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Tiawanda Moore is BRAVE…

Cross-posted at Prison Culture

I described my initial sighting of Tiawanda Moore back in June this way:

The first thing that strikes me when I see Tiawanda Moore is that she looks so very young. The second thing is that she reminds me of my cousin Fatime. She has the same fine features and beautiful dark skin. She is slight in build and is wearing glasses. Every black person in the U.S. has a sister, friend, cousin who looks just like Tiawanda Moore.


Yesterday when I saw and spoke with Tiawanda, I observed something more – her courage and dignity. For nearly two years, this young woman has endured so much. First she was sexually molested by a police officer and then when she sought out justice for this offense, she found herself in the clutches of the State’s Attorney charged with two class 1 felonies for eavesdropping facing up to 15 years in prison. Tiawanda Moore is brave.

Yet every single media story that I have read since she was acquitted of all charges yesterday either opens with the words “former stripper” or mentions this somewhere in the article. Radley Balko picks up on this in a blog post published yesterday. He writes:

One other thing. It’s a little odd that most media accounts of this case describe Moore as a “former stripper.” It’s actually the first three words in the Sun Times story. Maybe I’m wrong, but it’s hard to envision the article starting that way if Moore were a former nanny. Or school teacher. Or bus driver. So what’s the point? Even if Moore’s sexual assault allegation was the only newsworthy part of this story, the implication is that her former job is relevant to her allegation. Is the implication that strippers probably act provocatively even when they aren’t working—-indeed, even when they aren’t strippers anymore—and thus should expect unwanted sexual advances from cops? Is it that strippers are inherently untrustworthy? That they’re more likely to make false allegations of sexual assault? (If anything, I would suspect that strippers have built up a fair amount of tolerance for unwanted advances.)

But that of course isn’t why this story is in the news. It’s in the news because Moore became frustrated in her attempt to file a complaint, and so recorded what she thought were Chicago police officers’ attempts to rebuff her, and was consequently facing a felony charge and up to 15 years in prison. The validity of the allegation that set all of that into motion isn’t really at issue. (Indeed, the resolution of Moore’s complaint is apparently “sealed.” Which is a problem in and of itself.) So even if you buy into the fairly offensive notion that Moore’s former occupation calls her harassment allegation into doubt, the “former stripper” label is completely irrelevant to whether or not she should have been arrested and charged for recording the cops.

I would submit that it is not “odd” that Ms. Moore’s employment as a stripper is always foregrounded in the media coverage. Young black women are often portrayed as sexually promiscuous. This has a longstanding history. If you recall the Duke Lacrosse case, the alleged victim was also frequently described in media accounts as a “stripper.” In the Dominique Strauss-Khan case, Nafissatou Diallo was alleged to have been a prostitute. There is an inglorious history in the press of women who bring charges of sexual assault often being painted as sexually “loose” in some way. So Mr. Balko is not wrong to assume that if Ms. Moore had been a former teacher or nanny that this would not have been the opening statement in an article covering this trial.

There is something more to the press’s fixation on the fact that Ms. Moore worked as a stripper. This description of her is offered as a kind of shorthand. As though it suggests something about her character and perhaps should lead us to question her credibility. It’s as if this is the main thing that we ought to know about who Tiawanda Moore is.

Chris Drew, who himself is facing eavesdropping charges, has been a supporter of Ms. Moore. He attended both days of the trial and was present when the jury read its verdict yesterday. He wrote the following about Tiawanda in an e-mail blast that he sent out to his supporters:

Ms. Moore is twenty years old and very much still trying to discover herself in this world. The Tribune calls her a former stripper but she is first a young woman struggling to survive in a depressed economy. She is too young to have established a career out of anything yet. She has every right to expect justice from our system and she is a brave fighter for women’s rights. She stood up to the intimidation of Chicago police to lodge her complaint of sexual abuse. Anyone who listened to the testimony Tuesday and Wednesday at her trial knows that took a very brave spirit. We should expect more from the newspaper of record in reporting behind the scenes. They should examine in depth the way Cook County State’s Attorneys Office shields police misconduct.

