Monday, January 15, 2018

Prisoners Have No Patience Because They Have No Choice

The Powers-That-Be in this country have made an art form out of using the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to turn humans (a disproportionate number of them Black) into slaves so that corrupt prison administrators, corporations, and their stockholders can enjoy ever expanding financial gains. It occurs to me as I write this that, while the 13th Amendment does make this practice legal (as immoral as it is), what it does not make legal is the multiple forms of prisoner degradation, humiliation, violation, and abuse that most U.S. prisons have made a standard operating procedure in the way they treat millions of incarcerated men, women, and even children.

It is not only the prisoners who suffer. It is their loved ones, as well, who must agonizingly observe the brutality against and sometimes death of their missing family member or friend while enduring the separation they fight to overcome.

In the early 1970s, when I first became aware of what was going on in the prisons and jails across this land, I was instantly and horrifically aghast. What kind of monsters would so relish tormenting other humans, I wondered. I became ballistic in my rage, working tirelessly to raise consciousness about the matter as often as possible. One ex-prisoner, trying to help me really get my brain around the situation, reminded me that people in this country lock up animals in cages who haven't done anything to anybody. "As long as they do that," he pointed out, "they're not going to care about people they think of as criminals." But I refused to listen.

Still, here we are nearly fifty years later and it appears he was right.

So the prisoners are left no recourse but to riot or to strike -- which in most prisons would be seen as the same thing and treated the same way. This is why Florida prisoners announced recently that they intend to meet the brutality and exploitation with resistance starting today. My heart is with them.

I know that many in the U.S. have no sympathy. They think the prisoners deserve whatever they get, that organizing to rise up in any way that attempts to claim their human rights "proves" their recalcitrant nature. But the article I am re-posting today (with permission of the author) is about why that's the only option prisoners have left.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Why Martin Luther King, Jr. Was Murdered

All over the United States tomorrow, people will be listening to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech, as if that's all he ever said. If you've been reading my blog for any length of time, you know -- or at least have probably guessed -- that I was more of a Malcolm girl than a Martin girl. Still, if you scroll down the labels list and click on King's name you'll find a number of posts through the years I've been blogging, including a post of a six-part film wherein Dick Gregory tells us the real story of King's murder, if you're interested.

But the little film clip above, which I discovered in 2014, is my favorite of all. I watch it regularly to remind me not how he died, but why.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

From The Belly Of The Beast Near Dallas, Texas

A message to us from Rakem Balogun (dated 1/10/18):

Peace, Power and Prosperity, Comrades and love ones.

I'm very eager to inform you that I'm doing well during this time of trials and tribulation for me, my family and comrades. I'm truly thankful for all of your love, support, and prayers. This situation has us closer in solidarity and has proven that we are ONE body as people fighting for liberation. I’m honored to see those around the country rally for my release and for the boost of my morale. I thank every single person who has brought awareness to this situation. This proves that attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.
I take pride in this hardship due to the fact that our elders and ancestors have prepared me for this struggle through their hard sacrifice for our liberation. Brothers and sisters such as Geronimo Pratt, George Lester Jackson, Assata Shakur, Afeni Shakur, Mutulu Shakur, Marilyn Buck, Mumia Abu Jamal, H Rap Brown, and the list goes on and on. Studying history through political education made me accept my fate ten years ago. I used my time as wisely as possible through exercise, reading, meditating and fellowshipping with our brothers who are also detained by the United States of Amerikkka Federal Institutions. My goal is to educate those within the belly of the beast one conversation at a time with love and patience.

They can jail me but they cannot jail our movement, which is thousands strong national and world wide. I'm grateful to have GMF, GJU, BEM, Geronimo Tactical, NBPP, HPNGC, The People's Brigade, Harambee Culture, APSP and so many others in support and solidarity. Thank you for all you have done and the effort brings warmth to my heart and tears to my eyes to see love for our unity.

Thank you and I will be seeing you soon.

Rakem Balogun

You can support Rakem by writing him at:
Christopher Daniels #56601-177
Federal Correctional Facility
PO Box 9000
Seagoville, TX 75159

You can keep in touch with the movement to free him at:

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

An Open Letter To The Parole Board

Last week, I received a phone call from the office of the local District Attorney asking if I wanted to offer the Board of Pardons and Paroles some input. Apparently, sometime in the near future, they're going to consider the possibility of early release for a young man who was locked up a few years ago for the crime of robbing me at gunpoint.

