Black August, 35 Years Ago, To Black Lives Matter, Today

From Popular Resistance:


Black August, a month of political prisoner activism and commemoration, can help remind us of the nation’s exponentially expanding racist prison system.

Protesters march through the streets of Ferguson. (Jamelle Bouie / Wikimedia Commons)

A year ago this month, the streets of Ferguson, Missouri exploded in the wake of the murder of eighteen-year-old Black teen, Michael Brown, at the hands of white police officer, Darren Wilson. The world watched closely as military Humvees and the national guard armed with tear gas and rubber bullets transformed an otherwise quiet town in the Midwest into a historic battlefront for the Black Lives Matter movement, the present-day Black liberation struggle born after the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman over the murder of the Black seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Since the Ferguson riots last August, Black Lives Matter has radically shifted the national conversation on anti-Black racism and police brutality through massive protests, demonstrations, and online mobilizations that have galvanized a new generation of youth of color in the United States and around the world who refuse to allow the police to turn them into another murder statistic. Just last month, hundreds of Black activists gathered together in Cleveland, Ohio in a historic meeting for the inaugural Movement for Black Lives Convening, which featured panels and workshops on Black labor organizing, queer and trans justice, lessons from the Black Panther Party, among others.

A new Pew Research Center poll released this month further shows how Black Lives Matter is transforming the racial views of Americans (and particularly white Americans) in astounding ways. According to the poll, 59 percent of U.S. citizens believe that changes are necessary to afford equal rights to African Americans, up from 46 percent just last year, with a majority of whites (53 percent) agreeing. Black Lives Matter and related mobilizations across the country have forced white Americans to take racism and police brutality seriously to the point where most of them have come to agree that that police treat Blacks less fairly than other groups. That hot, tragic summer day in Ferguson and the riots they gave birth to last August launched a crucial movement to remind the world that Black Lives Matter.

Yet, as we take a moment this August to honor Ferguson and the past, present, and future of the Black Lives Matter movement, it might be useful to take a moment to recognize another important moment in the history of the Black freedom struggle taking place this month: Black August. More than thirty-five years ago, Black August was created by Black political prisoners in California’s infamous San Quentin State Prison in August 1979 to commemorate the long legacy of prison protest and other forgotten events in the history of Black freedom struggles. As cofounder Shuuja Graham told historian Dan Berger, “We figured that the people we wanted to remember wouldn’t be remembered during Black history month, so we started Black August.” In August 1971, Black Panther leader George Jackson was killed in a prison uprising, while his younger brother was killed the previous August attempt to free three prisoners. August was also the historic month in which Haitian slaves rebelled and launched the Haitian Revolution (August 21, 1791), initiating the successful destruction of chattel slavery on the island and the world’s first independent Black republic, and the month that Nat Turner led a slave revolt in southern Virginia (August 21, 1831). As a “kind of secular activist Ramadan,” as described by Berger, Black prisoners fasted, read, studied, and engaged in physical training and self-discipline. As Mumia Abu-Jamal notes, “August is a month of meaning, of repression and radical resistance, of injustice and divine justice; of repression and righteous rebellion; of individual and collective efforts to free the slaves and break the chains that bind us.”

Over the coming months, Black August’s origins within the prison system can help remind us that as Black men and women are being murdered by police on the streets, hundreds of others are being shipped away and locked up in the nation’s exponentially expanding penitentiaries. The United States has the largest prison population in the world—even larger than China or Russia—and Black Americans constitute a disproportionate percentage of that population. According to the NAACP, African Americans comprise 1 million of the 2.3 million total prisoners in this nation, and are incarcerated six times more than whites. Even though Blacks and Latinos compose one quarter of the national population, they comprised 58 percent of all prisoners as of 2008. Although 14 million whites and 2.6 million African Americans report using an illicit drug, African Americans are being sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of whites thanks to racist drug policies beginning in the 1970s. As of 2001, one in six Black men had been incarcerated, but if current trends continue, one in three Black men born today can expect to be imprisoned at some point in their lifetimes.

