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Updated: 3 hours 18 min ago

Cash Bail 101

Mon, 05/02/2022 - 09:42

Systematic Effects on Low-Income Neighborhoods

Starmanie Jackson, a single mother of two, was seized during a traffic stop. While in custody, police found a three-year-old warrant prompting a speedy arrest. Within minutes of her hearing, bail was placed at $700, despite being unable to afford it and having no legal representation. As a result, Ms. Jackson lost her employment since she was unable to inform her job of the situation. She was jailed for a week because she could not afford the bail. Ms. Jackson is just one example of an individual who lost their job, custody of their kids, and housing because she could not afford bail.

It is quite easy to be apprehended despite what most people may believe. This is because police do not have to be “convinced” that you are guilty. If there is sufficient evidence for the police, regardless of the situation, you can be arrested and convicted. 

What is cash bail?

Cash bail is a price placed on civilians to ensure their release from jail. The accused will be detained until payment is made.  This collateral is an agreement that the arrested person will return to court. A judge typically places the bail after the initial arrest. There are seven types of bonds that each have a monetary value. Surety, property, citation release, recognizance release, federal, immigration, and cash bonds are all forms of bail. 

Cash bail should be abolished because it is unconstitutional. Bond and insurance companies are businesses and are not a part of the legal system. These companies violate equal protection rights under the 14th amendment and the act of prohibition under bond also violates the 8th amendment.

Bond companies operate to make a profit and not to help guarantee people’s freedom. While this system works for those with access to money, the multibillion-dollar bail industry does not provide adequate resources for defendants who cannot afford bail. There is a significant disparity in the price that bail can be set at, ranging from under $2,000 to around $500,000.

Additionally, there are incentives to set higher bails to ensure a profit.  However, higher bail amounts do not increase public safety. 

Many judges set bail without considering if the defendant can pay for it. As a result, one in six people in jail has yet to be proven guilty.  Many people lose their jobs, custody of their kids, and housing because they wait for trials for nonviolent offenses and cannot afford to pay their way out.  There are a lot of factors that can cause an arrest, and a warrant is the most common factor that causes a lot of people to be sentenced. Studies show that higher bail bonds are a primary driver for jail population growth. About 600,000 people step into a jail cell every year, and people are put in jail 10.6 million times a year.  One in four people arrested will return to prison within the same year. 

The bail system was created in 1789, the same year the Bill of Rights was implemented. Since then, this billion-dollar industry has charged more than 36% in additional fees to clients for minor offenses. 

On top of all of this, not all people released on bond are analyzed to see if they are a danger to society under our current system.  In many instances, people who have a violent past have continuously been allowed back into society. If the Founding Fathers put this system in place for the greater good of the community, why do the people who are not a threat suffer the most? And, why are most of these people Black and brown? 

Unfortunately, bail amounts have also doubled over the past 20 years.  This means that many people sit in jail while awaiting their trial. However, pretrial detention is also a significant factor in rearrest. Yet, being released on pre-trial did not increase the defendants’ likelihood of committing crimes. In Mississippi, bail agents can charge 10 percent on a bond valued at 100. They also can tax $50 on each bond. All of these extra fees are profits for the bail agents.  Once a bond is paid, the amount is typically in the custody of the court or the sheriff. The money the courts make through bonds is then distributed through the city and county. This money is spent on general government expenditures. Instead of relying on the bonds system, a wealth tax can replace or even provide more money. Rather than forcing poor and working-class people to pay for government programs through bail, placing a higher tax on businesses and the wealthy could help provide funding.

Many people argue that bail is necessary for public safety. In  New York, for example, after disbanding its bail system, many arrested people began to trend online. With their charges plastered on social media, it started a conversation regarding public safety and raised the question: Is cash bail good for public safety? Regardless of your financial status, the requirements regarding the bail amount are determined by numerous factors. There becomes an overlap of due process principles and equal protection. The process of waiting for a trial is very lengthy. Your court date can continuously be pushed back, and there is no way for you to organize your affairs.  Regardless of the extent of the crime, as long as you can post bail, you are free to go. This structural linchpin divides people based on wealth and not safety. 

There is no cash bail in the District, and a risk assessment algorithm determines a person’s threat to public safety. The algorithm gives judges a score that determines how likely the accused will be to return to court. Unless the defendant is dangerous or committed a severe felony, about 85% of defendants are released without bond. This assessment determined 99% of released defendants administered back into society have not been a danger. The success comes from local and state bail statutes outlining detention eligibility, restricting cash bail usage, and providing supervision options that match risk levels. 

Cash bail is a flawed system that does not protect the people. It is a system constructed around monetary gain.

Regardless of the severity of the crime, you can simply buy your way out. The conversation then changes from safety to wealth. The Bill of Rights targets incarceration as a means to protect criminal defendants. However, the cash bail system hinders the public by accumulating taxpayer money.

Furthermore, a person’s release based on income is an infringement upon the 14th amendment. Bail is not a significant factor in aiding crime. Environmental factors, poverty, revenue, and other disadvantages lead to criminalization. Rather than investing in pretrial detention, increased investment in violence prevention or community services can have a more positive effect. The focus should be made on prevention.   

For more information or resources to end cash bail practices check out some of these organizations.  DMV Bailout ​​has a locally focused inicative called End Money Bail you can find more information here.  Harriet’s Wildest Dreams has several programs and you can find more here.  Maryland 4 Justice Reform, here, has the Court Objection Project which is designed to educate people on the pretrial system while also changing the reliance on bail. These organizations provide ideas for alternatives to bail along with means to better assist defendants.

The post Cash Bail 101 appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Police Reform: What went wrong? Part 3

Mon, 11/08/2021 - 09:07

Part 3: Body Worn Cameras and the Police Chief

Among the Emergency Amendment (covered more in part 2 of this article series) was also language on one particular reform that has often been talked about these past few years throughout the country: Body Worn Cameras (BWC’s). The act requires that police release BWC video within five business days at the request of the Chairperson of the Council or if it involves serious use of force and/or an officer-involved death. This should make it easier for BWC videos to be made public and hopefully also hold police accountable. The logic often applied to Body Worn Cameras when people call for this reform is that the threat of having misconduct recorded will prevent police from carrying out said misconduct. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. For years we have had videos of police brutality, yet the problem has not gotten better. 

MPD has one of the largest BWC programs in the country, with over 3,200 cameras for their 3,800 members, yet they also know that the program alone does nothing. On their website, they highlight the randomized controlled trial with The Lab @ DC that they ran to find the effectiveness of BWCs. But they fail to show clearly what that study found, seemingly because they concluded that BWCs had no noticeable effect. 

“Our experiment suggests that we should recalibrate our expectations of BWCs. Law enforcement agencies (particularly in contexts similar to Washington, DC) that are considering adopting BWCs should not expect dramatic reductions in use of force or complaints, or other large-scale shifts in police behavior, solely from the deployment of this technology.”

BWC Report from The Lab @ DC

Quoted directly, from a study that MPD ran itself, where 6 out of 8 people running it worked directly for MPD. They also based their results on police officers’ reports of incidents written after the fact (under the assumption that they were telling the truth). Despite this, they had no choice but to report that BWCs are not enough to affect significant change. The BWC program at MPD has received nothing but more support and more funding. Instead of investing in programs proven to work like ONSE, they are throwing money at things that have proven to do nothing.

One more major change that happened last year was the appointment of a new chief of police, Robert Contee III. Some believe that Contee’s appointment will lead to the reforms that MPD needs. But is he committed to these changes? On the one hand, Contee talks about the need for change, on the other hand, he talks about how much great change has already happened within MPD over the past decade. Contee is also a big fan of a community policing model, which unfortunately means more police interactions in communities that are already over-policed. Both Contee and Mayor Bowser would like to expand the police force (even though, MPD is one of the biggest police departments in the country). One of his first measures as chief was to increase the police presence in “six historically crime-ridden neighborhoods” in an effort to deter crime. Although this is not something unique or new from Contee, it is not the policy change that many have been saying he represents. 

All of these increases in policing are being justified by talking about high rates of crime. Contee claims that more officers are needed because there simply are not enough to effectively respond to all of the calls being made. Nationwide focus on gun violence and homicide is used to pressure people into giving police more power, even though evidence shows that police do not solve these problems. Nevertheless, the MPD budget has been steadily increasing. Many police supporters will point to the budget cut in 2020, from $591,313,726 to $559,526,918, as well as the supposedly rising crime rates. However, this one cut does not represent the overall trend in the rising MPD budget. The proposed 2021 operating budget of $578,069,493, is less than the budget in 2019, is still $8 million more than the budget in 2018 at $570,087,037. Looking at MPD’s crime data, we see that the overall crime rates in DC have been falling. The homicide rate this year is higher, going from 99 by July 14th in 2020, to 101 by the same date in 2021. But that represents only a 2% increase while the overall number of crimes, both violent and property, are down by 2%. All this is with the large budget cut. This is also after a huge decrease in crime from 2019 to 2020, where the total amount of crime decreased by 19%. Despite the trend of decreased crime each year, homicides have increased, from 116 in 2017 to 160 in 2018, and then from 166 in 2019 to 198 in 2020. Rhetoric that tries to tie a lack of funding to increased homicide rates is wrong – rates have been going up well before any cuts were made in MPD’s budget. Despite what Contee wants people to believe, more policing does not solve the issue of gun violence and homicide. 

While the reforms in both the NEAR Act and the Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Emergency Amendment Act are steps in the right direction. These have been undermined through a lack of funding or police just ignoring them. What we ultimately need is to decenter the police. The recommendations made by the Police Reform Commission speak about centering communities rather than the police to prevent crimes from happening in the first place. The first step towards a safer DC is to push back on Contee’s calls for an increased police force by making sure that the Council follows the recommendations made by the PRC. If we have learned anything from 2020, it is that public pressure campaigns do work. We need to hold the DC Council and Mayor Bowser accountable because it is not the police who will keep us safe. We keep us safe.

The post Police Reform: What went wrong? Part 3 appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Police Reforms: What went wrong?

Mon, 10/25/2021 - 12:29

Part 2: Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Emergency Amendment Act of 2020

Following the murder of George Floyd and the mass protests that he inspired, DC passed the Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Emergency Amendment Act of 2020. This act prohibits the use of neck restraints like chokeholds. It increases access to body-worn camera videos, limits consent searches, restricts MPD’s purchasing and use of military weapons, as well as limits the use of “internationally banned chemical weapons (tear gas), riot gear, and less-lethal weapons (rubber bullets),” and created the Police Reform Commission. Limiting consent searches, restricting military weapons, and prohibiting neck restraints are changes that immediately impact how police officers carry out their jobs. Decreasing the use of tear gas, riot gear, and rubber bullets is a step to protect people’s first amendment right to freedom of assembly. This particular provision has a loophole, where it states that these aggressive items can be used if there is “an immediate risk to officers of significant bodily injury.” Considering that cops use this excuse all the time, this provision might not be as helpful as it seems. Nevertheless, these are changes we should ensure are carried out. 

One of the most interesting parts of the Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Emergency Amendment Act was the creation of the Police Reform Commission (PRC). The Commission was composed of 20 representatives, none of whom were affiliated with MPD in any way, who would examine the policing practices in DC and recommend reforms. Formed in July of 2020, they would only have until the end of the year to report to Mayor Bowser. Although they did not have much time, the Police Reform Commission published a lengthy report with many great recommendations to change how police operate within DC. They recommended replacing police with behavioral healthcare professionals as “the default first responders to individuals in crises.” Calling on police only in dangerous crises where weapons are involved, and even then, the response is in conjunction with the behavioral health professional. The PRC also recommended strengthening social safety nets. Including increasing funding for the Department Of Behavioral Health, addressing the housing needs of all DC’s residents, and decriminalizing low-level offenses like panhandling, among other recommendations. Rather than criminalizing certain behaviors, the PRC calls on DC “to expand and create community-based services and other resources that meet people’s underlying needs.” Many of their recommendations spring from what they called “Reducing and Realigning.” Meaning that the size of the MPD should be reduced, and that money that usually goes to policing should go to building community programs that help people instead. As they pointed out in their report, 

“While many cities have significantly reduced funding for police, MPD funding has increased by 12 percent since 2015. MPD’s budget dwarfs the District’s budgets for affordable housing, employment services, physical and behavioral health (and is less than human services).”

