How Veronica Died

Dying in Custody

Image by Hasan Almasi.

The English word “custody” went from a mid-fifteenth century meaning of safe-keeping and protection to its late-sixteenth-century sense of restraint of liberty and confinement (probably not coincidentally in the years of the land enclosure riots), and it comes from the Indo-European root (s)keu-, meaning to cover or conceal. Even the most potted hypothetical history of the word and concept is suggestive about a species that, in the name of property and utilitarianism (with its justice-free notion of the “greater good”), fences off, encloses, locks up, hides away, demarcates, “owns” natural resources and all their human and non-human elements, and also tucks away gigantic concentrations of wealth by a tiny minority. Liberal regimes still try to suggest the protective sense, but you only have to look at who is in custody and who the custodians are, in prisons, refugee camps, institutions (like children’s homes), and also many private homes, to find general abuse by certain groups (usually male, white, heterosexual, well-off, and exercising social and political power) of certain other groups (usually powerless, dark-skinned, women, Indigenous, and socially and culturally marginalised people). In the end, this cruel confinement of all aspects of the lives of certain species, and certain human groups, this plundering of everything, human and non-human, in the name of some insane idea of “progress”, is one of the constructs of humanity that is now threatening the conditions of existence of all species, including our own, on planet Earth. Even in these dire circumstances, there’s not much honest examination of basic political categories and assumptions that have brought us to such a pass. And, when they are actually exposed, in the death-throes wailing of an incarcerated woman, any revelation is quickly covered and concealed ((s)keu-). Veronica, automatically ill-treated and silenced in her short life as a First Nations woman, brought it all out, laid it bare for anyone who wants to know, with her death.

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