When criminal justice and environmental justice collide

Rhonda Anderson and her daughter, Siwatu-Salama Ra, have spent much of their lives working to protect their Detroit community from polluters. Anderson has organized for the local Sierra Club for nearly two decades. And Ra represented the Motor City during the landmark Paris climate talks.

Fellow activists credit Ra with bringing this year’s Extreme Energy Extraction Summit — where activists from vulnerable communities strategize on fighting polluters — to Detroit for the first time.

Ra, however, won’t be able to attend. Last month, a judge sentenced the 26-year-old mother, who is currently 7-months pregnant, to a mandatory two years in prison after she was controversially convicted of felony assault and firearm possession. She faces the prospect of giving birth in prison — away from her family, as well as the community she works to lift up.

“My daughter — my baby — she’s not doing well,” Anderson tells Grist. Ra, who had complications in her last pregnancy, is already experiencing contractions this time around. Her mother describes a pelvic examination her daughter recently had to endure while shackled.

“It’s medieval,” Anderson says. “And it reminds me of slavery.”

Black communities in the United States, like the one Ra and Anderson serve, face a host of structural challenges that impact day-to-day life — from environmental injustice to heightened policing and racial profiling. Black people are 75 percent more likely than other Americans to live in neighborhoods that border oil and natural gas refineries — and they face a disproportionate amount of health threats as a result of air pollution. As a black woman, Ra is more likely to be incarcerated than a white woman — four times more likely, in fact. These systemic injustices have collided in Ra’s case, as her supporters say a double standard and a flawed legal system have robbed her community of one of its most dedicated defenders.

“Siwatu has spent her life fighting environmental injustice and pushing back against the big polluters who are violating the law to poison her community,” the Sierra Club’s executive director, Michael Brune, said in a statement. “In this case, it does not appear that she is being afforded the protection of the law she deserves, as is all too often the case for women of color dealing with our criminal justice system.”

Here’s how Ra arrived at her current predicament: This past summer, at Anderson’s home, Ra got into an argument with another woman. As the dispute escalated, the woman reportedly rammed her vehicle into Ra’s car — which had Ra’s toddler inside — before allegedly aiming her car at Anderson. In response, Ra, who says she repeatedly asked the woman to leave, reportedly took out her unloaded, registered firearm. The woman called the police before Ra did, which authorities said made Ra the assailant in the case.

Michigan has a stand-your-ground law that protects people from facing criminal charges if they use deadly force in self-defense. It’s the same legal strategy George Zimmerman successfully employed in Florida after he shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was walking to his father’s Orlando-area home. To prove her innocence under the provision, Ra needed to convince jurors that she was afraid for her life.

“The prosecutor convinced the jury and judge that I lacked fear, and that’s not true,” Ra said during her sentencing. “I was so afraid, especially for my toddler and mother. I don’t believe they could imagine a black woman being scared — only mad.”

Ra’s advocates have called into question the fact that the jury was not informed that finding Ra guilty would result in a mandatory sentence. Because of the required punishment for a guilty verdict, letters of support from the community attesting to her years of service had no effect in lessening her punishment.

“In environmental-justice organizing, you’re dealing with a lot of small emergencies all the time, especially in an underdeveloped, under-resourced city like Detroit,” says William Copeland who worked alongside Ra at the East Michigan Environmental Coalition. Her incarceration, he adds, “is a big emergency.”

Copeland says Ra excels at getting people who are often left behind engaged in environmental justice work. As a teen, she founded a program to get urban youth involved in the East Michigan Environmental Coalition — reeling in a group that other environmentalists hadn’t been able to reach.

“The successes that she had shows the depth of being able to speak people’s language — to be able to read something that’s written in one language and translate it to the language of the ‘hood or the language of the people,” Copeland says. “[Without Ra], those folks wouldn’t be getting involved.”

That’s one reason why he and Anderson say they need Ra back in the community immediately. In the past, she’s also worked to hold a Marathon Petroleum refinery and the Detroit Renewable Power trash incinerator accountable for their emissions. “Get her back out here so she can continue the work that she’s been doing all these years,” Anderson says.

Ra’s attorneys are working toward an appeal and asking that she be released on bond so that she can give birth outside of prison. On Wednesday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations Michigan Chapter filed a complaint on behalf of Ra and other Muslim women at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, noting that they have not been allowed religious meal accommodations or access to a hijabs.

As part of her campaign to free her daughter, Anderson is calling for the larger environmental community to realize that pollution is just one of many inequities people in fence-line communities face. But polluting and criminalizing these groups essentially go hand-in-hand, she explains.

“As long as we find a whole group of people dispensable, the environment is going to continue to be impacted. You can pollute them and do whatever to them, and white folks and anybody else can sit off to the side and say, ‘I’m safe — it’s not me,” Anderson says. “We are the ones that are preyed upon.”