I gave it serious thought, since I believe that the criminal "justice" system in this country is grossly over-used and badly broken. I even drafted a letter. But when I read it over the next day, I decided that it probably wouldn't get the prisoner released. It might even get both him -- and me -- in more trouble. So I'll just put a modified version of it here and walk quietly away.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Public Service Announcement: Cointelpro 2.0

In the early 1990s, when I was in grad school, a young El Salvadoran revolutionary came to campus to talk about why she had joined the guerilla forces fighting to overthrow the repressive right wing government that had already killed more than 70,000 of her fellow citizens. One of the students in the audience raised her hand and said timidly, "I'm uncomfortable with the idea of using violence to create social change. How do you know when to pick up a gun?"

The young revolutionary didn't hesitate a moment as she replied matter of factly, "When they start shooting at you."

The audience laughed, but it is unlikely that any of them -- all being  young and White, as I recall -- were considering the possibility that their government, their military, their local and state law enforcement officers would boldly and unapologetically turn on them one day. Sitting there, thinking back to experiences I had twenty years before, I recalled seeing blood shed in just such confrontations in the streets of America. And I recalled the four students killed for demonstrating at Kent State in 1970. But when that happened, the shock ripples were palpable from coast to coast.

The deaths (even the blatantly public deaths) of People of Color, however, and most particularly Black people, haven't historically created the same reaction. And this is what I'm blogging about today.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Why It's Non-negotiable

It's more than a little weird to wake up in a White Supremacist country every day looking like me, but having a serious history of consciousness-building related to "race." I mean, I was ten before I even talked to a Black American. I was sixteen before I realized the extent to which most Black people and their so-called "White" counterparts in America live vastly different lives. But today -- five and a half decades later -- I remain incredulous at how little has changed beyond the superficial.

I have read many, many books about "race" relations (the first being Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver). I have watched many, many films -- fiction and non-fiction, well known and never heard of -- about "race" relations. I've done research (scientific and otherwise) on "race" relations. And I have spent literally thousands -- maybe tens of thousands -- of hours talking with Africans and African Americans about all manner of things, including "race" relations. But one thing's for sure: I'll never pull a Rachel Dolezal. 'Cause I'm not Black.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Last Week In Alabama

If you haven't been hiding in a cave somewhere, you know that two middle-aged White male politicians had a scuffle last Tuesday in Alabama and, inexplicably, the one who isn't a known pedophile won. Not by much, I must hasten to add, but won, nonetheless.

Interestingly enough, the winner also distinguished himself once by successfully prosecuting two KKK members for the bombing deaths of four little girls in the 16th St. Baptist Church in Birmingham back in the day. While his opponent shot himself in all his feet making remarks about slavery that he would have done better to keep to himself.

Anyway, Lesle' Honore' (see photo above) wrote this poem the day after the election, giving props to the voters in Alabama who carried the day. Lest you have any doubt, I'm providing the statistics at the bottom of this post. Hopefully, they will give us all pause. What this exercise in political will demonstrates rather clearly is that whenever solidarity hooks up with action, anything can happen.

Sorry To Keep You Waiting. I Hope You Are Still Here.

Twelve years ago, I introduced this blog early in January with the idea in mind that I could write about race relations so my students wouldn't keep me standing in the parking lot at the university until midnight. I didn't realize at the time that I would shortly be moving from a major city in Florida to a small rural town in Louisiana. I took my photo off the blog and the "Eracism" bumper sticker off my car because I thought they were going to take me out in the woods in Louisiana and nail me to a tree. As it turned out, they didn't. In fact, I found a real niche for myself where I still reside and do my work and socially reproduce myself and even find time to write when I get the chance.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

If We've Fallen Down A Rabbit Hole, Does It Have A Bottom?

Maybe I'm just getting old. I mean I am 71. And it happens to everybody -- until they die. And I'm still producing more than the average person I know. After all, I taught six courses to three hundred students this spring, including one that turned ten students into social change agents and ended with a performance titled "Truth Be Told" -- on speaking truth to power (with no holds barred).

The end of May, I went to Havana, Cuba, for nine days to work on organizing a conference there for sociologist/activists from all over the world to meet, learn from, and network with each other for five days in November. I've taught two more rapid-fire Intro courses online this summer already while healing a broken foot, getting over a hellified parasitic invasion I dragged back from Cuba, and recording my book on race relations so people can buy an audio edition (it's been out as paperback and Kindle editions for two years). I'm still sending money to a family I know in Haiti, to Black Lives Matter, and to build an underground hospital where women can more safely birth their babies in Syria while U.S.-provided bombs fall often and without warning from the sky.

