Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Abolishing the Prison Industrial Complex

via Hans Bennett:


Part one of an interview with Criminal Injustice Kos co-editors Nancy Heitzeg and Kay Whitlock
By Angola 3 News

Focusing on the prison abolitionist movement, we interview two co-editors of an exciting new series at Daily Kos, called Criminal InJustice Kos, a weekly series "devoted to exploring the myths of 'crime', 'criminals', and criminal justice and the intersection of race/ethnicity/class/gender/sexuality/age/disability in policing and punishment. Criminal Injustice Kos is committed to furthering action towards reducing inequity in the US criminal justice system." Look for Criminal InJustice Kos every Wednesday at 6 pm CST.

Stay tuned for part 2, where we focus on the practicality of prison abolition and take a close look at alternatives to the US prison system.

Dr. Nancy Heitzeg (whose online name is "soothsayer99") is an activist educator and Professor of Sociology and Co-Director of the interdisciplinary Critical Studies of Race/Ethnicity program at Saint Catherine University. She has written and presented widely on the subjects of race, class, gender and social control. Nancy is the author of Deviance: Rule-makers and Rule-breakers, and several articles exploring issue of race class gender and social control including: "Differentials in Deviance: Race, Class, Gender and Age" (in The International Handbook of Deviant Behavior, Routledge, forthcoming Summer 2010); "The Case Against Prison: in Prison Privatization: The State of Theory and Practice (forthcoming Fall 2010), "Education Not Incarceration: Interrupting the School to Prison Pipeline"(Forum on Public Policy, Oxford University Press, Winter 2010); "The Racialization of Crime and Punishment: Criminal Justice, Color-Blind Racism and the Political Economy of the Prison Industrial Complex"(with Dr. Rose Brewer, which appeared in a special volume co-edited by Dr. Heitzeg and Dr. Rodney Coates, of American Behavioral Scientist: Micro-Level Social Justice Projects, Pedagogy, and Democratic Movements, Winter 2008); and Race, Class and Legal Risk in the United States: Youth of Color and Colluding Systems of Social Control" (Forum on Public Policy, Oxford University Press, Winter 2009).

Be sure to read our earlier two-part interview with Heitzeg, published by Truthout, part one: Visiting a Modern Day Slave Plantation and part two: The Racialization of Crime and Punishment.

Kay Whitlock
(whose online name is "RadioGirl") is a Montana-based writer, organizer, and activist long engaged in progressive struggles for racial, gender, queer, environmental, and economic justice. She has written extensively on the intersection of race, gender, sexuality, and class in relation to police and prison violence, most notably in her former position as National Representative for LGBT Issues for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker organization. Her publications for AFSC include Corrupting Justice: A Primer for LGBT Communities on Racism, Violence, Human Degradation & the Prison Industrial Complex (pdf download and In a Time of Broken Bones: A Call to Dialogue on Hate Violence and the Limitations of Hate Crimes Legislation (pdf download). With Joey L. Mogul and Andrea J. Ritchie, she is the co-author of Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States, forthcoming from Beacon Press in February 2011 – an analysis of queer criminalization, centering race, class, and gender, from colonial contact to the present.

Angola 3 News: Why do you consider yourself a prison abolitionist? What does this term mean for you?

Nancy Heitzeg: If one accepts, as I do, that prisons in the US are a contemporary extension of chattel slavery, that prisons are irredeemably rooted in racism and classism that prisons serve no purpose save corporate profit and raw retribution, then one must call for their abolition. Prison "reform" is insufficient if the very notion and reality of prison itself is grounded in inequality, injustice and destruction.

In a small yet dense book, Angela Davis asks Are Prisons Obsolete??? If prisons are indeed social structures rooted in racism, classism and fear – then we must take the questions seriously. We must try to imagine a nation – perhaps a world without prisons.

"As important as reforms may be, frameworks that rely exclusively on reforms help to produce the stultifying idea that nothing lies beyond the prison...We must give serious consideration to abolitionist strategies to dismantle the prison system...which preserves existing structures of racism as well as creates new ones...this is no more outlandish than the fact that race and economic status play more prominent roles in shaping the practices of social punishment than does crime." (Davis 1998 105)

I have always known people who were in prison and or known of others who were. I have always thought about prison. "Letter from A Birmingham Jail", Blood in My Eye, The Ten - Point Program of the Black Panther Party, The Attica Prison Uprising, and Free Leonard Peltier! all shaped my political consciousness from the youngest of ages. I have always studied the prison -- even though my area of graduate study and expertise was more broadly focused on deviance and all aspects of social control - formal medical and informal, the prison and correspondingly the death penalty always loomed as the sanction of last resort – the punishment fit for those who were to be most "feared" who represented at least in theory, the most dangerous of all rule-breakers. And soon it became comparatively clear that the definition and control of deviance was more closely linked to WHO the deviant was rather WHAT the deviant did. Some murderers were never arrested, others merely fined, and still others were imprisoned or executed. Same with all the rest: the robbers the assaulters the thieves the dealers of drugs and so on. Far from being mutually exclusive or race and class blind, systems of control are inter-dependent and over-lapping, and discretion often is shaped by discrimination. You can not be an honest scholar of the sociology of deviance without also being a scholar of social inequality – of race class gender sexual orientation and age.

Race, class and gender are inextricably bound up with the definition and control of deviance. To the extent that the privileged and empowered "norm" is white, male, financially well off, heterosexual and adult, then people of color, women, the poor, GLBTQ persons, and the young become "the Other", the "abnormal", the "deviant". Further, these "Others" have been subject to labeling and social control based on the intersection of race, class, gender and other differences. The "matrix of domination" shapes access to systems of social control as well as to social opportunity. And, while there are "deviants" of all classes, all races, all genders and ages, the models under which they are controlled reflect their relative social status. It became clear that prison was not really for the "worst" of all offenders because corporate white-collar crime is responsible for a least 5 times more deaths each year and 10x more money lost than so-called street crime. Prison was a place for the poor, the black/brown, the young – it was meant for those "others" we were lead to fear most.

