Our Palestine statement draws on history of Black internationalism, says organizer

From Electronic Intifada:

Black liberation movements in the US have increasingly been making connections with Palestine. (Mikasi/Flickr)

Black liberation movements in the US have increasingly been making connections with Palestine. (Mikasi/Flickr)

Kristian Davis Bailey is a Detroit-based writer and organizer who recently put together the “Black for Palestine” statement. More than 1,100 Black scholars, activists, students, artists and organizations have signed on, including Angela Davis, Cornel West, Talib Kweli, political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal and others.

The statement lays out a framework for Black solidarity with Palestinian liberation and calls for exploring the connections between Palestinian and Black liberation as well as the oppressive linkages between the United States and Israel. The statement calls for support of boycott, divestment and sanctions efforts against Israel and calls attention to Israel’s oppression of African-descended populations in Palestine.

Davis Bailey has written for Ebony, Mondoweiss, Truth-Out and elsewhere. I caught up with him to find out more about “Black for Palestine” and the opportunities and challenges it presents.

Jimmy Johnson: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today. Please introduce yourself.

Kristian Davis Bailey: My name is Kristian Davis Bailey and I’m one of the co-organizers of the “Black For Palestine” statement. I’m currently a freelance writer based in Detroit.

JJ: Where were you before Detroit and what were you doing?

KDB: Before Detroit I was a student at Stanford where I was involved with Students for Justice in Palestine at the campus level, across California and nationally.

JJ: Can you tell me a bit about the “Black For Palestine” statement and the process of creating it?

KDB: The statement emerged out of two separate statements that I and my co-organizer Khury Petersen-Smith had organized last summer during the height of the assault on Gaza. We’d each found ourselves unable to publish our statements while the media would pick it up so we figured that this year we would combine our efforts to write a statement on the anniversary of the assault on Gaza which wound up being much bigger than what each of us had organized the summer before.

It is worth noting that some of the key signatories this year had also signed last year. The Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis had signed on to last year’s statement before Mike Brown was killed and connections were being made to Palestine. Hopefully we’ll publish those earlier statements soon.

JJ: You bring up a good connection with the Organization for Black Struggle because the release of this statement is not only the anniversary of the attack on Gaza but also something going on in the US. Can you make that connection? Both your intentions around the timing of the release, as well as the connections you see there.

KDB: It was really important for us to note that the statement emerged out of the past year of solidarity between the Black and Palestinian struggles, specifically: connections people were making on the ground in Ferguson to Palestine. I think none of the developments in the past year would have happened if people on the ground hadn’t themselves started to organically connect what they were witnessing in terms of military vehicles in their communities, being tear-gassed and shot at during protests, if they hadn’t connected those things to what they were seeing in Palestine and if Palestinian organizers hadn’t reached out in solidarity to the people in Ferguson.

What the statement represents is how firm of a connection there is for organizers in St. Louis with the Palestinian struggle. It’s not just a slogan we’ve used at protests but something that people facing the brunt of repression and doing the majority of the organizing on the ground have decided to be a part of themselves. I think that’s why St. Louis is the most represented city on the statement in terms of organizational signatories.

JJ: It sounds kind of like the development and the recruitment of the signatories is really based in joint work that’s being done together.

KDB: Right. Most of the people who signed the statement, whether they’re individuals or organizations, have been actively engaging with Palestine well before the last year. There were a lot of old school organizers who have been doing this solidarity work since the ’60s and ’70s that signed on, in addition to groups like the Dream Defenders which over the past few years have started to engage more with the Palestinian issue. So, I forget what your question is but my answer is “yes” [laughter].

JJ: A Kenyan author named Mukoma Wa Ngugi gave a presentation a few years back at Wayne State here in Detroit and he was talking specifically about relations between African migrants and Black Americans and he talked about the way that white supremacy forms a veil that literally colors the relationships between these two groups but also between all groups, although the details are different for any two groups.

And one of the things he mentioned was that the only way to get past this is to put in work together to supersede and subvert this veil that colors the relationships between, for example, Black folks and Palestinians, Black folks and Arab folks. That sounds a little bit like what’s going on.

KDB: Again I’ll focus on St. Louis because that’s a story I know a little bit about. The solidarity organizing between the Organization for Black Struggle and the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee has been going on for at least three or four years. The two groups both worked together to oppose Veolia being given a contract to privatize the city’s water, both recognizing what Veolia was doing in occupied Palestine and for the danger it presented to the people in St. Louis.

The Organization for Black Struggle was also crucial in a cultural boycott action. I don’t know how many years ago it was but it was Organization for Black Struggle organizers who said, “We will pull out of this event unless these artists are disinvited.” That was the work of very principled solidarity on the part of the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee.

At the same time you have a Palestinian member of the solidarity committee whose father is a shop owner in a predominantly Black part of St. Louis and what he had been working on was to take all of the hard liquor out of his store after he was realizing the impact it was having on the Black community in St. Louis. He also set up a couple of initiatives to contribute some of the profits from his shop to local organizing efforts in the community.

I wanted to offer that as a real solid example of what Palestinian solidarity in the US, or not even solidarity but direct action against anti-Blackness looks like, and that’s an example of some of the principled actions and alliances that preceded the Ferguson-Palestine connection and solidarity.

JJ: This isn’t the first statement of Black solidarity with Palestine. Can you contextualize this action a bit in the internationalism of the radical Black tradition?

KDB: Definitely. So Black support for Palestine comes out of the tradition of Black internationalism within the radical segment of our liberation struggle. Malcolm X was talking about the dangers of Zionism in the 1960s. The Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee released its statement at the same time the Black Panther Party was training with the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] in Algeria.

