End Racist Mass Incarceration
Voice of Revolution salutes the Georgia prisoners' strike prisoners and their stand for their rights. During the strike thousands of inmates in at least six Georgia prisons refused to leave their cells, demanding wages for work, education and self-improvement programs, medical care, better access to their families and more. The united stand of the prisoners and their organized strike are an important contribution to the struggle for the rights of all. We urge all to join in supporting this just fight and in demanding an end to racist mass incarceration, the genocide of today directed mainly against African Americans. Black Agenda Report has been providing regular updates and we encourage our readers to follow developments, call the Georgia Department of Corrections, join demonstrations and assist in informing the public about prisoners’ struggles and rights. We reprint below three articles by Bruce Dixon, blackagendareport.com.
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In an action which is unprecedented on several levels, black, brown and white inmates of Georgia's notorious state prison system are standing together for a historic one day peaceful strike today, during which they are remaining in their cells, refusing work and other assignments and activities. This is a groundbreaking event not only because inmates are standing up for themselves and their own human rights, but because prisoners are setting an example by reaching across racial boundaries which, in prisons, have historically been used to pit oppressed communities against each other.
The action is taking place today in at least half a dozen of Georgia's more than one hundred state prisons, correctional facilities, work camps, county prisons and other correctional facilities. We have unconfirmed reports that authorities at Macon State prison have aggressively responded to the strike by sending tactical squads in to rough up and menace inmates.
Here is the press release from the prisoners:
Biggest Prisoner Strike In U.S. History
Thousands of Georgia Prisoners to Stage Peaceful Protest
On December 9, 2010, thousands of Georgia prisoners will refuse to work, stop all other activities and remain in their cells in a peaceful, one-day protest for their human rights. The December 9 Strike is projected to be the biggest prisoner protest in the history of the United States.
These thousands of men, from Baldwin, Hancock, Hays, Macon, Smith and Telfair State Prisons, among others, state they are striking to press the Georgia Department of Corrections (“DOC”) to stop treating them like animals and slaves and institute programs that address their basic human rights. They have set forth the following demands:
• A Living Wage For Work: In violation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude, the DOC demands prisoners work for free.
• Educational Opportunities: For the great majority of prisoners, the DOC denies all opportunities for education beyond the GED, despite the benefit to both prisoners and society.
• Decent Health Care: In violation of the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments, the DOC denies adequate medical care to prisoners, charges excessive fees for the most minimal care and is responsible for extraordinary pain and suffering.
• An End To Cruel And Unusual Punishments: In further violation of the 8th Amendment, the DOC is responsible for cruel prisoner punishments for minor infractions of rules.
• Decent Living Conditions: Georgia prisoners are confined in over-crowded, substandard conditions, with little heat in winter and oppressive heat in summer.
• Nutritional Meals: Vegetables and fruit are in short supply in DOC facilities while starches and fatty foods are plentiful.
• Vocational And Self-Improvement Opportunities: The DOC has stripped its facilities of all opportunities for skills training, self-improvement and proper exercise.
• Access To Families: The DOC has disconnected thousands of prisoners from their families by imposing excessive telephone charges and innumerable barriers to visitation.
• Just Parole Decisions: The Parole Board capriciously and regularly denies parole to the majority of prisoners despite evidence of eligibility.
Prisoner leaders issued the following call: No more slavery. Injustice in one place is injustice to all. Inform your family to support our cause. Lock down for liberty!
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Outside calls from concerned citizens and news media will tend to stay the hand of prison authorities that may tend to react with reckless and brutal aggression. So calls to the warden's office of the following Georgia State Prisons expressing concern for the welfare of the prisoners during this and the next few days are welcome.
• Macon State Prison is 978-472-3900.
• Hays State Prison is at (706) 857-0400
• Telfair State prison is 229-868-7721
• Baldwin State Prison is at (478) 445- 5218
• Valdosta State Prison is 229-333-7900
• Smith State Prison is at (912) 654-5000
•The Georgia Department of Corrections is at http://www.dcor.state.ga.us and their phone number is 478-992-5246
The prisoner strike in Georgia is unique, sources among inmates and their families say, because it includes not just black prisoners, but Latinos and whites too, a departure from the usual sharp racial divisions that exist behind prison walls. Inmate families and other sources claim that when thousands of prisoners remained in their cells Thursday, authorities responded with violence and intimidation.