So the prison is a site where justice was not served but where injustice was further re-inscribed, a place where punishment often does not fit the crime if there indeed was one, a place where social inequality was both the precursor and the antecedent. The prison is for me — with the many who write from within the walls – a site of resistance.

To be an abolitionist is just that – to strive to create and rediscover alternatives to incarceration, to find solution to "crime" that restores communities rather than decimates them, it is to ask the difficult questions that push us to imagine an end to the reliance on the prison and related retributive sanctions. To say, yes, that prisons are obsolete.

Kay Whitlock: I never set out to be an abolitionist, but that's where my journey inevitably led me (it is described in more detail in my essay "The Long Shadow of Prison: My Messy Journey Through Fear, Silence, and Racism Toward Abolition," which appears in Interrupted Life: Experiences of Incarcerated Women in the United States, edited by Solinger, Johnson, Raimon, Reynolds, and Tapia. There was no single grand moment of sudden political revelation – "AHA!" I didn't grow up in a liberal household; I was a white, working-class kid in a community where racism was fierce and, for many years, unchallenged. My journey took many years; it was marked by the never-ending accumulation of terrible facts and detail that illuminated the hydra-headed nature of the prison system and mass incarceration. That includes the obvious use of imprisonment historically to control people of color and poor people; horrific exploitation of prison labor; the too-limited, cramped, and ultimately false promises of "rehabilitation"; disenfranchisement of millions of people – mostly people of color – with felony convictions; endemic violence, use of torture, and abuse of human rights in U.S. jails and prisons; and the expansion of prison profiteering.

In the face of this accumulation of knowledge, I had a choice. Either I would have to close my heart and mind, or I would have to face these truths head on, and make a decision in line with my conscience, ethics, and spiritual belief (I am a Buddhist practitioner).

Really, it's as simple as that. If you know about mass violence and injustice, do you turn away, making justifications for your silence and indifference? Or do you act on what you know of the systemic hell of the U.S. incarceration system and how the misery it produces corrupts and harms every aspect of U.S. society? And, particularly relevant for me, when you're a white person and consider yourself anti-racist, what do you do about the evil of mass incarceration?

In my view, the role and reach of prisons in U.S. life constitutes one of the greatest moral crises of our age. To me, declaring myself an abolitionist means that:

• I am part of a growing, diverse, movement that seeks not only to abolish the institution of the prison in the United States, but also dismantle the confluence of public, private, political, and economic interests called "the prison industrial complex."

• over the years, I have come to see more and more clearly the ways in which the U.S. prison system is foundationally, fundamentally, and violently racist; it has been from the very beginning. Because I care passionately about dismantling racism and white privilege in this country, the abolition of the prison system seems to me an essential part of the struggle.

• I have come to see that human rights abuses and torture within U.S. prisons is normative, not a "bad apple" departure from the norm.

• I do not accept our society's increasing utilization of prisons to reinforce racism; to criminalize mental illness; to police and punish the very poverty it has created; to avoid coming to terms with a shattered public education system; and to police and punish sexual and gender nonconformity.

• in my view, only the call to abolition opens up sufficient creative and imaginative public space in which to think about what authentic justice might look like if the concepts of justice for all, community well being, and universal human rights were at the center of our vision addressing the understandable yearning for safety and security. Otherwise, we will simply accept the inevitability of prisons and never fundamentally challenge their nature, reach, and function in this country.

A3N: How does today's prison abolitionist movement related to the movement to abolish slavery in the pre-U.S. Civil war period? What is the legacy of pre-Civil War black chattel slavery on today's prison-industrial complex?

NH: The term abolitionist is a direct reference to the movement to abolish slavery. Again in Are Prisons Obsolete???, Davis argues that the prison industrial complex is indeed the new plantation – the latest in a series of historically uninterrupted efforts to legally and economically suppress blacks. As slavery inspired the abolition movement and Jim Crow segregation/extra-legal lynching inspired he Civil Rights Movement, so too the prison industrial complex must be resisted by new abolitionists.

And yes we can draw a direct link from slavery to the prison industrial complex. In the South especially, there is really no difference but the name in places like LSP Angola , an old plantation which immediately was transformed in to a penitentiary after the Civil War.

The abolition of slavery did not result in the abolition of legitimated white supremacy in the law; it merely called for new methods of legally upholding the property interests of whiteness. The criminal justice system begins to play a new and crucial role here. There was a subsequent transformation of the Slave Codes into the Black Codes and the plantations into prisons. Following Reconstruction, the rights extended to blacks via the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were quickly subverted by laws and Supreme Court rulings that upheld racism. Laws were quickly passed that echoed the restrictions associated with slavery, and criminalized a range of activities of the perpetrator was black. The newly acquired 15th Amendment right to vote was curtailed by tailoring of felony disenfranchisement laws to include crimes that were supposedly more frequently committed by blacks. And, the liberatory promise of the 13th Amendment – "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist in the United States"- contained a dangerous loophole- "except as a punishment for crime" This allowed for the conversion of the old plantations to penitentiaries, and this, with the introduction of the convict lease system permitted the South to continue to economically benefit from the unpaid labor of blacks. This practice in combination with a brutal convict lease system in many southern states effectively allowed for the perpetuation of slavery -- just by another name.

Following the end of legalized racial discrimination, there was an especially concerted effort to escalate the control of African Americans via the criminal justice system.

Marable (1983:120-121 makes this point, "...white racists began to rely almost exclusively on the state apparatus to carry put the battle for white supremacy...The criminal justice system became, in short, a modern instrument to perpetuate white hegemony."

These practices gain primacy during the post-Civil Rights years as the criminal justice system provides a convenient vehicle for physically maintaining the old legally enforced color-lines as African Americans are disproportionately policed, prosecuted, convicted, disenfranchised and imprisoned. The criminal justice system and its' culmination in the prison industrial complex also continues to guarantee the perpetual profits from the forced labor of inmates, now justifying their slavery as punishment for crime. Finally, the reliance on the criminal system provides the color-blind racist regime the perfect set of codes to describe racialized patterns of alleged crime and actual punishment without ever referring to race.

