Here Are New, Disturbing Pictures of the Arrest of Cecily McMillan http://gawker.com/here-are-new-disturbing-pictures-of-the-arrest-of-ceci-1572470447 … via @Gawker #OWS #Justice4Cecily
Tags: civil liberties, cmu, communications management unit, Criminal Justice, first amendment, molly crabapple, muslim, racism, roger hollander, terrorist inmates, war on terror
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Most of those held in Communications Management Units, which imprison people linked to terrorist activity, are Muslims.
July 24, 2014, Molly Crabapple, http://www.alternet.org
Andy Stepanianis one of the kindest humans I have ever met.
An activist publicist, Andy draws attention to Americans imprisoned for their beliefs. He is straitlaced and gentle, and the only time he ever declined to buy me dinner was when I offended his veganism by eating chicken fingers. But Andy is also a felon. As one of the SHAC7, he spent three years locked in a cage for urging people to employ militant protest techniques against the animal-testing corporation Huntingdon Life Sciences. He spent his last six months in prison in a Communications Management Unit (CMU).
CMUs exist to cut off prisoners from the outside world. The prisoners’ every word is recorded. They are strip-searched before and after each visit from loved ones (in case they write messages on their body). Letters are severely restricted; phone calls are limited to two 15-minute calls a week. CMU prisoners may spend decades without hugging their wives or children.
Like Guantanamo Bay, the CMU is a child of the war on terror. In 2006 and 2008, respectively, the Bureau of Prisons, under the directorship of Harley Lappin, created two secret units: one in Terre Haute, IN, and the other in Marion, IL. The bureau’s stated purpose was “Limited Communication for Terrorist Inmates.” But as at Guantanamo, Muslims were the real targets. Muslims make up roughly 70 percent of the prisoners in CMUs but only 6 percent of the federal prison population. The CMUs are part of a philosophy that makes Muslim synonymous with terrorist, that views “terrorists” as both contagious and superhuman—so dangerous that they must be subject to ultimate control.
Andy was the rare white CMU prisoner. Guards told him he was there as a “balancer.” CMUs are another reflection of the double standard to which the United States holds Muslims. Acts of speech, travel or association that would be A-OK for a Christian are enough to get a Muslim branded a terrorist.
CMU prisoner Shifa Sadequee was kidnapped by U.S. forces in Bangladesh at the age of 19, allegedly tortured and rendered to the United States. He spent three years in solitary awaiting his trial for terrorism. His crimes? He played paintball and took video footage of U.S. monuments. The former activity was labeled “paramilitary training”; the latter, “casing videos” for an attack. The judge sentenced him to 17 years.
Pharmacist Tarek Mehanna should be called a dissident—but that’s not a label America allows Muslims. A scathing critic of U.S. foreign policy, Mehanna believed Muslims under attack in their own countries had the right to armed self-defense. He translated and subtitled some jihadi materials and briefly traveled to Yemen. Nothing he did would have been looked at askance if he were a Tea Party member speaking about fellow gun enthusiasts. But as a Muslim Mehanna was convicted of material support for terrorism. His sentence? Seventeen years.
At his sentencing, Mehanna delivered a chilling, eloquent statement about resisting oppression: “In your eyes, I’m a terrorist, I’m the only one standing here in an orange jumpsuit and it’s perfectly reasonable that I be standing here in an orange jumpsuit. But one day, America will change and people will recognize this day for what it is. They will look at how hundreds of thousands of Muslims were killed and maimed by the U.S. military in foreign countries, yet somehow I’m the one going to prison for ‘conspiring to kill and maim’ in those countries…
“The government says that I was obsessed with violence, obsessed with ‘killing Americans.’ But, as a Muslim living in these times, I can think of a lie no more ironic.”
Mehanna is in a CMU for speech. Few American free speech defenders noticed.
While most Americans were rightly nauseated by the NSA programs revealed by Edward Snowden, they gave less thought to the brutal surveillance that Muslim communities have suffered since 9/11. Mosques, student associations and even restaurants were monitored throughout the country. Informants tried to rope the naive or the mentally ill into expressing support for jihad. If an agent was able to pressure an unstable young man into driving a car or buying some backpacks, he could arrest him for assisting terrorism. The agent would receive professional accolades for making the arrest; the young man, decades in jail. For the untold cash it poured into spying on Muslims, the FBI seldom discovered a plot that it did not concoct itself.
CMU prisoner Shahawar Matin Siraj had no explosives or concrete plan of attack, but that did not prevent a judge from sentencing him to 30 years for plotting to bomb New York’s Herald Square. The informant who befriended him, and then goaded him into the plan, was paid $100,000 by the NYPD.
Imprisonment is erasure. The state locks a person in a cage—without context, without community, without love. He becomes not human but a widget passing through a system of absolute control. The CMU enacts a double erasure: it represents the ultimate scission of the prisoner from his non-prison self. You are in a box. You are no one. You belong to us.
Andy is working on a documentary about CMUs. He asked me to draw pictures of some prisoners. Drawing is slow, deliberate. It is an antidote to forgetting men the state wants the world to forget.
One night I worked on a portrait of Ghassan Elashi. A former vice president of an internet company, Elashi was sentenced to 65 years in prison for running the Holy Land Foundation, which was the largest Muslim charity in the United States until the Bush administration shut it down in December 2001. Through charitable organizations in Gaza, Holy Land allegedly funneled money to Hamas, which the United States classifies as a terrorist organization.
Andy invited Elashi’s daughter, Noor, to my studio. She brought a photograph of her father. I was unable to draw him from life, as the USP Marion is not easy to visit. The three of us stayed up late into the night, me rendering Noor’s father’s eyes in careful watercolor, Andy filming us as she watched me draw.
Noor is a stylishly dressed young writer who sidelines as a baker of gluten-free cupcakes. But when she talks about her father, her voice grows cold with pain. She remembers how FBI agents threw him to the floor when they raided their home. She remembers prison guards screaming at her young brother, who has Down syndrome, when he tried to hug his dad (she and her brother were subsequently denied visits for months). She remembers how her father was barred from making phone calls for writing his name on a yoga mat.
She does not believe for a moment that her father deliberately funneled funds to Hamas.
Noor’s situation shows how CMUs rip apart not only prisoners’ lives but also the lives of their families and community. Noor is still fighting for her dad.
In “Counterpunch,” Noor wrote, “My father is my pillar, whose high spirits transcend all barbed-wire-topped fences, whose time in prison did not stifle his passion for human rights.”
Noor’s words point to one of the war on terror’s most insidious legacies. The war on terror flattened Muslims into bogeymen. They could no longer be troubled young men. Nor could they be political dissidents, heads of charities or defenders of human rights. Dissent was equated with terrorism.
In making a fetish of the word “freedom,” America revoked the freedom of so many within her borders. Civil liberties defenders must remember that Muslims are not a separate class of people. Attacks on Muslims’ rights are attacks on human rights.
Tags: andrea germanos, capitalism, Criminal Justice, fossil fuels, lac megantic, mma, oil transport, roger hollander, train disaster
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Roger’s note: JUSTICE: CAPITALIST STYLE. Those who own capital, also own government, and that includes the so-called justice system. You can be sure you will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law (sic) if you shop lift to feed your children. But you would be wiser to own a railroad company or be a politician who receives their financial largesse. That pretty much buys you a free pass … up to and including murder.
“The big boss — he should be first.”
Three employees of the rail company behind the infamous Lac-Mégantic train derailment and fireball explosion faced charges Tuesday of criminal negligence for the deaths of the 47 people killed. But for the residents of the small Quebec town, the fact that no executives were charged 10 months after the tragedy brought little sense of justice.
The three Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway Ltd. employees charged were Thomas Harding, the train conductor; Jean Demaître, manager of train operations; and Richard Labrie, traffic controller.
Harding, whose lawyer, Thomas Walsh, had said would voluntarily appear in court, was arrested on Monday by a SWAT team that came to his house.
Walsh told CTVNews that the police forced Harding, his son and a friend to the ground before cuffing and taking Harding, who reportedly suffers from PTSD, away.
The three face a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The charging of the three employees of the now bankrupt MMA, however, brought no joy to the people of the disaster-stricken town. Rather than being gripped by anger, they expressed sorrow and frustration that these low-level employees face charges while the real people who should be charged evade justice.
As the three somber-faced men were led into court, Ghislain Champagne, who lost his 36-year-old daughter Karine in the disaster, shouted, “It’s not them we want!”
Peggy Curran, reporting for the Montreal Gazette, shares similar voices from Lac-Mégantic residents.
Resident Diane Poirier, who lost two nephews in the tragedy, told the Gazette, “To my mind, it is their boss who is responsible,” referring to MMA chairman Ed Burkhardt. “He took his time coming here to see us here. I didn’t like the attitude of that man at all. But I don’t blame them at all — maybe they lacked training.”
That feeling was echoed by Ghislain Champagne’s wife, Danielle Lachance Champagne. “I believe there should be charges, but for the right people,” adding, “The big boss — he should be first.”
But beyond the bosses, said Raymond Lafontaine, who lost friends and family members in the accident, the federal government bears responsibility for inadequate track maintenance.
“We want to know that it can never happen again,” Danielle Champagne said, “but it will.”
Weeks after the Lac-Mégantic disaster, Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, wrote, “Those who do not learn from their mistakes are bound to repeat them,” and noted, “How easy it would be to lay the blame for the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic on the engineer who ran the train.”
“But the real responsibility lies with the governments on both sides of the border who have deregulated their transport sectors, gutted freshwater protections and promoted the spectacular growth and transport of new and unsustainable fossil fuels,” Barlow wrote.
* * *
The scene of the explosive July 2013 derailment was captured by YouTube user Anne-Julie Hallée in this video below:
Tags: #occupy movement, cecily mcmillan, Criminal Justice, ows, police brutality, roger hollander, sarah lazare, zuccotti
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Roger’s note: this is a follow-up to an article I posted a few days ago. Take a good look at our police state and criminal injustice system.
