BOGOTA — On the day that Colombia announced its first case of the new coronavirus, Astrid Conde’s body lay in a morgue with four gunshot wounds to the chest, the latest casualty in a scourge of violence against former rebel soldiers.
Lockdowns prompted by the pandemic may have slashed overall crime in Colombia, but the killings of ex-combatants like Conde have continued, and the COVID-19 crisis itself is putting yet more strain on the already fragile implementation of the historic 2016 accord that ended a half-century of conflict.
Conservative politicians are eyeing the possibility of diverting funds originally destined for the accord to pandemic response instead. Nascent projects aimed at providing ex-combatants with a livelihood are up against a recession. And illegal armed groups still rule rural areas, continuing to threaten and murder those who challenge them.
Twenty-three ex-combatants have been killed thus far in 2020, almost double the number seen at this point the previous year, according to United Nations data. Five of those slayings have come since March 24, when President Ivan Duque ordered the entire nation on lockdown.
“Now when you go out, you don’t know what will kill you – a bullet or coronavirus,” said Luz Marina Giraldo, whose ex-combatant husband was shot to death last year.
Conde was gunned down while walking her German shepherd in a park near her home in a rough Bogota neighbourhood on March 5. Her blood was still visible on the paved path the next day as news of the slaying filled the airwaves.
That afternoon, with the arrival of COVID-19, radio stations quickly shifted their focus. Outside the morgue, men gathered around a newsstand to smoke and discuss whether they should buy face masks. Two days later, Conde was buried in a cemetery where some families are so poor they write the names of their dead on tombs with a marker.
“What happened to Astrid is more evidence that a genocide has begun against us,” said Adela Perez, an ex-combatant who attended the funeral.
Deaths of former guerrillas who surrendered their arms to end Latin America’s longest-running conflict peaked last year and are now at 197. That violence is considered one of the most crucial concerns about the accord’s implementation. Supporters of the accord say that if Colombia cannot protect those who voluntarily give up their weapons, it raises serious questions about the long-term success of the peace process.
“She trusted in the peace process,” said Juan David Bonilla, Conde’s lawyer. “So much so that she trusted even in the banality of daily life.”
Analysts warn that the quarantine could actually be putting ex-combatants further in harm’s way. By staying inside – in one place – they might be easier for criminal groups to track down.
“In rural areas, it feels much more dangerous,” said Manuel Antonio González, an ex-combatant whose rebel son was killed before the pandemic. “People aren’t moving, but these groups can move however they want.”
The majority of the deaths are taking place in conflict-ridden areas where armed groups compete over drug routes. Analysts say some are being killed after rejecting attempts by dissident rebels to recruit them. Former rebels believe some of the attacks come from right-wing paramilitaries who want to crush their adversaries, peace accord or no. In at least one case, military officers have been charged in an ex-rebel’s death.
Colombia’s chief prosecutor blames drug trafficking groups for 75 per cent of the crimes. Authorities say they’ve made “advances” in solving nearly 45 per cent of 228 homicides, attempted murders and forced disappearances of ex-combatants. But to date only 23 people have been sentenced.
Many of those are the so-called “material authors” of the crimes – hitmen – who, as is alleged in Conde’s case, were contracted to do the crime.
According to an initial police report, Jhonatan Sneider, 28, was approached by a man in a white Toyota who goes by the name “Trivilin” three days before the killing and offered 15 million pesos — worth about $4,300 at the time – to kill her.
To date, he is the only person who has been arrested in her death.
“We don’t know who is behind this,” Bonilla said.
Like many ex-combatants, Conde joined the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia when she was still a teen, a friend said, though the circumstances of her recruitment are not known. She became part of the guerrillas’ communications team and later had a son with a commander who is now a prominent rebel dissident.
Female guerrillas were largely prohibited from having children, but exceptions were sometimes made, on condition that once born, infants would be turned over to a relative or friend.
Conde did not see her son for years, and after being captured in 2012, told fellow inmates she was happy that behind bars, at least he got to visit.
She was charged in connection with a rebel attack on a military base that left 19 dead and released after the signing of the peace accord.