She fought against a culture of intimidation other women of any background might face when they try to lodge a complaint against the Chicago Police for sexual misconduct. She won putting the Cook County State’s Attorney on notice that they should not be shielding police who violate citizen’s rights with malicious prosecutions of this type. Her win is a win for all women and all citizens who expect justice from Cook County. Her attorney argued that she was being intimidated out of her right to file a complaint by police who were breaking their own rules in doing so.

I teared up when I read this mainly because it is so TRUE. But also because I felt a sense of hope to read these words coming from a man who is so very different from Tiawanda Moore. Chris Drew is an older white man, an artist. He is someone who has already lived many years and it seems that in this case it has brought him wisdom. Tiawanda Moore is young, black, and very different in many other ways from Chris. Yet he can see through those differences to simply embrace Tiawanda’s humanity. It means that we have hope for transformation. While the media continues its relentless assault on the images of young black women in the U.S., on an individual level many (including Chris Drew) resist these portrayals.

Chris offers something else in his words about Tiawanda Moore. He provides a context within which a young black woman with limited opportunities finds a way to survive. Young women do what they have to do to survive. Chris forces his reader to consider stripping as a rational form of employment and dares us to judge Ms. Moore without having lived in her shoes. He is basically saying to us: she was a stripper, so what? He also frames her as a “fighter for women’s rights.” To me, that is the proper context within which to view Tiawanda Moore. What she did in standing up to the police and the state tells us more about her resilience and character than does her employment. Most of us are not primarily defined by where we work. We define ourselves mostly in relation to who we love. Perhaps we see ourselves first as mothers, sisters, spouses or friends. We define ourselves by the struggles that we join as organizers, citizens, activists. We define ourselves differently depending on the day or the context. These things are complicated rather than being straightforward. The media shies away from the complicated preferring black and white descriptions. So I offer them an easy description of Tiawanda Moore: Ms. Moore is BRAVE. Thanks Chris for giving voice to this!

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2011 in Organizing, Police, Racism, Sexual assault

 

Now that Tiawanda Moore is free, what lessons can we learn?

On August 18, 2010, Tiawanda Moore went to the Office of Internal Affairs to file a complaint, alleging that a police officer had sexually assaulted her.  Getting the runaround from the officers at Internal Affairs, and feeling threatened and intimidated, she pulled out her Blackberry to get proof that they were refusing to help her file her claim.  As many of you know by now, Ms. Moore was charged with “eavesdropping” on the police, a charge that can bring up to 15 years in jail.

Today, I’m so happy to announce, she was acquitted, and her nightmare is over.

But there are lessons to be learned from this, and changes that are needed, and I think it’s important that we take the time to think about what happened here, and what it says about the need for systemic reform.

I was in court today, along with my good friend and colleague Mariame Kaba and a small group of supporters.  The closing arguments we heard spoke volumes about the injustice that this young woman – and I fear, young women in general – experience at the hands of the police and the states’ attorney.

“THEY WERE STALLING, INTIMIDATING HER, BULLYING HER NOT TO MAKE A COMPLAINT.”

Ms. Moore’s attorney, Robert Johnson, spoke eloquently about her experiences of injustice.  His description of what had happened to Ms. Moore, based on the testimony and the tape itself, which had been played for the jury, filled in some of the details on her harrowing experience at Internal Affairs that you may not have heard.

First, he said, when she made the appointment, she was told to bring any witnesses who could support her allegations.  She brought her boyfriend, but he was immediately told to go home or go to McDonald’s to wait for her; no interview was held.  The police urged her not to file a complaint, insisting that the assaulting officer was “a good guy.”  On the tape, there’s a promise that what happened to her will never happen again (proving, as Robert Johnson pointed out, that they believed that she had been assaulted).  There’s the insistence that instead of filing a complaint, she should “go a different route.”  (On cross examination, the officer admitted, correctly, that there is no other route for victims of police sexual harassment in the system.)  And there’s the fact that when she became concerned and wanted to speak with another officer, the police locked the door and told her she could not leave.

Imagine how scary this experience must have been.  Imagine the power dynamics in the room, of this 19-year old young woman trying to plead her case to two police officers, and getting this kind of response.

