March 11th, 2020
Control and Containment
The control and containment of human beings is a primary aim of right-wing forces around the globe. The efforts to refine methods of control are accelerating under Donald Trump. Although he is by no means the chief architect of these efforts, or solely responsible, there is no doubt that he and his allies recognize the political and financial gains to be made in surveillance, control, and containment of large groups of people. They are fostering fear and distrust to manipulate people and protect their own wealth and power.
We experience control and containment as isolated policies. But there is a deep connection among the moves to privatize education, establish for-profit prisons, expand surveillance technologies, increase access by law enforcement to personal data, open immigration detention centers, enact abusive educational practices, and increase militarization in communities of color, especially those with high immigrant populations. While the “school to prison pipeline” has been well documented, this larger network of control and containment is less understood. It is evolving into a multi-billion dollar industry, putting in place mechanisms that undermine the very foundations of democratic action.
Consider the events that have come to light most recently.
First, we learned this week that Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater, a vicious, private security force, has been working with Project Veritas, “a conservative group that has gained attention using hidden cameras and microphones for sting operations on news organizations, Democratic politicians and liberal advocacy groups.” Prince has joined with them to create a private intelligence agency, using former CIA and M-16 spies to infiltrate progressive groups. The Michigan office of the American Federation of Teachers was one of the targets of an operation to gain information and discredit its leadership. Prince has close ties to Trump, both through his business dealings and personal relationships. Betsy DeVos is his sister.
We also learned this week of the use of a new software tool by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials in New York that has been intentionally rigged to produce results to make detention of individuals a guaranteed outcome. Creating the illusion of neutral, mathematical decisions, the tool has been “perverted” to be used as “an unconstitutional cudgel that’s been rigged to detain virtually everyone ICE’s New York Field Office brings in, even when the government itself believes they present a minimal threat to public safety.”
Also this week, in cities across the country, ICE began an intense period of surveillance, arrest and public intimidation. They are deploying elite forces and SWAT units to cities deemed unfriendly to Trump’s immigration policies. Their directive is to “arrest as many people as possible” and to “flood the streets.” Dubbed Operation Palladium, they are employing door to door tactics, with agents in SWAT gear. Mindful of how this looks in the media, tactics are designed to be sporadic.
Many of the people swept up in this effort will be marked through the use of facial recognition technologies. This week we also learned of the use by ICE of facial recognition to find undocumented people by their drivers license photos, stored in state data bases.
No doubt many of the people arrested will find their way to detention in Criminal Alien Requirement( CAR) prisons, like the one in northern Michigan. These are specifically for non-citizens and form a for profit shadow prison network. Bárbara Suárez Galeano, organizing director with Detention Watch Network explained that these prisons are often located in rural areas, “hidden away from the public eye.” Their practices are shielded from public scrutiny by private profiteers like GEO and CoreCivic, both major Trump allies.
This increase in control and containment is exactly why public conversations about technologies are so important. Here in Detroit, we are fortunate to have strong community- based leadership challenging the assumption that these practices will make us safer. Many of us know they are designed to control us and make money off of containing our bodies.
These are dangerous times. They demand we understand how fearful the forces of power and privilege are of our capacities to create new ways to protect and care for one another. Anything less moves us toward high-tech barbarism.
People’s Water Board, Faith Outreach Committee
~ “For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death.” Psalm 72:12-13
~ Thirsty for Torah “They traveled three days in the wilderness and found no water” (Exodus 22), some mystically inclined Rabbis opined: “Water actually stands for Torah, as it is said (by Isaiah, 55:1), ‘Ho, all who are thirsty, come for water.’ Having gone for three days without Torah, the prophets among them stepped forth and legislated that the Torah should be read on the second and fifth days of the week as well as on Shabbat so that they would not let three days pass without Torah” (Babylonian Talmud , BavaKama 82a).
~ Water is one of the chief means by which God provides life to us every day. In the Jewish tradition both the Torah and water are inseparable sources of life.
~ “He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; he will crush the oppressor.” Psalm 72:4
Isaiah 44:3 For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring:
Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, said:“There are no rights that the son of Adam is more entitled to than these four rights: a house in which he lives, a garment to cover his nakedness, a piece of bread, and water.” Source: Sunan al-Tirmidhi?