Police Reform Commission Report

Reduction and realignment are in their proposals through removing police from schools and taking special measures to protect young people from over-policing and criminalization. Funding the ONSE, holding police accountable, and building a community-centered MPD with a harm reduction approach to policing.  This report is very long and goes much further into detail than this article. There is a move away from policing communities and towards building communities. Policing has never worked to bring about material improvements for working-class people. Community-based approaches like the ONSE are proven to work. The Police Reform Commission is an important step in this direction and their recommendations should be put into effect. 

The post Police Reforms: What went wrong? appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Police Reforms: What went wrong?

Mon, 10/11/2021 - 13:53

Part 1: The NEAR Act: Has it been implemented?

By Grassroots DC

For years now, police reform has been a mainstay in public discourse. Ever since the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013, we have been discussing how we should reform our justice system. Outside of mainstream outlets, calls for changing the system of policing and mass incarceration have been around for even longer. In the almost 10 years since the inception of BLM, what reforms have been happening here in DC? And have those reforms been effective in, if not ending, reducing police brutality?

One of the biggest reforms passed in DC was the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results (NEAR) Act in 2016. Among the reforms proposed in this act are more officer training, improved stop and frisk/use of force data collection, and the creation of the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE).  ONSE was created to provide support for “individuals determined to be at high risk of participating in, or being victim of, violent criminal activity.” The ONSE can provide these individuals with programming, access to mental and physical health care, and even stipends.  

In addition to the creation of the ONSE, the NEAR Act also mandates that MPD provides more training on various things, including community policing. While the language on community policing in the NEAR act is vague, it manifests as more interactions between police and community members. The reforms in the NEAR Act are just first steps towards holding police accountable and even moving towards proactive crime prevention measures. If you were to check this site, it would say that everything in the NEAR Act has been implemented with a big green check mark as if to say job well done. However, if we look closer into some of the individual titles, we see a different picture. After the NEAR Act was enacted, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) did not release the data that the act mandated. It was only after the local chapter of the ACLU sued MPD that they finally released some data for 2019 in February of 2020, almost four years after the NEAR Act was implemented. 

The numbers do not tell a good story for MPD. MPD seems to have purposely made the report long and hard to understand, using a generous amount of space explaining why they feel that stops are necessary and the risk that cops are exposed to on the job. One great example is the page titled “Why isn’t stop data comparable to Census data?”  Accompanying these paragraphs of text trying to justify MPD’s actions are misleading graphs that show data in a way that is hard to compare and even understand sometimes. Earlier in the report, MPD claims that 60% of stops were made on Black people, without giving the context needed to evaluate that number.  After wading through the colorfully confusing graphs and nonsensical talking points, the real number is printed one time in tiny font at 72%.

This is just from the report of 2019. The report that was put out in 2020 is a lot less detailed. While the report in 2019 was 24 pages long, 2020’s report was only 2. And where the 2019 report tried to hide the data, 2020’s report just doesn’t have the data at all. They kept the language about why stops are important, then took out any data on who was being stopped. According to MPD a more comprehensive report was due to be released April 2021, but it has yet to be released.  

The data on stops was also accompanied by a report of MPD’s special Gun Recovery and Narcotics units mandated by the DC Council. This report found that 87% of those stopped were Black, 91% of those arrested were Black, and 100% of those hurt in use-of-force incidents were Black. In 65% of the stops on Black people there was no contraband recovered. Unfortunately these numbers show us what we already know; police have always and still to this day disproportionately target Black people.

In a sense, improved stop and frisk/use of force data collection was successful. We have more data. Having this information is vital to supporting activists in their efforts to create meaningful change.  Unfortunately, these changes are slow and are continuously slowed down by MPD’s unwillingness to follow the NEAR Act. The Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, on the other hand, does directly affect people’s lives in effective ways. Among those individuals that they are able to reach, the ONSE has been able to make a difference and reduce violent crime. Their flagship program, the Pathways Program, provides those at risk of participating in and/or being victims of violence with temporary employment and training in a three-phase model. 

“The first phase is an intensive, nine-week classroom-based training that focuses on life and job skills. Phase two offers six months of subsidized employment, which helps participants gain real work experience, build positive work habits, and establish a record of employment. The third phase offers long-term retention and support services aimed at ensuring participants successfully transition to permanent unsubsidized employment, retain said employment, and continue to pursue their other self-identified personal and professional goals. Throughout every phase of the program, Pathways participants are offered a host of wraparound services including: transportation benefits, nutritional services, mental health services, housing assistance referrals, clothing and/or uniform assistance, access to a variety of pro-social extracurricular activities, and more.” 

Pathways Program

Another important part of the ONSE is their violence interrupters. Not only do these interrupters refer individuals to the Pathways program, they are also responsible for developing neighborhood plans for violence intervention based on the specific needs of a community. More recently, the ONSE started a pilot program at Anacostia High School to help repeat 11th and 12th graders by providing them “attendance, course performance, and behavioral support.” Although this program was only started in 2020, and thus cut off by the pandemic, it was able to help 40 students. Over half of these students were able to graduate in the spring of 2020. This is just one of many successful programs run by the ONSE. The only thing that keeps the ONSE from helping more people is how small the organization is. Though the budget has been growing, from $2,394,808 in 2018 to $7,579,212 in 2020, it was cut in the proposed budget for 2021 to $6,716,014. Compare this to the MPD budget which was at its highest in 2019 at $591,313,726. So while the ONSE is an effective organization, it is limited in how effective it can be with a tiny budget that is barely more than 1% of the MPD.

The ONSE is an example of how the NEAR Act has laid the groundwork for greater changes. Imagine the impact the ONSE could have if it had the budget MPD currently has. Currently, there are multiple organizations fighting to increase funding for the ONSE. We will be highlighting some of those programs in articles and videos to come.

The post Police Reforms: What went wrong? appeared first on Grassroots DC.

DC Evictions: Fact vs Fiction

Fri, 02/12/2021 - 12:55

Graphics Produced by ONE DC

The post DC Evictions: Fact vs Fiction appeared first on Grassroots DC.

The Best Most Researched COVID-19 Self-Care Guide for Black and Brown Communities

Wed, 10/28/2020 - 20:52

We’ve been living with COVID-19 for many months and it will probably be with us for many more months if not years.  Not surprisingly, it’s hit communities of color particularly hard.  This article was written to help individuals in African-American and Latinx communities deal with the Rona in the event that it enters their homes. 

I’ve gathered a lot of information and come to the following basic conclusions. It has to be acknowledged that for houseless individuals and families, much of these suggestions will need to be adapted or simply impossible to achieve. Time permitting, we’ll do a follow-up that addresses the particular concerns of those members of our communities who are unhoused.

  • Rest is important but hydration is crucial
  • Foods rich in Vitamin C will help your immune response. Zinc and Vitamin D are also helpful.
  • Acetaminophen is probably the best option for fever control, unless you have liver disease. In which case you should use Ibuprofen. Both should be taken as directed.
  • Home remedies like herbal tea with honey and lemon are your best option for a cough but is probably just as important for hydration.
  • A basic understanding of the Active Cycle of Breathing Technique is helpful if things get rough
  • More important than any of the above, is the need for a support system that will provide support throughout the illness and recovery period 

The rest of this article explains the above conclusions. I am not a doctor so you’ll find links to my sources throughout the article. If you believe the sources to be trustworthy then follow the advice that they give. If they sound iffy to you, see if you can find the same information from a source that you trust. If you can’t, then take the info with a grain of salt. You should do all of those things for any information that you find on the Internet, but that’s especially true for anything related to COVID-19.

Self-Isolation Does Not Equal Going It Alone 

If you are sick and living alone then you must let people know that you’re sick. Ideally, we’d have a government that could do contact tracing without extensive privacy violations.  Contact tracing is essentially finding anyone who has had physical contact with an infectious individual, testing them, monitoring them and if necessary putting them in quarantine. But since that’s not likely to happen, you should do what you can to protect your community. You may not have the energy to do more than share the fact that you’re ill on Facebook and your other social media accounts but frankly that’s better than what the government is doing.  

The other reason you should let people know, especially if you live alone, is because you’re going to need support. Someone will need to bring you food, medicine and to help you monitor your symptoms in case things take a turn for the worse.  Those who take on the role of caregiver, should also find support. Caregivers in households without a separate bathroom or possibly even a separate bedroom for anyone who might come down with the virus cannot avoid the risk of catching the virus themselves.  Setting up a support system that can help safely deliver groceries, medicine and other supplies will help protect the family and the wider community.

Don’t Treat COVID-19 Like the Flu 

Once you’ve set up a support system, you can concentrate on caring for yourself or providing care for your loved one(s). COVID-19 appears to be roughly twice as contagious as the flu and so way more deadly. The importance of avoiding contamination and being scrupulous about hygiene cannot be overstated. 

Anyone who is sick but not hospitalized should isolate themselves from other members of the household. The CDC gives some specific guidelines for people taking care of themselves and for those who are taking care of others. It’s important to wear a mask when in the same room with someone who has COVID-19. Eating in the same room is a no no. Wearing rubber gloves in public doesn’t always make sense because the gloves themselves can carry the virus.  Washing hands often and particularly whenever you come home makes more sense.  On the other hand, when caring for someone at home, rubber gloves are imperative when doing laundry and dealing with bodily fluids. Sharing a bathroom is truly problematic and requires cleaning after every use.

The CDC advises that you stay hydrated, get plenty of rest, try to control your fever and contact your doctor if your symptoms get worse. Their suggestions are a bit more in-depth if your in a high-risk category— those who are immune compromised, have diabetes, heart and lung disease, etc.

But who’s in a high-risk category isn’t as obvious as it may seem. If you are uninsured or under-insured, there’s a good chance that you may have an underlying condition but not know about it. Or you may suspect that there’s a problem but you don’t have the time or the resources to have it treated. These are just two of the many reasons that the life expectancy is lower in communities of color and African-Americans in particular have been dying at higher rates of COVID-19.  Let’s face it, white supremacy is the underlying condition that puts people of color and particularly Black people at higher risk.

As the CDC doesn’t have instructions for dealing with racism, we’ll start with their basic instructions. Getting plenty of fluids and rest is straightforward enough. Including soup in your meal prep is a good idea because it can be frozen and ready on hand.  You’ll need to drink plenty of fluids. Water is best but also boring. Despite this, you should avoid sugary drinks and stick with clear fluids like low-sodium broth. Because of its electrolytes, Gatorade is popular for rehydration but those who are or might be diabetic should stick to the low calorie versions.  Alcohol should be avoided all together.

Over the Counter Medications

Trying to control your fever is a trickier issue because your body uses heat to fight infections. If you can withstand a low-grade fever (under 101 degrees) you might recover quicker. On the other hand, if a fever spikes, then the fever itself might do more harm than good. advises using Acetaminophen (commonly sold under the brand name Tylenol) to control your fever. You might prefer Ibuprofen because it also helps control inflammation and may help with body aches. According to the CDC and the World Health Organization, the theory that anti-inflammatories can make COVID-19 worse has not been proven. However, the FDA reminds us that NSAIDs like Ibuprofen can diminish the utility of diagnostic signs in detecting infections. On the other hand, acetaminophen is hard on the liver, so it should be taken with caution and avoided all together if you have liver disease. 

