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Feminine products for inmates in jails, prisons get attention

FLORIDA COURIER — It’s something most women rarely chat about with strangers. But Valencia Gunder is walking the halls of the Capitol talking about menstruation.

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By The Florida Courier

TALLAHASSEE – It’s something most women rarely chat about with strangers.

But Valencia Gunder is walking the halls of the Capitol talking about menstruation.

Specifically, Gunder’s leading a discussion about the struggles incarcerated women in Florida face because they don’t have adequate feminine products like tampons and sanitary napkins.

Gunder, a former inmate who’s now a lobbyist for the group Dignity Florida, is pushing a proposal that would require state prisons and county jails to make tampons and napkins more readily available to female prisoners.

“We are not asking for a luxury, state of Florida. We are asking for bare necessities. Women should not have to use extra pairs of socks as pads. Women should not have to use all of their tissues. Women should not have to be embarrassed to ask for extra sanitary napkins and tampons,” Gunder told reporters during a recent press conference in the Capitol.

A ‘dignity’ issue

The state Department of Corrections already has a rule requiring female inmates to have access to “adequate” feminine hygiene products.

The agency “is committed to ensuring the dignity and fair treatment of all incarcerated individuals in Florida,” spokeswoman Michelle Glady said.

“Our current policy and practices provides feminine hygiene products at no cost to inmates, necessary health and comfort items, and has search policies in place that are committed to ensuring inmates privacy in respect to their gender,” Glady said.

Bipartisan support

But Gunder and other advocates say guards sometimes deny requests for pads – state prisons don’t give female inmates tampons – as a way of punishing or humiliating women behind bars.

“It’s just humiliating, in general, (to be denied) things that you need,” Gunder, 34, said in a recent interview.

Female inmates also say the napkins given away by jails and prisons often don’t do the job.

The proposal (HB 49 and SB 332), called the “Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act,” has received bipartisan, unanimous approval from three subcommittees and committees in the House and Senate. It was scheduled to be heard Tuesday in the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.

A no-cost push

The proposal would require prisons and jails to make “health care products” – including tampons, moisturizing soap that is not lye-based, toothbrushes and toothpaste – available to female inmates “at no cost to the woman in a quantity that is appropriate to the needs of the woman.”

The products must be available “in common housing areas,” so that women don’t have to request them from guards.

Tampons and pads are available at some prison or jail canteens, but not all women can afford to purchase the products, Rep. Shevrin Jones, a West Park Democrat who is sponsoring the House measure, told a committee recently.

All-female pat downs

Incarcerated women are being “forced to make the impossible decision of constructing your own menstrual products, using anything from clothing or notebook paper, in place of a tampon,” Jones said, before the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee unanimously signed off on the bill.

“Without adequate access to clean, hygienic menstrual products, you may face serious health consequences. This happens every single month, and for some with irregular cycles, more frequently,” he added.

The proposal also would require that pat downs and strip searches of inmates be done by female guards and would ban male corrections officers from entering showers, restrooms or other places where incarcerated women may be undressed, policies that are already in place in some facilities.

But the legislation goes further, by requiring male guards to announce their presence after entering women’s housing units.

‘Embarrassing’ experience

Gunder, who’s the criminal justice program manager at the group New Florida Majority, said she first spoke about her negative experience as an inmate with her period while at a national conference two years ago.

“It was one of the hardest stories I ever had to share. It was extremely embarrassing. It’s something I don’t necessarily like to talk about a lot, but we can help the thousands of women who are incarcerated. But it is extremely hard because it’s something that people don’t talk about, outside of to a mother,” Gunder said.

After her remarks, Gunder said she met Topeka K. Sam, who’s a leader in the national “Dignity for Incarcerated Women” movement and discovered that women throughout the country were already working to make sure incarcerated females had access to adequate feminine products.

“It was a freeing moment for me and what was so amazing was that this group of women who all were incarcerated and they were, like, we know exactly what you’re talking about, and this is what we’re doing to fix it,” Gunder said.

Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Miami-Dade County Democrat is sponsoring the Senate version of the bill.

This article originally appeared in the Florida Courier

Bay Area

Asian/Black Relations Can Get Better Together During Heritage Month

Heritage months are ways to benchmark our progress and see what urgently needs to be done now. 

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Tim Mossholder/Unsplash

President Joe Biden has given May a new name. It’s no longer Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, as proclaimed by Obama in 2009.  And it’s definitely not Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, as proclaimed by Jimmy Carter in 1978. It’s Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Month, as proclaimed by Biden on the last day of April this year. 

That’s our new umbrella. A big one, incorporating everyone. From the East Bay’s Rocky Johnson, the father of Dwayne the Rock, an African American/Samoan American. To Vallejo’s Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson, a/k/a H.E.R., the African American Filipino of Grammy- Oscar-winning- songs fame.

Despite how huge the umbrella is incorporating more than 23 million people from more than 20 countries of origin, we are all American. And we’re the fastest-growing group in the nation, set to double in size, overtake the Latinx population and, with 46 million people, become the largest ethnic group in America by 2060. 

And so we’ve come to expect people seeking to divide us up. During a Zoom conference of attorneys general last week, a member of the audience had a question. “There seems to be an emphasis on attributing anti-Asian violence to white people,” said a white male to the panel. “And I’m just wondering if it is healthy to do that, or an effort to do that…when in some incidents, the attacks were committed by non-white people.”

Essentially, the man was saying, “Don’t blame white people,” implying that Blacks have often been perps in some high profile crimes against Asians. 

But it seemed more like a question to drive a wedge to break up our solidarity.