~ References to water appear numerous times in the Qur’an. Islam ascribes the most sacred qualities to water as a life-giving, sustaining and purifying resource. The Arabic word for water, “ma’aa,” appears not less than sixty times throughout the Qur’an.
~ Water as a commons to all humanity “Humans are co-owners in three things: water, fire, and pastures (and therefore must share them)” (Muslim)
~ “We made out of water every living thing” (chapter 21, verse 30)
~ “…It is He who sends down water upon you from the sky with which to purify you…” Surah al-Anfal (The Spoils of War) 8:11
~ “O you who believe! When you prepare for prayer wash your faces and your hands up to the elbows, and wipe your heads and wash your feet up to the ankles…” Surah Maidah (The Table spread) 5:6
~ Revelation 21:6 “And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.”
~ John 4:10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.
~ Matthew 10:42 “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”
~ John 7:37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jusus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.
ENCYCLICAL, Excerpts on Water – Pope Francis, June 18, 2015
Someone needs to explain to me why wanting clean drinking water makes you an activist, and why proposing to destroy water with chemical warfare doesn’t make a corporation a terrorist. —Winona LaDuke, Anishinaabe
March 4th, 2020
Thinking For Ourselves
Governor Gretchen Whitmer needs to rethink her refusal to declare a statewide moratorium on water shut-offs. If there is one major lesson from the spread of Covid-19, it is that we are all connected. More than three months ago, people went to purchase dinner in an open market in Wuhan China. This was a very ordinary, everyday task. But it was there that some few people were exposed to a new virus, emerging in crowded cages of live animals. Today the virus has spread to 58 countries. Over 83,000 cases have been reported and most people believe this is an understatement. At least 2,900 people have died, many of them health care workers. This week, for the first time, the daily toll of new cases outside China has begun to outstrip the rate of infection there. The first person in the US died from it.
This disease appears to spread through the most casual of contact, a hand that covered a cough, grabs an item, puts it on a surface and passes it on. Or droplets expelled from sneezes and coughs float through the air, remaining alive to be picked up by passers by. Much has yet to be learned about the incubation, spread and duration of this disease, but it is disrupting lives and challenging health systems globally.
In Michigan, Gov. Whitmer has taken aggressive action to both prepare the state and encourage residents to engage in safe behaviors. On Friday she activated the state’s emergency operations center to coordinate responses to the virus. More than 350 people in Michigan recently travelled to China and they are being monitored by local health officials. No one has shown any symptoms, but the Governor is acknowledging the potential spread here.
State actions are critically important, as we are all aware of how limited the Federal response is likely to be. At various points as the news of the virus spread, Trump and his men have cheered it on as good for business because it will hurt China, considered it a media hoax, said it is just a cold being politically weaponized by Democrats, and urged people to buy stocks. Now vice president Mike Pence is in charge. He is they guy who thought prayer was the best response to HIV-AIDS. These nonsensical ideas are backed by actual cuts in our infrastructure. As Paul Krugman reported, Trump consistently cut funding for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention with as much as an 80% cut in resources dedicated to fight global outbreaks. He also shut down the entire global-health-security area of the National Security Council. This week the biggest step Trump took was to make sure Mike Pence approves all public statements made by government scientists before they are released.
This corruption at the federal level is partly why people are calling on state governments to step up their capacities. Michigan is among the first to act decisively.
Beginning this week, Governor Whitmer will launch a handwashing campaign on radio and social media, aimed at slowing the spread of the virus as well as other diseases like the flu and Hepatitis A. Washing hands requires water. As study after study has demonstrated, this is the single most important way to maintain public health.
Crisis can clarify what is important for all of us. Water is a human right not only because it is essential for life, but because it connects all of us to one another. The Governor has the opportunity to turn this crisis into a moment when we all reconsider our connections to each other and our responsibilities for how we live and share this planet. We need a moratorium on water shut offs statewide and a serious rethinking of how we care for each other.