Tactical officers rampaged through Telfair State Prison destroying inmate personal effects and severely beating at least six prisoners. Inmates in Macon State Prison say authorities cut the prisoners’ hot water, and at Telfair the administration shut off heat Thursday when daytime temperatures were in the 30s. Prisoners responded by screening their cells with blankets, keeping prison authorities from performing an accurate count, a crucial aspect of prison operations. As of Friday, inmates at several prisons say they are committed to continuing the strike. “We are going to ride it,” the inmate press release quotes one, “till the wheels fall off. We want our human rights.”
The peaceful inmate strike is being led from within the prison. Some of those thought to be its leaders have been placed under close confinement.
The nine specific demands made by Georgia’s striking prisoners in two press releases pointedly reflect many of the systemic failures of the U.S. regime of mass incarceration, and the utter disconnection of U.S. prisons from any notions of protecting or serving the public interest. Prisoners are demanding, in their own words, decent living conditions, adequate medical care and nutrition, educational and self-improvement opportunities, just parole decisions, just parole decisions, an end to cruel and unusual punishments, and better access to their families.
Georgia operates the fifth-largest prison system in the nation, at a cost of $1 billion a year. It ranks ninth in population among all states.
It is a fact that Georgia prisons skimp on medical care and nutrition behind the walls, and that in Georgia’s prisons recreational facilities are non-existent, and there are no educational programs available beyond GED, with the exception of a single program that trains inmates to be Baptist ministers. Inmates know that upon their release they will have no more education than they did when they went in, and will be legally excluded from Pell Grants and most kinds of educational assistance, they and their families potentially locked into a disadvantaged economic status for life.
Despite the single biggest predictor of successful reintegration into society being sustained contact with family and community, Georgia’s prison authorities make visits and family contact needlessly difficult and expensive. Georgia no longer allows families to send funds via U.S. postal money orders to inmates. It requires families to send money through J-Pay, a private company that rakes off nearly ten percent of all transfers.
Telephone conversations between Georgia prisoners and their families are also profit centers for another prison contractor, Global Tel-Link which extracts about $55 a month for a weekly 15 minute phone call from cash-strapped families. It is hard to imagine why the state cannot operate reliable payment and phone systems for inmates and their families at lower cost, except that this would put contractors, who probably make hefty contributions to local politicians out of business.
Besides being big business, prisons are public policy. The U.S. has less than five percent of the world’s population, but accounts for almost a quarter of its prisoners. African Americans are one eighth of this nation’s population, but make up almost half the locked down. The nation’s prison population increased more than 450 percent in a generation beginning about 1981. It was not about crime rates, because those went up, and then back down. It was not about rates of drug use, since African Americans have the same rates of drug use as whites and Latinos. Since the 1980s, the nation has undertaken a well-documented policy of mass incarceration, focused primarily though not exclusively on African Americans.
America’s policy of mass incarceration is overdue for real and sustained public scrutiny. A movement has to be built on both sides of the walls that will demand an end to the prison industry and to the American policy of mass incarceration. That movement will have to be outside the Republican and Democratic parties. Both are responsible for building this system, and both rely on it to sustain their careers. The best Democrats could do on the 100 to 1 crack to powder cocaine disparity this year, with a black president in the White House and majorities in the House and Senate was to reduce it to 18 to 1, and then only by lengthening the sentences for powder cocaine. On this issue, Democrats and Republicans are part of the problem, not the solution.
The prisoners are asking the public to continue to call the Georgia Department of Corrections, and the individual prisons to express concern for the welfare of the prisoners.
Prison is about corruption, power and isolation. You can help break the isolation by calling the wardens’ offices at the prisons. Prisons, naturally, are open Saturdays and Sundays too.
(Bruce Dixon, Black Agenda Report)
Georgia prisoners who began a courageous, peaceful and nonviolent protest strike for educational opportunities, wages for their work, medical care and human rights have captured the attention of the world...The historic strike of Georgia prisoners, demanding wages for their labor, educational opportunities, adequate health care and nutrition, and better conditions is entering a new phase. Strikers remain firm in their demands for full human rights, though after several days many have emerged from their cells, if only to take hot showers and hot food. Many of these, however, are still refusing their involuntary and unpaid work assignments.