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When criminal justice and environmental justice collide

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Reality Is Not What It Seems – Carlo Rovelli, Simon Carnell & Erica Segre

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Reality Is Not What It Seems

The Journey to Quantum Gravity

Carlo Rovelli, Simon Carnell & Erica Segre

Genre: Physics

Price: $11.99

Publish Date: January 24, 2017

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Seller: Penguin Group (USA) Inc.


“The man who makes physics sexy . . . the scientist they’re calling the next Stephen Hawking.” — The Times Magazine From the  New York Times –bestselling author of  Seven Brief Lessons on Physics and The Order of Time , a closer look at the mind-bending nature of the universe. What are the elementary ingredients of the world? Do time and space exist? And what exactly is reality? Theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli has spent his life exploring these questions. He tells us how our understanding of reality has changed over the centuries and how physicists think about the structure of the universe today. In elegant and accessible prose, Rovelli takes us on a wondrous journey from Democritus to Albert Einstein, from Michael Faraday to gravitational waves, and from classical physics to his own work in quantum gravity. As he shows us how the idea of reality has evolved over time, Rovelli offers deeper explanations of the theories he introduced so concisely in  Seven Brief Lessons on Physics . This book culminates in a lucid overview of quantum gravity, the field of research that explores the quantum nature of space and time, seeking to unify quantum mechanics and general relativity. Rovelli invites us to imagine a marvelous world where space breaks up into tiny grains, time disappears at the smallest scales, and black holes are waiting to explode—a vast universe still largely undiscovered.

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Reality Is Not What It Seems – Carlo Rovelli, Simon Carnell & Erica Segre

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8 Easiest Hacks to Reduce Your Plastic Consumption

Plastic is literally everywhere. Shopping bags, toothbrushes, backpacks, shoes, wrappers, you name it. Is it even possible to avoid all of it while enjoying a normal social life?

We all know that plastic is no good for the environment, but it can be a real challenge to get away from it.

Rather than sitting there with your head spinning, it?can be?less stressful?to just give in?everyone else uses plastic, why not me, too? ? ? ? ? ??

But reducing your plastic consumption doesn?t have to be an all-or-nothing endeavor. By shifting your daily habits slightly, you can keep a lot of single-use plastics out of our landfills, waterways and oceans.

Here are a handful of?habits to leave behind for a cleaner planet (and body).

1. Say no to plastic straws.

If there is a piece of plastic pollution that is entirely pointless, it is the plastic straw. The straw?doesn?t have a reasonable purpose. It is simply an unnecessary convenience that ends up painfully jammed in the noses of sea turtles.

And guess what–Americans use 500 million straws every single day! Do your environment a favor and refuse the straw. Just sip your drinks instead, like a regular human.

Of course, if you?re a major straw fanatic, you do have other options. Paper straws are growing in popularity, as are edible straws. And of course, there is the reusable metal, glass, or bamboo straw if you’re a true aficionado.

Let your straw be your passion, not an environmental inconvenience.

2. Abandon to-go cups and bottles.

Not only are plastic bottles and to-go cups horrible for the environment, but the chemicals that leach out of them are horrible for your health. But there’s an easy fix.

If you’re staying at a cafe, ask for a?glass?or mug. If you’re bringing your drink on the run, just bring a reusable bottle or thermos with you. It’s really not difficult once it becomes habitual.

Plus, many stores offer a small discount for customers who bring their own cups. Sure, it’s just a few cents, but it can add up over time, especially if you get a few iced coffees on the go?every day.

3. Stop buying single-use coffee pods.

Speaking of coffee, coffee pods are a big no-no. They are single-use and all plastic. Not only do these build up fast in landfills, but the chemicals in the plastic can leach into the hot water when you’re making your coffee. Ew.

But here’s the big issue: almost 1 out of every 3 Americans own a single-cup coffee machine, meaning pods aren’t going away anytime soon. Luckily?there is a?healthier option–reusable pods.

Buying a reusable pod isn?t expensive (even a plastic-free one), and you?ll no longer be restricted to the variety packs of manufacturers. You can fill your pod with the best direct trade, organic coffee you can find. It will be a lot fresher than the single use pods, too.

4. You don’t need plastic baggies or plasticwrap.

For years I felt guilty about buying and using non-recyclable plasticwrap and baggies. But then I discovered other solutions. Seriously, I?haven’t purchased plasticwrap for 4 years.

For one, try reusing the produce bags from the grocery store instead of buying plastic snack baggies. Ideally, you’d cut those produce bags out at some point, too, since they’re plastic, but for now we are taking baby steps.