In 1970 you had a group of prominent Black activists or scholars take out a New York Times ad supporting Palestinian liberation from Zionism and some of those signatories also signed our statement today in 2015. So there is a rich tradition of Black solidarity with international struggles broadly, and specifically with Palestine. I definitely contextualize this statement within that broader history of Black internationalism.

JJ: What would you say is the purpose of releasing this statement beyond a symbolic declaration of solidarity?

KDB: There are a couple of things. There is the suggestion that both Black and Palestinian people, and people around the world that support us, can join very targeted campaigns against companies that profit from the oppression of both groups, such as G4S and Veolia. Beyond that one of my individual hopes as an organizer is that this represents the current chapter of the Black liberation movement getting involved in the international arena once again to the degree that we were in the ’60s and ’70s. Because I think a lot of that momentum and a lot of those alliances were very intentionally targeted or repressed in the ’80s up through today even.

JJ: Some of the work being done to reignite alliances that were built between radical groups in the 1960s and ’70s, we’ve seen some attempts of that where there is a flattening effect. For example non-Black people of color using a people of color paradigm and erasing the specificities of anti-Blackness. Can you talk a little bit about the opportunities presented by “Black For Palestine” to engage not only Palestinian liberation but the specificity of anti-Blackness in solidarity?

KDB: Definitely. I’m glad you raised that because one of the points of reference I organize from is the understanding that white supremacy affects different groups in different ways here in the United States. So the anti-Black racism and the anti-Blackness that we experience and live under is of a distinct nature from the anti-indigenous or genocidal policies that indigenous folks here have experienced, is distinct from the experiences of non-Black, non-indigenous immigrants to this country.

A lot of times what happens is the differences between these groups are flattened out where we say “people of color” and we talk about how people of color are oppressed under white supremacy without acknowledging the power dynamics that are at play between our communities — so without acknowledging that every non-Black ethnic group or immigrant group in the United States is complicit in anti-Blackness or anti-Black racism.

One of the things that I hope comes up in discussions is a very critical examination of the ways that Palestinians — or just non-Black people in the United States — participate in anti-Blackness. So that for me represents a difference between joint struggle and maybe solidarity, where under joint struggle we acknowledge the different relations in terms of power between our communities and how that impacts how we relate to each other and how we organize.

So I think there’s a lot of room coming out of this statement for folks to organize around Arab anti-Black racism or for Palestine supporters who aren’t Arab to organize against their own anti-Blackness or their position as settlers in a settler colonial society.

JJ: One thing that stands out among many parts of the “Black For Palestine” statement is the phrasing that “Israel’s widespread use of detention and imprisonment against Palestinians evokes the mass incarceration of Black people in the US, including the political imprisonment of our own revolutionaries.” So can you expand upon this idea of the colonial, carceral state?

KDB: Sure. The first thing I want to talk about is how incredibly powerful of an experience and expression it was to have 10 currently incarcerated political prisoners respond to our call for signatures and sign the statement from behind bars. Their participation in our statement highlights the fact that they’re also a population whose liberation from the prison-industrial complex we need to be fighting for.

Also they represent the internationalism and revolutionary spirit that was intentionally targeted and killed from the 1980s onward. So their participation and inclusion in this statement is a link back to that era, specifically Mumia Abu-Jamal and Sundiata Acoli. Beyond that one of the things I’m thinking of about that line on mass incarceration is the need to abolish prisons.

There is different rhetoric around prisons in Palestine and here in the US but I do think they’re similar enough in the sense that we often don’t think of people arrested for drug crimes in the US as political prisoners but they are imprisoned under a very intentional political system that discriminates against them across every point of the so-called justice system.

The need to criminalize the existence or resistance of populations under settler colonialism leads to mass or hyper incarceration both in the United States and in Palestine and that prison abolition in that context is something we need to center.

JJ: What can Palestinian and Black people learn from each other?

KBD: From Palestinians we learn the importance of struggling for self-determination — a right that Black people in the US have never experienced, from our ancestor’s forcible kidnapping to this continent and the end of the Civil War through today. This is a right that Palestinians refuse to let go of through their sumoud, or steadfastness — and it is a right that Black people must claim as well.

The Black for Palestine statement highlighted the right of return as the most important aspect of justice for Palestinians because it cuts to the core of the “conflict” and is dismissed by Zionists and the US as “unrealistic.” For Palestinians to cling to and achieve the most “impossible” of their calls would be a boon to us, as we still fight for the “unrealistic” demands of reparations for our ancestors’ free and forced labor, or the abolition of prisons and the police.

The call for boycott, divestment and sanctions also models what it might look like for Black people in the US, across our varying political ideologies, to present basic criteria for us to exercise our own right to self-determination and to present basic actions people around the world can take to help us actualize our self-determination.

Our post-civil rights condition and the post-apartheid South African condition drive home the necessity for Palestinians to demand economic restructuring and safeguards both against decades of disinvestment and against neoliberal forces within the Palestinian political class. Full justice for Palestinians makes the case stronger for our own organizing in the US; full justice for Black Americans or South Africans makes the case stronger for Palestinians. I see each of these struggles as my own, because a victory for one group is a victory for us all. That is what motivates my work on this issue.

JJ: What kind of opportunities do you think “Black For Palestine” opens up for organizational solidarity with Black people in Palestine, be those articulated to the Israeli settler society or native Black Palestinians?