A group that includes relatives, friends and a broad range of supporters of the prisoners on the outside has emerged. They are seeking to sit down with Georgia correctional officials this week to discuss how some of the just demands of inmates can begin to be implemented. Initially, Georgia-based representatives of this coalition supporting the prisoner demands included the Georgia NAACP, the Nation of Islam, the National Association for Radical Prison Reform, the Green Party of Georgia, and the Ordinary Peoples Society among others. Civil rights attorneys, ministers, community organizations and other prisoner advocates are also joining the group, which calls itself the Concerned Coalition to Protect Prisoner Rights.
Prisoners have stood up for themselves and the communities they come from are lining up to support them. Today, at a groundbreaking for a private prison 300 miles southeast of Atlanta in Millen Georgia, residents of that local community opposed to the private prison are greeting the governor and corrections brass with a protest. They will be joined by dozens more coming in from Atlanta who will urge state authorities to talk to the prisoners. We understand that one person there has been arrested.
The broad-based Concerned Coalition to Protect Prisoners Rights fully supports the heroic stand of Georgia's prisoners. One representative of the coalition explained, “ We hope state corrections officials will be as peaceful and respectful as the prisoners have been, and start a good faith dialog about quickly addressing their concerns.”
Right now, the ball is in the hands of state corrections officials, and reports are that in some of the affected prisons, authorities are fumbling that ball, engaging in retaliation against the prisoners. “They transferred some of the high Muslims here to max already,” one prisoner told Black Agenda Report this morning. “They want to break up the unity we have here. We have the Crips and the Bloods, we have the Muslims, we have the head Mexicans, and we have the Aryans all with a peaceful understanding, all on common ground. We all want to be paid for our work, and we all want education in here. There's people in here who can't even read...They're trying to provoke people to violence in here, but we're not letting that happen. We just want our human rights.”
The transfers are intended to deprive groups of leadership and demoralize them. In some cases they may be having the opposite effect, stiffening prisoner morale and making room for still more leaders to emerge.
“The prisoners insist that punitive transfers are an act of bad faith, the opposite of what we should be doing,” said Minister Charles Muhammad, of the Nation of Islam in Atlanta. “The coalition supports them and demands no punitive transfers, either within or between institutions, and absolutely no transfers to institutions outside Georgia.”
Members of the public should continue to call the prisons listed below, and the GA Department of Corrections and the office of Georgia's governor, Sonny Perdue. Ask them firmly but respectfully to resolve the situation non-violently and without punitive measures. Tell them you believe prisoners deserve wages for work and education. Ask them to talk to prisoners and the communities they come from.
It is simple. With one in twelve Georgia adults in jail or prison, parole or probation or other court and correctional supervision, prisoners are us. They are our families. They are our fathers and our mothers, our sons and daughters, our nieces and nephews and aunts and uncles and cousins. Most prisoners will be back out in society sooner, not later. It is time for us all to realize that warehousing, malnourishing, mistreating and abusing prisoners does not make us safer. Denying prisoners meaningful training and educational opportunities, and forcing them to work for no wages is not the way to go.
It is time to fundamentally reconsider prison as we know it, and America's public policy of mass incarceration.
(Bruce Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, blackagendareport.com and based in Marietta Georgia, near Atlanta. Dixon is a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green party.)
The 15th National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation was infused with a spirit of youthful energy and determination to stop the epidemic of police brutality and murder in this country. Outrage at the murder of 7 year old Aiyana Jones killed sleeping in her bed, anger over the shooting of Oscar Grant in Oakland, resistance to the reactionary racial profiling laws targeting immigrants in Arizona, brought out many new people for the events across the country.
High school and college students were part of the organizing cores in many areas, along with families of people killed by law enforcement. Homeless activists, prisoners’ rights groups, neighborhood people, along with revolutionaries and reverends and many others, came together in nearly two dozen cities and towns across the U.S. and in Montreal, to say, No More! Many, many people wore black that day.
