“What if nobody finds out?” or… Rape: Do You Really Need It? This Will Help You Decide!

Statistically*, at least one of you reading this is a rapist. I never got a chance to say what I wanted to say to my rapist, so I’ll say it to you: Stop fucking raping people. That pussy (or asshole or penis or mouth) is not there for the taking. It’s attached to a person.

That person has individual thoughts and desires and dreams and preferences, because, you know, they’re an actual human being. Accept that if this autonomous human being doesn’t want to fuck you, you should NOT fuck them.

Maybe this human that you want to fuck (who doesn’t want to fuck you) is intoxicated? Still NOT okay to fuck them.

What if they’re passed out in the spare room of your buddy’s house – or anywhere else? STILL NOT OKAY TO FUCK THEM.

Sometimes, the human being you are having sex with decides they no longer want to have sex with you, but you do whatever the fuck you want, and you continue to fuck that person. THAT’S FUCKING RAPE, YOU FUCKING RAPIST. Stop doing it.

It’s super easy: If the person you want to have sex with doesn’t want to have sex you, don’t have sex with them.

Maybe you’ll have hurt feelings and blue balls, and you might feel emasculated. That’s okay – you’ll survive. I promise. And your career and livelihood will remain intact and your penis will not fall off.*

If you’re fucking people without their consent, I strongly urge you to seek professional help – we all urge you to stop and seek help! There don’t seem to be many helplines or services for people who want to rape other people; the only resource I was able to find links to a lame ‘find a therapist’ website, but maybe it’ll get you pointed in the right direction. Your actions aren’t just hurting the people you’re raping. They’re affecting the families of the people you rape, their kids, partners, parents, and communities. You might have even created a fucking kid (or more than one, depending on how many people you’ve fucking raped) because women who are raped are two times more likely to conceive than women who have consensual sex.

If you’re waiting for someone to stop you, it’s probably not going to happen. Most of you fuckers get away with raping people because the people you rape are either too scared or too ashamed to say anything. Even if you do get caught or the person you raped files a report, the case might be too difficult to prosecute — or you might have a wealthy, well-connected daddy who writes you a fucking note and colludes with some good ol’boy judge to get you the equivalent of after-school detention.

Worse, if the person you raped knows you and loves you, they might not want you to go to prison. People who are raped by their partners often JUST WANT YOU TO STOP RAPING THEM.

So you have to stop doing it on your own. If alcohol is a contributing factor, stop drinking. If you get people drunk and take them home, tell your friends to keep you from going home with anyone so you don’t ‘accidentally’ FUCK THEM WITHOUT THEIR CONSENT.

If you think it’s perfectly fine to rape other people because you believe they deserve it or because they have less value as a person, I hope you fucking die. How’s that for a twist on the rape threats so many women get for expressing their opinion on the internet? YOU can’t rape me to death if you fucking die first, you fucking fuck. In a more just world, I would say I hope you go to prison because you are a violent offender who needs rehabilitation and possibly community oriented restorative justice. But we don’t live in a very just world – 97% of you fuckers rape people and totally get away with it. So if you truly believe that you are justified in raping other people, I hope you fucking die so you can’t hurt anyone else.

But maybe you don’t like the idea of people calling you a rapist? Does it sting? This is actually a good sign – it means you know what you’re doing is wrong and you don’t want other people to know about it. There’s an easy solution: STOP FUCKING RAPING PEOPLE and apologize to the people you have already raped.***


*             “1 in 16 (6.5%) men are rapists. 2002 Lisak study, although other studies show as high as nearly 15%, or 1 in 7 men.”

**           99% of all perpetrators of sexual assault (aka FUCKING RAPISTS) are dudes. Hence, the penis remark. To the women out there who are raping people, STOP RAPING PEOPLE, YOU FUCKING RAPISTS.

***        It’s very possible that the person you raped is terrified of you and has nightmares and flashbacks about the time when you seized control of their body against their will. It’s very possible that you have mutilated them emotionally and negatively altered the trajectory of their life. If you are sincerely sorry for what you have done, coordinate with a sexual assault support group or qualified mediator to convey your apologies to the person you raped. You should not request to see them, but if you’re comfortable with a face-to-face meeting, let them know that you’re available to talk. Many people who have been assaulted express relief or resolution when their experiences are acknowledged by their offenders.

NOTE: I honestly believe that most people (even people who rape other people) can be good human beings. Maybe you’re a product of how you were raised or maybe you experienced some traumatic shit when you were a kid. It’s okay – you can still stop raping people. You can be a good person.

Here are some fucking articles:









When it matters most- exclusion in ideas of political unity

Many liberal White folks are still angry that the #BlackLivesMatter movement is demanding mainstream attention through various protest methods, the most polarizing of which was when two #BlackLivesMatter activists interrupted Bernie Sanders’ speech in Seattle. They’re angry because they feel like Bernie Sanders is already doing his best. They’re angry because they feel like #BlackLivesMatter is undermining a delicate grassroots political campaign, one that is battling behemoth corporate interests that masquerade as competing presidential candidates. Bernie is talking about many pressing concerns – things like class, healthcare, poverty, prisons, and the environment. These are issues that affect everyone. These folks wonder why #BlackLivesMatter activists can’t see that Bernie is on their side.

On the whole, Bernie Sanders has stepped up. He’s added “Racial Justice” to his platform and he hired Symone Sanders as his press secretary, a woman active in the #BlackLivesMatter and criminal justice reform movements. This isn’t to say that Bernie can just sit back and wait for Black supporters and votes to come rolling in – but it does mean that he’s listening. And he’s one of the few candidates making concrete efforts toward racial justice.

But this isn’t about Bernie Sanders.