KDB: I think it opens up a lot of opportunities. One idea that has already come up as a result of the statement is bringing a delegation of African Palestinians here to the US so organizers can engage with them because too often they’re a population that gets erased from the narratives about Palestine within our own movement spaces here in the United States. And I know that there is already ongoing efforts between groups like the Dream Defenders and Black Youth Project 100 to connect Black and Brown people in the United States with the different African populations in historic Palestine, whether that is Ethiopian Israelis, Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers or African Palestinians.

This work is already happening so I think the statement is just another step for potential organizing between Africans in historic Palestine and Black people in the US.

If You Love the Planet but Hate the Prisons…

From Earth First! Newswire:

Support Organizing at the Intersection of Mass Incarceration and Ecological Destruction

by Panagioti / Prison Ecology Project

The Prison Ecology Project is currently raising funds to create activist tools for dismantling toxic prisons.  Your contributions will provide needed start-up funds for on-the-ground work to bridge the gap between criminal justice reform, prison abolition and the environmental movement. 

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The prison industry has a long history of ecological violence. Rikers Island prison in New York City was literally built on a trash heap, and evidence suggests a high incidence of cancer among guards and prisoners. In California and Texas prisoners have little recourse but to drink arsenic-laced water. In Alabama, an overpopulated prison habitually dumps sewage into a river where people fish and swim. In Kentucky, construction of a new prison is poised to clear 700 acres of endangered species habitat. Stories like these are too common. The issues impact millions of people in and around prisons across the US but are largely ignored.

The Prison Ecology Project is uncovering these abuses and building a clearinghouse of data you can use to fight toxic prisons in your community.

We are a project of the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), a national non-profit that advocates for protecting the human rights of people held in U.S. detention facilities, including their access to communications from outside sources. For 25 years, HRDC has published Prison Legal News, a monthly publication with subscribers in all 50 states and internationally. HRDC engages in litigation, conducts media and educational campaigns, provides testimony before legislative and regulatory bodies, and also does significant work around government transparency and accountability issues. Read more about HRDC’s history, staff, and extensive work on its website.

What We Need & What You Get

We are raising $15,000 to boost our research and data analysis work in this chronically understudied area, and to keep pressure on an industry notorious for its lack of transparency.

If we meet our stretch goal of $25,000, your donations will also fund our organizing work to halt the construction of new prisons. Our first target? A federal prison planned for Letcher County, Kentucky whose construction would demolish 700 acres of endangered species habitat in Appalachia while imprisoning people hundreds of miles from their families. If we raise these funds, we will plan an organizing tour across the southeast to mobilize against the permitting of this prison.

We are offering special gifts to our backers! Check out our list of perks available as thanks for contributions. You can find out more about the perks in our gallery.

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The Impact

Prison Ecology Project is building a database of the five thousand prisons and jails around the country, finding the weak points in the environmental realm, and providing tools to organize locally.

Incarcerated people are one of the most vulnerable and uniquely over-burdened demographics in our nation. Prisons have become a big business. One fourth of the world’s prisoners are locked up in the US, where the the number of prisons has shot up by 500% in the last thirty years. Almost all of the prison population is low-income, and people of color are disproportionately represented by wide margins in every state.

Most people whose lives have been impacted by the criminal justice system have not engaged with the environmental movement up to the present time. The Prison Ecology Project creates an entryway for them, as we are able to illustrate that the environmental toll of building and operating prisons indicates yet another reason to massively reduce the nation’s prison populations and send people back to their families. Thus, an additional result of the project: the growth of the environmental movement.

Risks & Challenges

The prison industry is entrenched in US government and society, but is not untouchable. The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) already succeeded in wielding large scale influence in the regulatory arena through the Prison Phone Justice Campaign, which zeroed in on price gouging by telecom companies in collusion with prisons and jails. Its data collection and analysis were central to getting the FCC to reduce inflated prison phone rates and safeguard the lifeline between the incarcerated and their loved ones. HRDC is also the publisher of Prison Legal News, which has exposed environmental problems and covered stories of whistleblower litigation in prisons for well over two decades. The Prison Ecology Project aims to build on this kind of success.

Other Ways You Can Help

Please spread the word! A crowdfunding campaign is as good as the crowd behind it. Use the Indiegogo social media tools. Tell your friends. Talk to your family. Share our campaign with your networks! Your efforts are key to our success.

Check out some news coverage of our efforts thus far:

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Please donate to help reach our funding goal. Become a part of this growing movement to end mass incarceration and defend the earth. Your money will go towards:

1.  Exposing

the prison system for poisoning incarcerated people and destroying the environment

2.  Organizing

to engage local communities and create new tools, including a national database of toxic prisons and prison pollution

3.  Fighting

The construction of new prisons that tear apart human communities and damage ecosystems

4.  Protecting

Wildlife, waterways and the habitat of endangered species, such as the Indiana bat threatened by a new federal prison in southern Appalachia

$15,000 will give us resources to move forward on these four fronts. Check here for more details.

[Spain] About comrade Gabriel Pombo Da Silva and maxi prisons

Translated by Act for freedom now!:

via:.lacavale.be

faltan-los-presos

A year has passed since comrade Gabriel Pombo Da Silva was transferred to the Topas penitentiary centre (Salamanca). He continues to resist the harsh experience of the deprivation of liberty (after already more than 30 years behind bars), but also various stratagems that the prison administration is continuing to come up with in the best of its interests and those commanding it.

Topas prison was created as part of the program of construction of about twenty maxi-prisons promulgated in the early 90s by the PSOE government of Felipe González.

