Club 907 Dancers Freed!

All of the 80-plus women who were arrested during the November raid of Club 907 in downtown Los Angeles have been released. Club 907 is a “hostess club” where patrons pay for women’s companionship (e.g., dancing, delivering drinks). Officers from the L.A. police department (LAPD) raided the club on suspicion of prostitution on November 5, but ended up arresting 78 (of 81) dancers on documentation charges. Although some of the women are still facing immigration court proceedings, this is a major victory for the Coalition for Humane Immigration Rights in Los Angeles (CHIRLA) and the Raids Response Network of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

The Club 907 raid generated a flurry of criticism. According to the LAPD, the action was initiated because police witnessed illicit sexual activity at the club during a routine inspection. But CHIRLA and others claimed that it constituted an immigration raid in violation of S.B. 40, which prohibits the LAPD from initiating “police action with the objective of discovering the alien status of a person.” The vast majority of those arrested were handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Others expressed concern that the working conditions may have constituted indentured servitude or human trafficking, and that the LAPD arrested the victims of, and witnesses to, criminal activities at the club.

Speaking of the women’s release, Xiomara Corpeño, CHIRLA’s organizing director, said:

This is a great day for the almost 80 women who have worked so hard to have their pending immigration cases reconsidered.  These women were detained by the LAPD for a crime they were never charged with but ended up nonetheless spending almost two months behind bars. A great injustice was done unto these immigrant workers who are not criminals but working moms and clearly victims of exploitation by their employer. Six out of 10 women were moms and their children missed them deeply during Christmas and New Year’s.

The raid on Club 907 generated more than 50 national news stories. The success in this case is a testament to the effectiveness of tireless legal advocacy and intensive media attention in holding public officials accountable.

This post was originally published by Ms. Blog on January 19, 2011:

Was the Shooting of Giffords a Hate Crime?

Although Jared Lee Loughner’s attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords raised many questions about how the polarized political environment may have motivated this mentally disturbed young man, one aspect of the Tucson massacre that has received little attention is misogyny.

Loughner left behind several notes, including one that read “die bitch”–a gender slur that implies Giffords may have been targeted because she is a woman. Because gender slurs have become so acceptable in U.S. society, most people fail to recognize them as slurs at all. But imagine the headlines if Loughner had targeted a black member of Congress and left a note reading “die n****r,” or a gay member of Congress with the note “die f*g.” In those cases, the racist or homophobic aspect of the story would be mentioned in every article on the subject!

Other evidence, too, suggests that Loughner targeted Giffords because she was a woman. According to friends and acquaintances, he had become “contemptuous of women in positions of power” in recent years. Tellers at the local bank report that Loughner made openly sexist comments about how women should not be able to hold positions of authority, especially when they denied one of his requests. Some tellers would position a finger on the alarm button whenever he approached. And while Loughner exhibited disruptive behaviors in many of his community college classes, his level of hostility toward one female professor over a grade was such that she felt physically threatened and requested campus safety be present during class.

Loughner had previously met Giffords in 2007 at a “Congress on Your Corner” event. He asked her, “How do you know words mean anything?” and Giffords, assuming Loughner was referring to bilingual issues, responded with a few phrases in Spanish. The young man was angered by her response and reportedly told a friend that Giffords was “stupid and unintelligent.”

So it is not unreasonable to assume that Loughner targeted Giffords because she is a woman in a position of power. If so, his crime falls under federal hate crime legislation, which regulates crimes that target members of protected classes (i.e., race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability). Officials at the Justice Department could inspire a national dialogue about crimes motivated by the hatred of women if they choose to enforce this law in the Giffords case.

The fact that few media reports note the obvious misogyny at play in this case is a testament to the fact that sexism is so ingrained in U.S. culture that it’s not even worth mentioning.

Note: This post was originally published at Ms. Blog on January 19, 2011