“For the first time in a long time, she got to feel like a mom,” Perez said. “Such a simple thing, but that the war robbed from us.”
Several friends said Conde was fully committed to peacetime life. Now in her mid-40s, she was studying to get her high school diploma and taking odd jobs like cleaning apartments. The government had recently approved funding for her project to raise cattle in the countryside near her family.
Before her death, she told her son she’d seen strange men watching her enter her apartment building, but brushed it off.
At Conde’s funeral, relatives gathered around her mahogany coffin draped with a spray of white roses. A priest read from a red leather Bible and a young man sang “Do what you want with me,” while playing a keyboard. Afterwards, her family boarded a bus to the cemetery where above-ground crypts are discolored by pollution and graffiti.
Their vehicle came to a stop at the entrance, where they were greeted by a message spray-painted in red on the cemetery’s outer wall.
“Only the dead know the end of war,” it read.
Christine Armario, The Associated Press
@repost Attorney at Law Child Custody
A secretive evangelical church in North Carolina says hysteria over the coronavirus may have motivated a former member with a gun to break into the home of one of the sect’s top ministers, but the now-jailed suspect said he was on drugs and doesn’t know why he ended up in the communal house.
Members of the Word of Faith Fellowship told authorities that Stephen Cordes, 23, was spotted by a congregant walking into Brooke Covington’s home in Rutherfordton on Sunday afternoon. They said they found the man, who once lived in the home, in a closet. When Cordes tried to leave, the members said, they stopped him. During the struggle, the witnesses said a Glock pistol “fell off Mr. Cordes’ person,” according to a sheriff’s investigative report.
A church leader and lawyer told the Charlotte Observer newspaper that Cordes was at least partially motivated by “online hysteria” that congregants have spread the virus in this rural community and are covering it up. Health officials have declined to say if the church has caused an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases.
Cordes grew up in the Word of Faith Fellowship in Spindale, a church he and other former members consider a “cult.” The church was the subject of an Associated Press investigation into allegations that members were regularly slapped, choked and thrown to the floor during a high-decibel group prayer known as “blasting,” which is meant to expel demons.
The church was founded in 1979 by Sam and Jane Whaley in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains between Charlotte and Asheville. Members consider Jane Whaley a prophet. Cordes left the church in 2017 and is a student at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. His parents are still members.
Cordes told AP in a phone call from jail that he was in the town to hang out with friends and blacked out after smoking a marijuana “blunt.” He said the next thing he remembers is being in an upstairs closet of Covington’s home and trying to fight his way out of the house.
“I don’t know why I ended up there,” he said. He acknowledged having concerns about COVID-19 infecting family members in the church, but insists he is not violent and wished no one harm.
He said he carries a gun for protection and usually leaves it in his car.
He has expressed dismay that relatives who remain in the congregation, including his parents, have cut off contact with him.
Three members of the church have died of the virus, according to former members. But it’s unclear how many have been infected. As of Wednesday afternoon, there were 124 reported cases and six deaths in Rutherford County, with a population of about 67,000.
Investigators didn’t speculate on a motive in documents reviewed by AP.
Brooke Covington told authorities she believes Cordes came to her house to harm her or others.
Cordes is being held in the Rutherford County jail on a $100,000 bond, though the case will be handled by a prosecutor in another county, according to Ben Cooper, an attorney who is also Cordes’ cousin.
Rutherford County Sheriff Chris Francis didn’t return messages.
Cordes was lying on the ground with his hands bound behind his back with plastic ties when deputies arrived, the report said. Authorities said a pistol was nearby and a shotgun was found in the trunk of his rental car, which was left running.
Cordes is charged with breaking and entering to terrorize or injure along with possession of more than 10 ounces of marijuana and 1.8 grams of methamphetamine, authorities said. He could face additional charges.
A search warrant said investigators were looking for evidence “that may relate to the crime of attempted murder.” Pictures show his face, arms and back bloodied and bruised. Cordes acknowledged using drugs but said he doesn’t know where the meth came from.