At the same time, the left and socialist head of the AP, Antoni Asunción, introduced the internal directive governing the FIES regimes. So Topas prison has the characteristics of these new mass incarceration factories – in Spain, the number of imprisoned persons has doubled in 20 years, from roughly 35 000 – 70 000 between 1991 and 2011.

One of the criteria of this modernization consists of distancing prisons from urban centres, so Topas was built in the open countryside. This serves several purposes: to hide these wretched places as much as possible; further separate those imprisoned from their loved ones, forced to travel many kilometres for any visit – (?!) luck, unlike most other jails, Topas is located along a main road served by a bus route, a ‘luxury’ that avoids the collective punishment of expensive trips or forced marches.

The distance is also intended to reduce demonstrations of solidarity in neighbourhoods as they once existed, especially when there is movement inside the prison, and to make escapes extremely difficult.

This program of new prisons is therefore the response to the waves of struggles, riots and escapes that rocked Spanish prisons regularly from the 70s to the 90s. Bringing together different types of detention inside them (remand, central etc.), these are maximum security prisons, equipped with automatic doors, increasingly sophisticated computerized control systems and a multitude of high tech devices among other things.

The size and architecture of these prisons makes it possible to lock up over a thousand prisoners in each of them, while separating them according to the requirements and experimentation of the prison management. They are in fact divided into separate autonomous buildings each with their own exercise yard, visiting areas and canteen. Any kind of interaction between the different units is carefully avoided, and prisoners have little way of knowing what is happening in the rest of the prison, which reduces the possibilities of struggles or even riots. To prevent “dangerous combinations”, it is also very easy to move a prisoner from one building to another without the need for a transfer to another jail – even if dispersion remains an effective way to punish prisoners and their relatives. After 5 transfers since arriving in Spain, Gabriel for example has already been able to discover 5 different internal modules in Topas. This organization based both on massification and atomization contributes to continuing the dirty war by breaking bonds of solidarity or encouraging rivalries and entanglements in a context of emotional and economic misery. To add a layer to the hardship and the struggle for survival, the latest find to date in Topas has been to reduce visits to two a month, to be conducted only by family or a lawyer …

Parallel to this architectural model the modern concept of scientific treatment of prisoners is also being developed. Contemporary guinea pigs, they are classified according to a long list of regimes, degrees and phases. This cataloguing is extremely precise and is carried out by a whole range of specialists (so-called “technical teams” or “trucologues [trickalogues]” as Gabriel quips, who refuses to submit to their examinations: psychologists, sociologists, educators and other social workers … ) according to essentially behavioural and disciplinary criteria.

What carries the sweet name of “individualized treatment” amounts to scrutinizing the behaviour of each prisoner to establish their profile and the treatment to be applied to them. To put it bluntly, it is a question of hitting where it hurts – knowing that this bureaucracy is also critical for exit permits and conditional liberty. All this obviously goes towards constituting huge databases and tighter control.

Beyond the regular interrogations required by these battalions of experts, daily monitoring is ensured through various means: the system of ubiquitous cameras and incident reports distributed by the screws are unfortunately often supported by the effective control of fellow prisoners.

The so-called modules of “maximum respect” of so-called “life in common” are an extreme example of this co-management. The prisoners who enter them actually undertake to respect and ensure others’ respect not only of the prison rules, but a bonus code of conduct developed for the division itself. Under cover of assessment assemblies, they are actively involved in their own imprisonment and the reign of the equilibrium that tends to generalize, that is what rehabilitation means…

Of course, the whole system functions on the strategy of carrot and stick: rewards for those who show proof of their good will with regard to the prison administration in various ways, while the closed regimes, isolation and most FIES regimes are intended to punish “conflictual” prisoners and endorse the diagnosis or prognosis of social dangerousness.

FIES 3 awaited comrades Francisco and Mónica from the start of their incarceration. Gabriel, for his part, was put in FIES 5 while he was in A Lama, and this decision has already been renewed several times by the Topas administration. Noelia Cotelo, also considered a rebel, arrive at Topas in turn, where she was immediately put in solitary confinement. She is still in FIES 5. Among other special measures, it implies that all written and verbal communications are read, photocopied, listened to and recorded and can be censored based on criteria such as the vaguest “subversive content” or “endangering security or the proper functioning of the jail.” As it happens, for the comrade it is almost all the publications of an anarchist nature that are retained, even when they meet the mandatory selective criteria of having an ISBN number and mention of the printer. Hence her request not to send letters with this kind of post as they are totally denied. Her correspondence is also subject to the limitation of two letters to be sent per week, not counting delays or “unexplained” disappearances of letters, in order to silence and isolate her most likely.

The supervising judge of the region responded to the appeal sent by Gabriel by confirming his placement in FIES, with this sentence, that does not lack flavour: “It appears from the reports received and the content of the monitoring of calls made since he has been in this detention centre that he continues to carry out an anarchist and anti-system struggle against the regime and the institutions, encouraging his relatives and friends to fight.” This speaks volumes about what the State expects from the comrade: to renounce what he believes in and what he is; harassment and dirty games involving his release date (legal recourse is still ongoing) probably intended for this and obviously failed.

The functioning and function of prison reminds us yet again that it is a denser reflection of the society that produces and needs it. From the lowest to the highest levels, the wheels that maintain the institutions and the established order, need and demand the submission of the many. It’s about breaking individuals and eliminating possibilities of struggle. Consent can be bought with shots of good and bad points, crumbs, legal and illegal drugs or it can be snatched with the most direct violence, because all means are valid in the eyes of the powerful, democratic or not.

