02-28-02 dean: two horrible border stories
FROM SAN DIEGO
Coalición Pro-Derechos de La Raza, Barrio Logan, San Diego, California
lunes 25 de febrero de 2002
Human Rights Assailed in San Diego: Benjamín Prado Human Rights Observer Beaten and Arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol
Benjamín Prado, coordinator of the Raza Rights Coalition, an independent organization in defense of human rights, was savagely beaten, assaulted, and detained by 12 elements of the U.S. Border Patrol.
While carrying out his duty to document by video camera the Border Patrol’s illegal process of racial profiling on the San Diego Trolley in Downtown San Diego he was assaulted by Border Patrol Officer Carrell and 12 other agents, on Monday, February 25, 2002 at 5:30 PM at the City College Trolley Station. Benjamín’s work equipment, a video camera, was destroyed and confiscated by Border Patrol agents. Witnesses and still pictures are available of the entire transgression committed by the Border Patrol Several Human Rights observers that had been monitoring the Border Patrol Trolley raids were also verbally assaulted and intimidated by Border Patrol agents for simply carrying out our duties as Human Rights workers.
This aggression against Human Rights organizations is a clear indication that Human and civil rights are a thing of the past in this country.
We demand that the authorities who are unjustly depriving our coordinator of his liberty, treat Benjamín with respect and dignity and that he be immediately liberated. We will not allow this clear act of aggression to impede our movement’s right to protect the human rights of our people. We shall continue to struggle for our human and democratic rights.
We invite the media and community in general to join the press conference to take place on Tuesday, February 26, 2002 at 11 AM at the 12th and Imperial Trolley Transfer Station and for a protest on Tuesday, February 26, 2002 at 4:30 PM at the Downtown San Diego Federal Building. Freedom for Benjamín Prado!
Justice! Dignity! Self-Determination!
Raza Rights Coalition, Barrio Logan, San Diego
My name is John Clarke and I am an Organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP). In the early afternoon of February 19th, 2002, I crossed the international bridge between Sarnia, Ontario and Port Huron, Michigan. I was on my way to a speaking engagement that had been set up by students at Michigan State University.
When I pulled up my car at the customs booth, the officer asked where I was bound and I told him. He wanted to know on what basis I was asked to speak and whether I would be paid. I replied that I was with OCAP and that I had been told by the organizers of the meeting that an honourarium would be provided as was normal. The officer was concerned that this meant I was coming into the US to work. Of course, people on both sides of the border accept speaking invitations all the time on this basis and the issue of a work permit is never raised. At this point, the matter was nothing that could not have been rapidly cleared up if I had been on my way to address a business seminar or deliver a lecture on self awareness.
As instructed by the officer, I parked my car and made my way into the offices shared by customs and US Immigration. As soon as my ID was run through the computer, there was a marked change in the situation. An officer asked me more questions about my intentions in the US, what anti globalization protests I had attended and whether I opposed the 'ideology of the United States'. My car was searched and I was taken into a room and thoroughly (though not roughly) frisked. I was then told that I would be denied entry to the US and that the FBI and State Department wanted to speak to me. Agents were on their way from Detroit I was told.
After about an hour and a half, a man entered the 'controlled reception' area that I was being kept in and passed by me into the inner offices. He was carrying a big folder and a pile of files. It struck me that he carried them the way a highly skilled worker might carry his or her precision tools. He spent some time in discussion with the local officers and then I was brought into an interrogation room to deal with him. He introduced himself and gave me his card. His name was Edward J. Seitz of the State Department of the United States Diplomatic Security Service and his rank was Special Agent. I found him to be an impressive and fascinating character.
Seitz, with the backing of another local officer, interrogated me for some considerable time. It was not a situation like an arrest by Canadian police where silence is the best option. Had I refused to talk to him, I did not doubt that he would order me detained and that it would be some time before the Canadian consular authorities came into the picture. If I was to avoid at least several days in detention, I determined that I had no option but to answer his questions. It was immediately obvious to me that I was dealing with a specialist in interrogation methods. He told the admiring locals at one point that he had been stationed in Yemen and I avoided speculating on how he had employed his talents there.