Acetaminophen and ibuprofen both have plusses and minuses. The choice depends on any underlying conditions the patient might have. If no pre-existing conditions exists, and again, this can be difficult to verify, rotating between the two every three hours or more is a practice commonly used by medical professionals.

When I feel a cold coming on, the first thing I take is a multi-symptom cold medicine like Theraflu and go to bed. But multiple sources, advise against this not only for COVID-19 but also for patients with underlying conditions like diabetes and heart disease because many of the active ingredients interfere with other medications. Severe cases of COVID-19 have caused damage to internal organs and some of the ingredients in a multi-symptom medicines could exacerbate that problem. So stick with acetaminophen and/or ibuprofen for fever and body aches. 

Cough is a common symptom. However, Consumer Reports suggests that cough medicines are not terribly effective for COVID-19. Warm, steamy showers, lozenges or herbal teas with honey are better options. Herbal tea also helps keep you hydrated, which is crucial. If you’re coughing so much that you can’t rest then a cough medicine that uses dextromethorphan like Delsym or Robitussin is best because it is safe for both diabetics and people with high blood pressure. Again, cough syrups with more than one active ingredient should be avoided. 

Vitamins and Nutrition

In addition, suggests that the anti-viral properties of zinc might be helpful. Vitamin C supports the activity of immune cells but is most helpful when taken in the form of food. So don’t skimp on citrus fruits and vegetables like red peppers, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach and other leafy greens.

Vitamin D should also be considered.  Low vitamin D levels are associated with auto-immune diseases like diabetes, which also worsens COVID-19 outcomes.  Because our main source of Vitamin D is the sun and darker skin is less sensitive to the sun, darker people are more susceptible to auto-immune diseases.  There are studies that suggest that Vitamin D might help with COVID-19 specifically.  With or without a pandemic, Blacks and Latinos should consider Vitamin D supplements.

Active Cycle of Breathing Technique

For patients who have difficulty breathing, the Active Cycle of Breathing Technique (ACBT) can increase oxygen levels.  ACBT is most commonly used for people with breathing disorders like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD and is described in detail by the American Lung Association and is demonstrated in the video below.

In the video, the doctor takes a deep breath through the mouth and holds it in for five seconds before releasing it. Others recommend breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth to avoid irritating the throat. Repeat the breaths five times, before finishing a final round of breathing with a big cough.  Coughing is controversial because it might help spread the disease.  But everyone agrees that deep breaths encourage air into the depths of the lungs. With shallow breaths, the entire lung doesn’t fill up. If pockets within the lungs aren’t used, they can close and increase the risk of infection. So keep practicing those deep breaths.

Tracking Symptoms

While taking care of yourself or someone else, it’s important to monitor symptoms. Keeping a diary that records symptoms on a daily or even hourly basis can be invaluable when talking to a doctor who might otherwise dismiss the severity and/or an escalation of symptoms.

As you record symptoms, make sure to include even things that don’t seem related to COVID-19. Most cases that become serious are due to the onset of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) or pneumonia. But doctors are discovering that many COVID-19 patients whose main symptoms are gastrointestinal never develop respiratory illness.  Back pain can be an indication that your kidneys are under attack. Those with a history of autoimmune disease may be susceptible to cytokine storms, etc. So record everything.

Those who have an undiagnosed condition won’t know what symptoms to be concerned about. This group is disproportionately the uninsured, the under-insured and those whose symptoms are regularly downplayed or ignored by medical professionals, i.e., Black people. To combat racist attitudes that you might encounter when seeking treatment, keep a diary of your symptoms and how they’re progressing. The more detailed information you can give to your doctor, the better. They are less likely to ignore symptoms that are documented this way. Racism or not, having this information can help medical professionals make informed decisions about the trajectory of the disease and how fast it’s progressing.

When to Go to the Hospital

The progress of COVID-19 does not follow a predictable pattern. Symptoms may be serious from the very beginning or it may feel like a bad flu for weeks and then suddenly go south very fast.  How do you know if hospitalization is necessary? According to Web MD () you should seek treatment if you the following symptoms

  • Problems breathing
  • Constant pain or pressure in your chest
  • Bluish lips or face
  • Sudden confusion 

Depending on your pigmentation, bluish lips or face may not occur despite the serious worsening of symptoms.  But pressure in the chest, confusion and problems breathing all indicate that you may not be getting enough oxygen. 

Depending on your pigmentation, bluish lips or face may not occur despite the serious worsening of symptoms.  Pressure in the chest, confusion and problems breathing all indicate that the patient may not be getting enough oxygen.  Medical attention should also be sought if there are symptoms that are new or worsening or if they prevent the patient from doing normal activity.   This includes symptoms that are not related to breathing. As we learn more and more about the disease, it’s clear that it presents differently in different people. For those who are knowingly at a higher risk, a doctor might be able to tell you what symptoms to be concerned about beyond those listed above. 

The biggest concern for a coronavirus patient is shortness of breath, because it’s an indicator of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) and pneumonia. A feeling of tightness in the chest, pain, or the sense of drowning when lying down indicates that you’re not getting enough oxygen. It can lead to disorientation that makes it difficult to call for help. Which leads us back to the importance of monitoring your symptoms and letting people know that you’re sick and asking them (or allowing those who’ve already offered) to check in on you regularly.

If the hospital decides that the patient’s symptoms are not serious enough to warrant admission and you disagree, then it’s probably time to put up a fight.  In my experience, taking names and threatening legal action can be effective. The role of advocate cannot be taken on by someone suffering from a severe case of COVID-19, which is another reason it’s important to seek help from friends or family. Being a healthcare advocate for a person of color is also an excellent way for an anti-racist white person to make good use of their privilege. 

Black folk are used to being told to suck it up and walk it off. Because life for so many of us is simply more difficult than the white majority in the country, many believe that we are in fact stronger and can walk off illness and injury. Given the incredibly disproportionate number of deaths within African-American communities, this practice is simply unacceptable. If we are to survive, we must do everything that we can to take care of ourselves, our families and our communities. In the long-term, we will continue to fight for equity and justice. In the meantime, surviving a pandemic within a system designed to shorten our lives is a revolutionary act. Be a revolutionary. 

The post The Best Most Researched COVID-19 Self-Care Guide for Black and Brown Communities appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Stop Police Terror DC And Black Lives Matter DC Condemn The Murder Of Deon Kay

Fri, 09/04/2020 - 23:20
Written by April Goggans and Sean Blackmon

Washington, DC — Months of protests against police violence here in DC calling for justice for #DQuanYoung, #MarqueeseAlston, #JeffPrice and so many more, have culminated in another name being added to that list — Deon Kay.

Eighteen-year-old Deon should be alive today. Deon was murdered in broad daylight by Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officer Alexander Alvarez on September 2, 2020, and nothing that DC Police Chief Peter Newsham and Mayor Muriel Bowser do to distort the facts, or to smear a teenager as a violent threat, will take away from that truth. Deon should be alive but on Wednesday he was murdered.  

“The same false, racist narrative that stole Deon’s boyhood and turned him into a full grown man out for blood is the same narrative we have seen from Mayor Bowser and MPD over and over again,” said Stop Police Terror Project DC organizer Natacia Knapper. “Don’t be fooled — Deon was a child, barely 18, hunted and gunned down through the deeply woven slave-catching tactics cops have been using since the birth of policing in America.”

“It seems everyone is committed to spending more perfect victim energy examining Deon’s life than the murderer that took it,” said April Goggans, a Core Organizer with Black Lives Matter DC. “Perpetuating the myth that ‘perfect victims’ exist is dangerous and reinforces the myth that only some Black lives matter.” As described by the Guardian, it is standard practice for district attorneys and prosecutors to dredge up negative details about victims of police killings and promote racist tropes, adding to families’ pain.

As Mayor Bowser is applauded for denouncing federal forces (with whom MPD collaborates) for using the very same tactics used by her own police force, and paints words she doesn’t mean outside the White House, her body count grows.

“We refuse to allow the mayor to continue to insult the intelligence of DC residents,” said Black Lives Matter DC Core Organizer Nee Nee Taylor. “Every action she has taken — from calling for prosecutions of unlawfully arrested protesters to ignoring the killings of Black people in DC — is antithetical to the idea that Black lives matter.”

Both research and the lived experiences of those who have familiarity with it have shown that intra-community violence is not solved through policing, which only further traumatizes communities. In fact, the police and DC government have caused or perpetuated the violent conditions many of our city’s residents experience every day. “Violence shows up in many forms — through gentrification, displacement, lack of food access, the school to prison pipeline and numerous other ways,” said Knapper. “The state creates the conditions to create a desperate and traumatic reality for many Black DC residents, particularly East of the River, and then responds to that desperation with murderous intent.”

“The idea that recovering a gun is worth the life of a child should be horrifying to every DC resident.” said Makia Green, a Core Organizer with Black Lives Matter DC. “Meeting violence with violence has never worked, yet the DC government insists on continuing that failed tactic — instead of providing well-funded resources and services like violence interruption, quality education, mental and physical health care, and housing.”  

It is no coincidence that community members were the first to respond to the shooting of Deon, communities learned long ago not to expect help from the DC government and have found their own ways of coming together and staying safe – including peace vigils, mutual aid, and neighborhood protests.

Mayor Bowser has shown she cares nothing for Black and POC communities. If she wants to change that she must immediately:

  • Fire MPD Chief Peter Newsham
  • Launch a fully independent investigation into the death of Deon Kay
  • Fire MPD Officer Alexander Alvarez
  • Defund the DC Metropolitan Police Department and fully invest in community-led resources

We also call on the entire DC Council to support these demands and in addition, to amend the extremely inadequate “Comprehensive Justice and Policing Reform Act to:

  • Require that all released videos include audit trails that show who accessed the video and how and if it was edited, so that transparency can reduce the risk that the videos are doctored.
  • Require that MPD explicitly clarify why officers’ faces in released footage are redacted, define who are considered “officers involved” before releasing footage, and include those officers’ names and faces in the footage.
  • Require that MPD state explicitly when naming “officers involved” which officer committed the act (rather than officers who were on the scene)

“Mayor Bowser, city officials, and DC councilmembers, all have Deon Kay’s blood on their hands because of their advocacy for right-wing law-and-order policies that maintain the police occupation of DC’s Black communities,” said Stop Police Terror Project organizer Sean Blackmon. “These so-called ‘progressives’ are responsible for the same police terror that has sparked months-long protests all over the country,” Blackmon continued. “As long as they continue to desperately avoid divesting from ineffective and brutal policing and investing in the health and safety of communities, police killings will continue and the crisis facing DC’s poor and working class Black people will only intensify.”

A vigil for Deon Kay will be held Saturday September 5, 2020 at 6:00PM on the corner of MLK Ave. SE & Mellon St. SE.

We are calling for all people of DC to sign our petition to Defund The Police and attend an upcoming event to help us build a world without police.

Black Lives Matter DC is a member based abolitionist organization centering Black people most at risk for state violence in DC, creating the conditions for Black Liberation through the abolition of systems and institutions of white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy and colonialism.
Black Lives Matter DCinfo@dcblm.orgTwitter: @DMVBlackLivesInstagram: @blacklivesmatterdcFacebook: @BLMDC

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COVID-19 Remains a Problem within Black and Brown Communities

Mon, 07/13/2020 - 09:04
The coronavirus pandemic has a greater impact on Black and Brown communities. Here’s why Black, Indigenous and People of Color need to take greater precautions.

COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, has created pandemonium globally.  All fifty states have reported cases of COVID-19.  According to CNN, the United States has 4% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s Coronavirus cases.   As of this writing, positive cases are on the decline in many states and on the rise in others.   In an attempt to counter the negative economic impact of the pandemic, many regions, including the District of Columbia, are attempting to “re-open.”   This unfortunately contributes to the idea that the pandemic is not serious.  Many continue to believe that the virus is man-made.  