The “humanization” of prisons sold by power and media propaganda actually conceals the attempt at depersonalisation and total dispossession, just as their alleged “social peace” is merely a more or less covert war.

Outside as inside, it’s these gears that need to be broken, along with all the physical, technological and psychological chains. Only revolt and the struggle will finish with relations based on domination and satisfy our desires for freedom.

Down with the prison society, the State and all authority!

August 2015

anarchist solidarity

To write to the comrade:

Gabriel Pombo Da Silva
CP-Topas Salamanca
Ctra N-630, km 314
37799 Topas (Salamanca)
Spain

Mass Incarceration vs. Rural Appalachia

by Panagioti Tsolkas / Earth Island Journal

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A mountaintop removal mine in Wise County, Virginia. The federal Bureau of Prisons wants to build a prison over a similarly strip-mined parcel of land in neighboring Kentucky which is still being drilled for gas, and which is located amid a habitat for dozens of endangered species.

The United States Bureau of Prisons is trying to build a new, massive maximum-security prison in the Appalachian mountains of eastern Kentucky — and there’s a growing movement to stop it.

The prison industry in the US has grown in leaps and bounds in the past 20 years— a new prison was built at an average rate of one every two weeks in the ’90s, almost entirely in rural communities. As of 2002, there were already more prisoners in this country than farmers. The industry seems like an unstoppable machine, plowing forward at breakneck speed on the path that made the world’s largest prison population.

Today, about 716 of every 100,000 Americans are in prison. Prisoners in nations across the world average at 155 per 100,000 people. And in the US, Southern states rule the chart. Viewing these states as countries themselves,  Kentucky ranks at lucky number seven.

“Sounds terrible…” you may be thinking, “But what does it have to do with the environment?”

Well, this seemingly impenetrable multi-billion dollar bi-partisan government-driven industry does have a weak point: it’s a well-verified ecological mess. For a 10-year period of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Prison Initiative, prison after prison that the EPA’s inspected in the Mid-Atlantic region was plagued with violations. Violations included air and water pollution, inadequate hazardous waste management and failing spill control prevention for toxic materials.

From the initial breaking ground on construction in rural and wild places to the inevitable sewage problem from operating chronically over-populated facilities — running a prison is dirty business. And when you factor in the plethora of environmental justice issues facing the prisoners, disproportionately low-income and people of color, it becomes an outright nightmare.

Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that the Bureau of Prisons’ latest plan for a new maximum-security federal prison is on a former mountaintop removal coal mine site, which is still being drilled for gas, and which is located amid a habitat for dozens of endangered species. Where else but Appalachia?

The proposed half a billion dollar facility is to be located in Kentucky’s Letcher County. If built, this would be the fourth new federal prison in eastern Kentucky, and the sixth federal prison built in Central Appalachia, since 1992, making the region one of the most concentrated areas of prison growth in the country.

In March of this year, the Human Rights Defense Center’s new Prison Ecology Project joined the fight against the proposed prison. So far, opposition to the Bureau of Prison’s plans have been led primarily by the statewide grassroots nonprofit Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC),  which is opposed to “prison expansion as a form of economic development.”

The prison industry and its proponents say the prison will bring jobs and economic growth to Letcher County, which is one of the many regions in eastern Kentucky suffering from the decline of the coal industry. But past studies have shown that new prisons do not improve the local economy and in most cases appear to harm rather than benefit host communities. That certainly seems to be the case in Kentucky’s McCreary, Clay, and Martin counties.

In 2013, when the Bureau of Prisons began seeking public input about the project,  KFTC outlined a series of questions and concerns, including questions about the projected economic benefits, the stability of the reclaimed mine site, and possible environmental impacts of the new prison. In its statement to the bureau the KFTC said: “It’s clear we need economic transition in our county and region, but history shows that prisons have not provided that. And, when we talk about transition, we desire a transition that is equitable to all people, not just those at the top.”

But when the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project was released earlier this year, it was clear that these concerns had fallen on deaf ears. In fact, the Bureau of Prisons went so far as to state that “scoping comments were in support of the project with no major issues or concerns raised.” (Emphasis added.)

Luckily, attorney and criminal justice activist Stephen Raher was among those who filed comments in 2013. A former co-coordinator of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, Raher has been tracking environmental issues related to the Bureau of Prisons facilities for over a decade. Perhaps the flagrant disregard for his input added some fuel to his fire, because Raher then spearheaded a comment on the Letcher proposal that carried a passion rare in the world of administrative legalese. Leading with the quote by Caudill mentioned above, he tore into the Bureau of Prisons for taking advantage of the people and land of Appalachia with a new form of industrial exploitation:

“The EIS announces BOP’s plans to continue with a new type of extractive activity. BOP’s proposed project would take 1,200 prisoners, extracted from their homes and neighborhoods, and import them into Letcher County. Despite the EIS’s glib promises of employment and economic activity, Letcher County and surrounding environments would be forced to absorb the substantial environmental consequence.”

Raher and HRDC staff co-authored the comment, which was signed by  individuals and organizations from across the country. The Bureau of Prison’s charade of full support was blown.

The comment highlighted regional water quality records which show a history of water contamination from sources that would provide water to the prison, including heavy metals associated with mining as well as fecal coliform from defective septic systems. It also noted heightened presence of radon in the area, which often associated with coal and gas extraction.

Additionally, the comment noted that the Bureau of Prisons indicates intent to build an e-waste recycling factory run on prison labor on the site, but provides no information about how it will deal with the hazardous waste that these facilities have a history of creating.

