The Spook Who Sat by the Door is a 1973 film based on the novel of the same name by Sam Greenlee. It is both a satire of the civil rights struggle in the United States of the late 1960s and a serious attempt to focus on the issue of black militancy. Release date: September 21, 1973 (initial release) Director: Ivan Dixon Running time: 102 minutes Cast: Lawrence Cook, Paula Kelly, J.A. Preston, Jack Aaron Screenplay: Sam Greenlee, Melvin Clay
Herodotus, a Greek historian, wrote a history of the known world 2,440 years ago. It is the oldest book we have where a person we would call White talks at length about black-skinned people.
Three things set him apart from the way Whites talk about Blacks in our time:
- He did not divide the world by race. He divided it by continent – Europe, Asia and Libya (Africa) – and by language – Greek and barbarian – but not by race. He talks about people with black skin, but not about “black people” as if they were one of the main kinds of humans. He applies the term “Ethiopian” to some black-skinned people, but not to all.
- Egyptians were black. He saw Egyptians as having black skin and woolly hair (Herodotus, 2.104). He visited Egypt 75 years after the Persians had taken over but before the Greeks, Romans and Arabs had. He…
View original post 470 more words
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Black August Series No. 2
After 40 years of incarceration the “voice of the voiceless” remains a focus of international attention
Mumia Abu-Jamal speaks at a memorial for Fred Hampton in Philadelphia. Source : commonnotions
During the late 1960s, Mumia Abu-Jamal became a youth activist in the city of Philadelphia where a succession of racist police chiefs engaged in widespread abuse against the African American community.
Philadelphia has a centuries-long history of African self-organization dating back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries when the Free African Society, African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) and other institutions were formed by Richard Allen, Sarah Allen and Absalom Jones.
During mid-19th century, the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society provided avenues for men and women to build support for the Underground Railroad and the movement to completely eradicate involuntary servitude in the antebellum border and deep southern states. By the 1960s, the city became known as one of the first municipalities where African Americans would rise up in rebellion on the north side during the late August 1964.
Max Stanford (later known as Muhammad Ahmed), a co-founder of the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) in 1962, was from Philadelphia. RAM proceeded the Black Panther Party (BPP) and sought to form an alliance with Malcolm X (also known as El Hajj Malik Shabazz), a leading spokesman for the Nation of Islam and later the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU). RAM advocated for the development of a revolutionary movement in the U.S. and consequently became a target of the Justice Department.
In 1969, Mumia joined the Black Panther Party at the age of 15 when the organization was deemed by the then Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) J. Edgar Hoover as the “greatest threat to national security” in the United States. The Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) had a special division which was designed to monitor, disrupt, imprison and kill various leaders and members of African American organizations from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the BPP as well as a host of other tendencies. Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) since the mid-to-late 1970s indicate that the BPP was a principal target of the U.S. government and local police agencies.
Why was the BPP considered so dangerous by the leading law-enforcement agency inside the country? In order to provide answers to this question it must be remembered that between 1955 and 1970, the African American people led a struggle for civil rights and self-determination which impacted broad segments of the population in the U.S. helping to spawn movements within other oppressed communities.
The Black Panther Party was first formed in Lowndes County Alabama in 1965. Its origins grew out of the organizing work of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), whose field organizer, Stokely Carmichael (later known as Kwame Ture) was deployed to the area in the aftermath of the Selma to Montgomery march in late March of the same year. Working in conjunction with local activists, an independent political party was formed known as the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO). The group utilized the black panther as its symbol while rejecting both the Republican and Democratic Party.
In subsequent months, there were other Black Panther organizations formed in several cities including Detroit, Cleveland, New York City and other urban areas. In Oakland, California during October of 1966, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.
This movement represented an emerging phase of the Black liberation struggle where there were calls for armed self-defense, mass rebellion and the political takeovers of major municipalities by those who had been excluded from the reins of official power. Thousands of African American youth flocked to the Black Panther Party viewing the organization as a symbol of uncompromising resistance to racism, national oppression and economic exploitation.
Mumia and the BPP
Although the BPP was projected in the national corporate media as gun toting militants willing to use weapons against the police when they were threatening the Party and the community, most of the work of the organization revolved around distribution of its weekly newspaper, the establishment of free breakfast programs for children, community health clinics for the people in the most oppressed areas of the African American community while building alliances with revolutionary forces among other sectors of the population including, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Asians, Native Americans and whites committed to fundamental change within U.S. society.
Mumia noted the diversity of programmatic work during his tenure in the BPP of the late 1960s and early 1970s in his book entitled “We Want Freedom”: “As the Breakfast program succeeded so did the Party, and its popularity fueled our growth across the country. Along with the growth of the Party came an increase in the number of community programs undertaken by the Party. By 1971, the Party had embarked on ten distinctive community programs, described by Newton as survival programs. What did he mean by this term? We called them survival programs pending revolution. They were designed to help the people survive until their consciousness is raised, which is only the first step in the revolution to produce a new America.… During a flood the raft is a life-saving device, but it is only a means of getting to higher ground. So, too, with survival programs, which are emergency services. In themselves they do not change social conditions, but they are life-saving vehicles until conditions change.” (https://www.commonnotions.org/blog/tag/Mumia+Abu-Jamal)
On December 4, 1969, the Chicago police under the aegis of the Illinois State’s Attorney Edward V. Hanrahan and the Chicago field office of the FBI, raided the residence of BPP members on the city’s west side. Two Panther leaders, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were killed while several other occupants of the house were wounded.
These police actions along with hundreds of other attacks on BPP chapters across the country resulted in the deaths of many Panther members and the arrests and framing of hundreds of cadres. Numerous BPP members were driven into exile as others were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.
The Voice of the Voiceless from the Streets to Death Row
On December 9, 1981, Mumia was arrested in Philadelphia and charged with the murder of white police officer Daniel Faulkner. He was railroaded through the courts and convicted on July 3, 1982. The following year, Mumia was sentenced to die by capital punishment. He remained on death row until 2011 after an international campaign to save his life proved successful.
However, his death sentence was commuted to life in prison without parole. Mumia and his supporters have maintained that he is not guilty of the crime of killing a police officer.
After his sojourn in the BPP, Mumia utilized his writing and journalist skills learned in the Party to become a formidable media personality in Philadelphia. He was a fierce critic of police brutality and a defender of the revolutionary MOVE organization which emerged during the 1970s in the city.
Mumia was a co-founder of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) in the 1970s. He worked as a radio broadcaster and writer exposing the misconduct of the police surrounding the attack on the MOVE residence in August 1978. In 1979, he interviewed reggae superstar Bob Marley when he visited Philadelphia for a concert performance.
While behind bars Mumia has become an even more prolific writer and broadcast journalist. He issues weekly commentaries through Prison Radio where he discusses a myriad of topics including African American history, international affairs, political economy, the deplorable conditions existing among the more than two million people incarcerated in the U.S. along with police misconduct. (https://www.prisonradio.org/correspondent/mumia-abu-jamal/)
A renewed campaign entitled “Love Not Phear” held demonstrations around the U.S. and the world during the weekend of July 3 marking the 40th anniversary of his unjust conviction in 1982. Love Not Phear says that it is committed to the liberation of all political prisoners including Mumia Abu-Jamal.
An entry on their website emphasizes that: “The landscape has changed over the last 40 years, a time frame that also marks the years Mumia has been incarcerated. The fight for the release of political prisoners requires a recalibration in order to challenge police corruption and racism as they have evolved in this new landscape. We cannot deny the racism, corruption, and misconduct that permeated the so-called ‘Halls of Justice’ during Mumia’s arrest and unjust kangaroo court trial. The people today know the truth; commonplace bribed witnesses, suppressed evidence, biased judges, and backroom deals put Mumia behind bars.” (https://lovenotphear.com/)
Mumia through his attorneys have filed another appeal based upon evidence related to prosecutorial misconduct which has been further revealed over the last four years. The hearing will take place on October 19 in Philadelphia. Supporters of Mumia and other political prisoners will attend the hearing in this latest attempt to win the long-awaited freedom for this activist who is now 68 years old
Racism is still the driving force behind U.S. political imprisonment
Political imprisonment in the United States exists primarily as a tool of racist repression. It is aimed disproportionately at people of color, as well as others engaged in anti-racist struggle. Whether in the fight against racism at home or against racist foreign policies, wars, occupation and colonialism, the overarching purpose of political imprisonment is to intimidate and try to crush militant forms of anti-racist struggle.
By treating U.S. political prisoners as “common criminals,” the criminal justice system individualizes each case as if they are somehow separate from their social contexts. This ignores root causes and impedes the development of political solutions to the underlying issues for which people have been arrested.
Readers can discern for themselves what is revealed in the findings presented here, and in the US Political Prisoner list this article analyzes. The large number of people of color and others involved in the anti-racist struggle arrested for their activities is sadly predictable. Our entire history and existing political and economic institutions are founded and advanced squarely on the foundations of racism.amertkan political prisoners
The problem is the entire U.S. social, political and economic apparatus. It’s the system that must change. Only when that happens will political prisoners find justice and true liberation in the U.S. We fight for the liberation of Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu Jamal. But as wonderful as winning freedom for individuals may be, without a political solution, little is accomplished regarding the causes for which these prisoners have sacrificed their freedom.[Source: syracuseculturalworkers.com]
Not all U.S. political prisoners are in jail for explicitly anti-racist struggles. There are those in prison for opposing the whole fabric of militarism and war, women who have defended their bodies from abuse, striking blows against patriarchy, and eco-defenders.
Recognizing the racism that permeates U.S. political imprisonment does not diminish the validity of the struggles for which they were arrested. Without exception, racism and anti-racism is a factor in every facet of U.S. popular movements. For instance, all anti-war and anti-imperialist struggle has a fundamentally anti-racist aspect. The one existing imperial power in the world today is the U.S./NATO Empire, an Empire centered among mostly White nations, in service to global capitalism and western geopolitical hegemony. That Empire is the primary global purveyor of the exploitation and dispossession of Black, Indigenous, and other colonized peoples in the nations of the Global South.
We further recognize that we can and must look to anti-racist struggles, especially Black and Indigenous liberation, for guidance, lessons, and leadership, regardless the area of activity. The Alliance for Global Justice analysis published August 5, 2020 (which this paper updates), explains that,
“…We are convinced that African people, including the African diaspora, play a leading role in all revolutionary and transformational struggles. African and Indigenous peoples have been specially targeted for repression and exploitation from the very beginning days of the global spread of capitalism. Today, in the U.S., the movement for the rights and self-determination of Black people has, above all else, shown that it is not a temporary struggle but that it has staying power.
There is a thread that connects the struggles of the very first enslaved people through the historic Civil Rights Movement to the… Black Lives Matter uprisings today. The struggle for Black liberation in the U.S. is huge, mature yet young: multigenerational, experienced, politically savvy, and enduring. The successes of Black liberation struggles have always, in every instance, opened the way for other struggles. The struggles against slavery and for Black voting rights led directly to the women’s suffrage movement. The Civil Rights Movement was a foundation for an endless list of struggles, including anti-war, anti-poverty, women’s rights, Latin American and Asian liberation movements, disability rights, gay rights, and more. (Indigenous defense of the land and its people is, of course, the oldest movement in resistance to Empire in the Americas.) Thus, we can say that the prominence of African heritage political prisoners in the U.S. is a situation that concerns all of us.”
AFGJ has maintained a list of U.S. Political Prisoners since 2013, when Stan Smith of the Chicago Committee to Free the [Cuban] Five put that list together for the first time, counting 38 U.S. Political Prisoners. Due to a lack of capacity at the time, we did not undertake an update again until 2018, when we were able to hire Nasim Chatha to help us organize a new comprehensive and updated list. Nasim had been our intern in 2012 and had written some of our pioneering work on the related theme of Prison Imperialism. (Prison Imperialism focuses on the export of the US mass incarceration model to other countries.)
Ours is not the only political prisoner list, and we have always consulted the work of others while augmenting those with our research. We have especially relied heavily on the advice and feedback of Claude Marks from the Freedom Archives and have regularly referenced the Jericho Movement, the Nuclear Resister, Earth First!, and the Anarchist Black Cross.
How we define who is a “political prisoner” is a classification always open to debate. We note that some organizations, such as the Jericho Movement, do not list people as political prisoners unless they have asked or agreed to be so listed. As we noted in our 2020 report,
“There is a concern that prisoners may experience further targeting and harassment as a result of attention brought by well-meaning supporters. We very much respect that. For our purpose, we are trying to build a comprehensive list that reflects the overall extent and reality of politically motivated arrests in the United States. We are not involved in direct advocacy. For political prisoners who have specific solidarity campaigns, we have tried to provide links. If there are no advocacy organizations linked, they may not exist or be wanted.”
We are not attempting to maintain a complete list of all U.S. political prisoners. Instead, our list is of U.S. political prisoners who are also prisoners of Empire (PP/POEs). There are, for instance, animal rights activists whom we do not include. A person arrested for direct action against the inhumane conditions suffered under the conditions of factory farming, or to liberate animals from pens where there is no freedom of movement, is not included, unless there is some element directly related to the struggle against the underpinnings of Empire.[Source: thejerichomovement.com]
Even under socialism, under nations in resistance to Empire, sometimes even under locally autonomous communities, there are animals kept and exploited under conditions that can only be described as cruel. But one cannot simply blame Empire for this, even when and if it exacerbates the problem.
How, then, do we define political prisoners who are also prisoners of Empire? Our August 5, 2020 report on political prisoners states:
“Our definition of political prisoners refers to people who are incarcerated for alleged crimes related to resistance and liberation from repression. We believe that these cases should not be treated as isolated, ‘common’ crimes, but [cases that] require a political solution. In many cases, those in jail are there because of false allegations or because they were framed and railroaded through the courts. Our list is not only of political prisoners, but also of what we term “prisoners of Empire.” By that, we mean people who are jailed because of activities that constitute a direct challenge to the national and international dominance of U.S., NATO, and transnational capitalist imperialism.”
We also note in our listing that,
“…political prisoners […] require a political solution […] Whether the circumstances of the alleged crimes are true or false, we strenuously reject the individualized and out-of-context treatment of these cases as simply ‘common crimes.’ Our listing of these prisoners does not constitute an endorsement of the tactics or immediate goals of every individual. We also recognize that people have a right to resist oppression, and the failure to do so can be, itself, a crime against the people. In many cases, those arrested have been set up, falsely accused, railroaded, and/or denied adequate defense and basic human rights. More often than not, they have received harsher sentences than usual because of the political nature of their activities.”
Although the origins of our PP/POEs list date back to 2013, this is only the second comprehensive analysis we’ve published. The first analysis was in response to the 2020 uprising sparked by the extrajudicial killing of George Floyd. We admit that what we have could be significantly augmented.
We need another major and exhaustive review of the definitions, criteria, and categories we employ. Towards that end, we’ve established a committee that will spend the next year revising all aspects of the list. This is an ongoing process, and if you have suggestions for improvements, we want to hear what you have to say. Feel free to send your suggestions to James@AFGJ.org.
One must also look at the back stories behind the numbers and trends. For instance, in 2018, we listed 50 political prisoners. After several minor revisions in the interim, in which the total was steady, we published a major update in August of 2020, following the peak of the 2020 uprising. We found that after the 2020 uprising, the number of PPs/POE had risen by 12.28% to 57.
As of the present moment, the number has diminished to a count of 55 U.S. PP/POEs, as of August 10, 2022. The decline in the overall number can be attributed to paroles, completed sentences, as well as deaths, of several PP/POEs. Especially, over the past two years, several Black PP/POEs arrested in crackdowns during the previous century have died in prison or been released after decades behind bars. These include the MOVE 9 and participants in historic Black liberation struggles, both armed and unarmed.
