Louisiana Hunger Strikers — Already in Solitary — Are Being Brutally Punished

Originally published in truthout.org

On February 13, men being held in one of the solitary confinement wards at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola were discussing how to get out from under their miserably austere physical conditions. These included broken lights in their cells, no underwear, a single blanket and inadequate heating in record cold temperatures for northern Louisiana. The men also experienced brutal psychological conditions, including no time outside in the yard at all and only limited time out in the hall where they may or may not be lucky enough to make it into the shower in the 15 minutes allotted to them.

They’d been isolated, under-stimulated, living in semi-darkness. They were at the end of their emotional tether. They rejected the only available official route for individuals to resolve grievances within the Louisiana Department of Corrections (LADOC), the Administrative Remedy Procedure, because while officially it can take up to 90 days for a determination, practically it often takes much longer.

Some of the men had some success in the past in getting the prison administration’s attention by refusing meals and gesturing toward a hunger strike, getting positive results, often on the same day. Officially, a strike is acknowledged as such when nine consecutive meals are refused. By law, after the ninth refused meal, LADOC is compelled to notify the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, and must minister to the men with medical care and hear their grievances and demands.

The men were aware that LADOC solitary practices had been the subject of two major critical reports by the VERA Institute for Justice and the ACLU, both member organizations of the Louisiana Stop Solitary Coalition, and expected that their cries would not be ignored. Reaching consensus, they picked Wednesday, February 17, one day after Mardi Gras, as their start date for a hunger strike, when prison officials would likely be back on the job after the holiday break.

The strike was announced by the @angola_watchdog Twitter account, created by independent activist Michaela (Caeli) Higgins, a former public relations professional and New Orleans native now living in the San Francisco Bay area. Since COVID began, she’s been engaged in a regular correspondence with 15 different men incarcerated in Angola. When the strike was called, they reached out. Her friend, journalist John McDevitt, broke the story on Liberation, including her request for the public to contact the prison — a move that was echoed by the Stop Solitary Coalition in its press release.

“I really love and appreciate the call-in campaign, because it’s let Angola know we’re not standing alone,” said striker Frederick Ross in a message shared with Truthout. “All [prison officials] really respect is outside support and pressure.”

Ross has been locked in solitary confinement since last April and he expected to be transferred to a working cell block by November, which is the next step down on the way back to the general prison population. But he hasn’t had his disciplinary hearing yet, which means that all these months of waiting in segregation will not be credited to his disciplinary sentence when it’s handed down. It’s what’s referred to as “dead time” — another misery in his 50-year prison sentence.The cell he is now in has a leaking toilet and a constantly wet floor. He spends all day and night on the upper bunk, descending only when let out to shower.

In this Aug. 18, 2011 photo, prison guards ride horses that were broken by inmates as they return from farm work detail at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, La. Some prisoners spend eight hours a day training horses to work in some of the most chaotic situations police officers face: everything from controlling huge crowds to helping break up riots. They also use the animals for work at the prison farm, cultivating fields, helping to control weeds, hauling wagons and equipment. They also sell them, with their second annual horse sale scheduled for October. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The hunger strike started on February 17 with 15 participants; 12 days later, there were four remaining strikers — Ross, Percy Hawthorne, Donald Hensley and Theoshamond Norman. They’ve held out against various offers from a colonel (a rank that is second-in-command under the warden) because they suspected he was not representing the administration and that his offers were a trick. The offers included promises of immediate transfer out of segregation as well as punishments, including threats of being maced in their cells. Witnesses report that at the beginning of the action, guards were playing cat and mouse with food trays, putting them on the floor in front of the cell, waiting two minutes, and whisking them away, but without documenting the strikers’ refusal, as required by LADOC policy.

Twelve days in, people close to the strikers reported that no “unusual occurrence reports” had been completed. Basic Jail Guidelines III-007 requires “written procedures for significant unusual occurrences or institutional emergencies including but not limited to major disturbances such as riots, hostage situations, escapes, fires, deaths, serious illness or injury and assaults or other acts of violence.” Nor have the strikers been examined medically, which would follow as a consequence of filing the reports. In the physiology of hunger, at around the two-week mark, the human body goes through some rapid changes that can make standing difficult. Strikers can also suffer from severe dizziness, sluggishness, weakness, loss of coordination, low heart rate and chills. On the fifth day, strikers say they requested medical assessment, offering to pay for it themselves. It has not been forthcoming.