But it's never enough when reading your Facebook feed becomes an exercise in shock-and-awe, dead bodies all over the place with no repercussions, things just getting weirder and weirder in Washington, and the police reaching new heights in horror and new lows in morals daily. The prisons have become physical and emotional pressure cookers, where men, women, and even children are being par-boiled in their own juices in a summer determined to prove that climate change is real, with or without scientists to tell us so.

So everybody I know is either stumbling through their lives in a state of numb acceptance, doing what has to be done to pay the rent, but little else. Or they're careening through a tsunami of one kind or another trying not to wind up unemployed, incarcerated, or dead. I'm trying to soldier on, but what the fuck? I mean, really, what the fuck?

Sunday, May 07, 2017

A Communique From A New Afrikan

On occasion, I like to post or re-post things written by others, particularly People of Color who have something I think my readers would want to read or benefit from reading. The following communique was developed out of a conversation I had with a brother inside the walls.

Greetings, New Afrikan womyn, men, and all people’s POWER!!!!
~~ from Mujahid Kambon ~~

Last week, a brutha and elder gave me a copy of Negroes with Guns by Robert F Williams to read. It's a short book without complicated words or obtuse ideas, yet it affected me deeply. I had never heard of Bro. Williams before nor his struggle in Monroe, NC, in the 1950s and early 1960s. But after leaving the Marines in 1945, he felt compelled to serve his people in their struggle for justice and human rights.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Let Me Make One Thing Perfectly Clear

When I first dropped out in 1970, hit San Francisco for a hot minute, and then proceeded on to join a collective in Iowa City, Iowa, committed to the prison abolition movement, I could not possibly have imagined that 45 years later, I would want to re-publish something I wrote in 1972. Yet here I am, more than a little disappointed that the call for unity, solidarity, and action I issued in the Prisoners' Digest International four and a half decades ago would still be pertinent -- and even sorely needed.

This is why I am still doing what I am doing, teaching what I am teaching, and writing what I am writing. Still trying to make our situation perfectly clear.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Bloody, But Unbowed

Emory Douglas/2016 (by permission)

It's taken me a while to catch my breath. That one-two punch last November was a doozy and though I've been meeting my responsibilities (which are many), my psyche went down for the count and has been lying on the canvas in the ring ever since, trying to figure out if I can make it to the locker room on these jelly legs or do I need to jump in a cab and head straight for the border. There's something to be said for living to fight another day.

I've been lying still with my eyes closed, as it were, reminding myself that this is not new news. White Supremacy. the patriarchy, capitalism, and a cold-blooded commitment to power held by a handful of old White men combined with an almost stunning lack of consciousness in the mass public over the past 250 years has delivered us to the present like an express train to hell. And for the last fifty years of that period, I've been watching it all unfold like a Grade B movie. Yet -- no matter how you've trained -- a well-placed upper cut that catches you off-guard can rock your world, even if you're the better fighter.

Still, as I often tell my students, it's not what happens. It's what happens after that. Watcha gonna do?

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Death of Innocence

We are standing on a precipice, contemplating our mortality, foot raised to take the next step and hoping it will not come down on a land mine placed there by our own previous hesitation. I walk into classrooms where the students sit in anticipation, dark pools for eyes, red rimmed from crying, or steely-eyed, defensively imagining that I am going to shame them for their choice.

I surprise them both by not talking about the election, but rather talking about the Power Elite, the history of our nation, the ideologies of White Supremacy and patriarchy and capitalism that have always guided both. I tell them this was inevitable and therefore predictable. ("You plant beans, you get beans. No matter what you thought you were planting, we know we planted beans because that's the crop we got.") Nobody did this to us. And we will all suffer.

The steely-eyed lose some of their belligerence and look more doubtful. It is a likelihood they hadn't considered. "Black people, Latinos, Native Americans, immigrants, Muslims, women, LGBTQ people, and poor people -- young and old -- are going to suffer even worse than ever," I say, "But they've suffered before. They know how to do it. They know how to survive physically, psychologically, and emotionally. They are prepared -- well and bitterly prepared -- to face and live through this. But unless you are part of the Power Elite, unless you were born into millions, millions, even if you don't belong to one of those groups, you are going to suffer, too. And you don't expect that. You aren't prepared to understand, accept, or survive it. And how you will respond to your own pain, we cannot know."

"I suspect that those who will suffer most are those like me who are White and professional and have of late been able to pay our bills. We have had the luxury of believing that we are untouchable and we are careening into a time when we will be forced to know in terrifying ways that we are not and never were.