As Angela Davis (1997:62) observes, ""Crime is one of the masquerades behind which "race", with all its menacing ideological complexity, mobilizes old public ears and creates new ones."

The current racial dynamic of the prison industrial complex bears this out. Mandatory minimums for drug violations, "three strikes", increased use of imprisonment as a sentencing option, lengthy prison terms, adult certification for juveniles and the expanded use of the death penalty -- all disproportionately affect the poor and people of color. A brief glimpse into the statistics immediately reveals both the magnitude of these policy changes as well as their racial dynamic. Despite no statistical differences in rates of offending, the poor, the under-educated, and people of color, particularly African Americans, are over-represented in these statistics at every phase of the criminal justice system. While 1 in 31 adults is under correctional supervision and 1 in every 100 adults is in prison, 1 in every 100 black women 1 in every 36 Latino adults , one in every 15 black men, and 1 in 9 black men ages 20 to 34 are incarceration. Approximately 50% of all prisoners are black, 30% are white and 1/6 Latino .Race of victim race of offender and social class remain the best predictors of who will receive the death penalty

The racial disparities are even greater for youth. African Americans, while representing 17% of the youth population, account for 45% of all juvenile arrests. Black youth are 2 times more likely than white youth to be arrested, to be referred to juvenile court, to be formally processed and adjudicated as delinquent or referred to the adult criminal justice system, and they are 3 times more likely than white youth to be sentenced to out-of –home residential placement Nationally, 1 in 3 Black and 1 in 6 Latino boys born in 2001 are at risk of imprisonment during their lifetime. While boys are five times as likely to be incarcerated as girls, girls are at increasing risk. This rate of incarceration is endangering children at younger and younger ages.

KW: There is a clear and dreadful line of continuity connecting the institution of chattel slavery and policies and public/private interests supporting mass incarceration. Examine the Slave Codes and then the post-slavery Black Codes to see how readily "emancipation" morphed into "criminalization." Legal segregation followed; today, the racial impact of "get tough on crime" and the expansion of the prison industrial complex continue that direct line. (I want to note, too, that federal, state, and territorial laws criminalized traditional American Indian cultures and daily life. Luana Ross powerfully addresses this in her book, Inventing the Savage: The Social Construction of Native American Criminality. The criminalization of immigrants, today particularly immigrants of color, deserves our attention.)

But so many people – I would certainly guess most white people – in this country are neither aware of these facts nor particularly want to know them because they shake up our tendency to want to believe that systemic racism is either gone or well on the run. In my work, I meet countless people who believe that that slavery is a relic of the past; that black people should just "get over it" and "move on." There is enormous resistance to learning about and recognizing just how the prison-industrial complex works in our society – and how low-income people of color provide the bodies that produce the profits for the incarceration industry.

In my work, I am particularly intrigued with the amount of anger so often directed at anyone who raises these questions – even anger from much of the liberal-left, particularly white folks. The depth of that anger, the depth of refusal to engage these historical and contemporary facts tells me that we're dealing with enormous fear here. Racial fear; Racism. In many cases, that racism is not intentional; it certainly is unexamined. But nonetheless it is always there, at the very heart of things. Abolition discussions pull the rug out from under the cozy fiction that we actually are entering a post-racial phase in U.S. history and give lie to the comforting bromide that slavery is behind us.

In many respects, I believe that contemporary abolition discussions mine the mother lode of racism in the United States.

What do you think are common public misperceptions of the abolitionist movement? What roles do mainstream educational institutions and the corporate media play in creating these misperceptions? How can abolitionists best confront these misperceptions and constructively engage the general population?

NH: We must confront false assumptions and stereotypes that are fueled by media. The fears that lead to excessive prisonization are fueled by public misperceptions of crime...A substantial body of research documents the role of media - especially television – in constructing perceptions of crime, public images of the criminal, and subsequently shaping public policy.

Of particular note is media- generated hysteria of the 1980s and 1990s that inextricably linked and over-inflated "teen super-predators", inflated accounts of gang-violence and the crack cocaine "epidemic" -- all were unmistakably characterized as issues of race.

As Walker Spohn and DeLone note:

"Our perceptions of crimes are shaped to a large extent by the highly publicized crimes featured on the nightly news and sensationalized in news papers. We read about young African American and Hispanic males who sexually assault, rob and murder whites, and we assume that these crimes are typical. We assume that the typical crime is a violent crime, that the typical victim is white, and that the typical offender is African American or Hispanic."

The TV world of crime and criminals, however, is an illusion. These assumptions are false.

The reality of crime is very different from what media images suggest. An examination of official statistics (gathered annually by the F.BI. and U.S. Department of Justice and published in Uniform Crime Reports) presents data that is the exact opposite of what media presents to us.

The reality of crime is this: most crime is undetected/unreported, that which is related to property; rates for all crime are declining; the "typical" offender for all crimes is white; the "typical" victim is African American; and crime tends to be an intra-group event. Countering these media myths of crime with the truth – whenever and wherever we can – is first and essential task of abolitionists.

KW: Well, it seems important to first underscore how mainstream media – now almost wholly corporate controlled – helps to demonize prisoners, typically downplays news about police misconduct and the systemic nature of prison violence, and promotes "get tough on crime" policies. In the hands of most media, crime becomes simply another commodity. The more sensational, lurid, horrific, and terrifying, the more profitable it is. About a dozen years ago, a guy named Steven M. Chermak did a study of crime reporting (Victims in the News: Crime and the American News Media 1995), and he found that over half the crime stories he looked at were primarily based on police and court records. Not surprising, but it limits not only the source filter, but also the perspective and information that might be available.

