whether that be through paying for expensive private tutors or top tier learning academies. By the time the child grows up and begins university, lower income parents are left with just a little more than barely enough to get by. The immense focus placed on education contributes to the increasing amount of South Koreans, particularly those over the age of 60, living in poverty.
The traditional idea that children should watch over their elderly parents seems to have fallen on deaf ears over the past two decades. Taking numerous sick days or appearing undedicated to your work is looked down upon by several top tier businesses in Korea. Once a person begins work in a competitive sector, he or she quickly begins to prioritize business over family life. Consequently, children are trapped between family obligations, such as taking over elderly parents, and employment obligations, typically opting for the latter, while the aging parents begin feeling more and more like a burden to their children.
The amount of fiscal dependency aging Korean parents have on their children has decreased over the years, relying more on local community efforts in order to try and loosen their burden on their working kids. Just outside of Seoul, hundreds of older Korean citizens line up in front of local churches every week for a small but hearty meal, a measly but valuable 50 cent coin, and a bit of overdue but much needed company. Some stand in line for hours waiting.
The reliance on nongovernmental efforts is also partially due to the lack of government assistance for the elderly. While the South Korean government does provide pension for retired people, it only amounts to $200 a month, barely enough to get by. Furthermore, only around 35% of the elderly population receive this pension, according to the National Pension Research Institute Survey. The government should be obligated to provide a universal social security system for civilians who are no longer capable of supporting themselves, but the South Korean government has met criticism for failing to fulfill the needs of the elderly. It is obvious that the generation of people who should be most content with their lives are spiraling into growing despair, yet there is little being done to change their predicament.
The elderly population in Seoul is projected to grow tremendously, with over half of all Koreans estimated to be over the age of 52 by 2040, a statistic provided by the Korea Times. The institution of universal social security should be made a top priority for the South Korean government. The creation of well-funded support groups at public civic centers can also provide the elderly with an outlet for physical and emotional assistance. The treatment of elders should be continuously emphasized to local and national government leaders.
It is not right that the elderly live in the shadows of a modernized city they helped create.
By Robson Swift
Money in politics is a plague on American democracy. It spits in the face of American values, and the only way to stop it is to amend the Constitution. The term “money in politics” refers to cooperation and wealthy individuals being able to spend an unlimited amount of money to political campaigns. The history of money in politics before the 1900s is relatively unknown due to the lack of records, but in 1921 the Supreme Court of the United States case Newberry v. United States held that Congress can’t regulate primary elections and the financing of political campaigns and in 22 years the first political action committee or PAC was established. In short PACs are organizations that raise money to influence elections and are usually attached to political campaigns especially at the federal level. These entities were heavily regulated and restricted in their influence, but with waves of deregulations in the 1970s and 1980s they gained more and more influence as they spent money on political campaigns. But the most influential decision on money in politics happened in 2010 when the Supreme Court decided Citizens United. This landmark decision was the most important decision in modern American politics. In it, the Supreme Court treated corporations as human beings with rights. It also considered that money was free speech. Since corporations were human beings and money free speech, corporations were able to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaign.