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Incandescent Whiteness: Dispatch from Portland, Oregon

Incandescent Whiteness: Dispatch from Portland, Oregon
Incandescent Whiteness: Dispatch from Portland, Oregon

We are murdered, but there is no recourse because there is no crime. No death occurred because we are not human.

“Oregon started out being the only state in the nation with a Black exclusion law in its founding constitution.”

A few days ago, I was approached by a reporter from KOIN to discuss a potential interview about current events. The reporter wanted to discuss my views on violence.  I stated that the United States government (city, state, county and federal) is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world and felt it is improper to condemn the violence of protesters that has no proportional equivalent to the utter destruction reeked on Black people in Portland, Oregon, the nation and the world.  The reporter did not call me back for an interview.

So, getting back to the question of violence, it is important to define it. Violence cannot be defined as solely a physical thing and one could argue more violence is done through non-physical ways.  Gentrification is violence.  Racial and class disparate outcomes in health care are violence.  Racial and class based disparate outcomes in education are violence.  We can go on and make this claim in relation to every mainstream institution, i.e., incarceration system, employment, transportation etc.  This does not even get at the psychological violence that Black people experience everyday walking, driving, social mediating and watching a movie or tv show, where these venues routinely benefit from the absence, death and suffering of Black people.  But we should not diminish in any way the incredible power of physical violence. The US supported the 6 million deaths of the Congolese during the 1990s.

“The United States government is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”

These disparate outcomes cause what is referred to as premature death. Black people die earlier because we are marked as Black and experience anti-Black racism in each of these institutions.  And it is important to understand that the premature death is just the tip of the iceberg.  Before we die, we suffer individually and collectively often in silence and shame. Anti-Black racism is the particular experience of Black people that deems us within civil society as not-human, we are abject.  As a result we can be murdered, and at the same time, we are not murdered.  No death occurred because we are not human. Thus, there is no recourse because there is no crime.  That’s why white police officers and vigilantes who murder Black people almost never go to prison.  One could argue no crime in fact occurred because in the eyes of the state no murder occurred. Just like the rape of Black women during slavery. There was no crime because an object cannot consent.  The police, vigilante or rapist was in fact defending themselves.  Similarly, our mainstream institutions act the same.  That Black people experience amputation as a result of diabetes at three times the rate of non-Black people is not a crime.  Health care is never held responsible.  In fact, it’s the Black person’s fault.  We just need to eat better.

I have often asked my students why we are not going crazy because of the million Black people in prison, millions more who are out of prison with no ability to participate in mainstream society because they have the felony charge, and the incredible discrepancies in education, health care, housing and employment.  It’s because nothing is wrong.  No crime has been committed.  This demonstrates we are not part of society. We do not care.  I know that many of us do care, but not enough of us do to act differently.  Please be cognizant here that there are Black folk who do not think anything is wrong with the criminal injustice system.  You do the crime you do the time. Not enough of us acknowledge the depth of anti-Black racism. And, more incredibly this is the normal many would like to return to.

Tthere are Black folk who do not think anything is wrong with the criminal injustice system.”

Let’s look at the facts in Oregon. Oregon started out being the only state in the nation with a Black exclusion law in its founding constitution.  It wanted to be a white homeland. Thus, the Black population is no more than two percent and Portland is the whitest large city in America.  Oregon has the highest drop/push out rate of Black high school students in the country.  This means that many of these Black youth are destined for the incarceration system.  It is no surprise than that Oregon has higher than national rates of incarceration for Black people.  The Portland Metro Area has the largest proportion of Black people in the state, so it is the schools in this area that are doing the majority of this school to prison work.  Gentrification of the Black community is relatively complete. There is no longer a physical space of contiguous city blocks that determines a Black community in Portland. If you look at health care and employment, Portland and Oregon are no different from the rest of the nation.  I know this all sounds depressing, but it cannot be denied.  I think it’s important to sit with and acknowledge the truth.  We owe that to ourselves, our children friends and lovers at the very least.  My dad, for example, never told me that the reason his family moved from New Orleans to the Bay Area in California was his uncle was murdered by a white man because he would not give up his job as a porter.

“Oregon has the highest drop/push out rate of Black high school students in the country.”

The solution. I offer none that could flip the above on its head.  I could offer reform measures, but we already have these answers.  They have been provided for centuries now.  These are redistribution of wealth, free health care, reparations, free public higher education, ethnic studies curriculum and disarm the police.  Tax the rich. These are each viable and would impact Black people’s quality of life, but we can’t even get there.  For many people the reason is because no crime has occurred. I remember in graduate school this young white woman said to me if you want change just vote. The only option back then, it was the 1990s, was the democratic candidate.  I voted for Clinton the first time, but then the book The Bell Curve came out and Clinton said nothing about this. His wife went on the affirm my suspicions with her comment of “Super Predator.”  The Bell Curve was a huge success (the author still works at Harvard and is asked to speak) and argued Black people were genetically inferior so do not invest in them.  When Obama came around, he did not seem like a good option, so I voted for Cynthia Mckinney of the Green party. Cynthia Mckinney, a Black woman, was a US Congressperson then and staunch advocate for Black and poor people.  I knew she could not become president.  Obama won the presidency largely because of Black people and then went on to successfully contribute to the destruction of three countries, Libya, Syria and Colombia.  The first two counties are pretty obvious. The second not so much.  The Plan Colombia started by president Bush killed 1 million Black Colombians.  Obama took it on with enthusiasm.

I would suggest voting is not an option.  This moment appears and has the weight of being more significant than a few days ago, before Breonna Taylor’s murder, before George Floyd’s. Was there any significant difference between a week and half ago and today?  I’m not dismissing their death’s. I’m saying weighed against the last five centuries? Next week, two months from now, in a year, I am going to have to go back and work with the same mostly white people that got us here. I’m going to have to defer to their power.  Many of these people act surprised, although we have been yelling and screaming for our whole lives that substantively little has changed.  We remain slaves, abject, without honor, and gratuitously violated.

source: Incandescent Whiteness: Dispatch from Portland, Oregon


Law Enforcement Continues the Racist Legacy it Was Born From

By Ben Luongo

The killing of George Floyd has put on full display the persistent and overt racism present in America’s law enforcement. The way in which he was murdered typifies the gratuitous violence that white officers use on a daily basis against black men. The police always deploy force disproportionately against minorities, and that force is often deadly. Black men make up only thirteen percent of the population, but they constitute a quarter of the people shot and killed by cops. This makes them three times more likely than white people to be killed by police, despite the fact that white people are more likely to be armed.

The brutal and oppressive racism in the police force has led activists and political leaders in recent years to call for police reform. Those calls have reached new levels following the murder of George Floyd. One example is Joe Biden who said on a live-stream last week “It’s time for us to face that deep open wound we have in this nation. We need justice for George Floyd. We need real police reform.” Other examples include the founder of Utah’s Black Lives Matter, Lex Scott, who recently called for certain measures such as “data collection, de-escalation training for police, implicit bias training for police, less than lethal weapons for police.”

These are reasonable measures and we should seriously consider them. However, it is important that we not place complete faith in the promise of reform and that we remain open to alternatives to law enforcement. The reason for this is that the police have major structural problems which may be too deep-seated for modest reforms to solve. The idea of reform assumes that a system functions largely as it should aside from a few noticeable flaws. Whatever those flaws are can be corrected, or reformed, by implementing simple adjustments to improve how the system functions. As this relates to police reform, it assumes that police are a vital part of law enforcement and that we can fix the problem of racism to ensure that policing is more just and fair.

There are two issues with this view, however, which exposes the limitation of police reform. The first is that it assumes police are somehow a natural fixture of modern society that play a necessary role in maintaining order. This just isn’t the case. In reality, today’s institution of policing is a rather recent historical development emerging out of modern changes of property relations and white supremacy. As a result, policing continues an outmoded legacy of social order which serves very little purpose for our modern society. This brings up the second issue: because the police are rooted in racist and classist modes of social order, white supremacy may be a built-in feature which cannot be expunged from the institution of police.

One has only to consider this history in order to realize that the police were never intended to serve and protect people. Instead, they were designed to protect the property and economic interest of white elites and slave owners. Two related points in American history exemplify this.

The first can be found in 200 year-old methods designed to control and repress slave populations. As historian Salley Hadden writes in Slave Patrol, “the new American innovation in law enforcement during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was the creation of racially focused law enforcement groups in the American south.” As the south began to industrialize, slave owners found new lucrative opportunities in “renting out” their slaves to employers in the city. This meant that slaves spent more time away from their owners who were used to monitoring their every move. White people grew fearful of the opportunities this provided for slaves to organize and revolt against their masters. As a result, the state instituted race-based forms of legal repression called slave patrols. These slave patrols, as Robert Wintersmith rights, “scoured the country side day and night, intimidating, terrorizing, and brutalizing slaves into submission.”

Today’s police also has its origins in 19th century class struggle and how American cities in the north used state violence to repress and control immigrants and the working poor. As historian Sydney Harring writes in Policing a Class Society, “The criminologist’s definition of ‘public order crimes’ comes perilously close to the historian’s description of ‘working-class leisure-time activity.” As rural peasants migrated to urban areas looking for work, city and business leaders worried about the rise of “disorderly conduct,” which was essentially code for worker strikes, riots, and other kinds of collective activity. Cities stopped this kind of activity by hiring watchmen, which were groups of men who often resorted to extreme forms of violence in order to keep the peace. They slowly morphed into municipal police departments in the mid-19th century as states began to centralize power.

In general, the origins of the police reflects an oppressive history of white and propertied elites protecting their interests by controlling black people, immigrants, and the working poor. As a result, our modern society has been saddled with a paradigm of social order which reflects the interests of white supremacy and private property. Just consider how white cops brutally murdered George Floyd after receiving a report of him allegedly purchasing merchandize with counterfeit money. We like to think that, after two hundred years, today’s police academy reflects more modern values of justice and equality. While social institutions do evolve throughout history, however, they rarely abandon the legacy they were born out of. The structures of power that gave rise to the police simply reproduce themselves in new ways that make the paradigm of police violence more acceptable. In today’s context, this takes form in a racist discourse that justifies police brutality against the backdrop of “super-predators” and “thugs” that threaten social order.

Quite frankly, the idea that cops prevent crime is a myth that Americans should disabuse themselves of. Not only has the overall number of cops declined for the past five years, but the ratio of police per citizen has dropped for the past two decades. During this time, the number of violent crimes have actually gone down. This shows quite clearly that social order is not maintained by police. Instead, we need to recognize that social stability is rooted in racial equality regarding issues in housing, education, health, and employment. Just like the police, however, each of these issues continue an insidious and persistent legacy of racism which still haunts black Americans today. The best way to address these injustices is to take resources wasted on police reform and redirect it to rebuilding our communities.

Consider the fact that Minneapolis spent just over a third of its general fund ($163 million) on police. The general fund refers to discretionary spending which could very well have been spent on a more constructive community-based initiative. For instance, Minneapolis has the fourth highest unemployment gap between white and black residents in America. Imagine how that money could have be spent on closing that gap. It’s these kinds of investments which are necessary for erecting a fair and just society.

Ultimately, we need to adopt a new paradigm of social order, one that doesn’t rely on reforming the police. The problem of racism is far too entrenched and widespread for police reform to solve. Correcting this requires that we rebuild and restore the lives of black Americans which the police, up to this point, have only ruined


Why Has COVID-19 Not Led to More Humanitarian Releases?

Why Has COVID-19 Not Led to More Humanitarian Releases?

Jalil Muntaqim, a Black Panther imprisoned since 1971, is one of thousands of elderly prisoners the United States has refused to free during the pandemic.


In 1971, two weeks shy of his twentieth birthday, Anthony Bottom, a young Black Panther, along with another Panther, Albert Nuh Washington, were arrested following a shootout with San Francisco police. The pair would be tried along with a third man, Herman Bell, for a separate attack: the May killing of two New York City police officers. They were convicted and sentenced to twenty-five years to life, the maximum penalty in New York at the time. The judge who sentenced them said the sentence was befitting a society at war.

Even the most liberal of U.S. governors would rather risk their prisons turning into mass graves than offer the faintest of admissions that mass incarceration is unnecessary for public safety.

Bottom had first joined the Panthers in the weeks immediately following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. In prison, Bottom converted to Islam and adopted a new name, Jalil Muntaqim. After almost five decades of incarceration, Muntaqim has racked up a laudatory file of accomplishments. He earned two bachelor’s degrees before Bill Clinton ended Pell eligibility for incarcerated people. He cofounded an organization, the Jericho Movement, dedicated to the release of U.S. political prisoners. He has received numerous accolades from human rights organizations for his dedication to social justice. He has taught poetry, history, and alternatives to violence classes for other incarcerated people. When I first began corresponding with him nearly two decades ago, he was organizing a fundraiser for AIDS orphans in Africa.

In 2002 Muntaqim became eligible for parole. Yet the Patrolmen’s Benevolence Association—the revanchist police fraternity that has shielded abusive cops and pursued aggressive forms of social control—lobbied heavily against it, as it has every time he has come up for parole. The PBA even set up a website to monitor the schedule of parole hearings for anyone convicted of killing a police officer, allowing visitors to send an automatically generated letter to the parole board opposing consideration of release.

For decades, the PBA effectively controlled the parole board, and such pressure ensured Muntaqim would be denied parole every two years. Each time he has been denied parole, the board has stated that its decision is based not on his deeds in prison or his readiness for release, but on the nature of his crime. Since that can never change, PBA pressure renders the parole board irrelevant. Every prison sentence becomes a de facto death penalty—as became evident when one of Muntaqim’s codefendants, Albert Nuh Washington, was denied compassionate release for stage IV liver cancer. He died in a prison hospital in April 2000.

When COVID-19 struck, Muntaqim’s advocates argued before the state that his life was in grave peril. Fourteen of the top twenty pandemic outbreak clusters have been prisons and jails, and incarceration creates and exacerbates a number of health problems. At sixty-eight years old, having lived for fifty years in prison—and having survived a stroke, hypertension, and heart disease—Muntaqim is at extreme risk of dying from COVID-19. He is one of more than 9,000 people over the age of 55 who is incarcerated in New York. An estimated 10 percent of the nation’s prison population is in this high-risk age group. Yet governors have thus far refused to act on clemency for elderly people.

