Sadly, this topic almost requires that I begin with an iron-clad caveat. So first that.
I don’t discredit that some crimes have victims and some people who have committed crimes have hurt people. There should be a consequence for hurting people. I am not discussing that topic in this post right now.
Let’s recall, though, that prison is a giant system for hurting people, including super-guilty people and innocent people or people whose “crimes” had no victim or wouldn’t even be considered “criminal” by many people. The Prison-Industrial-Complex reinforces almost every system of oppression that operates in our society, actively making life worse for poor people, trans people, people of color, etc. In prison, rape and violence is rampant. Your rights are routinely violated. You have no privacy. You cannot access acceptable healthcare. You cannot get healthy food. You may be forced into neo-enslavement-style work programs. You live in a box and locks, bars, cuffs, and chains are part of your daily existence. Your connection to family, friends and community is a thin thread that could snap at any moment. Your career is FUCKED.
People in prison are still people, and people who have survived prison are still people. Extremely *vulnerable* people whom it is legal to discriminate against when it comes to housing, employment, education, child custody and government benefits. I think, Big Picture, that as we fight against the Prison Industrial Complex, we also need to treat people who are or have been in prison a whole lot better, asap. The system has to end, but before it does, real people and their communities are being really harmed right now in real life.
When we send one person to prison, we are not just ending their life as they know it. This hypothetical individual has family and friends. They may be a parent, they may have their own parents and siblings, they have friends and they have connections to a community as well as probably roles in that community via jobs and volunteer work. So we are placing their parents in a state of deep sorrow and loss. We are taking parents away from children, who will feel confused and abandoned. Spouses who depended on their partner’s income to keep a roof over their heads. The whole community is affected if you imprison just one member. It’s a loss that’s like temporary physical death, and on-going social death. A single imprisonment ripples outward in waves of pain, injustice, and misery. A whole family and community is punished along with the targeted individual.
Protip: One way to help individuals and their loved ones from being devastated by this system is to refrain from calling the police unless someone is in literal danger due to another’s behavior. It just isn’t worth fucking up a whole family’s existence over a quality of life complaint.
The wonderful RH Reality Check recently posted an article called Names Do Hurt: The Case Against Using Derogatory Language to Describe People in Prison by Victoria Law and Rachel Roth. The article discusses the ways words such as “inmate”, “convict”, “criminal”, “felon” and “ex-con” hurt and dehumanize the vulnerable people in the grip of these institutions or who have survived and are trying to live outside the prison system. It also goes straight to people affected by the PIC and highlights their voices.
Advocate Andrea James elaborates, “While in prison, part of the dehumanizing programming is the use of the word inmate. You are referred to as inmate 27402-038, for example, and relegated to an underclass referred to as ‘the inmates.’ It stays with you, creating a public and subconscious persona that is far removed from a person’s true identity. Inmate is a term used to reduce human qualities, separate and disparage.”
Check out RH Reality Check’s series Women, Incarcerated to learn more about how women are treated in the PIC, particularly pregnant and parenting women.
There’s actually not a lot more to say about this story. Shawn Lowe, who hopes that “I and everyone else can just move on,” was recently convicted of raping two 14 year old girls when he was 21. This wasn’t simply statutory rape- these girls both said “no” and he proceeded to coerce them. He fed one half of a 40 first.
Missoula County District Court Judge John Larson sentenced Shawn Lowe, 23, on Thursday to 20 years in prison, but suspended all of that but 90 days, which he said Lowe could spent in the Missoula County Detention Facility. He also designated Lowe a tier 1 sex offender, meaning that his risk of repeating the offense is low.
As a commenter on the story says, that’s only 45 days per rape, an experience that will haunt the girls for a lifetime. So much of the “justice” system has to be messed up for a sentence like this to be handed down, that I honestly don’t know where to start and I don’t even want to try. I’m depressed enough.
I just finished Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. I can’t recommend it enough. For everyone. READ IT NOW!
Here are some quotes that struck me:
“One in three young African American men is currently under the control of the criminal justice system – in prison, in jail, on probation, or on parole – yet mass incarceration tends to be categorized as a criminal justice issue as opposed to a racial justice or civil rights issue (or crisis).” Pg.9
“What is key to America’s understanding of class is the persistent belief – despite all evidence to the contrary – that anyone, with the proper discipline and drive, can move from a lower class to a higher class.” Pg.13
The rest are here:
This is amazing! Look at all these people out in the snow at night to protect one woman’s home. Her bank would make her homeless on a night like that.
Notice toward the end that at the top of the house is a big sign that says “Housing is a Human Right.” Hell yeah!