This is about Bernie’s White supporters. And no, “#NotAllBernieSupporters” are disparaging the #BlackLivesMatter movement, but a whole bunch of them are. I’m talking about the ones who feel outrage when #BlackLivesMatter activists interrupt their rallies.  I’m talking about the mostly liberal and well-intentioned Bernie enthusiasts who make up the bulk of his supporters – those who feel that if everyone would just ‘stand together’ and stop bringing up race, Bernie might actually win the primary. And, above all, I’m talking about people like me. Immediately following the Seattle rally interruption, I experienced anger, confusion, disappointment, and exasperation right along with the vast majority of my fellow White Bernie Sanders supporters. My knee-jerk reaction was to simultaneously write off the #BlackLivesMatter movement and dismiss the activists as rogue outliers. “Don’t they know they’re hurting their own cause?” “Why go after Bernie – he marched with Dr. King!” “Interrupting speeches is rude.” Yes, I actually got annoyed and dismissed an entire civil rights campaign because I thought the activists were being rude.

Many White liberal people, especially those who come from middle to upper class families, feel that the most important topics are environmental, political, or economic.  White people commonly believe that these are the root issues by which all others become important or relevant – that these are the core and universal issues facing our populace, and only by addressing these first will we be able to tackle issues of racial injustice. Because if we don’t have a habitable planet, we can’t fix racial inequality, right? Or if we continue to see increasing levels of corruption and austerity, our economy will go down the shitter and none of us will be happy. Or if unemployment rates increase, more people will fall into poverty.  

The troubling aspect of these lines of thinking is that each assumes that it’s okay for a smaller portion of our society to suffer as long as the rest of us are happy and comfortable. Yes, the environment matters! No doubt if we continue to use fossil fuels at current rates, our children and grandchildren will face dire consequences. And absolutely, topics such as Citizens United and the corporatization of our government need to be addressed, as do harmful institutional practices that contribute to increased rates of poverty and incarceration. Yet, at the heart of each of these concerns runs a common thread. Racial inequality is an exacerbating factor in every political platform championed by progressive White Americans:

  • The environment: families of color are more likely to live in areas where there are higher levels of ground and air pollution
  • The economy: unemployment and poverty rates are higher for people of color;
  • Mass incarceration (and the war on drugs): people of color are incarcerated at significantly higher rates than White people
  • Reproductive justice: women of color are disproportionately targeted and surveilled by Child Protective Services and have a more difficult time accessing reproductive services
  • Corruption in government: gerrymandering and voter ID laws are disenfranchising voters of color at alarming rates – also, this.

While there is no universal message that will meet every need of our diverse population, racial inequality intersects with all of these ‘conventional’ platforms. And not only do these platforms intersect with race; racial injustice is in fact a root cause of many political issues dear to the White liberal heart. The centuries long American tradition of perpetuating and maintaining racial inequality drives policy and business decisions and reinforces long-standing racially oppressive social norms.

Reader, you and I might have quite a bit in common, or we may have nothing in common, but just as an example, consider my (White middle class) family’s hierarchy of needs:

  1. We need high speed internet and two vehicles.
  2. We need to buy milk.
  3. We need to work on recycling more.
  4. We need to mow our lawn so our neighbors don’t get pissed off at us.
  5. We need to take our dogs to the vet and the groomer.
  6. We need to not get angry when our asshole neighbors play loud music at 12:30 am on Tuesday…
  7. We need to stop buying so much shit on Amazon (this should be closer to the top but I’m in denial).

My family lives in a safe, comfortable neighborhood. My children can walk to school without the looming threats present in high crime areas. My young sons can grow into teenagers without fearing the police or being subjected to excessive levels of state surveillance. My husband can speed on the interstate without being profiled by the highway patrol. I can use cannabis without worrying that Child Protective Services will remove my children. We have health insurance and have never had difficulty getting or keeping a job.

So, it would make sense that if I live day to day in a world where most people are just like me, I would likely prioritize the environment and universal healthcare as my main political priorities.

But if I lived in a different world, one where my children and husband had a one in three – one in three – chance of being incarcerated; where unemployment rates among people like me were much higher (and underreported) than the national unemployment rate; where I had fewer educational opportunities and was more likely to live in poverty and less able to escape it, well… my hierarchy of needs would be much, much different than what it is now.

And if while attending a rally to hear a politician talk about an issue that perhaps had little relevance to my day to day life, I witnessed two women – who looked like me and had the courage and audacity to interrupt a celebrated politician – speak about issues that directly impacted my daily existence (issues that are glossed over or diminished by the mainstream media and most politicians), I imagine I wouldn’t be too upset that I didn’t get to hear about social security.

I say ‘imagine’ and ‘if’ a lot because I don’t actually know firsthand. What I do know is Black friends and scholars are talking about their experience and it’s imperative that we listen and attempt to imagine how our comfortable lives could be much less comfortable. We have to imagine what it must be like to fear the very institution sworn to protect us, and we have to imagine having to instill that same fear in our children. For millions of Americans, it didn’t matter that Bill Clinton was a ‘progressive’ president or that Barack Obama is a ‘progressive’ president. Americans of color were, and continue to be, unemployed and incarcerated and killed and impoverished at higher rates than White people. So I have to imagine that many Black Americans don’t believe things will be any different under yet another ‘progressive’ president, even one as progressive as Bernie Sanders.

What can we do? We can listen! We can support people who experience these injustices firsthand and those who are surviving our system rather than thriving in it. We can participate in protests and/or we can counter dominant dialogue in the many different venues where it is produced (at work, in social media, at church, among our family and friends). We can understand how race intersects with every issue being discussed by our politicians and we can use our voices and our positions to highlight how people of color are disproportionately affected. We can use our privilege to speak with (NOT for) marginalized Americans.

