Political activist calls on women, minorities to stand up to oppression

Andrea Ritchie signs books after giving a talk about oppression at the Baltimore Book Festival last weekend. Photo by Danielle N. Papilon.

Andrea Ritchie signs books after giving a talk about oppression at the Baltimore Book Festival last weekend. Photo by Danielle N. Papilon.

By Danielle N. Papilon
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer

Women, LGBT individuals, blacks and other minorities should  take a stand against the existing oppressive power structures that limits opportunities, a nationally acclaimed author and lawyer said during the Baltimore Book Festival Sept. 23.

Andrea Ritchie, who describes herself as a police misconduct lawyer, activist and organizer, was presenting her new book. Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color takes a critical look on how racial profiling and police brutality uniquely affect women.

“Everything about the way the law is structured is designed to maintain the current power structures,” Ritchie said.

Ritchie was lead counsel in the groundbreaking case Tikkun v. New York, which challenged unlawful searches of transgender individuals in police custody.

Andrea Richie shows off her new book. Photo by Danielle N. Papilon.

Andrea Ritchie shows off her new book. Photo by Danielle N. Papilon.

The case contributed to the sweeping changes in the New York Police Department’s policies for interactions with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) New Yorkers.

“I was providing legal support for protestors at the 2014 Republican National Convention, and I met a trans woman who had experienced an unlawful strip search while she was in police custody,” Ritchie said. “She really wanted to fight it – not just for herself, but for all the trans folk who had also experienced searches that police officers do unlawfully.”

The event was hosted by Red Emma’s bookstore and café, which considers itself a radical, self-managed collective. Joining Ritchie on the stage at the Inner Harbor was Jacqueline Robarge, founder of Power Inside – an all-volunteer program offering women’s empowerment groups in the Baltimore City Detention Center since 2001.

Power Inside is based in Baltimore, so those in other locations do not have access. As a non-profit organization that relies on volunteers, donations and sponsors, Robarge said it would be difficult to expand the program state-wide.

Audience members listen to a speech by Richie. Photo by Danielle N. Papilon.

Audience members listen to a speech by Andrea Ritchie. Photo by Danielle N. Papilon.

Members of the audience said they appreciated Richie’s message and programs like Power Inside.

“I’ve actually been previously incarcerated in Harford County,” Caitlyn Arnold, 22, said during an interview. “I can only imagine how the lives of the women I met would change if everyone had access to this. I was lucky – I only had to stay for a few weeks. A lot of those women will be spending the rest of their lives in those institutions.”

In 2004, Power Inside added a street outreach component after it established a strong connection between women’s experiences of homelessness, sex work and jail.

“Power Inside was the first harm-reduction street outreach program funded by the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services to reach women caught in the cycle of jail and homelessness,” Robarge said when she joined Ritchie’s discussion.

Power Inside also conducts research, public education, and advocacy to allow community-wide access to health services.

“We try to support women in telling their stories,” Robarge said.

As the event continued under a tent packed with nearly 100 people – sitting in chairs, on the grass, standing behind others – all eyes were drawn to the stage.

“I know that as a white woman, the only way to be a good ally is to get involved and not just sit around watching the injustice happen,” Baltimore resident Emily Tonelson, 21, said during an interview. “You have to recognize that you’ll never know what it’s truly like to be black, or a lesbian, or whatever applies to you.”

Ritchie’s book was published in August. It can be purchased through multiple retailers, including Red Emma’s bookstore. If you wish to visit Red Emma’s and experience the Baltimore Free School, you can learn more about its events at https://redemmas.org/. If you are interested in volunteering or think a program like Power Inside can help you or someone you know, you can contact it via http://powerinside.org/. All donations are tax-deductible.


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