It would be impossible for Palestinians not to revel in six prisoners carrying out a daring escape from one of Israel’s most secure and modern jails. Israel may be working overtime to demonise the six men as “terrorists“, but for Palestinians, they are among its finest and bravest foot soldiers.
They are prisoners of war, most of whom were serving long sentences after they tried to liberate their homeland by killing Israeli soldiers or settlers – those seen to be implementing and enforcing Israel’s decades-old occupation.
All Palestinians can identify with the plight of these men. Imprisonment is a rite of passage for much of the male Palestinian population; estimates are that many hundreds of thousands have passed through Israel’s jails over the past five decades.
Many are in jail awaiting trial, as were two of the six escapees. Others are in administrative detention – jailed without trial or even being told what charges are levelled against them. Inmates’ rights are serially abused. They are kept in overcrowded cells, have little contact with their families, and are often beaten or tortured.
In the summer, footage emerged – redolent of the abuses committed by the US army at Abu Ghraib in Iraq – of mass beatings of Palestinian inmates at Ketziot prison in Israel’s south in 2019. No action was taken even after the video leaked, presumably because this kind of thing – if rarely seen – is entirely routine. It confirms what Palestinian prisoners have long been saying.
And most Palestinian political prisoners are held in jails inside Israel, outside the occupied territories – the six fugitives broke out of Gilboa prison, in northern Israel – in flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions and Israel’s obligations under the laws of war. As a result, family visits are often difficult, if not impossible.
Humiliation for Israel
Every Palestinian will glory in Israel’s humiliation. Guards failed to spot the prisoners gradually widening a hole in the drainage system in their cell over many months. The six men moved undetected past a sleeping guard, and they planned a sophisticated getaway – seemingly assisted – that foiled a police manhunt hot on their tail.
But the celebrations in Palestinian communities across the region, and far beyond, relate not just to the jailbreak. Every day the prisoners remain free – and four were still at large on Friday, after two were reportedly caught in Nazareth – is another hammer blow against the occupation. That is not just the way Palestinians see it. It is how Israel’s officials and much of the public understand it too.
The six did not just escape from an Israeli maximum-security prison. They jumped out of the frying pan into the fire. They broke out of the small prison that is Gilboa into the much larger prison for Palestinians that is their homeland under occupation.
Every minute the men remain at large, Israel’s occupation is defied. Every minute they can’t be found, Israel’s system of control is defeated. Palestinians are reminded that freedom may ultimately be possible; that the occupation is not invincible.
Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian militant faction to which five of the men belonged, has urged Palestinians not to speak of this as an escape but as an “act of liberation”. This is precisely why Israel is determined that, as soon as possible, the men are returned behind visible bars – or maybe killed in a shootout, a fate that often befalls those who defy Israel. The point of its occupation is to crush any hope, any sense that freedom can be attained.
Hierarchy of confinement
In fact, like Dante’s circles of hell, Israel has created a hierarchy of confinement for Palestinians. The more they resist the fate intended for them by Israel – to be dispossessed and erased from their homeland – the more harshly Israel constrains them.
Prison is the ultimate punishment. But as is so often pointed out, Gaza is also a giant detention camp, the largest open-air prison in the world. The coastal strip, run by Hamas, is surrounded by an electronic perimeter fence, and besieged by the army and navy on all sides.
Over in the land-locked West Bank, Mahmoud Abbas, formally the Palestinian president but in practice the unelected head of a few cantons in its midst, has won minor privileges for his own population through good behaviour.
By serving as Israel’s security sub-contractor – remember his infamous words saying “security coordination” with Israel was “sacred” – Abbas has managed to slightly loosen the chains of confinement. There are fewer Israeli checkpoints, and less of an Israeli army presence, in the small areas of the West Bank not being plundered by settlers.
But Israel’s furious reaction to the jailbreak, as well as the fugitives’ limited options in the face of this backlash, were a reminder of deeper realities. The occupied West Bank was put under immediate military closure – the cell door slammed shut – in a familiar move of Israeli collective punishment.
The six men are from Jenin and its immediate environs. The small Palestinian city in the northern West Bank is only a stone’s throw from Gilboa prison. They could have expected to be hidden there, if they could have reached it. In another act of collective punishment – a war crime – Israel arrested several of their relatives.
Given Abbas’s “security coordination” with Israel, however, the fugitives may prefer to stay out of the West Bank. Abbas has noticeably avoided expressing any support himself for the men. He recently met Israel’s defence minister, Benny Gantz, in a bid to revive a long-stalled “peace process” that served in the past only to perpetuate, and provide cover for, the occupation.
Israel’s intelligence agencies are constantly eavesdropping on Palestinian communications, and they operate an extensive network of collaborators in the occupied West Bank. Or as the Haaretz military affairs correspondent Amos Harel put it with revealing frankness: “With the possible exception of a number of totalitarian regimes, the West Bank is subject to as comprehensive and intensive intelligence coverage as anyplace on earth.”
The fugitives’ best hope of remaining out of Israel’s clutches may be leaving their homeland and crossing the border into Jordan. Amman would find it hard to return them, given their status as heroes and Jordan’s concerns about inflaming passions among its own large Palestinian refugee population.
But making such an escape would be no mean feat. Israel already has tight security along the Jordan Valley.
Underscoring the paradoxes of the occupation, Israel seems most concerned that the fugitives may try to break into Gaza. It has reportedly beefed up patrols around the perimeter. The coastal enclave may be an open-air prison, and has been under 15 years of Israeli blockade, but it is one where, uniquely, the Palestinian inmates have some degree of control inside the walls of their massively overcrowded, resource-poor, polluted cell.
Israel’s sanctions are mostly at arm’s length. It keeps the inmates on a near-starvation diet, and intermittently – when they start to riot – it sends in missiles or soldiers as the equivalent of punishment beatings.
The final option for the men is to stay inside Israel. Already, the Israeli media is hinting to its readers that the fugitives were aided, and sheltered, by Israel’s Palestinian minority, a fifth of the population who have very degraded citizenship. These Palestinians are the remnants of the native population who were otherwise expelled from their lands during the new state of Israel’s ethnic cleansing operations in 1948.
Some of Gilboa’s guards have been interrogated on the assumption that the prisoners received inside help. That is one way of seeking to diminish their achievement in escaping from an Israeli maximum-security jail. But it is also a finger of accusation pointing at Israel’s 1.8 million Palestinian citizens.
The Druze are a very small sect among the Palestinian minority whose young men are, uniquely for the minority, conscripted into the Israeli army. Afterwards, most end up with few opportunities apart from working in low-paying security jobs, often as prison guards.
Israeli authorities have every interest to shift the blame onto one or more of these guards for the jailbreak, if it means their own incompetence or complacency can be taken out of the spotlight.
Heroes three times
What happens next will be difficult for Israel, whatever the outcome. The six escapees are now heroes to the Palestinian public three times over. They originally made personal sacrifices to join the military resistance to the occupation and risk their lives. They carried out a bold and rare prison escape under the very noses of Israeli authorities. And now they are on the run, and most have so far evaded capture, despite Israel using every one of the many means at its disposal.
They have rapidly become symbols of the plight of every Palestinian – and what every Palestinian aspires to achieve through defiance.
Inspired by the six men’s actions, Israeli political prisoners have already rioted to stop efforts by Israel to collectively punish them over the prison break and move them to different jails. They are also threatening a mass hunger strike next week over new forms of collective punishment in response to the jailbreak, including cancelling already limited family visits. Hamas could fire rockets into Israel if matters escalate.
Support among the Palestinian public is likely to be rock-solid, and discontent – both against Israel and against Abbas as Israel’s security contractor – could easily explode across the region, in the occupied West Bank and Gaza and among Palestinian citizens in Israel. Some Palestinians responded to a Hamas call for a “day of rage” in support of the prisoners on Friday, and there were warnings that an uprising could be imminent.
On the other hand, the new right-wing government of Naftali Bennett, after more than a decade of rule by Benjamin Netanyahu, is vulnerable to claims by his rival that both the jailbreak and the failed manhunt are evidence of dangerous incompetence on his watch.
For many of Bennett’s own supporters, the preferred outcome would doubtless be the fugitives’ execution while on the run. Alon Eviatar, a former Israeli intelligence officer, spoke bluntly of either catching or killing them. The latter outcome would be seen by much of the Israeli public as reasserting “deterrence” and as fitting “justice” for men widely reviled.
Most Israelis want a forceful message sent to Palestinians: that resisting their imprisonment – whether in a small jail such as Gilboa or in the bigger jail of the occupation – is futile.
For a while longer, however, Palestinians will be able to exult in the idea that resistance might actually achieve something after all.
Michael Kovrig-Meng Wanzhou-Michael Spavor. Photograph: (Agencies)
For neither man nor angel can discern hypocrisy, the only evil that walks invisible, except to God alone.
— John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book III
Simply put, hypocrisy is when words and actions don’t agree. It is revealing when one applies this straightforward definition to the cases involving two Canadian detainees in China, business consultant Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig, and the Chinese detainee in Canada, Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou.
The United States is seeking the extradition of Meng for fraud-related charges. The two Michaels were apprehended soon after in China and charged with spying on national secrets and providing state secrets to foreign entities.
On Wednesday 11 August, Spavor was sentenced by a Chinese court to 11 years in prison.
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau was dismissive of the verdict. “Today’s verdict for Mr. Spavor comes after more than two and a half years of arbitrary detention, a lack of transparency in the legal process, and a trial that did not satisfy even the minimum standards required by international law.”
There are many parts of this statement by Trudeau that require deeper consideration.
First, Trudeau notes the duration of the detention, more than two and a half years. It is commonly held that justice delayed is justice denied. When the wheels of justice grind too slowly, there is a danger of a gross injustice being committed. When detainees are found to be not guilty, a nonrecoverable portion of their lives has been squandered. If Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig are innocent, then a gross injustice has occurred. However, this applies equally in the case of Meng Wanzhou who has been under house arrest for over two and a half years.