Recognizing the precarious situation, the New York State Supreme Court ordered Muntaqim’s temporary release at the end of April. In granting it, Judge Stephan Schick said, “Mr. Muntaqim may have gotten a 25-to-life sentence, but it was not a death sentence.” The state Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus agreed, offering a letter of support for his release. Yet the state—led by Attorney General Letitia James, the first black woman to occupy that role—appealed Sullivan’s ruling. As the appeal wound its way through the courts, Muntaqim sickened. On May 25, he was transferred to the Albany Medical Hospital with COVID-19. Ten days later, with damage to one of his lungs, his kidneys, and liver, Muntaqim had recovered enough to be transferred back to the prison infirmary. That same day, June 4, the Appellate Division reversed Judge Schick’s ruling. Muntaqim, the court said, must remain in prison.

New York’s intransigence fits with a national pattern that the pandemic has revealed. For while a number of municipalities shrunk their jail admissions in the early months of the pandemic, no state has meaningfully reduced its prison population. Jails generally house people who are awaiting trial but who are too poor to make bail or who are serving short sentences, whereas prisons house people who have been found guilty and sentenced to a year or more. In the restrictive purview of elite empathy, then, jails have been an easier sell for massive reduction. According to an analysis by the Prison Policy Initiative, local municipalities have reduced their jail populations by an average of 31 percent. State governments and the federal Bureau of Prisons, meanwhile, have reduced their incarcerated population by an average of just 5 percent. Typically, this has meant a release of a few hundred people—some of whom have not been released but merely transferred to home confinement.

The carceral state is anticipatory violence masquerading as responsive force.

A number of states have created an almost nonexistent category of those warranting release: people over fifty-five who are serving time for nonviolent drug offenses and who are within three months of release. Yet few of the many septuagenarians in our nation’s prisons meet this restrictive categorization. As the group Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) noted in its evaluation when New York governor Andrew Cuomo created this impossible category, 98 percent of the people over 55 incarcerated in New York are excluded from consideration for release under Cuomo’s plan.

Meanwhile New York prisons remain the epicenter within the epicenter, the highest source of outbreak in the state with the largest number of cases. As of June 9, the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision reports 1,282 prison staff and 512 incarcerated people have tested positive for the disease. Yet due to low levels of testing, the comorbidities of incarceration, and the generally abysmal levels of health care inside, four times as many incarcerated people as staff die from the pandemic. And the vast majority of those who have died have been black or Latinx—higher even than the already disparate rates at which New Yorkers of color outside of prison have succumbed to the pandemic. RAPP calculates that 81 percent of the deaths in prison since the pandemic began, both related to COVID-19 and not, have been people of color. Black people account for 14 precent of New York state, 50 precent of the state’s prison population, but 60 percent of the deaths since the pandemic began.

And it is not just New York. Washington governor Jay Inslee has been widely praised for his commitment to science-based responses to climate change and the pandemic. Yet even in a proclamation declaring that elderly people are at particular risk of contracting the pandemic and that prisons are too crowded for people to practice effective social distancing, Inslee only committed to releasing a few hundred people from a state prison system that confines 19,000. Inslee’s order pertained only to those who fall into the elusive category that political scientists Marie Gottschalk has called the “non-non-nons”: nonviolent, non-serious, non-sexual offenses. Inslee added a further narrowing claim that required people to be within three months of their release. In Pennsylvania, advocates have grown so weary of Governor Tom Wolf’s refusal to engage in widespread releases that they launched a hunger strike on June 1.

Governors nationwide have pursued similarly limited initiatives. This is the reform conjured by focus groups and vetted by police unions, not the one backed by data. Five decades of mass incarceration has so thoroughly limited the imagination of political elites that even a pandemic cannot dislodge their belief in the necessity of mass incarceration. Their refusal of a broad humanitarian release of incarcerated senior citizens serving lengthy sentences—really the lowest of bars—reveals, in its absurd perverseness, a deeper truth: even the most liberal of U.S. governors would rather risk their prisons turning into mass graves than offer the faintest of admissions that mass incarceration is a colossal failure and unnecessary for public safety.

If liberal politicians struggle to admit this fact, conservative politicians continue to run in the opposite direction, insisting that the carceral state alone stands between civilization and chaos, despite all evidence to the contrary. In a speech that branded Antifa—an umbrella term for antifascism activists—domestic terrorism, Attorney General William Barr menaced would-be demonstrators by saying, “It is a federal crime to cross state lines or to use interstate facilities to incite or participate in violent rioting.” He promised to “enforce these laws.” The law in question is part of the 1968 repressive Anti-Riot Act that was appended to the otherwise laudatory Fair Housing Act. Legislators rushed to pass this bill after King’s assassination and the tinderbox it lit nationwide; they colloquially referred to their repressive cri de coeur as the “H. Rap Brown bill” after the charismatic leader of SNCC.

Spontaneous uprisings are by nature unpredictable, yet a cogent demand is emerging from coast to coast: “Defund the police.”