In 2020, we found 38.60% of PPs/POE were Black, and just over 72% were people of color. Today, the percentage of Black PP/POEs has dropped to 34.55% (19), while the overall number of people of color who are PPs/POE has dropped to 69% (38). Of the other PP/POEs who are people of color, 10.9% (6) are Latino; 5.45% (3) are North “American” Indigenous; 3.64% (2) are Asian-American (non-Arab, Middle Eastern, or Central Asian); and 16.36% (9) are Arab, Middle Eastern, African Muslim, or Central Asian (one PP/POE is of Pakistani heritage, and one PP/POE is included under both Latino and Arab, ME, etc.-heritage categories).
As for the last category, we have included these together because we’ve found it difficult to find statistics related to these specific ethnic groups. Instead, we find the closest readily available statistics have to do with Muslims in prison—and Muslim is not an ethnicity and can include people from all over the world, including those who are not necessarily people of color.
Although Muslim or perceived-as-Muslim peoples are not ethnicities, they are discriminated against as if they were, targeted as a class because of their actual or perceived religious identification. Similarly, prison population statistics regularly confuse the count of Latino prisoners by counting most of them simply as “white.”
To understand the racism revealed in these percentages, we must compare them to the demographic percentages of the US population as a whole. Respectively, we find that the U.S. general population is 13.6% Black, 18.9% Latino, 1.3% Indigenous, and 1.1% “Muslim.”
The racist application of the “criminal justice” system is a feature of the entire system, not just of political imprisonment, which itself reflects a larger reality. For instance, we find that Black persons are incarcerated at a rate 3.5 times higher than that of Whites.[Source: benjerry.com]
We need to place the differences and the total number of PP/POEs within context. Among the U.S. PP/POEs, it is significant that just over 14.55% (8) of the total are those incarcerated for their activities during the 2020 Uprising. There are also still two PP/POEs that remain in jail for activities related to the Ferguson uprising in 2014, following the extrajudicial killing of Michael Brown. If we add those together, we find that 18.18% of U.S. PPs/POE have been jailed in relation to charges stemming from the birth and continued growth of the Black Lives Matter movement.[Source: cnn.com]
How do we determine who and how many are PPs/POE because of anti-racist struggle? We count 22 of 55 PPs/POE, or 40%, arrested for domestic anti-racist actions. As an international solidarity organization, AFGJ is keenly aware that U.S. foreign policies and international relations are extensions of the same policies, attitudes, and actions that drive domestic racism. U.S. wars, sanctions, blockades, and Prison Imperialism are overwhelmingly wielded against nations with a large majority of people of color, countries of the Global South. We find that 11 PPs/POE are in jail for actions of international solidarity with specific nations targeted by Empire (as Noam Chomsky defines it, “an integrated policy of U.S. military and economic supremacy”).
Another 8 are people involved in activities of self-determination, liberation, and defense of their territories from occupation, war, sanctions, and blockades.
Among them are Simon Trinidad from Colombia, Ivan Vargas from Colombia, Alex Saab from Venezuela, the Virgin Island Three, Mun Chol, Myong, and Leonard Peltier (in defense of the Lakota nation in occupied South Dakota). Together, these represent 34.55% (19) of those engaged in struggle directly against the international application of U.S. racist and political repression. When we combine those arrested for domestic and international resistance to U.S. racism, we find that 42 of 55 PPs/POE, 76.36%, are incarcerated for acts of anti-racist resistance.
In other words, more than three quarters of US/POEs are in jail for activities that can be described as anti-racist.Simon Trinidad [Source: prenasural.com] Michael “Rattler” Markus [Source: unicornriot.ninja]
We also count 5.54% (three) PP/POEs jailed for eco-defense. 7.27% (four) were arrested for activities generally or directly opposed to U.S. militarism and wars. 7.27% (the Cleveland Four) are in prison for generalized resistance to the U.S. political system and global capitalism. 3.64% (two) women are in jail for defending themselves from their abusers or rapists.
As for the last category, the reality is that there are hundreds if not thousands we might include in that category. We need to pose several questions and investigations to determine who and how many of these there are and who, if not all, could be considered Prisoners of Empire. We ask the reader to be patient with us as we delve into this complex and challenging area of research for next year’s report.
For now, we include Maddesyn George and Fran Thompson as emblematic cases for which we know there is a much higher total.Maddesyn George. She is a native woman sentenced to six and a half years in prison on manslaughter charges after she defended herself against a white man who raped and threatened her life. [Source: freemaddesyn.org]
We also note that there is overlap in some of these categories. For instance, Fran Thompson is included as a woman arrested for self-defense and an eco-defender, exacerbating her prosecution and sentencing. There are other cases where people are counted in more than one category.
At the 2013 Tear Down the Walls conference in Tucson, Arizona, Margaret Prescod of Global Women’s Strike argued that all those interned under the inherently racist and classist U.S. model of mass incarceration are political prisoners. That may not be our definition, but who can honestly claim she was wrong? Ana Belen Montes [Source: tutorialathome.in] Fran Thompson [Source: kansascityabc.wordpress.com]
In our list of classes of political imprisonment, we include those held in immigrant detention centers and those still held in occupied Cuba at the Guantánamo prison. But they are not counted among the 55 PPs/POE that we document.
