I hope it’s clear by now how much I respect Tim Chavez’s work on getting the word out about Juana Villegas DeLaPaz. And lord knows I have little idea how to go about mounting that kind of campaign, so I don’t want it to seem as if I’m dogging on him.
But I see that he keeps referring to what happened to DeLaPaz as Abu Gharib or Guantanemo come to Nashville.
I see this all the time. In fact, I’m sure I do it all the time, myself. And that is to not see what is so squarely in front of me.
So, I want to ask you to take a step back, just for a second.
Because, I think what Chavez is arguing is that here is some abomination, some nightmare from out there come home to dwell among us–that something has happened to us, maybe as a result or in conjunction with the Pogo-esque way we’re conducting our war on Terror by becoming terrorists ourselves and overlooking brutality in our midst, recently.
And I agree with that, to some extent. I just believe the motion is not only in the direction he indicates. It’s not just a matter of smuggling our worst behaviors back into the country.
And that’s what I want you to consider.
Here in Nashville, we have always had women in captivity giving birth only to have their babies stripped from them. This is something we have always believed, since the founding of this city, was okay to do to women in captivity.
It is not surprising that we still think it’s okay for this to happen; that’s how it’s always worked.
We have always believed that using women’s bodies against them in order to make them conform to our expectations is okay. And we have always believed that there are some women who aren’t really legally women at all, who don’t have the same protections under the law as regular people.
It seems to me that we’ve managed to convince most people that slavery–called slavery–is wrong, that it is wrong for one person to own another. But we have never quite bothered to get around to looking squarely at what it takes to keep a slaver socity going–the stripping of humanity and thus legal rights from some folks, the belief that using a person’s own physicality against them as a way to punish them is a fine and acceptable way to punish them, that these people must be controlled and monitored more extensively than other folks because they are more violent and a sexualized risk to the dominant community, and the heavy and intimate dependency on the despised group for the economic well-being of the dominate group.
We have condemned the whole, but we’ve never condemned the pieces. The pieces still flourish.
I believe that certain types of Evil have a life larger and more ongoing than the people who propegate it. I wouldn’t call it a demonic force, but I appreciate the efforts of Christian theologians to try to explain and give shape to it. Because it does seem to me that something–which we might name “I can do to and with your body whatever I want”–is always with us and that as we combat one of the evils caused by it, it’s busy establishing another.
And until we look at that squarely in the face, we’re always going to be ineffective in fighting it.
What happened to Juana Villegas DeLaPaz was not a mistake or a fluke (though it was and should be unacceptible). It is how 287(g) was designed. This is exactly what happens under it. It is what the program makes allowable. That is how it is supposed to work.
The system is not broken. It does not have some kinks that need to be worked out. It is not an accident that it rounds up far more folks who just have no legal way of being here than it does actual dangerous criminals. It is the proud offspring of the loitering laws of the 20th Century and we should not at all be surprised, then, to see that, like those loitering laws (or vangrancy laws), it is an easy way of getting folks into a brutal penal system.
That is what it’s designed to do.
It is no mistake or coincidence that such a program would flourish in Nashville and be widely accepted.
We have been acclimated, since the founding of the city, to programs and institutions of this sort.
Think of it this way: Say that, instead of a city, we were a large family of terrible addicts. You’d find all sorts of things unsurprising–that lots of folks were doing whatever drugs they could get their hands on, that some folks had convinced themselves that they were “only drinking,” even if an outsider could see they were full-blown destructive alcoholics, that some folks in the family didn’t drink or do drugs at all, but married addicts because that’s what they knew, and it’s only the people who are willing to turn around and look hard at themselves and the people they love and say “I love you, but I do not want to do to myself and the people I love what you do to yourself and the people you love” that they can really break those generations’ long cycles.
That is us, Nashville. It is not some mistake or fluke that these things keep happening. It’s some fundimental problem we refuse and have refused to confront head on.
I can’t tell you what it would be like to look at it straight in the face. I don’t know.
But I do know it’s time to stop pretending that this stuff is just some fluke or just how things were done back then or people just don’t know better or whatever and say to ourselves that this is a choice we made and continue to make and it’s a terrible way to move through the world.