The Dandong Intermediate People’s Court handled the case of Spavor in strict accordance with the law, fully protected Spavor’s litigation rights, respected and honored the Canadian side’s consular rights such as visiting and receiving notification, and arranged for the Canadian side to attend the trial. However, Canada, disregarding the political nature of the Meng Wanzhou incident and acting as an accomplice of the US, has detained Meng, an innocent Chinese citizen who didn’t violate any Canadian law, for nearly 1,000 days. This is arbitrary detention in every sense of the term, the embassy in Canada said.
The Chinese Embassy in the US also said Meng has never violated any Canadian law but has been detained by Canada until today. Canada chooses to be an accomplice to the US and this is a textbook example of arbitrary detention by “exercising leverage over a foreign government.”
And as the film The Secret Trial 5 makes clear, arbitrariness is part of Canada’s so-called justice system; people can be locked away for many years in Canada without ever being charged.
Third, Trudeau has not denied or refuted the charges against the two Michaels. His words are directed against the process.
Fourth, as for the process, rightly or wrongly, a lack of transparency is the norm when the cases involve state secrets. The same lack of transparency holds true in Canada.1 A lack of transparency is antithetical to protecting the rights of the accused and for seeking justice. Nonetheless, to cast stones at the actions of another while carrying out the self-same actions speaks to hypocrisy.
Trudeau’s statement continues: “For Mr. Spavor, as well as for Michael Kovrig who has also been arbitrarily detained, our top priority remains securing their immediate release. We will continue working around the clock to bring them home as soon as possible.” In this regard, the Canadian authorities’ sentiments and actions for the Michaels are shared by Chinese authorities for Meng.
Canadian foreign affairs minister Marc Garneau said the verdict against Kovrig is “not acceptable in terms of international rules-based law.” Such a statement falls flat in light of the recent charge that Canada is violating international law by selling arms to Saudi Arabia, arms that can be used to continue its aggression against Yemen. One needs to dig much deeper into what the rule of law means for Canada. There is no escaping the fact that the country is a colonial-settler state imposed through genocide against the Original Peoples of the landmass designated Canada by navigator Jacques Cartier. Still today, one headline makes clear that “Canada Is Waging an All-Front Legal War Against Indigenous People.” This points to the quintessence of Canada and its political class. Despite having seized political control through genocide, having committed to reconciliation, and having pledged (as Trudeau did) to a “renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations peoples … [as] a sacred obligation,” the words have exposed betrayal. Instead capitalist exploitation continues unabated while the Canadian state stonewalls reconciliation and legal redress for the Original Peoples.
Cong Peiwu, China’s ambassador to Canada, rejected accusations that Spavor’s trial was unfair and not open. “I would like to say that the minimum standard is for other countries to respect our judicial sovereignty. So here I would like to stress that actually it’s the Canadian side which did not meet the minimum standard of the international norm.”
What is the American Gambit?
Foreign affairs minister Garneau seems to have faith in American president Joe Biden being able to secure the release of the Michaels by “treating them as if they were American citizens detained by China.” This is following previous president Donald Trump politicizing Meng’s proceedings: “If I think it’s good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made – which is a very important thing – what’s good for national security, I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary.”
It points to a double standard for extradition as a means for achieving justice. Consider the case of Anne Sacoolas, the wife of a US diplomat who the US refuses to send to Britain to stand trial for her hit-and-run accident that killed teenager Harry Dunn in 2019. Some Americans, it seems, are beyond the reach of the law.
China is well aware of what is transpiring. China’s Huawei is the world leader in cutting-edge 5G technology. The US fears being left behind and is seeking to dissuade other states from using that technology. Thus, China’s government views Meng’s arrest as part of US efforts to hamper its technology development. Neither are the allies of the US exempt from America’s extraterritorial reach as a weapon to stymie competition. The French company Alstom experienced this as its former senior executive Frederic Pierucci was arrested and imprisoned for over 2 years in New York. Alstrom eventually had to pay a huge fine of US$772 million. Said Pierucci, “That [fine] facilitated the buyout of 70 per cent of Alstom by its main American competitor General Electric, blocking a potential merger between Alstom and Shanghai Electric Company.”
Canada is harming its relationship with the rapidly developing economic colossus of China to appease the United States. However, it ought to bear in mind how the US swooped in to replace Australian exports to China. This was after Australia aligned itself with a belligerent US policy toward China causing China to curtail imports from Australia.
A Possible Deal?
Yesterday (14 August), Canada’s National Observer published an ad hominem piece calling for an exchange of detainees. It begins, “The ugly messy truth about the two Michaels is that we must get past our indignation, however justified, over China’s gross violations of all international norms.” What is the justification? What if Chinese indignation is justified? What adduces the hyperbolic “China’s gross violations of all international norms.” All?
The National Observer grants, “Meng is charged purely for geo-political gamesmanship.” What the newsletter does not discuss is that Meng previously turned down an offer for her release in return for admitting wrongdoing.
Doubts can be gleaned from the notes of the associate chief justice Heather Holmes who is presiding over the extradition case,
Isn’t it unusual that one would see a fraud case with no actual harm, many years later, and one in which the alleged victim — a large institution — appears to have numerous people within the institution who had all the facts that are now said to have been misrepresented?
The National Observer insults China by calling its government a “regime.” The Chinese “regime” is one that lifted its entire population out of absolute poverty. Elsewhere on Canadian streets, one will see too many homeless people, people whose dignity is disparaged by having to rely on food banks, begging, or dumpster diving to quell hunger.
So which “regime” is interested in looking after the people — all its people?
Meanwhile, Kovrig, who stood trial in March, continues to await word on a verdict. And Meng awaits a decision on the extradition outcome.
The executive power in our government is not the only, perhaps not even the principal, object of my solicitude. The tyranny of the legislature is really the danger most to be feared, and will continue to be so for many years to come. The tyranny of the executive power will come in its turn, but at a more distant period.
― Thomas Jefferson, (Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville(
It is time to recalibrate the government.
For years now, we have suffered the injustices, cruelties, corruption and abuse of an entrenched government bureaucracy that has no regard for the Constitution or the rights of the citizenry.
By “government,” I’m not referring to the highly partisan, two-party bureaucracy of the Republicans and Democrats. Rather, I’m referring to “government” with a capital “G,” the entrenched Deep State that is unaffected by elections, unaltered by populist movements, and has set itself beyond the reach of the law.
We are overdue for a systemic check on the government’s overreaches and power grabs.
We have lingered too long in this strange twilight zone where ego trumps justice, propaganda perverts truth, and imperial presidents—empowered to indulge their authoritarian tendencies by legalistic courts, corrupt legislatures and a disinterested, distracted populace—rule by fiat rather than by the rule of law.
This COVID-19 pandemic has provided the government with the perfect excuse to lay claim to a long laundry list of terrifying lockdown powers (at both the federal and state level) that override the Constitution: the ability to suspend the Constitution, indefinitely detain American citizens, bypass the courts, quarantine whole communities or segments of the population, override the First Amendment by outlawing religious gatherings and assemblies of more than a few people, shut down entire industries and manipulate the economy, muzzle dissidents, reshape financial markets, create a digital currency (and thus further restrict the use of cash), determine who should live or die, and impose health mandates on large segments of the population.
These kinds of crises tend to bring out the authoritarian tendencies in government.
That’s no surprise: power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Where we find ourselves now is in the unenviable position of needing to rein in all three branches of government—the Executive, the Judicial, and the Legislative—that have exceeded their authority and grown drunk on power.
This is exactly the kind of concentrated, absolute power the founders attempted to guard against by establishing a system of checks of balances that separate and shares power between three co-equal branches: the executive, the legislative and the judiciary.
“The system of checks and balances that the Framers envisioned now lacks effective checks and is no longer in balance,” concludes law professor William P. Marshall. “The implications of this are serious. The Framers designed a system of separation of powers to combat government excess and abuse and to curb incompetence. They also believed that, in the absence of an effective separation-of-powers structure, such ills would inevitably follow. Unfortunately, however, power once taken is not easily surrendered.”
Unadulterated power in any branch of government is a menace to freedom.
There’s no point debating which political party would be more dangerous with these powers.
The fact that any individual—or branch of government—of any political persuasion is empowered to act like a dictator is danger enough.
So what can we do to wrest back control over a runaway government and an imperial presidency?
It won’t be easy.
We are the unwitting victims of a system so corrupt that those who stand up for the rule of law and aspire to transparency in government are in the minority.
This corruption is so vast it spans all branches of government: from the power-hungry agencies under the executive branch and the corporate puppets within the legislative branch to a judiciary that is, more often than not, elitist and biased towards government entities and corporations.
We are ruled by an elite class of individuals who are completely out of touch with the travails of the average American.
We are viewed as relatively expendable in the eyes of government: faceless numbers of individuals who serve one purpose, which is to keep the government machine running through our labor and our tax dollars. Those in power aren’t losing any sleep over the indignities we are being made to suffer or the possible risks to our health. All they seem to care about are power and control.
We are being made to suffer countless abuses at the government’s hands.
We have little protection against standing armies (domestic and military), invasive surveillance, marauding SWAT teams, an overwhelming government arsenal of assault vehicles and firepower, and a barrage of laws that criminalize everything from vegetable gardens to lemonade stands.
In the name of national security, we’re being subjected to government agencies such as the NSA, FBI and others listening in on our phone calls, reading our mail, monitoring our emails, and carrying out warrantless “black bag” searches of our homes. Adding to the abuse, we have to deal with surveillance cameras mounted on street corners and in traffic lights, weather satellites co-opted for use as spy cameras from space, and thermal sensory imaging devices that can detect heat and movement through the walls of our homes.
That doesn’t even begin to touch on the many ways in which our Fourth Amendment rights are trampled upon by militarized police and SWAT teams empowered to act as laws unto themselves.