The only conclusion you can reach is the one Robert Johnson reached:

“The plan was to kill this complaint from the very beginning….  They were stalling, intimidating her, bullying her not to make a complaint.”

HERE WE GO AGAIN, FRAMING THE VICTIM AS THE PERPETRATOR

And what did the State have to say about what happened?  Brace yourself, because here’s their theory.

Tiawanda Moore, they said, was on a “fishing expedition.”  They alleged that this young woman came in all the way from Indiana, not because she had been assaulted by a police officer and wanted to make a complaint.  No, the real reason according to the State was that she “wanted them to say the case was going nowhere.  That’s what she wanted them to say.”

What?  Didn’t she say on the tape itself that she’s concerned about how many other young women have been sexually assaulted by this officer?  Absolutely, said the State, and that is just proof that she was “editorializing,” by which I suppose they meant she was trying to make her case for public consumption.

If this sounds crazy to you, like the world’s gone mad, consider the State’s conclusion as to the power dynamics at play when she went to file her claim.  Is it the police that are in a position of power?  No.

“It is her that is in control…. You can’t push Tiawanda Moore around, she’s not going to let you.”

After all, the State’s Attorney added, “What motive do the police have to protect this officer?”

“JUST ANOTHER DAY IN INTERNAL AFFAIRS”

Now that we can breathe a huge sigh of relief that Tiawanda Moore won’t be facing jail time for this travesty, I am left with a deep fear that what she experienced may in fact be, to quote the State’s Attorney, “just another day in Internal Affairs.”

The concerns raised by groups like the ACLU, and activists like Chris Drew, over the Eavesdropping Law are important and valid.  Our avenue for defense against all types of abuse of power by law enforcement must be protected.  Citizens should be able to record police abuse, and to use recordings to hold the police accountable for such abuse in court.  Period.

Beyond that, though, let’s not lose focus on how the system failed this young woman at every level.  It is important that we remember that Tiawanda Moore’s terrible experience with the system as a young woman survivor of violence was most likely not a fluke.  Instead, her experience points to what young women are up against, and the need for systemic changes.

Young women in Chicago are at risk of sexual assault by the police.  Tiawanda Moore is certainly not the only young woman to allege that she has been sexually assaulted by a police officer.  In Chicago, and in other cities as well, young women have come forward to say that they have been assaulted by their local police officers.  Here in Chicago, there have been rallies in support of survivors of police violence, and groups such as Women’s All Points Bulletin – whose director, Crista Noel, was present in court as well to support Tiawanda Moore today – are working to draw attention to these cases, and to provide crucial support for women.

And can we really believe, as the state alleges, that Internal Affairs is deeply committed to supporting survivors of police violence?  Literature from Chicago Activists Against Police Sexual Assault, a new group that is holding rallies around the issue, quotes these statistics from a 2007 study by the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic at the University of Chicago.

  • The odds that a Chicago police officer charged with abuse will receive any form of meaningful discipline are 2 out of 1,000. But as the U.S. Dept. of Justice has found, only 1 in 10 citizens ever even report police abuse for fear of reprisal, and distrust of the investigatory process.
  • Between 2002 and 2004, 85% of abuse complaints were dismissed without ever interviewing the officer.
  • 75% of Chicago police officers with multiple charges of abuse never receive any discipline whatsoever
  • Brutality complaints are 94% less likely to be found as having sufficient evidence by the Chicago Police Department (CPD) than in the nation as a whole.

Yes, it does sound like what happened to Ms. Moore was what might be expected on any typical day.

And now we can add the State’s Attorney into the mix.  For months, the Taskforce has called for the State’s Attorney to drop these ridiculous charges against Tiawanda Moore.  They refused.  Today’s closing arguments made it clear that the State’s Attorney cannot be relied upon to protect young women from police violence.  The topsy turvy world view that was presented in court today – a world in which young women supposedly have power over the police – was startling and frankly, frightening.

We all have a lot of work to do if we are going to make Chicago safer for young women.  Systems change at every level is called for.  What are your thoughts about what needs to be done?

