What Will It Take to Free Our Political Prisoners?

July 16, 2013

By Liz Derias

The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), a revolutionary organization based in the u.s. that fights to uphold the self-determination and the human rights of Black people in the world, has been working to free political prisoners for over three decades. The organization has actively worked on the cases of Assata Shakur, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt, the San Francisco 8 (SF8), the MOVE 9, the Cuban 5, and more. Additionally, MXGM has worked with the founding Black August Organizing Committee of California to popularize Black August, a month of commemoration and action in support of political prisoners.

Through the heed of political prisoners Assata Shakur and Nehanda Abiodun, MXGM has also taken a lead in inspiring and mobilizing the Hip Hop generation to take action in support of political prisoners, particularly through the annual Black August Concert, which has featured artists such as Talib Kweli, Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), Erykah Badu, Dead Prez, and others. MXGM works with other leading organizations that have championed action to free political prisoners, such as the National Black United Fund, the Prisoners of Consciousness Committee, the Nation of Islam, and numerous support committees around the world.black august

This article will describe the history and current context of political prisoners in the u.s., the conditions for them while incarcerated, and the organizing strategies employed by MXGM over the years to free them.

The Legacy of COINTELPRO

We cannot discuss the case of political prisoners in the u.s. without having an understanding of COINTELPRO. COINTELPRO, or the Counter Intelligence Program, was the federal government’s secret program during the 1950s-1970s used against many forces of the Black Liberation movement, leftists, and political dissidents in the u.s., including the Chicano Nationalist Movement and the Puerto Rican Independence Movement. It was secret because it was illegal.

Under COINTELPRO, the FBI and local police forces assassinated, arrested, tortured, and framed hundreds of leftists, particularly Black leftists, who were considered to pose the greatest threat to the racist status quo of u.s. society. The tactics of COINTELPRO can be categorized in four main areas: infiltration of organizations, psychological warfare from the outside, harassment through the legal system, and extralegal force and violence, including extrajudicial killing and outright murder. The FBI’s stated motivation for the program was “protecting national security, preventing violence, and maintaining the existing social and political order. Continue reading

How the System Worked – The US v. Trayvon Martin

July 15, 2013, http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/07/15/the-us-v-trayvon-martin/

by ROBIN D.G. KELLEY

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, Senator Rand Paul, Florida State Representative Dennis Baxley (also sponsor of his state’s Stand Your Ground law), along with a host of other Republicans, argued that had the teachers and administrators been armed, those twenty little kids whose lives Adam Lanza stole would be alive today.   Of course, they were parroting the National Rifle Association’s talking points.  The NRA and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the conservative lobbying group responsible for drafting and pushing “Stand Your Ground” laws across the country, insist that an armed citizenry is the only effective defense against imminent threats, assailants, and predators.

But when George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, teenage pedestrian returning home one rainy February evening from a neighborhood convenience store, the NRA went mute.  Neither NRA officials nor the pro-gun wing of the Republican Party argued that had Trayvon Martin been armed, he would be alive today.  The basic facts are indisputable: Martin was on his way home when Zimmerman began to follow him—first in his SUV, and then on foot.  Zimmerman told the police he had been following this “suspicious-looking” young man.  Martin knew he was being followed and told his friend, Rachel Jeantel, that the man might be some kind of sexual predator.  At some point, Martin and Zimmerman confronted each other, a fight ensued, and in the struggle Zimmerman shot and killed Martin.

Zimmerman pursued Martin.  This is a fact.  Martin could have run, I suppose, but every black man knows that unless you’re on a field, a track, or a basketball court, running is suspicious and could get you a bullet in the back.  The other option was to ask this stranger what he was doing, but confrontations can also be dangerous—especially without witnesses and without a weapon besides a cel phone and his fists.  Florida law did not require Martin to retreat, though it is not clear if he had tried to retreat.  He did know he was in imminent danger.