Black August can also help us remember that big money is increasingly behind this prison-industrial complex that devalues Black life. The past forty years have witnessed an unprecedented boom in incarceration rates in the United States. According to a report published by the National Research Council, the prison population grew from 200,000 to about 2.2 million between 1973 and 2009, which meant that the U.S. held about a quarter of the world’s prisoners. The period of prison privatization emerged in the 1980s when neoliberal policies began to expand across the globe, with the first U.S. private prison business operating in Hamilton County, Tennessee in 1984 under the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Today, privately run prisons are ubiquitous across the nation, even being dramatized on screen as seen in the last season of Orange is the New Black. Meanwhile, on the backs of Black and brown prisoners, CCA reported US$1.7 billion in total revenue in 2011 alone.

And Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, the beloved “lesser of two evils” for many progressives, is just as mired in this racist monster of the private prison system. Last month, it was reported that Clinton was accepting contributions from known lobbyists for two of the country’s largest private prison corporations, CCA and the Geo Group, in addition to her usual donations from Wall Street and the fossil fuel industry. In light of this news, it’s no surprise that Clinton refused to address issues of structural racism when she was confronted by a group of Black Lives Matter activists in New Hampshire earlier this month. “She was not willing to concede that the inherent anti-blackness in the policies that were enacted to address problems is the cause of the problems we have today,” activist Julius Jones stated.

In the streets or behind gray prison doors, Black August offers a moment to focus and honor the long African American freedom struggles that are the current movement’s predecessors.

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Lucasville: Siddique Abdullah Hasan and Jason Robb start hunger strike

Dear family, friends and supporters of the Lucasville uprising prisoners,

I am not aware of all of the factors that went into their decisions, but I have been informed that rather than waiting as previously planned, Hasan and Jason Robb have joined the hunger strike. I received a letter from Hasan today stating that the warden and deputy warden of OSP were questioning him about his plans to go on the hunger strike based on information they had gleaned from the internet, and that may have influenced their decisions. I think the tremendous outpouring of support from all corners of the globe and all across this country has strengthened their resolve. There has also been phenomenal media interest with an op-ed piece by Denis O’Hearn in the Youngstown Vindicator, interviews of Staughton Lynd by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now and by KPFA, and an interview of Denis O’Hearn by WBAI. Both Denis and Staughton are frequent visitors of the prisoners. Denis wrote the biography of Irish hunger striker Bobby Sands entitled, “Nothing But an Unfinished Song.” Staughton wrote the definitive book on the 1993 rebellion entitled, “Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising.” He and his wife Alice were the attorneys in a class action lawsuit against OSP.

Please keep putting the word out about the rally at the entrance gates to OSP in Youngstown at 1:00 on Saturday, Jan.15, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. We are trying to coordinate car pools and a car caravan from Cleveland. The 7-person van is filling up fast. We need other people with cars who know they are going to this rally and who have space in their car to contact us because lots of people need rides.

Contact or call 216-571-2518.

Let’s mobilize and make it big!

Sharon Danann
for the Lucasville Uprising Freedom Network

Hudson, Colorado: Prisoners riot, take control over portion of prison


HUDSON – Authorities are trying to figure out why the cell doors in a unit housing 41 inmates opened early Wednesday morning, leading to a riot at a private correctional facility.

Authorities say they are investigating why the cell doors opened at 1:20 a.m. in the segregated housing unit of Building A of the Hudson Correctional Facility. They say the unit is home to inmates who need protective custody or have behavioral problems and are housed one inmate to a cell.

Prison officials suggested a computer malfunction could have contributed to the mishap, but say they have not confirmed that.

When the cell doors opened, authorities say after reviewing surveillance footage, some of the inmates came out of their cells and began to riot, while others saw the rioting, returned to their cells and closed their doors.

The guards on duty at the time sought refuge in a nearby captain’s office, barricading themselves inside. They say they were still able to monitor the inmates from the office. Officials say it appears some of the inmates may have even protected the guards.

According to officials, a group of eight to 12 inmates were involved in the riot, and broke a sprinkler head off, which caused flooding.

Katherine Sanguinetti, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, announced around 10 a.m. that authorities had regained control of the prison housing pod.

“At no time was the public at risk,” Sanguinetti stated in a release.

Officials say no guards were taken hostage, no staff members were injured and inmates only suffered minor injuries.

Authorities say the facility will operate under lockdown while authorities investigate.

No fires were reported, but because the prisoners triggered a sprinkler system, the Hudson Fire Department was the first agency called to the scene. The Weld County Sheriff’s Office was also alerted and rushed to the prison to assist.