We do know this—even if we added the 36 inmates in Guantánamo, the thousands held in immigrant detention centers, the many women jailed for defending themselves against their rapists and abusers, and, therefore, in resistance to the patriarchal underpinnings of the Empire, these inclusions would only underscore what we already know: political imprisonment in the U.S. is a tool of racist as well as other easily identified forms of repression both at home and abroad, and all of these cases require political solutions, not individualized and decontextualized punishment.
Ultimately, systemic change is needed, which is another way of saying revolution.
A righteous tidal wave of anger followed people seeing the nine-minutes-plus videotaped police lynching of George Floyd in Minneapolis late May 2020. Racist monuments glorifying the slave-owning Confederacy came tumbling down, especially in the Deep South. These acts to take down the statues were part of historic mass protests that swept the country during the summer of 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two years earlier the monument paying homage to J. Marion Sims, once praised as the “father of modern gynecology,” was removed from Central Park in New York City, following many years of protest.
What led to the removal was a growing understanding and anger that Sims, a 19th century gynecologist in Montgomery, Alabama, used enslaved Black women as guinea pigs, experimenting on them with new medical techniques without using anesthesia or obtaining their consent. His techniques resulted in unspeakable torture.
Sims believed that Black women did not experience the same kind of pain as white human beings. Black people were nothing more than chattel to Sims and his ilk, who viewed them as less than human and actually treated them worse than animals. This was the prevailing view of enslavers in the South and even in some regions of the North.
Black women during this period were denied the right to control their own reproductive systems and destinies, starting when they were adolescents. This is horribly similar to the recent case of the 10-year-old girl from Ohio, raped twice, impregnated, and in order to receive an abortion, was forced to travel to Indiana, because of the fascistic anti-abortion law in Ohio. The doctor who performed that abortion is now being threatened with prosecution by the attorney general of Indiana, using a legal technicality to harass and punish her.
Treated as property, enslaved Black girls and women were systematically raped and sexually assaulted by white plantation owners and treated as “breeders” to produce more enslaved people. The enslaved grandmother of the great Mississippi activist, Fannie Lou Hamer, was forced to give birth 21 times as a result of this barbaric treatment.
Honoring those who resisted
In Montgomery where Sims first performed his horrific experiments, a stunning new monument was unveiled Sept. 24, 2021. “Mothers of Gynecology” includes figures representing Anarcha, Lucy and Betsey, three of the 11 enslaved women who were unwilling participants in Sims’ depraved procedures. Anarcha was reportedly pregnant at age 17 during this time.
The statues, located at the More Up Campus, are almost 15 feet high and were created by local Montgomery artist and activist Michelle Browder. The campus is dedicated to changing how history is remembered, “by finding creative ways to honor the voiceless, the minimized, the ignored.” (anarchalucybetsey.org)
Browder says of her motives, “The endeavor is to change the narrative as it relates to the history and how it’s portrayed, regarding Sims and the women [who] were used as experiments. They’re not mentioned in any of the iconography or the information, the markers.
“No one talks about these women and their sacrifices and the experimentations that they suffered,” Browder said. “And so I feel that if you’re going to tell the truth about this history, we need to tell it all.
“There’s more to this history than Dr. King and Rosa Parks, and the Confederacy.” (al.com, Sept. 27, 2021)
The monument is a gut-wrenching reminder of the strategic role that slavery played in establishing the U.S. as the most powerful imperialist country in the world, through the ongoing systematic and systemic repression of Black people as an oppressed nation.
As every Confederate monument comes tumbling down, new monuments should eventually take their place, honoring those who gave their life’s blood to resist and destroy the monstrous institution of white supremacy.
Besides the legendary heroes Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey,
Gabriel Prosser, Osborne P. Anderson and John Brown, now in Montgomery the less-well-known heroes are honored — Lucy, Anarcha and Betsey.
The Tuskegee Experiment was a 40-year research project that studied the effects of the disease syphilis when left untreated. Black rural farm workers were the subjects of the U.S. government-sponsored study and were kept in the dark as they were being left to suffer. A whistleblower revealed the unethical and morally unjust aims of the study after he went to the press in 1972.
For four decades, the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) studied the effects of the untreated disease in 600 Black men from Macon County, Ala. Starting in 1932, 399 of the 600 sharecroppers to be studied were already afflicted with the venereal disease. The farmers were led to believe that they were being treated for “bad blood,” a term used to describe a number of unknown ailments. The Tuskegee Institute, also in Alabama, was the site where the study took place.
The disease spread to the families of the men in a devastating fashion. By the end of the experiments, 28 men died from the disease, another 100 died from complications related to the disease, 40 of the wives contracted syphilis, and 19 children were born with congenital syphilis.
After several years, a foundation in New York has apologized for its role in the infamous experiment. The Milbank Memorial Fund said its role was to pay for the funeral expenses of the deceased men, up to $100, if their widows agreed to an autopsy allowing doctors to further study the bodies of their dead husbands, the Associated Press reported.
The fund’s apology came with a donation to Voices of our Fathers Legacy Foundation, a descendants’ group. The Milbank Memorial Fund said it became part of the study in 1935 after the U.S. surgeon general at the time, Hugh Cumming, asked it to. Milbank gave a total of $20,150 for about 234 autopsies, according to a study by historian Susan M Reverby.
