Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Angola 3 Member Albert Woodfox Freed!

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

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

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

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Beyond A Shadow Of A Doubt

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

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

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

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Frontline: Law and Disorder in New Orleans

On September 2, 2005, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, former New Orleans Police Officer David Warren shot Henry Glover, a 31-year-old Black resident of the Algiers neighborhood, in the chest with an assault rifle. Warren, a rookie at the time, later claimed that he believed Glover was armed and attempting to rush him when he fired the fatal rounds. But that wasn't the end of the story.

As you can see from the Frontline video above, in the out-of-control hubbub after Katrina, NOPD officers' behaviors were reported to federal authorities by members of other law enforcement bodies and this particular story was only one that was eventually brought into the light of day. Nevertheless, no LEOs are currently serving time for this homicide, despite the fact that it was proven that the crime and cover up involved the department at least as high as Deputy Chief Marlon Defillo.

Monday, April 11, 2016

More Police On Policing

The last couple of posts have featured former police officers who have come forward as individuals to describe policing practices and policies that are immoral, illegal, and destructive to community life for Black Americans. Today, I'm adding a short video presenting a story about a dozen current NYPD officers of color who are actually suing the NYPD for demanding that officers harass and arrest citizens in minority communities to meet arrest quotas.

Whether quotas are about politics or about money (or both), they are certainly part of the process to rationalize and justify White Supremacy as a cultural norm. I'm assuming that these brave men and women cannot legally be fired while they are suing, but they're unquestionably under incredible duress for doing so and literally putting their lives on the line to fight this battle. This step on their parts creates a visible alliance between the community and the police and is a necessary (and important) connection on the road to social change.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Reddit Hudson: A Black Ex-Cop Weighs In

Re-posted from the original publication at

On any given day, in any police department in the nation, 15 percent of officers will do the right thing no matter what is happening. Fifteen percent of officers will abuse their authority at every opportunity. The remaining 70 percent could go either way depending on whom they are working with.

That's a theory from my friend K.L. Williams, who has trained thousands of officers around the country in use of force. Based on what I experienced as a black man serving in the St. Louis Police Department for five years, I agree with him. I worked with men and women who became cops for all the right reasons — they really wanted to help make their communities better. And I worked with people like the president of my police academy class, who sent out an email after President Obama won the 2008 election that included the statement, "I can't believe I live in a country full of ni**er lovers!!!!!!!!" He patrolled the streets in St. Louis in a number of black communities with the authority to act under the color of law.

That remaining 70 percent of officers are highly susceptible to the culture in a given department. In the absence of any real effort to challenge department cultures, they become part of the problem. If their command ranks are racist or allow institutional racism to persist, or if a number of officers in their department are racist, they may end up doing terrible things.

It is not only white officers who abuse their authority. The effect of institutional racism is such that no matter what color the officer abusing the citizen is, in the vast majority of those cases of abuse that citizen will be black or brown. That is what is allowed.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

A Former Baltimore Police Officer Tells It All

If you haven't seen this video of Joe Rogan interviewing ex-Baltimore cop Michael Wood, who got famous last year hitting Twitter with stories he'd already been telling for years about what the police actually do, you're not going to believe it. I'm still stunned and I've now watched it multiple times.

In another interview, Wood says simply, "The only person that was surprised by what I said was everybody who doesn't live in the 'hood. Everybody that lives in the 'hood just said, 'Oh look, a cop just admitted it.' But everybody else said, 'Oh my gosh! That stuff really happens?' Of course, it happens. Did you think the Black community was lying for the last one hundred years?"

In other news about Michael Wood, word has it that he's thrown his hat in the ring to be Police Chief of Chicago. This idea will be much more meaningful once you listen to the interview.

It is imperative to clearly acknowledge the fact that the prisons are full because of the way law "enforcement" is carried out and precisely who it is carried out upon. This post and the next few are to make that point. We often treat what the police do and the so-called "correctional" system as if they were separate issues. They are not. It is the police that march people to jail. And when they make what they do so obviously brutal and White Supremacist in nature, the result is that we have more people locked up than any other country in the world with a disproportionate number of the prisoners being Black, Latino, and Native American. Rogan and Wood can laugh. But nothing about this is funny.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

"Slavery By Another Name"

In 2008, Douglas Blackmon, who was at the time the Atlanta, Georgia, Bureau Chief for the Wall Street Journal, became famous for writing Slavery By Another Name: The Re-enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II, a book that describes in great detail exactly how the peculiar institution of slavery morphed into the practice of locking up Black men in America with fairly reckless abandon. It shocked a lot of people, but it was indisputable, which was why a book about such a topic could win the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction.

Four years later, the book was turned into a 90-minute film by the same name. Though a film cannot possibly cover all the material that is in the book, I thought it would be a good next step in our symposium about the business of incarceration in the United States.