"We are not the first people to face this in history. Read Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States 1492-Present. Or Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent by Eduardo Galeano. Or The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer. By the time you finish one of them, let alone all three, you will have long since quit reeling or celebrating and gotten a better perspective on where we are.

"Not only are we not the first people to deal with this situation, but we're not by a long shot alone. People all over the world -- and most particularly in Europe -- are suffering already under the boot of fascism. So this is not really a national dilemma. It is a global one. When there are 85 billionaires who own the same amount of wealth as three billion humans on the planet (the poorest half of the entire human race), would you really expect those 85 billionaires to care what happens to the rest of us? Eighty-five people would fit in this classroom with seats left over. How did they get that rich? What kind of system would allow 85 people to become that rich while the bulk of the human race starves?

"I long to protect you all -- even the ones who don't like me, who don't think I know what I'm talking about, who evaluate me as 'retarted' and 'a traitor to my race,' who say I hate White people, that I hate men, that I make them feel 'uncomfortable' or 'bad about themselves,' that I wish all my students were Black. I long to protect you all from what is coming, but I can't. We are in this now together. We will be tried by fire and when this chapter ends, we will none of us be who we were. Whatever shred of innocence we each once had, whatever cloak of denial we have clung to, whatever desperate hope we counted on to allow us to feel special, will have disappeared forever and we will simply be the latest in a saga of lives unfolding.

"We will play our parts in history and pass on into oblivion with those who've gone before. We have rushed to embrace a time of horror and now we will learn what the cost of our arrogance is. May we meet our collective future open to learning -- finally -- that we stand together, honoring each other's humanity as full citizens or we will none of us be citizens at all."

Saturday, October 08, 2016

"Color of Reality"

Movement artists Jon Boogz and Lil Buck collaborated on this piece with artist Alexa Meade to produce a lament for Black America. There was a time you would have had to go to an art gallery to see work of this caliber. Now, there is YouTube.

I have no words.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Russell Rickford: "The Fallacies of Neoliberal Protest"

One of the organizers of Cornell BSU's Black Lives Matter rally on 9/23/16
(Credit: Julia Cole Photography)
This post is an amended version of remarks read at a rally organized by Cornell University’s Black Students United (BSU) on September 23, 2016. Students gathered to protest the recent police shootings of Tyree King, Terence Crutcher, and Keith Lamont Scott. It appeared originally on the blog for the African American Intellectual History Society and it is being re-posted here by permission of the author.

Sisters and brothers:

I’m delighted that you are mobilizing. Your demonstration reflects your recognition that the escalating crisis of racial terrorism requires a firm and uncompromising response.

Your protest in the face of daily atrocities is a sign of your humanity and your determination to live in peace, freedom, and dignity.

But as we demonstrate, we must take pains to avoid certain tactical and programmatic errors that often plague progressive protest in a neoliberal age.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

What Racism Has To Do With The Cost of College

A few days ago, I posted a video of a young Black woman expressing her frustration with how Black college students are often viewed, even by each other. Today, I'm posting another video about race and higher education. It explains how White Supremacy as an ideology has paired up with public policy in the United States to gut everything public and most especially public universities.

Be careful not to misunderstand what they say at the end of the video, though. When they explain that racism in the public sphere hurts everybody, they don't mean Black students and White students are equally affected. In fact, they say quite clearly at one point that Black students are more negatively impacted by racist public policies than White students are. But when the Powers-That-Be use racism to send tuition and student loans sky-rocketing, everybody gets sucker-punched.

What they're trying to get across is that White students shouldn't let the public policy decision-makers fool them into believing that attacks on the public sphere only hurt Black people. If teachers -- and students -- form a solid front, we can stop the neo-liberal bulldozer in its tracks.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Kai Davis: Fuck I Look Like?

I came to Louisiana for a nine-month temporary gig in August of 2007. So, by the time I finish this school year, I will have taught here for a decade. The day I arrived, I was told, "You will find our students lacking. They're under-prepared. They don't like to read. And they don't know that's a problem."

My thought at the time was, "Even if that's true, why would somebody say that to me on Day One? That's like calling students incapable before I even meet 'em." But it turned out that, by and large, I was being told the truth.

On the other hand, I eventually learned (on my own) that, while any low income student might demonstrate the traits I had been warned about and even students from families with money might have succumbed to the traits along the way, Black students, in particular, were the most likely to arrive as first year students looking and sounding like they fit the profile.

Then, I started dragging them to my office one at a time to explain the okey-doke. I assured them that, with a little input and a lot of effort -- despite the obstacles placed in front of them since birth -- they could build the boat while it was in the water and they were standing in it. Over the years, more than a few have proven me right.