Jurors express shock and regret upon learning guilty verdict could land Cecily McMillan in prison for 7 years
A majority of the jury that found Occupy Wall Street protester Cecily McMillan guilty of “felony assault” of the very police officer who she says sexually assaulted and brutalized her appears to be remorseful that the 25-year-old could spend up to seven years behind bars.
Nine of the 12 people who served on the jury have penned a letter to Judge Ronald Zweibel begging for a “lenient” sentence that avoids any prison time. The letter, obtained by the Guardian and dated Tuesday, states:
We the jury petition the court for leniency in the sentencing of Cecily McMillan. We would ask the court to consider probation with community service. We feel that the felony mark on Cecily’s record is punishment enough for this case and that it serves no purpose to Cecily or to society to incarcerate her for any amount of time.
The letter follows initial reactions of shock and regret from some who served on the jury—which was not informed of the verdict’s severe sentencing guidelines during the trial—once they learned McMillan could be incarcerated for years. One juror expressed “remorse” to the Guardian on Tuesday, stating, “Most just wanted her to do probation, maybe some community service. But now what I’m hearing is seven years in jail? That’s ludicrous. Even a year in jail is ridiculous.” Martin Stolar, criminal defense attorney affiliated with the National Lawyers Guild and co-counsel for McMillan’s case, said two other jurors had contacted him with similar expressions of regret, according to the Huffington Post.
During McMillan’s trial, the jury was not informed of the severe sentencing guidelines for the verdict, as is the standard in the United States, except for death penalty cases. Furthermore, they were denied key evidence throughout the trial.
McMillan’s conviction on Monday shined an international spotlight on what critics charge is a failed “justice system” that routinely sides with police—no matter how bad their behavior, dismisses survivors of sexual violence, and criminalizes dissent.
McMillan is described by her supporters as “a 25-year-old organizer” who “has been politically active for over a decade — most notably in the Democratic Socialists for America, the anti-Scott Walker mobilization, and Occupy Wall Street.”
She was one of approximately 70 people detained late the night of March 17/early morning March 18, 2012, when police violently cleared a memorial event marking the six-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. McMillan, who had stopped by the park to meet a friend, says she was sexually assaulted by police officer Grantley Bovell while she attempted to leave the area.
“Seized from behind, she was forcefully grabbed by the breast and ripped backwards,” according to a statement by support group Justice For Cecily. “Cecily startled and her arm involuntarily flew backward into the temple of her attacker, who promptly flung her to the ground, where others repeatedly kicked and beat her into a string of seizures.” Following the attack, McMillan underwent treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Despite numerous allegations that Bovell has inflicted excessive force while on duty, as well as photograph and video evidence of injuries sustained by McMillan—including a hand-shaped bruise on her chest, it was McMillan who was put on trial for felony charges of assaulting Bovell.
According to McMillan’s supporters, what followed was a trial riddled with injustice, in which Judge Ronald Zweibel showed repeated favoritism towards the prosecution. Zweibel imposed a gag order on McMillan’s lawyers, excluded key physical evidence, and ruled that information about Bovell’s past violent behavior, and violence the night of McMillan’s arrest, was not relevant to the case.
“To the jury, the hundreds of police batons, helmets, fists, and flex cuffs out on March 17 were invisible – rendering McMillan’s elbow the most powerful weapon on display in Zuccotti that night, at least insofar as the jury was concerned,” wrote journalist Molly Knefel, who was present the night of McMillan’s arrest.
McMillan, is planning an appeal, but the process could take six to nine months. Meanwhile, Justice for Cecily organizers report that they have been able to visit McMillan where she is being held at Rikers Island, and she has released the following message to her supporters:
“Thank you again for all that you’ve done and continue to do for me- ya’ll are very much loved, and make me feel loved when I’m lying here at night. Please do not feel like there’s anything more you could have done— you all went above and beyond any expectations I had or any standards anyone would have set. Also, please don’t worry about my safety – it is difficult in here, but people (especially the inmates but also many of the corrections officers) have been very kind; several women (re-incarcerates) have taken me under their wing, giving me tea, sugar extra milk and the paper (NY Daily News).“
Tags: cecily mcmillan, Criminal Justice, grantley bovell, occupy wall street, ows, police brutality, roger hollander, sarah lazare, sexual assault, zuccotti park
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Roger’s note: There is nothing new about police brutality in democratic America, but historically we always see an escalation when protests against the injustices of our capitalist utopia themselves escalate (during the Great Depression, for example). What is frightening is the level of militarization of urban police forces and governments at all levels preparing for mass incarceration as protests rise in proportion to the economic, military and environmental crises at the same time that what was left of constitutional guarantees such as habeas corpus have disappeared.
‘This has become something bigger than Cecily McMillan. It’s about protests and dissent.’
People across the United States responded with outrage after Occupy Wall Street activist Cecily McMillan was found guilty Monday afternoon of “assaulting” the very police officer who she says sexually assaulted her.
Over 100 people rallied in New York City’s Zuccotti Park Monday night and, according to advocates, messages of support immediately began pouring in from across the country.
“I know Cecily would be in gratitude for how much people care,” Stan Williams of support group Justice for Cecily told Common Dreams. “But this has become something bigger than Cecily. It’s about protests and dissent.”
McMillan’s supporters on Monday filled a New York court room with cries of “Shame!” when the 25-year-old organizer was handed a guilty verdict and then promptly handcuffed and taken away to Rikers Island, where she is currently detained pending sentencing. In a Democracy Now! interview Tuesday morning, Martin Stolar, criminal defense attorney affiliated with the National Lawyers Guild and co-counsel for McMillan’s case, derided her felony verdict—that could land her a sentence of two to seven years with a chance of parole—as “ridiculous” and vowed an appeal.
McMillan was one of approximately 70 people detained late the night of March 17/early morning March 18, 2012, when police violently cleared a memorial event marking the six-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. McMillan, who had stopped by the park to meet a friend, says she was sexually assaulted by police officer Grantley Bovell while she attempted to leave the area. “Seized from behind, she was forcefully grabbed by the breast and ripped backwards,” according to a statement by Justice For Cecily. “Cecily startled and her arm involuntarily flew backward into the temple of her attacker, who promptly flung her to the ground, where others repeatedly kicked and beat her into a string of seizures.” Following the attack, McMillan underwent treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Yet, despite numerous allegations that Bovell has inflicted excessive force while on duty, as well as his previous involvement in a ticket-fixing scandal, it was McMillan who was put on trial for felony charges of assaulting Bovell.
According to McMillan’s supporters, what followed was a trial riddled with injustice, in which Judge Ronald Zweibel showed repeated favoritism towards the prosecution and imposed a gag order on McMillan’s lawyer.
Facing photographic and video evidence of McMillan’s bruises following the attack, including a hand-shaped bruise on her chest, as well as the testimony of dozens of witnesses, the prosecution went so far as to claim that McMillan had imposed the injuries on herself.
“In the trial, physical evidence was considered suspect but the testimony of the police was cast as infallible,” writes journalist Molly Knefel, who was present the night of McMillan’s arrest. “And not only was Officer Bovell’s documented history of violent behavior deemed irrelevant by the judge, but so were the allegations of his violent behavior that very same night.”
“To the jury, the hundreds of police batons, helmets, fists, and flex cuffs out on March 17 were invisible – rendering McMillan’s elbow the most powerful weapon on display in Zuccotti that night, at least insofar as the jury was concerned,” Knefel added.
Yet, according to Kristen Iversen writing for Brooklyn Magazine, McMillan’s verdict is not just the outcome of one unfair trial, but rather exposes “systemic” failures of justice: “The failure is that McMillan was given the exact kind of trial that our system is set up for, one that supports the police no matter how wrong their behavior, one that dismisses victims of sexual assault in astonishing numbers.”
Lucy Parks, field coordinator for Justice For Cecily, said McMillan’s supporters are busy figuring out next steps, with plans to organize petitions, call-in days, and other mobilizations in the works.
“We’re also trying to bring together communities of U.S. activists and anyone who feels strongly about this trial to try and heal and move forward and broaden the conversation about the justice system to talk about more people than just Cecily,” Parks added.