Fortunately, civil rights activists John Yang knew exactly how to answer that one. 

“Yes, there have been attacks on Asian Americans by people that are not white, no question about that,” he said. “But I would ask everyone to be really, really careful about what the actual statistics are, because the statistics show that the predominant number of people attacking Asians are Caucasian.” Then he referred to some high-profile cases in the Bay Area where Blacks attacked elderly Asians, once again pointing out it was the exception, not the norm.

It was the right response to avoid creating divisiveness and to let everyone know that the only way to end racism is to fight it together.

But he also said something that rang true to most Asian Americans. 

“Let’s be clear, there (are) elements of anti-Blackness in the Asian American community, that we do need to unlearn as well,” he said. Then he made it personal. “And that’s something that I’m going to call out on myself, and in our community, and we would ask everyone to do the same thing as we’re all learning together.”

It was a rare candid public moment that unveiled a sense of friction between Asian and Black communities that has existed since the days I wrote op-ed pieces in the 1990s in the Tribune. 

Heritage months are ways to benchmark our progress and see what urgently needs to be done now. 

Like the speaker said, a lot of it involves calling out where we have fallen short of the ideal.

That’s what Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month is really for—to learn the good, and unlearn the bad, together. 

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Bay Area

Vallejo Police Chief Issues Statement After Chauvin Verdict

“Creating a systemic culture that embraces the core values of dignity, safety, respect, and compassion is our charge in leadership and a call to action for us all. The status quo isn’t acceptable. We can and must do better. We will do better.”

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“Today, justice was appropriately served. Police officers should be guardians of the communities we are sworn to protect and serve. Our task is to embrace the principle of safety with respect — respect for human dignity, respect for the sanctity of life, and respect for what our communities are demanding of us.

“As a law enforcement executive, I acknowledge it is my obligation to lead with purpose and urgency. Policy change isn’t enough. Creating meaningful cultural change is imperative.

“Creating a systemic culture that embraces the core values of dignity, safety, respect, and compassion is our charge in leadership and a call to action for us all. The status quo isn’t acceptable. We can and must do better. We will do better.

“Those of us entrusted with the responsibility of law enforcement must build trust where we have it, restore trust where we’ve lost it, and earn trust where it never existed. These responsibilities should only be entrusted to those who have a record of successful accomplishments consistent with these values.

“This is what our citizens and communities want, this is what they deserve, and this is what we must deliver.”

Vallejo Chief of Police Shawny Williams

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Community

A Diverse Jury Delivers Justice for George Floyd

Right up to when the verdict was read the anxiety level was so high, people all over the country were fearful. This case was really the People vs. the Cops. Leave it to diversity.

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Mural in Oakland, Calif. June 7, 2020 Photo Credit: Christy Price

All-white jury? There’s no more feared phrase among civil rights lawyers. But that’s not what Minnesota gave us in the Derek Chauvin trial. The jury that decided the fate of the white former police officer who had his knee on George Floyd’s neck was more  diverse than the Minnesota county where the trial was held.  And that means the odds of getting justice were probably a lot higher than anyone could have imagined. 

Right up to when the verdict was read the anxiety level was so high, people all over the country were fearful. This case was really the People vs. the Cops. Leave it to diversity.

Minnesota’s Hennepin County has 1.3 million people, according to Census data from 2019. The racial breakdown is 74.2% are white, 13.8% black, 7.5% Asian, 7%  Latino, 3.3% biracial, 1.1% Native American. How much lower would your anxiety level be with a 12-member jury that had only nine white people?  Not much.

But again, praise diversity. The Chauvin jury included six whites — two male, four female. And there were four Black people (three of whom are male, plus a 60-year-old black woman). The remaining two jurors were multiracial. But now, what’s in their heads?

The questionnaires all the potential jurors filled out asked about policing, protests and criminal justice. Among the selected was a white man in his 20s, who was the only juror who said he had not seen the cell-phone video of Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck. The man, a chemist, said in his questionnaire, “I rely on facts and logic and what’s in front of me.”

To me that sounded like a guy who might want to see some evidence again. That indicated to me the potential for a long deliberation and not a quick one.

One of the Black jury members, in his 30s, said he had not seen the cell-phone video in its entirety. In his questionnaire he said he didn’t believe Chauvin “set out to murder anyone,” but noticed how three officers on the scene stood by and didn’t take action.

It seemed to reflect a balanced, open-minded jury that could deliberate on the truth.

The prosecution skillfully framed its case around the cell-phone video we have all seen, the 9:29-long video of Chauvin with a knee to the neck of Floyd. “You can believe your eyes,” said attorney Jerry Blackwell in the opening. In closing, his prosecuting partner, Steve Schleicher, said it again and added, “This wasn’t policing. This was murder.” 

In the end, the jurors did not allow themselves to be gaslit by the defense, who presented alternative facts as to how Floyd died. But jurors could see for themselves in that video:  Chauvin wasn’t demonstrating “reasonable” policing. 

The jury delivered guilty verdicts on all three complicated murder charges: second-degree unintentional murder; third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. Trifecta. 

To think Chauvin wanted to plead to at least 10 years, but former U.S. Attorney General William Barr wouldn’t approve it because there was fear that 10 wouldn’t be seen as severe enough. Now Chauvin, whose bail was revoked and sent back into custody, could get up to 40 years.

A triumph for the people. And for diversity.  A system so biased toward the cops was beaten. It happens. 

Savor it peacefully and think of others who have come up empty-handed in their quest for justice. Let this be an energizing reminder, how alive justice can make us all feel.

Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. See his vlog at www.amok.com  Twitter @emilamok FB @emilguillermo.media

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