The prison has a maximum capacity of 1,250. All of the prisoners housed at the facility are from Alaska. It is run by Cornell Companies, Inc., which owns 68 facilities in 16 states.

Authorities say because the inmates involved were from Alaska, they face prosecution both in Alaska and Colorado for the incident.

Texas: Striking prisoners threaten violence, facility locked down

From NewsChannel9:

Anthony, TX – La Tuna Federal Prison administrators are in the process of releasing a statement addressing reports that the facility was on lockdown for 6 days due to threats over inmate violence, said a prison spokesperson.

Sources tell NewsChannel 9 that inmates went on a hunger and work strike to protest poor medical conditions last week.

According to staffers who wanted to keep their identities hidden, inmates sent a list of demands to the warden, saying if the demands were not met, they would resort to violence.

Sources tell us that prison administrators have now agreed to meet those demands, but this information has not yet been confirmed by prison leaders.

Portugal: Recent acts of revolt against prisons

from Agua Daspedras via Sysiphus Angry News:
26 February, Leiria – the screws in the prison of Leiria beat up a prisoner after he refused to hand them the TV in his cell (as a punishment for coming back a few minutes late).  Seeing this, many prisoners demand to talk with the prison director before they re-enter their cells.  The director refused, and ordered the guards to beat every prisoner that was causing trouble.  At that time, the prisoners who were in the refectory resisted the beatings, and the guards opened fire on them.  After running away to the cells, the prisoners were beaten one by one, and the cells were raided.  Two days later 6 prisoners escape.
9 February, Lisbon – Center for Judiciary Studies attacked with paintbombs.
“Solidarity with the prisoners in struggle and with the comrades persecuted by Justice, here and elsewhere.
Freedom for António Ferreira de Jesus, serving a hidden life sentence. Freedom for the anarchists Alfredo Bonanno (who has a serious health condition) and Christos Stratigopoulos, imprisoned in the Greek concentration camps.
Freedom for all.”
6 February, Lisbon – flyers handed out in the downtown in solidarity with the prisoners in struggle and against the society that builds up prisons.
31 January, Sintra – Sunday afternoon, a banner with the words “THE PASSION FOR FREEDOM IS STRONGER THAN THE PRISON” appears hanging in the train station of Portela de Sintra.On the same day, flyers are distributed at the entrance of the prison of Linhó (Sintra). The text referred to the hunger and work strikes in the prisons of Alcoentre and Linhó and the different acts of revolt in different prisons, and it ended with “[…] prison is the final threat, the sword that both dictatorships and democracies lean against our necks. Prison is not only its building in a distant and isolated place. It is the entire world that builds it and needs it, and all the companies, institutions and people supporting it and collaborating with it in a direct way. To struggle against prison is to struggle against its world. It is in the acts of insubordination, small or big, that we recognize ourselves. And it’s acts of insubordination that we want to spread.”
29 January, Lisbon – in the morning of 29 January the words “SOLIDARITY PRISONERS IN STRUGGLE!” appears painted on the façade of the cathedral of Lisbon.
26 January, Lisbon – posters against prisons and in solidarity with the strikers in Linhó are glued around the prison of Lisbon.
22 Janeiro, Sintra – 3 cars of prison guards are burnt with molotov cocktails, in the “prison guard neighborhood” of the prison of Linhó. The gate of a house also catches fire.
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Paris: Seven arrested for ‘terrorism’ in Vincennes solidarity actions

On Monday and Tuesday 15 and 16 February, seven people were arrested as alleged terrorists in Paris in connection with solidarity actions with prisoners accused of arson of the Vincennes detention Center in July 2008.

Courtesy of libcom.  We cleaned up the translation a bit.  Sorry for the remaining typos. — Denver ABC

Terrorism: The Show

Vincennes Detention Center burns in prisoners' revolt of 2008

Several months ago, occupations, demonstrations and actions took place in Paris and around.  Sans-papiers [undocumented] people occupied their workplaces, and wild unannounced demonstrations covered the streets with posters, informing about banks that denounce the “illegal” migrants.  Weeks of solidarity were organized for the Vincennes Detention Center detainees, who were appearing in court, accused of the prison’s total arson in July 2008.  This prison totally burnt down after an inner revolt.  It’s in this atmosphere that police came to arrest and to put pressure on comrades who took part in the solidarity work.