So the stories are framed almost entirely by arrest records, police reports, and hurried exchanges between prosecutors, police, and reporters. Now, that material may be incomplete, misleading, or inaccurate in whole or in part. But accuracy or the wholeness of the story doesn't matter. That's the narrative. The perspectives of victims – of some kinds of crimes – might be incorporated a little bit. But you can be pretty sure that the people already considered `criminal' – whether they have been rightly charged or not; whether they have been convicted of a specific offense or not – are not going to be there in any meaningful way. Not even if they have been brutalized or mistreated within the criminal legal system. That's not really a "crime." After all, don't "criminals" deserve to be treated as scum? Aren't they automatically less than human? And how often are the stories of people whose lives are shattered by corporate misconduct and exploitation centered in the reporting of corporate-controlled media? So there's a profound bias in what stories we hear, and whose voices are heard from the beginning, framing the narrative.

We almost never hear the stories that are more complicated: how, for example, police often blame victims of "hate" or interpersonal violence for assaults against them – particularly if those victims are poor, people of color, and may be profiled as undocumented immigrants. We hear about prison rape as a gigantic, homophobic joke – and the image of gay men – so often framed as black in discourse about prisons as thugs, disease spreaders, rapists and sulliers of innocent, heterosexual white men (caution: link to racist and homophobic analysis) is reinforced, when in truth, incarcerated queers actually are disproportionately targeted for sexual violence. And there's a thudding silence in the mainstream media surrounding the experiences of most people in prison.

It's no surprise then that so many of us who don't routinely have to deal with law enforcement violence end up with the false idea that most people in prison are irredeemably violent; that they are sadistic murderers and rapists. And that prison is the only line of safety that protects "us" from these alleged violent predators. We aren't encouraged to think critically about the racial and class coding that typically goes into these images. No accident that the "revolving door" rapist image, promoted by supporters of the first Bush, then running against Dukakis for the presidency, was Willie Horton, a black man. White people, particularly, aren't encouraged to think of prisoners as members of our communities, as our neighbors. But for countless people of color, of course, prisoners are members not only of their communities, but also their families.

Today, of course, we've turned crime and policing into entertainment-rich "reality" shows on television (caution: this is an entertainment blog link). No question there who are the good guys and the bad guys. So we learn to consume demonized criminalizing images (pdf download) and police pursuit and mistreatment of those demonized "others" as both enjoyable and energizing. That is truly obscene.

I know from my own experience that many folks believe that we abolitionists are out of touch with the reality of violence and care more about "criminals" than "victims." That we are ready to loose hordes of psychotic, murdering rapists on the public because we don't care about holding anyone accountable for the harms they do to others. In fact, we are viewed as eager to "excuse" their actions. Over time, many people have come to believe that only prisons keep us "safe" from violent others. And that to even question these myths is the same as an intentional attack on "victims of crime." I know from personal experience that many think we are "unrealistic" and know nothing about the devastation of violence and crime firsthand. So wrong – but it is such a prevalent belief.

The majority of people I know in the abolitionist movement – including myself – have experienced violence not only at the hands of individuals in the community – in families, schools, at home, on the streets - but also at the hands of police or prison officials. And I don't know anyone who believes that any of this violence is unimportant or "excusable."

But we cannot just "counterattack" with our own demonizing narratives about law enforcement and those who disagree with us in order to challenge these perceptions. That just keeps the cycle going. I do believe we have to lay bare terrible truths about prison violence, but do so within frameworks that lift up the kinds of visions of community that we all hunger for. Unless there is something to fight for, and not just something to fight against, we will be on the defensive.

We also have to be willing to wrestle with difficult questions, not dodge them. Let's face it: there are some scary people who are exceptionally violent and not inclined – for whatever reasons – to change. They are relatively few, and we certainly shouldn't structure a whole policing/imprisonment system around them. But what do we do to help ensure that those few very violent folks won't keep harming others without just recreating the brutal system we have now?

And I think we have to deploy many tools in our struggle: facts and figures, yes, but also cultural means of humanizing the stories we have to tell. Most of all, we need to produce more cultural forms of imagination – poetry, visual art, video, theater, movies, dance, posters, novels, new media – that are powerful enough to even momentarily interrupt the fear that drives the anger that so often shuts down discussion.

We have to reach that emotional spot in people where they begin to recognize that they also have something to contribute to the story, and something profoundly important to gain from new approaches. We have to begin to deconstruct "us" and "them" in the general population, even as we seek to tell the truth about what happened– what is happening - and why. The story of how we got to this miserable state of affairs and what we can do to get out of it.

Angola 3 News is a new project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is www.angola3news.com where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. We are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more.



The Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP) is appalled by the news that several individuals of leading anti-death penalty organizations have signed a confidential memorandum stating that the "involvement of Mumia Abu-Jamal endangers the U.S. coalition for abolition of the death penalty." The memo further argues that the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty should not highlight Mumia's case because doing so "unnecessarily attracts our strongest opponents and alienates coalition partners at a time when we need to build alliances, not foster hatred and enmity." (http://www.thiscantbehappening.net/node/117)

This memo was drafted on December 21, 2009, yet it only recently came to light following the 4th World Congress Against the Death Penalty, held on March 4 in Geneva, Switzerland. At this meeting, a telephone call came in from Mumia Abu-Jamal, and he addressed the audience. At this point, several members of U.S. abolitionist groups got up and walked out in protest.

The Campaign to End the Death Penalty strongly condemns this action and completely disagrees with the approach to the anti-death penalty struggle that this memo puts forth.

First of all, we unequivocally support and endorse Mumia Abu-Jamal in his struggle for justice. We believe in his innocence and see Mumia's case as fraught with many of the same injustices as other death penalty cases--racial bias, police misconduct and brutality, and prosecutorial and judicial prejudice.

Mumia Abu-Jamal has been on Pennsylvania's death row for the past 28 years and remains there because the courts, under pressure from the Fraternal Order of Police, have thwarted his efforts to win his freedom. From his prison cell, Mumia has galvanized an international movement of support towards his efforts to win justice. He has written numerous books and articles shedding light on our prison-industrial complex as well as other historical and current political issues. He is widely read, known and respected. His commentaries on prison radio are nothing short of brilliant. He has helped to educate millions of people about the true workings of the criminal justice system. But most importantly, he has been an inspiration to all those fighting to win abolition, lending his voice of hope, his encouragement and his unfaltering determination to our movement.

