Tag Archive: abolition

Bipartisan Unity on Mass Incarceration: Opportunity or Sidetrack for Movement Building?

From Truth Out / By James Kilgore

Mass incarceration continues to trend. As Heather Thompson, professor of history at the University of Michigan and leading scholar on the Attica prison rebellion, told Truthout, “Three years ago to talk about incarceration was like you were talking Latin.” No more.

The past year has offered us a cavalcade of conferences, webinars, nonprofit startups, media events, potential and actual legislation along with feel-good moments where everyone from Rand Paul to Eric Holder jumped on the bandwagon of criminal “justice” reform. While this has been a process, two events do stand out.

The first was the extravagant Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform in Washington, DC, in March. The unlikely collection of sponsors included the Koch brothers, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and Van Jones’ nonprofit #cut50 (as in reduce the incarcerated population by 50 percent in 10 years). Additional support came from partnering organizations like the Drug Policy Alliance, the Sentencing Project and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

The summit, emceed by Jones, brought together an array of superstar speakers from various parts of the political spectrum: Newt Gingrich; conservative Georgia governor Nathan Deal; former prisoner turned writer, entrepreneur and activist Shaka Senghor;Orange Is the New Black author Piper Kerman and singer John Forté, who played his guitar and spoke about his own incarceration. In the audience dozens of state and federal elected officials joined well-known researchers and activists who were fighting mass incarceration long before Charles Koch knew what a mandatory minimum was. Since this summit, the Koch brothers have built the event out into a roadshow, holding smaller versions in Ohio, Florida, Georgia and Illinois. (more…)

The Death Penalty Is Cruel. But So Is Life Without Parole.

From The New Republic / By Stephen Lurie

Prison cells don’t attract many spectators, but executions have always drawn crowds. Paradoxically, the names and identities of death row inmates only come to matter when their execution had been scheduled: from impending death we take a sudden interest in life.

Despite the incongruity, this isn’t all that surprising. Twenty-first century America is still susceptible to the time-honored spectacle of state-sanctioned death, even if much of the attention now scrutinizes, rather than cheers, the practice. Recently, there have been many stories typical of the current fascination with American capital punishment, most notably Ben Crair’s piece in this magazine and Jeffrey Stern’s in The Atlantic. Like other recent examinations of the death penalty, both accounts focus specifically on the act of execution by lethal injection; each covers botched executions and the question of cruel and unusual punishment in the death chamber itself. Stern’s story centers on the act and ramifications of Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett’s execution: A paramedic—and later, a physician—fail to find a vein in a dozen stabs into Lockett’s flesh so the execution can proceed. (Which it does, equally gruesomely.) Crair’s investigation deals with the national execution drug shortage—including Lockett’s experience along with many others—and highlights Ohio prisoner Joseph Wood’s story; his execution was so mishandled that he “gasped and snorted for one hour and 57 minutes… the longest execution in modern history.”

For Stern and Crair, as well as many human rights-minded activists and advocates, the death chamber is a potent and useful example of inhumanity. Other, newer abolitionists—like the legislators in Nebraska that voted to abolish the death penalty there last month—focus on the act of execution as well. While the death chamber is itself horrific, abolitionists would be remiss to ignore the more common punishment: the immense cruelty of a prisoner’s long wait for execution. The “death row phenomenon” and associated prison conditions cause significant psychological and physical harm; a so-called “death before dying” is both internationally condemned and domestically pervasive. If the end to capital punishment in the U.S. is based on concern for human beings—whether in a religious or moral sense—the reform movement must be concerned with the prison conditions left when death is not on the table. (more…)

We must disband the police: Body cameras aren’t enough — only radical change will stop cops who kill

The courts, the media, and the political system are designed to back killer cops. Only radical change will work

From Salon/ By GEORGE CICCARIELLO-MAHER

After Michael Slager gunned down Walter Scott in a North Charleston park, a deafening chorus of voices has emerged, insisting that “the system worked.” And they are right. The system did work, just not in the way that they mean.

The system didn’t only begin to work when the video of the shooting emerged days later: it went into motion immediately. The system began to work when Slager cuffed a dying man and then ran (ran!) back to grab his alibi, the Taser he would then plant near Scott’s failing body (as some have noticed, Slager did so in an eminently practiced way).

The machinery continued to whirr smoothly as the second officer on the scene—Clarence Habersham, who is Black—ignored the planted evidence, raised no questions, and did not administer CPR. Habersham insisted that he immediately applied pressure to Scott’s wounds, but recently synched audio suggests that he was instead counting the bullet holes in a still-dying man. Multiracial policing, after all, is still just policing. (more…)

Imagine a World Without Prisons: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Superheroes, and Prison Abolition

octaviaFrom The Abolitionist / By Walidah Imarisha

“And then the orcs stage an uprising and seize the means of production, since they are not only the soldiers, they are also the exploited labor of Middle Earth. If they rise up, Mordor grinds to a halt!”

This unlikely strategy came out of a workshop called “Imaginative Fiction and Social Change,” at the Allied Media Conference, an annual gathering in Detroit of radical activists, artists and media makers. The facilitator (and Octavia’s Brood contributor), Morrigan Phillips, broke participants into small groups and each one got a fictional land: Oz, the Death Star, Hogwarts, Springfield (of Simpsons fame). Participants then analyzed the conflict and came up with direct action tactics to move their cause for justice forward.

“A successful direct action is like creating a good fantasy story. It’s like a quest,” Phillips said excitedly in the introduction. “There is a conflict, compelling characters, a good plan, build up, twists and turns, adversity, the climax, and then the win where everyone goes home satisfied. If you do it right.”

As Phillips demonstrated, many of the lessons to be taken from science fiction (or speculative fiction/fantasy/horror/take your pick) are incredibly useful when building community-based systems of accountability and abolishing the prison system. (more…)