The hunger strikers are also facing reprisals.

Ross was moved to another section of the prison called Camp C on February 23. His loved ones told Truthout that the cell he is now in has a leaking toilet and a constantly wet floor. He spends all day and night on the upper bunk, descending only when let out to shower. Though he’s past the point of having bowel movements, if he has to urinate, he perches on the bottom bunk, turns sideways and aims at the toilet.

After being moved, he was not allowed to use the wall phone to make collect calls. When his loved ones called the prison on February 28 to inquire why they hadn’t been hearing from him, they were told that he’d been written up for a violation and his phone privileges were suspended. When asked what violation, they were told it was participating in the hunger strike; after complaints by family members and supporters, his phone access was restored.Those who didn’t act fast enough were “sprayed down” with mace, a form of collective punishment in an enclosed cell block.

On February 27, a report from a man who had come off the strike reached Truthout. He said that security approached strikers’ cells at 11:30 the previous night when they were sleeping, and repeated an ominous request: “Come to the bars, come to the bars, come to the bars.” Those who didn’t act fast enough were “sprayed down” with mace, a form of collective punishment in an enclosed cell block.

The strikers contend that LADOC is violating its own policies. In current practice, when people are removed from the general population for infractions, they’re placed first in administrative segregation, and after the disciplinary hearing, in disciplinary segregation, which is exactly the same thing in terms of conditions and punishments. The length of their punishment is dictated by the agency’s internal “disciplinary sanctions matrix,” a document shrouded in secrecy and unavailable to the public, including journalists and prisoner advocates.

In his piece in The Lens, journalist Nicholas Chrastil reported that while the number of strikers was under dispute by LADOC, the agency did not deny the validity of the strikers’ fundamental grievance. But also, Chrastil noted, “The Department of Corrections declined to provide a copy of its disciplinary policy to The Lens.”

Kiana Calloway is an organizer with Voice of the Experienced (VOTE), a grassroots organization in New Orleans founded by formerly incarcerated people working against the prison-industrial complex and toward a “future of mass liberation for all.” Calloway says that even the advocates who were asked by LADOC for input in rewriting the disciplinary policy have been working with limited information.

“We had a meeting with LADOC right before COVID,” Calloway told Truthout. “We were in the process of actually helping them rewrite that matrix, but we never got to see the matrix they had already in position.”….

Continue this article on truthout.org.

Demand for leadership change in wake of report

Originally published in WTOP

Civil rights groups are calling for immediate changes within the Prince George’s County Police Department a day after a judge made public the findings of an independent investigation into officers’ claims of racism and retaliation in the department.

As their faces flashed across a Zoom call grid, community activists, leaders and family members who were part of the effort to get the report’s findings made public took turns describing why they are joining together again to make demands of the department.

The expert report by Michael Graham — a former senior officer for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department — was written in connection with a lawsuit against the department by the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association and others. It was ordered unredacted earlier this month by a federal judge in Maryland.

“The group demands that the department become more transparent and accountable by posting and making viewable online to the public, in real time, trial board hearings of officer misconduct.”

One demand, said Nikki Owens: “Clean house and install a new admin for the Prince George’s County Police Department, removing everyone at the top, including acting Chief Hector Velez; Cmdr. Kathleen Mills, former head of the internal affairs; and Prince George’s Chief Administrative Officer for Public Safety Mark McGaw.”

Owens, whose cousin William Green was killed by county officer Michael Owen last year, praised the minority officers who reported racism and retaliation within the department that led to the independent Graham report.

The groups’ other demands include involving the community in the process to select the next chief; terminating officers who have perjured themselves and cannot testify in court; and holding the department accountable for spending taxpayer dollars to attempt to “hide full details of the Graham expert witness report from the public and for spending millions of taxpayer dollars to defend police misconduct,” the group said in a statement.

It also wants to empower the Prince George’s Citizen Complaint Oversight Panel to impose discipline and have the panel comprise members chosen by — and representative of — the county’s districts.

Finally, the group demands that the department become more transparent and accountable by posting and making viewable online to the public, in real time, trial board hearings of officer misconduct.

