Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Albert Woodfox Is STILL Locked Down

Well, Faithful Readers, it's the 27th again and time to post on human rights. This month, I'm being reminded that the saga of Alfred Woodfox and the Angola 3 continues. Sigh.

Despite the fact that Woodfox' conviction was finally overturned last July (after more than thirty years in solitary confinement for a crime he didn't commit), the State of Louisiana is appealing (why am I not surprised?). Further, while he waits for his new trial, Woodfox (get this now) remains in solitary confinement...?!? There is a Facebook site and those folks are calling for supporters to spread the word about Woodfox and keep the pressure on about Wallace.

It's Albert Woodfox' birthday February 19th. I'mahna buy a t-shirt that says "I'm Albert Woodfox" to wear and send Woodfox a photo of myself wearing it. How about you?

Albert Woodfox
CCR, Lower A-13
Louisiana State Penitentiary
Angola, LA 70712 *

Herman Wallace
Elaine Hunt Correctional Center
Unit 5, E-Tier
PO Box 174
St Gabriel, LA 70776 *
SAME DAY UPDATE: After I suggested this afternoon to the student organization I advise that we could have a birthday party for Albert Woodfox, one of the students sent me a link to this article posted today at the online version of Monthly Review. It's about Albert Woodfox and his co-defendants and the systematic practice of torture at Angola Penitentiary. My God. How do any of us sleep?
* These addresses have been updated, though they were different when this post was originally written.

History Lessons

If you've never been turned onto This Week in History, you might want to check it out. I learn plenty. For example, this week I learned that on this day in 1847:

"Several hundred citizens of Marshall, Michigan, helped former slaves escape to Canada rather than be returned to their 'owner' by bounty hunters. Adam Crosswhite and his family, escaped Kentucky slaves, were tracked to the abolitionist town of Marshall by Francis Troutman and others. Both black and white residents detained the bounty hunters and threatened them with tar and feathers. While Troutman was being charged with assault and fined $100, the Crosswhites fled to Canada. Back in Kentucky, the slaveowner stirred up intense excitement about 'abolitionist mobs' in Michigan."

I also learned that on this day in 1969:

"In Detroit, African-American auto workers, known as the Eldon Avenue Axle Plant Revolutionary Union Movement, led a wildcat strike against racist practices and poor working conditions at the Chrysler plant.

"Since the 1967 Detroit riots, black workers had organized groups in several Detroit auto plants critical of both the auto companies and the United Auto Workers union leadership. These groups combined Black-Power nationalism and workplace militancy, and temporarily shut down more than a dozen inner-city plants. The most well-known of these groups was the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement, or DRUM. They criticized both the seniority system and grievance procedures as racist. Veterans of this movement went on to lead many of the same local unions."

See what I mean?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Leonard Peltier Beaten In Prison

I just received the following email. If you don't know Leonard Peltier's story, now's the time to learn about this Native American man who has been imprisoned for decades for a crime even the FBI admits he did not commit. They claim they don't have to release him because he was originally convicted. Now they are apparently trying to kill him before he can be released on parole. Please pass the word and do what you can.

Dear Leonard Peltier Supporters,

I am so OUTRAGED! My brother Leonard was severely beaten upon his arrival at the Canaan Federal Penitentiary. When he went into population after his transfer, some inmates assaulted him. The severity of his injuries is that he suffered numerous blows to his head and body, receiving a large bump on his head, possibly a concussion, and numerous bruises. Also, one of his fingers is swollen and discolored and he has pain in his chest and ribcage. There was blood everywhere from his injuries.

We feel that prison authorities at the prompting of the FBI orchestrated this attack and thus, we are greatly concerned about his safety. It may be that the attackers, whom Leonard did not even know,were offered reduced sentences for carrying out this heinous assault. Since Leonard is up for parole soon, this could be a conspiracy to discredit a model prisoner. He was placed in solitary confinement and only given one meal, this is generally done when you won't name your attackers; incidentally being only given one meal seriously jeopardizes his health because of his diabetes.

