#CindyGladue: I want to think about ways that do not rely on the criminal (in)justice system to feel safe.

I have no hope in the criminal (in)justice system. How the criminal (in)justice system treated Cindy Gladue after death demonstrates this hopelessness. Every time I read about how the system treated her, it strikes me to the core. My body literally hurts.

Since writing my last post, it is beautiful to see people coming together to rally for justice. I do believe in writing letters calling for justice for Cindy Gladue. But I want to look for something more long term. What can be done to help protect Indigenous peoples, especially those in the sex trade or street economies, from gender/colonial violence? What are some things that people can start doing today? And start doing in our own communities whether the community be urban or rural? What can we do where we do not rely on the criminal (in)justice system for safety?

I am inspired by Andrea Smith’s post, “Transformative Justice Strategies for Addressing Police/Vigilante/Hate/White Supremacist Violence”. In her post, she describes transformative justice as the following:

Hence the “transformative” justice model builds on restorative justice to hold that our goal is not to restore a community to a state that was structure by oppression but to create and transform communities so that are less oppressive.  In addition, whereas restorative justice models generally operate through the state through sentence diversion programs, etc – transformative justice models operate outside the legal system all together.

I know as an Indigenous woman with sex working experience and who has also been in the criminal (in)justice system that the system does not and will not protect Indigenous peoples, especially Indigenous women in the sex trade. I know that relying on the criminal (in)justice system sometimes invites more violence in my own life and my own community. This violence often is labelled as “helping” or “protecting” but in reality, the help or protecting does very little to actual help the situation.

I want to think long term about what it means to be safe and feel safe in our communities or our places that we call home. I want to think about ways in which we can rely on one another for support and safety. I want to think about ways that do not rely on the criminal (in)justice system to feel safe. I recognize that some people can and do rely on the criminal (in)justice system for safety and security. However, there are many others who cannot rely on that same system. So I thought what would I like to see happen in our communities that people can start doing today that do not rely on the criminal (in)justice system. Here is a list of some of those things that you can do to help support people in your communities, in our communities who trade or sell sex (or who work in street economies):

  • Offer a safe place with non-judgmental support. If someone calls you for support, do not impose or ask invasive questions, offer a place for them to just be, whether they be angry, sad, or overwhelmed. Do not judge someone for his or her circumstances. For instance, saying things like “maybe you should stop doing that…” (whatever that is in their life). Sometimes it can be hard to find a place where one does not have to think or worry about what people might think or say about their situation.
  • Offer to be a safe call for someone working in the trade. A safe call is someone a person can call before and/or after a date to check in to make sure they arrived safely, the date ended and they are leaving the date. Ask them what you should do in the event that they do not call you after a certain time. Sometimes calling the police will exacerbate the issue.
  • Extend an invite for a warm meal if someone reaches out to you
  • Create a community response team that doesn’t rely on the police or the criminal (in)justice system for protection.[1]
  • If someone asks for help, offer to help on someone’s own terms and not your own
  • If someone asks for help, ask them what that help will look like today, tomorrow and in the long run
  • Check in with others, one another and check in with yourself
  • Understand that not all organizations that proclaim to offer help and support are not truly helping or supporting in all circumstances
  • Research organizations and become familiar with the organizations in your communities that offer non-judgmental support and help to all Indigenous peoples including those who are in the sex trade and/or work in street economies
  • Research and understand how the criminal (in)justice system works from your own perspective so that you can help others understand the processes/role of the system and how they fit into the larger colonial project
  • Think about ways to respond to gender and colonial violence within your own communities that does not rely on the criminal (in)justice system and that is inclusive of people who trade or sell sex and/or work in the street economies

This is just a draft, short list. My goal is to have people think about ways that do not rely on the criminal (in)justice system or colonial responses to gender/colonial violence. In the end, I suggest you take the time to read Andrea Smith’s blog post on transformative justice. It is truly inspiring–but of course, Andrea Smith is inspiring herself!

[1] Kind of like this response here: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/bear-clan-patrol-to-return-to-winnipeg-streets-1.2968602

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