News from the People’s Water Board
Statement on Gov. Whitmer Inaction on Water Shutoffs, Public Health Safety
March 4th, 2020
February 26th, 2020
Fear for Profit
Facial recognition is big business. Since September the number of police agencies with access to this technology has doubled. Nearly 900 agencies across 44 states now have systems that not only increase police capacities, but interface with home security systems. One such system, Ring, is promoted as increasing neighborhood safety. Ring spokeswoman Yassi Shahmiri says, “When communities and local police work together, safer neighborhoods can become a reality.” In most cases, this new, hyper-invasive technology has never been proven to be more effective than other, more human ways of creating safety.
One mother, in a suburban home, noticed that much of the behavior caused by people using these home surveillance systems can increase tensions in communities, not decrease them. She commented in a recent article: “We’re not a neighborhood that’s unsafe. We’re also not a neighborhood where people spend a lot of time outside, interacting with each other, so we turn our Rings on and start dissecting all the children. Shouldn’t we be encouraging each other to go outside, say hello and not just get alerts that you’re walking past?”
Spreading facial recognition technologies to combined police and home use is only one new avenue of money making. The newest thrust is to target school districts and exploit the fears communities have for child safety.
While some members of the Detroit City Council are resisting extended public conversation about surveillance technologies, parents in other cities are arguing that school districts are turning “our kids into lab rats in a high tech experiment in privacy invasion.” In early February the small city of Lockport, New York turned on technology to monitor its eight schools. The operation of the new technology caps a two year fight to block it. One of the most vocal opponents, Stefanie Coyle, deputy director of the Education Policy Center for the New York Civil Liberties Union said, “Subjecting 5-year-olds to this technology will not make anyone safer, and we can’t allow invasive surveillance to become the norm in our public spaces.” She explained, “Reminding people of their greatest fears is a disappointing tactic, meant to distract from the fact that this product is discriminatory, unethical and not secure.”
Digital student monitoring is growing and it is contributing to data bases that will track, monitor, identify, misidentify, predict, and profile children. As Education Week reported in May, Florida lawmakers are planning to introduce a statewide database “that would combine individuals’ educational, criminal-justice and social-service records with their social media data, then share it all with law enforcement.”
Charlie Warzel recently wrote about this new K-12 Surveillance state explaining the Lockport School District facial recognition technology has “the capacity to go back and create a map of the movements and associations of any student or teacher.” There have been gunfire-detecting microphones installed in New Mexico schools and playgrounds that require iris scans. A recent ProPublica report explored the deployment of unreliable ‘aggression detector’ cameras in places like Queens, New York. The increase is most likely linked to the number of security and surveillance technology vendors courting school district budgets.”
These new technologies are being aggressively marketed to school systems by claiming to provide safety. What they provide is profit to companies and data to marketers. They also provide dangerous new capacities for police powers to misuse so called “predictive” data.
The public debate that erupted last spring in Detroit around facial recognition technologies has helped educate all of us about the choices before us. The City Council has a responsibility to provide ongoing opportunities for us to discuss, learn and evaluate the direction we are being pushed by corporations who know that stoking fear is good for business.
A note from Craig Regester @ Semester in Detroit
Semester in Detroit is thrilled to welcome the newest member of our team, long-time Detroit educator and community activist, Kim Sherobbi. We first met Kim when she was the inaugural building manager for the Cass Corridor Commons back when it launched in 2011. In addition, SiD Faculty Director, Stephen Ward, has worked with Kim for years on the board of the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership, and more recently with her neighborhood-based organization, Birwood House.
The decision to hire Kim grew from SiD’s 10th Anniversary celebrations in April 2019, and in particular, is motivated by one of the main goals for that weekend: Challenge us to create meaningful and sustainable practices to share leadership with our Detroit community partners for the future development and direction of Semester in Detroit.
Kim’s initial work with Semester in Detroit will focus on three areas: 1) deepening how we prepare and support students to engage in community work, 2) helping us to develop a more strategic approach to community partnership, and 3) exploring new approaches to gathering feedback from community partners to further advance our mission.
Please join us in welcoming Kim Shrrobbi as the first Semester in Detroit Community Advisor. Feel free to reach out and send greetings to Kim at: firstname.lastname@example.org; and look out for more about Kim’s work in the coming months and year ahead!