Reactions and reports are being posted on Twitter:
Retweeted by Lavene.DerKat
Even the jurors themselves in the #Justice4Cecily case regret their decision. https://occupywallst.org/article/jury-regrets-convicting-cecily-mcmillan/ … pic.twitter.com/0s0RnFJQfBRetweeted by Mukha Kaloev
Cecily is the 99%, and we need to stand with her now. SIGN this petition to demand #Justice4Cecily: http://www.change.org/petitions/governor-andrew-cuomo-mayor-bill-deblasio-governor-cuomo-and-mayor-deblasio-pardon-cecily-mcmillan-now … #OWSRetweeted by Evelyn Hammid
RT @StopMotionsolo: An excellent article on the trial, the jurors, and its aftermath. #Justice4Cecily http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/06/cecily-mcmillan-juror-occupy-activists-jail-sentence?CMP=twt_gu …Retweeted by Trent Engel
Jury Regrets Convicting OWS Protester Of Felony Assault Of An Officer http://gothamist.com/2014/05/06/jury_that_convicted_ows_protester_o.php# …. #Justice4Cecily“
Governor Cuomo and Mayor DeBlasio, Pardon Cecily McMillan NOW! http://www.change.org/petitions/governor-andrew-cuomo-mayor-bill-deblasio-governor-cuomo-and-mayor-deblasio-pardon-cecily-mcmillan-now?recruiter=91829256&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=share_twitter_mobile … #Justice4Cecily
They made an example of #CecilyMcMillan: dissent will not be tolerated. http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/23526-cecily-mcmillan-verdict-proves-dissent-is-dangerous … @truthout #Justice4CecilyRetweeted by Janice Gintzler
Even the jurors themselves in the #Justice4Cecily case regret their decision. https://occupywallst.org/article/jury-regrets-convicting-cecily-mcmillan/ … pic.twitter.com/0s0RnFJQfBRetweeted by To The Starz
Even the jurors themselves in the #Justice4Cecily case regret their decision https://occupywallst.org/article/jury-regrets-convicting-cecily-mcmillan/ … pic.twitter.com/RJV5hHroXJRetweeted by Mike Flugennock
Banks pay fines. Occupiers do time. http://becausefinanceisboring.com/post/84944005414/cyrus-vance-why-jail-bankers-when-you-can-jail-bank … #Justice4CecilyRetweeted by Lee Wilson
They made an example of #CecilyMcMillan: dissent will not be tolerated. http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/23526-cecily-mcmillan-verdict-proves-dissent-is-dangerous … @truthout #Justice4CecilyRetweeted by Merton Gaudette
Jury Regrets Convicting OWS Protester Of Felony Assault Of An Officer http://gothamist.com/2014/05/06/jury_that_convicted_ows_protester_o.php# …. #Justice4Cecily pic.twitter.com/ILcMIPGXV1Retweeted by Kaye
Even the jurors themselves in the #Justice4Cecily case regret their decision. https://occupywallst.org/article/jury-regrets-convicting-cecily-mcmillan/ … pic.twitter.com/0s0RnFJQfBRetweeted by anoknps
Even the jurors themselves in the #Justice4Cecily case regret their decision https://occupywallst.org/article/jury-regrets-convicting-cecily-mcmillan/ … pic.twitter.com/RJV5hHroXJRetweeted by Zoe Alif
Banks pay fines. Occupiers do time. http://becausefinanceisboring.com/post/84944005414/cyrus-vance-why-jail-bankers-when-you-can-jail-bank … #Justice4CecilyRetweeted by Robert Campbell
Jury Regrets Convicting OWS Protester Of Felony Assault Of An Officer http://gothamist.com/2014/05/06/jury_that_convicted_ows_protester_o.php# …. #Justice4Cecily pic.twitter.com/ILcMIPGXV1Retweeted by Tommy Miles
Cecily is the 99%, and we need to stand with her now. SIGN this petition to demand #Justice4Cecily: http://www.change.org/petitions/governor-andrew-cuomo-mayor-bill-deblasio-governor-cuomo-and-mayor-deblasio-pardon-cecily-mcmillan-now … #OWSRetweeted by fr0g5
They made an example of #CecilyMcMillan: dissent will not be tolerated. http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/23526-cecily-mcmillan-verdict-proves-dissent-is-dangerous … @truthout #Justice4CecilyRetweeted by Robert Campbell
Even the jurors themselves in the #Justice4Cecily case regret their decision https://occupywallst.org/article/jury-regrets-convicting-cecily-mcmillan/ … pic.twitter.com/RJV5hHroXJRetweeted by UCanCallMeSOSA
Retweeted by W. Renee McEwan
Retweeted by Antti Rautiainen
Banks pay fines. Occupiers do time. http://becausefinanceisboring.com/post/84944005414/cyrus-vance-why-jail-bankers-when-you-can-jail-bank … #Justice4CecilyRetweeted by Occupy Network
Retweeted by Mary Clinton
Retweeted by Miro Collas
Jury Regrets Convicting #OWS Protester Of Felony Assault Of An Officer http://gothamist.com/2014/05/06/jury_that_convicted_ows_protester_o.php … via @gothamist #Justice4Cecily
An OWS activist was assaulted by a police officer. She’s being sent to Riker’s Island for it today. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/04/the-trial-of-cecily-mcmillan/ … #Justice4CecilyRetweeted by TheCitizen
RT @other98: Banks pay fines. Occupiers do time. http://becausefinanceisboring.com/post/84944005414/cyrus-vance-why-jail-bankers-when-you-can-jail-bank … #Justice4Cecily
“NYPD: “we get to sexually assault you, and if you don’t let us, we…” #Justice4Cecily #MyNYPD http://www.supernoder.com/newsium.php?ref=myNYPD …
Retweeted by mechan-onymous
Retweeted by Captain Swing
Jury Regrets Convicting OWS Protester Of Felony Assault Of An Officer http://gothamist.com/2014/05/06/jury_that_convicted_ows_protester_o.php# …. #Justice4Cecily pic.twitter.com/ILcMIPGXV1Retweeted by alexis goldstein
Retweeted by Melinda Coleman
Retweeted by Saysewahum
Nearly 2.5K ppl have signed this petition demanding #Justice4Cecily. You? http://www.change.org/petitions/governor-andrew-cuomo-mayor-bill-deblasio-governor-cuomo-and-mayor-deblasio-pardon-cecily-mcmillan-now …Retweeted by Liz Meldon
Retweeted by [allshiny]
American State of the Union: A Festival of Lies February 1, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Economic Crisis, Trade Agreements, War.
Tags: bruce a. dixon, crack cocaine defendants, Criminal Justice, doj, drug war, economic inequality, eric holder, executive powers, glen ford, h. rap brown, hunger strikes, imam jamil al-amin, leonard peltier, mass incarceration, minimum wage, Obama, obama sotu, pelican bay, police brutality, police militarization, political prisoners, prison state, prisons, roger hollander, sotu, state of the union, supermax prison, tpp, trade agreements, unemployment
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Roger’s note: here are two articles from the same source, the black agenda report web site, analyses you are not likely to find in the mainstream media.
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
Before the nation and the world, President Obama pledges to take “action” against “economic inequality,” while simultaneously holding secret negotiations on a Trans Pacific Partnership trade scheme that will quicken the pace of the global Race to the Bottom, deepening economic inequalities. “Lies of omission are even more despicable than the overt variety, because they hide.”
“When you say ‘jobs,’ he says tax cuts – just like the Republicans, only Obama first cites the pain of the unemployed, so that you know he cares.”
“Believe it,” said the current Prevaricator-in-Chief, in the conclusion to his annual litany lies. President Obama’s specialty, honed to theatrical near-perfection over five disastrous years, is in crafting the sympathetic lie, designed to suspend disbelief among those targeted for oblivion, through displays of empathy for the victims. In contrast to the aggressive insults and bluster employed by Republican political actors, whose goal is to incite racist passions against the Other, the sympathetic Democratic liar disarms those who are about to be sacrificed by pretending to feel their pain.
Barack Obama, who has presided over the sharpest increases in economic inequality in U.S. history, adopts the persona of public advocate, reciting wrongs inflicted by unseen and unknown forces that have “deepened” the gap between the rich and the rest of us and “stalled” upward mobility. Having spent half a decade stuffing tens of trillions of dollars into the accounts of an ever shrinking gaggle of financial capitalists, Obama declares this to be “a year of action” in the opposite direction. “Believe it.” And if you do believe it, then crown him the Most Effective Liar of the young century.
Lies of omission are even more despicable than the overt variety, because they hide. The potentially most devastating Obama contribution to economic inequality is being crafted in secret by hundreds of corporate lobbyists and lawyers and their revolving-door counterparts in government. The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, described as “NAFTA on steroids,” would accelerate the global Race to the Bottom that has made a wasteland of American manufacturing, plunging the working class into levels of poverty and insecurity without parallel in most people’s lifetimes, and totally eviscerating the meager gains of three generations of African Americans. Yet, the closest Obama came to even an oblique allusion to his great crime-in-the-making, was to announce that “new trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific will help [small businesses] create even more jobs. We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment and open new markets to new goods stamped ‘Made in the USA.’” Like NAFTA twenty years ago – only far bigger and more diabolically destructive – TPP will have the opposite effect, destroying millions more jobs and further deepening worker insecurity. The Trans Pacific Partnership expands the legal basis for global economic inequalities – which is why the negotiations are secret, and why the treaty’s name could not be spoken in the State of the Union address. It is a lie of omission of global proportions. Give Obama his crown.
“The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, described as ‘NAFTA on steroids,’ would accelerate the global Race to the Bottom.”
The president who promised in his 2008 campaign to support a hike in the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2011, and then did nothing at all to make it happen, says this is the “year of action” when he’ll move heaven and earth to get a $10.10 minimum. He will start, Obama told the Congress and the nation, by issuing “an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour because if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you should not have to live in poverty.” Obama neglected to mention that only new hires – a small fraction, beginning with zero, of the two million federal contract workers – will get the wage boost; a huge and conscious lie of omission. The fact that the president does not even propose a gradual, mandated increase for the rest of the two million shows he has no intention of using his full powers to ameliorate taxpayer-financed poverty. We can also expect Obama to issue waivers to every firm that claims a hardship, as is always his practice.
What is Obama’s jobs program? It is the same as laid out at last year’s State of the Union, and elaborated on last summer: lower business taxes and higher business subsidies. When you say “jobs,” he says tax cuts – just like the Republicans, only Obama first cites the pain of the unemployed, so that you know he cares. “Both Democrats and Republicans have argued that our tax code is riddled with wasteful, complicated loopholes that punish businesses investing here, and reward companies that keep profits abroad. Let’s flip that equation. Let’s work together to close those loopholes, end those incentives to ship jobs overseas, and lower tax rates for businesses that create jobs right here at home.” Actually, Obama wants to lower tax rates for all corporations to 28 percent, from 35 percent, as part of his ongoing quest for a Grand Bargain with Republicans. For Obama, the way to bring jobs back to the U.S. is to make American taxes and wages more “competitive” in the “global marketplace” – the Race to the Bottom.
In the final analysis, the sympathetic corporate Democrat and the arrogant corporate Republican offer only small variations on the same menu: ever increasing austerity. Obama bragged about reducing the deficit, never acknowledging that this has been accomplished on the backs of the poor, contributing mightily to economic inequality and social insecurity.
