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Friday, July 18, 2014
Warning to Occupy Wall Street - Rape Can Still be Part of the Penalty
Originally Published on forbes.com on October 8th,2011
A brief stint in custody as the result of acts of civil disobedience might be an event that you can reminisce on. Something that can add a bit of color to your life. Think about Henry David Thoreau turning a day in the Concord jail into the classic On Civil Disobedience. He had refused to pay his poll tax to protest the Mexican War. A little more contemporary, although quite old now, is the indie cult classic Return of The Seacaucus Seven, where a group of boomers fast approaching the watershed age of 30, gather in New Hampshire and talk about how they didn’t make it to the big Washington protest, because they were arrested in New Jersey. The brief jail visit can be much more horrifying for some. I personally have known two activists, who were brutally gang raped during brief incarcerations for minor acts of civil disobedience. Stephen Donaldson died in 1996, but Tom Cahill still feels his spirit alive. Tom asked me to share this caution with the young occupiers out there.
Donny phoned me up very early this morning from Valhalla. He wanted me to warn the young 99 Percenters who are now “Occupying Everywhere” of the possibility of being raped in jail even if in for a short time and what they could do to prevent it. I agreed with him that he and I most definitely were NOT the only political activists to receive this “Royal Treatment,” as Joan Baez sang about in one of her songs a generation or so ago.
What better way is there to “neutralize” a dissenter than by having her and especially him sexually assaulted or even merely threatened. The humiliation is unbearable. Thus rape is self-silencing in most cases but not for Donny who, as you know, was the first prisoner rape victim togo public. And he did so immediately after his release from the hospital.
In fact, he called a press conference.
For your readers unfamiliar with Stephen Donaldson, he was a US Navy Vietnam War-era veteran arrested on the grounds of the Nixon White House at a pray-in to end the bombing of Cambodia in 1973. Refusing to make bail of ten dollars because he felt it discriminated against the poor, he was first placed in a cell block with mostly white prisoners like himself, among whom was G. Gordon Liddy who was locked-up for the Watergate break-in. In his autobiography “Will,” Liddy expressed remorse that he may have been responsible for Donny being transferred to a cell block containing only black prisoners where the small, youthful-looking Donny was gang-raped for several days.
A Korean War-era veteran of the US Air Force, I had been raped a few years earlier, in October 1968–in San Antonio where I had been publishing an underground newspaper named “Inferno” in Spanish and English. Two memos from my FBI files indicate COINTELPRO may have set me up to be “neutralized” (their word) by being beaten, gang-raped and otherwise tortured for twenty-four hours while jailed for civil disobedience.
With Donny working out of his tiny apartment in Harlem to stop prisoner rape and me on the opposite coast working out of the camper of my pick-up truck while homeless in San Francisco, we hooked-up in the early Eighties with an organization that went through several name changes and great metamorphosis. Just Detention International (JDI) now has a paid staff and offices in Los Angeles and Washington, DC. and, of course, a website.
And Joan Baez, like her sister Mimi Farina before she died, is on our advisory council.
JDI was instrumental in passing the Prisoner Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003. It should have been Donny who witnessed the signing ceremony in the Oval Office that September but he had died in 1996, just days short of his 50th birthday from AIDS contracted from being raped again years later while confined—again–for civil disobedience.
Earlier in 2003, I had been in Iraq where I served as a volunteer human shield at a water treatment plant near Baghdad during the US-led bombing and invasion. I wasn’t home long when I was invited to the White House for the signing ceremony because I was a survivor of prisoner rape and the activist who had worked on the issue longest. Watching Pres. George Bush sign the PREA into law while Sen. Teddy Kennedy and others looked on was, for me, far more surreal than any acid trip I ever took in the Sixties and early Seventies.
Now, almost a decade after the signing ceremony, the Obama/Holder Justice Department is dragging its feet in putting it’s full support behind the PREA. On the “phone” early this morning, Donny and I agreed that “someone” may want to keep this “management tool”—as Donny and I call prisoner rape—an option for rebellious young people. Isn’t it at least strange that the allegedly most liberal or at least most moderate presidential administration in years is NOT supportive of a humane bill passed by perhaps the most conservative and most corrupt presidential administration in US history?
But as a long-time, non-violent, left-wing radical activist and survivor of torture, institutionalized barbarism is not strange to me. For instance, I’ve been keeping my eye on FEMA prison camps since construction began a decade or two ago. Now there are between six and eight hundred all over the country—waiting empty but stocked with supplies for a national “emergency.” Just two years ago, Pres. Obama gave his approval to the prison camps managed by FEMA by signing into law the National Emergency Centers Act (HR 645) of 2009. Yes, I’m a “conspiracy nut” and for many bloody good reasons.
Meanwhile the 99 Percenters need to be informed about prisoner rape as well as the prison camps. And one way to avoid both is by spreading the word, exposing these un-American methods of crushing dissent. This is Donny’s message from his aerie.
The work of JDI and other human rights organization has sparked great progress in eliminating this horrible human rights abuse. It still occurs at an epidemic level. If arrests of OWS protesters run into the thousands it will not be a question of whether some of them will be raped, it will be question of how many. My “It is what it is. Deal with it” perspective would say to demonstrators that you should avoid arrest. It is just not worth the risk. I’m skeptical about Tom’s theory on the FEMA prison camps, but the risk of rape in jail is extremely well documented. For a greater understanding of the issue check out the JDI website or watch the powerful documentary Turned Out by Interlock Media.