 

Petitioning Justice for Tiawanda Moore…


On August 2nd, a small but determined group of us went to Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s office to drop off petitions signed by over 3,200 people demanding that the unjust charges against Tiawanda Moore be dropped. We walked into the building that houses her office and took the elevator to the 32nd floor. There were two people sitting at desks in the reception area.

We politely asked to speak to Ms. Alvarez and the young man who was seated at the desk told us that she was “unavailable.” We didn’t press our case and asked to speak to another representative of the office. In the meantime, we noticed that the small reception area was getting crowded with large white men who were coming from a door that seemed to lead to offices. There were at least 6 of them standing around. We assume that they were concerned that we might cause a disturbance. A quick perusal of the rag-tag group of us though should quickly have disabused them of the idea that we were there to cause a scene.

The night before the action, we had spent several hours writing the names of each person who signed the petitions on separate index cards. It came out to 3277 index cards.

After a few minutes, a gentleman came out and introduced himself. We explained that we wanted to register our voices in opposition to the unjust prosecution of Tiawanda Moore. We said that we were dropping off petitions signed by thousands of people who agreed that Tiawanda Moore was being wronged. He told us that he would relay our message to the State’s Attorney. Somehow, we doubt this.

Ms. Moore’s trial was supposed to have started with jury selection on August 3rd. We have confirmed that Ms. Moore’s trial is in fact in continuance now until Monday August 8th for motions.

The Chicago Taskforce on Violence against Girls and Young Women would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to sign their names to our petition in support of Ms. Moore. We believe that it is important that those who we elect to ensure that “justice” is done should not abuse the public’s trust. This unjust prosecution of Ms. Moore is a travesty and perversion of the criminal legal system. Thousands of people agree.

 
 

Join Us on Tuesday at 1 p.m. as We Protest Tiawanda Moore’s Upcoming Trial!

Ms. Tiawanda Moore’s trial is currently scheduled to begin on August 3rd. The Chicago Taskforce on Violence against Young Women and Girls launched a petition drive earlier this year urging State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez to drop the unjust charges against Ms. Moore. To date, the petition has garnered over 3,200 signatures.

On Tuesday August 2nd, join us as we bring the petition signatures directly to Anita Alvarez and demand that she do the right thing by dropping the charges against Ms. Moore. Tiawanda Moore is a young woman who reported that she had been sexually assaulted by a police officer in July of 2010, and was then herself charged with eavesdropping on police. According to her attorney, Robert Johnson, when she tried to report the assault, internal affairs “gave her the run-around, trying to intimidate and discourage her from making a report. The internal affairs officers told Ms. Moore if it happens again you have our number. Finally, a recording of the officer’s misconduct is made on her cell phone.” She was charged with two counts of eavesdropping – and if found guilty, will face up to fifteen years in prison.

We will meet downtown at 1 p.m. to deliver the petition signatures to Anita Alvarez. Please join us and bring your friends. Rather than being a demonstration, this is a targeted strategic direct action designed to convey the reality that thousands of people demand that the charges against Ms. Moore be dropped. If you are planning to join us, please e-mail us at chitaskforce@gmail.com for more information.

We plan to dramatize the number of signatures that have been collected by presenting index cards with each individual name represented. We need volunteers to help us create the index cards. If you have the time and inclination, please join us on Monday from 3 to 6 p.m. for an index card writing session. We will be meeting at the Rogers Park Community Council, 1530 West Morse Ave. Please stop by and help us write out the cards.

If you have any questions, please contact us at chitaskforce@gmail.com.

ETA: We will be meeting at 1 pm at the Picasso sculpture in Daley Plaza, and walking together to the state’s attorney’s office to deliver the petitions. 

 

Update on Tiawanda Moore’s Trial Date

We know that many are anxious to hear what happened at Ms.Moore’s scheduled trial date of June 8th. Well we have been informed by her lawyer that the judge was not available and so they have provided another date which is now June 23rd. Her lawyer, Robert Johnson, doesn’t know if the actual trial will kick off that day or if the State will once again ask for a continuance. Ms. Moore has asked for her right to a speedy trial to be respected. Originally this case was supposed to be tried on February 7th. Instead it has continuously been continued and postponed.