In other words, freedom—or what’s left of it—is threatened from every direction.
The predators of the police state are wreaking havoc on our freedoms, our communities, and our lives. The government doesn’t listen to the citizenry, it refuses to abide by the Constitution, which is our rule of law, and it treats the citizenry as a source of funding and little else. Police officers are shooting unarmed citizens and their household pets. Government agents—including local police—are being armed to the teeth and encouraged to act like soldiers on a battlefield. Bloated government agencies are fleecing taxpayers. Government technicians are spying on our emails and phone calls. Government contractors are making a killing by waging endless wars abroad.
In other words, the American police state is alive and well and flourishing.
Nothing has changed, and nothing will change unless we insist on it.
Set in the year 2020, V for Vendetta (written and produced by the Wachowskis) provides an eerie glimpse into a parallel universe in which a government-engineered virus wreaks havoc on the world. Capitalizing on the people’s fear, a totalitarian government comes to power that knows all, sees all, controls everything and promises safety and security above all.
Concentration camps (jails, private prisons and detention facilities) have been established to house political prisoners and others deemed to be enemies of the state. Executions of undesirables (extremists, troublemakers and the like) are common, while other enemies of the state are made to “disappear.” Populist uprisings and protests are met with extreme force. The television networks are controlled by the government with the purpose of perpetuating the regime. And most of the population is hooked into an entertainment mode and are clueless.
Sounds painfully familiar, doesn’t it?
As director James McTeighe observed about the tyrannical regime in V for Vendetta, “It really showed what can happen when society is ruled by government, rather than the government being run as a voice of the people. I don’t think it’s such a big leap to say things like that can happen when leaders stop listening to the people.”
Clearly, our leaders have stopped listening to the American people.
We are—and have been for some time—the unwitting victims of a system so corrupt that those who stand up for the rule of law and aspire to transparency in government are in the minority. This corruption is so vast it spans all branches of government—from the power-hungry agencies under the executive branch and the corporate puppets within the legislative branch to a judiciary that is, more often than not, elitist and biased towards government entities and corporations.
We are ruled by an elite class of individuals who are completely out of touch with the travails of the average American. We are relatively expendable in the eyes of government—faceless numbers of individuals who serve one purpose, which is to keep the government machine running through our labor and our tax dollars.
What will it take for the government to start listening to the people again?
In V for Vendetta, as in my new novel The Erik Blair Diaries, it takes an act of terrorism for the people to finally mobilize and stand up to the government’s tyranny: in Vendetta, V the film’s masked crusader blows up the seat of government, while in Erik Blair, freedom fighters plot to unmask the Deep State.
These acts of desperation and outright anarchy are what happens when a parasitical government muzzles the citizenry, fences them in, herds them, brands them, whips them into submission, forces them to ante up the sweat of their brows while giving them little in return, and then provides them with little to no outlet for voicing their discontent: people get desperate, citizens lose hope, and lawful, nonviolent resistance gives way to unlawful, violent resistance.
This way lies madness.
Then again, this madness may be unavoidable unless we can wrest back control over our runaway government starting at the local level.
How to do this? It’s not rocket science.
There is no 10-step plan. If there were a 10-step plan, however, the first step would be as follows: turn off the televisions, tune out the politicians, and do your part to stand up for freedom principles in your own communities.
Stand up for your own rights, of course, but more importantly, stand up for the rights of those with whom you might disagree. Defend freedom at all costs. Defend justice at all costs. Make no exceptions based on race, religion, creed, politics, immigration status, sexual orientation, etc. Vote like Americans, for a change, not Republicans or Democrats.
Most of all, use your power—and there is power in our numbers—to nullify anything and everything the government does that undermines the freedom principles on which this nation was founded.
Don’t play semantics. Don’t justify. Don’t politicize it. If it carries even a whiff of tyranny, oppose it. Demand that your representatives in government cut you a better deal, one that abides by the Constitution and doesn’t just attempt to sidestep it.
This new mural featuring Pam and Ramona Africa alongside other Black community activists was unveiled on May 11, 2021 directly across the street from Philadelphia City Hall, on the very same block where the infamous statue of Frank Rizzo once stood.–Photo: Jamal Journal staff photographer Joe Piette
In this new interview, Professor Taylor covers many topics including his personal observations from Judge Sabo’s 1995-97 PCRA (Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act) hearings. Taylor also confronts Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s Feb. 3 brief filed in opposition to all of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s appeals. In support of the critiques made previously by Pam Africa and Dr. Ricardo Alvarez, Taylor now makes his own response to DA Krasner’s continued defense of Mumia’s unjust 1982 conviction.
Jamal Journal: How did you first learn about Mumia’s case?
Mark Lewis Taylor: I still remember a rainy day in 1994 when I was just back from a summer of research and connecting with Maya activist groups in Guatemala, struggling then as it long had against European colonization, now against the neocolonialism of U.S.-backed governments in Central America. At the time of that 1994 trip back to the U.S., I was also taking up again some of the prison activist work I had done even earlier in the 1970s when working in the Virginia State Penitentiary investigating prisoner complaints.
So in the midst of all this, on the way into a New York City coffee shop to wait out the rain, I purchased a thin newspaper sold by a grassroots homeless organization – Street News, I think it was. There I read my first column by Mumia. I’m quite sure it was “War on the Poor,” which was also recorded by Prison Radio.
“War on the Poor”
Afterwards I began using many of Mumia’s writings in graduate-level classes. His writings ignited student thinking on the politics of imprisonment, policing and the death penalty. I resolved that if officials ever signed a death warrant to silence Mumia, “I couldn’t live my life as usual” (at least that’s what I found myself muttering to myself then).
Why that resolve? I often ask myself that. The answer I give is that by committing forthrightly to the movement to keep alive and release Mumia, I would be involved at the same time on multiple political fronts of liberation. I had already found that to support any one prisoner in the archipelago of U.S. mass incarceration demanded one’s utmost. It is to face a kind of abyss of human need.
While I’ve had to maintain some work for other prisoners too, the work for Mumia was such that by working for him, I felt, I was also working for so many more, and also on the larger fronts of national and international social change and liberation. (I do not accept the current squeamishness of U.S. academic culture making them reluctant to use the word “liberation,” even though I believe we should define it and use it carefully.)
Being at work as a full-time professor, in work that itself required far more than 40 hours a week, I needed every hour of my “outside” movement work to count politically in as comprehensive a way as I could imagine. Work for Mumia enabled that. That’s what I felt.
So, when Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge signed Mumia’s death warrant in 1995, I requested educators’ support for Mumia. I learned that many other educators had been using Mumia’s writings. And they too found his execution intolerable. My fax machine and email inbox blew up with responses from colleagues who wanted to go to work.
Thus began years of struggle to find ways to build educators into the larger movement for Mumia headed by International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal. We undertook years of organizing press conferences, newspaper ads and seeking other ways to build educators’ contributions into the larger movement.
We immediately took out ads in the Philadelphia Daily News, holding press conferences in Philadelphia. It was struggle, and we often faltered, got too busy with academic meetings and minutiae, with career advancement and more. But our moments of struggle went forward, and we continue. Our largest ad campaign culminated in a Sunday New York Times full page in the “Week in Review” section in May 2000. So, we were launched.
JJ: Why did you decide to attend the 1995 PCRA hearings in front of Judge Albert Sabo?
MLT: Well, I don’t remember any “deciding,” really. It was just a necessary stage of the movement work at the time. Besides, there was urgency in the air since Gov. Ridge had given Mumia an execution date. We joined the many who Pam Africa organized to pack the courtroom. I cannot recall who all among educators were present. I’m certain that Cornel West was (more on that below). There were other Philadelphia educators who had stepped forward for our ad campaigns and press conferences, who may also have been there: Achille Mbembe, E. Ann Matter, Ann Farnsworth-Alvear, Farah Jasmine Griffin (all four, then at UPENN), also Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak of Columbia University.
Cornel West, Angela Y. Davis and Manning Marable had already been to the fore of the struggle for Mumia long before me. They supported EMAJ (Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal) in very helpful ways. Manning Marable once told me, for example, “Always use my name in support of your events.” I am not sure if Davis and Marable were at the PCRA hearings or not. Marable at Columbia was a formative teacher for Dr. Johanna Fernández who assumed so many leadership roles in EMAJ and now coordinates the campaign to Bring Mumia Home.
I remember so much about those PCRA hearings: Pam Africa and MOVE organizing the seating in the courtroom and the rallies outside, Mumia coming into the courtroom in shackles and greeting us with raised fist, and Mumia’s lawyers drawing the ire of Judge Albert Sabo.
JJ: What do you think of Kiilu Nyasha’s description of Sabo’s courtroom in her essay, “Witness to a Lynching”?
From left, Dr. Ala Stanford, Ajeenah Amir, Sajda “Purple” Blackwell, artist Russell Craig, Pam Dr. Ala Stanford, Ajeenah Amir, Sajda “Purple” Blackwell, artist Russell Craig, Pam Africa, Krystal Strong, YahNé Ndgo and Kezia Ridgeway stand in front of the East side of the Crown mural that pays homage to their social justice work at Philadelphia’s Municipal Services Building. – Photo: Kimberly Paynter, WHYY
MLT: I still find Nyasha’s write-up to be accurate, especially in its description of the general ethos of humiliation and intimidation that Judge Sabo stoked and allowed prosecutors to inject into the proceedings. I personally did not see Sabo nod off, but he ran the courtroom indeed as the notorious “hanging judge” who had sent so many other Philadelphians to death row and long prison sentences with the racially biased demeanor that so many of us have long denounced. Even reporters working for established news venues in Philadelphia recognized this bias to be in operation.
Sometimes you wished Sabo would have fallen asleep more. What was so enraging was his continual denial of Mumia’s lawyers’ motions and his affirmation of the prosecutors’ objections. Sabo would also make off-hand remarks about Mumia’s plight, almost taunting him with references to the pending execution date.