None of these concerns seemed to slow the Bureau down — If anything, the opposite. The agency turned its draft Environmental Impact Statement into a final EIS in record speed. By mid-summer, it was ready to plow forward with the project, once again ignoring essentially every concern brought forward. Now, the agency is rounding the final corner of the federal permitting process for the 700-acre project expressly aimed at reducing the Bureau of Prison’s overpopulation problem. The agency’s facilities nationwide have been operating at 51 percent over capacity.

The 1,200 people moved to this new facility from other overpopulated prisons would end up hundreds of miles from most of their home communities with no mass transit options, making visitation an extreme hardship for their families. It’s this reality that’s earned central Appalachia, simultaneous home to the nation’s most biodiverse ecosystem and poorest rural economy, the title of America’s own Gulag Archipelago.

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On July 31, the agency announced — via US Representative Hal Rogers’ office — its preferred site for the prison and the release of its Final Environmental Impact Statement. (Sadly, a majority of this document’s 800+ pages are taken up by letters from the local economically depressed post-coal community begging for prison jobs.) There is now a very short window of time left for public comments on the project. On August 31 the Bureau of Prisons will be closing the record on public input and making a final decision on the plan.

In the Final EIS response to environmental justice concerns raised, the Bureau of Prisons stated that it “does not concur with the assertion that federal inmates of mixed backgrounds (as to ethnicity, race, and income) to be housed in the proposed facility constitute either a minority or low income population for the purposes of EO12898, the President’s 1994 Executive Order on Environmental Justice. Nor that adverse health effects could result from living on top of a former mine site. The agency, however, provided no data on demographics, which is readily available from reputable sources such as the Prison Policy Initiative, nor on documented long term health concerns related to mountaintop removal mining sites.

The Prison Ecology Project is also opposed to the project on conservation grounds. As it outlined in a letter to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife commissioner, which was also signed by the Center for Biological Diversity:

This project could adversely impact 71 species known to live in Letcher County and recognized as threatened, endangered, or of special concern in Kentucky. This includes the Kentucky red-backed vole, sharp-shinned hawk, American black bear, eastern red damsel, mountain midget crayfish, and Cumberland arrow darter, as well as the federally endangered Indiana and Grey bats, both highly imperiled species protected under the US Endangered Species Act. Protecting these species is integral to protecting the region’s rich natural heritage for future generations.

We can stop this prison plan, protect Appalachian biodiversity, promote a just transition for the people of Appalachia who are reeling from coal company exploitation, and turn the tide on mass incarceration. But it will take your help.

Three ways you can take action:

  1. Sign and share this petition to build momentum against the proposed prison, and show the Bureau of Prisons that opposition is growing across the country. HRDC’s Prison Ecology Project will submit this with our official comment on the Final EIS, Aug 31. Our goal is to reach 2,000 signatures. This link can be used to send a letter directly to the Bureaus of Prison’s team that is reviewing public comments. They are required by law to acknowledge and address them.
  2. Ask the EPA to keep it up! Reviewers from EPA Region 4 say they also found the Bureau of Prison’s environmental analysis for the project “insufficient.” We want them to keep fighting, and add environmental justice to their list of the EIS failures. Send an email to the EPA Region 4’s NEPA Program Office Chief, Heinz Mueller: mueller.heinz@epa.gov
  3. Donate and Share the Prison Ecology Project’s crowdfunding campaign so we can take this fight all the way to a victory in the courtroom, if needed.

 

Prison Ecology Project

From Support Marius Mason:

Some of Marius’ friends and supporters are working on this great project:

The Human Rights Defense Center’s Prison Ecology Project is creating tools to dismantle toxic prisons; focused on the intersection of environment degradation and mass incarceration.

July Newsletter of Free Maroon Global Network

From Russell Maroon Shoatz:

Greetings Maroon supporters,

We’re back with our monthly newsletter/e-mail blast on the status of U.S.-held political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz. Many thanks for your continued support and solidarity as we push on in the struggle to free our beloved father, grandfather, husband, and mentor.

This month, we bring you an update on Maroon’s recovery from radiation treatment of his prostate cancer, the second installment of our interview series with human rights champion and longtime Maroon supporter Selma James, a letter Maroon recently wrote to the Pope in hopes of having him visit prisoners in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, and a brief reportback on the Spring Maroon Tour’s final event in Oakland, California.

As always, please feel free to contact us directly with your own ideas and connections to support our efforts.

Please also consider contributing to our ongoing fundraising for Maroon. No amount is too little, and all contributions are greatly appreciated.

Connect with Maroon directly by writing to Russell Shoats #AF-3855, SCI-Graterford, P.O. Box 246 Route 29, Graterford, PA 19426 – 0246

Straight Ahead!
The Shoatz Family and Friends

Health Update:
Rebounding From Radiation Treatments

Maroon Writes:

Good News! The radiation therapy that I have been receiving has been successful!

After completing my radiation treatment on June 3, 2015, my oncologist (“Dr. K”), had me seated in a separate “examination room” where, weekly, both he and his physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner (“C.”) would review with me the week’s treatments and my overall condition. He told me that my treatments were completed, asked about my overall feelings, and said something like “From my mouth to God’s ear” what we had accomplished “should do the trick”; which I took to mean rid my body of the cancer. Still I asked him, “Is there any cancer in my body?” And he said, “Any cancer cells in your body are dying,” and that the radiation would continue to attack any cancer cells, that I would begin to feel much better within six to eight weeks, and “get better and better.”