So why would a delegation of U.S. abolitionists would get up and walk out of a meeting when Mumia addresses the audience? Shouldn't they have stood and applauded?

The explanation for this reprehensible action is explained in the secret memo, which basically puts forth the argument that to have anything to do with Mumia's case ruins the chances of winning abolition of the death penalty.

Why? Here is what the memo states, in part: "The support of law enforcement officials is essential to achieving abolition in the United States. It is essential to the national abolition strategy of U.S. abolition activists and attorneys that we cultivate the voices of police, prosecutors and law enforcement experts to support our call for an end to the death penalty."

This statement points to a very disturbing direction that we have observed in recent years among some organizations in the abolition movement--of compromising our message in order to win the support of conservatives. This has lead leading death penalty organizations to downplay the impact of race in the criminal justice system and to advocate reaching out to law enforcement as a means of winning abolition of the death penalty.

Those who espouse this strategy ignore or downplay the role that police play in railroading many poor people and African Americans onto death row. They ignore the role that police, prosecutors and judges play as guardians of an unjust legal system that disproportionately targets the poor and people of color. The outcome of this strategy has led to the marginalization of prisoners like Mumia, whose voices from behind prison walls are so important in this fight.

The individuals who drafted the memo go on to identify the voices that they seek to include: "The voices of the Innocent, the voices of Victims and the voices of Law Enforcement are the most persuasive factors in changing public opinion and the views of decision-makers (politicians) and opinion leaders (the media). Continuing to shine a spotlight on Abu-Jamal, who has had so much public exposure for so many years, threatens to alienate these three most important partnership groups."

We in the CEDP couldn't disagree more with this strategy. We believe the most "persuasive factor" in changing public opinion is to build a vocal, visible movement that forthrightly puts forward its demands-- instead of working to make our message palatable to the opposition.

Consider the analogies to past struggles. What if Martin Luther King compromised the goals of integration in order to reach out and try to win over segregationists? No, he reached out to organize and uplift progressive forces into fighting for change. That is the kind of strategy we need.

The men and women on death row across the country--including the guilty--are not our enemy. The enemy is the system of punitive thought that portrays them as monsters so that the public can feel okay about killing them. It is part of the punitive philosophy upon which the legal system is based--the same system that breeds crime in the first place, that gives so little support to victims of abuse, that says it believes in rehabilitation but then won't fund it, that says it believes in education but then takes money away to build prisons instead.

We reject the logic of having the Fraternal Order of Police as a partner or ally. The FOP has organized against our efforts to win justice for Mumia, for Troy Davis, for the Burge Torture victims in Chicago and countless others.

Our approach is based on an anti-racist perspective. We know that the history of aggressive policing, sentencing and the death penalty has its roots in slavery--that the tough on crime rhetoric of lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key is racially coded language.

The Campaign stands completely and unequivocally with Mumia Abu-Jamal. We also stand by a different strategy to win abolition.

Instead of marginalizing voices like Mumia, we should be developing more innovative and creative ways to put them forward--and not just Mumia's, but others, including Troy Davis, Rodney Reed and Kevin Cooper, to name a few. We need to put the human face on this issue. We need to build a movement that challenges the racism and class bias nature of the death penalty--and to point out that these injustices exist in the broader criminal justice system as well.

In order to build a fight that can win real justice, we cannot marginalize "divisive" issues like racism. Instead, we have to take them on frontally. And instead of reaching out to the conservative elements in society, we should be reaching out to progressive elements and building bridges there. Let's not forget that the lowest level of support for the death penalty (42 percent) was in 1966, at the height of the civil rights movement. Let's work to place the fight for abolition squarely in the progressive camp, where it most surely belongs.


Friday, July 09, 2010

London Mumia Film Showing/Demonstration

From:  Emma Lewis:

In Prison My Whole Life

Tuesday 20th July

Karibu Education Centre
7 Gresham Road

Tickets on the Door


A film about Mumia Abu-Jamal

A Father, A Journalist,

A Revolutionary


Introduction from the film narrator William Francome


4 - 8pm

24 Grosvenor Square
London W1A 1AE

Mumia Abu-Jamal’s legal team is engaged in a pivotal litigation in the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Philadelphia.

At stake is whether Mumia will be executed or granted a New trial. The initial brief will be submitted by Mumia’s legal team on July 28th.

Come anytime for as long or as little as you can to support Mumia and join the global fight against the Death Penalty.

For more info. Contact ThePanAfrikanVoice@gmail.com

Or Tongogara on 02088014731

Report on July 8 Hearing

From Ramona Africa:


As most of you no doubt know by now, we had a hearing in court today, July 8th, on the murder complaints that we filed against officials involved in the May 1985 bombing and murder of innocent MOVE family members.  The issue is very simple and very clear.  Officials deliberately dropped a C4 bomb on our home and the bomb ignited a fire which officials deliberately refused to put out.  When we attempted to get out of the blazing inferno, cops deliberately shot at us to try to prevent any of us from surviving.  As a result of this, eleven innocent MOVE men, women, children and numerous animals were literally burned alive and found to have bullet fragments in their bodies from police gunfire.  Not one single official in these past twenty-five years was ever charged with murdering our family.  I’m the only one to be charged with anything and imprisoned.   We, the MOVE family, filed private criminal murder complaints against officials responsible for the murder of our family.  The district attorney’s office refused our complaints so we appealed to common pleas court.  Judge Frank Palumbo refused our complaints, adhearing to assistant district attorney William James’ arguments that it’s been twenty-five years and “it wouldn’t be in the interest of the commonwealth” to persue these charges.  This is not surprising but it is unacceptable and we are appealing Palumbo’s decision.  There is no statute of limitations on murder in Pennsylvania and how can it not be in the interest of  the commonwealth, the people, to prosecute obvious murderers?