On Monday, February 15th, six people have been arrested in Paris–and had their homes searched.

One more person was arrested on Tuesday.  Several parents‘ houses were also searched on Monday.  Cops took computers, some flyers and brochures, and seemed to look for specific clothes.

The arrested have all been taken to 36 quai des Orfèvres–the SDAT (anti-terrorist section) office.

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Greece: Mass hunger strike in Grevena prisons

Inmates of Grevena prisons, one of the worst penal establishments in Greece, have gone on mass hunger strike since Monday 11 of January “against the repressive intentions of the government and the breach of basic prisoners rights”.

Grevena prisons have come under the grip of a mass hunger strike by inmates since January 11. The 330 prisoners are demanding an immediate end to repression and breach of prisoners rights. In their communique they note:

  • The usual humiliating rectal control reigns [in the penal establishment], even for the shortest transfers for medical reasons. Whoever refuses to have the check is shut in isolation and faces disciplinary charges.
  • The demands for a leave are ignored and/ or their examination is outrageously delayed.
  • The disciplinary regime is reminiscent of the junta, as prisoners are persecuted for trivia.
  • Demands for a hearing are also ignored, even for individuals facing serious problems. There is no doctor for 330 prisoners. There is no secretariat for providing information and serving the needs of the prisoners.
  • The time schedule of visits changes randomly, and as a result the prisoners are denied the necessary contact with the outside world while relatives who perform long journeys to the isolated prisons are faced unexpectedly with not being able to see their enclosed kin.
  • Yard airing takes place in a far too small area for a far too short period of time. In the yard there are no exercise facilities for the free time of prisoners. Heating last only for one hour in the morning.
  • Prisoners are forced to buy everything, even good of basic need, which the prison should provide, like for example the pillow.
  • In the establishment’s super market there is no price list, and as a result the prisoners are subjected to arbitrary and illegal prices”.

The hunger strike comes as 14 months after the previous government’s pledge to total prison reform (as a result of a universal prison hunger strike in the country) and 4 months since the new government’s pledge to implement the reform immediately, greek prisons remain in a medieval state.

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One year later: solidarity against prisons in France

In the latter part of 2008 and the beginning of last year, a series of actions against prisons were carried out in France in solidarity with the June 2008 riot and burning of the Vincennes detention center and with the insurgents facing trial.  This outline was compiled one year ago as the trials approached.  Reposting for its usefulness in describing engagement in active solidarity with prison revolt.

On January 25th, 26th and 27th, ten former detainees of the Vincennes detention centre will be tried for a revolt.

During the first semester of 2008, revolts repeatedly occured in the Vincennes detention centre, a place where undocumented foreigners are locked up pending their deportation. On June 21st, a detainee died due to lack of care. The next day, the centre was burnt during a revolt. Later, a number of detainees were arrested and accused of arson and aggression against police officers. Most of them have been in preventive jail for eight to twelve months.

A solidarity week is set from January 16th to 24th.

In solidarity with the rebellious of the Vincennes retention center who will be in court on January 25th, 26th, 27th 2010, for burning their prison during a revolt in June 2008. Here is a very brief outline of the solidarity actions (far from complete for reasons linked to translation).

Outline follows the jump. Continue reading

Corrections Department Releases “Cause” of Northpoint Riot

Stephanie Crosby November 20, 2009, 4:15 pm

From Kentucky Public Radio’s Tony McVeigh

Kentucky corrections officials say inmates rioted at Northpoint Training
Center in August because of a lockdown and tight new restrictions on
inmate movements.

Three days into a lockdown that followed an August 18th prison yard fight,
Northpoint officials decided to make permanent, new restrictions on inmate

The decision led to a riot that left several buildings torched and eight
inmates and staff with minor injuries. That’s the findings of a Critical
Incident Review Team that investigated the riot, says Justice Secretary
Michael Brown.

“It’s our belief that that restriction of freedom, what little freedom
they have in their own world, was going to be so significantly changed,”
says Brown, “and in their minds so suddenly changed – that it boiled

Brown says there have been complaints about the prison’s food, but food
was not a primary cause of the riot. Efforts to rebuild the prison

The 12-hundred inmate facility currently holds 485 inmates. The rest are
housed in other state prisons.