The carceral state is anticipatory violence masquerading as responsive force, and Barr has been preparing for this moment for a long time. Last August, Barr praised police as “fighting an unrelenting, never-ending” war and deserving of “ticker-tape parades.” Barr has actually made it harder for incarcerated people to get out of federal prison during the pandemic and then placed the whole federal prison system in lockdown. Yet he was quick to criminalize the nationwide protests against police violence. He promised to utilize the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), a collaboration between federal and local police that began in 1980 to stop a rash of bank robberies (including those allegedly committed by the Black Liberation Army). This amounts to a federal redefinition of any protest against police as terrorism. The nation’s jails and prisons stand ready to detain the latest targets of America’s long war.

Police departments heard the message clearly, as they have targeted largely nonviolent demonstrations with a seemingly endless amount of tear gas, flash grenades, clubs, tanks, pepper spray, and mace. In the past two weeks, we have witnessed a national police riot, complete with numerous actions that would qualify as war crimes. New York police clubbed peaceful demonstrators, then charged at them with SUVs (this has been reported in Boston as well). In Philadelphia police cordoned demonstrators onto the highway and then gassed them all with no place to escape. Later, other officers posed for photographs with armed white vigilantes. Washington, D.C., police shot tear gas inside a private residence after the homeowner sheltered fleeing demonstrators. Louisville police had no body cameras on when they shot and killed a black restauranteur who frequently served police. Around the country, police have obscured their badge numbers before engaging in unceasing violence. All this in stark contrast to the muted response police gave armed reactionaries at state houses just weeks ago. The police, writes critic Alex Parene, have taken the side of white vigilantes.

Meanwhile Muntaqim and hundreds of thousands of other incarcerated people have been abandoned to the courts and COVID-19. In the face of federal threats to break the backs of protestors, though, the actions against state violence continue. By returning daily to the streets, violating curfews, seizing hotels shuttered by COVID-19, caring for each other amidst a pandemic and a rampaging police state, and pulling down racist statutes, thousands of Americans display heroic courage. They are willing to give their lives to the work of remaking the country by ending policing and incarceration as we know them. Spontaneous uprisings are by nature unpredictable, yet a cogent demand is emerging from coast to coast: “Defund the police.” Every day in the streets of U.S. cities and towns, these rebellions seek to overturn the police state that consolidated in opposition to Muntaqim and other black radicals of the 1960s. For in moving to defund police, we must also act to dismantle the prison system where many victims of police violence reside.


Anonymous is now backing #GeorgeFloyd protests

Mumia: US Incapable of Protecting Its People

The nation’s best known political prisoner asks, “Who really believes that the US government can, or will, vaccinate over 300 million people – a government that can’t find the people it promised to give money to?”  Mumia Abu Jamal, like most of the nation’s two million incarcerated people, has been on lockdown since the Covid-19 crisis began. With 100,00 dead, Abu Jamal said the US “is marching headlong into the abyss.”

source: Mumia: US Incapable of Protecting Its People

Malcolm X, Ho Chi Minh ¡presente!

This editorial first appeared on on May 18, 2018.  

We celebrate on May 19 the birthdays of two world-bending revolutionaries, Ho Chi Minh and Malcolm X.

Born in 1890 in central Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh was the Marxist-Leninist communist who forged and led a people’s movement and army that defeated the invading imperialist might of both France and the United States and ultimately liberated Vietnam from colonialism.

Born in 1925 in the U.S., Malcolm X was the African-American leader who raised to global attention the concepts of Black nationalism, Black self-defense and the right of self-determination of Black peoples. Malcolm X also made a major contribution to the global movement for Pan-Africanism.

Neither met the other, yet their deeds and words intertwine, and together they continue to inspire us toward revolution.

At this moment, as the U.S. ruling class fans the deadly fires of racist hatred, Malcolm X and Ho Chi Minh unite to give a profound lesson in building international solidarity with oppressed people and nations.

In 1924 — the year before Malcolm X was born — at the Fifth Congress of the Communist International in Moscow, Ho Chi Minh made a presentation during a session on the “National and colonial question.” He emphasized the importance of support for the Black liberation struggle in the U.S., saying in part: “It is well-known that the Black race is the most oppressed and the most exploited of the human family. It is well-known that the spread of capitalism and the discovery of the New World had as an immediate result the rebirth of slavery. … What everyone does not perhaps know is that after sixty-five years of so-called emancipation, [Black people in the U.S.] still endure atrocious moral and material sufferings.” (

Forty years later, in 1964, Malcolm X, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, put the Black liberation struggle in a worldwide context, saying: “It is incorrect to classify the revolt of [Black people] as simply a racial conflict of Black against white, or as a purely [U.S.] American problem. Rather, we are today seeing a global rebellion of the oppressed against the oppressor, the exploited against the exploiter.” (Malcolm X Speaks)

And he acknowledged the centrality of the national liberation war led by Ho Chi Minh to that global rebellion, saying: ”Viet Nam is the struggle of all third-world nations — the struggle against imperialism, colonialism and neo-colonialism.” (1972 interview with Yuri Kochiyama,

The voices of both these revolutionaries ring out with the clarion call of SOLIDARITY as the path to a future of justice and liberation.

