Peace & Justice News is a collection of news items collected by Bloomington Alternative contributor Linda Greene. Today's edition includes:

  • Policing U.S. Schools and Criminalizing Childhood
  • Thai workers in near-slavery supplying Walmart with food
  • Women’s benefits from the Affordable Care Act
  • Abuse of youth in for-profit prisons
  • National Nurses United wins Florida contract
  • Female immigrant farm workers facing sexual violence and harassment
  • Support grows for Wilmington 10 pardons
  • Traveler forced to miss her flight because of her t-shirt
  • Secret Services attempts to hide prostitution-related expenses
  • Attack on women’s health organization in New Orleans

Read the Peace & Justice News archive on The Bloomington Alternative.


Policing U.S. Schools and Criminalizing Childhood

Chris McGreal reported recently in The Guardian that police are being used increasingly to discipline students in U.S. elementary, middle and high schools.

“Each day,” he said, ” hundreds of schoolchildren appear before courts in Texas charged with offences such as swearing, misbehaving on the school bus or getting in to a punch-up in the playground. Children have been arrested for possessing cigarettes, wearing ‘inappropriate’ clothes and being late for school.”

Increasingly schools have their own police forces with uniformed officers carrying guns to maintain order in the cafeterias, playgrounds and classes.

“In 2010, the police gave close to 300,000 ‘Class C misdemeanor’ tickets to children as young as 6 in Texas for offenses in and out of school, which result in fines, community service and even prison time,” McGreal said. “What was once handled with a telling-off by the teacher or a call to parents can now result in arrest and a record that may cost a young person a place in college or a job years later.”

Last year the Texas state legislature changed the law to cease issuing tickets to 10- and 12-year-olds for their classroom behaviors. (In Texas children can be charged with criminal offences at the age of 10, McGreal said.) However, a bill to ban the practice completely didn’t  pass and can’t be considered again for two more years.

“The Texas Supreme court chief justice, Wallace Jefferson, has warned that ‘charging kids with criminal offences for low-level behavioral issues’ is helping to drive many of them to a life in jail,” said McGreal.

The U.S. is the only “developed” country, McGreal said, that imprisons children as young as 13 for life without the possibility of parole, “often as accomplices to murders committed by adults.”

Fines for bad behavior in school can be as high as $500. If people fail to pay them, the children are jailed regularly in adult prisons when they become 17, McGreal said.


Thai workers in near-slavery supplying Walmart with food

Protests are increasing against a Thai company, Phatthana Seafood, that supplies Walmart with shrimp, because of labor abuses and working conditions that are only a bit better than slavery, according to Crooks and Liars blogger Kenneth Quinnell.

What’s more, the shrimp are substandard, treated with antibiotics and raised in environmentally harmful ways, Quinnell said.

Phatthana allegedly pays less than promised, Quinnell said. It’s also keeping a percentage of the wages against the debts workers incur to travel to the factory. Human rights organizations call the practice “debt bondage.”

Making Change at Walmart, a project of the United Food and Commercial Workers, has gotten involved. In a letter to a Walmart administrator they said, “Workers at Phatthana seafood in Songkhla were recruited from Cambodia and Myanmar with the hope of earning money to support their families. The workers signed an employment contract that guaranteed a decent wage, housing and transportation. But upon arrival to the factory, Phatthana illegally confiscated the passports of as many as 2,000 migrant workers, leaving them in a state of debt bondage, unable to leave the country and barely able to survive. ... Receiving half the hours and pay promised to them and without promised lodging and transportation, many of the workers face malnutrition because they are unable to even afford enough to eat.”

Phatthana workers are forced to eat food donated by nongovernmental organizations since they can’t afford to buy it.

Meanwhile, in the Thai province of Kanchanaburi, Quinnell said, “More than 4,000 workers at the Vita Food Factory that processes pineapples and other fruit products for Walmart are reportedly facing conditions that appear to fit the definition of human trafficking and debt bondage. Thousands of workers are striking to protest their treatment by the factory and labor agents. Initial reports suggest egregious behavior by Vita Food, including threats of violence, coercion and extortion.”


Women’s benefits from the Affordable Care Act

Now under siege by the right wing and threatened with a Supreme Court decision making it unconstitutional, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is already helping women on Medicare, according to the Countdown to Coverage website.

With the ACA in place, Medicare is now covering preventive care without co-pays for:

  • An annual wellness exam, during which a woman and her physician can create a customized prevention plan;
  • Mammograms;
  • Colorectal cancer screening;
  • Vaccinations, including for the flu, pneumonia and hepatitis B; and
  • Diabetes screening.

In 2011 almost 20 million women on Medicare received preventive health care at no charge.

Elderly women often need more health care than comparable men because they tend to live longer and are more susceptible to such chronic illnesses as arthritis and osteoporosis.

Further, elderly women also have lower Social Security and pension benefits than elderly men, so they’ve been spending more on out-of-pocket health care costs.