An analysis of public genome sequence data from SARS-COV-2 found no evidence it was created in a lab.  Having monitored the transmission of infections, scientists believe this variation of the coronavirus originated in bats and jumped to humans.  There are literally millions of viruses, so it’s inevitable that some will mutate and jump from animals to humans.   This problem is likely to get worse as humans continue to move into habitats formerly dominated by animals.  And when it happens, it’s usually a bad thing because the human body doesn’t know how to deal with a novel or new viruses.    

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause mild to severe illnesses. There are hundreds of coronaviruses with 7 main variations that affect humans.   So far, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-2 otherwise known as COVID-19 have proven to be the most deadly to humans.  COVID-19 is particularly problematic because it has a long incubation period, during which carriers may be unknowingly spreading the virus.  It’s also difficult to contain because unlike viruses like HIV which is relatively difficult to contract, COVID-19 is highly contagious.

According to WebMD, the virus is spread when someone is exposed to respiratory droplets that are transmitted through the air as an infected person coughs, sneezes, or breathes. While it’s more common to become infected after being within six feet of an infected person, you can also come in contact with the disease by touching a surface that’s hosting coronavirus. If the viral particles from these droplets make their way to your mouth, nose, or even your eyes, the virus can attach to ACE2 receptors (a protein molecule on the surface of a cell with the ability to bind with another molecule) in the mucous membranes of your throat and infect the body.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms can appear as few as two days after exposure or as long as 14 days.  People of any age who have severe underlying medical conditions along with older people are the most at risk.   Those who don’t believe the virus is serious, are less likely to take the precautions necessary to protect themselves or limit the spread of the disease.  This unfortunately puts everyone at risk but especially Black and Brown people.

Systemic and institutional racism makes it very difficult for Black to acquire and accumulate wealth. As a result, the net worth of a typical white family is nearly ten times greater than that of a typical Black family. The stress associated with financial insecurity, difficulty accessing healthy food, or the time for adequate exercise is all factors that contribute to higher rates of diabetes, obesity, asthma and cardiovascular disease in low-income Black communities. All of these underlying conditions worsen COVID-19 outcomes. It’s not surprising that Blacks make up less than half of D.C.’s population but approximately 80 percent of Coronavirus deaths.

Proximity is another factor contributing to high rates of infection. Densely populated areas like Columbia Heights, where front line workers in the Latinx community also often live in multigenerational households, helps to explain high rates of infection in Ward 4.

Although infection rates are highest in Ward 4, deaths are highest in Wards 7 & 8. With the United Medical Center being the only hospital east of the Anacostia River, residents there simply have fewer healthcare options. On top of that, stories of bias in healthcare treatment against Blacks and Latinx are common, even after the onset of the pandemic.   Healthcare providers misinterpret, downplay, or ignore symptoms in Black and Brown patients.  They are also more likely to be turned away from medical facilities and refused tests.  All of this can lead to fatal results. 

For this reason, it is absolutely crucial that DC’s Black and Brown communities continue to follow CDC recommendations.  Face masks are essential.   A sneeze or cough sprays mucus, saliva, and viruses that can remain active for up to an hour. Traveling 50-100 mph and spraying 3,000 to 100,000 droplets in one go, is an efficient way to spread a virus.  Even with a mask, it’s important to keep at least 6 feet away from anyone when you’re out in public. This is especially important if you’re indoors where aerosolized droplets of the virus can remain active for more than three hours.

Being concerned about the economy, Mayor Bowser seems intent on reopening the city. As the city reopens and more demand is made for retail workers, delivery personnel and front-line health care workers many within DC’s African-American and Latinx communities will accept the additional risk. Even though the mainstream press has moved COVID-19 infections and deaths out of the headlines, the virus is still out there. Do what you can to provide for yourself and your family but please take as many precautions as you possibly can.

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Black Lives Matter DC Demands Change in the Name of Those Killed by Police in the District of Columbia

Tue, 06/09/2020 - 11:48

“Black people are allowed to be joyful or feel seen with DC renaming a street after Black Lives Matter. It’s also our responsibility to let you know what we are fighting for, who has the power to change things and that power concedes nothing without demand.”

– Kiki Green, a Core Organizer with Black Lives Matter DC

Today Black Lives Matter DC stands in solidarity with freedom fighters all over the world to honor the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Dreasjon Reed, and as always those we have lost to police here in DC: 

These are the names of the people that performative Black Lives Matter street art leaves out. These are the names that fuel our commitment to #DefundPolice and #StopMPD. We know that for some DC is the seat of power and imperialism, the symbolic representation of harmful systems but it is also home to hundreds of thousands of Black people who are oppressed by the very systems people claim to be against. It never fails that in the national discourse people ignore those killed right here in DC by police while protesting police brutality and muder in our city.

Image Credited to BYP100

We stand by our critique of the DC Mayor Muriel Bowser after the unveiling of the Black Lives Matter Mural and the renaming of Black Lives Matter Plaza. “Black Lives Matter” is a complete statement. There is no grey area or ambiguity. We hold that we have a duty to the loved ones named above to ensure that they are not forgotten and their deaths are not exploited for publicity, performance, or distraction. Mayor Muriel Bowser must be held accountable for the lip service she pays in making such a statement while she continues to intentionally underfund and cut services and programs that meet the basic survival needs of Black people in DC. 

To chip away at the investments in communities that actually make us safer while proposing a $45 million dollar increase in funding for the Metropolitan Police Department’s budget a few weeks ago is NOT making Black lives matter. Bowser justifies the over policing of Black bodies by pointing to the heartbreaking number of Black people who have died as a result of violence in our streets. Simultaneously she publicly admits that increased police presence has little effect on violent crimes, especially homicide. Homicides continue to increase despite the MPD budget growing every year and more and more officers on the streets. In a continuation of her intentional efforts to first not fund, then dissect, and now lie about implementing the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Act (NEAR Act), that threats community violence as a public health issue, she just proposed to cut $800k from the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement that the Act created and where the violence interruption program sits. Additionally, she still has not opened the stand alone Office of Violence Prevention also required by the Act. Stop Police Terror Project DC and Black Lives Matter DC were instrumental in the creation, passage, funding of the NEAR Act.

Although Black people make up 46% of D.C.’s population, they remain the subjects of the vast majority of all stops, frisks, and uses of force in the District. A January 2018 D.C. Office of Police Complaints OPC report found that of the 2,224 total reported uses of force in Fiscal Year 2017 (October 1, 2016 through September 30, 2017), 89% involved a Black subject. A February 2018 investigative report from WUSA9 analyzed pre-NEAR Act data and found that approximately 80% of the stops involved a Black subject. Just this week OPC released its FY18 Annual Report that revealed officer misconduct complaints are up 78% since FY16, 780 complaints were received (the second consecutive year of receiving a record number of complaints), 501 new investigations were opened (more than any other year since OPC’s 

We actively reject the false narrative that policing is necessary or safe. That the system of the system of policing and the injustice system are not broken, they are operating exactly the way that they were designed. 

Our anger and rage, our grief is justified. We rebuke the notion that we must celebrate crumbs the Mayor gives DC residents without engaging critically in why we settle for art but not housing, street signs but not investments in the actual things that keep communities safe. If our attempts to hold this administration accountable for what we believe are multiple failures of leadership turns people away then we will stand alone. We are clear in our commitment that liberation for all Black people and real change to the conditions that keep us locked up and out will not be swayed even if people disagree with our stance. 

While people celebrate this Mayor, our lawsuit against Bowser this week resulted in the DC curfew being lifted. That’s not it. While we are both taking it to the streets with direct action and support, we are also suing President Donald Trump for ordering the use of violence against protestors who were speaking out against police brutality and the murder of Black people by police. We do this because we know that both the federal and local government are complicit in the violence against protestors. 

While others may forget, we do not forget any of us. When we say Black Lives Matter, we mean ALL Black lives. We will work for the liberation of all Black people in DC when it is difficult, when we are attacked, when people are busy debating whether or not protestors are violent or peaceful, and until we are free.

Therefore WE DEMAND 

Black Lives Matter DC is a member-based abolitionist organization centering Black people most at risk for state violence in DC, creating the conditions for Black Liberation through the abolition of systems and institutions of white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy, and colonialism. 

We are dedicated to promoting strategies that: 

  • empower the most oppressed Black people; 
  • do not reinforce or legitimize systems and institutions that harm Black people including police, prisons, mass incarceration, and modern slavery. 
  • divest from people, institutions and systems that harm us and invest in the people, institutions, systems and other models that support our liberation and empowerment.
  • use a diversity of tactics to promote harm reduction, political education, and non-cooperation as strategic visions.

Black Lives Matter DC


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Are Shelters an Option for the UnHoused During a Pandemic? Is There a Better Way?

Wed, 06/03/2020 - 10:00

In the District of Columbia, there are people who have gone far too unnoticed in their community. They are some of the most brilliant and creative souls in the region. They are masters of innovation with the ability to weather extraordinary situations. These are the unhoused or homeless, as people want to call them. In a city where 46% of the population is African American, the homeless are 86% African American.  Dealing with housing instability is tough enough outside of dealing with health issues like the current Covid-19 Pandemic.

These men and women have a story to tell. People like Daniel Ball  who not only makes the best of the situation but also has strong ties to his  community. His mother used to live in DC  before moving to Addison Road in Maryland.  

Photo of Daniel Ball by Elvert Barnes / Flckr

As far as experiencing homelessness, “yes, some nights I stay up here in DC  and some nights I stay with my mother,” Ball said.  “I understand people experience homelessness.  It’s a good question and going to be a good question because people are experiencing homelessness.”  

Daniel Ball is just one of many who have found themselves homeless during the COVID-19 crisis gripping the globe.  “Yes sometimes I sleep outside.  Either I’m on a bench or either I’m up in Farragut West straight up the elevator, I sleep there,” Ball said. “Last night was an experience too.  Usually the man from the food court wakes me up.  Sometimes I’m already up.  A girl slept beside me scheming.  When I got up, I didn’t bother her because I know we going through the same change.  I usually jump on the Metro.  Today I rode the X2 and came up here.  But I love a good question like that you asked because it’s a good question. What are you experiencing?” 

Ball gave reasons why he chooses to come to the District of Columbia.  “It’s like home to me.  And my mama always asks, ‘why you keep running to DC?’  I keep running here, because my job is here,” he said, “and some people don’t have money to travel back and forth like that.”  

Ball then described his experience signing up for programs in the city.  “We do intake with the case worker.  They call them caseworkers.  I filed for food stamps.  I applied for my housing.  One thing right now with what’s happening is you can’t rush people.  You can’t be going there like, ‘give me my food stamps.’  You gotta have patience.  Everything has patience with it,” Ball said. “I ain’t going to knock nobody out.  My name is Daniel Ball and I am not going to do that.  As far as the government, there are people that are social. There are some that get involved.” 

Staying in Shelter

Those living in shelter during this unprecedented emergency are also finding it hard to deal with certain conditions. Forty-four year old, DC native, Donell Lowell used to be an auto mechanic but  has been homeless since July 2018.  Lowell also survived a stroke which occured on April 16,  2019, “a year and a day ago today,” Lowell says. “Social distancing is pretty much obsolete here.  Outside of here you can pretty much isolate yourself if you want,” he said.  “I’ve met some good people but there are some bad people out here, especially, these security guards.  They treat you like shit.  That’s my situation.  That happened to me.”  

Photo by Julie Gallagher / Street Sense Media

Lowell was assaulted while staying in shelter during the health emergency. “I complained that he bullied me, threatened me.  And he was still able to work here.  And I sustained injuries at his hands.”  The only time Lowell saw any disciplinary action came after he had been attacked by security. “After I got injured they fired him right away,” he said. “Other than that, we have no say. You gotta be hurt or something to be heard around here.”  