They remind us that we of the multinational, multigendered, global working class have a common oppressor in imperialist capitalism.

We can resist its racism, its anti-woman and anti-LGBTQ bigotry, its anti-immigrant hatred.

We can — and must — rise up in resistance.



source: Malcolm X, Ho Chi Minh ¡presente!

U.S. global prison model: white supremacy on display

U.S. global prison model: white supremacy on display(Emory Douglass)

The United States has institutionalized white supremacist violence at home and abroad through its use of police and prisons. This does not come as revelation, but as a call to action. Whether we examine photographs coming out of El Salvador’s prisons, or surveillance software used by U.S. police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, we must be resolute in our international aims to tear down these active monuments to white supremacy.

Prisons have divided and dehumanized vast swaths of the population. Prisons disappear people after police round them up and put them there.

Police in the U.S. have been used to break up liberation movements at home and abroad for centuries. The Los Angeles Police Department and the New York Police Department in particular have sent their officers to train and be trained in places like Brazil,  the Dominican Republic, Israel, Thailand and Vietnam.

In the U.S., police began as slave patrols to capture escaped enslaved African people. A notorious policeman explained that “control, not correction, is the key. Our job is to apply emergency treatment to society’s surface wounds. We deal with effect, not causes.” (“Badges Without Borders” by Stuart Schrader) The capitalist state attempted but failed to permanently quash the revolutionary spirit of movements like the United Farm Workers and the Black Panther Party.

El Salvador: U.S exports repressive model

The U.S. model of physical social control, perfect for maintaining white supremacy and U.S. empire, was exported to other countries. This connection is on full display in shocking photographs of prisoners piled on top of one another in El Salvador during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. has had a hand in shaping El Salvador’s policing and subsequently its prison system since the early 2000s. The imperialist violence in the decades preceding this punitive export helped lay the groundwork for its prison project. Currently, El Salvador has the second highest incarceration rate in the world.  For every 100,000 people, 590 are locked up. The world’s top cop, warmonger and jailer — the U.S. — has 655 out of 100,000 incarcerated. (U.S. News & World Report, May 13, 2019)

“In 1989 School of the Americas (SOA) graduate-led massacre at the University of Central America in El Salvador shook the earth,” according to SOA Watch. “The SOA, renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in 2001, is a U.S. military training school based in Fort Benning, Georgia. The school made headlines in 1996 when the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion and execution. Despite this admission and hundreds of documented human rights abuses connected to soldiers trained at the school, no independent investigation into the facility has ever taken place.” (2017)

In 2002, U.S. officials chose Costa Rica to host the next branch of the International Law Enforcement Academy. A broad coalition of Costa Rican labor and human rights groups pushed for transparency and accountability clauses to be included in the deal. Instead of agreeing to these clauses, the U.S. packed up and headed for El Salvador where the U.S. State Department quietly established an ILEA in San Salvador in 2005.

The academy is part of a network of ILEAs created in 1995 under President Bill Clinton, who envisioned a series of U.S. schools “throughout the world to combat international drug trafficking, criminality, and terrorism through strengthened international cooperation. There are ILEAs in Budapest, Hungary; Bangkok, Thailand; Gaborone, Botswana; and Roswell, N.M.” (NACLA, March 6, 2008)

These police academies have been used by the U.S. all over Central and South America to further imperialist foreign policy by backing governments that allowed them to plunder as they pleased. Regime changes were extremely violent and murderous.

The destabilizing of a region politically is one of the root causes for migration to the U.S. Another cause is acceleration of the climate crisis through destruction of the environment in pursuit of profit. After migrants and refugees make the long and perilous journey, they are met with militarized U.S. law enforcement agents who were trained alongside the same forces that pushed them from their home countries.

White supremacists and policing: a despicable history

Militarized law enforcement bodies in the U.S., like local police or ICE, use surveillance tactics and technologies from companies with direct ties to white supremacists. Damien Patton, CEO of the surveillance start-up Banjo, was involved with both the White Knights and The Dixie Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Patton helped shoot up a synagogue. At his trial he testified, “We believe that the Blacks and the Jews are taking over America, and it’s our job to take America back for the White race.” (Banjo,, April 24) He has since denounced his past actions, but software he helped create and similar products are used by police and ICE for rounding up people to be caged.

White supremacist collaboration with police maintaining order is not new. According to Edwin Black in his book “IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation”: “In the 1930s and 40s, IBM — through its German holding Dehomag — provided Hitler’s regime with electronic data processing machines and support. The Nazis used the machines to efficiently conduct censuses and identify ethnic populations.”