We cannot, in good conscience, remain silent about the injustices perpetrated by our own system against our own citizens in order to win a primary – or even a presidential election. Bernie Sanders understands this and it’s past time that his White supporters understand it as well.

Give us a reason why the U.S. should continue to criminalize sex work and we’ll tell you why you’re wrong

This article was co-authored by Haley K.

Sex. No matter what underlying motivations exist for people having it, it’s a part of the human experience (for most people) and it happens on a massively broad scale. Like, seriously HUGE-everywhere-all-the-time.

People are totally getting it on. Right. Fucking. Now.

Sexual pleasure comes in all different forms, and as long as it happens between consenting adults, the majority of sexual encounters are within the limits of “legal” activity.

  • One-night-stand sex? Legal.
  • Just-bored-and-want-something-to-do sex? Legal.
  • Orgy-sex-club sex? Legal.
  • Getting-tied-up sex? Legal.
  • Cheating-on-your-girlfriend sex? Legal.
  • Married sex? Legal.
  • Single sex? Legal.
  • Sex-with-coworkers sex? Not advised, but … Legal.
  • Sex after sushi? Legal.
  • Sex AND sushi? Legal.
  • Sex WITH sushi? Legal.
  • Brony fantasy sex? Legal.
Pony time

Found on LandoverBaptist.net on a thread claiming My Little Pony is Satan’s newest recruiting tool

Unless you’re in public view, all sorts of consensual sex in all sorts of situations is totally fine – UNLESS at least ONE motivation involves the exchange of money for that sex (talking about children and their (in)ability to consent is beyond the scope of this writing; all arguments discussed herein refer to consensual sex acts between adults).

Not sex in exchange for jewelry, that’s fine. Not for financial ‘support’ (bills, rent, groceries, etc.) – that’s fine. Not within the confines of a marital contract (even a “mail-order bride”), that’s fine.

Just cash. As soon as cash enters the picture, the act of having sex is immediately criminal.

And it isn’t in the way people have sex, or where, or for how long, or how often they do it that is actually illegal, but specifically the reason why they’re doing it. There is no specific physical act that is ANY different from the myriad of ways people have sex that is criminalized, but simply the motivation (the thought-process) for why they are doing it. Continue reading

Blog Tour!

Often when I am supposed to be working I totally fuck around on the Internet instead. I am pretty sure this is why blogging was invented; people were supposed to be doing some shit – like laundry or taking care of their kids – but looking at stuff on the Internet was more interesting – so they decided to do their shit on the Internet. Now people blog (some people can actually make money doing it) – about how they’re not doing their laundry or they write ordered lists of all the things that make people bad parents.

Of course I’m making light of something that has evolved into a spectacular form of communication. The Internet has a way of equalizing voices that is completely impossible in mainstream media like TV and radio. It’s more accessible than ever, and pretty much anyone with access to a computer and an Internet connection can write down and publish their own version of the world (I’m doing it right now). But as with any other source of information, there are definitely voices that are broadcast louder than others (the same news and entertainment agencies that dominate television have a significant presence online as well – because money). That’s why I’m pretty excited about being nominated for this blog tour. I spend a large part of my free time absorbing the world through blogs, news stories, tumblr, twitter, facebook and op-eds (and yes, buzzfeed), and on and on and on. But I know that there are some amazing gems out there that I’ll never see, that hardly anyone will see. How does anyone ever find that stuff (or, should I say, our stuff)? (Yes I just called myself a gem. Yes I did.) Continue reading

*Trigger warning – Discussion About Trigger Warnings

Why trigger warnings may hurt more than they help.

You’ve probably seen it: the “*TW” (Trigger Warning) preceding articles and news stories in social media feeds and news sites. This warning frequently accompanies stories about rape, abuse, sexual harassment, stalking, or domestic violence – topics that could potentially trigger a physiological or emotional reaction in readers who have experienced similar situations.

I follow a lot of feminist organizations and blogs, and since feminism exists because specific categories of people experience physical and organizational violence, that’s what people write about. Subsequently, I see this warning (*TW) multiple times per day. Systemic oppression and sexual violence are huge obstacles in women reaching social and economic parity, and these issues are compounded by preexisting social inequities for people who aren’t white, able-bodied, cisgendered, and straight. Feminist issues are inextricably linked with issues of violence and oppression, and therefore the subject matter is frequently distressing.

It’s vital that we continue to address these issues in any way possible – in blogs, news articles, art installations, videos, protests, auctions, film, poetry, fiction, memoirs, etc. – but the haphazard (or, worse, universal) application of the term “Trigger Warning” does little for those we desire to help, and can actually be harmful/hurtful to the most vulnerable among us. Continue reading

Patriotism and the Blue Angels

“If you don’t like the Blue Angels, you don’t like America.” – A Facebook comment in response to a Seattle photographer’s misgivings regarding military demonstrations and recruitment tactics at Sea Fair.

After returning home from Iraq in 2004 I avoided crowded places. Concerts and festivals were out of the question – the throngs of people and loud noises kicked my fight/flight response into high gear. Sporting events and air shows were another no-go; flyovers from fighter jets after the national anthem once inspired in me a sense of awe and swelling patriotism – after my deployment, however, I was only reminded of war. The piercing roar of jet engines would cause my heart rate to skyrocket and a tightly coiled knot of anxiety and panic would gather at the base of my skull making every nerve ending in my body buzz.

But my post-deployment aversion to the fighter jet flyover wasn’t just rooted in the physiological response it provoked, but also in the underlying message: To be a patriot, one must love (and be in awe of) the Armed Forces.

