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Mumia Abu-Jamal Remains the Voice of the Voiceless

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

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

source: https://borkena.com/2022/08/17/mumia-abu-jamal-remains-the-voice-of-the-voiceless/

While Claiming to Defend Freedom Around the World, the U.S. Has Dozens of Political Prisoners—and the Majority are People of Color


[Source: newblackmaninexile.net]

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.A poster with a group of people

Description automatically generated with low confidence[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 ResisterEarth 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.Home | Jericho Movement[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.Progression from slavery to mass incarceration in US history[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.Michael Brown: Missouri police officer who killed the 18-year-old faces no  charges | CNN[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, a trophy by way of extraditionSimon Trinidad [Source: prenasural.comNoDAPL Water Protector Michael 'Rattler' Markus Sentenced to Federal Prison  - UNICORN RIOTMichael “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's Story — FREE MADDESYN GEORGEMaddesyn 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? Tutorial At HomeAna Belen Montes [Source: tutorialathome.inFranThompsonFran 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.

source: covertactionmagazine.com

“Mental Health Units” in Prison Are Solitary Confinement by Another Name, Activists Say

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.

source: https://truthout.org/articles/mental-health-units-in-prison-are-solitary-by-another-name-activists-say/

After almost 50 years, former Black Panther Sundiata Acoli to be released from prison

Sundiata Acoli, a former Black Panther member who was convicted of murder in 1974 and has been denied parole multiple times, will now be released from prison. The New Jersey supreme court has granted parole to Acoli, ruling that he was no longer a threat to the public.

85-year-old Acoli has been serving a life sentence for the 1973 murder of a New Jersey state trooper during a shootout in which Assata Shakur, the self-exiled aunt of Tupac Shakur, was also arrested. Shakur escaped in 1979 and fled to Cuba, where she was granted political asylum. Acoli had been eligible for parole since 1992 but had been denied so many times.

In the 1970s when the Black liberation fighters’ struggle was at its peak in the United States, it gave birth to militant groups like Philadelphia-based MOVE founded by John Africa in 1972 and the Black Panther Party founded in late October 1966 by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. The Black Panthers’ militant wing was called the Black Liberation Army.

Acoli, a member of the Black Liberation Army, was on May 2, 1973, driving just after midnight when a state trooper, James Harper, stopped him for a “defective taillight”. Acoli was then in the vehicle with two others — Assata Shakur and Zayd Malik Shakur — who were also members of the Black Liberation Army. Harper was joined by another trooper, Werner Foerster, at the scene. Foerster then found an ammunition magazine for an automatic pistol on Acoli. A shootout ensued; Foerster died in the process and Harper was wounded.

Assata Shakur was arrested while Zayd Malik Shakur was found dead near the car. Acoli fled but was caught some hours later. Acoli and Assata Shakur were convicted of the murder of Foerster in separate trials. Acoli said he did not remember what happened as he passed out after being hit by a bullet. In 1974, Acoli was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life with the possibility of parole after 25 years. Acoli became eligible for parole in 1992 but was not allowed to take part in his own parole hearing.

All in all, he has been denied parole eight times. His lawyer, Bruce Afran, said each time he is denied, the reason given is the same — “he hasn’t done enough psychological counseling; he doesn’t fully admit to his crime, or he hasn’t adequately apologized for it,” according to the Post. In 2014, a state appellate panel ruled that Acoli should be released, citing good behavior since 1996. The state Attorney General’s office however contested and the case was sent back to the board. Again, it denied Acoli’s request. Acoli started appealing that decision.

After being repeatedly denied parole, New Jersey’s Supreme Court has now voted 3-2 to overturn a parole board ruling, according to BBC. Acoli’s prison record has been “exemplary”, the judges said, adding that he had completed 120 courses while in prison, received positive evaluations from prison officials, and participated in counseling. The parole board had “lost sight that its mission largely was to determine the man Acoli had become”, the judges said.

Activists now hope that Acoli’s release would bring attention to other elderly members of the Black Panthers who are still imprisoned in the U.S

SOURCE: https://face2faceafrica.com/article/after-almost-50-years-former-black-panther-sundiata-acoli-to-be-released-from-prison?

Products Sold by Companies using Prison Labour

Products-sold-by-companies-using-prison-labor-from-letter-from-imprisoned-man-by-Jahahara, Celebrating International Workers’ Day!, Culture Currents News & Views

Other side of the walls! Several months ago, i received this powerful copy of a hand-written graphic from a young incarcerated brother. Please take a good read, act in truth and with justice and share with others. Amen. Asé. – Photo: Baba Jahahara

Protest Police Terror & Tribute to Delbert Africa

August 1 is Emancipation Day, but are Black people truly free?

We are a collective of incarcerated Black people – political prisoners held hostage by the state – and our supporters on the outside who are making this statement on Emancipation Day.