The ACA has begun improving Medicare by strengthening health provider–patient relationships. It’s making it easier for the elderly to obtain health care by giving bonus payments to physicians, nurse practitioners and other primary-care providers. It’s offering incentives to providers who make an effort to improve the quality of their patients’ care.

What’s more, the ACA is improving Medicare by ending the fraud and abuse that drain money from the program and by doing away with overpayments to insurance companies.

With its emphasis on making primary and preventive care more affordable, the ACA is enhancing elderly women’s health care.


Abuse of youth in for-profit prisons

Youth in prisons find themselves treated brutally every day at privately owned, for-profit prisons, the Southern Poverty Law Center's Booth Gunter said in a recent AlterNet story.

A case in point is Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility near Jackson, Miss., where a female guard permitted two inmates in a cell to fight, according to a March 20 Department of Justice Report. She was fired but not charged with a crime.

“The guard’s involvement wasn’t uncommon,” Gunter said. “Investigations showed that guards frequently instigated or incited youth-on-youth violence. Often, they were the perpetrators.”

Youth are incarcerated mainly for nonviolent offenses, and some are as young as 13.

“The Walnut Grove story,” Gunter said, “… calls into question the wisdom of turning over the care of these youths … to private companies that exist solely to turn a profit – companies that have no incentive to rehabilitate youths, that thrive on recidivism, and that increase their profits by cutting corners and reaping ever more troubled souls into their walls.”

Of the numerous abuses of guards at Walnut Grove, the most egregious was sexual abuse, including inmate-on-inmate rapes and flagrant sexual misconduct by prison staff members, who coerced inmates into sexual activity with them.

The Department of Justice found the sexual abuse at Walnut Grove was “among the worst that we have seen in any facility anywhere in the nation,” Gunter said.

The Mississippi Department of Corrections pays GEO Group Inc. $14 million every year to operate Walnut Grove.

“These young men will eventually get out of prison,” Gunter said. “They will re-enter their communities, many lacking an education, many lacking treatment for their disabilities, many severely scarred both physically and psychologically by their experience.”


National Nurses United wins Florida contract

Though only two years old, National Nurses United (NNU) won a first union contract for nearly 3,000 nurses in Florida in early May, according to a post in the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism website.

The registered nurses, all employed by the Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), the world’s biggest for-profit hospital chain, work in 40 hospitals in Florida. NNU’s Organizing Committee, its southern affiliate, successfully unionized 10 of them in the last 18 months.

Florida, a Right-to-Work state, has only a few unionized nurses. NNU also won elections at five Texas hospitals. Further, the union has organized registered nurses in Kansas City, California and Nevada.

The nurses in Florida make more than $2 less than the average nurses’ wage in the U.S. The nurses used the slogan, “No More Southern Discount” to highlight the disparity between nurses’ wages in the North and South.

“Nurses with the exact same experience were paid different amounts,” the post says.

HCA’s net income was $540 million in the first quarter of this year as compared to $240 million in 2011.

NNU has been an outspoken advocate for a single-payer, universal health care system (Medicare for all) for the U.S.


Female immigrant farm workers facing sexual violence and harassment

According to Human Rights Watch on May 16, “Hundreds of thousands of immigrant farm worker women and girls in the United States face a high risk of sexual violence and sexual harassment in their workplaces because U.S. authorities and employers fail to protect them adequately.”

The Human Rights Watch report “Cultivating Fear: The Vulnerability of Immigrant Farmworkers in the US to Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment” documents rape, stalking, unwanted touching, exhibitionism, and vulgar and obscene language perpetrated by men in power over women farm workers – such as supervisors and employers.

Women farm workers reported such as experiences as:

  • A supervisor at a California lettuce company raped a farm worker and later said she “should remember it’s because of him that [she has] this job.”
  • A supervisor at a New York farm touched women’s breasts and buttocks as they picked potatoes and onions. Resistance engendered threats to call immigration or to fire them.
  • A supervisor regularly exposed himself to four women working together packing cauliflower in California and made such comments as “[That woman] needs to be fucked!” When the workers attempted to defend a woman toward whom he was particularly abusive, he fired all of them.

“Rape, groping, and obscene language by abusive supervisors should not be part of the hard labor conditions that immigrant farmworkers endure while producing the nation’s food,” said Grace Meng, researcher in the U.S. Program at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “Instead of being valued for their contributions, immigrant farm workers are subject to a dysfunctional immigration system and labor laws that exclude them from basic protections most workers take for granted.”

Women farm workers, who are many of the undocumented immigrants constituting 50 percent of U.S. farm workers, are afraid of deportation if they complain. Even those with guest worker visas fear reprisals since they depend on their employers to maintain their legal status.

Among the things Congress can do to ameliorate the situation is pass the Senate version of the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization bill (S. 1952). The bill “would provide specific funding and attention to survivors of sexual assault, including stronger protections for immigrant farmworker women and girls.”


Support grows for Wilmington 10 pardons

The Wilmington 10, falsely convicted 40 years ago for conspiracy to commit murder and arson, had their convictions overturned in 1980 by the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. However, the State of North Carolina has never pardoned them, according to a May 30 post in the Wilmington Journal.