The idea of the Blue Angels is, at its surface, a nice wholesome message of seemingly traditional Americana. Look at our technology! Look at our might! Look at the discipline and excellence of our Navy pilots!

And those pilots are tremendously skilled and disciplined – in operating equipment that is primarily designed to kill human beings.

Think about that.

Each time the Blue Angels (or any military fighter jets) fly in formation overhead, it is a demonstration of America’s capacity to kill. In connecting our feelings of patriotism with our admiration for the capabilities of the Department of Defense, we’re essentially conditioned to conflate one feeling with the other. And a major sporting event isn’t considered complete without a military fighter jet formation flyover to conclude our national anthem. Each time military fighter jets fly over the Super Bowl, the World Series, and thousands of other events across the country, it serves as a way to reinforce the connection between our national identity and our military supremacy.

Red-White-Blue Deadly Patriots

So what? Isn’t military supremacy a part of our American heritage?

Yes, the US Military has been an integral part of US history (a history that was shamefully introduced with the genocide of Native Americans). But is employing the US war-making apparatus as central to our national identity actually a good thing? In the past we celebrated the return of our veterans from WWI and WWII and then helped them find their way back home with education and housing programs. As a nation, we began the work to right injustices that existed for people of color and women and those in poverty through numerous civil rights acts and social justice reforms. National protests brought our soldiers home from Vietnam. Our pride and heritage was centered on celebrating and bettering the lives of individual Americans.

Now the way we celebrate our country has morphed into a quasi-worship of the Armed Forces. “Support the troops” tropes have supplanted connections with actual veterans, and those Americans who question the value or need for increased defense budget allocations or preemptive military actions are in turn accused of lacking patriotism.

It’s a disturbing shift.

In much the same way US Military fighter jets have been incorporated into numerous American celebrations, at those same events the American flag is almost always carried out by service members or veterans, nameless and faceless in their uniformed number, merely a representation of the larger organization. Under the pretext of honoring veterans, the American flag is repeatedly associated with conflict and war. And at these events, are we really honoring the individuals who served? Do we learn about their favorite past times, their families, or their goals for the future? Almost always the answer is “no”. The Veteran or The Service Member is simply a placeholder meant to keep in the forefront of our minds the ever present connection between America and its fighting forces.

There are many other ways to celebrate the vast array of traditions and diversity in the United States without incorporating a demonstration of military power. Rather than watching nameless and faceless uniformed troops unfurl our colors at national sports events, imagine seeing elementary students or family members of the local team carry out our American flag. Perhaps instead of incorporating fighter jet flyovers after the national anthem, we could honor first-generation college graduates or recently naturalized American citizens.

While the US Military and American identity are connected historically, they aren’t inextricable. Celebrating our national heritage does not require that we also celebrate our ability to make war. Our national pride is not inseparable from our military might, and I argue that we will act as better Americans (and better plan for a peaceful future) if we do separate our national identity from our military capacity.

Babysitters, Car Shows, and Girls — Defining Gendered Spaces through Image Searches

Google search is a fascinating tool for surface-level social and cultural analysis. A 2013 UN Women campaign used search terms and auto-predict to demonstrate common searches about women, and the results are CRAZY and eye-opening. But that’s old news, right? What else can we do with Google searches?

This morning I was doing some preliminary “research” on gender and space (which resulted in quite a few references to Sally Ride – Haha, yay for unintended puns). As expected, there were a TON of academic and scholarly articles but that wasn’t really what I was after. I wanted some examples of how public areas and spaces can be “gendered,” meaning the ways that gender is reinforced and reproduced by and through our environments. A really blatant example of reinforcing gender roles is the way most department stores separate toys into “pink” (girl) and “blue” (boy) aisles. Car toys are almost exclusively marketed towards boys, so I decided to take it a step further and see what I would find in the adult realm. I typed in “Carshows” into Google and did an image search. This is what I got:


Okay, maybe I spelled it wrong… Here’s “Car Shows”in a Google image search:

Capture2Wow. This search yielded pretty much the same results.

I’m definitely not a search engine expert and this neat Google description of how search engines work in general was helpful. I’m assuming image searches work in a similar fashion by using algorithms and indexing to load the top results. I know that in regular and image search mode, auto-predict will provide you with the top searches related to what you’re typing – at some level this probably influences us to correlate the subject with the auto-predict results, even if those things aren’t actually related. If “car shows” actually means super-duper sexed up chicks placing their boobs on cars, what images would other terms generate?

I quickly realized that while it’s not a tangible “space” (I don’t physically go to Google to find my information), these image results are to a degree representative of commonly held perceptions. And in this example of “car shows” I definitely get the message that if I attend a car show, it will likely be a gendered space where women are commodities rather than consumers (and therefore not a place I would feel comfortable or welcome). So even before I consider attending a car show, I’m already deterred. Even without being in the actual space, this search communicates and reinforces gender roles relating to car shows through the resulting images.

Personally I think that’s pretty powerful (and (again) personally, I would probably still go to a car show if interested or invited because FTW I do what I want).

But it’s not all about dry-humping cars (I know… you’re sad) –  I did some random searches of people in places and occupations. Some of the screenshots when viewed individually aren’t all that bad (some aren’t really bad at all) but some of the images when viewed in comparison to contrasting terms or ideas began to surface questions or observations about how we represent some of those ideas and expectations.

