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Interpretive Editorial: The Perversion of “Protection” in U.S. Courts

In Drones, Firearms, Interpretive Editorial on July 17, 2014 at 3:19 pm

Orders of protection are notoriously difficult to secure. They have also proven to be a largely inadequate way to shield people at risk of violence, especially from those in their intimate circle. We have only to look at the case of Ron Lee Haskell. After assaulting his wife in 2008 and violating an order of protection in recent years, Haskell armed himself last week in Spring, Texas and allegedly murdered Katie Stay, his ex-wife’s sister, and all but one member of Stay’s immediate family (six, in all). Stay and her family refused to disclose the location of Haskell’s ex-wife, Melanie, and they paid with their lives.

In at least one media report, police acknowledge that Haskell was not prosecuted for recent violations against his ex-wife. According to another report, Haskell’s own mother petitioned for an order of protection after he assaulted her for daring to contact his ex-wife in early July. One need not be a feminist to notice the failure of powerful legal institutions to end the threat of daily violence that women endure, here and around the world.

In light of failures like this, it is truly extraordinary that our courts are now using orders of protection to shield the most powerful military in the world from peaceful dissidents here in our own community. In 2012, Judge Gideon awarded an order of protection to Colonel Earl Evans at Hancock Air Base, in an effort to stifle a campaign of nonviolent resistance among those opposed to the use of drones in the “war on terror.” Mary Anne Grady Flores is one of the protestors against whom Evans secured a temporary order. In an effort to honor the temporary order, she chose not to participate in a subsequent protest but, rather, to photograph the event. Those who participated in the protest were acquitted of all charges. Then, on July 10, Flores was sentenced to a year in prison.

Somehow, the U.S. judiciary is treating Flores as though she poses a greater threat of violence than did Ron Lee Haskell. The irony is, of course, that Colonel Evans routinely perpetrates more violence than even the bloodthirsty Haskell.

When we step out of the wonderland of U.S. courts, we see clearly that Flores stands in the way of violence. Indeed, she champions nonviolence. For this, she has lost her freedom. Conversely, Ron Lee Haskell openly championed violence and was rewarded with freedom. Colonel Evans, meanwhile, practices violence as an institutional prerogative, and, as a result, thousands of Pakistani civilians have lost their lives and the rest of us have lost our freedom.

Feminists don’t all agree on the precise relationship between everyday violence against women and broader forms of institutional violence. But we don’t need consensus to honor the courage and commitment of Katie Stay who gave her life to protect her sister and Mary Anne Grady Flores who gave her freedom so that we can see how little we have left. In the names of Stay and Flores, I urge you to confront all the institutional forms of violence that fray women’s freedom and endanger our lives. But don’t go it alone. Join one of those small groups of thoughtful, committed citizens Margaret Mead invoked, or create one in your own favorite institution. Then, with the new tools you’ll make, change your favorite institutions, plank by plank. And… hurry, because when unarmed grandmothers are imprisoned to protect colonels armed with reapers, there’s no refuge left from the storm.

Contributor: Maureen F. Curtin, Onondaga Hill