Tag Archive: history

Prisons, Ecology and the Birth of an Empire

From Earth First! Newswire/ By Panagioti

Strange sometimes how worlds collide. Nine years ago I found myself in the swamps of the northeastern Everglades listening to an independent, traditional Seminole activist asking for support in challenging the state and federal government’s plans to fund a celebration of 500 years of Florida—a history that began, in many ways, with the founding of one of the best known tourist traps in this country’s history.

If Christopher Columbus is a symbol marking the origin of Manifest Destiny’s rampage across the western hemisphere, then conquistador Pedro Menendez de Aviles, who established the colony of St. Augustine, built the first literal foundation under that genocidal, ecocidal mindset.

Today, as I occupy my time developing the Prison Ecology Project, aimed at mapping the intersections of incarceration, ecology and environmental racism, it’s hard not to also view St. Augustine as the first prison town of what would become the U.S. Empire—a nation that has distinguished itself in the modern world by simultaneously pushing global policies that have facilitated an unprecedented pillaging of the planet for resources and for locking people up at a never-before-seen scale or pace in human history. (more…)

What I Learned From Breaking the Law

In 1971, I helped burglarize an FBI office and leaked documents that exposed J. Edgar Hoover’s abuses of power. Here’s what that experience taught me.

From The Nation/ By John Raines

I have been asked to develop a set of reflections on the moral lessons I learned from breaking the law. Here is part of that story. In 1961 I was arrested and put in jail in Little Rock, Arkansas. I was a “freedom rider.” Then, ten years later, a group of us calling ourselves “The Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI” broke into the Media, Pennsylvania office of the FBI, removed the files and released them to the news media. What did I learn from breaking the law? Here are five lessons I learned. I learned that:

1) Law is not to be trusted without interrogating its complicity with privilege and power.

2) Identity is morally problematic, especially if you get yourself born a white male of class privilege.

3) A nation that lets itself be governed by fear will become a poorly governed nation.

4) The arrogance of power contributes to its own demise when confronted by persistent resistance, and finally….

5) I learned that the anger called hope can overcome despair, create a community of resistance and build a future that seemed impossible.

Let me begin with the issue of law and criminality. It is my contention that breaking the law and committing a crime are not identical. Indeed, I would go further. I would claim that under certain circumstances not to break the law is a crime—a crime against justice. That is what I learned back in 1961 when being found guilty of “threatening a breach of the peace” when four of us—two blacks and two whites—sat down together in the “White” waiting room of the Trailways bus station in Little Rock. (more…)

Obama’s Police Reforms Ignore the Most Important Cause of Police Misconduct

police_scary_ap_imgThese well-meaning changes will simply reproduce racial inequality.

From The Nation/ By Alex S. Vitale

President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing has released a long list of reforms to American policing, some of which, including independent police prosecutions and dramatically scaling back the role of police in schools, are true advancements. However, there are also major pitfalls in the report’s reliance on procedural rather than substantive justice.

Liberal police reforms of the 1960s, including the Katzenback Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice and Johnson’s Safe Streets Act, were intended to achieve similar ends of improving police community relations and reducing police brutality through police professionalization and a host of procedural reforms. The result of this process, however, was the massive expansion of policing in the form of SWAT teams, the War on Drugs and, ultimately, mass incarceration.

Princeton political scientist Naomi Murakawa, in her book The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America, details how the liberal assessment of the problems of race failed to take seriously the role of racial domination in the structuring of the criminal-justice system. Instead, they focused on the need to create a criminal-justice system that was more professional and less arbitrary in its meting out of punishment against people of color. Embedded in this approach was the misconception that the negative attitudes of blacks about the police were based on a combination of poorly trained and biased officers on the one hand and exaggerated feelings of mistrust by African-Americans, derived from their social and political isolation, on the other. (more…)

Conjugal Visits

teardownFrom The Marshall Project

Why they’re disappearing, which states still use them, and what really happens during those overnight visits.

Although conjugal, or “extended,” visits play a huge role in prison lore, in reality, very few inmates have access to them. Twenty years ago, 17 states offered these programs. Today, just four do: California, Connecticut, New York, and Washington. No federal prison offers extended, private visitation.

Last April, New Mexico became the latest state to cancel conjugal visits for prisoners after a local television station revealed that a convicted killer, Michael Guzman, had fathered four children with several different wives while in prison. Mississippi had made a similar decision in January 2014. (more…)