Wednesday, March 11, 2009

DD Fight Club Predictable

Photo of Corpus Christi State School b Paul Iverson, Associated Press

I am home sick today; but still got three calls about the story below. While I can’t write much between my naps on my road to health, I felt I had to write something. My callers all used the word “shocked” in each of their conversations.

The only reason this story saw the light of day, is because some stranger found a lost cell phone and turned in to the police. There was no state oversight, no eager reporters, no nosey parents, and no outraged staff.

I’m not shocked; I am not even surprised. I am sickened. This is just the kind of thing that happens when people are locked up and dehumanized. This is exactly what the parents at Howe Developmental Center fear for their children and don’t realize that the more “institutionalized” the setting, the more dehumanized are its prisoners.

For those who live outside Illinois, Howe Developmental Center is at the forefront of the struggle to shut down Illinois state-funded institutions for people with developmental disabilities. Over 30 suspicious deaths have occurred at Howe in the last few years.

Shocked… sadly no.

Here is the article from the Dallas Morning News

Corpus Christi State School investigated after 'fight club' videos of residents found

12:00 AM CDT on Wednesday, March 11, 2009
By EMILY RAMSHAW / The Dallas Morning News / The Dallas Morning News
Robert T. Garrett contributed to this report.

AUSTIN – Gov. Rick Perry suspended admissions to the Corpus Christi State School on Tuesday after police allegations that profoundly disabled residents had been forced into "fight club"-style battles by the employees hired to care for them.

Authorities say vivid cellphone videos show Corpus Christi State School staffers goading young mentally disabled male residents into physical altercations.

Authorities say vivid video footage captured on cellphone cameras shows staffers goading young mentally disabled male residents of the institution into physical altercations, then shoving them at each other until fights ensued.

The investigation into the 11 current or former state school employees identified in the videos is continuing, and police say it's not clear whether they were betting on the outcome of fights or uploading them to the Internet. While the video indicates some residents were hurt in the fights, none sustained serious injuries. Officials would not say how many residents were involved.

"Workers were staging fight clubs with the residents for their own entertainment. It's awful abuse – some of the worst I've seen in over 30 years," Corpus Christi police Capt. Tim Wilson said. "I've heard of isolated incidents before, but what's most appalling is that it's obvious this is organized."

Arrests could come later this week, the local prosecutor said.

State school overhaul

At the governor's direction, officials with the Department of Aging and Disability Services halted new admissions to the Corpus Christi State School on Tuesday and ordered that video cameras quickly be installed at all 13 institutions for the mentally disabled. They also ordered more security officers and overnight supervisors for the facilities, as well as staff to monitor the cameras.

The revelation of the videos, first reported by The Dallas Morning News, comes as lawmakers are debating how to overhaul the state schools for the disabled, which the U.S. Department of Justice accused of systemic abuse and widespread civil rights violations late last year.

On Monday, the Senate unanimously approved a bill to protect state school residents from mistreatment – a measure deemed an emergency by Perry. His chief of staff, Jay Kimbrough, who traveled to Corpus Christi on Tuesday evening, said he planned to stay until safeguards were in place.

"This is exactly why we wanted this to be an emergency priority," Kimbrough said. "There are things we can do immediately. We need to implement as much of this as quickly as possible."

Administrators at the Corpus Christi State School did not return phone calls.

The brawls are captured on repeated videos filmed during 2007 and 2008, along with one that appears to have been taken last month, authorities said. Wilson said they show "staged events" where residents push, kick and punch each other, then have their arms raised in victory when they "win."

The videos, which also have sound, were discovered on a cellphone that was turned in to an off-duty police officer at a local hospital after being found lying in the road. The videos were so clear that investigators were able to determine that they were captured in public "day rooms" at the state school, which is home to 350 residents.

Democratic Rep. Abel Herrero, whose district includes the 100-acre Corpus Christi State School, said he was told that the fight clubs occurred during an overnight shift.


The Corpus Christi allegations are "disgraceful, unacceptable," said Rep. Patrick Rose, a Dripping Springs Democrat who has authored state-school safety legislation and a separate bill to close some of the institutions in favor of community living. "It provides further proof of the fact that we need greater oversight and accountability in our state school settings."

Wilson said police learned of the cellphone last week and opened a joint investigation with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission's inspector general. He declined to say how many residents were involved.