The Taskforce continues to demand that the unjust charges against Ms. Moore be dropped immediately. This young woman has been put through hell and it is wrong.

 

On Navel Gazing and the Incredibly Pointless “Backlash” to Slutwalk…

I didn’t want to have to write this today. Frankly I am busy with a lot of other things. But I have decided that being quiet is just leading to increased frustration on my part. So here goes…

To the young women across the world who are organizing various Slutwalks, you have my gratitude and my appreciation. I have been an organizer for over two decades now. It feels strange to write those words because I honestly don’t feel that old.

I am also a survivor of sexual violence so I am 100% in support of any direct action that focuses on resisting victim-blaming.

Thank you for daring to actually TAKE ACTION in this climate that either finds such things quaint at best and useless at worst. From experience, I know how difficult it is to organize ANYTHING. It is damn hard and lonely but so very important. By doing something public, you make yourselves vulnerable to criticisms from the right but also from the left.

I have read criticism from commentators who suggest that trying to redefine or reclaim the word “Slut” is a “waste of precious feminist resources.” Gail Dines writes in the Guardian:

“Advocates would be better off exposing the myriad ways in which the law and the culture enable myths about all types of women – sexually active or “chaste” alike. These myths facilitate sexual violence by undermining women’s credibility when they report sex crimes. Whether we blame victims by calling them “sluts” (who thus asked to be raped), or by calling them “frigid” (who thus secretly want to be overpowered), the problem is that we’re blaming them for their own victimisation no matter what they do. Encouraging women to be even more “sluttish” will not change this ugly reality.”

How incredibly sad that it has come to this: some in the feminist movement have bought into the scarcity model of thinking that suggests that we only have “limited” feminist resources. Why would this be the case? Could it be that the main problem is that so-called feminists have in the last 10 years mostly abdicated the very important work of base-building and ORGANIZING? Also, it is incredibly condescending to assume that feminist activists and organizers can’t organize a march and ALSO “expos[e] the myriad ways in which the law and the culture enable myths about all types of women.” Why assume that this is an either/or proposition rather than a both/and one?

I won’t respond to other media criticisms of Slutwalk because I am not all that invested in them and also a post titled “Why We Need Slutwalk” addresses itself better to this than I can.

Instead I want to focus on the question that has been raised about who has been or is being “left” out of Slutwalks. I don’t care if the only people who were involved in organizing Slutwalk were young, white, middle-class women. You know why? Because young, white, middle-class women get raped too! They have every right to organize marches or speak outs or whatever else they want. They should do so unapologetically. We are each entitled to save our own lives.

If you are an organizer, you have no doubt had the following experience. You are sitting in some meeting or other trying to organize something or other and someone (usually who is there for the first time) says: ‘We need to have more X involved in this meeting.” If you are an inexperienced organizer or riddled with self-doubt, you might respond with: ‘We’ve tried really hard to involve X in these meetings but we haven’t had any luck. We really want more X to participate. Blah, Blah, Blah.” Then, usually the meeting becomes super uncomfortable because everyone is secretly worried that they are now being perceived as an X-hater. Folks start tripping all over themselves to point out who else is not in the room. No solutions are ever offered for how to practically remedy this and the inexperienced organizer usually finds him or herself on the defensive desperately trying to get the meeting back on track; to no avail.

As a young black girl growing up in New York City, I was blessed to have some terrific older organizers as mentors. I learned many valuable lessons from them. The most important of these was to never feel as though I had the sole responsibility for outreach and recruitment. It is EVERYONE’s responsibility in a group to conduct outreach. As an organizer, I was responsible for casting a wide net in trying to recruit people to the table. I should do my best to be as “inclusive” as possible in my outreach and then whoever showed up is who I was responsible for working with. This was a liberating realization. From that moment on, whenever someone would say “we need to have more X involved in this meeting, event, or action,” my response was “You are so right. How are you planning to involve more X in this meeting, event, or action?” Even better is to ask: “What do you need for your recruitment of more X for this meeting, event, or action?”