The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network “was a U.S. government-funded project that provided the origins of today’s internet. It was designed to provide a network for the U.S. Department of Defense’s computers, until it was decommissioned, in 1990, to allow for the creation of a global network.” (, Nov. 2, 2016)

Legal professor James Q. Whitman details in his book, “Hitler’s American Model,” how the Nazis in Germany were inspired by Jim Crow segregation and U.S. laws surrounding “race-based immigration, race-based second-class citizenship, and race-based anti-miscegenation laws.” Scholar Zoé Samudzi explains that “Nazism was a colonial production of racialized space from Jewish ghettos to Lebensraum’s always imperial intentions.” Lebensraum was the German concept similar to U.S Manifest Destiny. (@ztsamudzi on Twitter, March 5, 2019)

The U.S. empire has the most violent history of institutionalizing and codifying white supremacy. This is exemplified in this moment of global pandemic, where the rapidly accelerating and completely preventable deaths of people in prisons are an act of genocide.

Logical endpoints of white supremacist discourse are mass extermination. Prisons are concentration camps for the poor, oppressed nationalities and dissenters.

The global vacuum pump that is the maintenance of imposed colonial, capitalist order is sucking all the oxygen out of us and our planet, literally and figuratively. The first to suffer and pay the steepest price are the people most oppressed by white supremacist ideology — which is designed to divide and conquer.

Abolitionists: part of historic movement

Our collective existence depends on remaking ourselves and the world around us. Abolitionists are part of the historic movement of people fighting for a new world. As one of the many political prisoners of the U.S. empire, Mumia Abu-Jamal, says, “Abolitionists are, simply put, those beings who look out upon their time and say, ‘No.’ They want to abolish state policies that they cannot abide. Slavery. Mass incarceration. The death penalty. Juvenile life. Solitary confinement. Police terrorism.” (, June 17, 2015)

Abolitionists fight against the devastating and long-lasting effects of fatal state inventions of police and prisons. They raise up the long and colorful histories of prisoners’ resistance to brutal, ongoing conditions — that have mutated from the early days of domination and destruction of land and people. Abolitionists respond to repression with a myriad of tactics and levers for social change.

They fight to redirect stolen resources toward human needs like health care, housing, safe water and food, and transforming the root causes of suffering. The Earth — and all life on it — depend on our collective ability to rapidly shift away from current oppressive structures.

Abolitionists know there is a war at home and a war abroad. They see the way the empire cages and deploys militarized forces against people here, in the same way it militarizes fictional borders and funds police and prisons in other countries. It’s the same struggle, same fight against the further codification of white supremacy. As scholar Naomi Murakawa has said, “U.S. elites built the arsenal of oppression against subversives and revolutionaries by working across national boundaries. Liberation will require the same.” (Quoted in “Badges Without Borders”)

It is incumbent upon us all, beyond our borders and within, to tear down the walls!



150 years since ‘Bloody Kansas’/The legacy of John Brown


May 9 marks the 220th anniversary of this great abolitionist’s birth. This article was originally published in Workers World on Sept. 14, 2006.

Many historians agree that the Civil War really started on a flat patch of land known as “Bloody Kansas” 150 years ago, in the spring, summer and on into the autumn of 1856.

This area of land covering some 82,000 square miles now sits at the geographic center of the continental United States. It rarely gets national attention these days, and when it does it’s usually for reactionary developments, ike the effort to ban evolution from the public schools’ science curriculum.

Yet this was once the hub of the most important political conflict of its day, indeed of all U.S. history: the struggle over slavery. This was where diametrically opposed forces — abolitionists and pro-slavers — clashed.

When 1856 began, the pro-slavery forces had looked to be ascendant. Congress had passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act on May 30, 1854. The law provided for popular sovereignty — voting by white male landowners, that is — to decide whether Kansas and Nebraska would be free or slave states. Kansas had since been the scene of a violent terror campaign, based across the border in Missouri.

Death squads, known as Border Ruffians, aiuadsed to kill or drive out those who opposed the spread of slavery to Kansas, and to flood the territory with their own numbers. Jesse and Frank James, glorified as “rebellious” outlaws in the movies and folklore, were the most well-known of these ruffians.

The Border Ruffians hunted down and murdered African Americans who had escaped slavery and were heading north to Canada. They brazenly assassinated Underground Railway station operators and anti-slavery newspaper editors.

It had started to seem like a foregone conclusion that Kansas would enter the union as a slave state. Then John Brown arrived.

With a small, brave band of stalwarts, he took on the slave owners’ death squads in direct combat, and bested them. He revived and rallied the anti-slavery forces.

At the Battle of Osawatomie, on Aug. 30, 1856, his brilliant tactical maneuvers led to the defeat of a pro-slavery force of 300 soldiers by his group of under 20 — and from then on he was affectionately known as “Old Osawatomie” by admirers around the country.

In Lawrence, Kanasas, in the first two weeks of September, he led the military defense of the state capital against a pro-slavery assault — and ever after was respectfully called “Captain Brown” by those who fought alongside him.

But before Osawatomie, before Lawrence, John Brown had already become a legend. That happened at Pottawatomie Creek.