People on the sidelines of the marches shouted their encouragement. People stepped up to the mike to tell their stories. In several cities, press coverage reported the national scope of the activities. On the following day, October 23, there were actions across the country for Justice for Oscar Grant. San Francisco Bay Area ports were shut down by the ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union). In Oakland, 1000 people attended the demonstration. In New York, people held a follow up strategy session to the October 22 protests, focusing on what is the cause of police brutality and what is it going to take to stop it. October 22, 2010, exposed and opposed the laws that criminalize a generation. In New York, the Stop and Frisk policies that mainly target Black and Latino youth were denounced, and plans for a neighborhood patrol were announced.
At the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, the October 22 Coalition, the African American Institute on Policy Studies and Planning, and the Ida B. Wells Media Institute submitted a position paper on “The Continuum of Domestic Repression in the U.S.,” stating that "Today, police still routinely make unfounded mass arrests and detentions to keep people off the streets and out of the eye of the media which tends to be accommodating." October 22, 2010, made these issues visible in the public spotlight and strengthened people’s ability to come together from many different backgrounds to fight. Below are some of the reports from local areas.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
About 70 protesters gathered outside the Albuquerque Police Department Headquarters, then headed to Robinson Park downtown for a vigil in memory of the twelve people fatally shot by Albuquerque police this year. The group walked down Central Avenue with their signs. Copwatch had video cameras in hand. Many in attendance were family members of police shooting victims. The protest was organized by Copwatch, Vecinos United and Albuquerque Answer Coalition. The brother of one of those victims, Andres Tellez spoke at the rally.
In Atlanta about fifty people wore black and held signs in Woodruff Park, a busy downtown park that serves as a networking area for many of the city's homeless (many of them victims of police violence). The demonstration consisted of many different organizations: FTP Movement, CopWatch, Progressive Student Alliance at Georgia State, the Revolutionary Communist Party, and Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. The event had a Speak Out that gave voice to many victims of police brutality. Victims of police brutality shared their stories to hundreds of passersby. The demonstration ended in a short march up to the MARTA train station, people cheered as demonstrators chanted No Justice, No Peace, No Racist Police
Students, teachers and staff from an alternative high school came carrying signs they had created in class. Families of people killed by police, revolutionaries, religious activists, and people from Chicago’s Southside gathered for a rally that started with a roll call of stolen lives [people killed by police] followed by the recognition of Stolen Lives families in attendance. Students read poetry and speeches were given. About 75 to 100 people held an enthusiastic march that surged down State Street and back up Michigan Avenue — drums pounding and chants echoing through the canyons of the Chicago Loop in the midst of lunch rush hour. Led by a banner with the pictures of 22 people killed by the Chicago police, the mainly young and predominantly African American march received a strong response from people along the route.
As people assembled in downtown Cleveland, black armbands were passed out along with the October 22 Calls. Then parents who lost young Black men spoke about the horror they feel. Tina Bronaugh, mother of two high school students who were viciously beaten and charged for protesting cuts and layoffs, spoke passionately about that case. Sixty-five people, mostly youth, came out for a march to the “Justice Center,” where prisoners waved from the windows when they heard the chanting. Then the march went through an entertainment district where black people have been repeatedly profiled and then harassed and arrested. Along the way, Killer Cops in Every Town, We Won't Forget, We Won't Back Down! was shouted loudly for everyone to hear.
Greensboro, North Carolina
About 2:30am on Friday, October 22, Cpl. M.W. Chandler shot and killed 28-year old Marques Ra’Shawn Burnett while responding to a disturbance call. Scott Trent, an organizer for October 22 Coalition, spoke at the rally: “We’re very sad that they have to join this growing group of people that are going through exactly the same thing that Oscar Grant’s family went through — that all these people went through — because these cops know that they can get away with murder every single time.” The protest began at the new Guilford County jail site at Edgeworth and Washington streets. Neon-colored picket signs with No More Stolen Lives and Stop Police Brutality bounced up and down with the syncopated rhythms of a drum corps at the jail before the protesters moved to Freeman Mill Square. Jessie Barber wore a poster around her neck with the faces of young men who were killed by officers, including her 22-year-old son Gil, who was shot by a Guilford County Sheriff’s deputy in 2001. She called police use of lethal force an epidemic and encouraged the community to become more involved in stopping it.