DC officials have been telling the community in weekly calls that they were providing rooms for self isolation. When I asked Lowell if he was provided any of these other services and did officials consider him vulnerable to the disease, Lowell said,“Yeah they do but they didn’t offer me nothing.”  

It may seem like during this crisis a large congregate setting may not be the ideal setting for mitigating the spread of COVID-19.  Before the crisis, DC had to deal with considerable disdain for providing emergency housing and spending more per capita than any major city in the United States on housing production.  Despite this, the District of Columbia has the tenth highest number of homeless in the United States.

Solutions Proposed by Unhoused Individuals

The unhoused in DC in particular are in a state of flux during the current health crisis and each day brings new challenges.  It seems like they are being ignored more than others who are receiving help from agencies, neighbors and local governments.  What do the homeless have to say about their situation? Are they being heard if they have a solution to address their current situation?  

Donell Lowell seems to have some solid recommendations on homeless prevention and how the city could better its response during the COVID-19 crisis. Problems with the courts after the death of a relative contributed to Lowell becoming homeless.  Lowell thinks now that more oversight of the probate courts would help.   “That’s unfortunately how I got here,” he says.   He also suggests that some people who are experiencing homelessness could benefit from better efforts from upstream services like rental subsidies and that would keep people from becoming homeless in the first place.  Lowell thinks that this kind of in-depth oversight could come from government officials–the mayor, city council and governors.

Lowell is hopeful about his plight once things get back to normal. He sees this as a way to potentially end his homelessness for good.  “If the city would open back up, I wanna go to school to learn how to become an information technology specialist.  With the city shut down and everything it seems like it’ll never open back up,” Lowell said. He also recommends and wishes that, ”there was more oversight for these security guards and all these shelters really. They do what the hell they wanna do.  The city should be considering the fact, we don’t really have a voice as homeless folks.” 

Living Outdoors

Many residents have taken to living through this crisis outdoors. Paul Infante is currently experiencing homelessness. He has been living in the region for three years and is originally from California.  “I think what makes most sense is if you stay (sleep) near a safe place that has services,” he said.  “You could get a meal in the morning or you could get a meal in the evening. A lot of places will give you social services and Items like toothbrushes and shaving stuff, you will need for hygiene. That is especially important if you’re trying to find a job and pull yourself out of homelessness,” he said. 

Photo by Petmyrhino / Flckr

Infante also has some pretty strong recommendations in terms of how DC could be serving those who have chosen to live outside. “The District of Columbia  could do more on its own rather than relying on federal aid to help residents who live on the street.  I would say it makes sense, without opening like a FEMA thing, would be to open up lots with showers and outdoor cots that abide by social distancing,” he said. I think it makes more sense than the opening of shelters that don’t have a lot of space.”  Infante also feels DC needs to provide more showers and bathrooms.  “You will find that people in general would say that they need more bathrooms and more showers,” he said. 

DC Government’s Response

Governments all over the place are trying to coordinate the best responses possible to this crisis.  The District of Columbia is no exception.  But the voice of the homeless and their recommendations to address their needs is currently in a state of flux. Communities that are most greatly affected by the national emergency of COVID-19 can only wonder how their concerns and suggestions will make it to the officials tasked with leading the various responses to the crisis 

I interviewed District of Columbia’s Director of Human Services Laura Zelinger on March 15th 2020.  She has been at the forefront of the city’s response to COVID-19 and the homeless community.  Zeilinger and her team have been convening weekly calls to help agency providers understand the current state of affairs as it pertains to their respective populations.  According to Zeilinger, “we have a very strong and important safety message that people need to isolate so we can stop the spread of this virus.”  

When asked specifically about permanent housing placement Zeilinger said, “It’s not realistic that people can be out putting together paperwork for their housing application or in a housing search.  Meaning, we can’t get people in the same room in this climate.  The District of Columbia chose to suspend its full housing placement process until it feels it can conduct certain business safety. The decision by the government in light of stay-home orders implies that people who may have a housing resource such as a voucher cannot use it to obtain a unit. We are very focused on our emergency operations to keep people safe.  In the immediate, as we are putting together and executing our response on our emergency activities, we are suspending the CAHP (Coordination Assessment and Housing Placement) system.”

The CAHP system uses a matrix of factors to determine which homeless individuals will be prioritized for available housing,  Those factors include:  age, history of homelessness, physical as well as mental health, and substance use.  With that process frozen, the Department of Human Services and its providers are looking into different ways of using the data to address concerns related to COVID-19 exposure.  “We are using that data to identify, as well as our understanding of medical information, to prioritize for housing, to ensure we are reaching out to and provide opportunities for safe placement and isolation of people who are most vulnerable should they be exposed to Covid-19,” Zellenger said.

Zeilinger was optimistic however, about when housing activities could occur:  “If we understand that we may be in this state for a prolonged period beyond a matter of days that may be longer than that, we will look to ways we can continue that key part of our work and move people from sites that they may be in isolation and in environments that provide opportunities to social distance particularly residents who are most vulnerable and have been identified for permanent supportive housing to be able to support their transition directly into housing as best as at all possible.”

Zeillenger also provided an overview of the city’s response to people who are currently homeless and what services they can expect to receive. “First and foremost what we want is that people are in a place that is safe and their exposure to this virus is limited.  So what we have done is taken our low barrier programs that were just overnight and made them 24 hours at all of our shelter sites. We are providing full meals.  And we have added additional outreach and meals in community so that people can have their needs met without having to travel and without having to congregate in lots of different places where we could increase the spread.   We’ve instituted screenings in our shelters and if people are showing any potential symptoms we’re moving them into spaces where they have the opportunity to social distance and have medical attention as well as testing when warranted,” Zellienger said. The District of Columbia has also considered making hotel rooms available for people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 crisis.  “We have secured 3 hotels for use that we are using for people who that have tested either positive so they can be in isolation and don’t need hospitalization, where they can be checked on by medical professionals same as people have homes would be isolating at home and have a nice place and not returning to shelter,” Zeillenger said.

The District of Columbia has confirmed 158 positive cases across the homeless community.  Having come into close contact with those who’ve tested positive, 249 people are in quarantine, 210 of which came from emergency shelter programs.  As of April 27, 2020, nine unhoused individuals have died.  

With housing placements frozen and public input at a stand still, people who are currently unhoused, could remain homeless for the duration of this unprecedented emergency.   Under these circumstances, can the District government call mitigating the spread of the Coronavirus amongst the homeless a victory?  It seems like we’re just cruising forward.  Without the input of those who are experiencing homelessness, we are being encouraged to normalize COVID-19.   As far as homeless people go, the CDC guidelines don’t seem to apply.  Doing this may lead our community into believing that what looks like success is success when it’s actually failure. 

The District of Columbia is just one of three or four jurisdictions in the nation that even have laws requiring emergency shelter.  It may not be the best setting in a crisis, but it is better than the alternative where most services for the poor are provided by churches which are also closed during this crisis. People need housing to advance their lives. If housing was not such a commodified asset and considered a privilege rather than a right, we would not be in this situation. Housing is healthcare.  If this country and this region believes that to be true, then more needs to be done immediately. If COVID-19 and the experience of the homeless has taught us anything, it would be that we have to do right by the poor. 

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Should Black and Brown Organizers Trust White Allies?

Tue, 05/26/2020 - 11:01

I originally started this blog post just after former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg dropped out of the 2020 presidential race, much to my relief. In the midst of editing and finalizing it, the coronavirus hit and the world turned upside down. At that point, it seemed ill-timed and irrelevant to publish this. But the coronavirus is not going away any time soon, and neither is gun violence. Or racism. In fact, systemic racism is causing the coronavirus to sicken, kill and impoverish Black and Brown people at a disproportionate rate. This unjust imbalance mirrors the impact that gun violence has on communities of color as well. Despite stay at home orders, as of May 22, 2020 homicides in DC are trending even higher than they were at this time last year. Tragically, the District has experienced multiple double and triple shootings in the past few weeks, many involving teenagers or young adults, with one ending in the death of a 17-year-old. That’s why I feel it’s important to publish this blog post. Especially now, we all need to work together, fight injustices and help each other. I don’t want any level of distrust to get in the way of working together for the greater good. So consider this a case study: “Should Black and Brown Organizers Trust White Allies?”

I didn’t become the DC chapter leader for Moms Demand Action for fame and certainly not for fortune. It’s a volunteer role- not paid- and there’s nothing glamorous about working to stop people from dying of gun violence. I became the chapter leader in 2018 because that year my husband’s hometown of Parkland, Florida, and my childhood neighborhood of Squirrel Hill both experienced mass shootings. I felt I had to do more. But it wasn’t just that. Firearms are the leading cause of death for children and teens in the District. I am also painfully aware that while 51% of DC’s residents are Black, approximately 96% of DC’s gun homicide victims are Black. In my experiences as a volunteer both before and after becoming chapter leader, I have met so many beautiful people here in DC whose lives are forever stained by bloodshed as either they were injured or they lost a loved one to gun violence here in DC. My uncle committed suicide by gun before I was born. I am all too familiar with the chaos and devastation that a tragedy of gun violence wreaks on a family for multiple generations. I’ve met so many survivors here in DC, I’ve listened to their stories, and I’ve built strong connections with many of them. I feel a moral obligation to them. I cannot turn my back on them. But I’m not here to save the day. I’m here to listen, learn and use my white privilege to assist however I can.

I felt immense relief when former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg dropped out of the presidential race in early March. My relief was not just because I vehemently disagree with his support for racist policies like stop and frisk and his callous and misogynistic comments towards women, but also because as the volunteer leader for the DC chapter of Moms Demand Action, his candidacy has sowed doubt about my volunteer-led organization with some of our partner organizations led by Black Washingtonians. 

Here’s why: Bloomberg partially funds Moms Demand Action nationally, but he did not create Moms, as he erroneously claimed during the Democratic debate in South Carolina in February. Stay-at-home mother Shannon Watts founded Moms Demand Action in 2012 after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary. (She had no personal connection to that shooting, but felt connected to the cause and emboldened to do something about it as she was raising her own young children at the time.) Shannon partnered with Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns in 2013 to create Everytown for Gun Safety, the umbrella organization for Moms, Everytown and the Everytown Survivor Network. Currently, he funds about 25% of the Moms budget nationally.

Moms Demand Action is an all-volunteer grassroots organization focused on passing common sense public safety measures to protect all people from gun violence. That means each chapter’s agenda is set by the volunteers and volunteer leadership who live in that city or state, with help from Everytown’s research and policy experts. (You can read more about Everytown’s national agenda here: Break the Pattern.) 

Moms was started by a white suburban mother in response to a school shooting, but the organization has evolved over the years to include research, education and advocacy for domestic violence, suicide and city gun violence, which together make up the vast majority of gun violence in our country. The organization has also worked very intentionally to become more diverse, equitable and inclusive in all aspects of the work, from people to policies. For example, Shannon Watts penned this blog, “We Have to Say “Never Again” to Police Violence, Too”, about police violence after officers shot and killed Stephon Clark in his own backyard in Sacramento. 

In DC, our chapter works hard to make connections with community organizations in neighborhoods most affected by gun violence and to uplift the too often overlooked and undervalued work that Black women and men have been doing in DC for decades to end gun violence. As someone who is white and who moved to DC as a young adult, I do not pretend to have that lived experience – or to have all the answers. I have learned so much from the Black and Brown people doing this challenging work, and I am grateful for their partnership and friendship. I am still learning – and Moms as an organization is still learning – about what being a true ally looks like. 

A little about our chapter: We have volunteers from all eight Wards, including Black, Brown and white individuals, men and women, young professionals, students, grandparents, parents, LGBTQ+ individuals, and people of many faiths. We each come from different backgrounds, but we are all working toward a common goal: to put an end to the public health crisis of gun violence locally, regionally and nationally.  Our annual DC chapter budget from Everytown is $2,400, and last year we raised an additional $18,000 to fund our local agenda and activities, as well as to support our local community partners, the majority of which are local non-profits owned and operated by Black people here in the District. We also submit grant requests to Everytown to provide additional support for the work of our local community partners, who are doing the important work of healing trauma, teaching conflict resolution skills, and addressing the myriad of root cause issues that contribute to gun violence in the District.