On August 1, African people across the globe celebrate Emancipation Day. This marks the day the Abolition of Slavery Act was passed freeing enslaved Africans across the British colonies, including Canada.

Slavery may be over, but are Black people truly free?

We have learned that there are more Black people in prisons in the United States today than were held in enslavement. We learned that Black women are one of the fastest growing global prison populations, and that our sisters are being put in prison largely because of the war on drugs. We learned that Black incarceration goes up every year in Canada. We have lived out the laws passed that give longer and longer minimum sentences to Black men accused of gun crimes or accused of being in gangs, while white bankers and killer cops and CEOs who don’t give their workers PPE during a pandemic – the real gangsters – are never charged at all.

Are Black people free when prisons and jails across this country are filled with Black people? Is slavery even over when Black people clean and work in the kitchens for less than two dollars a day inside federal prisons? When our mothers and grandmothers come to visit us and are turned away and accused of bringing in contraband. When we are transferred across the country against our will when we stand up against unjust conditions. When we have to go on hunger strikes to demand basic human rights.

Are we free when police taser, and shoot, and kill Black people when they are called for wellness checks? Are we free when the off-duty police officer who beat Dafonte Miller with a metal pipe until he lost an eye is convicted only of assault, while his brother was acquitted of all charges? And while they are acquitted, white juries sentence Black men on no evidence for the crime of only having Black skin.

Are we free when there are police stations on the corner of our communities, but no grocery stores? Are we free when Black families can be evicted from public housing and when there are no safe places for our mothers to live? Are we free when our daughters and sisters can’t walk on the street in their own neighbourhoods without being propositioned by white men?

Are we free when little girls are handcuffed in school and arrested? When we can’t even get the tools to educate ourselves and free our minds and make a life for our families?

Are we free when we have no community or home to be released to because the land has been taken by gentrification or bulldozed or there’s a garbage dump in our community?

Are we free when the legacy of slavery is still being lived out by us every day, when those of us incarcerated still have overseers, when we are called n****r and other racial slurs, when generation after generation we are kicked out of school, kicked onto the streets, denied mental health treatment, and then warehoused in prisons where we can’t get parole?

Are we free when the skin we are born with still defines our condition?

In August 2018, prisoners in Burnside began a prison strike during “Black August.” Black August began in the prison system in California in the 1970s in commemoration of the freedom struggles of incarcerated people of African descent. The month was used to honour the deaths of revolutionaries like George Jackson, to create political awareness, and to build the emancipation struggle among prisoners.

In our research, we found that the original BLM – the Black Liberation Movement – adopted Black August as a radical month focused on the liberation struggles of Africans across the globe. Jonathan Jackson was gunned down outside the Marin County Courthouse on August 7, 1970. The first enslaved Africans were brought to Jamestown, Virginia in August of 1619. Marcus Garvey, Fred Hampton, and other revolutionaries were born in August.

The Underground Railroad started on August 2, 1850. In 1843, Henry Highland Garnett called a general slave strike on August 22. Gabriel Prosser’s slave rebellion was on August 30, 1800. Nat Turner’s slave rebellion began on August 21, 1831. In August of 1965 the Watts rebellion rose up. The Philadelphia police bombed the MOVE family on August 8, 1978. These are just some of the significant events that mark this month as a time of resistance and struggle.

August 10 in Canada is Prisoner Justice Day. Prisoner Justice Day was started in the 1970s to remember all the people who died in custody. On this day, prisoners across the country fast and strike for all our fallen comrades.

We say again, if this is freedom, we have not seen it, we have not felt it, and we have not lived it.

Emancipation Day is only meaningful if we use the day to organize for our continued freedom struggle. Any celebration of this day without commitment to ending punishing, policing, and prisons rings hollow and does not honour the labour of our ancestors.

This Emancipation Day is taking place while Black people in Canada are calling for defunding the police. On the news, we see people showing how much money goes into the police budget and how that money could be spent on safe housing or clean water on reserves or on beds to treat addiction.

We also want to add that defunding the police also means defunding prisons which in turn means abolition. On this Emancipation Day, we call upon every community where a new prison is being built to say no to more incarceration. It costs over 100, 000 dollars a year to keep the average person in prison, and even more for women. Over 20 billion dollars a year is spent on “corrections” in Canada, but we say that no-one is being corrected.

Black people will never be free while there are cameras on the corners of our communities, while police stop us whenever they want, when they drive around the streets of our communities, while prisons get more and more beds, while lockdowns and segregation have become the new normal, and while white defence lawyers, crowns, judges, juries, parole officers, C.O’s, and parole boards control our lives and freedom.

We cannot be free while prisons stand on stolen Indigenous land.