Where was the NRA on Trayvon Martin’s right to stand his ground?  What happened to their principled position?  Let’s be clear: the Trayvon Martin’s of the world never had that right because the “ground” was never considered theirs to stand on.  Unless black people could magically produce some official documentation proving that they are not burglars, rapists, drug dealers, pimps or prostitutes, intruders, they are assumed to be “up to no good.”  (In the antebellum period, such documentation was called “freedom papers.”)  As Wayne LaPierre, NRA’s executive vice president, succinctly explained their position, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”   Trayvon Martin was a bad guy or at least looked and acted like one.  In our allegedly postracial moment, where simply talking about racism openly is considered an impolitic, if not racist, thing to do, we constantly learn and re-learn racial codes.  The world knows black men are criminal, that they populate our jails and prisons, that they kill each other over trinkets, that even the celebrities among us are up to no good.  Zimmerman’s racial profiling was therefore justified, and the defense consistently employed racial stereotypes and played on racial knowledge to turn the victim into the predator and the predator into the victim.  In short, it was Trayvon Martin, not George Zimmerman, who was put on trial.  He was tried for the crimes he may have committed and the ones he would have committed had he lived past 17.  He was tried for using lethal force against Zimmerman in the form of a sidewalk and his natural athleticism. Continue reading

Dispatch From Detention: A Rare Look Inside Our ‘Humane’ Immigration Jails

[Photo: Paul J. Richards/Getty Images]

by Seth Freed Wessler, Color Lines

Wednesday, January 4 2012

Sam Kitching, a soft-spoken, round old man dressed in civilian clothes who works for the Sheriff’s department at the Baker County Jail put his hand on my shoulder and, addressing me as “young man,” said, “It’s very important that you be careful in there. They might have AIDS and might try to grab your hand and push something into it.”

“AIDS?” I ask.

“They could,” he said. “These men can be dangerous.”

A younger man dressed in a tight, dark green Sheriff’s uniform unlatched the door into one of the pods that holds several dozen federal immigration detainees.

Mostly Latino and black and all dressed in orange jump suits, unzipped with the arms tied around waists, the men stood or sat at metal tables in groups of four or five in the three-sided concrete room.

“Zip up,” the guard yelled as the door opened.

The detainees pulled the jumpers up over their shoulders and I followed the guard, Kitching and a young Legal Aid attorney named Karen Winston into the pod. A man stood on a grated walkway in front of one of the two-bed jail cells where the detainees eat, sleep, bathe and go to the bathroom. The rest of the men were below in the concrete room where they pass all their time—there’s only one hour of recreation time in an enclosed gravel yard.

“Hey, Honduras, get down here,” Kitching yelled to the man on the platform, who walked down the grated metal stairs and joined three other Latino men talking in a corner.

“That’s what I do sometimes,” Kitching explained to me. “I call them by their country. For some reason if they’ve been here a while, I can remember their country.”

Winston, a recent law school graduate, works long days in the south Florida jail defending some of the close to 250 immigration detainees held there. On this Friday morning, she’d driven from Jacksonville, the closest city, to conduct a “know your rights” training for as many of the detainees as possible. She noted the training name is misleading, since detainees don’t have many rights to know of. Continue reading

Border Patrol Says Giving a Ride to an Illegal Immigrant Is a Crime

By Nina Shapiro, Seattle Weekly
Thu., Dec. 15 2011

Border Patrol stopping cars

Undeterred by questions about hyper-aggressive tactics and possible over-funding, the Border Patrol has turned up the heat on the Olympic Peninsula, according to the Forks Human Rights Group. Now, if you give an illegal immigrant a ride in your car, you’re at risk for being detained–even if you yourself are legal.

Yesterday, the Forks Human Rights Group, a group of residents that has been documenting the Border Patrol’s intense activity in the city made famous by Twilight, sent a letter to Patty Murray and other Congress members calling for an investigation of “increasing questionable and illegal behavior” by the BP’s Port Angeles office.

“In the last few days, we were told by Border Patrol that their agents have been instructed to arrest people with illegal aliens in the car” says the letter signed by Lesley Hoare. Talking to Seattle Weekly, Lesley Hoare says she was told that herself during a phone conversation with a staffer in the Port Angeles office.

