Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Poem: Forbidden

In the Forbidden City

there are no trees

no shade

for the millionvisitors

in the Forbidden City

the Emperor

never knew his assassin

no trees

never knew where his



might hide

Monday, July 29, 2013

Frederick Douglass, Trayvon Martin, 30, 000 hunger strikers, Obama – letters from Graham Hodges, Peter Minowitz, Henry Casso and Jim Wilkinson

This was designed/photographed by Patricia Abney for a summer National Endowment for the Humanities seminar on the abolitionists with my friend Graham Russell Hodges, the leading scholar of Captain Tye and his decisive role in the multiracial guerilla war in New Jersey during the American Revolution.

As it suggests, there is a direct connection between the bondage Frederick Douglass fought and the situation of young men, incarnated by Trayvon Martin, today. Yes, there have been important changes fought for and realized. But the situation is still a terrible - and terrifying - one.


Last week, talking about Travyon, Barack Obama spoke as a young man who had himself once been followed in stores, who would cross the street and hear locks click, who encountering a woman in an elevator, would see her look anxious, clutch her purse closer and hastily exit.

This did not change, he said, until he became Senator…


He muses about whether Martin, had he been of age and had a gun, might have stood his ground as a way of implying justice and also suggesting the wrong of Stand your Ground “laws.”

Obama is wrong, however, that Florida’s Stand your Ground law played no role in freeing the murderer. See here and here.

These are, however, striking statements from an American President. And these ordinary experiences among black people need to be taken in by those who do not understand how deeply racism runs in American society. For it will be defeated - a far prospect - only by determined and persistent effort.


Listen also to the words of Sybrina Fulton who spoke for the first time to the Urban League:

“I speak to you as Trayvon’s mother,” she said. “I speak to you as a parent, and the absolutely worst telephone call you can receive as a parent is to know that your son — your son — you will never kiss again. I’m just asking you to wrap your mind around that, wrap your mind around: No prom for Trayvon. No high school graduation for Trayvon. No college for Trayvon. No grandkids coming from Trayvon, all because of a law, a law that has prevented the person who shot and killed my son to be held accountable and to pay for his awful crime.”


Peter Minowitz also writes, agreeing that Stand Your Ground Laws need to be abolished and that the prison-industrial complex needs to be at least reformed but emphasizing the issue of black on black violence. “Perhaps Michelle Alexander in the interview should have put more emphasis on the people of color (especially young men) who are shot by other people of color (especially young men). I presume she discusses this phenomenon in her book, and I'd join her (and you) in condemning abuses that police and vigilantes commit.“

This point is also made by Obama as the first black Paresident in a still intensely racist society. But it is much more limited than they imagine.


First, as they emphasize, violence by black people – theft, shooting – is wrong and a great harm. And it is part of the context of the murder of Trayvon Martin (ask yourself whether Martin would have been murdered for having skittles and walking on a rainy night had he been non-black…)

But second, this thought leaves out the bigger context. After slavery and segregation, the dynamic of modern capitalism, as Marx pointed out in chapter 25 of Capital, volume 1, on "The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation," creates a large reserve army of the unemployed. It exists to keep wages down.

This tendency explains a bizarre fact about government statistics that 5% unemployed is considered full employment as if there were no unemployed. 5% of the work force is about 8 million people. No other economic theory even gestures at explaining this very odd and morally incriminating way of "counting."


The official unemployment rate is 7.6%. But the real unemployment rate, including those who have not registered at an unemployment office this month (the discouraged long time seekers) and parttime workers who would gladly accept a full-time job, is at near depression levels (roughly 13% - the Great Depression was 25%).


Yet for black and Chicano young men and women, the situation is far worse. At the start of Obama’s first term, according to a New York Times editorial (December 22, 2008), there was an unemployment rate among poor black young men in New York of 96%.

One should take that in: the employment rate – not the unemployment rate - was 4%.


It used to be that poor blacks, to avoid unemployment, could join a gang or join the military. Aside from some sports, the army, below the level of sergeant, is the only integrated organization in American society.


But the military is less a source of employment for young blacks than it was.


In suggesting some helpful initiatives, Obama says too easily – about Washington – that there will be no new federal programs.

Martin Luther King was right when he said in his speech at the Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, that the war in Vietnam was a war against the poor.

"There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor -- both black and white -- through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such."

Every American war since – in fact, the trillion dollar war complex itself, that "great demonic destructive suction tube" - has been a war against the poor.


Dr. Henry Casso, a founder of the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) has writes forcefully below about the stealing of land from Mexico, the fierce oppression of Chicanos, and the devastating impact on the Latino impression of the United States of the Wall along the Border. And I have been emphasizing the treatment of indigenous people.

To work, racism needs to divide people, even to the point of having publicity about the racism of whites toward blacks overshadow or diminish racism toward other groups. The fate of Trayvon Martin is, however, tied to the fate of each of us (poor and middle class whites, too, are hurt by racism. ten when they believe it, and the consequent tendency to vote for reactionary candidates, including Democrats...).


The Republican party is the big government white authoritarian party – opposing any cuts to military expenditure. Obama and the Democrats are the somewhat less authoritarian imperial party (not bombing Iran, but using drones against civilians, spying on Americans – thanks again, Edward Snowden, punishing fiercely and exclusively whisteblowers, i.e. those who tell the truth about government criminality rather than, say, the torturers of the last administration or the swindlers of the banking elite, and the like).


What no new federal programs mean is little hope of employment for young people, little hope of funding for college (or if they can get loans, debt-slavery). Capitalism cannot deal with poor blacks, Chicanos, native Americans and many whites and Asian-americans; it has uprooted them, hinders their getting jobs and education.

Instead, the government responds with the prison-industrial complex, jailing 2.3 million (25% of the world’s prisoners). Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have so far not spoken one word about this system, done nothing – it is now Obama’s second term – even to reform it.


Worse yet, there is currently a hunger strike of 30,000 prisoners in the California prisons aganst solitary confinement, an internationally recognized form of torture. This strike is receiving even less publicity in the corporate press than the one at Guantanamo…


As Victoria Law writes for Truthout,

"We are starting to look death in the face with these indeterminate SHU terms," wrote Lorenzo Benton on July 8, 2013. 'Looking death in the face, isolated from family and friends and with no meaningful contact with others is a lonely experience that serves no one well. That is why we are now seeking redress from said condition as our days are becoming more and more numbered.’

Benton is referring to the mass prison hunger strike that began that day and is now entering its third week, amid officials' threats and retaliation. On July 8, more than 30,000 people incarcerated throughout California refused meals, and more than 3,000 people refused to attend work or educational programs.

The strike encompassed people in two-thirds of California's state prisons and four out-of-state private prisons contracted by California. Benton has been in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison since 2007.

In the SHU, people are locked in their cells for at least 22 hours a day. Prison administrators place them in the SHU either for a fixed term for violating a prison rule or for an indeterminate term for being accused of gang membership. These accusations often rely on confidential informants and circumstantial evidence.

Hundreds have been confined within the SHU for more than a decade. Until recently, the only way to be released from the SHU was to debrief, or provide information incriminating other prisoners, who are then placed in the SHU for an indeterminate sentence.” (h\t Staughton Lynd)


To the destructive dynamic of capitalism, the government responds not with an emergency program to deal seriously with the problems of badly funded education and joblessness in the cities. It responds with jail and little else (Obama, however, makes some proposals at the end of his speech).


Those who are violent against poor people and against other innocents commit crimes which enable the government and the capitaists to perpetuate stereotypes about dangerous young men. These stereotypes penetrate even into the black middle class.

The criminals thus commit a double error, the crime itself, and feeding the machine which is destroying the lives of their community. Criminals thus play, probably inadvertently, into the hands of the elite which profits from and maintains political control as a result of stereotyping black people.


But what is one to say of the government and the elite? Here Paul Krugman’s point about the austerity fraud is relevant: the Paul Ryans of this world pretend this is a matter of necessity, but it is simply voluntary cruelty. And it is quasi-genocidal cruelty at that – these policies consign generations of young blacks and Chicanos and many poor whites to a life without opportunity or education.

Nonetheless, Barack’s reflections were, for an American President, remarkable.


PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I — I wanted to come out here first of all to tell you that Jay is prepared for all your questions and is — is very much looking forward to the session.

Second thing is I want to let you know that over the next couple of weeks there are going to obviously be a whole range of issues — immigration, economics, et cetera — we’ll try to arrange a fuller press conference to address your questions.

The reason I actually wanted to come out today is not to take questions, but to speak to an issue that obviously has gotten a lot of attention over the course of the last week, the issue of the Trayvon Martin ruling. I gave an — a preliminary statement right after the ruling on Sunday, but watching the debate over the course of the last week I thought it might be useful for me to expand on my thoughts a little bit.

First of all, you know, I — I want to make sure that, once again, I send my thoughts and prayers, as well as Michelle’s, to the family of Trayvon Martin, and to remark on the incredible grace and dignity with which they’ve dealt with the entire situation. I can only imagine what they’re going through, and it’s — it’s remarkable how they’ve handled it.

The second thing I want to say is to reiterate what I said on Sunday, which is there are going to be a lot of arguments about the legal — legal issues in the case. I’ll let all the legal analysts and talking heads address those issues.

The judge conducted the trial in a professional manner. The prosecution and the defense made their arguments. The juries were properly instructed that in a — in a case such as this, reasonable doubt was relevant, and they rendered a verdict. And once the jury’s spoken, that’s how our system works.

