Thursday, October 27, 2011

Free Marshall "Eddie' Conway

This article originally appeared in Howard University Student paper, The Hilltop.

The case of Marshall "Eddie" Conway is one of the longest-running political prisoner cases in the United States of America and on Nov. 1, Mr. Conway is set for a parole board hearing.

Conway and his supporters have consistently asserted that he has been imprisoned since 1970 because he was an effective organizer in the Baltimore Black Panther Party. He, along with two other suspects, Jack Johnson and Jack Powell, were convicted of the murder of a white police officer and of the attempted murder of another officer, after the officers responded to a domestic violence call.

Although there is a signed confession, a jailhouse informant, and police identification, there is no physical evidence that connects Conway to the murder. (Sound familiar?) Although Jack Johnson confessed to the crime before the trial began, he stated that he was tortured and forced to sign the confession.

So, contrary to the mainstream media's attention and coverage of the issue, forced confessions did not start with Amanda Knox. In the same way, torture of Black Panthers is not without precedent. (For more on this, check out the "Legacy of Torture" documentary.)

A jailhouse informant, who Conway protested having to be placed in a cell with, claims that Conway confessed to him that he committed the murder. After looking at two decks of pictures, in which Conway's picture was conveniently the only one to appear in both decks, another officer identified Conway as the killer. Surprise, surprise.

With all of this circumstantial evidence, how could Conway have been kept in prison for almost 41 years? It's simple. He was a victim of the FBI's Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO).

One of the stated goals of COINTELPRO was to "disrupt, discredit, and otherwise neutralize Black Nationalist hate-type organizations." Neutralization meant illegal surveillance, infiltration, imprisonment, forced exile, and even assassinations.

For example, on Dec. 4, 1969, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were murdered in a hail of bullets by the Chicago Police Department. William O'Neal, Hampton's bodyguard and government infiltrator, supplied the CPD with a layout of the victims' apartments and drugged Hampton to ensure that he wouldn't fight back.

Another victim of COINTELPRO, the late Geronimo ji-Jaga Pratt, spent 27 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. He was convicted of the murder of a white tennis instructor in Los Angeles, and the key witness was an FBI informant.

Eventually, Pratt was able get a hold of the memos showing that the key witness lied about his relationship with the FBI, but only after Pratt was falsely imprisoned almost three decades.

While the United States supposedly champions the right to political freedom for others abroad, Conway and dozens of other political prisoners are still incarcerated at home for their political beliefs and/or actions.

Conway's supporters are asking everyone to call and write letters to the Maryland Parole Commission to demand his freedom. This is the chance for those of us on Howard's campus to support a man who struggled for us long before we were even born and to pay him back for over 41 years of hard work in the Black Liberation Movement.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Support the Pelican Bay Prisoners’ Hunger Strike

This article originally appeared in the Howard University Newspaper, the Hilltop

On Sept. 26, prisoners in California reinitiated a hunger strike to protest their inhumane conditions at Pelican Bay State Prison. The prisoners are located in isolation, or, the technical term, Segregated Housing Units (SHU) or Administrative Segregation. SHU is confinement to a cell approximately 10 feet by 6 feet with no windows, little to no human contact for 23 hours a day. But get this; some of them have been in SHU for five, 10, and 20 plus years! They have five core demands:

1. Eliminate group punishments.

2. Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria.

3. Comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to long term solitary confinement.

4. Provide adequate food.

5. Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates.

In other words, they are asking the California Department of Corrections to observe their basic human rights. (I mean "provide adequate food," really?)The last strike, in July of this year, lasted a little of more than three weeks after California officials stated they would comply with the demands. But, according to Mutope Duguma (James Crawford) who issued the call, little has been done to follow through on the prisoners' concerns.

Amnesty International has repeatedly called the treatment of prisoners in the US torture. That isn't surprising. Remember those photos from Abu Ghraib? Well, several of the troops who conducted the torture techniques there were correctional officers in US prisons. In short, they'd been practicing on black folk in prison for years.

In 1971, the prisoners who took part in the uprising at Attica in New York were reacting to the racist mistreatment by guards, overcrowding, and lack of adequate medical care. In response to the uprising, Governor Rockefeller ordered state troopers to retake the prison, leaving ten hostages and twenty-nine inmates dead. By portraying the multiracial uprising as, in the words of Richard Nixon, "basically a Black thing", the State was able to justify the massacre.

Just last year, Police Commander Jon Burge was convicted of lying about torturing over one hundred Black men in Chicago jails. Some of his victims spent years in prison for confessing to a crime they didn't commit.

The resistance to these conditions is growing. Over $12,000 prisoners throughout California, and in parts of Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Arizona, have [been] at some point rejected food in support of the strike. Last year, in Georgia, prisoners in six prisons went on strike to receive compensation for jailhouse labor.

So whether it's strikers in Pelican Bay or prisoners at Red Onion in Virginia stating their fingers are being broken arbitrarily by correctional officers (no that's not a misprint, Google it), we must support them with statements from our organizations. We must tell the governor to concede to their demands. We must provide monetary support for the prisoners' organizational efforts. At the end of the day, in disproportionate numbers, these are OUR people. Let us never forget our own that are trapped in the belly of the beast.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

SAMI Statement in support of Pelican Bay Strike & Occupy Wall Street

Students Against Mass Incarceration
(SAMI-Howard University

Police State in Action from New York to California

NYPD, CDCR, Use Strong-Arm Tactics against Peoples Movement

The NYPD showed its true colors on October 1st as they faced off with protestors on the Brooklyn Bridge. The demonstration of five-thousand originated from lower Manhattan at the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) encampment, as protestors marched across the bridge to Brooklyn the police trapped, or “kettled,” the march and carried out a mass arrest of over seven-hundred. This followed a week of harassment of the OWS encampment and actions by police. As OWS has drawn from increasingly wider layers of disaffected and exploited people, its clear that NYPD tactics are aimed at stifling the movement.

On Thursday September 29th California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation threatened harsh reprisals against hunger-striking prisoners. At least six thousand California inmates are refusing meals in eight prisons across the state. Inmates are striking for the second time this year over inhumane living conditions, including some inmates being held for decades in windowless cells. The response of the prison authorities has been to threaten to throw more inmates into these dungeon-like isolation cells.

The rich and powerful have been waging a fierce struggle against the working class and oppressed communities from which they wring their massive profits. Now, at the seat of American economic power, and in its deepest, darkest dungeons the people are starting to fight back. At their essence these two struggles are about power. Whether the powers of war, racism, and profiteering will control the streets and operate a brutal far-flung complex of repressive institutions. Or whether they will be forced to yield to the power of the popular masses.

The occupation movement continues to grow, and the will of the striking prisoners remains strong. Now is the time to take action, to stimulate and swell the ranks of the struggle against the profit-over-everything, racist, sexist, brutal, and obsolete capitalist system.

Students Against Mass Incarceration remains committed to the struggle against the repressive apparatus that seeks to keep order in the face of class exploitation and racial oppression. We extend our solidarity to those in the streets and in the prisons who continue to fight against austerity and the oppressive police state.

About SAMI
SAMI was founded in February 2011 at Howard University. The mission of the organization is to raise awareness about the prison industrial complex, political prisoners, and recidivism. We feel the aforementioned are the fundamental issues of our generation and can only be addressed through radical and militant Black activism linked to previous social movements but revised for a 21st century context.

Contact: 607-339-8188 or