Back to my point about it being just fine if Slutwalks were only organized by young white women and only attended by that same group… The truth is that these events have been organized by a multi-everything group of people and attended by a multi-everything group of people. I know for example that the organizers of Slutwalk Chicago have gone out of their way to reach out to many, many of us from different backgrounds and different political affiliations. For our own reasons, some of us have chosen to join the planning group, others have pledged to march, and others have chosen not to be involved. That’s all that we can ask for. On Feministing, Harsha Walia speaks to the diversity that she witnessed in the Vancouver march:

“By the time Slutwalk hit Vancouver on May 15, the debates had already been raging for weeks. I expected to see only a handful of women of colour, mothers and children, older women. I was surprised at the actual diversity on the streets, not captured by photographers seeking sensationalist images of bras and fish nets. There was no attempt to recruit everyone into one uniform vision of feminity, nor was there an overarching romanticization of ‘sluttiness’; sexual autonomy was being self-determined by each participant– as one placard read ‘Whether scantily dressed or fully dressed, clothing does not equal consent’. Most heartening was the significant number of teenagers, who are perhaps most pressured against affirming consent and are most impacted by self-shame and victim-blaming, and supporting their voices on the street was a critical gesture of solidarity.”

I am a black woman entering middle-age. I won’t be marching in the Chicago Slutwalk (for my own reasons) but I am really excited to know that it is taking place and I stand in solidarity with its organizers and its marchers. I hope that you welcome being the targets of drive-by pundits who couldn’t organize their way out of their own clothes closets. I hope that you know how important it is that you are staging PUBLIC actions to make your voices heard. I hope that you remain fearless and creative and with good humor in spite of the endless navel-gazing and supremely useless pontificating. It is that very navel-gazing and pontificating that has atrophied actual feminist ORGANIZING in the last decade. Finally, I hope that the people who are offering critiques (some very valid and many incredibly vapid) about Slutwalk will organize their OWN thing. As Michelangelo has said: “Critique by creating.” If you don’t like what Slutwalk is all about, make your own thing and do it now.

The views expressed in this post are solely the author’s and do not reflect the official position of the Chicago Taskforce on Violence against Girls and Young Women.

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2011 in Events, Organizing, Sexual assault, Slutwalk, Violence

 

Standing up to victim-blaming: Slutwalk Toronto

We have a lot to learn from efforts underway across the globe, and we’ll be featuring some of these efforts over the coming months.  Here’s our first.

We’ve seen a lot of victim blaming in the media lately — the New York Times blaming an 11 year old girl in Texas for being raped even garnered national attention  It’s rare that people take to the streets to protest victim-blaming, but that’s exactly what organizers in Toronto, Canada have done.

On April 3, over 1500 people rallied for the very first Toronto Slutwalk. Why a Slutwalk?  In response to victim-blaming by none other than the Toronto Police. On January 24th, a police representative told a group of students at York University that they could avoid sexual assault if they didn’t dress like “sluts.”  That’s right — once again, blaming young women for the violence they experience.

Here’s what the Slutwalk organizers have to say:

On January 24th, 2011, a representative of the Toronto Police gave shocking insight into the Force’s view of sexual assault by stating: “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”.

As the city’s major protective service, the Toronto Police have perpetuated the myth and stereotype of ‘the slut’, and in doing so have failed us. With sexual assault already a significantly under-reported crime, survivors have now been given even less of a reason to go to the Police, for fear that they could be blamed. Being assaulted isn’t about what you wear; it’s not even about sex; but using a pejorative term to rationalize inexcusable behaviour creates an environment in which it’s okay to blame the victim.

So on April 3, people of all backgrounds gathered in Toronto’s Queens Park and chanted,

“Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no.”

Right on.  One thing that’s great about this effort is that the organizers have refused to accept the individual police officer’s apology as an appropriate response, and are instead demanding systemic change.

The organizers are now supporting Slutwalks across Canada and even in the US — walks are scheduled for Boston, Dallas and Seattle.   What do you think?  Should Chicago be on the list?

Photo credits: Lyndsy D