Brooke Covington is one of Word of Faith Fellowship’s top leaders. Covington is currently facing charges of kidnapping and assault related to a 2013 attack in which a young, gay man says he was beaten during a blasting session to expel his “homosexual demons.” Her husband, Kent Covington, is currently in federal prison related to an unemployment fraud scheme at businesses owned by church leaders.
Various current and former church members have lived communally in the home over the years.
Cordes has described beatings by church members, being sexually assaulted and being separated from his parents during his childhood.
His sister, Danielle Cordes, said her brother is not dangerous, but a traumatized and troubled young man, and they are seeking help for him.
“He’s going through a really tough period right now as a result of the way he grew up,” she said.
Josh Farmer, a church member and attorney, did not respond to an email with questions. Word of Faith has said it’s been persecuted for years because of its beliefs. They also have said threats of violence have increased since the global coronavirus pandemic. A statement on the church’s website said it has been “100 per cent compliant with public health guidelines.”
Follow AP coverage of the Word of Faith Fellowship at https://ift.tt/3aLy9fv
Mitch Weiss And Holbrook Mohr, The Associated Press
@repost Family Court Lawyers near Me
As the media contorts itself into pretzels to avoid connecting the Nova Scotia mass murders to their root cause — misogynistic terrorism — along comes a must-read book that relates the first-hand ordeal of a form of abuse often celebrated in popular song and movies, but dismissed by the authorities as romantic longing taken too far: stalking.
It’s written by Julie Lalonde, an internationally renowned women’s rights advocate and educator who has confronted misogyny within and with the highest profile and most powerful institutions and individuals in the country — the Canadian Armed Forces, the Liberal Party of Canada and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Carleton University, even Margaret Atwood! – and who, like so many women, cannot tweet about violence against women without facing an avalanche of death threats.
The day I picked up Resilience is Futile: The Life and Death and Life of Julie S. Lalonde, the author was in the process of locking down her Twitter account because of thousands of threats of violence she was receiving for reminding people of the rape case of recently killed basketball star Kobe Bryant. As her book reveals, such online trolling, stalking and threatening has been an all too frequent response to her high-profile work to end male violence against women.
I read Lalonde’s book alongside two other excellent accounts of stalking culture that focused on the likes of the now-jailed Harvey Weinstein, the current U.S. president, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh: Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill and She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement, by New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey.
All three books feature the voices of women speaking at great risk in a society that has taken too few steps toward creating the safe spaces needed for survivors to come forward. All identify what Lalonde calls a “double bind” for the few women who report to police. “They had to look bad enough for their trauma to be taken seriously, but not be too much of a mess or else risk being seen as crazy or unstable. It wasn’t enough that women were subjected to discrimination, violence, and neglect, I realized. We also had to perform our trauma in a very precise way in order to get any semblance of justice.”
Trauma and the successful woman
The futility of resilience is a phenomenon Lalonde describes in light of the misperception that “successful” women cannot also be traumatized. As someone who earned a graduate degree, won a Governor General’s Award, developed and implemented a hugely successful bystander intervention training program, and has a list of high-profile media interviews a mile long, Lalonde describes her frustration with the thinking that “Traumatized people don’t win awards, get graduate degrees, and build a life in the public sphere.” When she spoke about her years of trauma, “the pain was dismissed by people who refused to accept how someone who was traumatized could be in pain and still get shit done. My resilience was used to erase my pain.”
Indeed, there was a sickening current of commentary at the revival of the #MeToo movement (originally begun by American civil rights activist Tarana Burke in 2006) when some pondered why we should care about well known Hollywood personalities like Ashley Judd and Gwyneth Paltrow (thereby erasing their pain) when so many unknown women experienced similar violence. She Said and Catch and Kill are critical rejoinders to that hierarchical “pain grading” that becomes one more barrier to women seeking accountability.
Lalonde is an engaging writer who mixes humour and horror, irony and moments of acute, brutally honest self-awareness to open the door to a world that receives too little attention and which poses unique challenges. Indeed, she writes that the difficulty of dealing with stalking is that victims are often isolated, and “talking about stalking only makes it worse. Stalkers want their victims to acknowledge them. Stalkers want to know they’re getting under their victims’ skin, occupying their minds, being kept in their thoughts. So to stand up and talk about it I to draw more attention. This attention can be lethal.”