Seitz's basic strategy, apart from general intelligence gathering, was to try and set me up to tell him something false that would place me in the situation of violating US law. He began with some very basic questions on my personal background, extremely affable in his manner and striking a pose of mild confusion that was designed to make me underestimate him. He then asked about OCAP. He told me it sounded like we were good people but he had heard something about an organization that a year or so before had been involved in a confrontation with the police at the Ontario Legislature. That wasn't us was it? The trap was clear a nd I told him that we were indeed that organization. His affable manner then vanished and his difficulties in focusing his thoughts ended. He gradually moved his chair over so we were right up against each other and fired questions at me. He wanted to know about the June 15, 2000 March on the Ontario Legislature where the Toronto police attacked a march against homelessness that we had organized. He wanted to know about charges that the police have laid against me. He wanted to know how OCAP is structured and who are the members of its elected executive committee (which I refused to tell him).
Seitz then took up the question of OCAP's friends and allies in the US. Are we involved in anti globalization work. Isn't this a cover for anarchism? Was I personally an anarchist or a socialist? (In the interests of anti capitalist unity, I won't say which one of these I acknowledged I was). Seitz had a huge file on OCAP with him that included leaflets from public speakin g events I had been at in the US. He knew the name of the man I stayed with the last time I was in Chicago. He wanted to know who I spoke to in the Chicago Direct Action Network. He claimed that I was an advocate of violence and that my association with DAN showed this but (in a rare stumble) could find nothing in their literature that proved that they call for violence.
This phase of the questioning went on for a long time. He covered a great deal of ground and had at his disposal voluminous information on us. He, obviously, had been in contact with the Canadian police but was most interested on our US allies. The exception was an enormous interest in Canadian anti capitalist activist, Jaggi Singh. He knew that he and I had spoken at the same meetings and was most anxious to find out if he was also in the US. He showed me a picture of Jaggi and wanted to know where he was at that moment.
Suddenly, the mask of affability went back on. I was a 'gentleman' and h e didn't want to lock me up. I was ok but he couldn't understand how I worked with a 'violent man like Mr. Singh'. Then he told me he would have to ban me from the US but I could go to the US Consulate in Toronto and apply for a waiver. I could just take a seat in the waiting room while they prepared some paper work but I would soon be on my way. I had not been sitting out there long, however, before the Special Agent came out to try a new tack that I had heard of in the past. Essentially, his plan was to make me think he was utterly mad and, thereby, rattle me to the point where I lost my judgement. I assume the method works better if it is used after serious sleep deprivation. He came over and sat next to me right there in the waiting area with other people around. He had a few OCAP cheques that he asserted showed I was bringing with me the means to live illegally in the US. I was going to jail, he asserted. I explained that the cheques were in my bag because I always kept a few with me to cover the cost of office supplies and suchlike and that I had seen no reason to take them out just because I was going to spend a few hours in Michigan.
Then came the most astounding part of the whole interrogation. Out of the blue, Seitz demanded to know where Osama Bin Laden was hiding. I knew were he was, he insisted. If I grew a beard I would look like Bin Laden. I was holding back on telling him why I was going to the university and who I was going to meet there. If I didn't want to go to jail, it was time to tell him the real story. I replied that I had been quite open with him about my intentions and that sending me to jail was now up to him. He laughed, told me there were no problems. I could go home after all. Did I drink tea of coffee? Would I have a coffee with him if he came up to Toronto. I told him I would, which was the only lie I told that day, and he gathered up his files and left.
Shortly after this, the local officials gave me the free ticket for the bridge which is the only perk that comes along with being denied entry to the US and, a little over five hours after coming over, I headed back to the Canadian side.