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Okay, that’s it. All of these results can be duplicated (if you saw something you like or whatever… don’t want to know, not judging… PLEASE don’t let it be the babysitter page – *shudder*)

Oh, before you go though – here’s a different sort of car show model! *This guy is super cool and you can read more about the unique Toyota commercial here:


The War on Drugs: Racism, Profits, and More Profits

In my previous post I explored two myths about illegal drugs in the US:

  1. Illegal drugs are more dangerous than legal drugs
  2. Drug use is linked to higher rates of criminal violence

After looking at the death rates related to illegal and legal substances, we were able to substantiate that most illegal drugs pose very little risk to public health when compared to their legal counterparts (alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceuticals). We also established that illegal drug use by individuals is not a public safety issue. Drug use and violence aren’t inherently linked, and most violent crimes are not drug-related.

The first two myths are propagated on a grand scale to enforce the concept of moral policing. If we (society) think an activity is dangerous to the public, we tend to view that activity as immoral. The activity may not, in fact, be dangerous to anyone other than the person doing it (think skateboarding, skydiving, mountain climbing, drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, eating McDonalds) but if it’s widely accepted that the activity is wrong, it matters not that the person doing it isn’t actually hurting anyone else at all. Stigmas associated with imprisonment and addiction further the ideology that drug use is fundamentally immoral, and populations that are associated with illegal drug use are forced outside societal norms and grouped together with people who actually do cause harm to others. Therefore, we’re gradually and systematically less injured to the idea that people in possession of small amounts of illegal substances can be sentenced to over 10 years in prison (or in this man’s case, life in prison) when rapists and murderers serve comparable sentences.

Race and Incarceration

After bombarding you with numbers in Part 1, I decided a chart was in order to really communicate the disparities for minorities in the criminal justice system. The data from the chart below was found from two sources: Bureau for Justice Statistics and the NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet.

Drug use and incarceration rates chart

African Americans make up only 12% of illicit drug users, yet represent over 40% of those imprisoned for drug use.

While African Americans make up only 12% of people who use illegal drugs, they comprise over 40% of people incarcerated for drug use. This alone should be alarming. Why are minorities being arrested and convicted at higher rates for using the same illegal drugs as White people? And not only are conviction rates higher for African Americans -the sentences are also longer. According to The Sentencing Project:

“A study published in 2000 found that blacks in Kansas City received sentences that were 14.09 months longer for drug offense convictions and 6.57 months longer for property crime convictions than sentences given to similarly situated whites.”

And a 2013 article in the Wall Street Journal reported that sentences for Black men are on average 20% longer than for White men who commit similar crimes.1

WTF, America?

Additionally, users of crack cocaine face much harsher criminal penalties than those who use its almost molecularly identical powder version, the regular (rich white people) cocaine. There is quite literally no difference between the two except for the addition of baking soda to crack cocaine, which lowers the melting temperature, allowing the user to melt and smoke it instead of snorting it up their nose. But as you saw from the mandatory minimums in the last post, you’d have to be hauling around over 5 kilograms of Cocaine (powder) in order to get the same minimum 10 years to life sentence you’d get for possessing 280 grams (about 10 ounces) of Cocaine base (crack).

Decriminalizing illegal drugs won’t fix social injustice in our justice system, but it will help narrow that HUGE sentencing gap that is massively racist and classist and just all-around fucked up.

The Privatization of Prisons

Whenever there is an institutional resistance to rational change, there’s usually a financial motive driving that resistance. The war against drugs is no different. There is big money for a select few in maintaining the status quo, to the tune of $79 billion dollars. Factor in phone companies, commissary companies, prison uniform companies, toiletry companies, the prison construction industry… and well, you’ll be hard pressed to find an industry that doesn’t have an interest in the business of incarceration. Even some of our nation’s public school employee pension plans are investing in private prisons.

What does this mean? It means that in order for these companies to continue making money, people need to keep getting arrested and sentenced to prison. And that equals lobbies and political manipulation.

The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) maintains a presence in 66 privately run prisons in the U.S and has spent almost $2 million in political donations and over $17 million in lobby expenses over the last nine years, reporting a total revenue of $1.7 billion for 2011. The second largest prison corporation, The Geo Group, Inc. has comparable numbers, and both companies’ CEOs make a combined 9.4 million dollars per year.

By securing contracts with State governments guaranteeing 90+% occupancy rates, CCA is placing those same governments in the position of having to arrest a minimum number of people. CCA has publicly lobbied against relaxed penalties for minor drug possession, reporting in 2010 “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws.” CCA and The Geo Group advocate mandatory minimums, three-strikes laws, and Arizona’s recently passed controversial immigration law.

Private prisons tout their cost savings as a selling point, but their performance records (violence in the prisons, falsified staff records, substandard living conditions, abusive treatment of inmates)2 and the fact that their cost estimates do not include housing inmates with mental or physical health issues (of whom state-run prisons are housing in substantial numbers) mask substantial hidden expenses. In AZ, private prisons aren’t even required to provide cost comparisons to state-run facilities anymore, thanks to AZ legislation pushed by Representative John Kavanaugh and Governor Jan Brewer, both huge proponents of the private prison industry. AND, according to Daily KOS, Brewer’s “Chief of Staff, Paul Senseman, is a former lobbyist for the Corrections Corporation of America.”

That’s some scary shit. The pressure on local police departments to deliver an appropriate number of bodies to the prisons is driving an increase in arrests for minor drug crimes that are of no threat to public health or safety. People are being traded for money. People are losing their freedom and their families for years, sometimes decades, and capital lost from unemployment and urban decay is being sucked out of our lower income communities and funneled into the pockets of the prison industry.