I remember in one of the earlier hearings, when the antics of Sabo were so egregious, as he made so many off-hand racist comments and ran such a one-sided prosecutors’ courtroom. I was sitting beside Dr. Cornel West, then during his first stint at Harvard. At one point after a Sabo comment, Cornel rolled forward in his seat and gasped in loud whisper, “Mississippi 1955!”
Only toward the end of the hearings did Sabo finally relent and issue a stay of execution, precisely because of the large rallies in Philadelphia at the courthouse then and the presence in the courtroom of key dignitaries. On the day of the stay, I think the movement had helped facilitate the presence of Rev. Jesse Jackson in the courtroom among Mumia’s many other supporters. The stay came during one of the later hearings of the PCRA in 1995, really only 10 days away from the execution date in August.
JJ: In light of your experience observing Sabo, what is your response to DA Krasner’s Feb. 3, 2021, brief where he puts his stamp of approval on literally every single decision Judge Sabo made at both the 1982 trial and the later PCRA hearings?
MLT: Well, Krasner has to know what establishment reporters in Philadelphia know: All of Sabo’s courtrooms show at least a potential for racial bias as well as many comments that offer clear evidence of racial bias. Krasner also knows that the bar for tolerating racial bias in courtrooms is set exceedingly low. This “low bar” has been confirmed more than once, in a 1986 case (Batson v. Kentucky) and a 2008 case (Snyder v. Louisiana).
This means that the smallest amount of racial bias is often grounds for ruling in a defendants’ favor. One U.S. circuit court judge, Thomas Ambro of the Third Circuit, thought the low bar should be extended to Mumia, in keeping with the precedent confirmed by the Snyder case just a few weeks earlier. (See Ambro’s dissent in Abu-Jamal v. Horn et al, p. 78.)
But in the case of Mumia, who is often forced to labor under what Linn Washington has termed “The Mumia Exception,” the bar for proving racial bias was set so high that he is denied redress for what he has suffered. Krasner shows no interest in lowering the unfairly raised bar against Mumia. To perpetuate the state’s performance of that exception is to fail to be a prosecutor “for the people” of Philadelphia.
Krasner has a tendency to cite “the many other legal cases similar to Mumia’s” and the “many other problems and issues” that he wants to address progressively. He and his supporters often speak as if Krasner cannot keep up this “progressive” agenda, that he does need police cooperation to a certain extent to enact his reforms and can’t afford to alienate them.
The idea is that if he goes too far in challenging the FOP (Fraternal Order of Police), such as by pursuing litigation favorable to Mumia, the Philadelphia police and other political powers will block his larger agenda for change. It can appear that Krasner is sacrificing Mumia “for the greater good.” It is as if there is an unspoken deal with the FOP that Krasner gets to enact some positive reforms, so long as he doesn’t do anything that might lead to Mumia’s freedom.
I suggest, though, that with this kind of approach, Krasner risks losing even his more modest and comprehensive gains regarding other legal cases and issues. Remember, Mumia and his death remain a comprehensive aim of the FOP. Mumia remains the FOP’s “public enemy number one.”
If Krasner does not challenge the FOP at their own declared front-most battle line – on Mumia Abu-Jamal – then he really has not challenged the FOP fundamentally. He may achieve some short-term gains for “progressive” prosecuting, and indeed he has, but he has not really challenged the police power of the state that wants to kill Mumia and defeat the revolutionary and more humane form of the state for which Mumia fights.
JJ: In their recent SF Bay View newspaper articles, both Pam Africa and Dr. Ricardo Alvarez criticize page 5 of the Feb. 3 brief where Krasner endorses the official police version of Mumia’s arrest by writing that Mumia “resisted arrest” and “refused to walk” into the hospital. Dr. Alvarez writes: “The presumption that Mumia violently resisted arrest and then confessed is wrong, can be easily proven wrong, and is a form of harm that denies Mumia’s humanity.” What is your response to this section of Krasner’s Feb. 3 brief?
MLT: Well, I think that both Pam Africa and Ricardo Alvarez make their cases quite well for disproving these points as they occur in Krasner’s brief. Also, Pam’s and Ricardo’s claims have been underscored numerous times by several of Mumia’s attorneys.
What is further concerning about Krasner’s arguing these points is that, to my knowledge, while his brief introduces no new characters or events into prosecutors’ view of the crime, it does rephrase the story in slight but significant ways. In the brief, the DA’s Office is not recreating a new story, but the arrest scenario is tweaked so as to emphasize many of the excuses that we now receive from police who handle protestors or who rationalize their killing of Black, Brown and Indigenous peoples in the U.S. Doesn’t this language sound familiar – “resisting arrest,” “would not walk” or was “reaching for a gun”? This language is consistent with current state power’s attempts to rationalize and describe police beatings and killings of protestors and others.
The police have still not provided an account for the evident physical battery that Mumia suffered at the hands of the police upon his arrest. Mumia was so badly beaten, said his sister, Lydia, that she hardly recognized him. Mumia has recounted how, after being shot, he was also beaten and rammed into a street light pole. In all likelihood, he was beaten more in the back of a paddy wagon headed for the hospital before being dumped on the floor of its ER. Instead of considering any of this as possible, Krasner’s brief foregrounds notions about Mumia “reaching for a gun” that an Officer Shoemaker reports seeing “eight inches away from Mumia’s hand?”
Krasner knows cops have been found lying and has himself spoken out about police disinformation and perjured testimony. So, why not consider them to be lying about this story? The brief says Mumia was “resisting arrest” and then is reported to have “refused to walk”? This language is especially passable and plausible for that part of the public – still all too many – who today buy into cops’ arguments designed to rationalize racialized police violence.
JJ: Returning to the topic of lynching, what do you think of Pam Africa’s assertion that police attempted to lynch Mumia on the morning of Dec. 9, 1981?
MLT: Well look, we know that the young journalist Abu-Jamal had received threats from the police long before they found him at the curb of Locust and 13th on that early morning of 1981. Terry Bisson’s biographical reflection on Mumia, entitled “On a Move: The Story of Mumia Abu-Jamal,” cites more than one occasion when Philadelphia police would drive slowly by Mumia making hand gestures of a pointed gun and moving trigger finger, as if they had him targeted for killing.
The 1981 police attack on Mumia occurred well after Mumia had served not only in the Panthers, but also after he had written to expose police practices against MOVE and other residents and after he had directly challenged the Rizzo pro-police regime. So, after all this, finding Mumia vulnerable and shot on a curb on Dec. 9 was an opportunity for attack the police could not pass up.
And yes, battering Mumia as they did that morning qualifies as an attempted lynching. If we recall the history of lynching, we know that those actions were not carried out only by mobs of general citizens. Lynching participants also included such officials as police, lawyers, even judges and local pastors, clad in Klan costumery or other disguise. And some felt emboldened to turn up and take pictures for posterity with no disguise at all!
Sure, maybe the early morning beating did not have the same status of spectacle that the “burning and hanging lynchings” had, but surely, if you add on Mumia’s later very public trial and death sentence, the function of Mumia’s overall brutal treatment is indeed that of a lynching. Lynching in the USA, like crucifixions in Rome were intended as a kind of public service announcement to the poor and repressed: “Act up like this one hanging before you now, and this too will become your fate!”
JJ: What do you think about the Medical Professionals for Mumia petition co-written by Dr. Alvarez?
MLT: The petition was a great thing to see. Even more, I think, is the way the group, “Medical Professionals for Mumia” is mobilizing the conscience of medically-trained personnel to act on the myriad health issues posed for the increasing numbers of infirm and elderly who are incarcerated and on the ways white supremacy is at work in the profession and in the U.S. healthcare establishment. Elite higher education is also often rife with pervasive white supremacist postures and practices.
Moreover, it is so important that Dr. Ricardo is taking the advocacy and work for Mumia into his own profession. Of course, he has been a participant in the larger diverse movement. But his instincts are so right, it seems to me, to attempt to integrate the broader movement for Mumia and for all political prisoners and the incarcerated into the work-world he inhabits. I think all of us need to attempt something like this in whatever be our places of work. Not everyone can take the movement work into their work-world, into their everyday spaces of employment. I know that. It is important, though, to try where we can.
Our founding reflex of Educators for Mumia was to integrate the broader movement into the daily educational labor of teachers, as well as to enable teachers to participate in and support the larger national and international work of the movement. So, I view the petition and its vision to be an exciting development as it seeks to take the concerns of our movement into the medical profession.
JJ: A central piece of evidence cited by our Color of Change petition to DA Krasner is the 2010 ballistics test conducted by Dave Lindorff and Linn Washington, where they concluded that “the whole prosecution story of an execution-style slaying of the officer by Abu-Jamal would appear to be a prosecution fabrication, complete with coached, perjured witnesses, undermining the integrity and fairness of the entire trial.” Pam Africa has now issued a public challenge to both Michael Smerconish and DA Krasner to try and disprove the conclusions of the 2010 test. How significant do you think are the conclusions of Lindorff’s and Washington’s test?
“Test Shows Missing Evidence and Falsified Testimony from Key Witnesses in Abu-Jamal Trial”
MLT: Very significant indeed. Here are two investigative journalists who know the case inside and out. Neither of them can be dismissed as a naïve advocate who might quickly throw out claims that have no evidence. On the contrary, both have a thorough knowledge of the trial transcripts. Linn Washington has written and researched the case continuously since he visited the crime scene within one hour of the incident. Dave Lindorff has written a detailed, book-length and fair analysis of the entire case. And here, in the video of their 2010 ballistics test, they raise serious questions about the veracity of prosecution claims that Mumia stood over Officer Faulkner lying on his back and executed him with a shot to the head with other shots hitting the sidewalk. So Pam’s challenge is right-on. Let DA Krasner and media talking head Smerconish respond to the video.