It's always interesting to uncover exactly what readers were searching for when they wound up at this site. Hope they weren't too disappointed.
Whoa, I've been out of commission for awhile. Something to do with a bit of exhaustion, something to do with a crisis of representation and maybe what some writers have discussed in terms of singularity/specificity: how to narrate a lived experience (this whole getting arrested thing) in a way that neither generalizes nor refuses to contextualize; in this case, in a way that acknowledges both the mundaneness (people go to jail, for much much much longer than a day, all the time) and the exceptionalness (the racialization of the prison system means that white professional guys like me rarely do, which is to say there is something not noteworthy about my recent days). Dunno. It's weird to have your politics played out on a bigger scale than you anticipate, the possibilities/dangers in that sorta overwhelm me.
A bunch of us went to hear talks by American Indian activist and writer Ward Churchill, Frank Morales of Covert Action and other projects, and legal scholar Natsu Saito. Some ideas to chew on: Churchill's comment that only in the u.s. do people resist state authority and expect to live free of harm, that paranoia about retaliation is a privilege; and Saito's critique of (white) activists who bemoan the criminalization of dissent while refusing to recognize that the u.s. prison population are political prisoners.
On the topic of political prisoners whose crime is migrant status: protests are taking part here in NYC every Saturday, from noon to 1 pm, at the Metropolitan Detention Center (29th Street and 3rd Ave., Brooklyn, N or R train to 25th Street at 4th Ave); the organizers are calling for an end to the illegal and covert detainment of thousands of Arab, South Asian, and Muslim immigrants. You can call 718-624-5921 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
The disappearances taking place right now across the united states connect, of course, to an international war on people of the global south and their border-crossing movement. The amazing Az offers thoughts on the sickening situation at the Woomera prison camp in Australia. You can learn more about the growing resistance to Woomera at woomera2002.com. And Az's log took me to this brilliant snippet on the Australian state's "ongoing conflation of 'homelessness' with 'statelessness.'" Montezboy writes: "My suggestion is that it is in overdetermined relation to one's distance from a reified imaginary of home that one's 'human' rights will be abrogated by State and popular opinion."'
Other stuff I've been reading of late: inspired manifestos at CrimethInc and J. Sakai's Aryan Politics and Fighting the W.T.O., which explores alliances between white radicals and white neo-fascists in the anti-capitalist movements: "Perhaps in some future century, racism will not be any issue at all in mass white movements. But here & now, on 'this bloody ground' that is America, racism is always an issue. It's never not an issue. And the more that white people who are unthinkingly allied to the Right insist that racism is not an issue, then the more we know that an illness is festering."
A couple of things for you. First, look at this excellent web page by our new friend Ray. Second, we've made a zine about the arrests that talks about lots of important stuff like the war on dissent, police practices, gender queers and bathrooms, gender policing in the trans community, and more. If you want it, send a buck or a trade (if you can--if you can't afford anything no worries!) to:
Third, here's a link to an interview I did with genderblur.com. Fourth, I hope you'll all want to write letters to the author of the article I've posted below which attacks the amazing work of activists at UMich to provide safe non-gendered bathrooms on campus. His email address is email@example.com.
Here's the article:
Thought people might be interested in this anthology call:
DESIRES IN TRANSITION. Lovers of transfolk anthology. An anthology by, for, and about partners and potential partners of trans people. Trans lovers are rarely visible as a group. We're here to change that, and we want you to write about loving intersex, trans(gendered/sexual) and gender queer people. Coming out stories; sex; relationships; creating communities; organizing for social change. Writers of all genders; writers of all sexual identities; writers of all body sizes, shapes, races, ethnicities, religions, health statuses, physical abilities, economic classes. Email Natalie Patrice or visit the website.
Friends and Allies,
I'm writing to update you on the events of this weekend involving my arrest (with two friends) for using the 'men's' restroom at Grand Central Station. I have received many concerned and supportive emails and calls, and I wanted to take a moment to give everyone the full story of what happened, and some thoughts about the significance of this experience.