Prison officials refuse to release any info to the family, but they need to hear from his supporters to protect his safety, as does President Obama. His attorneys are trying to get calls into him now. This attack on LP comes on the heels of the FBI's recent letter, prompting this attack by FBI supporters as an attempt to discredit LPas a model prisoner. Anyone who has been in the prison system knows well that if you refuse to name your attackers or file charges against them, then you lose your status as a victim and/or are given points against your possible parole and labeled as a perpetrator.

It is not uncommon, in fact is quite common, for the government to use Indian against Indian and they still operate under the old adage "it takes an Indian to catch an Indian." In 1978, they made an attempt to assassinate him through another Indian man who was also at Marion prison with LP. But Standing Deer chose to reveal the plot to him instead of taking his life in exchange FOR A CHANCE AT FREEDOM. When Standing Deer was released in 2001, he joined the former Leonard Peltier Defense Committee as a board member. He also began to speak on Leonard's behalf until his murder six years ago today. Prior to his murder, Standing Deer confided with close friends and associates that the same man who visited him in Marion to assassinate Peltier, had came to Houston, TX and told him that he had better stay away from Peltier and anything to do with him.

We are aware that currently, the FBI is actively seeking support for his continued imprisonment and also seeking support from Native People. So please be aware, and keep Leonard in your prayers.

The FBI is apparently afraid of the impact we are having. If they will set him up to blemish his record just before a parole hearing, what will they do when it looks like his freedom will become a reality? We need to make sure that nothing happens to him again!

Please write, call, or email President Obama, urging him to grant clemency to Leonard before it is too late. Call or write your congressional representatives. Do what you can to get the word out to insure that LP is receiving adequate medical attention for his injuries. Also call Canaan Federal Prison at 570-488-8000 and request that Leonard be treated with dignity and respect. I am asking you, supporters of Leonard and advocates of justice, to help. I don't know what else to do. Please Help! Thank you.

Betty Peltier
Solano Executive Coordinator
Leonard Peltier Defense Offense Committee


Warden Ronnie R. Holt, Warden
U.S. Penitentiary
3057 Easton Turnpike
Waymart, PA 18472
Phone: 570-488-8000 Fax: 570-488-8130
E-mail address: caa/execassistant(at)bop.gov

D. Scott Dodrill, Director
Northeast Regional Office
Federal Bureau of Prisons
2nd & Chesnut Streets., 7th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: 215-521-7301
E-mail: nero/execassistant(at)bop.gov

Harley G. Lappin, Director
Bureau of Prisons
U.S. Department of Justice
320 First Street, NW, Room 654
Washington, DC 20534
Phone: 202-307-3250 Fax: 202-514-6878

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Comments: 202-456-1111 Switchboard: 202-456-1414 FAX: 202-456-2461

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Is Open Season Ever Going To Close?

I've been busy of late. Brought several major projects to fruition -- finally. Have done rather more socializing than is typical for me. Have a fifty-pound dog now named VooDoo who absolutely DEMANDS to be cuddled and played with (he's not a baby, he just acts like one). And, of course, I'm hard on the process of preparing for the new semester's classes. But all this isn't why I've been silent on the killings in New Orleans and Oakland this past two weeks. I just don't know what to say.

I'm horrified. I'm anguished. And I'm disgusted. I've seen these kind of incidents over and over all my life and increasing, it seems to me, as times goes on and I'm just out of angles to discuss them.

I mean, WTF?!!

Two more young African-American men lie in their graves. Families huddle together, heartbroken. But no one has been arrested. And authorities are talking about making a "complete" investigation. Not really investigating yet, you understand, from what I can tell. Just talking about investigating.

What's to investigate?

In New Orleans, 22-year-old Adolph Grimes III, having just arrived from Houston to celebrate New Year's Eve with his family, a man with no record, with a good job, and with a fiancee and 17-month-old son, was shot a total of fourteen times -- twelve in the back -- by nine (count 'em, nine!) "plain clothes" police officers at 3:00 a.m. that morning after discovering Grimes commiting the heinous crime of waiting in his car for his cousin. The police say Grimes shot first. Unfortunately, Grimes can't say. My question is, for starters, did they shoot Grimes in the back FIRST and then roll him over and shoot into his dead body two more times just on general principle or did they shoot him twice from in front and then gun him down in cold blood as a group while he was running for his life?