But I did want to just talk a little bit about context and how people have responded to it and how people are feeling. You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African-American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that — that doesn’t go away.
There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.

And there are very few African-American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me, at least before I was a senator. There are very few African-Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.

And you know, I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.

The African-American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws, everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.

Now, this isn’t to say that the African-American community is naïve about the fact that African-American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system, that they are disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence. It’s not to make excuses for that fact, although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context.

We understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.

And so the fact that sometimes that’s unacknowledged adds to the frustration. And the fact that a lot of African-American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African-American boys are more violent — using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.

I think the African-American community is also not naïve in understanding that statistically somebody like Trayvon Martin was probably statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else.

So — so folks understand the challenges that exist for African-American boys, but they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there’s no context for it or — and that context is being denied. And — and that all contributes, I think, to a sense that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, that, from top to bottom, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.

Now, the question for me at least, and I think, for a lot of folks is, where do we take this? How do we learn some lessons from this and move in a positive direction? You know, I think it’s understandable that there have been demonstrations and vigils and protests, and some of that stuff is just going to have to work its way through as long as it remains nonviolent. If I see any violence, then I will remind folks that that dishonors what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family.

But beyond protests or vigils, the question is, are there some concrete things that we might be able to do? I know that Eric Holder is reviewing what happened down there, but I think it’s important for people to have some clear expectations here. Traditionally, these are issues of state and local government — the criminal code. And law enforcement has traditionally done it at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels.

That doesn’t mean, though, that as a nation, we can’t do some things that I think would be productive. So let me just give a couple of specifics that I’m still bouncing around with my staff so we’re not rolling out some five-point plan, but some areas where I think all of us could potentially focus.

Number one, precisely because law enforcement is often determined at the state and local level, I think it’d be productive for the Justice Department — governors, mayors to work with law enforcement about training at the state and local levels in order to reduce the kind of mistrust in the system that sometimes currently exists.

You know, when I was in Illinois I passed racial profiling legislation. And it actually did just two simple things. One, it collected data on traffic stops and the race of the person who was stopped. But the other thing was it resourced us training police departments across the state on how to think about potential racial bias and ways to further professionalize what they were doing.

And initially, the police departments across the state were resistant, but actually they came to recognize that if it was done in a fair, straightforward way, that it would allow them to do their jobs better and communities would have more confidence in them and in turn be more helpful in applying the law. And obviously law enforcement’s got a very tough job.

So that’s one area where I think there are a lot of resources and best practices that could be brought to bear if state and local governments are receptive. And I think a lot of them would be. And — and let’s figure out other ways for us to push out that kind of training.

Along the same lines, I think it would be useful for us to examine some state and local laws to see if it — if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations and tragedies that we saw in the Florida case, rather than defuse potential altercations.

I know that there’s been commentary about the fact that the Stand Your Ground laws in Florida were not used as a defense in the case.

On the other hand, if we’re sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there’s a way for them to exit from a situation, is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace
and security and order that we’d like to see?

And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these Stand Your Ground laws, I just ask people to consider if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened?

And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.

Number three — and this is a long-term project: We need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African-American boys? And this is something that Michelle and I talk a lot about. There are a lot of kids out there who need help who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement. And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?

You know, I’m not naïve about the prospects of some brand-new federal program.

I’m not sure that that’s what we’re talking about here. But I do recognize that as president, I’ve got some convening power.

And there are a lot of good programs that are being done across the country on this front. And for us to be able to gather together business leaders and local elected officials and clergy and celebrities and athletes and figure out how are we doing a better job helping young African-American men feel that they’re a full part of this society and that — and that they’ve got pathways and avenues to succeed — you know, I think that would be a pretty good outcome from what was obviously a tragic situation. And we’re going to spend some time working on that and thinking about that.

And then finally, I think it’s going to be important for all of us to do some soul-searching. You know, there have been talk about should we convene a conversation on race. I haven’t seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations. They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have.

On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there’s a possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can; am I judging people, as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin but the content of their character? That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.

And let me just leave you with — with a final thought, that as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better. Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race. I doesn’t mean that we’re in a postracial society. It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated. But you know, when I talk to Malia and Sasha and I listen to their friends and I see them interact, they’re better than we are. They’re better than we were on these issues. And that’s true in every community that I’ve visited all across the country.

And so, you know, we have to be vigilant and we have to work on these issues, and those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage the better angels of our nature as opposed to using these episodes to heighten divisions. But we should also have confidence that kids these days I think have more sense than we did back then, and certainly more than our parents did or our grandparents did, and that along this long, difficult journey, you know, we’re becoming a more perfect union — not a perfect union, but a more perfect union.

All right? Thank you, guys."


Slain Youth’s Mother Criticizes Defense Law
The New York Times

See the photograph here.

Sybrina Fulton holds a photo of her son while speaking at a gathering of the National Urban League on Friday.

Published: July 26, 2013

“My message to you is, please use my story, please use my tragedy, please use my broken heart to say to yourself, ‘We cannot let this happen to anybody else’s child,’ ” Sybrina Fulton said during a brief but emotional luncheon talk to a gathering of the National Urban League. She received a standing ovation.

Her appearance came on the heels of comments by a juror in the case who said Thursday that she believed Mr. Zimmerman “got away with murder.” Though the comment, in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America,” has been the subject of much conversation at the conference, Ms. Fulton did not address it in her remarks Friday. (On Thursday night, Ms. Fulton issued a statement saying it had been “devastating for my family” to hear what “we already knew in our hearts to be true.”)

On Friday, she spoke passionately, and deeply personally, about the faith that she said has carried her through since February 2012, when Mr. Zimmerman killed her 17-year-old son as he was walking home after buying snacks.

“I speak to you as Trayvon’s mother,” she said. “I speak to you as a parent, and the absolutely worst telephone call you can receive as a parent is to know that your son — your son — you will never kiss again. I’m just asking you to wrap your mind around that, wrap your mind around: No prom for Trayvon. No high school graduation for Trayvon. No college for Trayvon. No grandkids coming from Trayvon, all because of a law, a law that has prevented the person who shot and killed my son to be held accountable and to pay for his awful crime.”

In the weeks since Mr. Zimmerman was acquitted, Ms. Fulton and Trayvon’s father, Tracy Martin, have taken a higher profile, drawing praise from President Obama for handling a difficult situation with grace. Amid protests over the verdict, they have spoken out on national television; Ms. Fulton addressed a vigil in Manhattan last Saturday. Mr. Martin addressed the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington on Wednesday.

Together, they are pressing the federal government to consider federal civil rights charges against Mr. Zimmerman, and they are waging a campaign to amend expanded self-defense statutes like the one in Florida, known as Stand Your Ground laws, that extend beyond the home the right to use force in a dangerous situation. They are also seeking support for the nonprofit group they established in their son’s name.

About 6,000 people are here for the Urban League meeting, which comes against the backdrop of plans to commemorate the 50th anniversary next month of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, at which the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his now-famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Earlier Friday, the audience heard from civil rights leaders like the Rev. Al Sharpton, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Representative John Lewis, the Georgia Democrat, as well as the Martin family lawyer, Benjamin Crump.

The August celebration has taken on a new sense of urgency, many here said, in light of the Martin case and also the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn a key section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Marc Morial, the former New Orleans mayor and president of the National Urban League, urged attendees on Friday to return to Washington next month.

“Everything has a different sense because of what’s happened in the last 30 days,” Mr. Morial said in an interview.


Dr. Henry Casso writes,


Thank you for this piece of thinking and sharing. You addressed an interesting subject of American history which shows pointedly the conditions of what we in the United States have become and where we are headed. As a nation which purports to be the leader of democracy, your readers need to reflect what appears to be unfolding as related by your presentation.

Cable TV, gathering in the streets, much writing are responding as if this is a black and white issue, much how we seem to look at problems in North America as black and white.

It is reported this is a racial issue, yet only black and white is addressed. Where are the others? The Reds, yellow. We brown are thrown in between. Throughout the early history of Texas, there are reports of the shooting of Mexicans, like dogs in the street to get their lands. Your reporting addresses “the Law” and Laws which need revising. A number of us established the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund in 1968 to address this issue of the Law and prepare more lawyers to be involved n Rights areas f life.. While much gain has been made, there apparently is much more to be done.

I would hope and pray that the current momentum be expansive and our thinkers address Race, and each of them, in America.
Seldom do we hear of these five states which were taken from Mexico. One thing should be placed in the equation, we are neighbors to the south with 300 million people and daily there is a public discussion of raising a fence, longer and higher. This is our 3rd trading partner. Is it any wonder countries to the south we considered our friends apparently are not acting in the self interest of the U.S. And China, look at their in-roads on obtaining land and building sea ports. One learns early in life. When you move forward, watch your rear end.

Thanks for your food for thought. It would be wholesome if our folk in leadership position would address this topic. We need to make a difference on public discourse.

Dr. Henry J. Casso"


Peter Minowitz writes:

“Very interesting stuff.

Two more reflections:

(1) Other things equal, as I recall, the defense typically has greater leeway in issuing "peremptory" challenges, e.g., in excluding someone arbitrarily (e.g., based on race). This can help black defendants in various trials, but it's possible that Zimmerman's lawyers used it.

(2) Perhaps Michelle Alexander in the interview should have put more emphasis on the people of color (especially young men) who are shot by other people of color (especially young men). I presume she discusses this phenomenon in her book, and I'd join her (and you) in condemning abuses that police and vigilantes commit.