On behalf of my family and myself, I again want to extend my deepest thanks to everyone who has helped in any way. Cancer is simply an exceptionally trying condition to deal with, and when a political prisoner like myself suffers that condition, without strong support from the streets there are many elements within the criminal UNJUSTICE establishment who may very well take that opportunity to interfere with the medical professionals who are willing to help heal you. A tragic history that continues to unfold.

Straight Ahead!
Maroon

To read Maroon’s full detailed health journal follow this link.

Selma James Interview

Selma James, writer, activist, co-founder of the International Wages for Housework Campaign, and coordinator of Global Women’s Strike, is interviewed by Raphael Cohen, for the campaign to free Maroon, in Oakland, California, April 25, 2015. In part 2 of this 4-segment series, James discusses her impressions of Maroon’s recent writings regarding sexism and patriarchy in the racial justice movements of the 1960s and ’70s. She applauds Maroon’s critical self-reflection, supportively questions some of his conclusions, and shares her thoughts on the potentially transformative implications of his and other male prisoners’ commitment to naming, condemning, and ending violence against women.

As the #SayHerName movement to seek justice in often overlooked police killings of black women intensifies following Sandra Bland’s tragic death last week, James’s thoughts on the importance of men’s solidarity in the struggle for women’s liberation couldn’t be timelier. Watch the interview segment here, and stay tuned for parts 3 and 4 in the coming months.

Maroon’s Letter to the Pope 

popeIn the lead-up to Pope Francis’s trip to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families in late September, Maroon has written the Pope an open letter, inviting him to visit with prisoners in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections during his stay, and to hear directly from prisoners about their vision for true rehabilitation and an end to mass incarceration, a topic that now seems to be on the U.S. public’s consciousness more than at any point in the previous few decades.

As Maroon states in his letter: “… while I seek forgiveness and work towards reconciliation with those I have wronged and hurt, the bigger picture urges me to also strive towards laying a foundation to help younger people extract themselves from a generations-old racial, economic, and historical set of contradictions that not only led to my imprisonment, but has since metastasized into the criminalization of millions based on their racial and/or economic standing – an unjust, unethical, and ultimate poisoning of society that is at odds with the compassion and broadness of vision that Your Holiness is held in such high esteem for championing.

Society has everything it needs to rescue itself from the MASS INCARCERATION fallout that has resulted from these failures. And by overcoming this part of our problems, we place ourselves in a position to challenge others to fashion solutions to other social issues that have been eating away at us for so long.

A way forward in uprooting MASS INCARCERATION rests with offering every prisoner – as well as every prison employee – an opportunity to obtain the type of education and skill-sets needed by society in the 21st century, all of which can be accomplished by joining the global online revolution in higher education.”

To read Maroon’s full letter to the Pope follow this link.

We’ve received indication that the Pope will, in fact, visit Philadelphia’s Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility (CFC) while in town, and we invite you to reiterate the importance of such a visit, and express your support for it, by tweeting the official Papal Twitter account, @Pontifex, with a message echoing Maroon’s sentiments. We ask that you not specify Maroon by name, but rather, use the slogan he’s put forth in his letter. One such tweet tweet might read: “@Pontifex Please take time to meet Pennsylvania prisoners. MASS EDUCATION–YES! MASS INCARCERATION–NO!” If you do choose to tweet, please also include the hashtags #PopeVisitPAprisoners and #PopeInPhilly.

Spring Maroon Tour Concludes

Lastly, the Spring Maroon 2015 Book and Culinary tour concluded this month in Oakland, California, with an event entitled “The 4th of the Lie,” a panel discussion “about the importance of independence and self-determination for colonized peoples,” hosted by the Qilombo Cultural Center. Maroon’s son, Russell the III, joined Shaka At-thinnin, founder of the Black August Organizing Committee, on the evening of July 4th, to expound on some of his father’s ideas from the essay collection Maroon The Implacable.

russelll3

While fireworks and car alarms were going off every couple minutes right outside of Qilombo’s doors, Russell shared his thoughts with a multi-generational audience on the importance of coalition-building across movement sectors, even and especially when said sectors may be unfamiliar with one another’s mores and norms; the importance of men challenging sexism and supporting the aspirations and self-determination of women; and the crucial role of localized food production in the midst of large agri-business expansion, coupled with lack of access to healthy food and chronic health problems in working class communities of color.

This last point proved especially timely, as Qilombo community members have recently been involved in a struggle to preserve the Afrika Town Garden they established for the purpose of providing healthy, locally-grown produce to their neighborhood. After years of neglecting the lot on which Afrika Town was recently born, its owner has threatened to evict volunteers and raze the garden, in a clear attempt to make his property more appealing to potential well-off buyers in a rapidly gentrifying part of town. Read more about the struggle to defend the Afrika Town Garden.afrika-town

As always, we offer you our profound gratitude for your support, and our hope to celebrate greater victories with you in the days to come…

The Shoatz Family and Friends

 

August 10 is Prisoners’ Justice Day: Let’s Bring the BOP’s Plans for a Prison on Mountaintop Removal Site to the Forefront

From Earth First! Journal:

By Panagioti / Prison Ecology Project

August 10 is a day that prisoners have declared Prisoners’ Justice Day. It’s a day to demonstrate solidarity in remembrance of those who have died unnecessarily behind bars—victims of murder, suicide and neglect—at the hands of the police state.

August-10-plants-break-cuffs

 

It started in Canada in 1975 following the death of prisoner Edward Nalon in a solitary unit of Millhaven Maximum Security Prison located in Ontario, and it has remained most recognized in that country. While there has been some success in calling to use this day as a way to bring awareness to the plights of incarcerated people who suffer injustice worldwide, it still hasn’t quite caught on in the U.S. … yet.