In this instance, Lalonde shares in intimate detail a journey of terror that begins one lovely summer before “Xavier became abusive. Xavier became a rapist.” Her recollection of growing up through the awkward years of teenagerhood contains constant reminders of sick social norms. “We teach girls from a young age to take cruelty from boys as a compliment,” she writes. “We teach boys from a young age to shroud their affection in brutality.” Indeed, Lalonde writes that she “believed the line [about] men being awful to women because it’s how they flirt.”
Lalonde says her stalker insisted on reading her journals because “we shouldn’t have secrets from each other.” And hence begins the long, exhausting “chipping away” process by which he not only constantly criticized her, but also monitored her, from constant phone and text messages (when such things were expensive) to finding her a mall job where he was also working and would incessantly check up on her. “He eroded me. I was so tired,” she recalls.
She also contrasts the way many are brought up with “stranger danger” — the worst threats lurk in dark alleyways — “so I never thought to mistrust people who loved me.” She also finds that the message transitioned growing up from “Avoid strangers” to “avoid abusive men,” noting the message seemed to imply “they wore bright neon signs around their necks announcing their presence. Society warns women about the dangers of domestic violence, but it’s all thinly veiled victim blaming — bad men exist, but only stupid women love them and even dumber women stay.”
For Lalonde, she had no idea that when she left Xavier, the years afterward “would be far worse than any of the darkest times we’d spent together.”
Police downplay stalking
Particularly painful (but not unexpected) is her recounting of how the police downplay stalking. Lalonde remembers dealing with an officer who clearly tried to dismiss the threat, with one exclaiming, after receiving the stalker’s date of birth: “He’s ninetneen? Oh my God. He’s such a baby!” Being told that her stalker was eligible for Legal Aid but that she wasn’t was also an eye opener.
“I will always love you, you have no choice,” was part of his incessant writing to her, coupled with threats that if he was going down, she would go down with him. She learned to live “with death’s shadow hanging over me.” If that isn’t a form of terrorism, what is? He moved into the building behind her apartment. When she moved, he discovered where she lived and sat parked in the alleyway for hours on end beneath her window. And these are only a few of far more examples.
The long-term effects were devastating. As Lalonde continued with her university education, she began to realize that just as Michel Foucault wrote in Discipline and Punish about how prisoners self-policed under the assumption they were being watched all the time, “Everything I said, I assumed he would overhear. Everything I wrote, I assumed he would read. I censored my speech and limited my movements without even being conscious of it. I was just always ‘on,’ and no assurance from others that he was nowhere to be found could change how I felt.”
Lalonde’s frustration also extends to broader social movements. When she created a public service campaign (Out of the Shadows) to tackle criminal harassment, she declared: “I broke my silence and took the social justice movement to task for ignoring criminal harassment. We talk about sexual violence. We talk about intimate partner violence. Why don’t we talk about stalking? I was tired of waiting for people to do it. I was tired of screaming into the void. So, I created this project.”
A stalking-soaked culture
In addition to that groundbreaking project, Lalonde’s book is a gift inasmuch as it not only shines an incisive light on a form of violence experienced by so many women. It also serves as a challenge to her male readers who, hopefully, will recognize something of ourselves in the stalking behaviours that many of us have actually put into practice or continue to excuse as apparent expressions of love, longing and loyalty.
For myself, it as a reminder that I grew up in a stalking-soaked culture. When we stop to actually listen to the lyrics of the rock era (where a great beat forms the backdrop to remarkable displays of misogyny from our favourite bands, like the Beatles and Rolling Stones), stalking is everywhere. When the Temptations sang Ain’t Too Proud to Beg (“I know you wanna leave me, But I refuse to let you go”), it was a catalogue of stalking techniques. Indeed, what else can we say about someone who croons: “If I have to sleep on your doorstep all night and day, just to keep you from walking way, Let your friends laugh, even this I can stand, ’cause I wanna keep you any way I can.” We are told that is romance, and never give a thought to the woman on the receiving end of this unwanted presence.