Obama offers nothing of substance, because he is not authorized by his corporate masters to do so. He takes his general orders from the same people as do the Republicans. That’s why Obama only speaks of minimum wage hikes while Republicans are in power, rather than when his own party controlled both houses of Congress. Grand Bargains are preferred, because they are the result of consensus between the two corporate parties. In effect, the Grand Bargain is the distilled political will of Wall Street, which feeds the donkey and the elephant. Wall Street – the 1 percent – believes the world is theirs for the taking, and they want all of it. Given this overarching truth, Obama has no choice but to stage a festival of lies.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com
Barack Obama, the State of the Union and the Prison State
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
For a generation now, predatory policing, the war on drugs and the prison state have been government’s most frequent intersection with young black Americans. The gossip before this year’s State of the Union was that the president would now do by executive order all those good things Republicans have blocked him on the last 3 years. Does that include reining in or rolling back the prison state? Should we hold our collective breath?
“…Obama campaigned in 2007 and 2008 saying he would pass legislation raising the minimum wage…”
In the days before this year’s State of the Union address, we heard a lot about how Barack Obama was finally about to unleash the mighty executive powers of his office to accomplish some of the many great things he’s always wanted to accomplish, those mostly unspecified things which evil and immoral Republicans have prevented him from doing. From long experience dating back at least to the Clinton era, the White House and Democratic party know this is an attractive picture to many, one that conveniently excuses Democrats in office from even trying to accomplish the real demands of the millions who vote them into office.
Barack Obama campaigned in 2007 and 2008 saying he would pass legislation raising the minimum wage and making it easier to organize unions so people could stand up for their own rights in the workplace. The president apparently lied. Once in office with a thumping majority in both houses of Congress the president promptly froze the wages of federal workers, and made no move to protect union organizing or to raise the minimum wage. Four and five years later, with the House of Representatives safely under Republican control, the president has begun to make noises about how “America deserves a raise” and has finally declared that federal contract workers will soon have to be paid a minimum of $10.10 per hour.
Although Barack Obama’s career, and those of the entire black political class are founded on the notion that they and the Democratic party somehow “represent” the aspirations and political power of African Americans, the policy concerns of black America were nowhere to be found in last night’s state of the union. The speech contained no mention of the persistent gap between black and white unemployment, or the widening gaps between black and white wealth, and reaffirmed his commitment to “Race To The Top” an initiative to privatize public education in poorer communities across the country.
” Obama could halt the construction and opening of the new federal supermax prison…”
And of course, no cluster of issues impact black America more savagely and disproportionately than police practices, the drug war and the prison state. African Americans are one eighth the US population, but more than 40% of its prisons and jails. Together with Latinos, who are another eighth and make up nearly 30% of US prisoners, people of color are a quarter of the US population and more than 70% of the locked down. No cluster of issues would benefit more from a few presidential initiatives and well placed strokes of the pen than police practices, the drug war and the prison state.
Here are just a handful of things President Obama and his party could and would do, things that Republicans are powerless to prevent, which would make a large and lasting impact upon the communities they purportedly represent.
With the stroke of a presidential pen, Barack Obama could halt the construction and opening of the new federal supermax prison at ADX Thomson in Illinois, also called “Gitmo North.” Citizen activists in the president’s home state last year managed to close down the state’s brutal supermax prison at Tammsbecause they know that supermax prisons do not rehabilitate, they are instruments of torture pure and simple. Ordinary citizens know that torture should not be a career, or a business governments engage in. Even Obama’s own Bureau of Prisons is on record as wanting to examine whether the regimes in supermax prisons across the country constitute torture. It’s time to look for that presidential pen.
The president could take public notice of the alarming militarization of police forces across the country and the wave of police shootings of civilians. Far more persons die in the US of police gunfire than of terrorist incidents and school shootings. The feds play an enormous role in the funding, training and arming of thousands of local police departments across the country, through its grants to the state-level training and certification agencies, and its authorization of the sale of military equipment to police departments. The result is that every county and town in the US now has a SWAT team, employing shoot-first-question-later tactics, and although African Americans are far from the only victims of unchecked police violence, a black person is killed by police, security officers or vigilantes once every 28 hours. Again, this is a case for a presidential statement, a few orders to underlings and that mighty executive pen.
The president could order his Justice Department to reconsider its objections to the retroactive reduction of unfair and disproportionate sentences to crack cocaine defendants. When the president signed the so-called Fair Sentencing Act reducing the crack to powder cocaine penalty ratio from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1 thousands of defendants should have been eligible for immediate release. But Obama’s and Eric Holder’s Justice Departments have gone to court repeatedly to keep them behind bars. Our civil rights establishment from the Mark Morials and Al Sharptons down, seem more invested in the prestige of the president than doing justice to prisoners, and so have politely refused to call Obama and Holder on this glaring disconnect between their public pronouncements and their actual policies. The mighty presidential pen in the hands of Barack Obama could have made a big difference here any time in the last several years, and still can, if only he will.
The president could use his mighty executive powers to release some long-time political prisoners. There’s Iman Jamil Al-Amin, the former H. Rap Brown who distinguished himself laying the foundations for what passes for black political empowerment, risking his life registering voters and conducting Freedom Schools in rural Alabama with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the mid and early 1960s. After repeated attempts by Georgia officials in the 1990s to frame Al-Amin for shootings, one of these stuck long enough to get a shaky conviction in 1999. As pressure for a retrial from local community activists built up and even in the face of protests from establishment figures like former Atlanta mayor, congressman and ambassador Andy Young, Georgia officials transferred Al-Amin into federal custody in the dead of night, and the feds spirited him away to the hellhole at ADX Florence in Colorado where he has been for more than a decade. With a stroke of that might executive pen, President Obama could send Al-Amin back to Georgiawhere his family and attorneys could visit him, and pressure would mount on Georgia authorities to give him a new trial, in which he might well prove his innocence.
The president could pardon or grant clemency to Leonard Peltier, a Native American leader who has served a decade longer in prison than Nelson Mandela did for an offense that nobody at his trial even alleged he actually committed. Peltier is recognized around the world as a political prisoner. His continued imprisonment shows that many wounds from the 60s and 70s were never healed, and his release would demonstrate that this president acknowledges the need for this healing. After almost 40 years, Leonard Peltier surely deserves to come home.
President Obama could acknowledge the wave of hunger strikes and protests in prisons across the country, and name a commission to investigate how we can reverse the expansion of prisons, guarantee the re-absorption of former prisoners into society, and reverse the culture and law which discriminate against and punish former prisoners and their families for the rest of their lives. Right now a number of prisoners at Menard Penitentiary in the president’s home state of Illinois are waging a hunger strike, with demands that differ little from those raised by prisoners in California’s Pelican Bay last year, and those in Virginia, Georgia, Ohio and elsewhere.
We must not imagine that rolling back the carceral state is something no government on earth has ever done. Right now in Venezuela, that nation is confronting a crisis of crime, the practical limits of prison expansion, and of what kind of society they want to build. They’re taking a different path than so-called “progressives” here, who seem upset only about prisoners who are factually “innocent” and only about prisons if they’re privatized. Venezuela is frankly committed to shrinking its prison population and exploring models of restorative rather than punitive justice. There really are other ways to go, if we have the will and the vision our Democrats and Republicans lack.
Obama’s Attorney General has learned how to let the words “mass incarceration” roll off his lips fluently, after his recent discovery that such a thing actually exists. The president opined that Trayvon Martin could have been his own son, minus the status, the privilege, the neighborhood and a few other things. But that mighty presidential pen that can call commissions, impose directives, re-set priorities and make all manner of changes by executive order, changes that no evil and immoral Republicans can block or reverse, at least until they re-take the oval office, is still in that desk drawer, or wherever Barack Obama keeps it. He hasn’t found it the last five years in office. Maybe he will discover it in these last three.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and serves on the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. He lives and works in Marietta GA and can be contacted via this site’s contact page, or at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.e pointed out repeatedly the last five years, there are boatloads of things a president anxious to serve the will of the people could do with the stroke of a pen
America’s Eichmann November 22, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Racism, Torture.
Tags: american gulag, american prisons, banality of evil, barry sussman, bureau of prisons, charles samuels, Criminal Justice, eichmann, godwin's law, hanna arendt, non-violent offenders, prison industrial complex, prisons, roger hollander, torture
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Roger’s note: Going back to my days protesting racism and the Vietnam War I have unapologetically used the word “fascist” or “neo-fascist” to describe aspects of the actions of the United States government. I am well aware of what the author of this article refers to as Godwin’s Law, that we dare not compare Americans to Nazis in polite company. I often try to think what it would have been like to have been an “ordinary” German citizen in the 1930s and 1940s. I imagine that one woke up in the morning, ate breakfast, sent the kids off to school, and then headed to whatever job she/he worked at. The sun came up in the morning and the moon at night. People ate, drank, partied, and, yes, they would also have discussed politics. Their discussions would have had a lot in common with how many Americans see themselves, that is, as victims. The reparations imposed by the Allies after WWI had created economic hardships that all Germans felt. That was their primary reality. Germans who were educated and who should have known better, would obviously been aware of the officially sanctioned antisemitism and other excesses of the Hitler regime. Some few would have protested and paid a price, other would have rationalized. How is this different, I ask, from American reaction the atrocities in my lifetime that have occurred as a direct or indirect result of U.S. government activity, including but not limited to Vietnam, Agent Orange, Latin American death squads, endemic racist, sexist and homophobic urban policing, the Bush/Cheney torture and rendition regime, the hundreds of thousands if not millions killed in the declared wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the men, women and children destroyed by American drone missiles?
This article focuses on the prison industrial complex, but I note that it fails to include a discussion of the privatization of a large segment of the prison industry, using prisoners as slave labor, and the various forms of torture including years to decades of solitary confinement.
Since this article if focused on criminal justice, it identifies only one of thousands of Eichmanns who spend your American tax dollars on destroying human life.