The upshot is that, while many classes on the campus have two or three Black students at most in them, my classes tend to weigh in at 30% or better Black -- even the first year students who just arrived and are taking Intro courses with 90 students in them. It's not because I'm wonderful. It's because I tell them the truth. And I know who they are. And in the mirror of my face they see themselves succeeding. Because -- given a real shot -- they are ferociously ready to learn and ready to teach.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

In Memoriam -- While The Fight Goes On


On September 9th, 1971, the prisoners at the Attica "Correctional" Facility near Buffalo, New York, went down in history when they seized control of the institution and rode that bull to the end. Five days later, Governor Nelson Rockefeller, a representative of one of the oldest richest families in America, picked up the twin lightening bolts of his privilege and his power and crushed the prisoners to claim his position as the ogre he obviously was.

That was forty-five years ago. I had only been a part of the Prisoners' Digest International collective in Iowa City for about six months when it all went down. And I was sitting at a typewriter in the basement of our commune on South Lucas, dropping white crosses and neck-deep in the process of answering two huge cardboard boxes overflowing with unopened letters out of prisons and jails from coast to coast. Prisoners who had been waiting for months -- something they know well how to do -- were finally going to hear from the PDI and its umbrella entity, the National Prison Center. And I had found my niche in life.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Pete O'Neal: A Panther in Africa

For the last few months, my posts on this blog have focused primarily on the criminal injustice system in the United States and how it functions related to the Black community. This is not new. In fact, many of the more than 600 posts I have published here over the past decade have specifically dealt with the topic of prison. And that's not surprising, considering that I committed myself to the prison abolition movement in this country in 1971.

In his now famous address to the prisoners at the Cook County Jail in 1902, Clarence Darrow, one of the best known and most successful lawyers in U.S. history, stated flatly: "There should be no jails," and went on to explain precisely why he thought this. But here we are, 115 years later, with more people locked up than any society in the world at any point in history. And to make it worse -- far worse -- the entire system is now privatized from the bottom to the top, turning it into a giant money-making machine, now touted as the best investment on Wall Street.

There is, however, more than one way to imprison and control individuals and this post concerns one of those ways. The documentary above tells the story of Pete O'Neal, who was one of the founders of the Kansas City Chapter of the Black Panther Party in the late 1960s. In 1969, O'Neal was arrested for bringing a shotgun from Kansas City, Kansas, to Kansas City, Missouri. He wasn't actually found with the weapon, but a photograph of him with the gun was enough to get him convicted.

The 29-year-old organizer appealed the decision, but when Fred Hampton, another highly effective BPP organizer was drugged and then assassinated in his bed by the Chicago police, O'Neal left the country in fear for his life. He has now been in Tanzania, where he has become a beloved icon of service to the community, since 1972. But there are those who hope President Obama will pardon O'Neal, allowing him to return to the land of his birth. And I am unapologetically one of them.

Last October, Pete and his wife Charlotte were interviewed at their home in Tanzania about how the making of the documentary in 2004 has affected their lives in exile.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Can A Nation Divided Against Itself Stand?

I was recently criticized for “rushing to judgment” against cops in general by calling Alton Sterling’s death “untimely and wrongful” and then accused of doing this to benefit myself. The person who brought the criticism missed the whole point of a letter to the editor I had written, which was not anti-cop at all, but only meant to invite White people to join me in trying to address a system based on an ideology that is clearly threatening our common good as a nation.

I’ve worked with, talked with, interviewed, and counted as friends too many police officers to lump them all into one basket. They’re humans just like the rest of us. They bleed when they’re shot. They get scared when they go on a call. Some bring more skills to the table than others. Some make mistakes. And some break the law.

My critic said I should have mentioned that they also die in the line of duty. And certainly what happened in Dallas last week demonstrated that in horrifying fashion. In truth, 26 officers have been killed so far this year. But research tells us that even though 8 out of 10 of those cops were killed by White men, police officers are far, far more likely to kill Black people – men, women, and children, often unarmed and unarrested – than they are White ones. In fact, police officers in America have killed upwards of 150 Black people in 2016 alone (roughly one every 31 hours), which is 24% of those killed, though African-Americans make up only 13% of our country’s population.

Police officers are professionals. It’s not difficult to find film clips or photographs showing them doing a remarkable job of not killing people who are threatening or even shooting at them – as long as they are White. And anyway, according to The Badge of Life, a highly respected police organization, more than twice as many police officers died by suicide in 2015 than were killed by felons.