The Lindorff-Washington ballistics test joins other forms of exculpatory evidence that need revisiting in the form of media attention and more adequate judicial review. Among these forms I would include the following: (a) the argument for racial bias in jury selection that emerged with training-tapes by prosecutor Jack McMahon advising young prosecutors about how and when to keep Blacks off juries, (b) Veronica Jones’ 1996 recantation of her being pressured by cops to lie against Mumia at the original 1982 trial and (c) court stenographer’s sworn affidavit that during the trial she heard the notoriously racist Judge Sabo say out of court in another room, “Yeah, and I’m gonna help them fry the n***er.” Some of these have been reviewed quickly under judicial review, some totally ignored.
None of these forms of evidence for Mumia will see the light of day, much less receive serious judicial review without public pressure. And that’s why Pam’s challenge to Krasner and Smerconish on the ballistics test is so significant.
MLT: Yes, I had been in to visit Mumia about once every month, often for visits as long as 3-4 hours, for four years prior to the arrival of the COVID pandemic. I saw him in January 2020, and then didn’t have a visit until video visits of 2021.
Obviously, I value every minute of any visit with Mumia, whether in person or on video (limited by the DOC to 45 minutes). Moreover, I try to make the visits count for the movement, by facilitating communication between Mumia and other family members and the movement when I can.
I visited by video once with him, between the time of his COVID diagnosis, and then his going into the hospital for surgery. It is especially enraging to experience Mumia’s “being disappeared,” as he was when taken in for heart surgery. To deny his family and friends – as well as outside medical advisor – knowledge of his whereabouts exacerbates the medical trauma for everyone. This is part of the state’s violence against the incarcerated and their families, which the state seeks to justify with its concerns for “security.”
I put a minister’s collar on and searched out some nearby hospitals and eventually confirmed where he was hospitalized. But of course, neither I nor Dr. Ricardo Alvarez, with whom I was in touch about this, were given any kind of access (even by phone). Ricardo and I sent a communication into the hospital, urging its supervising officials to keep the shackles off Mumia and to open all necessary communication between Mumia and his family and key supporters.
We received nothing but denials from hospital security that Mumia was even there. After much phoning of the prison, the governor’s office and the hospital, I did receive a brief call from the PA DOC’s (Pennsylvania Department of Corrections) special counsel saying that his lawyers would make sure that Mumia could call his wife 15 minutes a day. That did happen, as I understand it, because two of Mumia’s lawyers, Bret Grote and Bob Boyle, kept pressure on DOC officials.
I don’t view the role of a “spiritual advisor” in prison to be primarily that of a sharer of words from sacred texts or the imparting of religious wisdom per se. Maybe there’s a place for that at times when it is requested by prisoners. But recall, the notion of “spirit” in most languages refers to breath, to breathing that makes for life. To work spirit, to facilitate spirit, then, is to open up passages that allow life to occur and grow. In that sense, fostering connections and opening passageways between Mumia and his family, his friends and his necessary advocates – all this is spirit work even as it is also very material, often also a kind of political practice.
The established religions of colonizers and imperialists have regularly instilled in people the idea that spirit is somehow antithetical to body. In fact, the spirit is the life of the body, the life animating our struggle to liberate all realms of material creation that suffer from oppression and injustice.
JJ: How does Mumia and your work with him relate to your scholarly interest in “liberating spirit?”
MLT: Well, as your question indicates, you know I’ve explained this notion of “liberating spirit” elsewhere, as at my website. Liberating spirit creates freeing ways of being amid global and local structures and during the daily practices that grind us down, that destroy humanity and earth – that oppress. Liberating spirit names a way being “political” in the broadest sense of engaging the powers that subjugate us. It is material life struggling and fighting, acting up creatively through the many arts and mobilizing new community with a steady relentless, resilience in our social movements to revolutionize our lives against a state that represses.
I guess that in the U.S. my participation in the work for Mumia has been a way to observe and feel “liberating spirit” to be at work in a profoundly full sense. Consider how many political issues and fronts are encountered through the movement for Mumia. The U.S. white supremacy that rationalized and then grew stronger in the wake of the slavery that built the U.S. capitalist system – well, Mumia writes in a way that remembers and foregrounds all that. He has been a vocal critic of the surveillance and police state that enforces the alienation of labor and protects the rule of capital.
He has been a spokesperson for the earth – “mother earth” as he writes with MOVE – the earth that nurtures us all. He has written my class with special commentary on the frequent erasure of women’s leadership from Christian and other religious organizations of colonizers and empire builders. He dreams, writes and works for futures free from empires and capitalists and for “the return of nature” and of a genuine “socialism and ecology.” (These latter phases are from the work of a writer whom both Mumia and I appreciate, John Bellamy Foster.)
This fullness of liberating struggle, across so many issues and up against so many fronts of resistance, has been evident from the time of Mumia’s earliest columns to his most recent writings. See for example the collection edited by Johanna Fernández in Writing on the Wall. Note the breadth of concerns covered in the three-volume work Mumia authored with Stephen Vittoria, Murder Incorporated. Again, one person cannot take up all that “liberating spirit” demands of thought and practice, but to work through the movement for Mumia Abu-Jamal is to find oneself at work, directly or indirectly on so many of the important challenges of our time. This is one of the reasons that even though I cannot be involved in as many actions of the movement for Mumia, I continually introduce my students to Mumia and the movement.
Let me give just one example of the way those struggling for and with Mumia have impacted others. In my video visit that occurred between Mumia’s COVID diagnosis and his heart surgery, he mentioned to me how deeply moved he was by words from his relatively new prison doctor, Dr. Baddick. That doctor had read Federal District Judge Robert Mariani’s decision in favor of Mumia in 2017, allowing him to be treated with antiviral meds for his Hepatitis C infection. Mumia with the help of the movement and legal work was not only saved, but something more happened. As Dr. Baddick said to Mumia: “You saved thousands of other lives.” (Indeed, Missouri is just one other state where I understand that Mumia’s case for his Hepatitis cure has since become precedent-setting for many other prisoners).
In a revised version of my 2015 work, The Executed God (397-450), a book which I dedicated to Mumia, I added a new final chapter on Mumia, explaining his importance. I borrowed literary Marxist critic Walter Benjamin’s notion of the “great criminal” to explain that the terrorizing and repressive state often makes certain figures into “great criminal” figures. They do this to demonize them to the fullest, because the state sees them as especially threatening, able to expose the founding violence of the state and also to stoke popular revolt and revolution against the state.
This is why the struggle for Mumia has been so hard. This is also why the struggle for Mumia remains so necessary: Mumia exposes the state’s violence and equips our comprehensive resistance to it.
The line between clearly defined political prisoners and prisoners targeted to make points for the political power structure is hidden. Criminalization is a standard tool of racial supremacists. George Floyd’s death is familiar a thousand times over because it restates the predominant ethic of law enforcement’s historical treatment of a minority population as revealed in the examples of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Fred Hampton.
But consider the less well known and large number of former Black Panther and other community activists serving intolerable prison terms which have taken away their normal lives in trials that can’t match objective standards of justice or international law. Guilty verdicts thrived on the targeting mechanisms of the FBI’s COINTELPRO operation, withheld testimony, ‘bought’ witnesses, rights violations, and obvious misidentifications suggesting that U.S. law enforcement has a difficulty telling black people apart. At particular risk of injustice were those who converted to Islam and were targeted for destruction.
Two troubling examples: (aka Hubert Gerold Brown) Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin was a target of CONTELPRO. It’s hard to explore the facts and conviction in his case without understanding that another has confessed to the crime he was convicted of and the crime’s perpetrator as described by witnesses bore little resemblance to Al-Amin. The likelihood of his innocence becomes law enforcement’s shame. Serving a sentence of life without parole, afflicted after confinement with a rare form of bone cancer, an imam deprived of his community, Al Amin’s most recent appeal to the Supreme Court was denied in April 2020.
Consider Jeff Fort (aka Abdul Malik Ka’bah) of Chicago, whose case and 168 year sentence have become so buried in history the reader may not have heard of him. Fort, a founder of Chicago’s Blackstone Rangers, the Black P. Stones, and El Rukn, is considered the first American convicted on charges of terrorism. His life is the story of a community leader and gang leader, surviving under the knee of supremacist law enforcement which made its final judgement with the intentionally unbearable sentences he currently serves. Wikipedia notes that currently he’s confined at the Florence Colorado supermax since 2006 under a “no-human contact order since his arrival.” An alternative judgement to law enforcement’s was his mother’s, quoted here from an ancient piece (“The Making of Jeff Fort,” 1988) by Tom Brune and James Ylisela, who wrote:
Fort’s mother recited parables. “We lived on 63rd Street, and there was an alley you could go through. In those days, it wasn’t dope fiends, it was old men being wineheads. I would cook [for her ten children] and when I would go into the parlor and sit down and come back, all my food is gone. I’m thinking somebody’s coming in getting my food. I didn’t have no dream that it was Jeff taking the food out there and feeding those people.
“He was out there, giving all of them a plate. He just couldn’t stand seeing people hungry. I just sat there and tears ran down. I said, ‘This child is an unusual child.’
Former Los Angeles Black Panther Romaine “Chip” Fitzgerald died March 28, 2021, shackled in hospital following his second stroke. He served over fifty years of two life sentences and was eligible for parole. There was and remains more than reasonable doubt of his guilt in the crimes he was charged with.
Sentenced to fifty years for knocking the gun out of a police officer’s hand in Texas, Xinachtli (aka Alvaro Luna Hernandez) is eligible for parole July 18, 2021.
Finally released from 49 years in prison after eleven denials of parole, Jalil Muntaqim, tried to register to vote but technically before he was eligible to vote again. Arrested on charges connected to voter fraud, the charges were pressed by the District Attorney which would have returned Muntaqim to prison for the rest of his life but the country grand jury refused to indict him.
