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

The Raines family in Michigan, August 1969

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…)

For Shame! Public Shaming Sentences on the Rise

dunce_capFrom Prison Legal News/ by David M. Reutter

Punishments intended to shame offenders for wrongdoing, popular throughout history, are once again on the rise – particularly as penalties imposed by judges who enjoy seeing their names in the newspaper or on television due to their “creative” sentencing practices.

Whether judges hand down sentences that humiliate defendants for the purpose of entertainment, self-aggrandizement or as a unique way of deterring crime with a “punishment that fits” is subject to debate. The only certainty is that most sanctions designed to shame offenders are legal, so long as judges do not go too far.

Shaming criminals has long been an integral part of America’s criminal justice system, and public whipping and the stocks were commonly used in Puritan and colonial times. During that era, imprisonment was reserved for debtors and those awaiting trial; upon conviction, a judge could order an offender to be executed, flogged, banished or shamed. (more…)

Learning from Ferguson: A World Without Police

love4policeFrom Counterpunch – by Peter Gelderloos

In two previous essay, I discussed the role of the Left in protecting the police through cautious reformism, and the effectiveness of a pacified, falsified—in a word disarmed—history of the Civil Rights movement to prevent us from learning from previous struggles and achieving a meaningful change in society.

The police are a racist, authoritarian institution that exists to protect the powerful in an unequal system. Past and present efforts to reform them have demonstrated that reformism can’t solve the problem, though it does serve to squander popular protests and advance the careers of professional activists. Faced with this situation, in which Left and Right unwittingly collude to prolong the problem, the extralegal path of rioting, seizing space, and fighting back against the police makes perfect sense. In fact, this phenomenon, denounced as “violence” by the media, the police, and many activists in unison, was not only the most significant feature of the Ferguson rebellion and the solidarity protests organized in hundreds of other cities, it was also the vital element that made everything else possible, that distinguished the killing of Michael Brown from a hundred other police murders. What’s more, self-defense against state violence (whether excercized by police or by tolerated paramilitaries like the Klan) is not an exceptional occurrence in a long historical perspective, but a tried and true form of resistance, and one of the only that has brought results, in the Civil Rights movement and earlier.

What remains is to speak about possibilities that are radically external to the self-regulating cycle of tragedy and reform. What remains is to speak loudly and clearly about a world without police.

We don’t want better police. We don’t want to fix the police. On the contrary, we understand that the police work quite well; they simply do not work for us and they never have. We want to get rid of the police entirely, and we want to live in a world where police are not necessary.


What’s Worked in the Past: Learning From Ferguson

ferguson-poster_small-for-webFrom Counter Punch/ by Peter Gelderloos

This is the second part of a three part series. The first part can be read here.

The announcement of the non-indictment of Darren Wilson caught me on the road, traveling to visit family for the Thanksgiving holiday. The next day I found myself in a protest, one of over a hundred occurring across the country. There I witnessed a scene that has played out many times before, and was probably being repeated at that exact moment in other cities.

A few protesters had just vandalized a yuppie restaurant on a strip targeted for heavy gentrification in that particular city. The windows were spraypainted with a slogan related to the murder of Michael Brown, and the restaurant’s sandwich board was stolen and pulled into the streets.


Dan Berger Illustrates Centrality of Prison to Civil Rights Struggle

alcatrazFrom Truth Out

Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era, by Dan Berger, University of North Carolina Press, 416 pages with 28 illustrations, $34.95 hardcover. (Release date: November 14, 2014). 

Dan Berger’s exhaustively-researched study of the ways prison, and the threat of incarceration, impacted the nationalist politics of the 1960s and ’70s zooms in on what he calls “the intersection of black protest and state repression.” Much of the narrative is focused on George Jackson and his effect on activists both inside and outside of lock up. In addition, while the book is steeped in the hyperbolic language of the era, it offers an inspiring glimpse into the lives of men and women who were willing to risk everything for equity, freedom and justice.

Berger situates the development of prisons squarely within the history of the American republic. “The United States has been a leader in carceral violence because of its roots in settler-colonial racism and its egalitarian distrust of state power, which, paradoxically upholds degrading punishment over beneficent state action for those deemed ‘criminals,'” he writes. Skin color, of course, is key.

“Chattel slavery initiated a racial regime rooted in confinement,” he adds, and even when slavery was officially ended, bondage became a tool of authoritarian displeasure, with those deemed guilty of unlawful behavior sentenced to a period of enforced separation from their associates.

“Throughout American history,” Berger continues, “the idea of criminal justice has been bound up with anti-black racism: Black communities have been disproportionately harassed, policed, arrested, tried, convicted, confined, killed and generally thought to be deserving of punishment.” (more…)

Interview With Crimethinc.

tochangeeverythingFrom Mask Magazine – Interview by Hanna Hurr

To Change Everything, Start Anywhere

The radical milieu in the U.S. is vibrant and complex, but few projects last very long. Generations shift rapidly, and so do our projects. CrimethInc. Ex-Workers’ Collective seems to be an exception.

If you’ve ever lived in a punk house, participated in running an infoshop or social center, gone to an anarchist book fair or protest convergence, chances are you’ve seen CrimethInc. posters pinned to the walls, copies of Recipes for Disaster or Days of War, Nights of Love on the bookshelves, or stacks of Fighting for Our Lives pamphlets lying around. Perhaps you read the“Letter from Anarchists” at your local Occupy camp. There are few contemporary anarchist organizations whose work has passed through so many hands and been read by so many people as the CrimethInc. Ex-Workers’ Collective. In its twenty years of activity, CrimethInc. has distributed hundreds of thousands of books, posters, magazines, and stickers to countless people on all continents including Antarctica.

The idea that history is something we make by our actions, not something that merely happens to us, is central to CrimethInc.’s approach. In their familiar, high-fidelity way, they encourage people to take this history into their own hands. Tempting us to grab the steering wheel of our own lives and turn toward something that enables a more livable existence. Though the collective members remain in anonymity – some twenty years later! – the idea somehow persists that CrimethInc. can be anyone. (more…)

Hasan of the Lucasville Prisoner Uprising

lucasville1from AshevilleFM

This week, we spoke with Imam Siddique Abdullah Hasan who is facing the death penalty for his role as a negotiator during the prisoner uprising at the SOCF facility in Lucasville in April of 1993. Hasan, as well as 4 other prisoners, are facing the death penalty for participation as “leaders” in the uprising. 4 of them are charged with the death of a prison guard by the name of Bobby Vallandingham as well as 9 inmates considered to be snitches.

The riot began as negotiations between Sunni prisoners, of which Hasan was one of the leaders, took guards hostage in hopes of bringing state attention to the problems at the prison. In particular among their concerns was the imposition of a TB test that was in contradiction to their religious beliefs and for which an alternative was readily available. Soon, other prisoners began to take space and control. Fearing a bloody outcome like was seen at Attica in New York, representatives of the Sunni community, the Aryan Brotherhood and the Black Gangster Disciplanes at Lucasville began negotiations with the state to bring a peaceful resolution to the uprising. Graffiti displayed within the prison began speaking of “Convict Race” and “Black and White Unity”.

After the end of the uprising, the state, under pressure from Vallandingham’s family, railroaded the five. The call for blood was great, but since the Lucasville Disturbance, so have been the calls for justice in the case of the prisoners punished in relation to the Lucasville Disturbance. (more…)