The MOVE 9 have been in prison for thirty-two years for the false accusation of killing a cop even though officials destroyed the scene of the crime within hours of arresting my family and even though the trial judge stated after convicting and sentencing my family to thirty to one-hundred years that he didn’t have the faintest idea who killed that cop and the trajectory of the fatal bullet proves that MOVE didn’t kill him.   The murder of my family was witnessed around the world.  There is no question about who murdered innocent MOVE family members yet the didtrict attorney’s office refuses to prosecute these official murderers.  The didtrict attorney’s office fights everyday to prosecute people, even when they have little to no evidence against the person.  In this case, however, the district attorney’s office is fighting tooth and nail to keep from prosecuting these official murderers.  Why?  They are telling people very clearly that cops and officials can murder people, burn people alive, including babies, and not be held accountable but if anybody is even suspected of killing a cop or official they’ll be hunted down and punished to the harshest extent possible.  People need to take this seriously and people should be outraged about it.  How many times does this system have to tell people that our lives are worth nothing, that only the lives of rich folks, cops and officials mean anything or are worth anything? 

Officials accuse MOVE of being violent, confrontational and having no respect for their legal system.  MOVE have never been violent but we do believe in the instinctive right of self defense which has nothing at all to do with being violent.  We will always confront anybody that attacks us or tries to hurt us or any family member and I defy anybody to prove that to be wrong, and why would anybody have respect for a system that has always shown itself to be racist, unjust and vicious.  People wonder why we of MOVE take the strong position we do against this rotten system, why we come after it the way we do, well the position of district attorney Seth Williams and judge Frank Palumbo tells you why.

MOVE is always  gonna fight injustice, we ain’t never gonna stop, and if our enemy labels our fight criminal or illegal, so what.  What would you expect from your enemy?

For more info or to get involved, contact MOVE at 215 387-4107/ onamovellja@aol.com

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

7/13 MOVE Documentary Showing/Mike Africa, Jr. in Philly

From:  icffmaj@aol.com

Friends of the MOVE 9, Sankofa Community Empowerment and MXGM-Philly
Invites You To:

MOVE: Confrontation in Philadelphia
A documentary
Wednesday, July 13, 2010
6-8 pm
The Rotunda, 4014 Walnut St, Philadelphia

Discussion afterwards with:
Mike Africa Jr., MOVE Organization
Gabriel Bryant, Sankofa Community Empowerment

MOVE: Confrontation in Philadelphia is a fast-paced, independently created documentary film of the events in the late seventies which lead up to the Philadelphia police arrest of members of nine MOVE members, who are currently serving a 30-100 year sentence. The video journalists reveal the complex relationship of media bias, police harassment, and subtle economic motivation in the violent removal of MOVE.

For more information contact us at MOVE9SupportCommittee@gmail.com or Iresha.Picot@gmail.com

Come to court in Philly Thursday 7/8 for the hearing on murder charges for the 1985 bombing

From info@freemumia.com:

The MOVE organization is informing people that there is a hearing in Room 504 of the Criminal Justice Center at 9:00 am on Thursday, July 8, 2010 before Judge Frank Palumbo.  This hearing is on the private criminal murder complaints that we filed against officials for murdering our family (men, women, babies and animals) in the May 13, 1985 bombing of our home.  Prosecution officials, including the recently elected first Black District Attorney of Philadelphia, Seth Williams, have never held these murderers legally accountable for murdering our family members so we filed murder charges.  Seth Williams denied them so we are now in Common Please Court. 

We're encouraging everybody to attend this hearing and pay attention to what happens because this doesn't only affect MOVE people, it affects everybody that has never gotten satisfaction or justice when their loved ones have been murdered by cops. 

Join us on the 8th and let our unified voices be heard in the righteous demand that official murderers be held legally accountable for their crimes in the same way that cops demand that anybody they even think murdered one of their own be held legally accountable.

For more info, contact us at 215 387-4107



The Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition NYC is travelling to Philly this Thursday
in support of MOVE's filing of charges against top Philly officials responsible for the bombing of MOVE's home in 1985 and the killing of 6 adults, five children and many animals.  No Philly official was ever indicted, let alone convited, for this historic crime against innocent individuals, who happen to be Black and who happen to oppose everything this government stands for.  Be there this Thursday if you can.  We must let these criminals know that we will not forget and will not forgive the very governmental structures that continue to perpetrate horrific crimes by keeping the MOVE 9 in prison (the very crimes the 1985 MOVE protests were about) and continue to fight for Mumia's execution.

Call 212 330-8029.  We are planning to arrive in Philly in time for the 9:00 am hearing.

Videos from July 4 Demo for Mumia

From info@freemumia.com:

Great videos from Sis. Fatirah!!

Here are some short videos from the July 4, 2010 demonstration for Mumia Abu-Jamal:

Short clip of July 4, 2010 demo for Mumia Abu Jamal

Baba Zayid Muhammad as Fredrick Douglass

Kevin Price reads John Brown

Friday, July 02, 2010

The MOVE 9 Parole Hearings -- An interview with Ramona Africa

The MOVE 9 Parole Hearings
--An interview with Ramona Africa

By Angola 3 News

Video-interviewed by Angola 3 News in May, 2010, Ramona Africa is the sole adult survivor of the May 13, 1985 massacre of 11 members of the MOVE organization. Founded in the early 1970s by John Africa, MOVE is a mostly black religious and family-based political organization that, in their words, works "to stop industry from poisoning the air, the water, the soil, and to put an end to the enslavement of life - people, animals, any form of life."

In the early morning of May 13, 1985, police had already surrounded MOVE's rowhouse at 6221 Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia when Philadelphia Police Commissioner Gregore Sambor declared on the bullhorn, "Attention MOVE, This is America! You have to abide by the laws of the United States!" Minutes later, the military-style assault on MOVE began. Police shot tear gas and detonated explosives on the front and both sides of MOVE's house. The gunfire from police reached at least 10,000 rounds of ammunition in the first ninety minutes, including 4,500 rounds from M-16s; 1,500 from Uzis; and 2,240 from M-60 machine guns.