OpEdNews Op Eds 11/21/2013 at 19:44:02
Godwin’s Law is an assertion, widely credited to Mike Godwin of the Electronic Freedom Foundation, basically holding that a discussion essentially ends when a Nazi or Hitler analogy is raised and signals that the party making such a comparison has lost the argument. It is widely cited, particularly in the blogosphere, whenever the inevitable comparisons are made between current U.S. repressive/invasive procedures and those employed by an earlier repressive regime that according to Godwin, must remain nameless when discussing despicable state tactics.
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Godwin’s Law, credited to Mike Godwin, has diminished the discussion of parallels between current U.S. policy and Nazi Germany
Various players have different motives for promulgating Godwin’s Law. There are the victims of Nazi oppression who seek to ensure a unique place in history for themselves, and in order to do so must see that any other villainous regime is perceived to be relegated to a level no greater than penultimate evil. Then there are the regimes themselves which have a vested interest in quelling any embarrassing or unwanted comparisons. Regardless of the motivation, there seems to be little doubt that absurdities like Godwin’s Law do little to advance meaningful analysis and more likely stifle necessary and legitimate discourse.
An honest examination of the prison-industrial complex in the U.S. demands a total defenestration of Godwin’s Law and anything else interfering with the ability to compare the U.S. “justice” system with those of other similarly malevolent regimes. Those who seek to defend the status quo in the U.S. will reflexively cite the fact that Hitler, Stalin, Mao and others have killed more of their people, etc., but while true, this misses the real point and inherent maliciousness of the current situation in the U.S.
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Adolph Hitler is uniquely evil and exempt from comparison according to Godwin’s Law
Much of the damage done by the U.S. justice system is allowed to occur with little or no oversight as a result of the U.S.’s self-proclaimed role as the world’s moral arbiter. Indeed, much in the way in which Richard Nixon claimed that “when the president does it, that means it is not illegal,” it is now similarly asserted that if the U.S. does it, it must be permissible. Even the most egregious violations can be explained away by attributing their necessity to something as vague as “terrorism.” Godwin’s Law prevents the interjection of the historical fact that similar claims were made by another regime that relied upon comparable and similarly vague justifications.
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Adolph Eichmann was executed for crimes arising out of overseeing a network of prisons for the Third Reich
And so in the spirit of breaking free from the artificial constraints of Godwin, it can be straightforwardly reported that America has its own equivalent of Adolph Eichmann in the person of Charles E. Samuels, Jr., director of the federal Bureau of Prisons. There are obvious parallels between the governmental tasks performed by Eichmann and Samuels. Like Eichmann, he is responsible for the management of prisoner logistics, heading a nationwide network of gulags where enemies of the regime are dispatched for an ever-expanding variety of infractions, both real and imagined.
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Charles Samuels currently serves as the head of America’s vast network of federal gulags
Samuels, installed by President Barack Obama, is the first person of color to hold the post. This fact was widely celebrated by a fawning press following his installation but given that minorities are the largest victims of the prison-industrial complex in the U.S., placing a black man in the position was recognized by more seasoned observers as a cynical ploy to sugar-coat the face of systematically repressive mass incarceration.
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Despite promises of “hope and change,” the Department of Justice and Bureau of Prisons have only grown more repressive under the Obama regime
Samuels’ relatively unimpressive biography suggests he is merely another government functionary seeking sustenance at the public trough. There is nothing in his background which would indicate an extraordinary or unusual level of malice. In his mind he is most likely serving at his post in an unthinking and uncaring manner that is little different from the way in which millions of other government workers perform their assigned tasks. It is entirely possible that he fails to recognize the holocaust he has been entrusted to oversee and perpetuate, instead perceiving it to be nothing more than an element of a necessary state function.
Fifty years ago renowned sociologist Hanna Arendt penned her classic work, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Arendt’s work was revolutionary in its contention that evil in individuals mainly occurs as a result of thoughtlessness. Arendt wrote it was the tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without a critical evaluation of the consequences of their actions, even if it results in unspeakable crimes.
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Famed sociologist Hanna Arendt identified the banal nature of evil found in the likes of Eichmann and Samuels
It was the capture of Eichmann, widely considered at the time to be evil personified, and the reactions observed at his ensuing trial that caused Arendt to formulate her theory. She recognized that the evil being attributed to Eichmann was misplaced. Arendt viewed him as a mere cog in the wheel of an inherently evil system, performing his duties as would ordinarily be expected of any dutiful bureaucrat.
Performing horrific tasks in an organized and systematic way relies upon “normalization.” This is the process whereby such abominable and heinous acts become routine and are ultimately accepted as part of the process through which things are done. The process requires a division of labor in doing and rationalizing the unthinkable. The direct brutalization of people is performed by one set of individuals while others keep unrelated mechanisms of government functioning. Giving cover to the enterprise are supposed intellectuals and other pseudo experts who work through various media outlets to rationalize for the general public what would otherwise be unimaginable.
The media has certainly aided Samuels in efforts to make his endeavors palatable. Press accounts disseminated soon after his appointment credited “an interest in public service” as being what led him to take his first job as a federal prison guard. Samuels reportedly hails from a family of public servants, with a father who worked for the U.S. Postal Service and a mother who was employed by the Social Security Administration. Various media outlets reporting on Samuels’ appointment treated his position with the federal Bureau of Prisons as simply another civic minded endeavor. One article even went so far as to try and humanize his efforts by citing Samuels’ enjoyment of “chess, video games and reading books on a variety of topics.”
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Samuels rules over the largest network of prisons ever assembled
When he’s not reading or playing chess, Samuels oversees the largest network of prisons and prisoners that the world has ever seen. It is largely a retributive network in which nearly three quarters of those imprisoned are non-violent offenders with no history of violence. Mandatory sentencing, rampant federal prosecutorial misconduct and an absurd and patently illegitimate 99% conviction rate in U.S. federal courts guaranty a steady stream of prisoners for the facilities overseen by Samuels.
Many of the victims dispatched to Samuels’ custody find themselves imprisoned as a result of gross abuse of governmental power. People are targeted for prosecution for a variety of reasons, many of which bear no rational relationship to the commission of an offense. The system in which Samuels plays a key role tends to select targets for prosecution and then, after expending limitless resources, finds a suitable “crime” with which they can be charged. It operates much in the spirit of Lavrentiy Beria, head of Joseph Stalin’s secret police in the Soviet Union, who is alleged to have said, “Show me the man, and I’ll show you the crime.”
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The tactics of Lavrentiy Beria, head of Stalin’s secret police, have been embraced by the U.S. Department of Justice
The federal Bureau of Prisons, as overseen by Samuels, is viewed by many detractors as nothing more than another example of state sponsored terrorism. The bureau exists to inflict harm upon its victims and exact retribution from perceived enemies of the regime. Even the pretense of rehabilitation has long been abandoned. Recent press reports claim that there are thousands of people, convicted of non-violent offenses, who have been sentenced to die in prison. The mission of the bureau is to rigidly exact as much time as possible from each and every prisoner. Samuels has taken the task to heart, routinely denying various motions for the compassionate release of terminally ill prisoners and instructing that good time calculations be made in a fashion that cheats every federal prisoner out of seven days of freedom for each year served. Ever the loyal soldier, he holds that every discretionary situation must be resolved in accordance with the goal of ensuring that federal prisons are kept full, well above capacity.
While Arendt’s ideas on the nature of evil were generally rejected when first proposed, the success of subsequent U.S. efforts at wholesale systematic implementation of sanitized decimation through mass incarceration suggests she was years ahead of her time. A man like Samuels, despite the realities of his job description, is widely accepted as being no more villainous than any other high ranking bureaucrat. Much like his predecessor Eichmann asserted, Samuels is widely viewed as one who is doing nothing more than following orders and unquestioningly administering the will of the regime.
Eichmann’s reliance on the Nuremberg Defense in which he sought to deflect guilt by claiming he was “only following orders” was predictably unsuccessful. Despite its past failed applications, it seems inevitable that if Samuels’ day of reckoning comes where he is called to account for the crimes that occurred on his watch, he would invoke a similar defense.
Even Eichmann’s trial speech appears to have applicability to the potential jeopardy faced by Samuels.
“I cannot recognize the verdict of guilty. . . . It was my misfortune to become entangled in these atrocities. But these misdeeds did not happen according to my wishes. It was not my wish to slay people. . . . Once again I would stress that I am guilty of having been obedient, having subordinated myself to my official duties and the obligations of service and my oath of allegiance and my oath of office . . . At that time obedience was demanded, just as in the future it will also be demanded of the subordinate.”
History has demonstrated that this is a losing argument. Samuels, and others whose warped sense of duty impairs their ability to discern right from wrong, run the risk of being called to account. The tipping point is growing near as there are almost daily calls to reform the federal sentencing scheme. The bureau headed by Samuels will predictably defy such calls as bureaucracies tend to resist efforts to diminish their size and scope. Samuels’ unfettered fealty to the regime prevents him from seeing that the administration he heads is one which feeds on bodies. It can only grow by creating correspondingly greater death and misery. America, which leads all nations in number and percentage of people under lock and key, has its Eichmann.
We can stop private prisons September 4, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Race, Racism, Torture.
Tags: Criminal Justice, incarceration, prison privatization, private prisons, privatization, racism, roger hollander, torture
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The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, and the private prison industry is making a killing off this broken system. For-profit prison companies get paid for each person that fills their cells — raking in $5 billion in annual revenue.1 Empty beds mean lost profits, so to keep the money flowing the industry spends millions lobbying the government to expand the destructive policies that keep more people behind bars for longer, harsher sentences.2
Tragically, one-third of all Black men will spend part of their lives in prison.3 Meanwhile, for-profit prisons promote and exploit mass incarceration and racial-bias in the criminal justice system — further accelerating our nation’s prison addiction. We can stop this. The prison industry depends on corporate backers for the capital it needs to keep growing,4 and allies in government for contracts that fill their prisons. If we convince enough investors and board members to leave the industry, we can discredit incarceration as a business, bring attention to the harm it creates, and deter public officials from granting contracts to prison companies.