In Oakland, California, only a few hours later, another 22-year-old man, Oscar Grant, was detained and forced onto his face on the floor (for whatever reason) in a Bay Area Rapid Transit station, and then, while one BART cop held him down with his knee, Grant was summarily -- almost casually -- shot in the back at close range by another BART cop in full view of multiple witnesses, a number of which filmed the incident. Almost instantly, the media started positing excuses for the killer ("maybe he thought he grabbed his taser") and indictments of the victim ("Grant appears to have had a record"). What either of those two ideas has to do with the fact that one man has killed and another is dead is entirely unclear to me, but such excuses and indictments ALWAYS form the litany of responses to situations like this one. ALWAYS.

What bothers me most, though, is that when protesters in Oakland aggressively went to the streets eight days later, primarily because of the usual under-the-rug-sweeping process, all I heard on the news was how awful and inexcusable and wrong that was. "It's NEVER right to use violence!" declared one radio announcer on PBS before I hit a different button not to hear any more. While the man who killed Oscar Grant has been charged with nothing to date, dozens of the protesters were arrested and at least three charged for crimes against property. Does there seem to be a disconnect here somewhere?

Where is the media outrage at the senseless deaths of two young men, only the last two in a long, long line of such deaths of similar men? In fact, why aren't we ALL in the streets over this? If a young White man was shot to death by the police under specious circumstances every few weeks somewhere in this country, there would be noise (although, obviously, this is a meaningless analogy since this would never happen in the first place in a nation operating under the paradigm of White Supremacy).

When Ida B. Wells, forced this nation to face its culpability in the use of lynching as a means to oppress African-Americans, the Ku Klux Klan, apparently, just joined the police force, where it would be legal to do the same thing. Admittedly, a more or less clean kill doesn't have the extra drama (and satisfaction?) of a full-tilt boogie lynching, but it's just as effective as a means of social control and intimidation. And you don't have to hide your uniform in a closet or wear a hood either.

George Ciccariello Maher's Znet piece on the uprising in Oakland is the best thing I've read yet on this on-going outrage. But just writing about it isn't enough for me any more. And I don't know what to do. Jonathan Adams suggests calling the Bay Area Transit Authority and I do believe in speaking truth to power, but it just doesn't feel like enough for me any more.

The first open forum the student organization I advise is co-sponsoring this semester is on police brutality. I'm almost afraid to go for fear I'll wind up saying something that could cost me my job. And that's what I like least about institutionalized oppression. It doesn't just work on the targets. It works on us all. When will we finally get that and respond accordingly?

UPDATE: Even though Johananes Mehserle has now been charged with murder for the killing of Oscar Grant, Color of Change is reminding us not to ease up on the pressure. The usual game plan is for the authorities to do only what they feel they absolutely have to do and only for as long as they have to do it. If they can string it out long enough, we get distracted, quiet down, and the matter "goes away." Color of Change writes:

"In 14 years as Alameda County District Attorney, Tom Orloff had never before charged a police officer for an on-duty shooting. And when asked, several legal experts were unable to come up with any examples of officer-involved shootings becoming murder cases in California...He said that 'because of the intense public interest I think more resources were put into wrapping this up than would be put in in other situations.' Orloff...poured investigative resources into this case that his record tells us he never would have otherwise. We need to keep the pressure on Tom Orloff to make sure he keeps devoting time and energy to Mehserle's prosecution."
The poster featured above is available from the Northland Poster Collective.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

DREAM Act Action Now

More than a year ago now, some of us were talking about the DREAM Act and its ultimate dismissal by the Bush administration et al. But the DREAM Act is not dead, nor are its proponents. I received the following communication yesterday and have decided that it's too well done to pretend that I could do it any better. So, with minor modifications, let me introduce Maria M.:


"My name is Maria and I am a DREAM Act beneficiary. I arrived in this country at the young age of 12, with my parents, from Peru. I am now 21 years old and undocumented. I have grown up in the United States and consider this country my only home. If sent back to Peru, I would be banned from the U.S. for 10 years and the chances of coming back are slim to none. I graduated from high school in 2004 and since then, it has been difficult for me to continue my education as a result of my status. The DREAM Act would help me, and students in my situation, realize our dreams of becoming active members of society by allowing us to attend school or join the military.