The best possible way to respond to police violence:
(Watch the whole thing, it’s worth it.)
The money shot:
What does this look like to you? “Drawing contact from a police officer” or “getting beat down by a cop with a weapon”?
The caption on this photo accompanying a Reuters article:
An Occupy Wall Street protestor draws contact from a police officer near Zuccotti Park after being ordered to leave the longtime encampment in New York, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011, in New York, after police ordered demonstrators to leave their encampment in Zuccotti Park. At about 1 a.m. Tuesday, police handed out notices from the park’s owner, Brookfield Office Properties, and the city saying that the park had to be cleared because it had become unsanitary and hazardous. Protesters were told they could return, but without sleeping bags, tarps or tents. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Note how whoever wrote this takes the agency away from the cop (making him the object of the sentence instead of the subject) and insinuates, without explanation, the protester did something to deserve the beating. Why do you think Reuters is afraid to accurately describe what is happening in this picture?
“If there are anarchists, if there are weapons, if there is an intention to engage in violence and confrontation, that obviously raises our concerns,” Portland police Lt. Robert King said.
See what he did there? The very presence of people with a political opinion the police dislike is a reason to increase their aggression. Anarchists = weapons = intent to engage in violence. Is this based on actual knowledge, or convenient assumptions and stereotypes, do ya think?
James C. Anderson was attacked in Rankin County, Mississippi by a group of white teens who were hunting for a black person to harm. He was the first one they saw on the night of June 26, 2011. They beat him and then one of them, Deryl Dedmon, deliberately ran him over with his truck, killing him.
Barbara Anderson Young, James’ sister, wrote a letter to the authorities stating:
“We ask that you not seek the death penalty for anyone involved in James’ murder…
Our opposition to the death penalty is deeply rooted in our religious faith, a faith that was central in James’ life as well…
We also oppose the death penalty because it historically has been used in Mississippi and the South primarily against people of color for killing whites. Executing James’ killers will not help to balance the scales. But sparing them may help to spark a dialogue that one day will lead to the elimination of capital punishment.
Those responsible for James’ death not only ended the life of a talented and wonderful man. They also caused our family unspeakable pain and grief. But our loss will not be lessened by the state taking the life of another.”
This reminds me of two other incidents: the bloodlust of the victim’s families in the case of the West Memphis Three and in the Troy Davis/Mark McPhail case, inspite of incredibly thin evidence in both situations.
Yet in an incident of racially-motivated murder similar to James Anderson’s case, I have another example of a black family wishing to spare the life of a white supremacist perpetrator: the family of victim James Byrd, killed by white supremacist Lawrence Russell Brewer.
These families are amazing examples. Valuing human life above everything, even the possibility of avenging the death of a loved one, is an amazing feat of grace. I applaud the families of James Anderson and James Byrd for their unusual displays of compassion.
In 2009, Shawnee County District Attorney Chadwick Taylor signed a protocol with the City of Topeka, sheriff’s office, and the Third Judicial District Court Services “for responding to and prosecuting domestic violence cases“.
Taylor agreed that his office would “aggressively prosecute domestic violence,” “review domestic violence cases as first priority” and “charge the cases that meet sufficient evidence to prosecute the case.”
In spite of this agreement, DA Taylor’s office announced on September 8th that they would no longer prosecute misdemeanors in the city of Topeka, including domestic violence cases. This announcement seems to be a reaction to a 10% budget cut for his office. He has already rejected thirty domestic violence cases and released three offenders.
To teach Taylor a lesson, the Topeka city council has a brilliant idea: repeal the city’s ban on domestic violence, i.e. the ordinance that makes it a crime!
From the Topeka Capitol-Journal:
The convoluted thinking by some council members is that if the city has no law against domestic battery, Taylor will have to take the cases and prosecute them in Shawnee County District Court.
Wow. Five city council members voted for this repeal: John Alcala, Sylvia Ortiz, Chad Manspeaker, Bob Archer and Andrew Gray.
I am actually a prison abolitionist, but when decriminalizing, one must start with behaviors, currently considered crimes, that either hurt no one or only hurt oneself. We do not currently have any societal mechanisms in place to hold people accountable for harm to others, other than the criminal justice system, so starting decriminalization with crimes that ACTUALLY HURT ANOTHER PERSON is simply an expression of contempt for the survivors/victims of such crimes.
Victim’s advocate Claudine Dombowski has a few words about this situation:
“It’s appalling, it’s disgusting.”…
Dombrowski says that she was the victim in a “misdemeanor” domestic abuse case 16 years ago – a crowbar strike to the head left her with 24 stitches and two broken wrists. Now, she worries that nothing is being done to protect victims.
