My sister WhatsApp’d me over the weekend. She’d read about the death of a woman in police/immigration custody in Illinois and found the name a bit familiar.
When she mentioned the name to me, it immediately rang a bell. The woman was a teacher in my school some 30 years ago, though I unfortunately could not recall much about her. No particularly strong or lasting memories associated with her, nothing happy or sad, nothing dramatic or path-breaking. I couldn’t even recall what she taught. What I do recall is that she was young, and despite being thrown into a sea of young teenage sharks eager to draw first blood, she held her own quite well. She was also quite a tall woman, though I can’t recall her face or whether she was attractive or not. She may have been, because she quit teaching a couple of years later to join an international airline.
The news article announcing her death put her age at 52. Young by most standards, and that’s what may have drawn us to her all those many years ago. Or perhaps she was the sort of person who was inherently good natured, kind, the sort who laughed at our antics, commiserated us on our woes and empathised with our new-found teenage angst. Perhaps that’s what kept her alive in our hearts and minds.
When I posted the notice of her death (carried by several newspapers including the Huffington Post and the Daily Herald among others) on my Facebook page, the few who chose to comment remembered her with fondness, followed by a deep sense of anger at the way she met her end. The news reports said that she was charged with resisting arrest by the police… a criminal misdemeanour. She apparently resisted being handcuffed.
The reason for the arrest warrant in the first place, failure to respond to jury summons.
The news reports also stated that she went on hunger strike at the Illinois prison where she was first detained, dying a few weeks later from malnutrition and dehydration. But aren’t most civilised nations supposed to safeguard prisoners in their custody against harm, even if its caused by their own volition? Hospitalising, and perhaps providing her with nourishment intravenously. And I’m not even talking force-feeding, because then the Tokyo Declaration would be thrown back at me… that’s perhaps the reason why no one’s stating diminished capacity as a reason for her otherwise seemingly irrational behaviour. That would warrant force feeding now wouldn’t it. And if Richard Reid, the shoe-bomber could be force-fed when he went on hunger strike, surely a harmless woman who wasn’t a threat to national security could have been hospitalised and cared for earlier.
But I’m no expert on the law in America – federal or state. Here in India the Supreme Court held the use of fetters to be ‘violative of human dignity’, terming the indiscriminate use of handcuffs to restrain prisoners as ‘illegal’. So perhaps this woman, with her ‘lovely English accent’ as the Daily Herald quoted the nurse at the hospital where she passed away describe her… a woman who stood tall and was always impeccably turned out, felt violated at been shoved, possibly manhandled and handcuffed. It’s probably as simple as that.
Now I won’t argue semantics… I come from a country that doesn’t have the greatest human rights record when it comes to police action (at times even the army has been pilloried for excessive use of force in States where there have been prolonged insurgency… and despite the fact that we may say that the conditions warrant the use of force, there’s really no excuse for brutality), but we do have an independent judiciary, and often it is this bastion of ethics that rises up to defend the rights of people, citizens and aliens. And it is this institution that has repeatedly chastised the police wherever the handcuffing of non-dangerous prisoners has been brought to their notice.
So a woman died needlessly… and people may argue that she brought it on herself. But something doesn’t seem quite right with this case… something doesn’t add up. The Illinois P.D. handed her over to ICE since they apparently had an immigration hold on her. And somehow she still got served with a summons for jury duty. Something definitely doesn’t add up.
Unfortunately the truth may stay buried. After all the dead tell no tales.
Rest in Peace Miss L.