Christopher F. Koller, president of the Fund, said there is no justification for what happened. “The upshot of this was real harm,” he told the Associated Press.
In 1972 when Peter Buxtun, a White PHS venereal disease researcher, got the insidious nature of the study out to the public by way of the Washington Star, Sen. Edward Kennedy called several Congressional hearings over the matter, which Buxtun and other researchers testified. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) filed a class-action lawsuit, which was later settled for $9 million. The settlement also included free treatment to the surviving study patients and their families.
In 1974, Congress passed the National Research Act, which helped develop guidelines for human medical research and was sparked by the findings at Tuskegee. On May 16, 1997, then-President Bill Clinton apologized to the study participants and their families, calling the act “racist.”
Christian Hill has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and major depressive disorder. In the New York State prison system, this classifies him as having a serious mental illness and confers a “1-S” designation upon him.
Under the newly implemented HALT Solitary Confinement Act, people with this mental health designation cannot be punished by being placed in the Special Housing Unit, or SHU, where they would spend at least 17 days alone in their cells. Instead, Hill and others with this designation must be sent to a Residential Mental Health Unit, a prison unit for incarcerated people with serious mental health needs. Jointly operated by the state’s prison agency and its office of mental health, these units are supposed to be therapeutic rather than punitive.
But despite its therapeutic intention, Hill still spends 20 hours in his cell on weekdays and 24 hours on weekends and holidays. For one hour each day, a door at the back of his cell is opened remotely, allowing him to go into a fenced-off pen adjoining his cell for recreation. “I do a lot of sleeping out of boredom,” Hill wrote in a letter from his Residential Mental Health Unit to Truthout.
Hill says he’s being punished because of his mental health needs. According to a new report, he’s one of hundreds who are punished despite the state’s laws designed to protect them.
Residential Mental Health Units Appear No Better Than Solitary
In April 2022, Hill spent four days in the Intermediate Care Program, a nonpunitive residential mental health treatment unit at Sullivan Correctional Facility. On the fourth day, he was feeling suicidal and asked officers to contact mental health staff so that he could be placed on suicide watch.
This was not the first time that Hill had expressed suicidal ideation during his 10 years in prison. “This was one of over 300 times I have been in need of or placed on suicide watch,” he wrote, adding that two of his suicide attempts had nearly succeeded. Because of this history, his requests to be placed on suicide watch are usually taken seriously.
This time, however, Hill said that officers told him, “Go fuck yourself.”
Hill repeatedly requested mental health staff, but said that officers continued to ignore his requests, eventually telling him to kill himself. Only after Hill threw water out of his cell was he taken to suicide watch, where he was stripped of all his clothing and belongings and placed under 24-hour observation for four days.
After those four days, staff charged him with several rule violations: assault on staff, violent conduct, engaging in an unhygienic act, threats, creating disturbance and interference with an employee. He was sentenced to 180 days in the SHU. But because of his mental health classification, he is serving his SHU sentence in a Residential Mental Health Unit instead, which offers several hours of programming, including 20 hours of group therapy each week, individual counseling once every 30 days, and a medication review every 90 days.
Prison officials also punished him with 180 days’ loss of access to commissary, packages and phone calls. This means that, during his time in the Residential Mental Health Unit, he cannot order items from the prison’s commissary (the prison store), receive packages from loved ones, or use the phone.
Just before he was transferred from Sullivan to the Residential Mental Health Unit at Marcy Correctional Facility, he says he was assaulted during the pre-transfer strip search. When he arrived at Marcy, he was placed in the Residential Mental Health Unit there and charged, separately, with an additional six rule violations, including assault on staff, violent conduct, threats, creating a disturbance and interfering with an employee.
He was sentenced to an additional 365 days in isolation on those charges and an additional 365 days’ loss of commissary, packages, phone calls and tablet use, which would have allowed him to utilize the prison’s e-messaging system to communicate with loved ones and advocates. For the next 545 days, he can only communicate by writing letters.
In 2008, four years before Hill entered prison, New York passed the SHU Exclusion Law, limiting solitary for people with serious mental illness. Under the Act, people who have been diagnosed with serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder and/or active suicidality, can only be placed in the SHU for up to 30 days if they have broken a prison rule.
After those 30 days, prison officials must divert them to a Residential Mental Health Unit. In these units, separate from the rest of the prison population, people must receive four hours of structured therapeutic programming and mental health treatment five days a week, and disciplinary sanctions for acts such as refusing medication and self-harm are prohibited. The 2008 law also prohibited punishing people in these units with additional isolation except if their conduct “poses a significant and unreasonable risk to the safety of [incarcerated persons] or staff, or to the security of the facility.”
But, according to a new report by the HALT Solitary and the Mental Health Alternatives to Solitary Confinement campaigns, isolating people as punishment happens fairly frequently. Residential Mental Health Units “essentially have failed to provide an effective and humane therapeutic environment for a large percentage of its residents,” charges the report, entitled “Punishment of People with Serious Mental Illness in New York State Prisons.”
Reviewing data from January 2017 through May 2019, the report concludes that New York’s state prison system and its Office of Mental Health have not been following the law’s limits on punishment.