"Currently, there is an active project on Change.org, a website that will present the top 10 ideas it generates to the Obama administration upon its inauguration. DreamACTivist.org has presented the idea "Pass the DREAM Act Now" and it has gathered enough support to make it to the second round.

"Starting January 5th, the voting polls will re-open for the second round. We will have only 10 days to gather as many votes and as much support as possible in order to become one of the top 10 ideas that will be presented to the Obama administration. Please help us achieve our goal and consider voting for the other immigration ideas that made it to the second round, as well, since they also need your support. This project is of extreme importance and your prompt participation is greatly appreciated.

"In addition, DreamACTivist and the United We DREAM Coalition will be launching a website on January 21 that will become a 65,000-name petition drive for the DREAM Act, signifying the 65,000 undocumented students that would benefit from this act each year. Please visit this site for more information and consider joining our efforts to make the DREAM Act a reality in 2009.

"In solidarity,

Maria M.
Co-Founder of DreamACTivist.org"

Thursday, January 01, 2009

A Bright New Year

So here we are, alone once more and at last. I am returned from New York City, where I heard Handel's Messiah at Carnegie Hall, visited the Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side, and discovered that my daughter's new Significant Other has this blog bookmarked on whatever it is he carries around with him (clever man!). I've traded the emergency furniture I lived with for so long for a lovely assortment of newer old furniture at a Furniture Exchange. I returned to find the latest edition of a rather fine African-American topics magazine in which I have not one, but TWO articles published. And I have somehow (I swear this is unclear to me) wound up the new best friend of a rather large brindle mutt I rescued yesterday afternoon from the local shelter only a few days short of a day he was not looking forward to and who will, I'm sure, answer to his name as soon as he has one. ("Anonymous" has been suggested. "Charlie" suits, but I date a man named Charles off and on. And "Buddy" came to mind, but that's SO plebian.) So, I'm feeling rooted and solid and happy and strong and ready, I guess, for what comes next (I write "I guess" because how does one ever know?).

Anyway, it is a new year. A year a new beginnings, we hope. A year of challenges, we suspect. What will I remember -- looking back -- about last year? That I was diagnosed diabetic (sigh) and threw myself into such a rigorous regimen, I lost nearly a third of my body weight, becoming a slender shadow of my former self, so close to the designation of "underweight" on the BMI scale, I've been ordered to stop losing (?!). That I was offered and accepted a permanent full-time Instructor position at a public university in a part of the country that originally scared the be-jezzus out of me. That I watched a cadre of younger folks catch my fire on that campus and organize themselves to implement social change in every imaginable direction and with great heart. That I was elected Third Vice President of a branch of the NAACP that is hunkered down against the forces of evil in that same location, having reawakened the dogs of war on segregation after fifty years of waiting for change. That Barack Obama, a dazzlingly bright and doggedly determined man of color was somehow inexplicably elected President of the United States, a nation increasingly recognized around the world for it's unapologetic commitment to the paradigm of White Supremacy. A busy year, indeed, laying much groundwork for an interesting one to come.

I've ordered my Amnesty International wall calendar for my office and my Women Artists datebook from the Syracuse Cultural Workers Collective. I've committed to make a presentation next week to a group of nearly one hundred mostly Black high school football players about how to prepare for and make it in college. I've committed to meet with the new Gay-Straight Alliance group on campus before classes begin. And I am ready for the games to begin.

So, as we say good morning to a New Era of commitment to change, I salute you, my Faithful Readers. I trust you, too, are shaking off the disappointments of the past, facing your personal realities with unabashed courage, looking squarely in the face of whatever you see that needs changing in this world and "jumping at the sun," as Zora Neale Hurston once said. Let's boogie on out and do it!

The poster featured above is by Ricardo Levins Morales and is available from Northland Poster Collective.