“They need to invest in headstones, because these women are going to end up in cemeteries,” said Dombrowski… “The city of Topeka just said domestic violence is legal and you can beat your wife.”
Shawnee County DA Chad Taylor can be reached at:
200 SE 7th Street, Room 21
Topeka, KS, 66603
Topeka City Council Members can be reached at:
215 SE 7th, Room 255
Topeka, KS 66603-3914
Recently, I’ve been confronted by a pattern regarding high-profile capital cases where conviction was made on flimsy evidence. The pattern is the victim’s family lust for the blood of the person convicted, and then publicly celebrating the killing. This may be regardless of mountains of evidence indicating their innocence or at least the presence of large quantities of doubt. I am reminded of American’s shameful response to the killing of Osama bin Laden.
We saw this with the West Memphis Three. They were finally released on August 19 of this year, after being imprisoned for almost 20 years on ludicrous evidence. One of them, Damien Echols, had been sentenced to death. Steve Branch, father to a child they were accused of murdering, said, “As far as I’m concerned, he was going to pay for killing my son.” Apparently for Mr. Branch, justice is less important than getting an eye for an eye.
Even more recently, the family of Mark MacPhail, the white police officer Troy Davis was convicted of murdering, publicly celebrated Mr. Davis’ killing. Davis was put to death on September 21st inspite of an international outcry over the numerous flaws, recanted testimonies, and racist overtones related to his conviction.
Mark MacPhail’s mother, Anneliese MacPhail, said “I’m kind of numb. I can’t believe that it’s really happened. All the feelings of relief and peace I’ve been waiting for all these years, they will come later. I certainly do want some peace.”
They will come later. I find it interesting that she admits the fulfillment of her revenge fantasy hasn’t yet brought her peace.
But I recently stumbled on a fascinating and inspiring counterexample.
Lawrence Russell Brewer was an avowed white supremacist who was convicted, on very strong evidence, of gruesomely torturing to death James Byrd, a black man, in Texas in 1998. He was killed by the state on on the same day as Troy Davis, though the black family of this victim had a very different reaction than the white family of Mark MacPhail.
Ross Byrd, son of Brewer’s victim, protested the killing of his father’s murderer, saying, “You can’t fight murder with murder. Life in prison would have been fine. I know he can’t hurt my daddy anymore. I wish the state would take in mind that this isn’t what we want.”
My ideal society has no place for revenge killings, even when sanctioned by law. Ross Byrd, in his ability to look past his deep hurt, to see the man who murdered his father as a fellow human being, and to move beyond the desire for revenge, teaches a powerful lesson. Families who have survived the brutal killing of a loved one are certainly allowed to experience the intense pain and loss that naturally follows. Nevertheless, I do not believe that their calls for blood should be condoned under any circumstance — especially when the guilt of the person convicted is supported by extremely thin evidence.
Murder by any other name is still murder.
Their fight over corporate greed isn’t over yet, but protesters who’ve been camped out in Lower Manhattan for two weeks are now taking on a new issue.
Demonstrators marched from their main gathering point in Zuccotti Park to police headquarters Friday to shine light on what they say is excessive force used by the department.
Several people were maced and about 80 people arrested for disorderly conduct last weekend.
In other news, Mayor Bloomberg claims ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protesters are targeting bankers who ‘are struggling to make ends meet’. Oh yes he did.
In awesome critique news, South Bronx’s Rebel Diaz Arts Collective posted some reflections on race and culture dynamics at the Occupy Wall Street demonstration.
[T]he gut feeling was that there is a serious disconnect down there. We left with mad questions! Where was the hood? Where was the poorest congressional district in the USA, from The South Bronx at? Like we say in Hip Hop, where Brooklyn at? Could it be that perhaps the working class couldnt afford to just leave work and the responsibility of bills and family survival to camp out in a city park? Did folks from our communities not know about this? If people of color were occupying Wall St would we have lasted this long?
In non-news, 95% of MSM coverage of the protest has been absolutely vomitous. Like the insipid New York Times articles, for example. It’s as though their reporters are insulted at being asked to condescend to write about the concerns of common people.
A report on the Occupation of Wall Street by the Bail Out the People Movement:
In the wake of the outrageous murder of Troy Davis, on Saturday the NYPD violently attacked the Occupy Wall Street protesters for doing nothing but taking to the streets against racism, unemployment and bank bailouts. The
latest word is they will not be released until tomorrow.