Following an afternoon standstill, Mayor Wilson declared to the media that he would now "seize control of the house…by any means necessary." At 5:27 PM, Philadelphia police used a State Police helicopter to drop a C-4 bomb that had been illegally supplied by the FBI. When the bomb exploded on MOVE's roof, it started a small fire that the police and fire department allowed to burn, and eventually destroyed 61 homes, leaving 250 people homeless: the entire block of a middle-class black community.

Ramona and 13 year-old Birdie Africa would both recount that police had shot at the occupants of the house when they attempted to escape the fire. Giving her personal account of the massacre, Ramona says today that immediately after the bomb was dropped "those of us in the basement didn't realize that the house was on fire because there was so much tear gas that it was hard to recognize smoke. We opened the door and started to yell that we were coming out with the kids. The kids were hollering too. We know they heard us but the instant we were visible in the doorway, they opened fire. You could hear the bullets hitting all around the garage area. They deliberately took aim and shot at us. Anybody can see that their aim, very simply, was to kill MOVE people—not to arrest anybody."

Despite official police denials of shooting at MOVE when they were trying to escape the fire, The Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission (The MOVE Commission) appointed by Mayor Wilson Goode confirmed Ramona and Birdie's accounts, concluding that "police gunfire prevented some occupants of 6221 Osage Ave. from escaping from the burning house to the rear alley." The deaths of the five MOVE children "appeared to be unjustified homicides which should be investigated by a grand jury," concluded the MOVE Commission.

However, no one from the city, police, or fire department ever faced criminal charges. In sharp contrast, after Ramona survived the bombing, she was charged with conspiracy, riot, and multiple counts of simple and aggravated assault. At her trial, all charges listed on the May 11 arrest warrant were dismissed by the judge. "This means that they had no valid reason to even be out there, but they did not dismiss the charges placed on me as a result of what happened after they came out," says Ramona today.

At trial, Ramona successfully defended herself against the most serious charges, but after being convicted of the lesser charges, Ramona would serve 7 years in prison. If she had chosen to sever her ties with MOVE, she could have been released on parole after 16 months. Since her release from prison, Ramona has tirelessly worked as MOVE's Minister of Communication, speaking around the world in defense of the MOVE 9, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and all political prisoners.

In 1996, Ramona successfully sued the City of Philadelphia for the 1985 police assault, she was awarded $500,000 for pain, suffering, and injuries. Relatives of John Africa and his nephew Frank James Africa, who died in the incident, were awarded a total of $1 million. Another $1.7 million was paid to Birdie Africa, now Michael Moses Ward.

Essentially a symbolic gesture, the jury ordered that Ramona also receive $1 per week for 11 years directly from Police Commissioner Sambor and Fire Commissioner William C. Richmond, but this was overruled by Judge Louis Pollack on grounds that the two had not shown "willful misconduct," and were therefore immune from financial liability.

The MOVE 9

On August 8, 1978, Philadelphia Police launched an earlier military-style assault on MOVE's home in Powelton Village. During this assault, Officer James Ramp was shot and killed by what many believe was friendly fire. For example, veteran Philadelphia journalist Linn Washington Jr. stated in the 2004 documentary film MOVE,  narrated by Howard Zinn, that "the police department knows who killed Officer Ramp. It was another police officer, who inadvertently shot the guy. They have fairly substantial evidence that it was a mistake, but again they'll never admit it. I got this from a number of different sources in the police department, including sources on the SWAT team and sources in ballistics." Washington has elaborated on this further in a 2008 interview.

Nine of the adult MOVE members inside the house that day (Janine, Debbie, Janet, Merle, Delbert, Mike, Phil, Eddie, and Chuck Africa.) were jointly convicted of third-degree murder for Ramp's death and sentenced to 30-100 years. In 1998 Merle Africa tragically died while in prison. The remaining eight of the MOVE 9 became eligible for parole in 2008. An online petition and letter-writing campaign supporting parole cited several different arguments. The petition/letter declared that:

--The sentencing judge stated publicly that he did not have the faintest idea who shot the one bullet that killed Officer Ramp. Nine people cannot fire one bullet.

--Many supporters of parole feel that Officer Ramp was actually shot by police "friendly fire," because it would have been ballistically impossible for MOVE to have shot Ramp, who was across the street from MOVE's house. These supporters believe that because of MOVE's position in the basement, bullets coming from there would have had an upward trajectory, yet the medical examiner testified that the bullet entered Ramp's "chest from in front and coursed horizontally without deviation up or down." Even the authenticity of official ballistics are in dispute. At a pre-trial hearing, in open court, the Judge allowed the prosecutor to literally use a pencil and eraser to change the medical examiner's report to conform with the medical examiner's testimony about the bullet's trajectory.

This theory about the bullet's trajectory could have been tested, but MOVE\'s house was illegally demolished that very day, and police did nothing to preserve the crime scene, inscribe chalk marks, or measure ballistics angles. A few days before, a Philadelphia judge had signed an order barring the city from destroying the house, but this order was violated. In a preliminary hearing on a Motion to Dismiss, MOVE unsuccessfully argued that destroying their home had prevented them from proving that it was physically impossible for MOVE to have shot Ramp.

--Yet, other supporters of parole cite the average 10-15 year sentence given for third-degree murder. MOVE prisoners have now served 2-3 times this sentence. Isn't 30 years enough? Merle Africa, who has died in prison, and these surviving eight have already paid a terrible price for what happened on that day.

Despite these strong arguments for parole, the MOVE 9 were denied parole in 2008 and again in 2009. Ramona Africa has criticized two clauses that were implemented to deny parole in 2008 and 2009.

First is the "taking responsibility" clause, which basically demands a prisoner admit guilt in order to be granted parole. "That is not acceptable, because it is patently illegal. If a person was convicted in court, to then demand that they admit guilt -- even when they are maintaining their innocence, as the MOVE 9 are -- is ridiculous. The only issue for parole should be issues of misconduct in prison that could indicate one's not ready for parole. Other than that, an inmate should be paroled," explains Ramona.