Jim Wilkinson writes:


I was telling my wife we need a national boycott of Florida (think Disney World) and Stevie Wonder has the same thought. I am so happy I don’t stand alone. I think this can work. In a capitalist system voting with dollars is hugely important.

Sanford was the place that booed Jackie Robinson. Branch Rickey moved the Dodgers to Daytona Beach. In the spirit of Jackie Robinson, Sanford has been exposed as the racist hell hole that it is.

Sanford is very close to Disney World.



He added:

"The President had the same thoughts as me. How about one million white people {good to have whites, but it should be everyone] marching through Sanford wearing T-shirts saying “I am Treyvon Martin?” I loved the movie “Spartacus,” written by blacklisted Dalton Trumbo.

I hate heat and humidity (lived two years next to Washington, DC) but I would do it.



California Hunger Strikers Enter Third Week, Face Retaliation
Saturday, 27 July 2013 09:42
By Victoria Law, Truthout

"We are starting to look death in the face with these indeterminate SHU terms," wrote Lorenzo Benton on July 8, 2013. "Looking death in the face, isolated from family and friends and with no meaningful contact with others is a lonely experience that serves no one well. That is why we are now seeking redress from said condition as our days are becoming more and more numbered."

Benton is referring to the mass prison hunger strike that began that day and is now entering its third week, amid officials' threats and retaliation. On July 8, more than 30,000 people incarcerated throughout California refused meals, and more than 3,000 people refused to attend work or educational programs.

The strike encompassed people in two-thirds of California's state prisons and four out-of-state private prisons contracted by California. Benton has been in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison since 2007.

In the SHU, people are locked in their cells for at least 22 hours a day. Prison administrators place them in the SHU either for a fixed term for violating a prison rule or for an indeterminate term for being accused of gang membership. These accusations often rely on confidential informants and circumstantial evidence.

Hundreds have been confined within the SHU for more than a decade. Until recently, the only way to be released from the SHU was to debrief, or provide information incriminating other prisoners, who are then placed in the SHU for an indeterminate sentence.

This is the third mass hunger strike in California's prison system in two years. In 2011, prisoners staged two separate hunger strikes to protest their indefinite placement within the SHU. As reported earlier in Truthout, hunger strikers have issued five core demands:

1. Eliminate group punishments for individual rules violations;
2. Abolish the debriefing policy, and modify active/inactive gang status criteria;
3. Comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement;
4. Provide adequate food;
5. Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates.

In addition, Pelican Bay prisoners have issued 40 more demands, such as expunging all violations issued for participation in the 2011 hunger strikes and prohibiting retaliation for those participating in the upcoming hunger strike.

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR),
"Participation in a mass disturbance and refusing to participate in a work assignment are violations of state law, and any participating inmates will receive disciplinary action in accordance with the California Code of Regulations, Title 15, Section 3323(h)(A) and Section 3323(f)(7)."

On the first day, hunger strike participants were still able to send out letters. "I am doing fine so far," Mutope DuGuma wrote Truthout. "We started our mass hunger strike today and we have a long way to go."

DuGuma reported that prison officials issued a memorandum reducing the number of books that SHU prisoners are allowed to own from 10 to five." DuGuma also enclosed two photos of himself, the first he has been able to have taken in years. Prior to the 2011 hunger strikes, SHU prisoners were not allowed to take photographs of themselves to send to loved ones.

The hunger strike is now entering its third week. According to the CDCR, the number of hunger strikers has dramatically decreased from 12,421 participants on Thursday, July 11, to 2,572 participants on Monday, July 15, to 986 participants in 11 prisons on Monday, July 22. The CDCR does not recognize a person as being on hunger strike until they have missed nine consecutive meals. Prison advocates, however, charge that the CDCR is lowballing these numbers.

Carol Strickman, an attorney with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and part of the mediation team, noted that prison custody staff, not medical staff, are responsible for counting people on hunger strike.

"Last time there were discrepancies between [the numbers kept by] custody and medical staff," she told Truthout. Prisoners who have canteen items, or even empty canteen containers, in their cell are counted as not being on hunger strike. For those people to be counted as being on hunger strike, they must "start again" and be counted as having missed nine consecutive meals.

"We also knew that not everyone was going to take this to the Nth degree," she added. "Some people were going on and off so that they wouldn't get in trouble but would still be participating. The people who are most directly affected [by SHU policies] are the ones who are going to go on the longest."

Retaliation Against Hunger Strikers

On the first day of the hunger strike, SHU prisoners were placed on "modified program status," which restricted them to their cells for 24, rather than 22 to 23 hours, each day.

"Any day, one can expect a cell search to remove any canteen food items from hunger strike participants' cells," Benton noted. He also stated that prison staff began enforcing restrictions limiting a person's possessions to six cubic feet of property, which may include 40 pictures, 40 letters and five books or magazines. "The accumulation of property is our lives, but that's something we don't have any control over, so we will have to unwillingly submit."

According to Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, a coalition of grassroots organizers and community members, 14 strikers were moved to Administrative Segregation cells (or Ad Seg) on Thursday, July 11. During the 2011 hunger strikes, prison officials also placed hunger strikers into Ad Seg. In 2011, a prisoner at Pelican Bay's SHU described how hunger-strike participants were transferred:

To help you better understand what took place, I'll tell you how this kind of thing happens. A crew of CDCR officers will show up out-of-the-blue at a prisoner's cell. They'll tell him to strip naked and hand his clothes to them. They'll give him his boxers, socks, shoes and T-shirt and tell him to put them on. Then they will handcuff him behind his back and escort him to Ad Seg. Ad Seg is a separate building that is located not far from SHU. They put the prisoner in a van with little cages in it and drive him over to Ad Seg.

In Ad Seg you have no property when you first get there. When the guys from here in SHU arrived in Ad Seg, they went to an empty cell with nothing but the clothes they wore from their SHU cell.

Todd Ashker, who was one of those moved, recounted being "placed into bare strip cells that had ice cold air blowing hard out of the vents, without adequate clothes, bedding, etc, freezing our asses off [from September 29 to October 13] while starving and told by the warden "As soon as you eat, you'll go back to your SHU cells." (November 13, 2011) Jules Lobel, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights and Ashker's attorney in Ashker v. Brown, challenging prolonged SHU placement, expressed concern about the isolation of those in Ad Seg, particularly as the hunger strike continues and the strikers' health deteriorates.

Paul Redd is one of the 14 who has been moved to Ad Seg this time. On his ninth day on hunger strike, he wrote Truthout, "These cells are very small. Cold air is blowing out of the vents extremely hard. The guard in the control booth cannot see into our cells at all. If one of us or all of us fall out, there is no way to get their attention. There is no speaker in our cell with a button to push [for help]. There are no 30-minute "welfare checks." It's around every four hours here."

In addition, the CDCR has barred at least one legal advocate from communicating with both hunger strikers and prisoners across the state. Marilyn McMahon, executive director of California Prison Focus and a member of the mediation team between state corrections officials and protest leaders, received a fax from the CDCR informing her that one of her volunteers, a retired paralegal, had made "unspecified threats" and that McMahon was barred pending investigation. McMahon and Strickman had also been excluded from the prisons during the September 2011 hunger strikes, but were reinstated once the hunger strikes ended.

Although other attorneys have not been excluded from meeting with their clients in Pelican Bay, prison officials have not made legal visits easy. "Sometimes we'll try to schedule a visit and we'll be told, 'All the attorney booths are reserved,' " Strickman said. Pelican Bay has four attorney booths, which must be reserved in advance. If an attorney reserves a booth for a half-hour, the prison considers it unavailable for any other attorneys that day.

Stepdown Program Temporarily Halted

During a live interview with Al-Jazeera, CDCR Press Secretary Terry Thornton stated that the CDCR has temporarily halted its case-by-case review of SHU inmates for the Stepdown Program because the hunger strike has diverted needed resources. However, Carol Strickman stated that she had been told that the CDCR is continuing with case-by-case reviews at prisons that have no hunger strike participants. "It's the same sort of coercion in which they say, 'We can't do reviews at Pelican Bay because people in Pelican Bay are on hunger strike.' But Pelican Bay is where the reviews are most needed," she noted. "Why can't they continue with the review process while the hunger strike is going on?"

Jules Lobel agrees. "CDCR wasn't doing a huge number of reviews at Pelican Bay before, and they had nine months to do so," he told Truthout. "To try to pin the blame on the hunger strikers is simply a retaliatory move. The CDCR's reaction is to be more punitive rather than address the underlying conditions that caused people to go on hunger strike." Terry Thornton was unavailable for further comment as of press time.
Still Strong, Still Committed

Lobel receives a phone call every few weeks from his clients. "But I had to go to court and get a court order," he clarified, to receive the calls. Going into the third week of the hunger strike, he reported, "They're still strong and confident and committed. The fact that they're still three weeks into this hunger strike is a testament to the commitment of the people and the harshness of the conditions that have brought them to this point."

Advocates and family members also remain committed. On Saturday, July 13, nearly 400 people rallied outside Corcoran State Prison in California's Central Valley despite 103 degree temperatures. Marie Levin, whose brother Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa has been in Pelican Bay SHU since 1990, told Truthout, "They have unity on the inside, we have unity on the outside. I don't know anyone in Corcoran - my brother is in Pelican Bay. It was his birthday that day, but I went to the rally in Corcoran to show my solidarity. It doesn't matter what prison you're in. We're doing what we can to end these inhumane conditions in all the prisons." Levin continues to do public outreach and education, including reaching out to religious organizations. She told Truthout that the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and the American Friends Service Committee have joined Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity in urging other clergy and religious organizations to sign "A Religious Call for a Just and Humane End to the Hunger Strike in California Prisons."