“The unsealed Graham report confirms what we knew. The report shows that our police department cannot continue to operate with its current leadership. We join to demand that PGPD clean house and install a new group of leaders,” said Ashanti Martinez of CASA.

Prince George’s County police did not return a request to comment about the group’s demands, which they want to see addressed immediately.

“Systemic racism is rampant in our entire judicial system,” Owens said. “They were abused and mistreated, and no one listened. No one listened to them. I want the public to know that there are police officers who are out there trying to take a stand, and we need to stand with them.”

Far-Right Movement Under Reported, Actions beyond Capitol Assault

Far Right

Originally published in US News

The media is under reporting the level of organization of the recent far-right insurrection this past Tuesday. Coordinated around the country similar actions were organized at state capitals and some were entered like the Capitol.

The crisis in the white ruling class is creating a dangerous situation for the Black community that we cannot ignore! The state will not tell you this, the Democratic and Republican parties can not tell you this…organized oppression MUST be met by organized resistance.

Organization is key! Its not good enough to have a great idea, good credit, good marketing or well placed contacts. There is no solution for Black, working and poor people as a group that does not begin with organization and developing power to defend our economic, political and physical interests.

Originally published in US News

Statement on far-right rebellion on U.S. capital and the escalating crisis in the U.S. capitalist ruling class

Far Right Insurrection

Yesterday’s assault by far-right white nationalist elements on the U.S. capitol while senators attempted to ratify the votes of the 2020 electoral college has reminded us all that Donald Trump’s defeat does not mean the Black community is now safe.Millions of people watched as hundreds of far-right forces stormed the capitol building in an attempt to force a coup that would allow Donald Trump to remain in power.

Despite the death of one protester and arrest of 50+ rioters, this attack happened with muted and sluggish responses from police agencies. We are painfully aware that had similar actions in Washington D.C. come from members of the Black community, that our people would have been brutally put down by that state, and hundreds would be arrested.This conflict is not a crisis of democracy as put forward by ruling class media; instead, this is a crisis in the capitalist ruling class that has busted out into rebellion in the streets.

The unity of white supremacist domination of the economic, political, and social structures of the U.S. nation is in great danger because capitalist exploitation has increased for all workers, and sectors of the white working-class have been mobilized by contending capitalist forces to demand their cut at the expense of all other workers.

The incoming Biden administration inherits the immediate task of trying to solve how to hold the union together. It has only two basic options to choose from in dealing with these unleashed far-right capitalist forces: move to suppress and defeat them by force or make economic, political, and social concessions to appease them.

The far-right shows that their perceived suppression will be met with resistance and open conflict that could split the white ruling class. Appeasement of these forces will come by implementing austerity allocating resources away from Black, Brown, and oppressed communities and into rust belt and heartlands of America.

Neither option will make it safe or comfortable for the Black community to move forward in the wake of Trump’s departure. The actions by the state to allow the far-right forces to storm the capitol lets us know that the state apparatus under the Biden administration will not be able to protect the Black community from physical or political attacks by elements of the far-right.

Black working-class people must organize for their economic & class interests. We must build the capacity to protect our interests, communities, and our very lives in lieu of the fact that the racist U.S. state continues to fail us as a people and as a class. We must be organized, and we must build independent Black political action. We must better define for potential allies what they must do to align themselves with our movement for power and true liberation.

It is not acceptable o continue to tail the liberal and so-called progressive wings of capitalist parties and activities. We cannot afford to wait for the Biden administration, the Democratic party, and especially America to conclude that Black power matters; we must do this for ourselves and with the allies we choose.

Deaths at Capitol Insurgency expose Inability of Liberal Ruling class to Protect Black workers

Janury 6, 2021, US Capitol insurrection
Image result for us capitol deaths

These are dangerous days for Black people. Working class people MUST BE ORGANIZED in their own interests. We watch as white far-right forces storm the U.S. Capitol without any repression from the capitalist state apparatus. It is difficult for sectors of the white ruling class to attack elements of the white community. In these dangerous days, the U.S. state apparatus will not be able to defend the lives of Black people. The incoming Biden administration will be trying to hold the capitalist class together and WILL MAKE CONCESSIONS to far right elements at the expense of Black, Brown and working class people. WE MUST BE ORGANIZED! We must build independent Black political action!


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