The letter cites a couple such cases. One concerns a Mexican immigrant who has been a legal resident for more than 20 years but now, according to the letter, is under threat of deportation after being stopped with an illegal immigrant in his car. Continue reading

Immigration detention = fastest growing incarceration in US

October 5, 2011
by Will Coley, Univision

The arrest, detention and deportation of [undocumented] immigrants is higher than at any time in U.S. history with more than 2.3 million individuals deported in the last five years.  The government’s immigration enforcement efforts — detention — is now the fastest growing incarceration system in the U.S.  With illegal border crossings down significantly over the past couple of years, enforcement efforts have turned more forcefully to the interior and the communities where millions of undocumented immigrants live, once again sparking the debate over comprehensive immigration reform.

“Aqui y Ahora” Correspondent Tifani Roberts tells how Obama’s policy has separated hundreds of thousands of families and how an investigation shows the other side of deportations.

US: New government attacks on migrants target unionized workers with mass firings

US government's xenophobic anti-immigrant campaigns include ICE raids in working class communities and mass firings of workers, both unionized and unorganized

FIGHTING THE FIRINGS

By David Bacon,  In These Times web edition, 8/23/11

After years of ‘silent raids’ and federal workplace audits, unions and community allies are going on the offensive.

BERKELEY, CA — When the current wave of mass firings of immigrant workers started three years ago, they were called “silent raids” in the press.  The phrase sought to make firings seem more humane than the workplace raids of the Bush administration.  During Bush’s eight-year tenure, posses of black-uniformed immigration agents, waving submachine guns, invaded factories across the country and rounded up workers for deportations.

“Silent raids,” by contrast, have relied on cooperation between employers and immigration officials.  The Department of Homeland Security identifies workers it says have no legal immigration status.  Employers then fire them. The silence, then, is the absence of the armed men in black.  Paraphrasing Woody Guthrie, they used to rob workers of their jobs with a gun.  Now they do it with a fountain pen. Continue reading

Detained Without Cause

Detained Without Cause: Muslims’ Stories of Detention and Deportation in America after 9/11

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The Alwan Center of the Arts, Interfaith Center of New York, Muslim Progressive Traditionalist Alliance (MPTA) and the National Lawyers Guild NY Chapter

After 9/11 the Bush administration began abusing the Material Witness law by detaining American citizens — on American soil — without probable cause. While the Material Witness Law does allow for the government to detain witnesses to a crime if it believes those witnesses to be a flight risk, civil rights groups and the people whose lives have been ruined by these random arrests protest that the government is abusing the law to detain everyday Americans that it suspects may in some way be linked to terrorism.On Wednesday June 22nd, a group of panelists, including, Irum Shiekh, the author of the new Book Detained without Cause, gave an oral history featuring the voices of deported truck drivers, students, newspaper vendors, building contractors and their families who were swept up in post 9/11 raids. Many of these people were kept for many months in abusive isolation in Brooklyn’s MDC. We also heard from Martin Stolar and Sandra Nicholas, both NYC attorneys who have worked extensively with many post 9/11 detainees, including some in Irum’s book.Website: http://www.alwanforthearts.org/event/758

The Border Crossed Us

The activist writer, April 25, 2011
THE FENCE THAT WENT UP ALONG THE U.S.-MEXICO BORDER IN 2007
touches on more than immigration and politics. It also divides the Tohono O’odham nation in southern Arizona, the second largest Native American reservation in the United States.

The Border Crossed Us is a temporary public art installation which transplants the US-Mexico border fence in southern Arizona to the campus of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

The Boston-based Institute for Infinitely Small Things, a group that stages public art and performance to investigate social justice issues, created the installation to highlight how this community is affected.

A blog about the project highlights performance video, images, and reflections by the student body on the meaning of the fence. The latest posting is a blessing sung by Ofelia Rivas of the Tohono O’odham over the sounds of helicopters and construction. It’s interesting to note the students’ reactions as they notice the singing on their way to-and-from class.

Find out more here.

http://theactivistwriter.com/2011/04/25/the-border-crossed-us/

L.A. Resident Jose Gutierrez, in Coma After Being Tased by Arizona Border Agents, Threatened With Deportation While Still Unconscious

LA Weekly

By Simone Wilson, Fri., Apr. 15 2011

josegutierrezhead.jpg

Gutierrez' skull had to be removed after a tussle with CBP agents, who won't provide surveillance or specifics

Forty-one-year-old Jose Gutierrez has lived in the U.S. since he was a kid. Until three weeks ago, he shared a house in the affluent Valley neighborhood of Woodland Hills with U.S. citizen Shena Wilson and their two children, held a solid job as a film engineer and served as frontman for the popular Spanish-rock band FZ10.