In addition, family members in southern California are planning a solidarity rally in Norwalk for Sunday, July 28.

"Hopefully this would be the last for such drastic actions in which one's willpower and humanity is tested," Lorenzo Benton wrote Truthout on July 8, 2013. "One should not be required to put one's well-being to such uncertainty to have one's voice heard and a judicious hearing before the powers-that-be for reasonable changes."

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Poem: Liaoning



a littleman


a thousandcharacters


a thousand paintings

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Calligraphic poems transient in chalk

Last Sunday, the Dean of the School of International Relations Liu Honzhong and his family and friends, took us to a wonderful park in Shenyang. It is where the Ching emperor, Huangtaiji, was buried, the third largest such mausoleum in China (Mao has ended up in such a place in Beijing, the onetime revolutionary sleeping as the emperors sleep…).


It has been a park for 150 years. It was once a gated area for royalty (there are many gated areas/compounds in Shenyang). Now it is a place where everyone in the middle of the city comes and exercises.


On the ground, Esther points to the beautiful writing. It is a poem in chalk. Some older woman wrote it there, to be and to perish, with walkers and the rain, delightful and transient as Tibetan Buddhist or Navajo sand paintings. See here.


The young, she says, do not write calligraphy any more. I recall the gorgeous calligraphy (would that I knew the Chinese to read it) on centuries of Chinese (taoist) scroll/paintings…


Much is transient here.


The shift to the modern – itself an unending restlessness and transience – is not complete here, the past still touching the present (Mao encouraged an over the top approach to becoming modern, an error, but it did not erase the connection with an earlier life).


A great crowd walks, pretty much marches, to strains from a cultural revolution tune. It looks martial.


China does not have a large army (2 million in a population of a billion, 2/1000ths…). It is proceeding in the world economically, gaining through trade and aid projects, and helping people lift themselves out of poverty, out of the countryside and into the city, educating many.


Some, as one of my students told me, have parents who are construction workers, sending, with government aid, their children to University. Some are farmers (aid is given to people from the countryside and to rarer “ethnics” – the difficult Chinese term for non-Han peoples).


Education is enormously valued in Liaoning. It is the province Confucius hails from. The University of that name is on a beautiful green campus. It stands out, as do the parks, in a sprouting city of gray buildings – a Soviet heritage, American and other stores, gated buildings/compounds, and cars.


There is now (the government is beginning – hopefully – to shift toward this) an effort to create green areas, green cities. That is the hope of the planet, given especially the pollution and failures of the United States (Obama’s stimulus spent much on green projects; he has encouraged the military go green – there has to be some good aspect to American militarism, in addition to introducing the internet and being a somewhat integrated institution alone in American life; Obama has created new pollution standards at the EPA; yet he will go along with the Keystone XL pipeline, without even more pressure from below, and Congress is a disaster).


The Chinese people value and are devoted to education, and one lasting feature of the Revolution is that it gives many more people the chance (China now has half the number of universities America does – and the number is growing). There are several in Shenyang including three (the main university, a medical college, an aerospace college) where we are staying.


I asked my students how many people go to college every year and how many are from peasant and worker backgrounds. The second question was not easy to answer (a sign of danger I think), but one found 17% from rural backgrounds (the salary in the rural areas is about 4000 yuan, or about 660 dollars, roughly the cost of college tuition for a year, the urban average about twice that). If there is a similar figure for workers (I haven't found out about that yet), about a third of college students would come from poorer families.


China is, as of now, no military threat to the United States. It has but Pakistan and North Korea as allies. America has made war in Korea and Vietnam, has a plethora of military bases in the area (there are riots against rapes and murders of children by American soldiers in Okinawa and South Korea – see Chalmers Johnson, Blowback, ch. 1-2). Has China attacked Panama and Mexico, does it have bases in South and Central America or Cuba?


Put more sharply, North Korea attacked South Korea 63 years ago. Americans took over the war, nearly conquering North Korea and bombing heedlessly into China (America's hostility to the Chinese revolution escaped no one - and anti-communist or anti-radical hysteria was at its bizarre height). The Broken Bridge over the Yalu River where the Americans bombed is for China a symbol of patriotism.


The Chinese fought back (Kim Il-sung led a group of Koreans that fought the Japanese invasion in China and then went back to found North Korea. The alliance was close). The Chinese saw the war, people here have told me, as started by North Korea, but as resisting American invasion of China. The Chinese government restored North Korea (some 200,000 troops) and memorialize what they did (there are museums to this in Dandong along the border).

This has a sense of militarism although China was then attacked and menaced by the United States. Since the Korean War, China has fought along the border once with India and once with Vietnam (it did this just after the American aggression in Vietnam ended). China has been very repressive in Tibet (mirroring American behavior toward indigenous people).

The image of the expansionary Chinese, big as China is, is an American fantasy.


Frenzy about this, particularly in foreign policy circles (Condi Rice and George Bush, until they were swept away by fantasies of endless global war against Arab countries and the “faith” of the powerful “making reality”, pushed this) is foolish.


China’s hope, one partly imagined here my students tell me, is to go strongly green and teach the world (the US is largely though not entirely abjuring the possibility), along with Germany, how to do it. Liaoning is a green university (a gated oasis within the city, and the Hanyue hotel is a green hotel. The Chinese breathe the pollution in the cities, and know how serious this issue is. If there are countries to innovate about this issue, China is one.


That might give the 7 billion on this planet the chance to survive global warming for another hundred years, and perhaps even give humanity a new breath of life.


China’s danger is to emulate foolish American militarism (the hopeless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have brought American economic collapse, the vast empire of military bases, the torture prisons and networks, the endless drones and secret killings by the Joint Special Operations command, the calculated ignoring of Presidential war crimes such as torture…). The Soviet Union and the US engaged in a death struggle of militarism; the Soviet Union collapsed, and as Chalmers Johnson’s trilogy underlines, the US is giving many of the same signs (straining to control the world, 6 military regions dividing the globe, 1280 bases abroad…).


Living in resentment of being pushed around by imperialists – China suffered from this at the hands of the West, throughout the 19th century, and then Japan took the lead - is destructive and would lead China down a road of militarism, conflict and losing support, over time, among its own people (the economic progress would cease, the loss of soldiers, let alone conquest, would rightly wither patriotism at home).

Avoid this, as China might, and many things are possible.


Not being the prisoner of a war complex, as Alexander Gerschenkron used to say, is a great “advantage of backwardness”…


One serious error of John Mearsheimer’s/Kenneth Waltz’s neorealism is to make structural claims about how great regional powers must capitalize on their economic might with military might. That is often true (Mearsheimer’s chapter of American stealing of land and murdering on indigenous people is apt, though he condemns what it is too mildly – attempting misguidedly to be “value-free” about ethnic cleansing). But the Soviet Union and the US both have undermined themselves, one destroyed, the other decadent, because of trying to conquer and hold territory abroad (Mearsheimer is wonderfully critical of this in “Imperial by Design” in the National Interest, January-February 2010). And this is an era when global warming will make California a desert by 2040 – no agricultural production there – if it continues at the same pace (Energy Secretary and Nobel Prize winner Steven Chu’s testimony at his Congressional hearing in 2008, not covered in the mainstream, i.e. corporate press).


In this era, greatness of leadership will be measured not by guns (China does have to be armed against an American or other attack; it does not have to strive to become even the leader in drones…), but by economic progress and leadership – example, innovation and trade – in green energy (the countries which innovate about this will lead the world economy…).

Things that are likely or happen for a period or even more than once are not, as neo-realists like to assert “inevitabilities” and "predictabilities." Marx made that mistake (we would otherwise be in a much more cooperative society with much more ability to deal with the danger of global warming). Even capitalism itself – Marx’s chapter on “primitive accumulation” - is no inevitability but a coalescing of a number of important features over centuries (when it emerges and becomes dominant, it does transform the world, however).

That so great a thinker as Marx made this error might give structural realists some caution about such claims…Mearsheimer and Waltz were critical of Vietnam and Iraq (and Waltz’s account of the perverseness and brutality of the American “unipower,” even before the end of the Cold War and since, is very good), but their work is marred by now evidently false predictions. Social science and history are explanatory, not predictive disciplines as is Darwinan biology (about the evolution of new species).


The people walking/marching by on Saturday night in the Emperor's Park were peaceful and yet a shadow in this picture. But modern wars are of course no longer fought very much by armies in the old way…


People exercise here in groups. Many were playing a version of hackysack, kicking a badminton birdie. Others were taking turns skipping between two ropes (it hurts badly when it hits you, one of my companions said).

Others in a large group were dancing, dancing….


This is no society to stay home with television on Saturday night. Everybody goes to a park and exercises (in the mornings, the parks are filled with people doing tai chi and chi gong).

That will continue (though young people are less into tai chi…).


There is a lovely and exuberant health and energy here (again with a centralism and potential militarism in the background or as an undercurrent, which may not be).


We walked down to the emperor Huangtaiji’s tomb. It was from the Man (Manchu) dynasty centered initially in Shenyang, later moving to Beijing.


To do this, we passed his statue, bulky, staring firmly out. He was once saved from his enemies my wife has discovered by being covered by crows. His enemies thought he was dead, being picked apart, and did not go down to check. The crow is, marvelously, the bird of the Manchus, although we went to the Emperor’s palace this week and there were lots of dragons and phoenixes (the symbol of the Empress) carved in wood or stone, but no crows. There was, Paula discovered upon asking and searching, a perch for crows.