Los Angeles, California
About 500 people, mainly youth, carried pictures of Oscar Grant, Manuel Jaminez and others killed by police, as they marched from downtown LA through the immigrant neighborhood of Pico Union. Several dozen black students from four University of California campuses came protesting the murder of Oscar Grant. A group of high school students from Watts brought a sign pasted with pictures of Oscar Grant, Manuel Jiminez, Aiyana Stanley-Jones and others which said, Stop Police Brutality, No More Criminalization—Fighting for Those Who Are Gone! There was a rally at the end of the march.
Minneapolis marked the 15th Annual National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality with a march that started at the very busy intersection of Lake Street and Nicollet Avenue. Led by the family of Fong Lee, killed in 2006 by Minneapolis police, a diverse group of about 75 marchers took the street and marched the short distance to the Minneapolis Police Department's 5th precinct. Speakers reminded participants of why we march and why we continue to fight to end police brutality. A unique Stolen Lives ceremony was held. A placard for each of the 142 Minnesota Stolen lives over the last decade was read and then laid on the plaza in front of the precinct. The result was a stark visual representation of the brutal policing in our state. After the stolen lives ceremony, the march returned to Lake Street to take over the major east-west thoroughfare of Minneapolis. Chants from the marchers could be heard for at least 3 blocks and large numbers of people came out of shops and businesses along Lake Street to join the march. Unseasonably beautiful weather and the excitement of taking to the street to demand justice in a town that has experienced an epidemic of police abuse brought many people out. The march wound down Lake Street, growing larger, followed by a phalanx of squad cars and a police helicopter overhead. Despite the police presence and the fact that we held the street for a long distance, there were no arrests. The march terminated at Favor Cafe, the only Black-owned business in uptown and the site of a fundraiser to benefit Communities United Against Police Brutality, which assists people in dealing with the effects of police brutality. The fundraiser featured well-known local hip-hop performers, spoken word artists and a DJ. Everyone in attendance had a great time and a good sum of money was raised. Many stated that it was a positive way to end one of the best October 22 events ever held in the Twin Cities.
New York, New York
New York’s National Day of Protest kicked off with the Unite to Fight Teach-In, timed to reach high school students as they got out of school. Organizations brought tables with literature and visuals illustrating the ways that police brutality affects homeless people, immigrants, LGBT, youth, families of police brutality victims, and more. A local artist has painted dozens of portraits of Stolen Lives throughout the last few years, and high school students at the Teach-In held up the portraits so that people on the street could see them, many stopping to take pictures. At the table of the Alliance of Conscious Documentarians, one could leaf through a portfolio of photos of Families of Stolen Lives and their fight for justice or put on headsets to hear their stories. Music and poetry were provided by the Haitian drumming group Kongo, Frankie Lopez of the Peace Poets and Spiritchild of the Movement in Motion. The teach-in was followed by a rally and a very spirited march of about 350 went through heavily populated areas at rush hour. The chants, banners, Stolen Lives portraits and leaflets reached hundreds of people.
In Seattle October 22 was built off of widespread outrage over seven killings by police in a two-week period from August 25 to Sept 7, in Washington State. The rally was held at Seattle Central Community College where posters of the Stolen Lives were put up everywhere and students were challenged about whether they would be out on O22. People at the rally were visibly affected by moving testimony from family and friends of Richard Sims, David Young, John T Williams, James Whiteshield and Michael Ealy who were killed by police or jail officials. One young man in tears said hearing these stories left him heartbroken, but he was moved to think about what he could contribute to stopping this and to the cause of revolution. Other speakers talked about repression and roundups of immigrants. An immigrant worker talked about ongoing harassment against him for being an organizer by the University of Washington police. As the march proceeded, youth called out the police all along the way, and challenged others to come into the streets, which dozens did, and finally some 300 people took the streets. One chant was Killer Cops are Guilty, Guilty, the System is Filthy, Filthy. At the site of John T. Williams murder hundreds did a die-in blocking intersections and dozens carried the protest into the night in the streets of the Capitol Hill neighborhood. The march reached thousands of people in downtown Seattle and was enthusiastically received.