Regardless, my letter wasn’t about any of that. It was about White Supremacy.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

So What Are We To Do?

I'm launching my book on race Saturday. The press release appeared in the daily newspaper last Sunday and the flyer is making the rounds. I put up a Facebook event page for it. Then, when I found out about Alton Sterling this morning, I fired off a letter to the editor. Sterling was killed 45 miles from the little town where I live, so I decided to make Saturday's launch an opportunity to invite White townspeople who want to become part of the solution to show up. I don't know if the editor will print it. It might be seen as somewhat confrontational (a-hem!), which was not my intention. I just thought maybe a few folks might be ready to answer a call to action. Though I have no control over who all might show up...

Regardless, I'm not posting about Alton Sterling's murder because the news is unfolding every two minutes and there are many ways to get it faster. Besides, I'm pissed and depressed and feeling helpless and hopeless. And everybody's being whipped to a lather already on social media anyway, but I do need to write something about what we can do to stop this.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Frontline: Solitary Nation

If you've been a regular reader of this blog for a while, you know that I've been going into prisons and talking with prisoners and ex-prisoners since 1970. The first in-depth conversation I had on the topic was in San Francisco where I was writing for an underground newspaper and wound up spending an afternoon listening to a guy named Popeye Doyle talk about life inside. I never saw him again and I read years later on the internet that he was ultimately stabbed to death in some kind of disagreement. But I bought a ticket on the Prison Express during that first conversation and, while it has stopped at many stations, I've never really gotten off the train.

The result of all this intensity: the letters, the phone calls, the transcripts, the cases, the courtrooms, the frantic mothers, the desperate girlfriends, the hollow-eyed children, all the stories I've heard about all the nightmares they've lived through never quite leave me. And I have been affected.  The pain prisoners have shared with me runs deeper than the stories they've told me. They bring it to me with their eyes or a certain quality in their voices. The pain burrows deep in my soul where I can't root it out. They can look in my eyes and they know it.

If you spend a lot of time around prisoners and ex-prisoners, as I have done, the subject of solitary confinement is liable to pop up casually, but with great portent. The first time I heard it mentioned, I said something offhand about never having noticed before a freckle or a mole or something on my arm. Instantly, the man I was talking to snorted, "Well, I can tell you've never been in the hole." And the stories that ensued were meant to prepare me to handle "hole time" should I eventually need to.

A couple of years later, as one member of a team going into a maximum security men's penitentiary by court order, the administration had to let me visit a man who had spent five years in a tiny cell alone in the basement of a building in the dark side of a hill. They took me down there and we had our visit in the semi-darkness with me standing directly in front of the cell and nothing but steel bars between us.

So I can't close out this series on criminal injustice without including a post on solitary confinement. I visited Black Panther Albert Woodfox -- who spent 43 years in the hole -- for seven of those years until he was released in February. I got a text message from him yesterday saying he's going to be in New Orleans soon, can we have lunch?  I had to laugh. He's taken well to being free, but I'm still doing what I do with my focus now on the others still inside, in court, in solitary.

I tried to watch the video above to make sure it's a good one. I know Frontline has the money to do it up right, but they also tend to try to be "objective" (which usually means making authorities look nicer than they really are and systems like they're simply unavoidable). But I couldn't get past the first ten minutes. If I put those images in my head, I won't be able to get rid of them. And I have work to do. I need my sanity, such as it is, as long as I can hold onto it.
Note: For more on solitary confinement as torture, go to Democracy Now! for Amy Goodman's report on "A School for Suicide": How Kalief Browder Learned to Kill Himself During 3 Years At Rikers Island.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Jamilah King: 7 Ways Black People Still Aren't Free in America

This essay was originally published on

"What to the slave is the 4th of July?"

That's the question Frederick Douglass asked during a speech in Rochester, New York, on July 5, 1852. That speech, titled "The Meaning of July 4th to the Negro," is among Douglass' most famous public addresses in part because it focuses on the irony of a country celebrating its freedom while holding millions of people in bondage.

But there's another reason why Douglass' words still resonate 150 years later. It's that his fundamental question still remains. How are black people in America, still mired in institutional racism created by slavery and white supremacy, supposed to celebrate their country?

By no stretch of the imagination are black people still slaves in America. But the institutions created by slavery, namely white supremacy, still dictate black lives daily. Nowhere is this reality as stark today than in our criminal justice system.

Black people are imprisoned in exceptionally high numbers.

African-Americans make up one million of America's 2.3 million prisoners, according to the NAACP. They're incarcerated at a rate that's six times higher than that of whites. And those numbers have exploded since the 1970s, when America's War on Drugs exploded the country's overall prison population.