The tomb itself is ornate, lion-like creatures and dragons with big eyes (a symbol in the old Imperial hierarchy only of the Emperor).


The Man wore their hair in a topknot with a braid, the sides of the head shaved. The Emperor ordered the conquered people of the Ming – the Han – to shave their heads. “Keep the hair, off with the head; shave the hair; keep the head.”

Confucius had told the Chinese to preserve the hair and the body of each person…


The Chinese government has, since Mao, established a one child policy. The latter is to limit population growth, given that there are a billion people in China. But this is a family oriented culture. It is a terrific hardship, and many complain…


The policy recalls the old Manchu policy – a kind of sweeping tyrannical edict, though this time with a purpose other than humiliation. One result is that each family treasures and invests spiritually in the one child, and helps her to become educated. There will not be much happiness in China to put these children at risk. There never is; it was one of the big motivators of the anti-Vietnam war movement in the United States, once upon a time. But in a family oriented culture, if you are restricted to having only one child, the anger and sorrow are even more intense…


As another inadvertent effect, two parents who work can sometimes take care of a single child creatively. The students I have seem quite well nurtured and happy (there is less social masking in the Chinese, something unusually more from the heart).


The state is already beginning to relax the once child policy. There is talk of the population graying after 2020 and having no children to look after parents. Arbitrary edicts disintegrate important features of communal life…


A single child is now allowed to have two children.

“Ethnics” have always been allowed two children.


As Amartya Sen has emphasized in Development as Freedom, Kerala in India, led by a pro-Soviet Communist party once upon a time, contrasts favorably with China. A matriarchal civilization, the Keralans invested in education for women and women’s cooperatives. The society has become as egalitarian as China, and the birth rate, due to the independence and initiative of individual Keralans, is lower voluntarily than that of China, with coercion.


The Chinese revolution, led by Mao and the communists, placed tremendous emphasis on the liberation of women. Today at Liaoning University, many women are on the faculty (there are many couples teaching at this university or in two universities in the city). It is expected that women have their own careers, play a big and independent role in political and academic life.


The Dean asked Paula Bard, my wife, to come and give three lectures about her art (photography, prints) and the culture about birds (corvids) in the United States. With 60 people attending the first, the four who made comments or asked questions were women.

My class is half women and women are among the most active participants. That everyone takes seriously and as a matter of course each person as a contributor in her own right, is striking here.


The Ching emperors were big, the people small, the park gated as many buildings are.


The park is now open, the people enjoy it. The statue of the emperor and some of his traditions (Mao, the emperor, entombed in Beijing; the one child policy) remain. But the individuals, through their determination, are overcoming this.


The beautiful words of the poem in brown chalk on stone stare up. Stanzas of ideographs. The delicacy of the forms lingers, already fading under footsteps, but still clear. The characters will wash away. The greatness of the culture, even the reverence and fun of older people to come and write out transient poems in the park, will wash away.


But there is here a 5000 year old civilization, its marvels realized, made anew among many; its parks and “forbidden cities” inhabited collectively, enthusiastically, raucously, and generously by its people. It is a gift to be here.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Letters from Leslie Lomas and John Lamb and the demonstrations about Trayvon Martin

In response to my post on the murder of Trayvon Martin, here, Leslie Lomas wrote me a letter which says it all, asking what it is, from the standpoint of the “law endorcement” complex, about possessing a gun that enables only racist vigilantes to “stand their ground." Why didn’t Trayvon Martin have a right to stand his ground; he was just walking while possessing skittles and ice tea. What removes his right as a human being to walk in the rain?

The meaning of this pseudo-law is: if you are non-black, you can murder black people; if you are black and are hunted, attacked and then defend yourself in any way, you are “the aggressor.” ALEC (the American Legistlative Exchange Council) which wrote these laws for some Republican pseduo-legislators - is an obscenity and needs – along with the corporations who sponsor it – to be retired, in every form, from political life.

Here is Leslie’s letter:

“But, y'know, I just can't figure out why no one asks why didn't Trayvon Martin have a right to ‘stand his ground.’ I guess you only have a right to ‘stand your ground’ if you have a gun -- not if you just happen to be walking home alone after dark.

Leslie Lomas”


Stevie Wonder is courageously boycotting Florida over its Stand your Ground law:

"I decided today that until the Stand Your Ground law is abolished in Florida, I will never perform there again. As a matter of fact, wherever I find that law exists, I will not perform in that state or in that part of the world."


People are sitting in against Governor Scott until this law is ended. There should be mass nonviolent noncooperation with Florida (and with every other Stand Your Ground state) until this license for racist hunting – a resurrection of lynching - is ended…


John Lamb wrote:

“Dear Alan,

Why were the only 6 people on the jury instead of 12? I am confused about this. I know why 5 of the 6 were white women, carved down by the prosecution in the jury selection process, which happens all the time.


Aside from an unjust law, niceties of American justice in a prosecution obviously need not be honored in Florida. A jury of one's peers...

I asked Peter Minowitz about it and he pointed out that cutting the number of jurors prevents the “minority of one” in rare cases – travesties of law and decency such as this - from doing justice:

“I was surprised by the size of the jury, and I'm guessing that it's simply the standard practice in Florida. Other things equal, ironically, it's probably easier for the PROSECUTION to convince six rather than twelve jurors (one holdout can sink a case and produce a mistrial).”


See also
the deluded remarks of one racist on the jury which even three of her “fellows” distanced themselves from:

"The lone juror from George Zimmermnan’s trial to speak out publicly since his acquittal continues to stoke controversy. On Tuesday, Juror B37, as she is known, told CNN’s Andersoon Cooper that she thinks Trayvon Martin’s killing was justified.
Anderson Cooper: "In your heart and in your head, you are 100 percent convinced that George Zimmerman, in taking out his gun and pulling the trigger, did nothing wrong?"
Juror: "I’m 101 percent that he was — that he should have done what he did, except for the things that he did before."
Cooper: "You mean he shouldn’t have gotten out of the car, he shouldn’t have pursued Trayvon Martin, but in the final analysis, in the final struggle..."
Juror: "When the end came to the end..."
Cooper: "He was justified?"
Juror: "He was justified in shooting Trayvon Martin."

In a statement, four other jurors from the trial sought to distance themselves from those comments, saying the opinions of Juror B37 "were her own."

Just a note here: the four jurors could distance themselves from her opinion but not from the crime against what is just that they themselves abetted. This is a case of knowing right from wrong. This was a case to be a “majority of one” as Thoreau puts it.

These jurors – every single one – did wrong.


Even some people in power are now speaking out. Here is Eric Holder, the Attorney General, at the NAACP convention, suggesting that all the human beings in America (the others have forgotten themselves…) need to stand our ground against racist murders:

"By allowing, and perhaps encouraging, violent situations to escalate in public, such laws undermine public safety. The list of resulting tragedies is long and, unfortunately, has victimized too many who are innocent. It is our collective obligation: We must stand our ground to ensure that our laws reduce violence, and take a hard look at laws that contribute to more violence than they prevent."


Al Sharpton, too, has some important words about this issue:

"Let us be clear: It is now, because of these laws, and upheld by a jury in this trial, where anyone walking — committing no crime — can be followed or approached by another civilian, and they can use deadly force and say it was self-defense. That is something that is frightening and cannot be allowed to sustain itself in our society."


There is no person that this does not affect. If racist gunslingers can do this, shooters can also murder white children in Connecticut (same corporations, same ALEC, connected issues).

Anyone who doesn’t stand up and take action to stop this kind of racism – is creating an even more horrific society than America, in many ways (i.e. the prison system) – already is.

We each, white, black and latino, have an interest as well as a moral obligation in stopping "judicially"-sanctioned murder.


If Trayvon Martin had been white, however, Zimmerman would not have hunted him…


We need a movement to stop such crimes and Saturday’s demonstrations are a good place to be part of it (I am currently in Shenyang in Manchuria so I am with you in spirit thought not physically).


Here are Michelle Alexander’s powerful words on Democracy Now about American justice and the prison-industrial complex:

Michelle Alexander: "Zimmerman Mindset" Endangers Young Black Lives with Poverty, Prison & Murder

Michelle Alexander, attorney, civil rights advocate and the author of the best-selling book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. She is a law professor at Ohio State University.
"The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness." By Michelle Alexander
NAACP Petition: Open Civil Rights Case Against George Zimmerman
Watch all Democracy Now! reports on Trayvon Martin case
This is viewer supported ne
"Justice for Trayvon" protests are planned in more than 100 cities this weekend as activists seek federal charges against George Zimmerman and the repeal of "Stand Your Ground" laws in Florida and dozens of other states. We speak with Michelle Alexander, a law professor at Ohio State University and author of the best-selling book, "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness." Alexander says the biases that led to Martin’s death and let his killer go free are deeply embedded in U.S. society and in the criminal justice system itself: "The [Zimmerman mindset] that views black men and boys as a perpetual problem to be dealt with has infected our criminal justice system, infected our schools, has infected our politics in ways that have had disastrous consequences, birthing a prison system unprecedented in world history, and stripping millions of people of basic civil and human rights once they have been branded criminals and felons. It’s this mindset that some of us, defined largely by race and class, are unworthy of our basic care and concern and can be dealt with harshly, written off with impunity."
MICHELLE ALEXANDER: Well, I think it’s clear that George Zimmerman not only killed an innocent man, but that Trayvon Martin would be alive today if he had been born white. If Trayvon had been white, it is beyond any reasonable doubt that he would not have been stalked by Zimmerman, and he would not have found himself in a fight with George Zimmerman. There would have been no fight, no trial, no verdict, no dead boy.