A daring raid

At Pottawatomie on the night of May 24-25, 1856, John Brown led an armed band in a lightning raid against an encampment where he knew he’d find several of the worst of the Border Ruffians who were terrorizing the territory.

When Brown and company rode off, they left the dead bodies of five racist thugs. The criminals Brown and his band killed had been responsible for many assaults and murders; they were also known for capturing Native women and forcing them into prostitution and sexually assaulting Free State women.

Until Brown acted, the slaveocracy had been waging an undeclared war with what seemed like impunity. And not just in the fields and towns of Kansas. On May 22, two days before Brown rode to Pottawatomie, Preston Brooks, a member of Congress from South Carolina, had strode onto the floor of the U.S. Senate and beaten anti-slavery Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts nearly to death as retaliation for Sumner’s speech “The Crime against Kansas.”

After Pottawatomie, all this changed. The slaveocracy did not surrender — it would take the Civil War for that. But from Pottawatomie word went out.

No longer would the racist death squads have free reign in Kansas. A new force, a force for freedom, was fighting back.

For years afterward, in fact to this very day, bourgeois historians have misrepresented what happened at Pottawatomie. It has been portrayed as an insane, isolated event, as a senseless, inexplicable act of violence — and its perpetrator as a wild-eyed, crazed, fanatical maniac. The official bourgeois version removes the Pottawatomie raid from its historic context — the bloody terrorist war the Border Ruffians were waging — and omits the fact that the men Brown’s troops killed were racist murderers.

John Brown was no lunatic. He was a hero. By first frost in the fall of 1856, he had accomplished what six months earlier no one thought possible. The territory had been secured. Kansas would enter the union as a free state.

The victory came at a high personal cost for Brown. His son Frederick died at the Battle of Osawatomie. Another son, John Brown Jr., was captured by the pro-slavery forces and tortured horribly while held prisoner, which led to many years of illness and anguish.

Brown himself was now a wanted man. A price on his head, he went underground, leaving Kansas. He headed toward the Northeast.

There he would spend the next three years raising funds, recruiting troops, writing, speaking and planning. His goal was nothing less than to launch a guerrilla war, whose leadership would be taken up by African Americans, to end slavery and establish full freedom and equality for all.

On to Harpers Ferry

Before, during and after his time in Kansas, John Brown was keen to learn how to wage the kind of guerrilla warfare he believed would be necessary to destroy slavery. To whom did he look as his teachers?

To Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey and other enslaved African American leaders of U.S. slave revolts; to the Seminole nation that had resisted domination by colonial settlers; to the Maroons of the South and of Jamaica and Surinam, escaped slaves who fought the settler state’s forces in daring raids from bases in the hills and mountains; and to Toussaint L’Ouverture, one of the great liberators of Haiti.

Most well-meaning whites, including abolitionists, were under the sway of racism to varying degrees. In contrast, Brown not only admired but sought to learn from and emulate Black and Native leaders. He was that free of the taint of racism.

In Kansas, Brown worked closely with a Native ally, Ottawa Jones, who sheltered, fed and helped arm Brown’s group at several points during the months of conflict. Although he himself was a fiercely devout Christian, Brown counted Jews and atheists among his troops.

For three years after leaving Kansas, Brown was based in North Elba, N.Y. [in upstate New York].There he established a cooperative farming community, the first ever where Black and white families lived and worked as equals.

Along with farming and guiding escaped slaves along an Underground Railroad route across the border to Canada, Brown would spend those three years preparing for the action he was determined would give rise to a generalized mass uprising by enslaved Black people. He would write a new constitution for the United States which first and foremost proclaimed race and sex equality.

He would travel to Canada and recruit several African Americans, including Osborne P. Anderson, who would fight alongside Brown at Harpers Ferry, Va. (now W.Va.), and live to write about it. He would meet often with the great organizer and orator, Frederick Douglass, and the two would become close friends. Douglass had escaped from slavery as a young man.

He would confer with the “Moses” of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman, whom he always respectfully referred to as “Gen. Tubman.” Some believe that Tubman helped plan the raid on the U.S. Army arsenal at Harpers Ferry and would have taken part in it had she not fallen ill.

African-American freedom fighters Dangerfield Newby, Lewis S. Leary, John Brown’s sons Watson and Oliver, and six others of their number would die at Harpers Ferry in October 1859. Five would escape and survive. Seven, including John Brown, would be captured and hanged.

Gen. Robert E. Lee, who scant months later would lead the secessionist Confederate army, led the opposing force that captured John Brown at Harpers Ferry. John Wilkes Booth, who would assassinate President Abraham Lincoln in 1865, was among the troops guarding the scaffolding on the day they hanged John Brown.

On that day, Dec. 2, 1859, just before they led him from his cell to the gallows, this great soldier for human liberation would write, “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.” Brown was buried in the majority Black cemetery in North Elba, a fitting tribute indeed.

In April 1861 the Civil War would begin.