There are volunteers in our ranks who are vehemently opposed to Bloomberg, and there are others who supported his campaign because of the huge investment in gun violence prevention that he has made over the years. Bloomberg and Everytown spent a record $2.5 million in Virginia during the 2019 midterm elections to elect what we call “Gun Sense Candidates,” or candidates who have vowed to enact legislation that will reduce gun violence. We flipped the Virginia House and Senate in that election and the state is now starting to pass common sense gun safety laws. This will save lives in the District, as over 35% of the guns recovered in DC are traced back to Virginia. And it wasn’t just Everytown’s money that helped us win that election – Moms volunteers from DC, Maryland, and Virginia made phone calls and knocked on doors for months to help get out the gun sense vote.

I continue to be angered and saddened by the racism and sexism in our country – even within organizations and people who simultaneously support progressive work. I try every day to chip away at the systems that hold back my Black and Brown neighbors and friends.

We all want to see an end to gun violence in DC, but we know our work is only as strong as the community partnerships we have built. I welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues in person and together unravel this tension.

Rachel Usdan moved to DC in 1999 and is currently living in the District with her husband and two young children, who occasionally help her Demand Action. All opinions are her own.

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Coronavirus is Devastating the Homeless Community: DC Must Pivot Quickly to Save Lives

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 13:20

Cross-Posted from the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless

For decades, the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless has worked to break down the barriers that widespread poverty has created.  Since our inception, we have worked to affirm housing as a fundamental right—not a privilege.  Perhaps no moment more critically highlights the crucial importance of and need for housing and safe spaces than the current public health emergency. COVID-19 has ravaged the most vulnerable communities across this nation.  It has directed a spotlight onto the many injustices and inequities faced by those existing in spaces that society has cast aside, exacerbating the real and deadly effects of poverty and white supremacy.  It has pushed to the forefront conversations around health and economic disparities, income inequality, housing insecurity, and the inequitable allocation of resources.

While the disastrous effects of this pandemic are being seen throughout the country, people experiencing homelessness and in congregate settings are among those most heavily impacted.  With a lack of access to widespread testing or safe spaces to socially distance, these communities are seeing a massive spread of infection. Simply, streets and congregate settings are not appropriate environments to contain or control the spread of this virus.

Despite this widely accepted fact, there are still far too many DC residents on the street and in crowded congregate shelters.  Out of approximately 4,000 single adults currently experiencing homelessness in DC, less than three percent have been relocated to private spaces where social distancing can actually occur.  Tragically, nine homeless DC residents have died from COVID-19 and 152 have had confirmed positive results as of Sunday, April 26th.  During a five-day period last week, the spike in cases among the unhoused community was 2.5 times higher than the increase among DC’s general population. Without access to universal testing, the numbers of those affected are undoubtedly higher than the reported data reflects.

We know that the containment of this virus is a global undertaking.  Community members, nonprofit organizations, and local government officials have been working hard to figure out ways to protect the community with limited federal funding and constantly evolving public health guidance.  However, the District is certainly not alone in the challenges it faces to protect its homeless population.  When confronted with startling data, other jurisdictions shifted gears in order to respond with urgency and creativity in ensuring that shelter and street populations are widely tested and moved to non-congregate settings.  Many other jurisdictions have already placed thousands of homeless individuals in hotels.  Meanwhile, DC’s current hotel occupancy rate is less than ten percent, leaving nearly 30,000 rooms empty, in addition to thousands of vacant dormitory and housing units throughout DC.

Unfortunately, DC’s current initiatives are not enough to protect DC’s homeless community. The time has come to shift the DC government’s approach.

The Legal Clinic recommends that the DC government:

  • Immediately offer a COVID-19 test to every person who lives on the street or in a congregate setting.
  • Immediately offer a placement to every person who lives on the street or in a congregate setting into a private and non-congregate setting, such as a hotel room, a private dormitory unit, or a vacant housing unit. Develop a system to screen and place people who become homeless during this time into private settings. In these non-congregate settings, provide food, staffing, other basic needs, and medical assistance, as appropriate. Ensure that those residents are checked on regularly.
  • Retain non-congregate placements until COVID-19 is no longer a pandemic or epidemic and has been nationally contained by widespread access to a vaccine. Simultaneously work to quickly place people into safe, affordable housing to limit the number of individuals who will eventually return to congregate settings.

Last Friday, the Legal Clinic sent a letter to Mayor Bowser detailing the aforementioned concerns and recommendations for protecting the lives of community members experiencing homelessness and in congregate settings. People experiencing homelessness in DC are more likely to be elderly, Black, and suffer health conditions that place them at high risk of death or serious complications from COVID-19.  DC must act immediately to protect the lives of its vulnerable communities. DC must also further its expressed commitment to racial justice by creating and maintaining housing that is deeply affordable for those who need it to survive here, now and post-pandemic.

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The People’s COVID-19 Demands

Sun, 04/19/2020 - 13:06

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are looking for ways to help their communities or communities with less resources than their own come through the current crisis as undamaged as possible. As a result, community activists and organizers created the DC Mutual Aid Network. Although they take donations from anyone, Mutual Aid Network administrators and lead organizers are clear that they are not a charity. They are consensus-based rather than hierarchical. They build the leadership of the people most impacted by the problem. They also recognize that the current crisis is connected to wider issues of injustice and work to correct those injustices.

To further those goals, the DC Mutual Aid Network plans to present a set of demands to District Government regarding their response to COVID-19. Before they can do that, they must gather the thoughts, opinions and suggestions of those most impacted by the problem. To that end, they put together a People’s Demands Survey in both English and Spanish.

Information about the survey is posted below or can be found at the survey website If you’re reading this and you are a District of Colombia resident please consider filling out the survey, especially if you or someone you care about, is unable to socially isolate.

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Supporting COVID-19 Mutual Aid Efforts

Thu, 03/19/2020 - 13:07
As the spread of the coronavirus has accelerated over the past week, we are reminded yet again of one key truth: The state will not keep us safe—but we can keep each other safe.

We know now that the best way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus is social distancing. But we also know that many people in our communities will need help to make social distancing possible—elders, disabled people, and immunocompromised folks who can’t run errands without compromising their health; workers who don’t have paid sick leave; and people whose anxiety is triggered by isolation, among others. 

Throughout DC, people are organizing to help their neighbors through mutual aid.

Mutual aid  is a form of political participation in which people take responsibility for caring for one another and changing political conditions, not just through charity or symbolic acts or putting pressure on their representatives in government. Instead, this is about actually building new social relations that are more survivable. 

You can find out more about ongoing opportunities and sources for mutual aid at the DC Mutual Aid Network on Facebook or on Instagram.

If you are able to contribute time, energy, skills, or labor, we encourage you to fill out the forms linked below, which will connect you to groups organizing mutual aid throughout the city.

You can also use the forms to ask for help, if you need help cleaning, running errands, dealing with prescriptions.  Most of us will end up needing to ask for help during this crisis.

Mutual Aid Request and Volunteer Forms: 

  • Ward 1
  • Ward 7 and 8: Call the hotline – 202-630-0336 – for those needing support or looking to volunteer. 
  • Takoma/Ward 4
  • Ward 6

You can also support by donating to groups organizing mutual aid efforts, including:

If you know of additional organizing going on in DC, please email or hit us up on social, and we’ll amplify your work.

Above all, please take care of yourselves physically and mentally. We are literally all in this together.

Yours in struggle,


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Martin Luther King Explains the Three Evils of Society

Mon, 01/20/2020 - 14:12

Fifteen years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., President Ronald Reagan signed the bill that would make the third Monday of January a holiday in his honor. Like many if not most Republicans, Reagan opposed the holiday. They believed that King was a communist. They didn’t like that he opposed the war in Vietnam and then of course there was all that business with the Civil Rights. The law almost passed in 1979, but it wasn’t until 1983 that it passed in both the House and Senate by veto-proof margins which forced right-wing hero President Reagan to sign it.

For that reason alone, I love this holiday. But every good thing has its unintended consequences. One of those is the commercialization of the holiday and the very successful attempt by corporations, the media, most of our elected officials, etc., to whitewash the memory of Martin Luther King. By focusing only on the speeches and actions that do not criticize Capitalism or US Imperialism, most Americans have no real understanding of the depth of King’s critique of the United States and its policies. Sure overt bigotry is bad and it’s kinda crazy to think of not sitting next to a Black person at a lunch counter or on the bus but all that talk about poverty, his support for unions and the anti-war movement–do we really need to go there?

In the spirit of honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. in a manner that is true to his vision, here is one of his lesser-known speeches.

The Three Evils of Society: Racism, Poverty and War

King delivered this speech at The National Conference for New Politics, which took place in Chicago over Labor Day weekend in 1967. Around 3,000 people, from hundreds of organizations, attended the conference which featured MLK as the keynote speaker.  The goal was to unify political activists of all races who believed in civil rights and opposed the Vietnam War.  President Lyndon B. Johnson felt so threatened by the conference, he instructed the FBI to attempt to track the attendants’ movements and thwart any long-term plans of the NCNP. As the commentary Revisiting MLK’s speech, ‘The 3 Evils of Society, ‘ suggests that this speech is the most prophetic and revolutionary address to date on the questions of militarism, poverty, and racism.

The running time is 43 minutes. For those who prefer to read, a transcript of the speech can be found at the bottom of this post.

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Black Lives Matter Open Letter to the Board of the Women’s March

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 11:46

January 15, 2020

To the Board and Staff of the Women’s March,

As we approach the 4th Annual Women’s March this Saturday, and especially given our interactions with Women’s March staff and leadership over the last month, it has become apparent, again, that all of our efforts to call you in have failed. You have failed both to fulfill your agreements to acknowledge the harm you have caused, and to complete the reparations you have previously committed to. This failure is clearly evident in your planning of this year’s March, as you are continuing to ignore the communities in DC in your practice, when you claim to be standing in solidarity with us in your words. We have attempted, repeatedly, to call you into more accountability and to actively restore the relationship with us and the communities we work with.

On December 27, 2018 we sent you this incredibly important email which carefully detailed the history of harms perpetuated by the Women’s March and those associated with the organization. Some of these harms included a failure to center DC, the continuous exclusion of local Black Trans women, and the permanent damage done to the local ability to organize. We continue to impress upon you that more than one thing can be centered at a time, and poly-centrism is essential in this work. In this instance:

“D.C. is more than Congress and the White House. It is more than the DOJ and the National Mall. For large mobilizations that come into the District, this means holding the reality of D.C. as both the nation’s capital, the center of empire, a necessary place for national protests, and home to real life human beings with important local issues. Local D.C. is a domestic colony and the actions of national organizers have to recognize that.”

And we’ve said, “Here in D.C., these unstrategic mass mobilizations distract from local organizing, often overlook the Black people who actually live here and even result in tougher laws against demonstration being passed locally.”

Last year we worked closely with Rachel Carmona, Tamika Mallory, and Linda Sarsour. This work was facilitated by DC Action Lab (who pushed Tamika and Linda to meet with us). Outside of the public gaze, in meetings and calls, we made some progress that included this public letter, written by the Women’s March. Even though there was no apology or recognition of harms included in this letter, as the agreement was that they would be detailed in a second letter, the Women’s March did state:

“We commit to being intentional about reaching out to local BLM chapters and other local organizations to understand their needs and to hear how we can ensure our work in their cities is not a burden but an opportunity for amplification and collaboration.”