Black people are more likely to be arrested for nonviolent offenses.

As more and more people were sent to prison for drug-related crimes, black people fared worse than other groups. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, black people are 3.2% more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than their white peers, even though blacks and whites use the drug at similar rates.

Black people are more likely to be sentenced to death for crimes against white people.

Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, 80% of people who have been executed have been put to death for crimes against white people — even though blacks and whites are likely to be murder victims at roughly equal rates, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Black people are less likely to be judged by a jury of their peers in criminal trials.

Studies have found that racism is common in jury selection. The practice is so common that the Supreme Court ruled in May that a black man named Timothy Foster on death row in Georgia could be granted a new trial because he was convicted by an all-white jury. "Even after the undeniable evidence of discrimination was presented in this case, the Georgia courts ignored it and upheld Foster's conviction and death sentence," said Foster's lawyer, Stephen Bright after the Supreme Court's ruling.

Black children are more likely to be disciplined in school than their white peers.

The pipeline to prison starts early. Black children are more likely to be disciplined and suspended from school than their white peers starting as early as pre-school. That's the beginning of what experts call the school-to-prison pipeline, which slowly puts kids on the path to incarceration.

Each day, 500,000 people fill America's jails awaiting trial because they are too poor to afford bail. Most of them are black.

Americans are technically innocent until proven guilty, but hundreds of thousands of people sit in prison every day because they're too poor to afford bail. In 2013, a study from the Vera Institute found that 50% of people awaiting trial couldn't afford bail of $2,500 or less.

Even black men who do not have criminal records are less likely to be hired for jobs than white men who've been convicted of felonies.

While a criminal record can prevent a person from any race from having a fair shot at getting a job, one study found that even when a black man doesn't have a criminal record, he's less likely to be considered for certain positions than white men with felony convictions.

For black America, freedom isn't a guarantee of American citizenship.
NOTE: Jamilah King is a senior staff writer at Mic, where she focuses on race, gender and sexuality. She was formerly senior editor at Colorlines, an award-winning daily news site dedicated to racial justice. Prior to Colorlines, Jamilah was associate editor of WireTap, an online political magazine for young adults. She's also a current board member of Women, Action and the Media (WAM!). Her work has appeared on Salon, MSNBC, the American Prospect, Al Jazeera, The Advocate, and in the California Sunday Magazine.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Who Are The Real Criminals In The Criminal Injustice System?

In a country that was founded on the principles of capitalism, we are not confused that the bottom line is invariably going to be short term profit. At the end of the day, the question will always be: how much money can be made as quickly as possible? People who trust capitalism as an abstract concept are usually those who are far enough up the food chain that they benefit economically from the arrangement. But that's not what they say.

What they say is, "Well, anybody can get a piece of the pie if they just work hard enough, if they just give it their all, if they'll just quit whining and pull themselves up by their bootstraps." What they ignore is that it doesn't work as well for most of us as it does for the ones at the top -- and it never did.

Historians tell us that before the United States existed, when we were a rag-taggle collection of colonies, approximately 500 White property-holding businessmen in five cities controlled virtually all the economic enterprise (banking, transportation, land, manufacturing, you name it). And that's why they came here. They were tired of having to buck the royalty, the military, and the Church in Europe. They wanted to have the power and to be the power. And they were.

Two hundred years later, it's fascinating to learn -- as we've been forced to do -- that an even smaller percentage of the U.S. population has a lock on the economic well-being now than it did then. Whole books have been written about it. Entire movements have been energized into existence over it. And for those who have doubts, I would recommend reading Rigging the Game: How Inequality is Reproduced in Everyday Life by Michael Schwalbe or watching Park Avenue: Money, Power, and the American Dream, at least to start with.

The criminal injustice system, of course, with all its various aspects, has found its niche in the capitalist arena, as well. In 2010, for example, the American Civil Liberties Union brought out a scathing report on the return of "debtor's prisons." The for-profit bail system and the for-profit pre-trial release system are both shot through with racial disparity, particularly since poverty is so much more likely to hound communities of color.

But the piece de resistance is the private prison industry that is now the most profitable investment on Wall Street. Which is why I'm featuring a video about that particular topic at the head of this post. Enjoy. Or not. Depending on how you feel about it.