On Saturday (2/2/02), I participated with my affinity group in the anti-WEF rally at 59th Street and the long march that followed curving around down toward the Waldorf Astoria. By 5pm, after 6 hours of being outside in the cold, we were all very tired and needed to use the bathrooms and get some food. We went to Grand Central station, and headed toward the bathrooms on the Dining Concourse level. I entered the "men's" room, as is my custom, and was followed in by a cop. As I was looking to see what stalls were open, he approached and asked for my ID. I explained that I was in the right bathroom, that I am transgender and I understood his confusion, but I was just going to use the bathroom and leave. Craig came in after the cop because he was worried about me, and as the cop forcefully asked for my ID over and over, Craig said "He's in the right bathroom, please just let him pee and we'll leave." Craig even volunteered to show his ID to the cop if it would help. When I realized that the cop wasn't going to leave us alone despite our explanations, I said "Let's just leave, I'll pee somewhere else." At that point, we tried to walk past the cop and he physically restrained us by pushing us up against the wall and blocking our exit while he radioed for back up. Ultimately, we were thrown to the floor and dragged (with me screaming "I was just trying to pee! Help me!" to the tourist and protester onlookers) through the station. Our other friend Ananda was also arrested while trying to advocate for us.
We were held for 23 hours at 3 different precincts. I was placed with Ananda with the "female" population. Craig was housed with the "male" population. It was a typical jail stay with the usual discomforts: lack of food and water, freezing cold, overcrowding, filth, and verbal harrassment. Also typically, most of the people we met inside had been arrested for crimes like being poor, being non-white, being homeless, etc. The most emotionally challenging part for me was the transphobia I encountered from the court attorney who represented me at my arraignment. He came to the cell around noon yesterday (2/3/02), read the police statement on my court documents, and asked why I was in the "men's" room. I explained that I am transgender and I customarily use "men's" rooms, go by a male name and pronoun. He wrinkled up his face, said with a very dismissive and disapproving attitude "That is your business. I don't care." and then asked me what my genitalia is. I asked "Why is do you need to know that?" Being unfamiliar with state court criminal proceedings, and having been told by the National Lawyer's Guild attorney who visited us in our cells at Grand Central that the arraignment was a formality that did not require his assistance, I was unclear as to how much detail about my situation would be required for this attorney to do his job at the arraignment. Also, having experienced on numerous occasions the inappropriately personal questions asked by some people who are hostile about my transgender identity, I was on guard to make sure that I would only have to engage in such a conversation if it was relevant to my legal case. The attorney took offense to my questioning the relevance of his inquiry about my genitalia, and communicated that if I would not cooperate with him, that was my problem. Because I was unsure about what would happen to me if he would not advocate for me vigorously, and because I feared being given a bail I could not meet, I ultimately suffered the indignity of having to satisfy his curiosity about my genitalia by explaining it. Even then, he said dismissively about my transgender "well, that is your personal business" and left without giving me any information about what would happen in the courtroom. For the next several hours, I was deeply concerned about the quality of representation I would get in the courtroom, and whether I would be released on my own recognizance. Having never been arrested in a situation in which I was not prepared for arrest before, having never been arraigned individually, and having never been represented by a court attorney rather than pro bono counsel before, I was very concerned that I might not be released.
Much to my relief, I discovered upon entering the courtroom that it was filled with friends and allies wearing "Living Trans is Not a Crime" stickers. Having them there, I knew that I would be safe. The prosecutor described my crime by saying "Defendant was asked for identification. Defendant responded, 'I am a man. I am a transvestite.'" If it wasn't so disturbing, it might have been funny. After that, the Judge released me on my own recognizance. Within the next half hour, Ananda and Craig were also released. All in all, we spent 23 hours in jail. I am being charged with two counts of Disorderly Conduct, one count of Trespassing, one count of Resisting Arrest, and one count of Obstruction of Government Administration. Ananda and Craig are being charged with Obstruction, Resisting, and Disorderly Conduct. Our next court date is March 6. I will continue to update all of you on the progress of our case and our organizing efforts.