Seven current state school employees in the videos have been put on emergency leave pending the outcome of the investigation. Four other employees identified in the videos no longer work for the state school.

So far, no arrests have been made. Nueces County District Attorney Carlos Valdez said his office is taking the allegations very seriously, and expects police to seek arrest warrants late this week.

The state school safety bill, which still must be approved by the House, would appoint an independent ombudsman to oversee all abuse and neglect investigations in Texas' institutions for the disabled. It would require fingerprinting, background checks and random drug testing of all state school employees, and would install security cameras in all public areas of the facilities – something Kimbrough says might have prevented the Corpus Christi situation.

Rep. Solomon Ortiz Jr., D-Corpus Christi, called the state school case "unbelievable," and said lawmakers have been trying for years to bring attention to the state's dismal care for the disabled.

"We've been sounding the alarms," he said. "Unfortunately, it took a long time to get the leadership of Texas to focus on this issue."

Staff writer Robert T. Garrett contributed to this report.


Anonymous said...

just now was reading,
How to be an UP person in a Down world
I was deweling on the words on pg 45.
"Business is like a wheelbarrow. nothing ever gets done til you start pushing."
thinking how that could relate Change in people attitudes and action cours is affected by them when they start to push. Bringing the issues to life making these unnoticed issues a fore thought in the minds of those who have the power to change the wrongs and make this a better world.

Anonymous said...

So, and to be clear I am not meaning to in any way agree with this horrible stuff, but what do you see as an alternative in a place like Texas to these schools?

Again, to be clear, I am all with you in terms of long term aims - these schools are horrible and represent the worst of what capitalism does with those of us workers that cannot sell labor in easily commidified units.

I know that the folks who have pushed the hardest to shut down the schools are also those that see privitization as THE ONLY answer; and this a flatly disagree with.

I also know from personal experience of helping, albeit only very, very briefly, with the organizing efforts of a union for the workers that these very schools that the vast majority of workers at such schools are not horrible people who take pleasure in "fight clubs" of the residents.

But the jobs see massive turnover, the working conditions are AWFUL, staffing is abysmal meaning many times when you come into work for shitty pay, exhausting body-breaking labor you are working with folks hired fresh off the street with no training - then when your shift is finally suppose to end your replacement calls in, just got fired, simply doesn't show up and you are left to either work another 8-12 hours or loose your job and face criminal prosecution if you leave to, say, pick up your kids.

The conversations I had with these workers at the gate those two days have stuck with me a year later. So how do we fight for and with those in the homes while also not scapegoating those poor, mostly folks of color who work in the homes?

Michael said...

Our daughter knows in an institution you describe. We know the strains and stresses that are part of their jobs. One of us has spent a good part of his life organizing those who work in nursing homes, independent living facilities and institutions. You are right about the working conditions, pay and lack of respect for the workers leads to high turnover and low morale.

Some workers want the best for the people in their charge. But share the pervasive ideology that their clients are incapable of taking care of themselves; that they are subhuman. They can easily be taken advantage of by those with a little more power.

The point is that community living options with a few people living in a home with 4-6 others and the supports they need to living as independently as possible, the mythology that people with disabilities cannot care for themselves, at least to some degree, falls apart.

Secondly, if we have to pick a side, we are going with the people most disenfranchised, disempowered and demeaned. So should those who have had the misfortune to have to work in such hell holes understanding exactly what they are. A aid can leave their employment; it may be difficult, they they may leave. A prisoner does not have that same freedom.

Where were all the decent people you spoke about when this was happening at the Corpus Christi State School for more than a year? Where were the decent employees at Howe Developmental Center in Illinois as more than 30 inmates died of "Not Natural Causes."

Big Noise said...

Excuse me, anonymous #2. How dare you take the side of the more powerful over those who have so much less, just because you happened to once work at such a place. Not that workers in state institutions have so much power... but it is legions more when compared to the power of the incarcerated.

Your smugness is pathetic.
Big Noise

Anonymous said...

Anonymous #2

I didn't see the smugness. I attempted to raise the issue of outsourcing, since I feel that the fight to close such awful facilities down better have an answer on this question since the right-wingers who champion, especially in Texas, the closing of such schools see outsourcing as the only response.