When John Lennon sings with The Beatles that “I’d rather see you dead little girl than to be with another man,” or the Police eerily incant that with every breath you take, “I’ll be watching you,” some of the left’s favourite male cultural icons are contributing to the terror that Lalonde experienced. Jerry Butler’s smash hit, Never Give You Up, is similar: “Never gonna give you up, So don’t you think of leavin’.”
When, in the landmark 1967 film The Graduate, Elaine Robinson (Katharine Ross) tells Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) to stay away from her, he travels 600 miles to Berkeley, and follows her around mercilessly. He even tells his parents he is going to marry her, though he hasn’t mentioned it to the woman he’s been told to stay away from. We are trained to sympathize with Hoffman’s character as he angsts along to the groovy soundtrack of Simon and Garfunkel. This is romance, this is love, apparently. But no. This is sick, a celebration (and reward) of stalking wrapped up in ribbons and bows by the great movie stars of the golden age of Hollywood, repeated endlessly throughout the history of film and TV. Keep pushing, keep trying, and in the end she will recognize your devotion and reward you with her acquiescence.
While these examples are mere tips of the iceberg, one can see them mirrored in the notes and emails and phone messages that Xavier was constantly sending Lalonde. As noted above, their language is chilling: “I will always love you, you have no choice.” That lack of her choice, that power and control that a stalker wields over his target, is symptomatic of the roots of male violence against women. It also reflects itself in a broader cultural landscape, where men with power set up whole systems to stalk and claim women (think of the role played by Jian Ghomeshi during his rise at CBC or Harvey Weinstein’s elaborate network to hound, harass and cajole women into being sexual partners.) On top of these systems are additional stalking mechanisms that are used to protect the abusers from accountability. In Catch and Kill, Ronan Farrow uncovers the role of an Israeli intelligence firm, Black Cube, that was employed by Weinstein to track not only his victims (to ensure silence) but also the reporters like Farrow who were trying to uncover and confirm acts of criminal harassment.
At a global level, the lethality of video stalking reveals itself in drone warfare. “Pilots” who sit in the relative comfort of their bunkers in Nevada or New York follow their intended targets for days, weeks, even months, learning every intimate detail of the lives of their target and their family before eventually pushing the button that launches a Hellfire missile to obliterate them. “You see [enemy combatants] kiss their kids goodbye, and kiss their wives goodbye, and then they walk down the street,” said a squadron chief master sergeant working in Kansas. “As soon as they get over that hill, the missile is released.”
Numerous studies have revealed the toll that this stalking/murder-by-drone regime takes on the pilots who push those buttons. “How many women and children have you seen incinerated by a Hellfire missile? How many men have you seen crawl across a field, trying to make it to the nearest compound for help while bleeding out from severed legs?” Heather Linebaugh, a former drone imagery analyst, wrote in The Guardian. “When you are exposed to it over and over again it becomes like a small video, embedded in your head, forever on repeat, causing psychological pain and suffering that many people will hopefully never experience.”
Applause is not enough
While some stalkers have been held to a certain account — Weinstein was convicted and jailed — the damage they have done does not suddenly get erased with some Hollywood happy ending. But there are opportunities for those who have survived — or are in the middle of these horrors — to come together, share experiences and build bonds and communities of support. In She Said, the New York Times reporters describe a remarkable gathering they arranged for all those whose lives they had reported on. They gathered at Gwyneth Paltrow’s house: among them were movie stars and lesser-known entertainment industry employees who’d been targeted by Weinstein, sexual harassment lawyers, a young woman (Kimberly Lawson) who organized a remarkable nationwide strike against sexual harassment at McDonald’s, Christine Blasey Ford (whose testimony about being sexually assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh inspired millions more women to speak out), a young woman who was sexually assaulted by Donald Trump, and another woman who had not wanted to go public about her abuse at the hands of Weinstein.
The reporters beautifully describe this disparate gathering as women from all walks of life start to ask questions of one another’s shared experience around male violence. “Almost every member of the group who had spoken publicly had been transformed by it, and was stunned by the impact that sharing her own intimate story had on others.” And, in a spoiler alert, the woman who had been reluctant to go on the record decides, with the support of this new sisterhood, to add her voice to theirs.