A veteran of military service in Germany and Vietnam and a former Black Panther leader in Omaha, Edward Poindexter, is serving the fiftieth year of a life sentence in Nebraska’s State Penitentiary for alleged involvement in bombing a policeman. There is a strong possibility that Poindexter and Mondo we Langa, (AKA David Rice) his co-convicted, were and are entirely innocent. Mondo we Langa has already died in prison. Poindexter, a diabetic with triple-bypass heart surgery and a eye cataract, uses a wheelchair. Petitions continue to urge the Nebraska Pardons Board to commute Poindexter’s sentence to time already served.
Imprisoned since 1973, under a life sentence, a model prisoner without betraying his beliefs Sundiata Acoli (Clark Edward Squire) is still held in prison and denied the parole he was first eligible for in 1992. The mechanism of his incarceration could be one of vengeance and extra-judicial punishment to extract information. The legal system apparently considers him to have information about the escape from prison to Cuba of Assata Shakur. Marilyn Buck, considered an accomplice to Ms. Shakur’s escape was released from prison to die from a cancer which was too slow to be treated at federal Prison in California. Dr. Mutulu Shakur, considered the escape’s mastermind has been fighting cancer after repeated unjust denials of parole and release. Acoli at 84 has had COVID and suffers from dementia among other illnesses. A petition to New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy asks to commute the sentence and bring Sundiata Acoli home. It is hard enough to be an elder outside of prison.
With a judicial ruling allowing a review of previously filed appeals in his case, Mumia Abu Jamal’s current attorneys have filed actions supporting his claims. Recently he was shackled during his hospitalization for COVID and congestive heart failure. He has also reported an excruciating skin condition. In a letter published in The Jamal Journal urging protest of medical neglect in the treatment of Mumia Abu Jamal, Ramona Africa cites medical neglect as contributing factors in the deaths of Delbert Africa, Phil Africa, and Merle Africa. (see the Move 9).
North Americans rarely speak of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, born in Pakistan, a Muslim mother and neuroscientist who studied at the University of Houston Texas, then transferred to take her BA from M.I.T., and PhD from Brandeis. Her field of expertise included areas of biological warfare and viruses and all information about her could be ‘constructed’. She was a terrorist suspect wanted by the FBI for questioning when she was disappeared in Pakistan, March 2003. She was subsequently identified as prisoner 650 held at Bagram Air Force Base. Prisoner 650 was reportedly continuously raped by the prison officers at Bagram. There is strong evidence she was tortured. She has claimed she was kidnapped by the intelligence agencies of the U.S. and Pakistan. Shortly after being reported as in American custody for four years, in 2008 she reappeared with her son at age 12 to be arrested in Afghanistan on suspicion of terrorism. In 2010 she was tried and sentenced in New York City to eighty-six years in prison for allegedly attempting to shoot at the entourage of U.S. military and law enforcement personnel which held her prisoner under detention in 2008. U.S. personnel were untouched by bullets. Dr. Siddiqui was shot in the torso. With no powder marks from firing a weapon on her clothes or self, evidence against her is non-existent, far-fetched, and unlikely. Her family fears she has been tortured within the U.S. prison system. She is said to have been in solitary confinement for twelve years. Incarcerated at Carswell Medical prison, she has refused to see lawyers and communicate with her family. Two of her children survived her initial arrest in 2003 and were held in criminal circumstances. Her son Muhammad, age seven at arrest in 2003, was reportedly kept in F.B.I. custody from 2003 to 2009. Her daughter Mariam, age five at arrest was reportedly kept in a “cold dark room” at Bagram Air Force base before return to the Siddiqui family in 2010. A third child, Suleman was only six months old when taken from his mother and was never returned and is feared dead. The facts of Dr. Siddiqui’s case are so publicly outrageous that either she was pre-empted for covert uses by U.S. and allied intelligence operations or elements of the war on terror are run by Nazis.
There’s an absence of mercy in unbearable sentences.
Many Palestinian intellectuals and political analysts find themselves in the unenviable position of having to declare a stance on whether they support or reject upcoming Palestinian elections which are scheduled for May 22 and July 30. But there are no easy answers.
The long-awaited decree by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas last January to hold legislative and presidential elections in the coming months was widely welcomed, not as a triumph for democracy but as the first tangible positive outcome of dialogue between rival Palestinian factions, mainly Abbas’ Fatah party and Hamas.
As far as inner Palestinian dialogue is concerned, the elections, if held unobstructed, could present a ray of hope that, finally, Palestinians in the Occupied Territories will enjoy a degree of democratic representation, a first step towards a more comprehensive representation that could include millions of Palestinians outside the Occupied Territories.
But even such humble expectations are conditioned on many “ifs”: only if Palestinian factions honor their commitments to the Istanbul Agreement of September 24; only if Israel allows Palestinians, including Jerusalemites, to vote unhindered and refrains from arresting Palestinian candidates; only if the US-led international community accepts the outcome of the democratic elections without punishing victorious parties and candidates; only if the legislative and presidential elections are followed by the more consequential and substantive elections in the Palestinian National Council (PNC) – the Palestinian Parliament in exile – and so on.
If any of these conditions is unsatisfactory, the May elections are likely to serve no practical purpose, aside from giving Abbas and his rivals the veneer of legitimacy, thus allowing them to buy yet more time and acquire yet more funds from their financial benefactors.
All of this compels us to consider the following question: is democracy possible under military occupation?
Almost immediately following the last democratic Palestinian legislative elections in 2006, the outcome of which displeased Israel, 62 Palestinian ministers and members of the new parliament were thrown into prison, with many still imprisoned.
History is repeating itself as Israel has already begun its arrest campaigns of Hamas leaders and members in the West Bank. On February 22, over 20 Palestinian activists, including Hamas officials, were detained as a clear message from the Israeli occupation to Palestinians that Israel does not recognize their dialogue, their unity agreements or their democracy.
Two days later, 67-year-old Hamas leader, Omar Barghouti, was summoned by the Israeli military intelligence in the occupied West Bank and warned against running in the upcoming May elections. “The Israeli officer warned me not to run in the upcoming elections and threatened me with imprisonment if I did,” Barghouti was quoted by Al-Monitor.
The Palestinian Basic Law allows prisoners to run for elections, whether legislative or presidential, simply because the most popular among Palestinian leaders are often behind bars. Marwan Barghouti is one.
Imprisoned since 2002, Barghouti remains Fatah’s most popular leader, though appreciated more by the movement’s young cadre, as opposed to Abbas’ old guard. The latter group has immensely benefited from the corrupt system of political patronage upon which the 85-year-old president has constructed his Authority.
To sustain this corrupt system, Abbas and his clique labored to marginalize Barghouti, leading to the suggestion that Israel’s imprisonment of Fatah’s vibrant leader serves the interests of the current Palestinian President.
This claim has much substance, not only because Abbas has done little to pressure Israel to release Barghouti but also because all credible public opinion polls suggest that Barghouti is far more popular among Fatah’s supporters – in fact all Palestinians – than Abbas.
On February 11, Abbas dispatched Hussein al-Sheikh, the Minister of Civilian Affairs and a member of Fatah’s Central Committee, to dissuade Barghouti from running in the upcoming presidential elections. An ideal scenario for the Palestinian President would be to take advantage of Barghouti’s popularity by having him lead the Fatah list in the contest for the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). Hence, Abbas could ensure a strong turnout by Fatah supporters, while securing the chair of presidency for himself.
Barghouti vehemently rejected Abbas’ request, thus raising an unexpected challenge to Abbas, who now risks dividing the Fatah vote, losing the PLC elections, again, to Hamas and losing the presidential elections to Barghouti.
Between the nightly raids and crackdowns by the Israeli military and the political intrigues within the divided Fatah movement, one wonders if the elections, if they take place, will finally allow Palestinians to mount a united front in the struggle against Israeli occupation and for Palestinian freedom.
Then, there is the issue of the possible position of the ‘international community’ regarding the outcome of the elections. News reports speak of efforts made by Hamas to seek guarantees from Qatar and Egypt “to ensure Israel will not pursue its representatives and candidates in the upcoming elections,” Al-Monitor also reported.
But what kind of guarantees can Arab countries obtain from Tel Aviv, and what kind of leverage can Doha and Cairo have when Israel continues to disregard the United Nations, international law, the International Criminal Court, and so on?
Nevertheless, can Palestinian democracy afford to subsist in its state of inertia? Abbas’ mandate as president expired in 2009, the PLC’s mandate expired in 2010 and, in fact, the Palestinian Authority was set up as an interim political body, whose function should have ceased in 1999. Since then, the ‘Palestinian leadership’ has not enjoyed legitimacy among Palestinians, deriving its relevance, instead, from the support of its benefactors, who are rarely interested in supporting democracy in Palestine.
The only silver lining in the story is that Fatah and Hamas have also agreed on the restructuring of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which is now largely monopolized by Abbas’ Fatah movement. Whether the democratic revamping of the PLO takes place or not, largely depends on the outcome of the May and July elections.
Palestine, like other Middle Eastern countries, including Israel, does have a crisis of political legitimacy. Since Palestine is an occupied land with little or no freedom, one is justified to argue that true democracy under these horrific conditions cannot possibly be achieved.
“That’s certainly our goal and our intention.” This was the non-committal answer given by White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, when, on February 12, she was asked by a reporter whether the new Joe Biden Administration intends to shut down the notorious Guantánamo Bay Prison by the end of the president’s first term in office.
Psaki’s answer may have seemed reassuring, that the untold suffering experienced by hundreds of men in this American gulag – many of whom were surely innocent – would be finally coming to an end. However, considering the history of Guantánamo and the trail of broken promises by the Barack Obama Administration, the new administration’s pledge is hardly encouraging.
Compare the new language with that of Obama’s impassioned diatribes about humanity, justice and American values, which he utilized whenever he spoke of Guantánamo. “Gitmo has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law,” Obama said at a speech at the National Defense University in May 2013.