However, Gutierrez is undocumented.

After the L.A. Immigration Court deported him on March 21, Wilson says she lost touch with her husband, but guessed he would try to come back, seeing as their youngest — a five-month-old baby girl — was in the hospital. (Not to mention he has no roots in Mexico.)

The next she heard of him, Gutierrez was in a coma at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix.

Wilson got a call from the Mexican consulate in Yuma, Arizona, saying, “We have to let you know that there has been an accident.” Continue reading

Obama’s “regrets” as US announces record deportations

by Agence France-Presse
Monday, January 31st, 2011

workersimmigrationafp US announces record deportations

EL PASO, Texas — The United States deported more illegal immigrants than ever before during the first two years of President Barack Obama’s administration, his government said Monday.

“In both fiscal years 2009 and 2010, Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed more illegal immigrants from our country than ever before, with more than 779,000 removals nationwide in the last two years,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said.

The Obama administration must prove it is tough on illegal immigrants and can secure the country’s porous borders if it is to stand a chance of passing a comprehensive overhaul of America’s tattered immigration system.

Napolitano announced the record figures in El Paso, Texas — the border city which is the focus of a major drive by the administration to stem the tide of illegal immigrants flowing over the border from Mexico. Continue reading

No More Deportations! Police Should Not Be Immigration Agents!

Northern Manhattan Communities for Immigrants Rights   http://www.nmcir.org

Governor Paterson, Stop ICE’s “Secure Communities” in New York Now!

RALLY in Manhattan, Thursday December 9, 2010, 11am at Gov. Paterson’s NYC Office

In May 2010, NY State signed a Memorandum of Agreement with ICE [the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency] approving “Secure Communities,” in which local police send fingerprints of all arrestees to Department of Homeland Security databases. This costly program will push thousands more immigrants into the unjust detention and deportation system, while making us all less safe and violating our rights.

ICE has repeatedly misrepresented and lied about the program to the state and nation.  Join us in demanding that Governor Paterson terminate the Secure Communities agreement and that the federal courts require ICE to share all documents on “opting out” of the program. [This refers to the “option” for cities to refuse to participate in the local police/ ICE collaboration required by the Secure Communities program.-ed]

New York State should not cooperate with ICE [the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency] in tearing apart immigrant families. Continue reading

US Government’s Detention of Immigrants: A Long Stay

Sunday 01 August 2010

by: Yana Kunichoff, t r u t h o u t | Report

More than 300,000 immigrants languish in detention centers around the country. Why are they there – and who is profiting from their imprisonment?

Pedro Guzman Perez speaks to his wife, Emily Guzman, by phone every evening. They speak around 8 PM, a talk filled with stories about their days, shared projects and love. Sometimes their three-year-old son, Logan, wants to get on the phone too, but usually Logan will be watching a show in another room. They have a great relationship, Emily says, and the conversations are often the highlight of her day.

There are, however, some logistical difficulties. Pedro, a Guatemalan native who was in the country on a work visa, can only speak on the phone for 20 minutes at a time – precious little for a couple sharing the tumult of raising a three-year-old. Each phone card costs $5, and the already staticky connection is easily broken.

This is because Pedro is calling from the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, an immigration detention facility where he has been detained for nearly ten months. Many aspects of Pedro’s case led him to the detention center – two ten-year-old charges of marijuana possession, one of which has since been dropped; an administrative mistake by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), to which they have admitted; the harsh record of his immigration court judge and even the patchy memory of an older woman whose answers in an immigration interview led the federal government to look into Pedro’s status.

But neither Emily, Pedro’s lawyer nor the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) thinks these are enough to warrant keeping Pedro under lock and key, away from his family and with tax payers bearing the cost of his prolonged detention.

Pedro is one of the 383,524 individuals detained by ICE while they await court dates, deportation or bail. Detention is a key aspect of the federal government’s push to deport immigrants, both documented and undocumented, who have committed any crimes or misdemeanors. Continue reading