“Although these units are supposed to be therapeutic, they are frequently punitive,” said Jennifer Parish, who is director of criminal justice advocacy at the Urban Justice Center and a founding member of the Mental Health Alternatives to Solitary Confinement campaign. She noted that she has heard frequent complaints from people who have cycled through the SHU and various Residential Mental Health Units and many, she said, “felt they were treated worse than people in the SHU. This is not how this is supposed to work.”
Hill agrees. He notes that, under the HALT Solitary Act, if he were in typical solitary confinement (i.e., the SHU), he would be allowed his personal property, including his radio, fan, calculator, lamp, hot pot for cooking and prison-issued tablet on which he can send e-messages to family members. But in the Residential Mental Health Unit, he has none of these to help him pass the hours that he spends alone inside his cell.
Adding Hundreds of Days in Isolation
In the 1974 case Wolf v. McDonnell, the United States Supreme Court ruled that people in prison have the right to due process under the 14th Amendment — even for hearings involving internal prison rules violations. That same right applies to those in the Residential Mental Health Units, but according to the report, 94 percent of the 1,925 disciplinary hearings held between 2017 and mid-2019 resulted in guilty findings — and the vast majority of people were punished with additional time in isolation. The report also found that the most frequent sanction was for disobeying a direct order (15.2 percent), followed by creating a disturbance (12 percent) and interfering with staff (10 percent).
Both charges are vague and can encompass behaviors such as shouting or yelling, noted Tyrell Muhammad, a senior advocate at the Correctional Association of New York, a nonprofit that monitors New York’s prisons. The charges can also encompass actions such as watching staff extract a cellmate despite orders to face the wall, or yelling for staff when someone attempts suicide, explained Muhammad, who spent 27 years in New York State prisons, including seven in the SHU.
“The above are actual incidents that I have experienced and was given disciplinary tickets and a Tier III for,” he said, referring to the highest-level infraction for prison rule violations that carries the most severe penalties. “Many would believe that if one is charged with these types of infractions that [it] is serious to the point where violence was used, [but that] is very rare. These infractions are a form of retaliation. It is usually because someone witness[ed] something and these disciplinary tickets are a way of intimidation.” He and other advocates have noted that staff make the decision on what actions constitute creating a disturbance or interfering with staff.
In contrast, the report found that fewer than 4 percent of people in Residential Mental Health Units were charged with assault on staff, and fewer than 1 percent were charged with assault on another incarcerated person.
Despite the lack of severity of the charges, hundreds have been punished with additional isolation. According to the report, of the 399 people in a Residential Mental Health Unit during that time, 99 percent were punished with solitary confinement. Eight-five percent were sentenced to six months or more of additional isolation time. Their total amount of time in isolation came out to more than 823 years with an average of 753 days (or more than two years) for each person.
In addition to the punitive nature of being confined to their cells for 20 to 24 hours each day, most people in these units are handcuffed when they are escorted to therapy and counseling and, once at their destination, shackled to the floor with leg irons. If they remain free of misbehavior reports or infractions known as “negative informational reports” for 120 days, they are allowed to leave their cells without handcuffs and attend programs without being shackled. They are also moved to a cell with a television mounted on the wall, allowing them to watch TV to break up the monotony. But, Hill says, staff members at the Residential Mental Health Unit frequently write negative informational reports, which do not require a hearing or allow an incarcerated person to defend themselves against allegations of negative behavior. Instead, they must begin their 120 days again.
The report also charges that people in these units — who are primarily Black and Latinx people with serious mental health needs — have been punished at much higher rates than others in the prison system and frequently because of behavior caused by their underlying mental health conditions.
Over 80 percent in the Residential Mental Health Units were Black and/or Latinx. Black and Latinx people make up 72 percent of those incarcerated in New York State prisons and 37 percent in the state at large.
In contrast, white people, such as Hill, comprised 14.5 percent of people in Residential Mental Health Units compared to 24 percent in all New York prisons and nearly 62 percent of the state at large. They also made up nearly 26 percent of people in the Intermediate Care Program, the nonpunitive mental health unit (or, as the report notes, 77 percent higher than white people in the more punitive Residential Mental Health Units.)
Jack Beck, the report’s author and a member of the HALT Solitary campaign, noted that people sent to the nonpunitive Intermediate Care Program and to the Residential Mental Health Unit have the same serious mental health classifications. “There’s tremendous racial bias in the disciplinary system — and in the whole [Department of Corrections],” he said.
Punitive Residential Reentry Units
In 2021, 13 years after the passage of the SHU Exclusion Act, New York’s legislature passed the HALT Solitary Confinement Act, limiting solitary confinement to no more than 15 consecutive days (or 20 days within a 60-day time period).
The law went into effect on March 31, 2022. It required the creation of Residential Reentry Units where people sentenced to more than 15 days in SHU will be transferred on Day 16. According to the Department of Corrections and Community Services, these units too are meant to “be therapeutic and trauma-informed and aim to address individual treatment, rehabilitation needs, and underlying causes of problematic behavior.”
People who have serious mental illnesses are not placed in SHU at all and, like Hill, are sent directly to a Residential Mental Health Unit, where they still spend at least 20 hours each day alone in their cells.
Now, Parish, Beck, and other advocates are concerned that these new Residential Reentry Units will replicate the problem of alternatives that are still punitive rather than therapeutic. “This is a cautionary message,” Beck said of the report and its findings. “If you’re going to have people in these treatment units but you’re going to constantly discipline them, it doesn’t work. It doesn’t change behavior. It’s totally ineffective.”