And as we reflect on what this moment means for our democracy and our racial present, I think it’s critically important that we not allow ourselves to get bogged down in the details of who said what when, but rather step back and consider what this Zimmerman mindset, a mindset that views a boy walking in his neighborhood carrying nothing but Skittles and iced tea as a threat, this mindset that views black men and boys as a perpetual problem to be dealt with. This mindset has infected our criminal justice system, has infected our schools, has infected our politics, in ways that have had disastrous consequences, birthing a prison system unprecedented in world history and stripping millions of basic civil, human—millions of people of basic civil and human rights once they’ve been branded criminals and felons. It’s this mindset that some of us, defined largely by race and class, are unworthy of our basic care and concern, and can be dealt with harshly, written off with impunity, that has led to the birth of the prison-industrial complex and, I think, a great deal of indifference to the plight of those who are locked up in cages in prisons, but also locked out of jobs and opportunity, and find themselves trapped in ghettoized communities.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Michelle Alexander, you’ve also suggested that if Zimmerman were actually a police officer, we would not be having this conversation. Could you explain what you mean by that and what the implications of it are?
MICHELLE ALEXANDER: Absolutely. You know, there has been an outpouring of anger and concern because of the actions of George Zimmerman, a private citizen who profiled a young boy and pursued him and tried to confront him, perhaps. But what George Zimmerman did is no different than what police officers do every day as a matter of standard operating procedure. We have tolerated this kind of police profiling and the stopping and frisking of young black and brown men. We have tolerated this kind of conduct for years and years, recognizing that it violates basic civil rights but allowing it to go on.
You know, the reality is, is that it is a crime for a private person to go up to another private person, armed with, you know, a loaded weapon, and confront them, stalk them, perhaps search all over their body to see what they may have on them. That is a crime. It’s an assault with a deadly weapon, aggravated battery or aggravated assault. But when a police officer does precisely the same thing, it’s called "stop and frisk."
And, as we know, stop-and-frisk policies are routine nationwide. In New York City alone, more than 600,000 people are stopped and frisked every year, overwhelmingly black and brown men, and nearly all are found to be innocent of any crime or infraction, and are harassed simply because they seem out of place, seem like they’re up to no good. The same kinds of stereotypes and hunches that George Zimmerman used when deciding that, you know, Trayvon Martin seemed like a threat in his neighborhood, law enforcement officers employ all the time.
I believe that Trayvon Martin’s life might well have been spared if many of us who care about racial justice had raised our voices much, much sooner and much, much more loudly about the routine stereotyping and profiling of young black men and boys. It is because we have tolerated these practices for so long that George Zimmerman felt emboldened, I believe, to act on a discriminatory mindset that night.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about this case of Marissa Alexander. She’s the 31-year-old African-American mother of three who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing what she maintains was a warning shot at her abusive husband. She has insisted she was defending herself when she fired the gun into a wall near her husband. Alexander had turned down a plea bargain that would have seen her jailed for something like three years. She attempted to use Florida’s Stand Your Ground law in her defense, but in March 2012 the jury convicted her, after only 12 minutes of deliberation, and she was sentenced to 20 years behind bars under a Florida law known as "10-20-Life" that carries a mandatory minimum for certain gun crimes regardless of the circumstance. This was an Angela Corey prosecution, the special prosecutor in the Trayvon Martin case who ultimately brought the charge of second-degree murder against George Zimmerman. Michelle Alexander, can you talk about this Florida law and the issue of mandatory minimums, in general?
MICHELLE ALEXANDER: Absolutely. You know, the case you just described is, you know, a stark example of the discriminatory application of the Stand Your Ground law itself. You know, here is a woman firing shots in the air to protect herself from what she believed is an abusive spouse, and she winds up getting 20 years, while George Zimmerman, you know, is released scot-free after pursuing someone based on racial stereotypes and assumptions of criminality. She received a 20-year sentence because of harsh mandatory minimum sentences, sentences that exist in Florida and in states nationwide.
Mandatory minimum sentences give no discretion to judges about the amount of time that the person should receive once a guilty verdict is rendered. Harsh mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses were passed by Congress in the 1980s as part of the war on drugs and the "get tough" movement, sentences that have helped to fuel our nation’s prison boom and have also greatly aggravated racial disparities, particularly in the application of mandatory minimum sentences for crack cocaine.
It is the Zimmerman mindset, the mindset that some people, viewed largely by race and class, are a problem that must be dealt with harshly and just locked up and, you know, the key thrown away, that has helped to drive the adoption of many of these mandatory minimum sentence laws. And if we are serious about ending the Zimmerman mindset, we must be committed to much more than ending vigilante justice. We must be committed to repealing all of the mandatory minimum sentence laws that reflect that kind of Zimmerman mindset, the mentality that some people can simply be disposed of, are a problem—not people who have problems, but who are the embodiment of problem—that can be treated like mere throwaways.
AMY GOODMAN: And I just wanted to correct: Her name is Marissa Alexander, the woman who was sentenced to 20 years in jail for shooting a gun. Nermeen?
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Michelle Alexander, you heard the comments of Attorney General Eric Holder. What do you think the Justice Department should be doing in response to this and in response to some of the trends that you’ve spoken of in the criminal justice system?
MICHELLE ALEXANDER: Well, with respect to the George Zimmerman case, I think they are right to continue their investigation into whether federal civil rights charges can be brought against George Zimmerman. I think it’s highly unlikely that the Justice Department will actually file suit against George Zimmerman, but I am encouraged that they’re actually continuing the investigation.
But simply investigating this one case does not even begin to scratch the surface of what must be done. Although Attorney General Eric Holder does not have the authority to repeal mandatory minimum sentences and undo the legislation that has, you know, helped to create the prison-industrial complex, what he can do is insist that we have a national debate and dialogue. He can say that the passage of these mandatory minimum sentences was wrong and that it was done with a discriminatory mindset, that it was done with an attitude of overwhelming punitiveness towards poor people, in general, and poor people of color, in particular, that it has had disastrous consequences for poor communities of color, and that we must undo the harm that has been done and repeal these laws so that a more restorative and rehabilitative approach to criminal justice might be possible. He can do this. You know, this is a conversation that I think he is well positioned to lead and to begin. But as we’ve seen with President Obama’s administration, although both the president and Attorney General Holder often say they want to encourage frank dialogues about race, we’ve seen relatively little in terms of, you know, actual initiative and leadership shown around issues of racial justice. And I would hope that, you know, in the months that follow the Trayvon Martin tragedy, that we will see much more courage and bold leadership coming from the Justice Department.
AMY GOODMAN: Michelle Alexander, I want to ask you to stay with us. We’re going to break quickly. Michelle is author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. And then we’re going to come back to talk about a new study of African Americans killed by police or security guards just in the last year. Stay with us.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to a report that examines how what happened to Trayvon Martin, and the lack of punishment faced by his killer, is not unique. In a survey conducted in 2012, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement found at least 136 unarmed African Americans were killed by police, security guards and self-appointed vigilantes over the course of a single year. When African Americans who were armed are included in the survey, the overall number killed in extrajudicial shootings was 313—one black person killed every 28 hours.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by Kali Akuno, a longtime organizer with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, author of Let Your Motto Be Resistance: A Handbook on Organizing New Afrikan and Oppressed Communities. His organization’s report is called "Operation Ghetto Storm," documenting the extrajudicial killing of 313 black people in 2012. Michelle Alexander is still with us, author of The New Jim Crow.
It’s great to have you both with us. Kali Akuno, very quickly, just go through what you found.
KALI AKUNO: What we found is that this practice of extrajudicial killings is very systematic throughout the country. We found that police officers rarely—or the security guards or those who are deputized, such as George Zimmerman—are rarely, if ever, persecuted for the crimes that they commit, for the killings that they commit. And we found that overwhelmingly—as you mentioned some of the figures, overwhelmingly, most of the folks who were killed do not have any weapons. And the main reason—even 47 percent of those who were killed, the reasoning that was offered by the police is that they felt threatened—and so, a very similar argument that you hear in the Zimmerman case. And this was very systematic.
And we also found that—313 is what we could definitely verify, but we believe that this is an undercount. And this is primarily because the police, how they document these killings, oftentimes in many states there is no race designated. But what you can do is look at the geographic area and kind of make some summaries. But the federal government really is not compiling this information, and not many people are trying to compile this information, so there is a pretty significant gap in terms of, you know, the cold reality, if we want to look at and desegregate it by race, of what’s actually taking place in our communities.
AMY GOODMAN: Kali, I want to ask you about a particular case. A trial began this week in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for a case that’s been compared to the Trayvon Martin shooting. An elderly white man, John Henry Spooner, is facing first-degree intentional murder charges for the fatal shooting of his unarmed [neighbor], a 13-year-old African-American boy named Darius Simmons, in May 2012. According to the criminal complaint, Spooner confronted Darius Simmons of stealing from his home. When Simmons denied it, Spooner shot him. The boy’s mother witnessed her son’s murder. Darius Simmons’ aunt, Betty McCuiston, spoke at the vigil after the shooting.
BETTY McCUISTON: And his mom want everyone to know that he had his hands up, standing in front of him, when he shot him. And then he turned to run, and he shot him again in his back.