[Check out a collection of reflections from Prisoner Justice Day in recent years here, specifically this “open letter to construction workers at prisons” released in tandem with a 2012 call for blockades of work aimed at expanding the Collins Bay and Frontenac prisons.]

But anti-prison activists in the U.S. and abroad, particularly those with an interest in environmental justice, should note that this year’s August 10 is marked by the proposal to build a new federal maximum security prison in the Appalachian mountains of Letcher County in eastern Kentucky, on top of a former mountaintop removal coal mine.

Just this week, after several years of local debate about the economic failures of building prisons on low-income rural areas, the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has announced plans to move forward with another prison in a region that has been dubbed Appalachia’s Gulag Archipelago.

Despite the area’s long history of pollution from decades of blasting for coal, politicians like U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers have insisted on piling prisoners into this remote location which is likely to poison prisoners with tainted water. It also happens to be far from any reasonable transit options for family visitation, not to mention being planned on threatened and endangered species habitat of the incredibly biodiverse region.

What to do about the BOP’s Letcher County plan this Aug 10? 

Prisoners’ Justice Day is fast-approaching, but it’s not too late to plan for action. A quick place to start is sending over a letter to the BOP within this 30-day window telling them that the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS )is insufficient, as it does not recognize the civil rights that prisoners have to receive environmental justice protections. This is, of course, in addition to the myriad concerns related to perpetuating the racist and classist mass incarceration system by building more prisons to extract poor people from their communities and warehouse them in toxic places.

Also worth noting is that there is a major PR firm called Cardno who is contracted by the BOP to conduct the EIS study. They are likely representing many more of your corporate and state enemies as well. According to their website, “Cardno now has about 8,200 staff working in 300 offices, on projects across more than 100 countries around the world.”  Their corporate offices are located within the following regions:
Australasia    Middle East    UK/Europe
North America    Africa    Asia
Latin America

 

 

The following text provides some additional history on Prisoners Justice Day becoming international day of solidarity with prisoners:

justice4prisoners

In 1983, prisoners in France refused to eat in recognition of August 10th, the following statement would be read on the Paris radio station Frequence-Libre:

Why not have on August 10 an international day of solidarity with our imprisoned brothers and sisters,

For here or elsewhere, prison kills,
Whether it be Nalon in Ontario, Bader or Meinhoff in West Germany,
Claude or Ivan in Switzerland, Bobby Sands in Ireland,
Mirval, Haadjadj, Onno, Youssef or so many others in France,
Whether they are serving 53 years like Alexandre Cotte or 16 years like Youssef,
Whether they are considered political or common prisoners,
PRISON KILLS!

By the mid 1990´s prisoners in parts of Germany, England and the United States would join this day of protest.

The number of issues focused on over twenty-five years has been extensive:

Double Bunking
Youth Incarceration
Safe Tattooing Inside
Special Handling Units
The Wrongfully Convicted
Twenty-five Year Sentences
The Right to Freedom of Speech
The Women Self-defense Review
Abolition of National Parole Board
The Right to Vote in Federal Elections
Decriminalization of Victimless Crime
Health Care Needs of Prisoners With HIV & AIDS
Return to Shorter Sentences with 1/3 Time Off For Good Behaviour
Medical Care and the Same Options for Treatment as Outside Prison
The Integration of Protective Custody prisoners into General Population
Decarceration – Release of Prisoners Who Already Served Their Sentence
Alternatives to Incarceration – the Eventual Abolition of Prisons
The Recognition of Political Prisoners in Canada
Early Intervention Programs for At-Risk Youth
Moratorium on the Building of New Prisons
The Incarceration of Refugee Claimants
The Prisoners´ Right to Unionize
Privatization of Food Services
Needle Exchange Programs
Privatization of Prisons
Involuntary Transfers
Education Programs
Gating of Prisoners

The Right to Recognize August 10th Without Reprisals

PRISONERS’ JUSTICE DAY IS…

…August 10, the day prisoners have set aside as a day to fast and refuse to work in a show of solidarity to remember those who have died unnecessarily — victims of murder, suicide and neglect.

…the day when organizations and individuals in the community hold demonstrations, vigils, worship services and other events in common resistance with prisoners.

…the day to raise issue with the fact that a very high rate of women are in prison for protecting themselves against their abusers. This makes it obvious that the legal system does not protect women who suffer violence at the hands of their partners.

…is the day to remember that there are a disproportionate number of Natives, African-Canadians and other minorities and marginalized people in prisons. Prisons are the ultimate form of oppression against struggles of recognition and self-determination.

…the day to raise public awareness of the demands made by prisoners to change the criminal justice system and the brutal and inhumane conditions that lead to so many prison deaths.

…the day to oppose prison violence, police violence, and violence against women and children.

…the day to publicize that, in their fight for freedom and equality, the actions of many political prisoners have been criminalized by government. As a result, there are false claims that there are no political prisoners in north american prisons.

…the day to raise public awareness of the economic and social costs of a system of criminal justice which punishes for revenge. If there is ever to be social justice, it will only come about using a model of healing justice, connecting people to the crimes and helping offenders take responsibility for their actions.

…the day to renew the struggle for HIV/AIDS education, prevention and treatment in prison.

…the day to remind people that the criminal justice system and the psychiatric system are mutually reinforcing methods that the state uses to control human beings. There is a lot of brutality by staff committed in the name of treatment. Moreover, many deaths in the psych-prisons remain uninvestigated.

Info on Prisoners’ Justice Day courtesy of PrisonJustice.ca.