As a final note, I will tell you a few of the things these arrests have made me think about. First, I am outraged, of course, by the double-bind in which gender segregation of bathrooms leaves transgender, transsexual, gender variant, and genderqueer people. Like many people, each time I use a public bathroom I face the fact that no matter what choice I make, I may encounter harassment and potential violence and arrest. My level of bathroom anxiety, of course, is increased by the weekend's events. However, I am hopeful that the increased visibility of this problem afforded by the media coverage of the arrests and the organizing we will continue will result in policy changes about bathroom segregation. I hope that this arrest will spark campaigns to provide safe, non-gendered bathroom options for all people in all public spaces. I intend to continue vigorously advocating on this issue.
Additionally, this arrest raises questions about the practice of indicating "legal gender" on state identification cards. It is my belief that just as "race" has been eliminated as a category on state identification (in most states, to my knowledge) gender should similarly be eliminated. Had I had "M" on my ID in this situation, I could have shown it to the officer. However, I might still be arrested, and then I would have faced the possibility of being housed with a male population in jail. Would this have been safe? I tend to think it would not. However, with "F" on my identification I face the continual problem of having my preferred gender terms not aligned with what is on my ID. Either choice, for people like me who face the possibility of arrest in an increasingly aggressive police state and who are targeted for harassment due to gender identity, is unsafe.
Despite the discomforts of the weekends events, I have hope that much good will come from these arrests. We have been contacted by various legal organizations interested in our case. I hope that we can use legal and political means to change the police policies regarding bathroom enforcement and transgender arrests, increase awareness of bathroom gender enforcement issues amongst other organizations and institutions that have gender segregated bathrooms, and increase awareness of transgender experience generally. I was glad to hear from my sister in San Francisco that the arrests were announced at an anti-WEF rally she went to, and to see that they are being covered by the Independent Media Center and other groups focused on the WEF events. I think that it is a step forward to have anti-capitalist activists and movements considering transgender issues and participation. I was also overwhelmed by the response of our friends and other allies to our arrests. I am deeply grateful to everyone who advocated for us and who showed their support in court and by email and phone. I feel like I am an incredibly lucky person to have so many trans and non-trans friends up in arms over trans politics.
As you may know, I am currently working to start up a new law project focusing on the needs of low-income transgender, transsexual, genderqueer, and gender variant folks in NYC. It was funny to spend a week writing a grant about issues such as the discriminatory treatment of this population in criminal justice contexts, as well as the inadequacy of many lawyers to provide sensitive and appropriate services to us, and then to experience these very problems myself on the weekend. The experience has reinforced my commitment to this work.
Thanks for reading this long email. Feel free to pass it on to anyone who might be interested. I will continue to update you on the progress of our case and any other events we plan. Please contact me if you have ideas for strategy or resources that may be helpful.
P.S. Here's a photo of riot cops fretting over the brave people who were advocating for us when we were still being held at Grand Central.
1. somehow, in all of our technical genius, we've erased the dispatch that promoted the quails northwest tour (sorry, you missed it) and gave a link to an article i wrote for their tour zine about 'bisexuality' and other sexy things.
2. look at this for an intense visual understanding of how resources like electricity are maldistributed.
3. i have to do a semi-retraction of my wholehearted admiration of strap-on.org (see dispatch below). some great conversations are happening on there, and there are wonderful people talking about gender things, but you should be aware before you go on that there is some of the name-calling and divisiveness that is present on other lists. some of it is about important issues, some of it is reactionary. in any case, i don't want to mislead you. i've still gotten a lot out of what i've read there, but it is painful to read some of the battles, and i don't want to lead you to that without your full knowledge. but, still, please, use the term 'bonus tranny hole' as often as possible.