Now the National Newspaper Publishers Association, with its Wilmington 10 Pardon of Innocence Project, is trying to gain widespread local and national support for pardons.

The 10, mostly teens at the time, were protesting racial discrimination in the Wilmington public school system when they were falsely charged in 1971.

The decision about pardons is in the hands of North Carolina governor Beverly Perdue.

A national petition targeted at Gov. Perdue available at change.org garnered 50 signatures during its first day.

On Facebook more than 100 people “liked” the Wilmington 10 Pardon of Innocence Project site in only two days.

But the organizers of the Innocence Project say much more support is necessary to convince Perdue, whose press office indicated that the governor will give the pardon request “due consideration,” according to the post.

According to the post, “In his letter of support to Gov. Perdue, N.C. Congressman G. K. Butterfield [D-NC-1], a former N.C. Associate Supreme Court justice, wrote, 'As a former member of the North Carolina judiciary, and now a member of the United States House of Representatives, I have worked my entire adult life to bring equality and racial justice to my community, state and country. It is never too late to see justice fully achieved.’''

Supporters of the 10 can go to the Triumphant Warriors website to find out more about the Wilmington 10. The site’s host is Wilmington 10 member Wayne Moore.


Traveler forced to miss her flight because of her t-shirt

American Airlines forced a woman to miss her connecting flight because a flight attendant objected to the message on her t-shirt: “If I wanted the government in my womb, I’d fuck a senator,” according to a post on the RH Reality Check website.

The originator of the message is Democratic Oklahoma State Senator Judy McIntyre, who held a sign with that message at a rally in early March to protest Oklahoma's fetal personhood law.

At the time McIntyre reportedly said, "I would hope [Oklahomans] would have that same passion about how offensive it is for the Republican Party of Oklahoma to ramrod, because they have the votes to do so, bills that are offensive to women and take away the rights of women.”

The airline traveler wasn’t approached about the t-shirt until her first flight ended. Then the flight attendant informed her that she had to talk to the captain. According to the post, he scolded her publicly and made her miss her connecting flight.

In March Sen. McIntyre told the Huffington Post, “I was so excited about the fact that the women in Oklahoma have finally begun to wake up and fight for their rights. I saw a sea of signs that caught my eye, but this one in particular – I loved its offensive language, because it's just as offensive for Republicans of Oklahoma to do what they're doing as it relates to women's bodies. I don't apologize for it."


Secret Services attempts to hide prostitution-related expenses

According to a May 24 email from The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, the Secret Service responded to the organization’s May 16 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to reveal the amount of taxpayer money it spent on prostitution-related expenses in Colombia on the grounds that the agency doesn’t think there’s “'an urgency to inform the public about use of taxpayer funds for expenditures incurred by Secret Service personnel during their deployment to Columbia [sic],’ and that the Agency sees no ‘evidence of public interest [in this matter] that is any greater than the public’s general interest’ in ‘government activity, generally.’”

On May 24 the Partnership filed an appeal of the agency’s refusal to disclose the requested information.

“We are prepared to go to court to make this material available to the American public,” stated Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the Partnership. “We’ve heard a lot of explanations for why the government doesn’t want to reveal information, but the claim that the public has no interest in this issue is especially ludicrous.”

The FOIA to the Secret Service states, “The American public in general has a right to know the extent of the federal government's public expenditures and how its tax dollars are being spent on entertainment and leisure activities, poolside drinking, prostitution, and protection of Secret Service agents from law enforcement in Cartagena, Colombia, particularly given the current state of the economy, budget cuts to education, healthcare and housing, and the Secret Service's budget demands for asserted security functions.”


Attack on women’s health organization in New Orleans

On May 24 burglars and arsonists struck a grassroots New Orleans health organization that serves women of color and poor and marginalized women, according to a post on the Black Agenda Report website.

Women With a Vision (WWAV) “was founded in 1991 by a collective of Black women as a response to a lack of HIV prevention resources for those women who were the most at risk: poor women, sex workers, women with substance abuse issues, and transgender women,” according to the post.

WWAV received national recognition for leading the struggle against Louisiana’s Crime Against Nature Statute, the targets of which were poor women of color, transgender women and “anyone forced to trade sex for food or a place to sleep at night,” the post says.

The law required women to register as sex offenders in a state database and to have a “sex offender” label on their drivers’ licenses, among other things.

WWAV defeated the law with the help of a national coalition composed of the Center for Constitutional Rights; Loyola Law School; attorney Andrea Ritchie, who specializes in police misconduct; and others. Further, WWAV succeeded in initiating “the process of removing the sex offender registration requirements for those convicted in the past,” says the post.

The attack on WWAV appeared to have been political: it targeted the information, files and materials crucial to the organization’s operations.

WWAV is temporarily unable to continue business as usual in their usual quarters and is looking for temporary new quarters besides donations of clothing, supplies and more.

WWAV executive director Deon Haywood said, in a video released a day after the attack, “We are fighters, we are warriors here at Women With a Vision, and we continue our work.”

Linda Greene can be reached at lgreene@bloomington.in.us.