Book Review: About Black Prison Organizing

[The movement and struggles of prison activists has played a major, even central, role in the social movements in the US.  But it has not often been recognized or embraced by many other activists and movements which, led by liberal reformists and organizations, avoid the injustices and enslavements of the “criminal justice” system.  Prison organizers, political prisoners, and prisoners as a whole have played a huge role in social movements  in the US (and in most countries throughout the world, as seen from Ireland to Palestine, South Africa to India, Peru to China).  But in the US, the role has been magnified by the mass incarceration of millions, whose pathways and influences in an out of prison have multiplied as a result.  This book review traces recent writing on the roots and links of the prison movement. — Frontlines ed].

The Prisoner’s Rebellion at Attica Prison, New York, 1971

A Hidden Legacy of the Civil Rights Era

by JAMES KILGORE, Counterpunch

Dan Berger’s latest volume, Captive Nation, is perfectly timed. In a moment where interest in mass incarceration across the political spectrum is on the rise, sanitized versions of carceral history will doubtless emerge. Berger’s account offers an instant antidote to any such efforts. He warns us we will be negating a long history of righteous rebellions of the oppressed if we opt for quick fix policy packages that do not address the inequalities underlying the rapid growth of incarceration.

Berger’s personal profile as an historian casts him in a unique position to tell his tale. He represents a bridge between the praxis of the 60s and 70s and today’s decarceration campaigners. Back in the day, activists connected to those in prison by striking up extensive correspondence via snail mail and making in person visits. In this age of digital communication, Berger has stepped back in time and used those old “analog” methods to establish relationships with a number of those still incarcerated for their activities in that era, people such as Veronza Bower, Sundiata Acoli, Jalil Muntaqim (also known as Anthony Bottom) and David Gilbert. These relationships were key to Berger’s framing of the stories he tells as well as his analysis.

Prison Intellectual Culture: The Case of George Jackson

Two things particularly struck me as I read Captive Nation. The first was the amazing radical intellectual culture that emerged in prisons during this period, a culture, I should add, that appeared almost totally absent in the federal and state prisons where I resided from 2002-09. Berger’s depictions of the richness of political debate and the eagerness of people inside to connect prison resistance to the Black liberation struggle and other movements of the era, were staggering. The politics of the rebels/revolutionaries Berger describes were not mere legal maneuverings aimed at overturning individual cases or re-doing legislation. Rather, they aimed to depict and contest the political economy and ideological foundations of a “system.”

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New York: City College Protest Leaders Suspended As Demonstrations Continue

 

By Jeff Mays, www.dnainfo.com

 October 28, 2013

 

 

City College Protest Leaders Suspended

HARLEM—Two City College students who led protests against the closure of a student-run community center have been suspended indefinitely after officials accused them of trying to incite a riot.

 

Khalil Vasquez, 22, a senior and Tafadar Sourov, 19, a sophomore, say they were intercepted by campus police and an NYPD officer as they attempted to attend class Monday morning and told they were no longer allowed on campus following last week’s protests over the closure of the Guillermo Morales/Assata Shakur Student and Community Center on the third floor of the North Academic Center at 138th Street and Convent Avenue. Continue reading

California prison officials say 30,000 inmates refuse meals

By Paige St. John, Los Angeles Times, July 8, 2013

California officials Monday said 30,000 inmates refused meals at the start of what could be the largest prison protest in state history.

Inmates in two-thirds of the state’s 33 prisons, and at all four out-of-state private prisons, refused both breakfast and lunch on Monday, said corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton. In addition, 2,300 prisoners failed to go to work or attend their prison classes, either refusing or in some cases saying they were sick.

The corrections department will not acknowledge a hunger strike until inmates have missed nine consecutive meals. Even so, Thornton said, Monday’s numbers are far larger than those California saw two years earlier during a series of hunger strikes that drew international attention.

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Puerto Rico: “Freedom for Oscar López Rivera, Now!”

by Ángel Carrión · Translated by Amy Gulvin (Global Voices Online) –  On 11 June 2013

Oscar López Rivera’s [1] has already spent 32 years in prison in the United States. It is said that he is the longest-serving political prisoner in the western hemisphere. Originally, he was sentenced to 55 years for “seditious conspiracy”; later another 15 were added for a total of 70 years, due to an alleged escape attempt. The only crime he committed was to fight for Puerto Rican independence.

Puerto Rico has been under the dominion of the United States since the invasion of the Island in 1898, as a result of the Spanish-American War [2]. Since then, there has been a series of struggles by groups seeking to free Puerto Rico from United States control through armed combat, perhaps the most dramatic example of these conflicts being the nationalist uprising of 1950 in the town of Jayuya [3].

"Freedom for Oscar López Rivera, Now!" by Kike Estrada. Taken with permission from planetakike.com. [4]

“Freedom for Oscar López Rivera, Now!” by Kike Estrada.

In the case of Oscar López, even the United States government recognized, under the presidency of Bill Clinton, that the sentence that Oscar is serving is disproportional to the charges brought against him. In 1999, President Clinton offered him a pardon, but Oscar rejected it because his comrades, prisoners like him, would continue to be deprived of their freedom.

Oscar, like other comrades who have been imprisoned for fighting for Puerto Rican independence, assumed the status of prisoner of war on being an anticolonial combatant. He does not recognize the United States jurisdiction, and demands instead that an international tribunal bring him to trial, or one from a third country that is not involved in the conflict between the United States and Puerto Rico. As Alejandro Torres Rivera, writing for Red Betances [5][es] says:

De acuerdo con el Protocolo I de la Convención de Ginebra de 1949, la protección que dicho Convenio Internacional reconoce a los prisioneros de guerra, se extiende también a personas capturadas en conflictos o luchas contra la ocupación colonial, la ocupación de un país por parte de regímenes racistas y a aquellos otros que participan de luchas por la libre determinación de sus pueblos. Así lo ratifica también la Resolución 2852 (XXVI) de la Asamblea General de las Naciones Unidas de 20 de diciembre de 1971 y la Resolución 3103 (XXVIII) del 13 de diciembre de 1973, cuando establece:

“Todo participante en los movimientos de resistencia, luchando por la independencia y la autodeterminación si es arrestado, tiene que recibir el tratamiento estipulado en la Convención de Ginebra.”

De acuerdo con el referido protocolo, un prisionero de guerra no puede ser juzgado como un criminal común, mucho menos si la causa de tal procedimiento descansa en actos relacionados con su participación en una lucha anticolonial.

In accordance with Protocol I of the Geneva Convention of 1949, the protection that this International Agreement recognizes for prisoners of war, extends also to people caught in conflicts or struggles against colonial occupation, occupation of a country by racist regimes and to those others who participate in struggles for the self-determination of their peoples. It is also ratified by Resolution 2852 (XXVI) of the United Nations General Assembly of 20 December 1971 and Resolution 3103 (XXVIII) of December 13, 1973, when it is established that:

“All participants in the resistance movements, fighting for independence and self-determination, if arrested, must receive treatment as stipulated in the Geneva Convention.”

In accordance with the protocol referred to, a prisoner of war cannot be judged as a common criminal, much less if the cause of such a procedure rests on acts related to his or her participation in an anticolonial struggle. Continue reading