And for more on private prisons, up close and undercover, go over to Democracy Now! for Amy Goodman's report on journalist Shane Bauer's four months as a private prison guard.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Dixon D. White: Donald Trump and Jim Crow 2.0

I realize this video isn't on the criminal "justice" system per se, but I just thought I needed to post it because, when push comes to shove, the analysis "Dixon D. White" uses to explain what we see going on in the U.S. right now is precisely why the prison-industrial complex and its minions, the boys in blue, are running our nation off a cliff even as we speak. I've been saying the exact same thing for ten years on this blog. So I'm glad to see these ideas pick up speed.

A friend of mine asked me a few weeks ago if I was aware of "Dixon D. White" and, when I said no, wrote down his name on a post-it note for me to take with me. But this is the end of the semester and I don't have time to go to the bathroom, let alone anything else I'm not being paid to do, so the note was just hanging out on my desk at home, waiting for my attention.

Then, earlier this afternoon, one of my Facebook friends put this on my feed and here we are.

There are a handful of others ranting on race at a fever pitch like this guy and me. Jane Elliott, for one. And Tim Wise, for another. And, as I've said many times over the years, there have always been White folks who threw down against White Supremacy, even if it killed them, as it did John Brown and three of his sons. But comparatively speaking, the voices in the wilderness have been damn few. I would suggest, as I present "Dixon D. White" today, that it has never been more important to listen to them than it is right now.
NOTE: I do want to reiterate that "Dixon D. White" is a character played by an actor. I am not necessarily a supporter of this man as a person or as a professional. But what the character says is spot on and needs to be faced and dealt with. Period.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Conway & Lutalo on Violence and Counter-Violence

Focusing on how White Supremacy as a system uses "law enforcement" to brutalize -- or even kill -- those who resist its power can leave us shaking in our boots. Yet there has always been resistance by Africans, other colonized People of Color, and those who fight for justice alongside the members of those groups. Here Chris Hedges gives us an opportunity to learn from Eddie Conway, former member of the Black Panther Party in Baltimore, and Ojore Lutalo, member of the Black Liberation Army, both of whom have now been released after spending long stints in prison because of their commitment to the people's struggle. They have earned our undivided attention. And we need to know what they have to tell us. Listen up.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Angola 3 Member Albert Woodfox Freed!

Oh, what a long and winding road it has been for Albert Woodfox. Journalists all over the world are busily crafting magnum opus style accounts of his life, his adventures, and his thoughts as he enters a world he left in the late 1960s and re-entered on his 69th birthday two months and one day ago.

Those of you who follow this blog are already aware that I've been knowing this man -- and loving him, as many do -- for seven years now. After corresponding by mail and talking on the phone for several months, we had our first all day visit face to face, perched on the shelves on either side of thick metal mesh in the tiny CCR visiting room at Angola State Penitentiary on July 10, 2009. The energy was so high we couldn't stay in our seats. We wanted to see and hear each other better. We wanted to touch, to miss nothing, to defy the authorities that controlled our lives.

Make no mistake: those that controlled Albert (also known inside the walls as "Shaka" and "Cinque"), held many others in abeyance through the years. We did not fight to free him for him alone, but for our desperate, frustrated, resolute selves. At some point, in all such scenarios, while the person behind bars is the focal point, the ties between him or her and all who wait on the outside looking in are so strong that no power can deny them access, can prevent their strengthening, can destroy their determination with anything short of death.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Beyond A Shadow Of A Doubt

On March 24th, Daily Kos published the following article by Shaun King on the shockingly high rate of people who leave prison in the U.S. -- several every week -- because they are completely exonerated of the crime for which they may have served most of their lives in prison. These are not just people who got arrested. They were arrested, arraigned, charged, tried, convicted, and sentenced -- some to be executed -- when they were innocent all along. Some even "confessed" to the crime, though it can hardly be imagined what an innocent person would have to be put through before they would "confess" to something they not only didn't do, but knew would put them in prison for life or beyond.

We began this series on the criminal "justice" system by considering the way the Black community is affected by the business of incarceration in America. Then, we examined how this is all rooted in the historic capitalist venture called the slave trade. We heard from two different former police officers about what the boys in blue perpetrate on a daily basis against Black people. We heard from a group of police officers who are starting to push back against being a part of this system. And, finally, we watched a video and read a report discussing a classic example of how law enforcement administrators participate in and protect the processes and policies that keep White Supremacist practices in place in policing.

Today, we're looking at Shaun King's article with the thought in mind that, because of the way the system works, we really have no idea how many people in prison right now don't belong there. And since the article is short, I'm adding a video about John Thompson, who was himself very nearly executed more than once before it was proven that he was not only innocent, but that the prosecutors knew he was innocent, knew who did the crime, and chose to send Thompson to death row anyway.