With the police arresting over a hundred people, the anti-Wall Street demonstration ended a week where it was made crystal clear that the so-called justice system exists for oppressing, intimidating and silencing the people – killing us if need be – while the real criminals go free.
Carrying signs that said, “Justice For Troy Davis,” and “Jobs and Justice, not War and Racism,” the Occupy Wall Street protesters held a dynamic protest that started at Zucotti Park, went to the stock exchange, then
charged up Broadway to Union Square.
No sooner did protesters start up Broadway than the NYPD began picking off people to arrest, one by one. Many were tackled as they were simply walking in the march.
After the demostration started back south from Union Square, the police moved violently to shut the protest down: bloodying people’s heads, macing people in the face and using gigantic orange nets to seal off 12th Street between University Street and Fifth Avenue and arresting people en masse.
As the cops loaded people into an MTA bus – commandeered by the NYPD for the sole purpose of mass arrests – protesters chanted, “Let them go,” and “Cops serve the billionaires!”
The suffering caused by Wall Street and the for-profit system – whether through unemployment, foreclosure or the racist prison-industrial complex – has forced people onto the streets this week in cities all over the country.
This is what the start of a peoples’ movement looks like. But it is in its infancy. The police, media and courts will continue to harass and attack us while the balance of forces – i.e., how many people we have on our side and what they have on theirs – is in their favor.
Come to Zucotti Park at Broadway and Liberty Street in downtown Manhattan! We need forces! The more who join this dynamic campaign against the banks and billionaires, the more we will be able to defend this growing movement.
Call your friends, get whatever group you belong to involved, and stay tuned to the Occupy Wall Street Facebook page for updates on how to pack the court and support those who were arrested.
-Bail Out the People Movement
The Facebook ’cause’. (As opposed to ‘page’.)
Dear Friends & Comrades,
On Monday, September 26th, prisoners at Pelican Bay & Calipatria State prisons will resume the hunger strike that started on July 1st.
The strike lasted nearly four weeks, as thousands of prisoners refused food to protest the torturous conditions and practices of the California Department of Corrections (CDCR).
After weeks of inadequate & bad-faith negotiations with CDCR officials, prisoners have decided the only way to get the changes they need is to risk their lives again.
CDCR officials have been preemptively cracking down on support & participation for the hunger strike.
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity is calling on supporters everywhere to help amplify the voices of prisoners on hunger strike once again. Please help us use any & all forms of social media to make the voices of the hunger strikers loud & clear.
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity
Have you heard about the Pelican Bay prison hunger strike? Learn all about the strike, the history of the prison, and how you can be involved at Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity.
Check out this awesome new resource from Project Nia, who’s mission is to “dramatically reduce the reliance on arrest, detention, and incarceration for addressing youth crime and to instead promote the use of restorative and transformative practices, a concept that relies on community-based alternatives.”
They say about the primer:
This publication about the Attica Prison uprising of 1971 is not intended to be a curriculum guide, but a brief primer for educators and organizers. It includes a timeline of events (with primary sources); testimonies from Attica prisoners; poetry by Attica prisoners; sample activities for youth; and other suggested resources.
Kenneth Harding was shot to death in San Francisco in front of dozens of witnesses on July 16th as he ran from police for not having a bus transfer.
Harding was a black teen, and the SFPD have a history of murdering black men, usually unarmed black men.
So please excuse my massive skepticism at the brand new police version of events:
[T]he community reacted with anger to the shooting of a young man who was videotaped bleeding helplessly in the middle of a Bayview street while police stood around him with guns drawn and a crowd gathered.
Then in a startling turn of events, authorities announced on Thursday that Harding had not been killed in a hail of police bullets after-all. They said he evidently shot himself — either intentionally or by accident — with a .380-caliber bullet that passed through his neck and into his head, killing him. A bullet of that caliber was found in his jacket pocket but the gun was missing.
Then for some reason SFPD released information about Harding’s criminal past, as though that somehow makes his shooting death acceptable.
The tale of Tatioun Williams and Brandon Ross is from several weeks ago, but I still wanted to put it up on this blog as a miscarriage of justice.
From the Chicago Tribune:
Bail was set at $900,000 today for a 16-year-old boy [Brandon Ross] charged with murder after his teenage accomplice [Tatioun Williams] in an alleged armed robbery was shot and killed by a responding Chicago police officer.
Ross told police that they had indeed robbed a man. That is a crime. HOWEVER, robbery should not carry an instant-death sentence, nor should one be charged with murder when one’s actual crime was robbery. Ross did not kill his friend. The police officer did. No one disputes that. Therefore, it is unjust to charge Ross with the killing. Someone needs to fix Illinois law.