For the sake of hope that an actual discussion can happen I am willing to 1. make self criticism that I posted quickly and without more work to wade into the discussion. 2. acknowledge that I know not nearly as much as I would like about struggles against abelism.

My point of sharing the working conditions here is to both support your headline but also try to push it in another direction slightly. Due to the turnover, the pay, etc. these school hire people who have no reason being there at all. I am also trying to take John's point to heart, a pervasive ideology of dehumanization surely exists in these places. And I think we can all agree that where this intersects with the very harsh class based oppression these workers feel daily we get results that are unjustifiable, utterly fucked up and sadly all too common.

Please do not take nuance and talk of strategic reactions to those who I would argue actually have a crap-ton more power than any group of folks living or working in these institutions - the political elites in a place like Texas - as some sort of false dichotomy that I am pitting ALL WORKERS against ALL RESIDENTS. (sorry if there is an issue with vocab - I have nothing politically at stake with residents, so if another word needs to be used I will gladly do so)

That said, I think that my original points, at least what I attempted to get at still stand. How do folks on the left respond to the privatization call? How do we craft our demands to win in a place like Texas that so underfunds state services? Can we view the workers at such institutions as potential allies (up to and including being willing to fight with them to improve their own standards of living on concrete points in the short term)?

Anonymous said...

Point of clarification: at the end of para 3 when I say all to common I am not attempting to normalize I am attempting to draw parallels - like work among working class men or men of color to stop abuse; which is important for me because such work starts from the understanding that men have to stop violence.

At the end of para 4 in the parenthetical when I say I have "nothing politically at stake with residents" I mean the use of the word "residents."

Michael said...

Anonymous 2
The goal is for people with disabilities to live independently not that the institutions they are forced to reside in are privatized.

This is not an issue about outsourcing. This is about the denial of human rights to an entire class of people. It is not an exaggeration to compare this situation to fighting for higher pay for concentration camp guards. Certainly, the guards are workers. Does that mean that their pay and working conditions are more important than the lives of the "declassed" people they are "guarding". While we are at it, let's keep Guantanamo open and Abu Graib. After all, these institutions provide jobs and we wouldn't want to see them privatized.

Instead, of turning Marxism on its head you should look at the social basis of such institutions. What is their place in society?

As a general rule, we are opposed to the privatizing of prisons but our main concern is the lives and well being of the prisoners, right?

As union supporters we must discourage our labor organizations from basing their ideology on propping up the heavy hammer of the State. Let's organize personal Assistants who provide the supports for people outside of institutions.

It was encouraging to see we agree that the oppressor has to fight against the privilege they enjoy wether that power is derived from race, gender or class. People with disabilities are fighting to shut down institutions and for their democratic rights. We are waiting for people such as yourself to support us and not worry about privatization over our lives.

Your errata was unnecessary. We know what you meant.

Jimmy Higgins said...

Some workers are entrusted with the care of those who need help learning and growing or just caring for themselves--be it kids, the sick, the elderly or the folks at Corpus Christi State School. It is important to recognize that their position as part of the working class (or, in the case of teachers, in a contradictory class location) is not necessarily the sole or even principle factor determining how we look at issues facing those workers. To raise privatization as a greater evil than what happens at all-too-many institutions like that described here strikes me as a mechanical application of class politics.

It reminds me of a problem reported in the Soviet Union in the decades before its collapse. Childcare workers were leaving windows open so that kids would catch cold and have to stay home, thus lightening the burden of those caring for them.

It seems to me that in both cases the implications are the same. On the material front, we need differently designed and operated institutions. We need attention paid to the workload, pay and training of the workers involved. But, dammit, we also need ideological work so that people take seriously their responsibilities to their fellow human beings, their class brothers and sisters if you will (few people with disabilities like this seem to wind up running banks--funny thing that).

shiva said...

This is the problem with Marxism; it cannot concieve of any form of oppression that does not take the form of economic exploitation, nor accept the possibility that "workers" can (also) be oppressors.

Michael said...

Not all who claim to be Marxists reduce the conflict in strictly economic terms. (see Many of us cut our teeth on the struggles against imperialist war for national liberation, gay, women's, and disability rights.

Some workers by the nature of their work (prison guards, soldiers, police)do the dirty work of the ruling class. But that does not mean individuals in those occupations cannot be allies.