Please join us in urging investors and board members of for-profit prison companies to get out of this exploitative business. We’ll inform them of what they’re involved in, and if they refuse to do what’s right, we’ll hold them publicly accountable.
Federal agencies and state governments contract with three main companies to lock people up: Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), GEO Group, Inc., and the Management and Training Corporation (MTC). The top two prison companies, CCA and GEO, are publicly traded and financed by investors, major banks and corporations, who hold shares in the industry. CCA and GEO Group make money by charging a daily rate per body that is sent to them — costing tax payers billions for dangerous, ineffective facilities.5 The industry also makes money by avoiding tax payments. CCA will dodge $70 million dollars in tax payments this year by becoming a real estate investment trust (REIT) and designating their prisons as “residential”.6
In order to maximize profits, prison companies cut back on staff training, medical care, and rehabilitative services — causing assault rates to double in some private prisons.7 A 2010 ACLU lawsuit against CCA-run Idaho Correctional Center cited a management culture so violent the facility is known as the “gladiator school”.8 The industry also maximizes profits by lobbying for and benefiting from laws that put more people in jail. In the 1990’s CCA chaired the Criminal Justice Task force of shadowy corporate bill-mill, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which passed “3 strikes” and “truth in sentencing” laws that continue to send thousands of people to prison on very harsh sentences.9 Black folks are disproportionately subjected to these uniquely harsh conditions due to our extreme overrepresentation in the private prison system.10
In many parts of the country, the political tide is shifting against the for-profit prison industry. Earlier this summer, Kentucky, Texas, Idaho, and Mississippi broke ties with CCA after reports of chronic understaffing, inmate death, and rising costs to the states became undeniable.11 In April, New Hampshire rejected all private prison bids because the prison corporations could not show that they would follow legal requirements for safely housing prisoners.12 And, there is growing opposition to California Governor Jerry Brown’s misguided plan to comply with a Supreme Court order to alleviate the State’s prison overcrowding crisis by moving thousands of prisoners into private facilities, at a public cost of $1 billion over 3 years.13
The private prison industry should not control who is locked up, for how long, and at what price. For-profit prison companies have investors that cut across many industries. Some of these investors — wealthy individuals, major banks and financial companies — know exactly what they’re doing. But with enough pressure, they might reconsider whether it’s worth being known as profiting from exploitation and racism in the criminal justice system.
Profiting off the brutality and discrimination of incarceration is shameful. Please join us in calling on the investors and board members of for-profit prison companies to get out of this corrupt business.
Thanks and Peace,
–Rashad, Matt, Arisha, Aimée, William, Lyla and the rest of the ColorOfChange.org team
September 4th, 2013
Help support our work. ColorOfChange.org is powered by YOU—your energy and dollars. We take no money from lobbyists or large corporations that don’t share our values, and our tiny staff ensures your contributions go a long way.
1. “A Boom Behind Bars,” Bloomberg Businessweek, 03-17-2011
2. “Gaming the System,” (.pdf) Justice Policy Institute, 06-01-2011
3. “1 in 3 Black Men Go To Prison? The 10 Most Disturbing Facts About Racial Inequality in the U.S. Criminal Justice System,” AlterNet, 03-17-2012
4. “Private Prison Profits Skyrocket as Executives Assure Investors of Growing Offender Population,” ThinkProgress, 05-09-2013
5. “Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration,” (.pdf) ACLU, 11-01-2011
6. “The Legacy of Chattel Slavery: Private Prisons Blur the Line Between Real People and Real Estate With New IRS Property Gambit,” Truthout, 02-04-2013
7.”The Dirty Thirty: Nothing to Celebrate About 30 Years of Corrections Corporation of America,” (.pdf) Grassroots Leadership, 06-01-2013
8. “ACLU Lawsuit Charges Idaho Prison Officials Promote Rampant Violence,” ACLU, 03-11-2010
9. “Too Good to be True: Private Prisons in America,” (.pdf) 01-01-2012
10. “The Color of Corporate Corrections: Overrepresentation of People of Color in the Private Prison Industry,” Prison Legal News, 08-30-2013
11. “Three States Dump Major Private Prison Company in One Month” ThinkProgress, 06-21-2013
12.”New Hampshire Rejects All Private Prison Bids,” ThinkProgress, 04-05-2013
13. “Gov. Brown’s misguided private prison plan” SF Gate, 08-28-2013
The Business of Mass Incarceration July 29, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Race, Racism.
Tags: chris hedges, clinton administration, Criminal Justice, mass incarceration, prison industrial complex, prison population, private prisons, roger hollander, three strikes
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Debbie Bourne, 45, was at her apartment in the Liberty Village housing projects in Plainfield, N.J., on the afternoon of April 30 when police banged on the door and pushed their way inside. The officers ordered her, her daughter, 14, and her son, 22, who suffers from autism, to sit down and not move and then began ransacking the home. Bourne’s husband, from whom she was estranged and who was in the process of moving out, was the target of the police, who suspected him of dealing cocaine. As it turned out, the raid would cast a deep shadow over the lives of three innocents—Bourne and her children.
* * *
The murder of a teenage boy by an armed vigilante, George Zimmerman, is only one crime set within a legal and penal system that has criminalized poverty. Poor people, especially those of color, are worth nothing to corporations and private contractors if they are on the street. In jails and prisons, however, they each can generate corporate revenues of $30,000 to $40,000 a year. This use of the bodies of the poor to make money for corporations fuels the system of neoslavery that defines our prison system.
Prisoners often work inside jails and prisons for nothing or at most earn a dollar an hour. The court system has been gutted to deny the poor adequate legal representation. Draconian drug laws send nonviolent offenders to jail for staggering periods of time. Our prisons routinely use solitary confinement, forms of humiliation and physical abuse to keep prisoners broken and compliant, methods that international human rights organizations have long defined as torture. Individuals and corporations that profit from prisons in the United States perpetuate a form of neoslavery. The ongoing hunger strike by inmates in the California prison system is a slave revolt, one that we must encourage and support. The fate of the poor under our corporate state will, if we remain indifferent and passive, become our own fate. This is why on Wednesday I will join prison rights activists, including Cornel West and Michael Moore, in a one-day fast in solidarity with the hunger strike in the California prison system.
In poor communities where there are few jobs, little or no vocational training, a dearth of educational opportunities and a lack of support structures there are, by design, high rates of recidivism—the engine of the prison-industrial complex. There are tens of millions of poor people for whom this country is nothing more than a vast, extended penal colony. Gun possession is largely criminalized for poor people of color while vigilante thugs, nearly always white, swagger through communities with loaded weapons. There will never be serious gun control in the United States. Most white people know what their race has done to black people for centuries. They know that those trapped today in urban ghettos, what Malcolm X called our internal colonies, endure neglect, poverty, violence and deprivation. Most whites are terrified that African-Americans will one day attempt to defend themselves or seek vengeance. Scratch the surface of survivalist groups and you uncover frightened white supremacists.
The failure on the part of the white liberal class to decry the exploding mass incarceration of the poor, and especially of African-Americans, means that as our empire deteriorates more and more whites will end up in prison alongside those we have condemned because of our indifference. And the mounting abuse of the poor is fueling an inchoate rage that will eventually lead to civil unrest.
“Again I say that each and every Negro, during the last 300 years, possesses from that heritage a greater burden of hate for America than they themselves know,” Richard Wright wrote. “Perhaps it is well that Negroes try to be as unintellectual as possible, for if they ever started really thinking about what happened to them they’d go wild. And perhaps that is the secret of whites who want to believe that Negroes have no memory; for if they thought that Negroes remembered they would start out to shoot them all in sheer self-defense.”
The United States has spent $300 billion since 1980 to expand its prison system. We imprison 2.2 million people, 25 percent of the world’s prison population. For every 100,000 adults in this country there are 742 behind bars. Five million are on parole. Only 30 to 40 percent are white.
The intrusion of corporations and private contractors into the prison system is a legacy of the Clinton administration. President Bill Clinton’s omnibus crime bill provided $30 billion to expand the prison system, including $10 billion to build prisons. The bill expanded from two to 58 the number of federal crimes for which the death penalty can be administered. It eliminated a ban on the execution of the mentally impaired. The bill gave us the “three-strikes” laws that mandate life sentences for anyone convicted of three “violent” felonies. It set up the tracking of sex offenders. It allowed the courts to try children as young as 13 as adults. It created special courts to deport noncitizens alleged to be “engaged in terrorist activity” and authorized the use of secret evidence. The prison population under Clinton swelled from 1.4 million to 2 million.
Incarceration has become a very lucrative business for an array of private contractors, most of whom send lobbyists to Washington to make sure the laws and legislation continue to funnel a steady supply of poor people into the prison complex. These private contractors, taking public money, build the prisons, provide food service, hire guards and run and administer detention facilities. It is imperative to their profits that there be a steady supply of new bodies.
* * *
Bourne has worked for 13 years as a locker room assistant in the Plainfield school system. She works five hours a day. She does not have medical benefits. She struggles to take care of a daughter in fragile health and a disabled son.
Bourne and her children sat terrified that April afternoon in their apartment. After about 10 minutes four more police officers arrived with her husband. His clothes were torn and disheveled. His face was swollen and bruised. He was handcuffed. “He looked like he been beat up,” she said.
“They were telling him, tell us where you have the stuff at, the drugs at,” Bourne said when we met at a prison support group I help run at the Second Presbyterian Church in Elizabeth, N.J. “Tell us where you have the stuff at ’cause if you don’t we are going to handcuff her and the kids. And you be a man, you know, you know be a man and tell so we … don’t have to handcuff her and the kids. And he told them they [she and the children] have nothing to do with this, and there’s nothing in the house.”
The police took her husband to the kitchen. “They were hittin’ him in the kitchen,” she said, “punchin’ him, like in the stomach. Like by his ribs. He was saying they don’t have nothin’ to do with it, you know, they don’t.”