The Liquor (and Pharmaceutical) Lobbies want you to Keep Drinking (duh)

To recap from the first post, the vast majority of illegal substances are no more dangerous or harmful to your health than legal drugs sold to us today (either for recreational use or over the counter prescriptions). Alcohol and tobacco, along with pharmaceutical opioids, are excessively bad for your health and responsible for millions of deaths per year, yet there are millions of dollars in political lobby contributions to make sure you’re led to believe that these substances are somehow safer than illegal substances. And because the liquor, pharmaceutical, prison, and tobacco lobbies want to keep making money, the war on drugs is still a thing and regular people are being sent to prison for possession at higher rates each year.

Cost of incarceration

It costs an average of $28,000 per year to house an inmate in a federal prison. In California, it costs around $49,000. That doesn’t include the cost to arrest, process, and convict an individual, nor does it take into account the personnel hours of law enforcement to patrol, arrest, interview, and process evidence. In most states, the cost to keep an adult locked up exceeds the number of dollars spent to educate students in elementary and secondary school. Look at this graph – it’s crazy. Nationally, excluding municipal and county jails, the cost adds up to $79 billion per year.

Treatment programs, by comparison, cost about $4000-$6000 PER YEAR per individual, and in states where treatment programs are already in place, they demonstrate higher success rates in reducing recidivism – up to 67% in Brooklyn’s DTAP (Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison) program (and isn’t that the whole point?). Additionally, the people receiving treatment continue to work and pay taxes, especially when they are able to avoid the massive stigma of a felony conviction.

What are other countries doing?

Portugal – Decriminalized the use of all drugs in 2000

Brazil – Users are not sent to jail, those in possession of small amounts of drugs are not imprisoned.

Uruguay – Legalized marijuana in 2013 and does not impose jail sentences for use and possession of small amounts of other drugs

Czech Republic – Possession of small amounts of marijuana, ecstasy, methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, mushrooms, and hashish is not a criminal offense. Legislation to legalize marijuana is pending.

Spain – Drug consumption is not a crime in Spain.

Denmark – Provides state-sanctioned “drug rooms” where users can consume small quantities of heroin and cocaine.

Find more information on international drug law reform here: http://reformdrugpolicy.com/library/


1For further reading on racial disparities in sentencing, visit these sites:






2Some States are taking over management of private prisons now after years of reports detailing appalling conditions, high turnover, undertrained staff, and increased levels of violence.

DARE to Stop Buying into Drug War Propaganda

I don’t want to lose you so I’ll start slow:

The Federal Government should legalize all illegal drugs.

Whoa- sorry. That just popped out. I was going to start with some statistics, walk you down the path that led me to make that very controversial statement. My bad.

Let’s start over.

You know, I think most people find the idea of doing meth distasteful. Same goes for heroin and crack cocaine. We shake our heads in dismay at the physical toll it takes on the body. We worry about our children and the choices they’ll make when they encounter illegal drugs.

I was first introduced to the concept of decriminalization1 in 2008 by a neighbor of mine in Colorado. He said the most shocking thing: “We should decriminalize all drugs.” And I freaked out. Freaked. Out. (Because: A. I’m a product of the D.A.R.E. generation; and B. At the time, I worked as a Corrections Officer at the county jail and a large number of inmates were obvious meth users and had sad, scary lives.)

My two main impressions about illegal drugs (and these are probably concerns shared by many other Americans) were these:

  1. Illegal drugs are worse for your health and more dangerous than legal drugs
  2. Illegal drug use is linked to higher rates of criminal violence

“What about heroin!? What about coke? And crack and meth!!! And…well, won’t it be dangerous for kids!?” I asked.

“Isn’t alcohol dangerous for kids? And cigarettes? And bleach? And riding in cars? And guns? And swimming? All of those things are legal.”

He was sort of flip and tended to disparage government services and regulation in general (he once told me we should eliminate speed limits and that driving drunk should be legal so long as you didn’t kill anyone), so I dropped the subject and wrote him off as one of those sovereign citizen types.

Health Concerns

But then I moved to Washington, and in 2012 it was one of two states to legalize recreational marijuana possession. I started doing some research about the actual safety and health concerns related to cannabis and came up with   … nothing. Really. In the history of all recorded causes of death ever, not one single person has died of marijuana overdose2. Not one.

Additionally, there are no long-term health effects (other than lung-related ailments if one is a long-term smoker of weed, and alternative methods of consumption eliminate this health risk).

Even the DEA and CDC fact sheets on LSD, “magic mushrooms” and mescaline were surprisingly benign (the exact words were “Deaths exclusively from acute overdose of LSD magic mushrooms, and mescaline are extremely rare.”) Yes, heroin and meth are more dangerous, and the instances of overdose are more common.3 But did you know that in 2010 more people in the US died of prescription drug overdose (22,134) than all other illegal drugs combined (17,000)?4 And even that number is peanuts when you look at the number of deaths caused by alcohol in the US alone: 88,000. In the world: 2.5 million.

Globally, tobacco use causes more than 5 million deaths per year. In the US, more than 440,000 people die every year from cigarette smoking (including second-hand smoke related fatalities). Yet smoking and drinking are legal, regulated, and taxed. And we know from experience that alcohol prohibition didn’t stop people from drinking or curb the distribution of alcohol (rather, it made drinking more dangerous than it is now due to unsafe manufacturing processes and unregulated alcohol content, not to mention the illegal enterprises that sprouted up to make money on the black market).

It’s clear that the most common illegal drugs are hardly a public health risk when compared to legal substances, so what are some of the other arguments against legalizing or decriminalizing illegal drugs?

Crime and Criminals

Along with concerns about the health effects of illegal drugs, my other immediate reaction to the idea of decriminalization involved public safety and crime related to drug use, trafficking, and dealing. Weren’t people who used and dealt drugs also violent? That’s why they go to prison, right? Wrong.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, only 3.9% of homicides are drug-related5.