Enamored with his every word, Obama’s audience clapped with enthusiasm. When he delivered that particular speech, Obama was then serving his second term in office. He already had ample opportunity to shut down the prison which operated with no international monitoring and entirely outside the realms of international and US laws.
Obama is likely to be remembered for his words, not his actions. Not only did he fail to shut down the prison which was erected by his predecessor, George W. Bush, in 2002, but the Guantánamo industry continued to thrive during his terms. For example, in his speech, Obama made reference to the high cost of “a hundred and fifty million dollars each year to imprison 166 people.” According to the New Yorker, reporting in 2016, Guantánamo’s budget had morphed to “$445 million last year,” when Obama was still in office.
Yet, as the budget grew by leaps and bounds, the number of Guantánamo prisoners dwindled. Currently, there are only 40 prisoners still residing in that massive edifice of metal, concrete and barbed wire located at the eastern tip of Cuba, built atop a piece of land ‘leased’ by the US in 1903.
It is easy to conclude that the US government keeps the prison open only to avoid international accountability and, arguably, to extract information by torture, an act that is inconsistent with American laws. But this cannot be it. On the one hand, the entire wars against Afghanistan and Iraq were illegal under international law. Such a fact hardly stopped the US and its allies from savagely invading, humiliating and torturing entire populations with no regard whatsoever to legal or moral arguments.
On the other hand, Guantánamo is merely one of many American-run prisons and detention centers throughout the world that operate with no manual of rules and according to the most ruthless tactics. The tragedy of Abu Ghraib, a US military detention center in Baghdad, only became famous when direct evidence of the degrading, and incredibly violent conduct that was taking place within its walls was produced and publicized.
In fact, many American officials and members of Congress at the time used the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004 as an opportunity to whitewash and rebrand American crimes elsewhere and to present the misconduct in this Iraqi prison as if an isolated incident involving “a few bad apples”.
The ‘few bad apples’ argument, made by G. W. Bush was, more or less, the same logic utilized by Obama when he championed the closure of Guantánamo. Indeed, both Presidents insisted that neither Abu Ghraib nor Guantánamo should be made out to represent what America is really all about.
“Is this who we are?” Obama animatedly and passionately asked, as he made a case in favor of the closure of Guantánamo, speaking as if a human rights advocate, not a Commander-in-Chief who had direct authority to shut down the entire facility. The truth is that the Abu Ghraib tortures were not ‘a few bad apples’ and Guantánamo is, indeed, a microcosm of exactly what the US is, or has become.
From Bagram, Afghanistan, to Abu Ghraib, Iraq, to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to the many ‘floating prisons’ – news of which was leaked by US media in 2014 – the US government continues to make a mockery of international and humanitarian laws. Many American officials, who genuinely advocate the closure of Guantánamo, refuse to acknowledge that the prison is a symbol of their country’s intransigence and refuse to accept that, like any other country in the world, it is accountable to international law.
This lack of accountability has exceeded the US government’s insistence to ‘act alone’, as in to launch wars without international mandates. One US Administration after another has also made it clear that, under no circumstances, would they allow accused war criminals to be investigated, let alone stand trial, before the International Criminal Court (ICC). The message here is that even America’s ‘bad apples’ can potentially walk free, regardless of the heinousness of their crimes.
Just months after the Trump Administration imposed sanctions on ICC judges to punish them for the potential investigations of US crimes in Afghanistan, it freed the convicted criminals who carried out horrific crimes in Iraq. On December 22, Trump pardoned four American mercenaries who belonged to the private military firm, Blackwater. These convicted murderers were involved in the killing of 14 civilians, including two children, in Baghdad in 2007.
What became known as the ‘Nisour Square massacre’ was another example of whitewashing, as government officials and mainstream media, though expressing outrage at the unlawful killing, insisted that the massacre was an isolated episode. The fact that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, mostly civilians, were killed as a result of the American invasion seems irrelevant in the country’s skewed logic in its never-ending ‘war on terror’.
Whether Biden fulfills his promise of shutting down Guantánamo or not, little will change if the US remains committed to its condescending attitude towards international law and to its undeserved view of itself as a country that exists above the universal rights of everyone else.
That said, Guantánamo, on its own, is a crime against humanity and there can never be any justification to rationalize why hundreds of people are held indefinitely, without trial, without due process, without international observers and without ever seeing their families and loved ones. The explanation often offered by the pro-Guantánamo pundits is that the prison inmates are dangerous men. If that was, indeed, the case, why were these supposed criminals not allowed to see their day in court?
According to a report by Amnesty International published in May 2020, of the 779 men who were taken to that facility, “only seven have been convicted.” Worse, five of them were convicted “as a result of pre-trial agreements under which they pleaded guilty, in return for the possibility of release from the base.” According to the rights group, such a trial by ‘military commission’ “did not meet fair trial standards”.
In other words, Guantánamo is – and has always been – a fraudulent operation with no real inclination to holding criminals and terrorists accountable and to preventing further crimes. Instead, Guantánamo is an industry, and a lucrative one. In many ways, it is similar to the American prison military complex, ironically dubbed the ‘criminal justice system.’ Referring to the unjust ‘justice system’, Human Rights Watch derided the US for having “the largest reported prison population in the world”.
“The (US) criminal justice system – from policing and prosecution, through to punishment – is plagued with injustices like racial disparities, excessively harsh sentencing and drug and immigration policies that improperly emphasize criminalization,” HRW stated on its website.
The above, too, can be considered an answer to Obama’s rhetorical question, “Is this who we are?”. Yes, Mr. Obama, in fact, this is precisely who you are.
While offering the world’s most miserable detention conditions to hundreds of potentially innocent men, Guantánamo also offers career opportunities, high military perks and honors, and a seemingly endless budget for a small army to guard only a few shackled, gaunt-looking men in a far-away land.
So, even if Biden is able to overcome pressure from the military, from the CIA and from Congress to shut Guantánamo down, justice will still be absent, not only because of the numerous lives that are forever shattered but because America still refuses to learn from its mistakes.
Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.
― George Orwell, Animal Farm, First published 17 August 1945
What should we expect in 2021?
So far, it looks like this year is going to be plagued by more of the same brand of madness, mayhem, manipulation and tyranny that dominated 2020.
Frankly, I’m sick of it: the hypocrisy, the double standards, the delusional belief by Americans at every point along the political spectrum that politics and politicians are the answer to what ails the country, when for most of our nation’s history, politics and politicians have been the cause of our woes.
Consider: for years now, Americans, with sheeplike placidity, have tolerated all manner of injustices and abuses meted out upon them by the government (police shootings of unarmed individuals, brutality, corruption, graft, outright theft, occupations and invasions of their homes by militarized police, roadside strip searches, profit-driven incarcerations, profit-driven wars, egregious surveillance, taxation without any real representation, a nanny state that dictates every aspect of their lives, lockdowns, overcriminalization, etc.) without ever saying “enough is enough.”
Only now do Americans seem righteously indignant enough to mobilize and get active, and for what purpose? Politics. They’re ready to go to the mat over which corporate puppet will get the honor to serve as the smiling face on the pig for the next four years.
Talk about delusion!
It’s so ludicrous as to be Kafkaesque.
A perfect example of how farcical, topsy-turvy, and downright perverse life has become in the America: while President Trump doles out medals of commendation and presidential pardons to political cronies who have done little to nothing to advance the cause of freedom, Julian Assange rots in prison for daring to blow the whistle on the U.S. government’s war crimes.
You’d think that Americans would be outraged over such abject pandering to the very swamp that Trump pledged to drain, but that’s not what has the Right and the Left so worked up. No, they’re still arguing over whether dead men voted in the last presidential election.
Either way, no matter which candidate lost to the other, it was always going to be the Deep State that won.
And so you have it: reduced to technicalities, distracted by magician’s con games, and caught up in the manufactured, highly scripted contest over which beauty contestant wears the crown, we have failed to do anything about the world falling apart around us.
Our economy—at least as it impacts the vast majority of Americans as opposed to the economic elite—is in a shambles. Our infrastructure is falling apart. Our government has been overtaken by power-hungry predators and parasites. And our ability—and fundamental right—to govern our own lives is being usurped by greedy government operatives who care nothing for our lives or our freedoms.
Our ship of state is being transformed into a ship of fools.
We stand utterly defenseless in the face of a technological revolution brought about by artificial intelligence and wall-to-wall surveillance that is re-orienting the world as we know it. Despite the mounting high-tech encroachments on our rights, we have been afforded a paltry amount of legislative and judicial protections. Indeed, Corporate America has more rights than we do.
We stand utterly powerless in the face of government bureaucrats and elected officials who dance to the tune of corporate overlords and do what they want, when they want, with whomever they want at taxpayer expense, with no thought or concern for the plight of those they are supposed to represent. To this power elite, “we the people” are good for only two things: our tax dollars and our votes. In other words, they just want our money.
We stand utterly helpless in the face of government violence that is meted out, both at home and abroad. Indeed, the systemic violence being perpetrated by agents of the government—inflicted on unarmed individuals by battlefield-trained SWAT teams, militarized police, and bureaucratic government agents trained to shoot first and ask questions later—has done more collective harm to the American people and their liberties than any single act of terror or mass shooting.
We stand utterly silenced in the face of government and corporate censors and a cancel culture that, in their quest to not offend certain viewpoints, are all too willing to eradicate views that do not conform. In this way, political correctness has given way to a more insidious form of group think and mob rule.
We stand utterly locked down in the face of COVID-19 mandates, restrictions, travel bans and penalties that are acclimating the populace to unquestioningly accede to the government’s dictates, whatever they might be (as long as they are issued in the name of national security), no matter how extreme or unreasonable.
We stand utterly intimidated in the face of red flag laws, terrorism watch lists, contact tracing programs, zero tolerance policies, and all other manner of police state tactics that aim to keep us fearful and compliant.