For covering or storing food, in lieu of plasticwrap, try securing?parchment paper with a rubber band?or invest in sustainable and reusable wrap like Bee’s Wrap. They wraps are both reusable and way more environmentally sustainable.

People have existed for millennia without plasticwrap. We don’t need it now.

5. Watch out for your cotton swabs.

There are two types of cotton swabs: those with plastic handles and those with paper handles.

Neither can be recycled, so don’t even try. But believe it or not, cotton swabs with the cardboard handle can be composted, so opt for these if you have a compost bin. Even if you don’t compost, just stop buying the plastic ones.

If?anyone discovers cotton swabs that use 100 percent recycled materials in their handles, let us?know. Cotton swabs aren’t a very eco-friendly product, so use them only when necessary.

6. Choose solid personal care products.

Think of all the personal?products?you buy that come in plastic containers.

Reduce that number by buying more dry?items, like a bar of soap (rarely packed in plastic) instead of a liquid body wash. Or swap out your liquid laundry detergent in a plastic jug?for a box of?cardboard-clad powdered. Ladies, consider?tampons?without?the plastic applicator or even a reusable menstrual cup.

While this doesn’t work for all products, you can cut out some of the wasteful plastic packaging in your bathroom, kitchen, and laundry room by being a bit more aware of what you’re consuming.

7. Ditch disposable razors.

Not only are?disposable razors?not ideal for shaving, they are also pretty wasteful in the plastic department.

In the US, 200 billion plastic razors end up in the trash every year. Even if the plastic handle isn’t necessarily disposable,?the blades are loaded with plastic, and there is just no good way to recycle either when you’re done with them.

Do yourself a favor and invest in a metal safety razor. The handles range in price from $20 to $100+, but remember that it is a one-time purchase. It’s also a lot cheaper in the long run since the blades come in 100 packs for less than a Hamilton.

And of course, the shave is way better (for both men and women).

8. B.Y.O.B. (bring your own bag)

And, of course, always bring your own shopping bag. Plastic shopping bags are one of the biggest pollutants, and they are really challenging to recycle in a facility. They are small enough to fit on your keychain nowadays, so no excuses.

These are all really easy lifestyle habits to change, and they pay off environmentally in a big, big way. How are you going to reduce you plastic consumption this month? Share your goals with the community below. ? ??

Related Care2

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4 Important Benefits of an Indoor Vertical Garden
Exxon Is Trying to Create… Biofuel?

Images via Thinkstock.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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8 Easiest Hacks to Reduce Your Plastic Consumption

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The whole island of Puerto Rico went dark for the first time since Hurricane Maria.

Rick Scott, who has served as Florida’s governor since 2011, hasn’t done much to protect his state against the effects of climate change — even though it’s being threatened by sea-level rise.

On Monday, eight youth filed a lawsuit against Scott, a slew of state agencies, and the state of Florida itself. The kids, ages 10 to 19, are trying to get their elected officials to recognize the threat climate change poses to their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

18-year-old Delaney Reynolds, a member of this year’s Grist 50 list, helped launch the lawsuit. She’s been a climate activist since the age of 14, when she started a youth-oriented activism nonprofit called The Sink or Swim Project. “No matter how young you are, even if you don’t have a vote, you have a voice in your government,” she says.

Reynolds and the other seven plaintiffs are asking for a “court-ordered, science-based Climate Recovery Plan” — one that transitions Florida away from a fossil fuel energy system.

This lawsuit is the latest in a wave of youth-led legal actions across the United States. Juliana v. United States, which was filed by 21 young plaintiffs in Oregon in 2015, just got confirmed for a trial date in October this year.

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The whole island of Puerto Rico went dark for the first time since Hurricane Maria.

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Boulder, Colorado, is the latest city to sue Big Oil over climate change.

Rick Scott, who has served as Florida’s governor since 2011, hasn’t done much to protect his state against the effects of climate change — even though it’s being threatened by sea-level rise.

On Monday, eight youth filed a lawsuit against Scott, a slew of state agencies, and the state of Florida itself. The kids, ages 10 to 19, are trying to get their elected officials to recognize the threat climate change poses to their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

18-year-old Delaney Reynolds, a member of this year’s Grist 50 list, helped launch the lawsuit. She’s been a climate activist since the age of 14, when she started a youth-oriented activism nonprofit called The Sink or Swim Project. “No matter how young you are, even if you don’t have a vote, you have a voice in your government,” she says.

Reynolds and the other seven plaintiffs are asking for a “court-ordered, science-based Climate Recovery Plan” — one that transitions Florida away from a fossil fuel energy system.

This lawsuit is the latest in a wave of youth-led legal actions across the United States. Juliana v. United States, which was filed by 21 young plaintiffs in Oregon in 2015, just got confirmed for a trial date in October this year.