“Contrary to conventional wisdom and popular myth, alcohol is more tightly linked with more violent crimes than crack, cocaine, heroin or any other illegal drug. In state prisons, 21 percent of inmates in prison for violent crimes were under the influence of alcohol–and no other substance–when they committed their crime; in contrast, at the time of their crimes, only three percent of violent offenders were under the influence of cocaine or crack alone, only one percent under the influence of heroin alone.”  – Joseph Califano, Behind Bars: Substance Abuse and America’s Prison Population

In 2007, more than 14 million arrests were made in the US. Of those, drug abuse violations came in at #1 with over 1.8 million people arrested for possession, trafficking, manufacturing, and distribution of illegal substances. According to the same BJS report, more than 4/5 of those arrests were for possession. And while the number of arrests for sale or manufacture of drugs has stayed static at about 300,000 annually since the late 80s, the number of arrests for possession has tripled from around 500,000 per year to over 1.5 million arrests per year.

And when these people are arrested, they’re very often convicted and sent to prison. Federal mandatory minimums, truth in sentencing laws, and three-strikes laws have all played extensive roles in the prison population explosion in the last 20 years. Not only are people going to prison for non-violent crimes, they’re often going away for a very, very long time. Federal mandatory minimums outline the sentencing ranges for different amounts of illegal substances:

Pursuant to 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(b)(1)(A) and 960(b)(1), a statutory range of ten years to life applies to offenses involving at least:

1 kilogram of Heroin

5 kilograms of Cocaine (powder)

280 grams of Cocaine base

1,000 kilograms of Marijuana or 1,000 plants

50 grams of actual Methamphetamine or 500 grams of mixture or substance

Pursuant to 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(b)(1)(B) and 960(b)(2), a statutory range of 5 to 40 years applies to offenses involving at least:

100 grams of Heroin

500 grams of Cocaine (powder)

28 grams of Cocaine base

100 kilograms of Marijuana or 100 plants

5 grams of actual Methamphetamine or 50 grams of mixture or substance

Enhanced Penalties. Sections 841(b) and 960(b) include enhancement provisions based on the defendant’s prior record, which are only applicable if the government provides notice pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851 (Proceedings to establish previous convictions). A qualifying prior conviction increases a 5- to 40-year range to a range of 10 years to life. A qualifying prior conviction increases a 10-year mandatory minimum to a 20-year mandatory minimum (the maximum remains life); a second qualifying prior conviction increases a 10-year mandatory minimum to mandatory life.

That’s a lot of numbers so I’ll take a break for now. What I want to point out here is that millions of people (including a vastly disproportionate number of Black and Latino/a Americans) are going to prison and staying in prison for a long time simply for possessing and using substances that are comparable to legal drugs like alcohol, tobacco, and acetaminophen.


There are a number of reasons why the war on drugs is still a viable platform for our politicians – too many reasons to discuss in detail today – But we’ve looked at two of the most successfully propagated myths (public health and crime prevention) and in my next post I plan to address racial disparities in the criminal justice system as well as examine the financial motivations in the war on drugs (like private prisons and the liquor lobby).

The fundamental question is this: Do people who choose to use drugs deserve to go to prison for doing so? Really think about that. And if your answer is still “Yes,” ask yourself if people who drink alcohol deserve to go to prison, or if people who use prescription drugs should be locked up? After prohibition failed miserably in the US, the US Government adjusted its approach. Rather than make the alcohol illegal, it was regulated and taxed. And those activities that presented a true public health or safety risk were made illegal (driving while intoxicated, contributing to a minor, etc.) So now that I’ve thrown some statistics at you, I’ll reframe my original statement: The war on drugs isn’t slowing drug use or reducing violent crime. It’s time to decriminalize all illegal drug use and possession.




————–This is Part 1 of a two-part series————-



1The difference between “legal” and “decriminalized” varies by state. While Washington State has “legalized” possession of up to an ounce of cannabis, there are still a significant number of regulations restricting how it will be grown, processed, and sold. So, it’s legal in the state of Washington to carry and consume specified amounts of marijuana, but much like alcohol and tobacco there are laws to regulate the sale and manufacture of cannabis goods, as well as laws that detail enforcement and sentencing for selling to a minor, driving under the influence, and public consumption. “Decriminalization,” on the other hand, often simply involves a local or state convening authority declaring that certain activities will no longer be prosecutable offenses, or that those activities will now be considered misdemeanors or civil infractions punishable only by fines rather than felony offenses. In 2010, prior to I-502 (the initiative to legalize recreational marijuana in WA state) the Seattle City Council voted to reclassify possession of small amounts of marijuana as a civil infraction rather than a misdemeanor, and the Mayor instructed the police department to make arrests and searches for cannabis the department’s lowest priority. This was essentially decriminalization. There were no laws explicitly authorizing possession of cannabis, but sanctions for violations were much more lenient, if/when they were enforced at all.

If it seems that I’m using these terms interchangeably throughout this post, it’s because I am. Decriminalization is the more likely than legalization for the majority of presently illegal substances.  I’ll take either one (or both).

2In contrast, according to propublica.org, over 1500 people died from acetaminophen poisoning between 2001 and 2010. That’s about 150 people per year.

346 people died of heroin overdoses in Minneapolis in 2011 – by comparison 204 people died in the same city during 2011 in motor vehicle accidents

417,000 deaths attributed to illegal drugs, including those deaths caused by vehicle accidents, HIV infections, and hepatitis

5 Victims of violent crimes who chose to participate in the BJS victim perception survey reported that just 4.9% of offenders were on drugs when they committed their violent crime. Alcohol, however, was reported by to be a factor in over 15% of violent crimes. 28.8% reported the perpetrator was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol and 44.2% reported they didn’t know.