We stand utterly indoctrinated in the collective belief that the government—despite its longstanding pattern and practice of corruption, collusion, dysfunction, immorality and incompetence—somehow represents “we the people.”
Despite all of this, despite how evident it is that we are mere tools to be used and abused and manipulated for the power elite’s own diabolical purposes, we somehow fail to see their machinations for what they truly are: thinly veiled attempts to overthrow our republic and enslave the citizenry in order to expand their power and wealth.
It is a grim outlook for a new year, but it is not completely hopeless.
If hope is to be found, it will be found with those of us who do not rely on politicians that promise to fix what is wrong but instead do their part, at their local levels, to right the wrongs and fix what is broken. I am referring to the builders, the thinkers, the helpers, the healers, the educators, the creators, the artists, the activists, the technicians, the food gatherers and distributors, and every other person who does their part to build up rather than destroy.
Until we can own that truth, until we can forge our own path back to a world in which freedom means something again, we’re going to be stuck in this wormhole of populist anger, petty politics and destruction that is pitting us one against the other.
In that scenario, no one wins.
There’s a meme circulating on social media that goes like this:
If you catch 100 red fire ants as well as 100 large black ants, and put them in a jar, at first, nothing will happen. However, if you violently shake the jar and dump them back on the ground the ants will fight until they eventually kill each other. The thing is, the red ants think the black ants are the enemy and vice versa, when in reality, the real enemy is the person who shook the jar. This is exactly what’s happening in society today. Liberal vs. Conservative. Black vs. White. Pro Mask vs. Anti Mask. The real question we need to be asking ourselves is who’s shaking the jar … and why?
Whether red ants will really fight black ants to the death is a question for the biologists, but it’s an apt analogy of what’s playing out before us on the political scene and a chilling lesson in social engineering. So before you get too caught up in the circus politics and conveniently timed spectacles that keep us distracted from focusing too closely on the government’s power grabs, first ask yourself: who’s really shaking the jar?
Inmates in federal prisons, state prisons and local jails should be in the first cohort of people to be offered COVID-19 vaccinations.
One in five prisoners in the U.S. has been reported to have had COVID-19. That’s 20% of people behind bars. And that is likely a “vast undercount,” according to Homer Venters, the former chief medical officer at New York’s Rikers Island jail complex.
If compassion for prisoners does not move policy makers or the general public, then eyes should turn to a pair of recent studies, one by the Prison Policy Initiative and the other by the Marshall Project, focused on prisons and jails in the U.S. According to data in these two reports:
Prisons and jails are “super-spreaders” of the virus, not only among prisoners, but also among people in the communities where prisons and jails are located. It may be hard for a prisoner to break out of jail, but the virus gets out easily, hosted by guards, medical staff, maintenance staff, transportation workers, administrators and visitors.
Prisons and jails were responsible for over HALF A MILLION reported COVID-19 infections, 566,804 to be exact – in May, June and July alone. That was 13% of all new cases in the country during those months.
A big majority of those half-a-million-plus infections were among people who are NOT incarcerated, rather in the communities in which our prisons and jails are located.
If those 566,804 people were a country, that country would rank 5th in the world for reported COVID-19 infections for this period – right after the U.S., Brazil, India and Russia.
The state with the largest number of prison and jail related infections is California, with113,969 cases – again, in May, June and July alone. The infection rate among prisoners in California is even higher than in the country as a whole – one in four, or 25%.
The community with the largest number of prison and jail related infections in the country is the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside area, as defined by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), with 94,221 cases during those three months.
The San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose area, as defined by the BEA, ranked 17th in the nation with 5,298 prison and jail related infections.
Are all you “free” men and women feeling safe right now?
In August, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that Ralph Diaz, the former head of the California state prison system, would retire in October. Diaz had been the target of sharp criticisms for his approval of a transfer of 121 prisoners from the prison in Chino to San Quentin. This transfer, by all accounts, resulted in a massive COVID-19 outbreak in San Quentin, including 28 reported deaths, so far.
Assemblyman Marc Levine, a Democrat whose district includes San Quentin, has been quoted saying that “The spread of COVID-19 at state prisons was a preventable public health disaster and a failure of CDCR [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] leadership at the highest level.”
That “highest level” should include Newsom. It is hard to believe that Newsom was unaware of Diaz’ approval of the Chino transfer. Newsom has also done little in response to demands that the prison population be spread out and thinned out in order to prevent the “public health disaster” that our system of mass incarceration has spawned.
The state of California’s conduct with regards to the pandemic and the prison population borders on genocide. Perhaps the biggest criminal in the state sits not in a prison cell, but in the Governor’s Office in Sacramento.
Despite all of this, the Tuskegee Experiment factor has to be addressed. The Tuskegee Experiment was a medical study of 399 Black men known to have syphilis, conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service. These men were told that they were being treated for “bad blood.” Instead, they were given placebos so that the researchers could study the progression of the disease, including blindness, mental impairment and autopsies after they died. This experiment went on for 40 years before it finally ended in 1972.
Given the racist history of the U.S. medical profession, of which the Tuskegee Experiment is only one grotesque example – and given the ongoing medical neglect and abuse of prisoners in general – it would hardly be surprising that some prisoners would refuse a COVID-19 vaccine shot, if given the choice. But a failure to offer prisoners the option of the vaccine is just as much medical abuse as the failure to provide penicillin to the victims of the Tuskegee Experiment.
As we head into the new year, COVID-19 infections among prisoners show no sign of slowing down. In fact, last week the surge of new COVID-19 cases in U.S. prisons reached the highest level to date. We are all, prisoners and non-prisoners alike, suffering the consequences. This is very literally an example of the adage that an injury to one is an injury to all.
The least Newsom could do is to arrange to offer the vaccine to state prisoners, for the safety of everybody.
This is an expanded version of an article first published by 48 Hills.
Settle your quarrels, come together, understand the reality of our situation, understand that fascism is already here, that people are already dying who could be saved, that generations more will live poor butchered half-lives if you fail to act. Do what must be done, discover your humanity and your love in revolution.
— George Jackson, Blood in My Eye (1990): xvii
USA’s President-elect Joe Biden’s cabinet picks have already deflated the hopes of lesser-evilists. Filled with deep-dyed neoliberals and unswerving imperialists, Biden’s cabinet will try its hardest to competently revive the murderous American empire. Externally, it would mean the professional management of an imperialist, interventionist and hyper-militarized foreign policy in the name of “humanitarianism”. Internally, it would signify the discursive re-packaging and ideological invisibilization of an interminable domestic war against Black communities. Whereas Donald Trump politically publicized this war as part of his white chauvinist campaign, the Democrats will cleverly cloak it in the hollow language of national unity and multiculturalism.
When confronted by the reality of Democrats openly defying some leftists’ expectation that they will be minimally better than Trump, we need to re-think our political categories and mode of conceptualization. One major concept in need of rectification is “fascism”. Through its repeated use by corporate democrats to create the Trumpist bogeyman, the word has totally lost any analytical value within the US political discourse. In opposition to the ruling elite’s propagandistic obscuration of fascism, we need to theorize it from a Marxist perspective which allows us to use it for revolutionary, tactical purposes.
In his book Blood in my eye, the Black Panther party leader George Jackson wrote:
One has to understand that the fascist arrangement tolerates the existence of no valid revolutionary activity. It has programmed into its very nature a massive, complex and automatic defense mechanism for all our old methods for raising the consciousness of a potentially revolutionary class of people. The essence of the U.S.A. totalitarian socio-political capitalism is, concealed behind the illusion of a mass participatory society. We must rip away its mask. Then the debate can end, and we can enter a new phase of struggle.
From the above quotation, we can understand the structural nature of fascism in America. Instead of being confined to a right-wing faction of the political elites, fascism represents a superstructural tendency of capitalism, which helps the bourgeoisie to overcome the resistance of various social forces. Democrats and Republicans utilize these fascist tendencies in varying degrees to perpetuate the unending brutality inflicted on revolutionary forces through methods such as mass warehousing, repression and racist policing.
While Democrats and Republicans are firmly situated within a fascist framework, they are not wholly identical. While the former utilizes fascist tactics in an unobtrusive manner, the latter amplifies and foregrounds it as a central strategy. If the Democrats reproduce a dual system of political subjects – one group with “rights” and another consigned to zones of non-being – Republicans politically intensify it. Under Republicans, marginalization of those traditionally ghettoized by the former nominally “liberal” state is noticeably extended, giving a “visible” and “spectacular” character to the silent, structural violence of Democrats’ governmental apparatus.
While it is certainly true, from a tactical organizing perspective, that dealing with the histrionics of the good cop [Democrats] is usually far preferable to the barefaced barbarism of the bad cop [Republicans], it is strategically of the upmost importance to identify them for what they are: partners in capitalist crime.
Thus, it is not the case that Democrats signify a radical break from the fascism of Republicans. Rather, both are concrete embodiments of a single phenomenon: fascism.
Whereas, the liberalism of the Democrats bases its administrative operations on an officially unannounced state of emergency (fascism) for dissident forces, the authoritarianism of the Republicans merely does the task of proclaiming aloud that state of emergency. Trump, for example, did nothing more than the aggressive declaration of a preexisting fascist formation through the creation of alliances with different social sectors — neo-confederates, declassed lumpenproletariat, socio-economically destabilized petty bourgeois and a historically privileged segment of white proletariat facing the specter of downward mobility.
Glen Ford, executive editor of Black Agenda Report, writes, “the corporate Democrats… are the most dangerous because so few people conceive of them as fascists, despite their abject subservience to corporate dictatorship, the carceral state, and endless warfare.” With the election of Biden, the “inconspicuous” fascism of Democrats has re-gained power, promising to return America back to its “natural” conditions of dehumanization: low-intensity, oligarchy-controlled democracy for whites; guns, prisons, murder and war for blacks. In a situation like this, it is of utmost importance that we comprehend the true nature of fascism in America.