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.

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