Second is the "serious nature of offense" clause. "This is patently illegal too because the judge took this into consideration and when the sentence was issued, it meant that barring any misconduct, problems, new charges, etc. this prisoner was to be released on their minimum. To deny that is basically a re-sentence. We're dealing with these issues because when our family is up for parole, we don't want to hear this nonsense."

This year, the three women have already been denied parole. Janine and Debbie will be eligible again in two years, and Janet, for no specific reason, got a three year setback. However, the parole board has yet to rule on the four men, so MOVE is still urging supporters to contact the parole board in support of them. Call (717) 787-5699 and write a letter to: PA. Board Of Probation And Parole/ Central Office; Riverfront Office Center; 1101 South Front Street; Harrisburg, PA. 17104.

Stay tuned for part two of our video interview with Ramona, where Ramona gives her own personal account from May 13, 1985 and explains about the new murder charges that MOVE is filing against the City of Philadelphia for the massacre of 6 adults and 5 children that day.

--For more information about August 8, 1978 and the MOVE 9, please read the Born Black Magazine article, Attention, MOVE: This is America!

--Watch Confrontation in Philadelphia, MOVE  (narrated by Howard Zinn) and the 2008 MOVE 9 Parole Video Series.

--Visit www.onamove.com and www.move9parole.blogspot.com.

Watch the video at this link:

--Angola 3 News is a new project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is www.angola3news.com where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. We are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

JR and Pam Africa will be on "Where We Live" tonite at 8 pm on WBAI

From Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition, NYC:

JR, Minister of Information of Prisoners of Conscience Committee and host of Block Report Radio on Pacifica at Berkeley and Pam Africa of International Concerned Family & Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal will be on "Where We Live" on WBAI (99.5 FM) tonight. That's Thursday July 1, at 8 PM.

JR will be discussing the film about the Oakland community struggle for justice in the face of vicious police killings that will be showing at the Solidarity Center on Friday night, July 2 at 7 PM (55 W. 17th Street, 5th floor), and Pam will be talking about the upcoming rally in Philly on U-lie 4th, as well as the July 8th hearing on the MOVE filing of murder charges against 3 city officials responsible for the 1985 assault and murder on the MOVE family.

Tune in at 99.5 FM or listen live at www.wbai.org/ and join us for the activities on July 2, July 4, and July 8!

The Secret Memo from the "Anti-Death Penalty Movement"

From This Can't Be Happening

Mon, 06/28/2010 - 22:25 — Anonymous


from the US members of the Steering Committee of the WCADP
Involvement of Mumia Abu-Jamal endangers the US coalition
for abolition of the death penalty

ECPM has unilaterally, and over objection, determined to give the Mumia Abu-Jamal case a prominent role in the upcoming 4th World Congress Against the Death Penalty, including the participation of Mr. Abu-Jamal's lawyers and his direct participation by telephone. The US members of the Steering Committee of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty do not agree to this, because it will be counter-productive to our effort to achieve abolition in our country.

The Abu-Jamal case, regardless of its merits, acts as a lightning rod that galvanizes opponents of abolition and neutralizes key constituencies in the cause of abolition. Continuing to give Abu-Jamal focused attention unnecessarily attracts our strongest opponents and alienates coalition partners at a time when we need to build alliances, not foster hatred and enmity.

While Abu-Jamal still attracts some positive attention outside of the United States, it is at a real cost to the US abolition effort. In 1999, the world's largest association of professional law enforcement officers, the Fraternal Order of Police, announced a boycott of organizations and individuals who support Abu-Jamal. Bills have been introduced in both houses of the US federal legislature condemning the naming of streets for Abu-Jamal. The result is that Abu-Jamal, rather than abolition of the death penalty, becomes the issue and the focus of attention. That is dangerously counter-productive to the abolition movement in the US.
The voices of the Innocent, the voices of Victims and the voices of Law Enforcement are the most persuasive factors in changing public opinion and the views of decision-makers (politicians) and opinion leaders (media). Continuing to shine a spotlight on Abu-Jamal, who has had so much public exposure for so many years, threatens to alienate these three most important partnership groups.

The support of law enforcement officials is essential to achieving abolition in the United States. It is essential to the national abolition strategy of US abolition activists and attorneys, that we cultivate the voices of police, prosecutors and law enforcement experts, to support our call for an end to the death penalty. It was key in New Jersey and in New Mexico, it is fundamental to abolition throughout the US, and it will be a primary focus for 2010 and beyond. We have begun to make real progress with police officers and prosecutors speaking out against the death penalty as a failed policy.

«In a national poll released in 2009, the nation's police chiefs ranked the death penalty last in their priorities for effective crime reduction. The officers did not believe the death penalty acted as a deterrent to murder, and they rated it as one of most inefficient uses of taxpayer dollars in fighting crime .... "

Death Penalty Information Center, The Death Penalty in 2009: Year End Report, December 18,2009. If the 4th World Congress gives Abu-Jamal and his lawyers the focus and attention proposed by ECPM, the US movement for abolition will be exposed to a serious backlash that will directly damage the delicate alliances we are building with essential groups. As international representatives of the US abolition movement, we cannot agree to the involvement of Abu-Jamal or his lawyers in the World Congress beyond attendance.

For these reasons, providing Abu-Jamal the World Congress stage will require us to consider how to distance our programs in order to protect our vital alliances with our key partners and constituencies. To be effective ad- vocates within the US we must and will continue our strategic approach to abolition with our core allies and our evolving partners. Featuring Mr. Abu-Jamal's case as ECPM has proposed presents an unacceptably high risk of fracturing a developing but still fragile alliance with vitally important constituencies - constituencies that can either help our movement reach the goal of abolition or severely hinder our progress.

Elizabeth Zitrin (DPF), Renny Cushing and Kate Lowenstein (MVFHR), Speedy Rice (NACDL), Kristin Houle (TCADP), Juan Matos de Juan (PRBA)

21 December 2009