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Boulder, Colorado, is the latest city to sue Big Oil over climate change.

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The Gulf: The Making of An American Sea – Jack E. Davis

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The Gulf: The Making of An American Sea

Jack E. Davis

Genre: Nature

Price: $13.99

Publish Date: March 14, 2017

Publisher: Liveright

Seller: W. W. Norton


WINNER OF THE 2018 PULITZER PRIZE FOR HISTORY In this “cri de coeur about the Gulf’s environmental ruin” (New York Times), “Davis has written a beautiful homage to a neglected sea” (front page, New York Times Book Review). Hailed as a “nonfiction epic . . . in the tradition of Jared Diamond’s best-seller Collapse, and Simon Winchester’s Atlantic” (Dallas Morning News), Jack E. Davis’s The Gulf is “by turns informative, lyrical, inspiring and chilling for anyone who cares about the future of ‘America’s Sea’ ” (Wall Street Journal). Illuminating America’s political and economic relationship with the environment from the age of the conquistadors to the present, Davis demonstrates how the Gulf’s fruitful ecosystems and exceptional beauty empowered a growing nation. Filled with vivid, untold stories from the sportfish that launched Gulfside vacationing to Hollywood’s role in the country’s first offshore oil wells, this “vast and welltold story shows how we made the Gulf . . . [into] a ‘national sacrifice zone’ ” (Bill McKibben). The first and only study of its kind, The Gulf offers “a unique and illuminating history of the American Southern coast and sea as it should be written” (Edward O. Wilson).

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The Gulf: The Making of An American Sea – Jack E. Davis

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Periodic Tales – Hugh Aldersey-Williams

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Periodic Tales

A Cultural History of the Elements, from Arsenic to Zinc

Hugh Aldersey-Williams

Genre: Science & Nature

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: March 29, 2011

Publisher: HarperCollins e-books

Seller: HarperCollins


In the spirit of A Short History of Nearly Everything comes Periodic Tales. Award-winning science writer Hugh Andersey-Williams offers readers a captivating look at the elements—and the amazing, little-known stories behind their discoveries. Periodic Tales is an energetic and wide-ranging book of innovations and innovators, of superstition and science and the myriad ways the chemical elements are woven into our culture, history, and language. It will delight readers of Genome, Einstein’s Dreams, Longitude, and The Age of Wonder. 

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Periodic Tales – Hugh Aldersey-Williams

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Tensions rise in battle over Canadian pipeline.

Rick Scott, who has served as Florida’s governor since 2011, hasn’t done much to protect his state against the effects of climate change — even though it’s being threatened by sea-level rise.

On Monday, eight youth filed a lawsuit against Scott, a slew of state agencies, and the state of Florida itself. The kids, ages 10 to 19, are trying to get their elected officials to recognize the threat climate change poses to their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

18-year-old Delaney Reynolds, a member of this year’s Grist 50 list, helped launch the lawsuit. She’s been a climate activist since the age of 14, when she started a youth-oriented activism nonprofit called The Sink or Swim Project. “No matter how young you are, even if you don’t have a vote, you have a voice in your government,” she says.

Reynolds and the other seven plaintiffs are asking for a “court-ordered, science-based Climate Recovery Plan” — one that transitions Florida away from a fossil fuel energy system.

This lawsuit is the latest in a wave of youth-led legal actions across the United States. Juliana v. United States, which was filed by 21 young plaintiffs in Oregon in 2015, just got confirmed for a trial date in October this year.

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Tensions rise in battle over Canadian pipeline.

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This 1983 article about the EPA hitting rock bottom is way too relevant.

Rick Scott, who has served as Florida’s governor since 2011, hasn’t done much to protect his state against the effects of climate change — even though it’s being threatened by sea-level rise.

On Monday, eight youth filed a lawsuit against Scott, a slew of state agencies, and the state of Florida itself. The kids, ages 10 to 19, are trying to get their elected officials to recognize the threat climate change poses to their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

18-year-old Delaney Reynolds, a member of this year’s Grist 50 list, helped launch the lawsuit. She’s been a climate activist since the age of 14, when she started a youth-oriented activism nonprofit called The Sink or Swim Project. “No matter how young you are, even if you don’t have a vote, you have a voice in your government,” she says.

Reynolds and the other seven plaintiffs are asking for a “court-ordered, science-based Climate Recovery Plan” — one that transitions Florida away from a fossil fuel energy system.

This lawsuit is the latest in a wave of youth-led legal actions across the United States. Juliana v. United States, which was filed by 21 young plaintiffs in Oregon in 2015, just got confirmed for a trial date in October this year.

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This 1983 article about the EPA hitting rock bottom is way too relevant.

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