The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision did not respond to Truthout’s queries about these units or its policy regarding suicidal ideation.
The report concludes that the ongoing punitive approach to imprisoned people with mental health needs, even in units designated for these more vulnerable populations, “indicate that prison is not an appropriate environment for people with mental health needs.”
Its first recommendation exhorts the state to stop incarcerating people with mental health needs. Instead, it urges legislators and policy makers to expand and enhance community-based mental health care, diversion programs, crisis response, and alternatives to incarceration.
An illustrated take on Leo Zeilig’s new biography of the 1960s-70s revolutionary.
— Read on www.nytimes.com/2022/04/24/books/review/a-revolutionary-for-our-time-the-walter-rodney-story-leo-zeilig.html
|Comrades, on May 25th, Sundiata Acoli walked out of prison into the arms of his family and loved ones! We knew this day was coming but wanted to ensure it was official and that we saw it with our own eyes. As you can imagine, after 49 years, Sundiata is finally able to spend time with his family and we want to make sure we respect these precious moments. To that end, we will be asking our supporters to hold off on requesting meetings with him until he can get settled and his family can love up on him by themselves. We’ll announce an official homecoming celebration in the coming weeks.|
In prison, there’s no 401k, no savings plan, and no pension. It’s up to all of us to provide that. We ask for your generous support to allow Sundiata to enjoy his years of freedom with the financial stability he deserves.
All donations received will go to Sundiata’s family to care for him.
Six young New Zealand-born Pacific Islanders were inspired by the works of Newton and his party and in 1971, they created The Polynesian Panther Party (PPP). The PPP was a revolutionary social justice movement formed to fight racial inequalities carried out against indigenous Māori and Pacific Islanders in Auckland and New Zealand as a whole.
Pacific Islanders is a term used to describe the Indigenous peoples of Oceania (Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia). During the 1950s when New Zealand’s economy was not in good shape and needed workers, thousands of Pacific Islanders arrived. Over time, the color of the population changed in inner-city Auckland. The city was no longer all-White and this bothered people and authorities. Soon, Pacific Islanders faced issues such as racial profiling, redlining, disproportionate incarceration, and segregation in the sports world, according to this report.
Six young Maori and Pacific Islander men, namely, Fred Schmidt, Nooroa Teavae, Paul Dapp, Vaughan Sanft, Eddie Williams and Will ‘Ilolahia took notice of what was happening and founded the PPP on June 16, 1971, inspired by the American Black Panthers. The group was specifically inspired by the book Seize the Time by Bobby Seale of the American Black Panther movement. According to Stuff, the book’s central philosophy guided the PPP’s three-point platform — peaceful resistance, Pacific empowerment (identity work) and educating New Zealand about systemic racism.
“Initially it was the literature of the Black Panther Party in America that we got attracted to – the work they were doing in America, and when we read the books deeper we found out that the problems they were complaining about were the exact problems that we were seeing in New Zealand, so we decided to do something constructive and formed the Polynesian Panther Party,” Will ‘Ilolahia, who was the party chairman, said
With their black uniform and berets adopted from their peers in the United States, they seemed to be a threat to the White middle-class in New Zealand, however, their movement centered on community work, as stated by Stuff.co. The PPP set up its headquarters in Ponsonby, a suburb of Auckland, and started to implement its program through community organizing and direct action.
“What was it all about being a Polynesian Panther? Standing up on behalf of our people, being good to your neighbour, don’t take no s… and stop this racism,” ‘Ilolahia was quoted by Stuff.
Indeed, acts of community care by Newton and his Panthers in the U.S. served as an inspiration to the Polynesian Panthers movement to serve the Polynesian community through grassroots community initiatives and of course protest of injustices. Some of its activities included youth programs intended to inspire community initiative and discourage gang integration, prison-visit programs, homework centres and tutoring for Pacific children, and free meal programs and food banks for families.
The PPP also kept aggressive police force accountable and organized legal aid for those unjustly evicted or fired or people who have lost their visas or under threat of deportation. All in all, it led programs that educated Māori and Pacific Islanders on their rights as New Zealand citizens. Within a few years, the PPP which was made up of former gang members, revolutionaries, university students and radicals expanded nationally with 13 chapters including its chapters in prisons and in South Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin.
From the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, special police squads conducted raids on the homes and workplaces of Pasifika overstayers throughout New Zealand usually at dawn. Over-stayers of Pacific Islander heritage were disproportionately targeted in these raids even though the majority of people overstaying were from the UK, Australia and South Africa, per this report.
In response, the Panthers organized “counter raids” outside the homes of government ministers, chanting around their homes with megaphones.The PPP’s actions helped to stop the dawn raids and the group even went on to successfully campaign for a state apology.
The Polynesian Panthers may not be very much alive today in New Zealand but their legacy as liberators can still be felt.
July 29 marks the anniversary of the Slocum Massacre, where in the East Texas town of Slocum, Black people were gunned down and slaughtered by a white mob
— Read on atlantablackstar.com/2016/07/31/slocum-massacre-106th-anniversary-the-true-atrocity-of-hundreds-of-black-people-hunted-like-sheep-purposely-hidden-from-history-books/