She could hear the officers repeating: “Where are the drugs?” They beat him for about 10 minutes, she said. The police then went into the living room and handcuffed Bourne and her son and daughter. They took her husband out of the apartment. Three officers remained until a K-9 dog unit arrived. The police removed the handcuffs and took Bourne and her children into the kitchen. A dog was guided around the living room and then coaxed up the stairs to the bedrooms, where it stayed for five minutes before being brought back down. The police remained in the bedrooms about 30 minutes.
Bourne heard banging sounds. She heard one of the officers say: “We found drugs in a black boot.” Her husband’s boots had been in a plastic bag with his clothes in preparation for his moving out of the apartment.
Although not under arrest, Bourne was taken to the police station, where she filled out forms and was fingerprinted. No charge was filed against her at the time. Two hours later the police drove her home. It would be weeks before Bourne learned—in an indirect way—that she, too, would face the possibility of jail time because of the raid.
When Bourne returned home that spring night, “It looked like a tornado had went through my bedroom. Everything was piled on top of each other. The TV was broken. It had been pushed over on the floor. I had my cellular phone charging in the socket—the charger was ripped out the socket. There were nails holes [made by the police] in the wall. You could see little dots, probably about six, seven, 10. The computer was pushed over on the ground. The cable was pull out the TV. The blinds was removed. The shades were removed from the windows. The containers that I have clothes in was all thrown on the bed. The dresser drawers were sitting high on top the bed.”
“I felt violated,” she said. “Very violated. I felt that if [they] wanted him so bad, why destroy my stuff?”
In cleaning up she found that her wedding and engagement rings, kept on the top of her dresser in a small box from Macy’s, had disappeared. She soon found that other items were missing.
“They took video games that I bought for my kids that was packaged inside a closet in a shoe box,” Bourne said. “They took a remote control that go with one of the game systems. I had collectible like coins that I bought way back. That was gone.”
She had seen police leaving the apartment with a yellow plastic container that had a new Acer computer she had bought for her cousin. “I had told them, ‘Where are you going with that computer?’ ” she said. The police immediately returned it.
Her husband is in Union County Jail in Elizabeth. He is charged with possession of drugs in public housing and possession of drugs in a school zone. When Bourne spoke to him by phone he told her the police had taken $900 he had in his pocket and that he had $2,000 in the apartment closet. When she checked the closet the money was not there. The police report in Bourne’s possession claims the officers confiscated $134 from the apartment and $734 from her husband. There was no mention of the other missing items, including her rings.
When Bourne was in court for her husband’s arraignment in early July she was stunned to hear the prosecutor tell the court that cocaine was also found by the police in a pocket of her jeans.
She told me she was not wearing jeans at the time. She said she does not take or sell drugs. And she pointed out that the police report, which she showed to me, never mentioned finding drugs on her person. After being charged she met with a public defender who told her that she should urge her husband to confess that the cocaine was his. If he does not, Bourne could face six years in jail.
The state-appointed attorney, with whom Bourne spent less than 15 minutes, told her to stay out of trouble. She has never been arrested at any time in her life. She said the encounter with the lawyer left her feeling “degraded.”
“I have two kids,” she said. “I’m 45. Why would I be trying to go to jail? That’s not me, that’s not how I was brought up. My daughter is sick. My son has a disability. I’m the only one that take care of both of them.”
If she goes to jail it will be catastrophic for her children. But this is not a new story. It happens to families every day in our gulag state. Bourne is one human being among hundreds of thousands routinely sacrificed for corporate greed. Her tragedy is of no concern to private contractors or supine judges and elected officials. They do not work for her. They do not work for us. They are corporate employees. And they know something Bourne is just discovering: Incarceration in America is a business.
George Zimmerman, Not Guilty: Blood on the Leaves July 14, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Florida, Race, Racism.
Tags: Criminal Justice, florida racism, george zimmerman, jelani cobb, justice, Race, racism, racism history, trayvon martin, US racism, zimmerman not guilty, zimmerman trial
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Roger’s note: add WWB (walking while Black) to DWB (driving while Black) to the list of booby trapped “crimes” that Black Americans face every day. After being stalked and harassed, young Trayvon Martin is found guilty (posthumously) by a 5/6 White jury of assaulting Zimmerman to the point where he (young Trayvon, walking home from buying some snacks) “justifiably” had his young life snuffed out . Trayvon was not unarmed, according to the Zimmerman defense, the sidewalk was his weapon. It would be laughable if it were not truly disgusting. The shameless defense lawyers went to the ridiculous extreme of showing the jury a slab of concrete sidewalk. Virtually every African American lives in an Alice in Wonderland world of execution first, trial later. SHAME.
The not-guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial came down moments after I left a screening of “Fruitvale Station,” a film about the police-shooting death of Oscar Grant four years ago in Oakland. Much of the audience sat quietly sobbing as the closing credits rolled, moved by the narrative of a young black man, unarmed and senselessly gone. Words were not needed to express a common understanding: to Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin, the seventeen-year-old he shot, fit the description; for black America, the circumstances of his death did.
The familiarity dulled the sharp edges of the tragedy. The decision the six jurors reached on Saturday evening will inspire anger, frustration, and despair, but little surprise, and this is the most deeply saddening aspect of the entire affair. From the outset— throughout the forty-four days it took for there to be an arrest, and then in the sixteen months it took to for the case to come to trial—there was a nagging suspicion that it would culminate in disappointment. Call this historical profiling.
The most damning element here is not that George Zimmerman was found not guilty: it’s the bitter knowledge that Trayvon Martin was found guilty. During his cross examination of Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, the defense attorney Mark O’Mara asked if she was avoiding the idea that her son had done something to cause his own death. During closing arguments, the defense informed the jury that Martin was armed because he weaponized a sidewalk and used it to bludgeon Zimmerman. During his post-verdict press conference, O’Mara said that, were his client black, he would never have been charged. At the defense’s table, and in the precincts far beyond it where donors have stepped forward to contribute funds to underwrite their efforts, there is a sense that Zimmerman was the victim.
“The most damning element here is not that George Zimmerman was found not guilty: it’s the bitter knowledge that Trayvon Martin was found guilty.”
O’Mara’s statement echoed a criticism that began circulating long before Martin and Zimmerman encountered each other. Thousands of black boys die at the hands of other African Americans each year, but the black community, it holds, is concerned only when those deaths are caused by whites. It’s an appealing argument, and widespread, but it’s simplistic and obtuse. It’s a belief most easily held when you’ve not witnessed peace rallies and makeshift memorials, when you’ve turned a blind eye to grassroots organizations like the Interrupters in Chicago, who are working valiantly to stem the tide of violence in that city. It is the thinking of people who’ve never wondered why African Americans disproportionately support strict gun-control legislation. The added quotient of outrage in cases like this one stems not from the belief that a white murderer is somehow worse than a black one but from the knowledge that race determines whether fear, history, and public sentiment offer that killer a usable alibi.
The thousands who gathered last spring in New York, in St. Louis, in Philadelphia, in Miami, and in Washington, D.C., to demand Zimmerman’s arrest shared a narrative and an understanding of the past’s grip on the present. Long before the horrifying images of Martin lying prone and lifeless in the grass ever made their way to Gawker, he’d already begun inspiring references to the line about “blood on the leaves” from Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.” Those crowds were the response of people who understand that history is interred in the shallowest of graves.
Yet the problem is not that this case marks a low point in this country’s racial history—it’s that, after two centuries of common history, we’re still obligated to chart high points and low ones. To be black at times like this is to see current events on a real-time ticker, a Dow Jones average measuring the quality of one’s citizenship. Trayvon Martin’s death is an American tragedy, but it will mainly be understood as an African-American one. That it occurred in a country that elected and reëlected a black President doesn’t diminish the despair this verdict inspires, it intensifies it. The fact that such a thing can happen at a moment of unparalleled political empowerment tells us that events like these are a hard, unchanging element of our landscape.
We can understand the verdict to mean validation for the idea that the actions Zimmerman took that night were those of a reasonable man, that the conclusions he drew were sound, and that a black teen-ager can be considered armed any time he is walking down a paved street. We can take from this trial the knowledge that a grieving family was capable of displaying inestimable reserves of grace. Following the verdict, Sybrina Fulton posted a benediction to Twitter: “Lord during my darkest hour I lean on you. You are all that I have. At the end of the day, GOD is still in control.” The Twitter account of Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, features an image of him holding Trayvon as a toddler, a birthday hat perched on the boy’s head. At the trial, they sat through a grim procession of autopsy photos and audio of the gunshot that ended their son’s life. No matter the verdict, their simple pursuit of justice meant amplifying the trauma of their loss by some unknowable exponent.
There’s fear that the verdict will embolden vigilantes, but that need not be the concern: history has already done that. You don’t have to recall specifics of everything that has transpired in Florida over the past two hundred years to recognize this. The details of Rosewood, the black town terrorized and burned to the ground in 1923, and of Groveland and the black men falsely accused of rape and murdered there in 1949, can remain obscure and retain sway over our present concerns. Names—like Claude Neal, lynched in 1934, and Harry and Harriette Moore, N.A.A.C.P. organizers in Mims County, killed by a firebomb in 1951—can be overlooked. What cannot be forgotten, however, is that there were no consequences for those actions.
Perhaps history does not repeat itself exactly, but it is certainly prone to extended paraphrases. Long before the jury announced its decision, many people had seen what the outcome would be, had known that it would be a strange echo of the words Zimmerman uttered that rainy night in central Florida: they always get away.
Tags: california prisons, Criminal Justice, human rights, hunger strike, pelican bay, roger hollander, solitary confinement, torture, victoria law
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The strikers are calling for an end to long-term solitary confinement and better prison conditions.
On Monday, July 8, prisoners at the Security Housing Unit (SHU) in California’s Pelican Bay State Prison began a mass hunger strike to protest long-term solitary confinement. It is not the first time such an action has taken place. In 2011, prisoners staged two separate hunger strikes to protest their continued placement in long-term solitary confinement.