AMY GOODMAN: After witnessing her son’s murder, Darius Simmons’ mother, Patricia Larry, was reportedly forced to remain in a police car for more than an hour instead of being allowed to be with her son’s body. Police searched her home for the firearms Spooner had accused the boy of stealing but found nothing. He was her—his neighbor. They also arrested another of her sons on a year-old truancy violation. On Monday, at least one potential juror for the Spooner case was not chosen after he expressed anger over the Zimmerman verdict. Of the 14 jurors selected Monday, only one is African American. If you could tell us more about this, Kali Akuno?
KALI AKUNO: Well, I mean, just briefly, we see, again, the same pattern, particularly in the jury selection. We see the same pattern of how the police were derelict in their duties to gather the information, how they treated the mother and the rest of her family as if they were guilty. We see the same kind of pattern. It speaks to the mindset of criminalizing blackness, of criminalizing black people, that Michelle Alexander was breaking down to you, that we see as systematic throughout the country and that really we have to get at the heart of and have a much deeper conversation. And I think the mass movement which is taking place in response is an opening shot to have that conversation, to really talk about race in a more substantive way and to basically, I think, deal with the policies that we need to transform, you know, the stop and frisk, the war on drugs, because that’s ultimately what we’re talking about and what has to take place in this country, and to change this narrative.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Michelle Alexander, very quickly—Michelle Alexander, very quickly, before we conclude, your final comment?
MICHELLE ALEXANDER: Well, just that I think it’s critically important that we think beyond traditional forms of politics. If we are serious about building a movement that will end the Zimmerman mindset, that will end mass incarceration and break our nation’s habit of treating black and brown men as disposable, it is going to take organizing, it’s going to take civil disobedience, it’s going to take a commitment to movement building far beyond the forms of traditional advocacy that have been so prevalent in recent decades.
AMY GOODMAN: Michelle Alexander and Kali Akuno, we want to thank you so much for being with us.

Some glimpses of China

Our plane in San Francisco to Beijing rolled by the wreckage of the flight from South Korea that crashed 10 days ago. It was like a ship with its bottom ripped out, the halved body, nose poking forward, on the blackened earth that it had dug. 2 Chinese students were killed. Every thing was stalled at the airport.


I and my wife are both going to teach in China. We arrived from Denver at 8:30 for a 2:30 flight. Before noon came the crash. The airport proceeded as if everything was normal (one could see the smoke from some of the upstairs windows). But New York Times and CNN.org brought news and pictures of the crash…

Government-ordered “secrets” – which are no secret…


Airport “disaster protocol” which is…a disaster.


We were delayed for a day.

And the next day, Air China called us in for 11 AN, got our long line rushing to board, and had us sit for 5 hours on the plane before we taxied by the crash.


In the course of the long wait for a ticket, I met Jerry, a physicist and solar energy entrepreneur in China who has taught at Case Western.


We were talking about what I will teach, about China and democracy, and Jerry thought, given prosperity for the last 40 years, that the Chinese people (4/5ths Han) are mainly satisfied.


His father, he said, was a farmer making 3 yuan a month. 40 years ago, his father’s child having gone through University could have made 10 yuan, 30 years ago 100 20 years ago several hundred, 10 years ago a thousand, now 8-9 thousand. The progress across education and generations here is marked (it is not for everyone, many live poorly in China, though there is – I have noticed now on being here - a deep spirit of equanimity and happiness, and a amazing willingness to work hard).


There are a billion people in China very differently situated (the Uighurs, Mongolians, Tibetans inter alia) and some fiercely oppressed. There are also great collective traditions in China, Confucian ones about the family, which yield a powerful sense, along with the remnants of the spirit that made the great Revolution of 1949, that everyone is in it together. There is no American tradition of the Bill of Rights, a determined sense of the basic liberties of each individual. It is thus hard for people to experience themselves as individuals, for example in the way Americans do, or, in some ways, be treated significantly in this way. But the Chinese seem connected each other, and at times, helpful and even compassionate in unusual ways.


Ironically, the Horatio Alger story, no longer realized in the United States, has been realized for many by the Chinese revolution and its capitalist but very statist aftermath. Capitalism has often flourished with state monitoring as we can see in the prevention of financial collapse by Glass-Steagall from the Great Depression to 2008, cancelled disastrously by President Clinton (American “capitalism” is, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the extreme of predatory capitalism, as the drunken revels of AIG executives during the “bail out” and government failure to deal with foreclosures on poor people highlighted). China did not allow speculative banking and came through the downturn quickly and relatively unscathed.


Jerry’s father, he said, was like many other poor people, happy in his line of work. But most of those who have “made” it, lead lives constrained by striving for money – an alienated life, always running ahead of oneself, never quite being present, in which one does what one does ”for the money’s” or for status’s sake.” But this has not yet quite overwhelmed people in China.


As we waited for our flight, my wife saw an “ethnic” woman – the Han Chinese phrase for minorities - at the airport. She was sleeping across two seats, avoiding the bar which juts between them. She had clothes woven with wonderful designs. She drifted up to the balconies to watch others below, unbeknownst to them.


The urban life in China (I can see it now, having arrived in Shenyang) is still in touch with a rural and inner peacefulness, the modern not yet merely uprooted, unsettled, connected still to the countryside.


In Shenyang (the fourth largest city in China; population 8 million), there are KFCs, McDonald’s, Starbucks, all the detritus of American fast food. And young people, often studying English from early on, are fascinated with them.


But people still eat a traditional diet. There are no fat people. One of my students tells me about eating happily at McDonald’s as a treat (people in China as in India often celebrate this), but then feeling unwell, and not going back.


The city is being thrown together before our eyes (hundreds of new gray apartment buildings, a heritage of dull Soviet architecture, crowd the skies, cranes are everywhere. Ten years ago, there were few cars, now the streets are crowded, and there are 600 new cars every day. A subway is expanding (two lines are in) and within two years, they are laying two more (crisscrossing the city, relieving some of the traffic). Nobody drives in lanes or even on their side of the street, individuals wander through the traffic, bikes and motorbikes, now a minority, maneuver through the cars. It is a throng…


Right near the University, we can go to big modern stores to shop. But the sidewalks and trees are just being built (actually, twice – some officials didn’t like the first effort) for a countrywide athletic meet which is scheduled for later in the year near Liaoning University where I am teaching. Athletic meets are great opportunities to modernize for the society as the marvels of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing illustrated.


An extra dizziness in the midst of rapid modernization (Shenyang was a steel and coal town and has now moved on; the government stepping in intelligently - the United States elite has no concern about the wellbeing of ordinary people or the health of society, no longer bothers - is funding some energy and high tech industry.


The crash stands out in my mind. It delayed our coming (we had another day’s lay over in Beijing, because our connecting flight to Shenyang was cancelled by storms and rebooking until the evening of the day after we arrived).


The world moves too quickly. This morning the electricity and water are shut off throughout this section of Shenyang where the new University is (this is the suburban branch of Liaoning University which has 3 campuses) to be poured into the construction (a less developed country and a country driving forward rapidly, the picture a bit jittery…). And yet there is a quality of hope and strength and dedication and commonality among many here which works through and despite disasters.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Poem: calligraphy


an old woman chalks



beautiful characters



Monday, July 15, 2013

A “judicial” lynching: what American “justice” is

A non-black vigilante is patrolling a housing project. He spots a young man in a hoodie walking in the rain. He finds him suspicious. He radios the police about him. The clerk – a woman – tells him not to get out of his car.

He has a gun. He does get out of his car. He hunts for the young man.

The young man is afraid of him. He tries to hide. But he is staying with his father in a nearby apartment. He is trying to go home.

A confrontation occurs. There is a fight of some sort and the vigilante shoots and kills the young man.

Under a new state law – “Stand your Ground” – if a person feels threatened (a nonblack person fighting a black person), then the former can kill the black person.

The young man here was hunted as prey and attacked and murdered by a man with a gun. Who was threatened?

Who was walking while black?

The law about self-defense is clear. One must be attacked. One must not hunt an unarmed man with a gun.

The unjust law in Florida is that if a man feels threatened, even one who hunts another man with a gun, it is permissible to shoot and kill the man who “feels” frightening to the hunter.

This is making the young black man dangerous because, with vicious racist stereotypes propagated since the Founding, some non-black people (some middle class black people also) find young black men threatening.

The American constitution has a law that blacks count for 3/5ths of a human being in order to provide more votes for their "owners." This law made slave-owners President of the Republic for 52 out of its first 72 years. This law gave enough representatives to non-black and non-red men so that the US government passed the Indian Removal Act against peaceful native americans in Georgia and Mississippi who had settled and farmed, drove them, with many dying, along the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma.

They were dangerous, these Indians, just like Trayvon Martin, walking with skittles, in the rain…


Lisa Graves is a former assistant Attorney General in the Clinton administration working on gun laws. She said about the instructions of the “judge” to the jury:

“Well, even though the defense in the Zimmerman case did not ask for the legal grant of immunity that that law would have potentially given him, the fact is that the NRA, through changing that law in Florida, through getting Stand Your Ground enacted in Florida in 2005, got the jury instructions changed. And so, even though it’s popular wisdom to say that that law was not at issue in this case, in fact it was, because the exact instruction to the jury was that Zimmerman had ‘no duty to retreat’ and had a ‘right to stand his ... ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.’ That’s a direct quote from the jury instructions. Those jury instructions incorporate the Stand Your Ground law. And so, I think that’s significant.” See here.
h/t Michelle Sisk

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The arrest of Nariman Tamimi for walking while Palestinian

Last October, as part of the Dorothy Cotton Institute’s delegation of civil rights activists and Jews coming to support nonviolent Palestinian resistance to the Occupation, we stayed with the Tamimis in Nabi Saleh. Nabi Saleh is a village on the West Bank whose olive groves have been cut by a wall to protect a gleaming pink settlement – Halamish - on a nearby hill. Israeli soldiers routinely fire tear gas and live ammunition (they have killed at least 2 demonstrators) as well as skunk gas at unarmed people.