Black people will never be free while people believe some few small reforms are enough to stop the brutalizing of Black bodies. Black people will never be free when we can’t be safe and happy and feed our families and dream of the future.

On this Emancipation Day, we are still crying out for freedom. The whips and the chains might have been abolished, but until the bars are gone, we are not free, and neither are you.

source: https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/featured/august-1-is-emancipation-day-but-are-black-people-truly-free/

 

Mumia: The Perils of Reform

By MUMIA ABU-JAMAL

For years — indeed, for decades — we have seen the mirage of reform being presented by neoliberal leaders and their media tools, only to awake too late to ghoulish nightmares of shattered promises and hopes betrayed. For reform is betrayal, a devil’s bargain of better days to come — that only brings worse days. Today, the nation shocked by the savagery of George Floyd’s curbside execution for all the world to see.

Just five years ago, politicians claiming themselves progressive, sold illusions of police body cameras as some kind of solution. But George Floyd, not to mention Rayshard Brooks, put the nail in that coffin. For it meant nothing when it came to changing cop behavior.

Today’s reformers in Congress promise much, but they can and will deliver little but new illusions. Reforms are but reformulations of old promises, of old wine in new bottles, of things to come that never make it. For that is the nature of capitalist society: new items to sell that ended up producing new problems.

New days need new ways of thinking. They need creativity. They need deep change that truly transforms. Not discussions, but relationships. And who will dare say that this miserable present is awash in outright oppression — not the lie of service, but truly repression, suppression, and oppression. New oppressive systems can only bring more of the same.

To quote Dr. Huey P. Newton, founder of the Black Panther Party: “We want freedom, not another reform.”

Audio available here.

This commentary was originally published at PrisonRadio.org and recorded by Noelle Hanrahan.

 

 

source: Mumia: The Perils of Reform

#WE TOO

by  Shaka Shakur

#WE TOO 
#WE TOO

If there can be no peace without justice, then there can never be peace while the US Prison Gulag exists.

“Prison Lives Matter as Black Lives Matter!!!”

“There shall neither be slavery nor involuntary servitude unless duly convicted of a crime.” — 13th Amendment of U.S. Constitution

We as prisoners held captive in one of the united states many modern day plantations wish to stand in solidarity with our people as they protest the systemic racism and genocide perpetrated by the united states security forces and kriminal (in)justice system.

As our people march and protest in righteous anger and rage throughout the country, we not only want to add our voices in unity, we also want to say, We Too!

We Too! Are often murdered/lynched in the streets by the u.s. security forces and throughout its prison system, and it’s ruled a suicide or natural causes.

We Too! Are often lynched in the biased and racist courtrooms throughout amerika as we are railroaded into the Prison Industrial Complex.

We Too! Are systematically harvested from our communities and families and fed into the Prison Industrial Complex in the interest of big business, privatization and social control.

We Too! Are often the first to be sentenced to death, either literally or figuratively through a slow death of an outrageous amount of years.

We Too! Are the victim of racist attacks and beatings while unarmed or handcuffed behind our back by racist guards or strike teams and its covered up.

We Too! Are subjected to white supremacist gangs and militias hiding in plain sight behind badges, in prison guard uniforms and as prison administrators.

We too! Are subjected to the planting of evidence, the filing of false reports/charges and thereby extending our sentences without any checks and balances or oversight.

We Too! Are subjected to decades in solitary confinement without due process or penological justification.

We Too! Are the first to be denied parole or clemency for decades, no matter how many programs we have completed and in spite of meeting the criteria.

We Too! Are denied preventable health care and allowed to die and suffer due to official Indifference.

We Too! In the midst of a pandemic that is sweeping the country and ravishing the prison system, are also being denied C-19 testing.

We Too! Are being denied serious consideration for early release or pardons based on the color of our skin, what city or community we come from or based on our politics or religious beliefs.

We Too! Are here and feel your pain, because your pain is our pain and we stand united and in solidarity with you because Prison Lives Matter as Black Lives Matter!!!

ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE WHO FIGHT FOR IT!!!

Committee For Freedom C.F.F.

Shaka Shakur #1996207

K.M.C.C
P.O. Box 860 Oakwood, Va 24631

 

 

source: #WE TOO 

Prison Radio Commentaries

Delbert’s Commentaries

The Plight of Political Prisoners in America (8:04)
Delbert Africa

Delbert Africa’s Message (4:33)
Delbert Africa

August 8th by Delbert Africa (3:47)
Delbert Africa

Delbert Africa on May 13th (5:28)
Delbert Arica

A Message to the Movement from Delbert Africa of the MOVE 9 on their August 8 parole hearing


(c) Joe Piette

courtesy of Delbert Africa

(c) Joe Piette

(c) Joe Piette

(c) The Philadelphia Inquirer

https://onamove.comPr