The Equality Filter: Legitimizing Civil Rights through Militarization

America is in the business of conflict. Since WWII, the US has been engaged in war, conflict, or police action for 66 of the last 72 years, and for 216 of the 237 years we’ve been a country our military has been fighting, killing, occupying, or threatening with nuclear weapons. “Terrorism” is now a ubiquitous and tired threat that induces a persistent low-level fear and passivity, which in turn secures consistent funding for the military and defense contracts.  The deployment of “precision military strikes,” drones, and soldiers overseas is premised on delivering justice or securing democracy, but in reality the U.S. Administration is usually dealing with the fallout of poor past policy decisions.

And yet… there have been some significant civil rights developments that were expedited through the war-making apparatus. Desegregation in the military preceded the ruling of 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka by several years. The repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) headed the repeal of DOMA, and the DOD has already surpassed the Federal government in providing universal benefits to the same-sex spouses of Active Duty military and retired veterans. After lifting the career-restrictive combat exclusion policy in January 2013, Congress and the Pentagon also recently announced the creation of gender-neutral standards for men and women serving in combat units will be signed into law. This is an enormous milestone for military women and their families, not to mention the greater implications of employment equality in other sectors.

So how can one reconcile the desire for a more just and equitable society while at the same time acknowledging that the recognition of individual and group civil rights has been, to a certain degree, facilitated by the military institution?

I face this dilemma having come from a family where military service is almost a family business (my mother, step-father, father, grandfather, uncles, and my husband have all served). I say this having served five years in the US Army myself.

While the military has been a bellwether of civil rights advancement in the U.S., it has more often facilitated America’s oppression of marginalized persons both here and abroad. Hazing, sexism, sexual harassment and sexual assault, racist practices, war crimes, extended occupations, “collateral damage,” indefinite detentions, and torturous interrogation techniques have been imprinted on the American psyche, normalized to a certain degree through media and pop culture glorification of war. The widespread deployment of the United States Armed Forces has made military occupation seem common place. The international opinion of America’s obsession with defense isn’t complimentary, but domestically the military culture is a very successfully propagated ideology. Support the troops! Patriotism! Sacrifice! Honor! America! Oh, and Bud light, football, and whatever other corporate interests latch onto the pro-military bandwagon to make some dollars.

Although specific military policies like the combat exclusion for women and DADT may seem to accelerate civil rights action in America when they are lifted or repealed, these policies may play a more harmful role in their very existence in the first place. Rather than acting as a mirror of society, simply reflecting the current national social temperament, the military institution is acting as the definer of civil rights and citizenship in broader American society. Presently, a significant argument to reform immigration is leaning heavily on the fact that many immigrants choose military service as a path to citizenship. Even undocumented family members of military members may avoid deportation because of their relationship to the service member, and there is also a campaign² to allow certain undocumented immigrants to enlist in the service. Military service establishes value in citizenship in otherwise disqualified individuals; military service compensates for other lacking characteristics. Conversely, groups prohibited from military service are diminished as citizens. Individuals in these groups are viewed as “less than” as long as they are defined so by the military institution, for those who aren’t permitted to participate fully in the military aren’t “real” citizens.

Legitimization of citizenship through military service is a troubling model: in order for a group’s rights to be widely recognized and accepted by society, they must first be filtered through the military institution. Definition of acceptable conduct in the military determines acceptable conduct in the greater civilian society. For example, the very concept of DADT was designed to allow gay women and men to serve in the military while “protecting” them from abuse or harassment (by placing a prohibition on homosexual activities or individual identification) but in fact DADT likely led to higher levels of abuse, isolation, and disenfranchisement because individuals were unable to report mistreatment without risking disclosure of their sexual orientation, and subsequently losing their jobs¹. This reinforced existing anti-gay prejudices, and legitimized the broader view that gay and lesbian Americans weren’t justified to equal rights or protections in the civilian sector. Similarly, the combat exclusion (which in recent years was largely disregarded) that “protected” female soldiers by prohibiting them from serving in combat roles acted instead as a method to reduce access to benefits and acknowledgement as legitimate troops. The policy also made it difficult for women who had served their country in the same combat zones as their male counterparts to obtain recognition and proper care and disability ratings when recovering from the same mental health issues. Again, this policy, along with the current selective service requirements, has had a larger impact outside of the military where women were not (are not) recognized as full citizens.

Transgendered individuals are facing enormous obstacles gaining social and legal equity; this is compounded by the fact that they are prohibited from serving in the military at all if they have had any surgical genital modifications, or if they disclose their transgender identity prior to or after enlisting. So unlike women and gay service members, transgendered individuals are granted no legitimacy as citizens whatsoever as defined by military. And for other populations that will never meet restrictive military service requirements (individuals with reduced physical or cognitive abilities, certain religious practices, advanced age, or mental illness), American society’s propensity for viewing citizenship through the lens of military normative characteristics may place those populations forever outside the reach of full citizenship.

It is past time that advances for gay soldiers and women are taking place in the military, and it’s certainly time to examine how best to integrate transgendered individuals into the service as well; the successful elimination of DADT and the positive progression for women in the service have both demonstrated that transgendered individuals should not be restricted from work as service members (or any other profession) based solely on their gender identification. The “right” to serve in the military should not be read as the “right” to full citizenship, nor should the military be able to establish service requirements that interfere with individual or group civil rights except with regard to mission readinessHowever, the rights of an individual should be recognized not through or because of the military institution, but as inalienable rights regardless of any institution.

1.A Federal court in California ruled that DADT was unconstitutional a full year before it was officially repealed.

2. http://www.letusserve.org/home/