We want to be very clear, the Women’s March failed to fulfill this commitment to us and to other BLM chapters. BLM Los Angeles has also experienced the same failure to reach out. To that end, it was particularly frustrating to come across a picture of one of our organizers’ car and our contingent in the local DC MLK Parade being used to promote this year’s March on Instagram, knowing that you did not continue with the process we agreed to nor reach out to us about this year’s march at all.

The organizers, advocates, DC residents, and grassroots organizations we are in community with were very skeptical last year, even after the public letter from the Women’s March. We took a lot of personal hits, including having our politics deeply challenged as a result of us publicly working with you, agreeing to speak at the 2019 rally, and marching with you. At great risk to her own credibility, one of our Core Organizers April Goggans, did a radio interview shortly after the beginning of the accountability process, where she publicly named that there seemed to be a new path forward for the Women’s March that was intersectional, inclusive, and responsive to local organizers.

We had a call later with Carmen Perez, National Co-Chair. During the call Carmen agreed to write a public apology letter that would speak to the harms we had relayed, as well as specifically address her role in talking to DC organizers during the Justice League’s March 2 Justice in 2015. She was also supposed to address her remarks on Angela Rye’s podcast on July 9, 2017, when she publicly disparaged DC organizers by insinuating that they are comparable to COINTELPRO and agitators. Carmen never sent or posted this letter. In fact, we hadn’t heard from Carmen since that call, until she reached out to April Goggans via email on January 6, 2020. This is not the only apology letter that the Women’s March committed to writing but then failed to send. At our two week debrief after the 2019 Women’s March, you committed to sending a detailed apology letter that acknowledged past harms. It has now been a year and you have not released the letter or completed any of the other steps you committed to during that debrief.

You have been planning this year’s March for the better part of 4 months but AGAIN waited until December to reach out to BLMDC. By the time you reached out everything was finished, and you expected us to rush to tell you about specific issues, just so that you could rush to check them off your list. A quick check-in or heads-up to even tell us you were still having a March would have been nice, as we’ve told you that MLK Weekend is a historically busy weekend in DC for local communities and organizers. As we have mentioned in the past, checking in with us and other local folks would allow us to see how we can work together around the impact to public transit for DC residents (most directly impacting Black and brown folks), space, port-a-potties (AGAIN), and more. Not this time. The harms you are perpetuating now have not changed, and clearly the Women’s March has not either.

As always, in building the world we want, we remain committed to continuing to walk in our values and principles when it comes to co-creating accountability. BLM DC is led entirely by Black femmes and we want to name that we will not be putting further emotional or other labor into this process until the Women’s March fulfills the commitments it made last year at our two-week debrief. We look forward to seeing the Women’s March Board and Staff take public accountability, make public apologies, and take public steps to repair harm.

Toward Liberation,

Black Lives Matter DC

Twitter @DMVBlackLives
Instagram: blacklivesmatterdc
Facebook: BLMDC
Our mailing list.

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Sex Trafficking And DC’s Missing Youth – A Frightening Connection

Mon, 11/18/2019 - 22:00
The Sad Trend of Missing Black & Brown Kids

Approximately 300,000 children under the age of 18 are lured into sex trafficking each year. Girls are typically brought into the sex trade as young as twelve years old. Boys can be entrapped into the illicit trade at an even younger age. Sex trafficking tends to occur in impoverished neighborhoods, urban centers and along interstate highways. Most victims tend to be those associated with the foster care system, runaways or black. Forty percent of sex trafficking victims are African Americans. It is estimated that 62% of suspected victims are African American. In the District of Columbia over 2,500 cases have been reported as of 2017. It is reported that over 1,600 of these cases involve children. The same year in which controversy sparked over the amount of missing black girls in the District who received little to no media coverage. This form of modern-day slavery is prevalent in Washington, D.C. and is affecting our youth.

Sex trafficking is far from a victimless crime; it is, in fact, a multi-billion dollar industry that operates throughout the United States. Human trafficking is the act of recruiting, harboring or transporting for compelled labor or sexual acts. Human trafficking can also consist of forced marriages, organ removal, and domestic servitude. Sex trafficking can include but does not require movement. More than 2,000 children go missing each year in the District of Columbia. The Polaris Project study determined that the number of cases reported to a national trafficking hotline surged 25 percent. As of 2019, more than 100 children have been rescued from sex traffickers in the metropolitan area. When black and brown children are missing, little national attention is given to their plight. According to Natalie Wilson of the Black & Missing Foundation, black children who go missing, receive less media attention than white kids.

Communities of Color: Myths & Misconceptions

Youths who are victims of sex trafficking go through a process of manipulation. These kids are often targeted regarding lack of family support, bullying, and even struggling for social acceptance can make them targets. Often youth are groomed or tricked into false beliefs based on words told to them. The process can start off as innocent with toys, candies, compliments, etc and gradually began to escalate. By building a connection, sex traffickers begin to brainwash and manipulate their victims. Hallmarks of child sex trafficking can include unexplained absences from school, bragging about making or having a lot of money, evidence of physical abuse, sexualized behavior and acting withdrawn. Victims’ home life can revolve around violence, substance abuse, sexual abuse and more and will shape the perception of their predators as a saving grace. Boys can account for 13% of human trafficking.

Due to a lack of resources for male survivors, there are limited resources for them. Thus in which research regarding abused male survivors is scarce. Statistically, 0.4% of cases are identified, meaning the majority of cases are not. The representation of sex trafficking in the media warps the perception of who’s at risk. Any child who has been abused or abandoned no matter their gender can become a victim of child trafficking. The image the media shows of who a victim might be is often not who it is. Anyone can become a victim. Trafficking can take place anywhere as the main goal is exploitation and enslavement. Many common misconceptions and beliefs hinder us from being aware of our surroundings and noticing when these situations are out of the ordinary.

Sexually exploited youths do not have the freedom and are not able to escape. Victims of sexual exploitation often suffer from physical, emotional, and mental abuse. One of the least acknowledged facts regarding child trafficking is an alarming number of black victims. Black youth between the ages of 12-19 have or will experience higher violent interactions than their white counterparts. This is because the narrative of the topic is victim vs exploiter. Case in point, Cyntoia Brown-Long was sentenced as a teen to life in prison for killing her abductor. Black girls are often labeled as the perpetrator rather than a victim. This makes them easy targets for predators. In 2013 60% of prosecuted minors were arrested for prostitution.

Statistics show that African-American men kidnap and traffic the majority of America’s sex trafficking victims. However, these traffickers are marketing and selling the services of their victims to a largely white, affluent base. Most people who pay for sexual favors generally have disposable income. For example, Jason Rodger or DJ KID has trafficked 700 black females. His criminal history of kidnapping, harboring and forcing minors to perform sexual acts go back far as 2011. The white south Carolina promoter also has AIDS that wasn’t reported to other parties until a 13-year-old victim revealed it. Rodgers is in custody but the story receives no coverage from mainstream media. This is because black victims are ignored. The suspects’ page is still active in which he boasts about his triumph: “I’m 36 with 693 BODIES (All Black females), WBU?”
Social and economic impacts on society can contribute to why certain areas are a hotspot for trafficking. The rise of social media has allowed it to become more accessible to order sex. While this can reduce violence among adult sex workers who work for themselves, the Internet has not been positive for young victims. Websites such as Backpage, Kik, Snapchat, and Instagram distribute services of young minors globally. Backpage CEO was even arrested in 2016 for conspiracy to commit pimping and other charges. The apps have been involved in over 1,000 child abuse cases. Youtuber Matt Watson’s video explained how predators even time stamp videos and comment when minors appear in a sexually explicit manner. These operations can be hidden under ordinary business establishments. To help put a stop to human trafficking the District of Columbia passed the Prohibition of Human Trafficking Act of 2010.

What Can Be Done?

Tina Frundt, Executive Director of Courtney House created the Washington, D.C. organization to help children who have gotten out of the illegal industry and to educate others to recognize indicators of possible sex trafficking. The organization encourages citizens who suspect children are being victimized to report their suspicions to law enforcement and in doing so possibly save lives.

Sex trafficking has been reported in hotels, brothels and massage parlors but victims can be recruited anywhere. There is no specified region for human trafficking as it is a global business. Workers and bystanders are being trained to recognize victims of child trafficking and online predators.

Gentrification and the rise of tourism in DC has made the city a sex tourist destination. The DC Bill Community Health and Safety Act of 2019 will also make it harder to find victims. By removing criminal penalties for engaging in sexual exchange trafficked victims are at risk. A better solution would be the Equality Mode as it would not hold the sex workers accountable but it would reprimand buyers. By providing options for victims to exit the lifestyle, this approach would make buying people a criminal offense. The model would help reduce the demand for sex trafficking. Becoming more educated on the topic can help save a life. Report any pages, threads or profiles that mention, discuss and engage in fetishizing lascivious acts with minors. Social media has helped these acts to spread through online feeds featuring child pornography and snuff films. Educate minors to become more aware of online predators, child exploitation and sex trafficking. The main goal of sex traffickers is to find the means to exploit the victim or have the victim leave home to engage in sex. As a reminder child sex trafficking is a genderless crime and can target anyone.

How To Report :

To help defend human dignity and end child exploitation the following options to report are listed below:

Report child abuse/neglect hotline: 202-671-(SAFE) or 7233. Representatives will ask for the following: General information regarding minors such as their name, gender, address, etc. The extent of abuse witnessed and any additional information.

Some people in specific professions, teachers, chiropractors, dentists and more can take FREE training classes. To access these free training courses click here. To report sexual implicit videos, images, text messages, etc involving minors please visit:

Baylor University offers recommendations to discuss the conversation and educate youth here. By noticing these signs and spreading awareness, you can help at-risk youth and save a life.

To contact safe havens for victims: The Courtney House: call 202 525 1426. The Black and Missing Foundation can be reached at 877 972 2634.

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What Is A Dyke March?

Mon, 11/04/2019 - 08:05

A Dyke March is a lesbian visibility protest designed to promote activism within the LGBTQ community and bring awareness to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LBGTQ) rights. The First Dyke March took place April 24, 1993, as part of the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal rights and Liberation. 

During the 1990s, the LGBTQ community faced far more hate crimes than they do today. Many laws we have now that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation simply did not exist. We would not be where we are today, were it not for the activism that took place before and after the original Dyke March.

According to the Urban Dictionary, a dyke is a slang word used to refer to lesbians that was originally meant to be a slur. There are many theories surrounding the origins of the word and how it became used as an anti-lesbian slur. Scholars debate whether or not the origin came as a shortening for words such as morphadyke or hermaphrodite. In an earlier English dialect, the word was simply a contemporaneous term for women.

Regardless of its origin, a dyke describes a masculine tomboy or androgynous female. In recent years, the term has been re-appropriated by many lesbians who use it to identify themselves. Many people who identify as LGBTQ have been ridiculed by such words. For this reason, it is considered rude to use the word dyke unless you self-identify as one.  

By stripping the negative aspect of the word, lesbians reclaim the power of the word and own our own identity.  Transgender activist Jessica Xavier says, “Dyke is political. It’s an identity queer women could use as a means of our own empowerment, and having the march was this way to share in our queer sisterhood together.” Whatever words we use to describe ourselves our individuality and self-representation should be respected. 

Grassroots DC reporter Billie Mckelvie interviews fellow marcher Shelby Bass on why she attended the march.

The DC Dyke March is returning after a 12-year hiatus. It returns as an act of queer liberation. It is led by self-identifying dykes and as a protest for different issues regarding the LGBTQ community.  The DC Dyke March is an inclusive community that supports marginalized groups that are often ignored by mainstream media when reporting on LGBTQ issues. For more information visit:

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It Takes a Village: A Celebration of the Life of Gary Hopkins, Jr.

Wed, 09/11/2019 - 20:12

On November 27, 1999, my son Gary Hopkins, Jr., was gunned down by an Prince George’s County police officer. This was years before smartphone videos made it possible for us to watch unarmed Black folks die at the hands of police on our social media feeds every week or so.