The Tamimis have offered nonviolent protest – the 1500 or so villagers are named Tamimi – which has won concessions – the Wall has been forced back – but at a terrific price. Bassem Tamimi, a leader, has been beaten up (his ribs broken) and spent time in jail before and after. His relatives Mustafa Tamimi and Rushdi Tamimi have been murdered while protesting by the illegal and immoral Israeli Occupiers of Palestinian land.
See “Janna’s Song” here.


Nariman Tamimi welcomed us into her house. She and another women, Rana Hamadah, were arrested by the Israeli army for walking while Palestinian. They supposedly entered, while engaged in nonviolent protest, a suddenly declared “closed military zone.”


They have since been jailed and subject to military courts (in Israel, there is at best unequal “justice” and more likely, no justice for Palestinians) which seek to ban protest. The Dorothy Cotton Institute delegation has written a strong letter of protest, signed by all of its members and in memory of all those who fought in the American South against the similar violence and oppression of Jim Crow, against this outrage.


It is nonviolent protest which the state of Israel most fears. It reveals the militarism and brutality of the Occupation and the new transfer/ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. It makes shine the faces of those who are unjustly and cruelly and carelessly violent.


To Nariman Tamimi
July 12, 2013

Dear Nariman,

Last October, you, Bassem, and the Tamimi family welcomed us, members of the Dorothy Cotton Institute Civil and Human Rights Delegation with gracious hospitality when we visited Nabi Saleh. We remember your warmth and generosity, and are grateful for the opportunity to learn about your struggle for human rights, democracy and justice. As people who have been active in the struggle for human rights, democracy and justice in our own country, we were deeply inspired by the extraordinary courage of the people of your village.

We were shocked to hear about the recent IDF arrest and detention of you and your friend, Rana, for demonstrating non-violently against the theft of your land and water spring. We admire your courage and continued determination, and we deplore the mistreatment that you and your friend have been subjected to.

When will this terrible injustice end? When non-violent demonstration is cause for arrest and brutal mistreatment, it is clear that in this freedom struggle no forms of resistance for the rights of Palestinians are considered legal and permissible expressions of human dignity. Stealing your people’s land (to build the settlement of Halamish), preventing you from walking to your water spring appropriated by the settlers of Halamish, arbitrarily defining the area as a “closed military zone”, then handcuffing, blindfolding, and detaining you for three days before being charged are disgraceful violations of your basic human rights. The baffling charges against you are clearly contrived.

By detaining you and then placing you under house arrest, the IDF and the military court seek to make an example of you who dare to resist in Nabi Saleh. Yet, the need the IDF feels to bar you and Rana from the weekly demonstrations reveals the power of your presence and your resistance. You will still inspire others, even while drinking tea on Fridays, inside your home.

Nabi Saleh is such a thorn in Israel’s side because your spirit cannot be broken. No matter what you are subjected to, they have not diminished your dignity. No matter how they try to curtail your liberty, you, Nariman, are the essence of a free person, and the people of Nabi Saleh are heroes and free, sovereign people.
Some of us participated in the struggle for freedom and democracy in our own country some fifty years ago. We are all engaged in ongoing struggles for freedom, democracy and justice today, here and elsewhere. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” We know that the struggle of the people of your village is a moral struggle that will prevail.

Please, stay strong and remember that you have friends and supporters here in the US, and thanks to your allies in independent media, we are watching and stand in solidarity with you.


The Dorothy Cotton Institute 2012 Civil and Human Rights Delegation to the West Bank:

donnie i. betts, Filmmaker, Denver, CO

Rabbi Joseph Berman, Chair, Boston Chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, Boston, MA

Laura Ward Branca, Senior Fellow, Dorothy Cotton Institute, Ithaca, NY

Prof. Clayborne Carson, Director Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA

Dorothy F. Cotton, Distinguished Fellow, Dorothy Cotton Institute, Ithaca, NY

Kirby Edmonds, Senior Fellow and Program Coordinator, Dorothy Cotton Institute, Ithaca, NY

Jeff Furman, National Advisor, Dorothy Cotton Institute

Prof. Alan Gilbert, University of Denver, Denver, CO

Dr. Vincent Harding, Historian, Activist, Friend and Colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Denver, CO

Robert. L. Harris, Jr., Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

Sara Hess, Ithaca, NY

Dr. Margo Hittleman, Senior Fellow, Dorothy Cotton Institute, Ithaca, NY

Rev. Lucas Johnson, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Atlanta, GA

Aljosie Aldrich Knight, Atlanta, GA

Rev. Carolyn McKinstry, Birmingham, AL

The Rev. Dr. Allie Perry, Board Member, Interfaith Peace-Builders, New Haven, CT

Dr. Paula M. Rayman, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, Watertown, MA

Dr. Alice Rothchild, American Jews for a Just Peace, Cambridge, MA

Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, Freeman Fellow, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Boston, MA

Dr. James Turner, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

Rabbi Brian Walt, Palestinian/Israeli Nonviolence Project Fellow, Dorothy Cotton Institute, Ithaca, NY


By Mairav Zonszein |Published July 8, 2013
When non-violence is criminal: Palestinian women stand trial for West Bank protest

The IDF did not charge the two protesters with stone throwing, violent conduct or illegal gathering – but rather for violating a ‘closed military zone order,’ a highly unusual indictment. If the pair are convicted in court, it could set a precedent that demonstrates Palestinians are forbidden by Israel to oppose the occupation in any way.

Nariman Tamimi and Rana Hamadah being arrested in Nabi Saleh June 28, 2013 (B’Tselem)

The IDF’s Ofer Military Court in the West Bank will hold its first hearing tomorrow (Tuesday) in the trial of Nariman Tamimi and Rana Hamadah, two Palestinian women who were arrested on Friday, June 28 at the weekly demonstration against the occupation in Nabi Saleh.

The two women were held in Sharon Prison, in Israel, for more than three days before being brought before a military judge and indicted for entering a “closed military zone.” Rana Hamadah was also charged with obstructing a soldier in the execution of his duty.

Hamadah told +972 that during her arrest she asked the IDF soldier why she was being handcuffed, to which he replied: “Because I feel like it.” Hamadah said the pair were left handcuffed and blindfolded for nine hours, and were driven around in a vehicle with two male soldiers for seven more hours before being booked in Sharon Prison.

“Seeing the prisoners’ struggle from the inside gives an incredible urgency to their cause,” she said, adding that, “what we don’t see, and easily forget, is that the prisoners really must struggle for every passing minute.”

Nariman Tamimi told +972 this was the fifth time she has been arrested. She speculated that her arrest was part of the IDF’s efforts to crack down on the village’s right to protest, saying that Israel is “trying to make an example out of the village” by inflicting collective punishment.

A foreign national arrested along with the two Palestinian women was released later the same night and barred from entering the village for 15 days.

According to Israeli military law, under which Palestinians live, there is no such thing as a legal protest without permission from a military commander, which is rarely if ever granted (which is why arrests for stone throwing or organizing protests are so rampant).

According to B’Tselem, the legal proceedings initiated against Tamimi and Hamada since their arrest – and especially the IDF request for their remand for duration of proceedings (which was denied) – are unprecedented given the minor nature of the offense they are charged with. The indictment does not claim that the two women acted violently – which is usually the pretense for IDF arrests – and the military prosecution rarely issues indictments for violating a “closed military zone.” From personal experience, I can attest that the IDF often baselessly issues such orders as a tool to repress protests, and in violation of Israeli High Court rulings, so the suspicion is that Israel is using its military legal control in the West Bank to repress legitimate protests.

As indicated by video footage, the demonstration was not violent and the women were not involved in any stone throwing or other act that could be construed as violent. Two military judges who watched video footage of the women’s arrest stated that they found no evidence of violent or menacing behavior on their part. It will therefore be interesting to see if and how the courts uphold the IDF’s arrests.

IDF arrests Nariman Tamimi at Nabi Saleh weekly protest June 28, 2013 (Activestills)

Like other high-profile arrests in Nabi Saleh, the women’s case is also attracting international attention. Amnesty International issued a statement on July 4 demanding that Israel stop the “bullying of Palestinian activists.” Its Middle East and North Africa program director said of the two women’s arrest: “They have been denied the basic human right to peacefully protest over land illegally seized by Israeli settlers, and the Israeli judiciary has used spurious legal tools to punish them for exercising their basic human right to peaceful protest.”

Since 2009, Nabi Saleh has been holding weekly protests against Israeli occupation, the wall and annexation of their land, including their spring, which has been seized by settlers from Halamish. Nairman’s husband, Bassem Tamimi, the village’s well-known Palestinian activist and non-violent leader, has been arrested several times and spent years in Israeli jail. Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience last year.

In this interview below, Nariman Taimimi describes the ordeal of their arrest, which she claims was the first time she was NOT beaten, but included other abuses such as being held overnight in a car and threatened with being strip-searched by male officers: [here]