Wonderful as that story is, not everyone is prepared to, or can, go public. The risks remain too great, and the promise of a happy ending is illusory at best. As Lalonde concludes, she continues doing the work she has always done. “I still deny audiences a clean ending to my story,” she says. “I still get death threats. My mom still wants me to find another job. I’m still jumpy. I still hate crowds. I sleep with the curtains drawn and don’t advertise where I live.”
Importantly, Lalonde addresses that painful resilience theme in referencing those who did not survive. “I’m not interested in feeding the narrative that I’m a superwoman who can handle anything. I am not more resilient than Rehtaeh Parsons or Nathalie Warmerdam or Carol Culleton or Anastasia Kuzyk or any of the other women and girls whose lives were stolen by misogynists. I just got lucky. I’m not interested in individual stories of survival. I want to see us kick down the systems that force us to fight in the first place. I want us all to make it. I want to make it.”
While we can express gratitude for Resilience is Futile and these other accounts, applause is not enough, nor is hoping that the next target is lucky enough to survive. As the beneficiaries of a system that constantly produces these horror stories, we as men need to do far more to confront the always growing, increasingly weaponized misogyny that is reflected in male violence against female partners, in the stalking culture that thrives through our silence, in the economic system that continues to devalue women’s labour, in those governmental institutions from the war department to the courts to the border officials and economists and media personalities who make the world unsafe for women.
Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who co-ordinates the Homes not Bombs non-violent direct action network. He has worked closely with the targets of Canadian and U.S. “national security” profiling for many years.
@repost Family Solicitors
WEST MONROE, La. — Three members of “Duck Dynasty” star Willie Robertson’s family have received protective orders against a man charged with shooting at homes on their Louisiana estate.
Daniel King Jr., 38, was booked into jail on a charge of aggravated assault by drive-by shooting after two homes were struck by gunfire on the West Monroe property belonging to Willie Robertson, a star of the reality show about duck hunting that ran from 2012 to 2017.
King has since been ordered to stay at least 1000 feet (305 metres) away from Willie Robertson’s son, John Luke Robertson, as well as John Luke’s wife and infant child, The News-Star reported. The order was set to run through April 2022.
King was accused of pointing a handgun from the window of a Ford F-250 and firing shots toward the homes, the newspaper reported, citing an arrest warrant from the Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Nobody was hurt but one bullet went through the bedroom window of the home where John Luke Robertson lives with his family, authorities said. Five people were inside the second home that was hit, the sheriff’s office said.
King told deputies he fired the gun while trying to see if the safety was on, and also allegedly admitted to drinking vodka at the time, according to the documents. Deputies said a juvenile was also in the truck.
King remained in custody this week on a $150,000 bond, The News-Star said. It was unclear whether he had an attorney who could comment on his behalf.
Willie Robertson is the CEO of Duck Commander, the multimillion-dollar duck call and decoy enterprise that inspired the A&E show, which shone a spotlight on the small north Louisiana town. Despite controversy over family patriarch Phil Robertson’s comments equating gay people with hell-bound sinners, state officials lauded the show for its importance to tourism.
The Associated Press
@repost Matrimonial Attorney
MILWAUKEE — Four of the five people found fatally shot this week at a home in Milwaukee were under the age of 20, police said.
Their bodies were found Monday after a 43-year-old man at the house called 911 to report his family was dead. He was arrested at the scene.
The Milwaukee Police Department on Tuesday identified the five victims as Demetrius Thomas, 14; Tera Agee, 16; Lakeitha Stokes, 17; Marcus Stokes, 19, and Teresa Thomas, 41. Police said all five victims were known to the suspect, but they declined to say if all were related.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said a child was found alive in the house, but police declined to provide details on the youngster.
The case was expected to be forwarded soon to the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office for charges, according to a police statement. The suspect remains in custody.
The man has a history of domestic violence convictions dating back to 2002, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. He was also under the supervision of the Department of Corrections after being released from prison in 2015, according to online records.
The Associated Press
@repost Child Support Order