Along with mothers from across the nation who’ve lost their children to what is essentially state-sanctioned violence, I have been fighting to change the criminal justice system for the last twenty years. On October 26, 2019, we plan to celebrate the life of Gary Hopkins, Jr and those of other loved ones lost. It will be a day of healing, storytelling, performances and activism.

Grassroots DC is a partner in this event and will be presenting a short video about Gary Hopkins, Jr., one that we hope to eventually turn into a feature-length documentary. Below is the budget for the event. If you can support this effort, please go to our GoFundMe page and make a donation. You can also send a check to the Coalition of Concerned Mothers, 3304 Asher Street, Upper Marlboro, MD 20772. If you can’t support, please share this post with those who can. Thank you.



Gary Hopkins Jr. was an artist, writer, and a full time college student, whose life was taken by the police in 1999. Marion Gray-Hopkins, Gary’s mother, is hosting the first commemoration event after 20 years since his death, with the hope to (i) celebrate Gary’s life and achievements, (ii) bring together families who were affected by state violence locally and nationally to grow the movement against police terrorism, and (iii) collectively heal through this weekend long event, centering around an artistic ceremony and installation.

II. ABOUT A. Context:

Gary Hopkins, Jr., at the time of his death, was 19 years old, the youngest child of Gary Hopkins, Sr. and Marion Gray-Hopkins. Gary was the brother of Tahlita, Antwon and Tashia; he was also an uncle, cousin, nephew, and friend to many. Gary was also an aspiring rapper, writer, and producer, who was a full time college student majoring in mass communications with a business minor. On the night of November 26, Gary attended a dance where one of his friends got into a verbal altercation with another young man. Following the event, on early morning November 27, 1999, after breaking up the altercation and getting everyone into their cars, Gary was sitting on the window ledge of the lead vehicle when a police officer used his patrol car to block them from exiting the venue. The police officer got out of his car with his gun drawn, went up to Gary and placed the gun to his temple. The officer then pulled him off the car by the collar of his shirt when Gary stumbled backwards another officer, who was moonlighting at the dance, shot Gary in the chest killing him.

The officer who shot Gary was charged with manslaughter, which, following a bench trial, was acquitted by the judge. No charges were filed against the officer who precipitated the incident, although he was under investigation for several excessive force violations.

B. After Gary’s Death

Gary’s murder at the hands of law enforcement and the failure of the State to restore justice to him and his family have led Marion Gray-Hopkins, his mother, to become an activist against police terrorism, advocating for policy and legislative changes. Marion began her activism work with Prince George’s County People’s Coalition against Police Brutality and later began to partner with ONUS Inc.; Families United 4 Justice; American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); Code Pink; Progressive Maryland; Campaign for Justice, Safety, and Jobs (CJSJ); A Mother’s Cry; Black Lives Matter DC; and Amnesty International.

Marion’s activist work has led her to speak out against police terrorism locally, nationally, and internationally. Marion spoke at Rio De Janeiro, Brazil to support the “Beyond Borders” Conference; and Kingston, Jamaica for the “Broken but Not Destroyed Campaign.” She currently serves as a board member with ACLU Maryland, and co-founded and serves as the President of the Coalition of Concerned Mothers (COCM).

III. Case for Support

We appreciate you and your willingness to support the movement against police terrorism and specifically this event to commemorate the life of Gary Hopkins Jr.. With you support, we hope to achieve:

  • –  Bringing ​20 mothers​ from out of state and ​20 local mothers​ who were affected by police brutality to Washington, DC to attend the full day event.
  • –  Having ​150 participants​ (including mothers) at the commemoration ceremony for the evening program.
  • –  Reaching ​7000 people ​on social media, before and after the event.
  • –  Strengthening the foundation of this work: (i) healing: centering impacted mothers and families and creating a space for them to share their experiences, move through trauma and grief with community; we believe that impacted mothers need to be cared for and be well before they advance the work of the movement; (ii) building: when individuals are well, the community can be well; we believe the healing and collective sharing of mothers will set a strong foundation for trust building, relationship building, strategies building and thus, movement building; (iii) outreaching and modeling: police brutality and racial profiling of young black men have historically contributed to the enactment of white supremacy in America; by creating this space to share and grow together, this commemoration event will not only center Gary’s life, Marion’s experiences and those of local mothers, but also serve as a model for other spaces to be created nationally with the same purpose: taking steps to heal from white supremacy and fighting for collective liberation.


1. General Programming

The event is expected to take place from the evening of ​October 25 to end of evening October 26, 2019​ (location TBD), with the bulk of activities taking place on Saturday, October 26. Below is a break-down of the key parts of the program:

2. Artistic components

Art has long been the tool that uplifts our collective voice, helps us reimagine our reality, and inspires us to create a liberatory future. For this event, the programming heavily relies on the arts to achieve Marion’s vision and objectives to heal and find collective power with local and national mothers who were affected by police terrorism.

Our program has been in touch with friends, families of Gary Hopkins, Jr., as well as local artists in the DMV to tap into the resources and power within our community.

a. Performances

During the official commemoration ceremony on October 26 evening, there will be various performances to celebrate the life of Gary Hopkins, Jr., including:

  • –  Spoken Word performance.
  • –  Gospel singing performance.
  • –  Dance performance.

b. Art Workshop

After the Emotional Healing session, an art workshop will be offered for mothers to reflect and create arts on their own experiences; drawing from their personal story and adding to the collective voice and vision of the movement.

c. Art Installation

Our programming will be centered around an artistic installation, hereby referred to as an artistic altar (references and inspirations below). The altar is inspired by various religious and spiritual practices, where the altar is believed to be a sacred place where we can connect to the spirits of our deceased beloveds. It’s also a place for family members, friends, and acquaintances to show love and respect for people who passed away through prayers and offerings.

This altar will: (i) serve as a visual celebration of Gary’s life, as the artists will create both 2D and 3D suspended and installed art pieces that represent Gary’s dynamic personality, yearning for social change, loving compassion as well as his own artistic passion; (ii) an interactive altar where folks can give offerings in multiple ways throughout the event.

*These images serve as the centerpiece’s inspiration only – the final installation will be created by our artists as it pertains to Gary Hopkins Jr. and the current movement against police terrorism.

d. Artistic Offerings

There are two formal sessions of artistic offerings:

(i) after the art workshop: all art created during the art workshop will be installed by mothers onto the altar to showcase and build collective narratives on the effects of police terrorism on families as well as share their healing process.

(ii) at the end of the commemoration (after dinner), mothers, general participants as well as donors, sponsors will have their own rounds of offering. See section V for details.

There are also opportunities for participants and mothers to give offerings at any convenient time, either through prayers or written notes that can be installed on the altar.


VI. Donation Options

Our work in this movement heavily relies on the support of donors and sponsors. We deeply appreciate any support we get, and want to include our donors and sponsors in our programming as much as we can. Donors and sponsors will get their own round of acknowledgement and offerings: each support, regardless of the amount, comes with a candle. Donors will take part in our offering ceremony and place their candles on the altar to celebrate and honor the life of Gary Hopkins, Jr. along with family members and friends (other participants are also asked to donate a minimum of $20 to attend the evening program and will also participate in the offering sessions with their candles). Additionally, we have three suggested levels of donations with additional benefits outlined below:

The Visionary:​ $10,000 and above

The Change Agent: ​$5,500 – $9,500 The Collaborator: ​$1,000 – $5,000

Thank you very much for your time and support for this event and the movement against police terrorism. We look forward to working with you!

The post It Takes a Village: A Celebration of the Life of Gary Hopkins, Jr. appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Reparations: A Very Basic Primer

Thu, 06/20/2019 - 12:53
Reparations: a process of repairing, healing and restoring a people injured because of their group identity and in violation of their fundamental human rights by governments, corporations, institutions and families

On June 18, 2019, Stop Police Terror Project-DC hosted “If Not Now, When? A Discussion on Reparations” at the Peace Fellowship Church in Deanwood. One of the speakers was Mélisande Short-Colomb, a descendant of the slaves sold by Jesuits to save Georgetown University from bankruptcy in 1838. Anyone who thinks that reparations for African-Americans is impossible should listen to her story. The video below was shot by Grassroots DC Media Collective member Miheema Goodine.

Event participants agreed that most Americans do not have a clear understanding of reparations or indeed just how lasting and impactful the legacy of slavery has been. For example, Blacks owned 15 million acres of land at the turn of the last century, without reparations. Racist government policies, lack of access to capital and training, has dwindled that number to less than 1 million acres today. The few facts below, all researched by Stop Police Terror Project organizers, scratch the surface of the history that should be known when considering the issue of reparations.

1862: April 16, slavery is abolished in Washington, D.C., eight months before the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. The District of Columbia is also the only place in the United States where slave owners were compensated for having lost their human property. In other words, D.C. paid reparations to slave owners, but not to the slaves themselves.

1865: After The Confederate States of America were defeated in the American Civil War, General William Tecumseh Sherman issued Special Field Orders, No. 15, to both “assure the harmony of action in the area of operations” and “to solve problems caused by the masses of freed slaves, a temporary plan granting each freed family forty acres of tillable land in the sea islands and around Charleston, South Carolina for the exclusive use of Black People who had been enslaved.” The army also had a number of unneeded mules which were given to settlers. This is where the term “40 acres & a mule” originates.

Around 40,000 freed slaves were settled on 400,000 acres in Georgia and South Carolina. However, President Andrew Johnson reversed the order after Lincoln was assassinated, and the land was returned to its previous owners.

1867: Thaddeus Stevens sponsored a bill for the redistribution of land to African Americans, but it was not passed.

1877: Reconstruction came to an end in 1877 without the issue of reparations having been addressed. Thereafter, a deliberate movement of segregation and oppression arose in southern states.

1948: The Japanese-American Claims Act was passed, a law which authorized the settlement of property loss claims by people of Japanese descent who were removed from the Pacific Coast area during World War II.

1968: Founding of the Republic of New Afrika, a Black nationalist group that called for several states in the Deep South to be set aside for the establishment of a Black nation. The RNA demanded that the U.S. government pay $400 billion in reparations to Black people for centuries of systemic oppression during and after slavery.

1974: The U.S. government reached a $10 million out of court settlement with the victims of the Tuskeegee experiment —in which 399 Black men with syphilis were left untreated to study the progression of the disease between 1932 and 1972—and their families, which included both monetary reparations and a promise of lifelong medical treatment for both participants and their immediate families.

1987: Founding of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA), a coalition of groups that advocate for reparations for the African diaspora in the United States. They define reparations as “a process of repairing, healing and restoring a people injured because of their group identity and in violation of their fundamental human rights by governments, corporations, institutions and families. Those groups that have been injured have the right to obtain from the government, corporation, institution or family responsible for the injuries that which they need to repair and heal themselves,” and see the reparations issue as one of international human rights.

1988: The Civli Liberties Act of 1988 was passed, a federal law that granted reparations to Japanese Americans who had been interned by the United States government during World War II.

1989: Michigan Representative John Conyers introduces for the first time H.R. 40, a bill that, if passed, would establish a commission to analyze slavery in the U.S., its impact, and ways to address its lasting affects. This bill was re-introduced multiple times in the intervening years, most recently in January 2019. A hearing on the bill was held on Wednesday June 19, 2019–Juneteenth. A link to the video is at the bottom of this page.

1994: The state of Florida agreed to a reparations package for the Rosewood Massacre of 1923 – where the primarily Black town of Rosewood on the Gulf Coast of Florida was destroyed in an uprising that had been triggered when white men from several nearby towns lynched a Black Rosewood resident because of unsupported accusations that a white woman in the nearby town of Sumner had been beaten and possibly raped by a Black drifter. The package was supposed to compensate the 11 or so remaining survivors of the incident, those who were forced to flee the town, and for college scholarships primarily aimed at descendants.

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