Hunger strikers issued five core demands:
1. Eliminate group punishments for individual rules violations.
2. Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria.
3. Comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement.
4. Provide adequate food.
5. Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates.
During the first hunger strike, in July 2011, at least 1,035 of the SHU’s 1,111 inmates refused food. The strike spread to thirteen other state prisons and involved at least 6,600 people incarcerated throughout California. The second strike, in September 2011, spread to twelve prisons within California as well as to prisons in Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma that housed California prisoners. By the third day, nearly 12,000 people were participating. The strike ended after the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) promised a comprehensive review of all SHU prisoners validated as gang members or associates.
Now prisoners are striking again. They charge that in the intervening two years the CDCR has not addressed any of these demands, and they have called for a mass hunger strike combined with a nonviolent work stoppage. “Once initiated, this protest will continue indefinitely—until all Five (5) Core Demands are fully met,” they declared. By the second day of the strike, almost 30,000 California prisoners were taking part.
The 2011 hunger strikes mobilized family members as well. For many, this is their first foray into political organizing, even though their loved ones have spent years locked in windowless cells nearly twenty-four hours a day.
Dolores Canales’s son Johnny has spent thirteen years in the SHU. Canales herself has had firsthand experience with solitary confinement. During her own imprisonment, she spent nine months in the Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU) at the California Institute for Women, where she was confined to her cell twenty-two hours a day. “There, I had a window. The guards would take me out to the yard everyday. I’d get to go out to the yard with other people,” she recalled. But being in solitary confinement still took its toll: “There’s an anxiety that overcomes you in the middle of the night because you’re so locked in,” she described. Even after being moved from segregation, Canales was unable to shake that anxiety. She broke into a sweat and panicked each time she saw a group of officers even though she had broken no rules. “I just can’t forget.”
In contrast to his mother’s experience, Johnny spends nearly twenty-four hours a day in a windowless cell. Food is delivered twice a day through a slot in the cell door. The “yard” he is taken to for solitary exercise consists of a cement yard the length of three cells with a roof only partially open to the sky. Johnny never sees the sun.
Over 1,000 people are held in the SHU, and more than half have spent over a decade there. Prison administrators place people in the SHU either for a fixed term for violating a prison rule or for an indeterminate term because they have been accused of membership in a prison gang. Accusations often rely on confidential informants and circumstantial evidence, such as tattoos or possessing certain books. Prison administrators also place prisoners in the SHU on accusations of gang association, again relying on circumstantial evidence such as being seen speaking with an alleged gang member on the housing unit, associating with prisoners of similar background or racial group or possessing literatures associated with political ideologies (such as the Black Panther Party).
Until recently, alleged gang members are released from the SHU only if they “debrief” or provide information incriminating other prisoners. Debriefing can be dangerous to both the prisoner who debriefs and his family on the outside. In addition, prisoners can be falsely identified as gang members by others who debrief in order to escape the SHU. One does not necessarily need to be a gang member or associate to be sent to the SHU: jailhouse lawyers and others who challenge inhumane prison conditions are disproportionately sent to the SHU. Johnny was one of those jailhouse lawyers. “He’s assisted with legal work for alleged associates charged with being in gangs,” his mother stated.
In May 2011, Johnny began sending his mother letters that he asked her to forward to the governor. The letters declared that Johnny and others were going on hunger strike on July 1, 2011, to protest SHU conditions and their indefinite terms within the SHU.
The day the strike began, Canales attended a rally in Los Angeles. “I had no intention of getting involved in organizing,” she recalled. “I just wanted to find out what was going on. I was asked to speak, and I read a letter from Johnny.”
That was Canales’s entry into organizing. “We [family members] started meeting every other day. More and more family members were coming out, sharing stories of their loved ones in different prisons and jails who were on hunger strike.”
In Oakland, Marie Levin was also galvanized into action by the hunger strike. In 2011, Levin had not seen her brother, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, for over fifteen years. Shortly before the strike, Carol Strickman, an attorney with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, visited her, bringing an audiotape in which Jamaa talked about his decision to go on hunger strike. Moved, Levin then attended a solidarity rally in San Francisco. “I was activated after going to that rally,” she recalled. Like Canales, this was her entry into political organizing. She joined Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity (PHSS), a coalition of lawyers, advocates and family members. “It was overwhelming at first,” she remembered. “I found out so much information I didn’t know about. Not just about SHU conditions, they were talking about the Black Panthers and history that I didn’t know.” But Levin continued to attend.
Family members, advocates and supporters have held rallies and vigils in various cities to draw public attention. On July 18, 200 family members, lawyers and supporters from across California converged upon CDCR headquarters in Sacramento to deliver a petition with over 7,500 signatures in support of the hunger strikers. They then marched to Governor Brown’s office to demand answers.
The hunger strike lasted three weeks, ending after CDCR officials promised changes. Hunger strikers suspended the strike to allow CDCR a grace period to fulfill their promises. In the meantime, family members continued to speak out about SHU conditions. “We were going to churches, universities, anywhere,” Canales recollected. “I can be on line at the bank and I’ll talk to people. I’ll pull out a picture of the SHU cell and the closed-in yard.” When the California Assembly’s Public Safety Commission held a hearing on SHU conditions in August 2011, Levin and other family members attended and testified about the need for substantial changes to SHU policies and practices. Levin also helped build a mock SHU cell, which they brought to rallies, vigils and speaking events.
When prisoners renewed their hunger strike in September 2011, Canales and other family members started California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement. “A lot of family members work full-time jobs, so the organizing is all in our spare time even though we have families, jobs, etc.” They continued to speak out about SHU conditions. In the Bay Area, Levin and other PHSS members have brought the mock SHU to the city’s parks, universities and vigils.
The second hunger strike ended on October 13, 2011, after the CDCR agreed to a comprehensive review of all SHU prisoners validated as gang members or associates. Family members continued to keep public attention on Pelican Bay. They held rallies in front of the Los Angeles County Jail. They have continued weekly candlelight vigils in cities throughout California. When Senator Dick Durbin held hearings on solitary confinement in June 2012, they traveled to Washington, DC, in a show of support.
They also began coordinating to enable loved ones to visit Pelican Bay. Canales applied five times for permission to visit her son, who was in the SHU at Corcoran State Prison. Each time, her application was denied because of her conviction record. When she was finally approved, Johnny had been transferred to Pelican Bay, thirteen miles from the California-Oregon border, making the trip more time-consuming and expensive for Canales, who, like many family members, lives in Southern California. Organizing with other family members, she learned that this distance prohibited others from seeing their loved ones. “I try to bring other family members up when I’m driving.”
Although Marie Levin lives in the Bay Area, 370 miles closer to Pelican Bay, the cost and distance have also prevented her from visiting her brother for years. Levin credits the hunger strike with bringing together various families who pool resources. “The support that I’ve gotten from the women who go up there has been a blessing. I can carpool with them, we share the [hotel] rooms together, and we share all the costs. We room as if we were family.” She adds, “In the past, we did not have that.”
California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement also organized larger group visits. On November 19, 2012, the group brought three vans of family members to the prison. Less than one month later, on December 7, 2012, they chartered a bus, half of which were children. The group has since organized several caravans that enable family members to visit their incarcerated loved ones, some for the first time in years.
Family members near the prison in Crescent City have also opened their homes to those traveling from further away. Canales credits this hospitality to the Pelican Bay prisoners’ call to end racial hostilities. “If we really want to bring about substantive meaningful changes to the CDCR system…now is the time for us to collectively seize this moment in time and put an end to more than twenty to thirty years of hostilities between our racial groups,” SHU prisoners announced in August 2012. “Beginning on October 10, 2012, all hostilities between our racial groups…in SHU, Ad-Seg, General Population, and CountyJails, will officially cease.”
“It’s real,” stated Canales. “I’ve stayed in the homes of family members of every alleged organization when I’ve gone to visit. I wouldn’t be able to do that if the cease-fire wasn’t real.”
In Fall 2012, the CDCR unveiled its stepdown program. Under the program, even those who have spent years in the SHU may still be required to spend two to three additional years in solitary confinement. The debriefing program remains in place. Groups of three or more can be labeled as Security Threat Groups, warranting SHU placement. Prisoners, family members and concerned advocates have criticized the program, stating that the program does not address the five core demands and instead expands the criteria for people eligible for SHU placement.
On February 14, 2013, prisoners at Pelican Bay’s SHU announced a renewed hunger strike, combined with a work strike, to begin July 8. This time, they promise to go “all the way” if the CDCR does not meet their five core demands. They demand that the CDCR sign a consent decree spelling out the specific terms of the policies they will enact. In addition, they have issued an additional forty demands, which include prohibiting official sanctions for hunger strike participation as well as improving conditions in the SHU and in general population. On June 20, 2013, prisoners reaffirmed their decision to hunger strike after a court-ordered mediation session with CDCR officials.
In Oakland, Marie Levin and her husband Randy have organized monthly vigils. They bring the mock SHU and invite people to step inside. “A large part of it is ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ People don’t think about the conditions under which people [in prison] have to live. It’s up to me and others to educate them so they know what’s going on.” Levin notes that the public reaction when confronted with the mock SHU cell has generally been outrage and horror. “The majority of people realize this is wrong.”
In April, Levin also began fasting three days each week. “The purpose was to pray for change from the governor, CDCR officials, the Public Safety Commission, the Assembly, even the officials at Pelican Bay.” She ended her fast in June, but plans to fast again this July 4 and may participate in a rolling fast—in which outside supporters fast for one day in solidarity with the hunger strikers. Family members are also planning a caravan and solidarity rally to Corcoran State Prison, which has its own SHU, for Saturday, July 13.
Both Canales and Levin hope that meaningful change will occur before the hunger strike begins. “As a mother, I don’t want them to put their bodies through this,” Canales said. “But these men have come to a point where there’s no turning back.”