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.

By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
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,

“Alan

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.

Thanks.
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.

--Peter”



Jim Wilkinson writes:

“Alan,

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.

Jim”

***

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.

Jim”

***

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."





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