Category Archives: Analysis

The Cure to State Terror is Popular Power

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Bloomington YDSA issued the following statement at the emergency demonstration earlier this month against the possibility of war with Iran.
The Cure to State Terror is Popular Power
“I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, my own government.”

Martin Luther King Jr. 

The United States has assassinated Qasem Soleimani, one of the highest-ranking public officials in Iran. It should be clear to all of us what the goals of this attack are. While politicians and public officials cheer at what they call a “decisive blow” to the Iranian Military, while they congratulate themselves on thwarting an “imminent threat,” history lays bare their flimsy justifications. We need only consider Osama bin Laden’s assassination, which did not constitute a “decisive blow” to the power of al-Qaeda. Or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s assassination which clearly did not put an end to the “imminent threat” of ISIS. Not only do organizations such as ISIS and al-Qaeda persist beyond the death of individual members, but the US’s use of violence–often resulting in devastating collateral damage due to sloppily executed attacks and drone strikes that cause indiscriminate harm to bystanders—only adds fuel to the fire that such organizations need to survive. That attacks of this nature result in destabilization and blowback is an indisputable fact. Therefore, when we read about the assassination of Soleimani, all we see is a provocation. All of the powers in the Middle East–from ISIS to Assad, America to Iran– have been threatened by the past three months of anti-sectarian working class uprisings in the central squares and slums of Beirut, Baghdad, and Tehran.  The murder of Soleimani is not just aimed at Iran, but against the risk that ordinary people will refuse to accept international and interreligious war, and instead pursue their class interests. When we see politicians cheering, we all know why: because they want war, and they want it to divide us.
 
While the Bush administration needed an elaborate lie to justify the war in Iraq, it is remarkable that almost twenty years later, the Trump administration doesn’t even need to bother with such a triviality. This is thanks to a long process in which the United States has asserted its right to use drones to kill anyone in the world without due process of the law. With the unprecedented bombing of Soleimani (the first time the US has openly assassinated a foreign official since World War II), the US now claims the sovereign decision of life or death over everyone in the world, without any due process of law. While such flagrant and extreme actions have previously been reserved for times of crisis and war, the United States now asserts this behavior to be business as usual. Therefore, unlike in the days of the Bush administration, when the hawks want war, they can simply murder a government official of another sovereign nation—openly and publicly—and then claim that any act of retaliation or self-defense is actually an act of aggression. This naked aggression reveals that the US is simply one violent gang among many: unbound, in the last analysis, by any international law. 
 
We should not fall into the trap of thinking that this murderous behavior merely stems from the erratic and reckless behavior of that crackpot, Donald Trump. When it comes to this attack, Trump has acted precisely in the manner of his “stately” predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush. The latter, who is largely responsible for the deaths of roughly 200,000 civilians during the occupation of Iraq, helped establish the norm of using drones to kill anyone suspected of a crime—never mind the due process of law or civilian lives that are lost in the process. Common sense says that such a president would be utterly offensive to our humanitarian and democratic sensibilities, and that such a president would be sharply condemned by their successor. Yet Obama actually escalated the use of drone attacks to unprecedented levels. It should be no surprise to us, then, that Trump should feel emboldened to openly drop a bomb on a foreign official. At least in this respect, it is clear Bush and Obama paved the way for Trump. The three ought to be considered together as a trio of war criminals.
 
This bipartisanship that has brought us to the present moment is just as obvious in the criticisms of Trump’s decision to assassinate Soleimani. Nearly all of them take the form: “Soleimani was a dangerous criminal, BUT…”, “Justice was done to Soleimani, BUT…”. What this rhetoric effectively says is: “All our intentions are in the right place. It is understandable why a reasonable person might wish to carry out this attack, although I may disagree with it for one reason or another.” How about we cut the bullshit? Any reasonable person can see that this action puts hundreds of thousands of innocent lives at risk. For that reason, it is nothing short of reprehensible. There is no icing on the cake with actions of such immeasurable danger. 200,000 innocent civilians died in Iraq as a result of this type of behavior. We condemn it in its entirety. 
 
The idea that this attack will make anyone safer is laughable. How stupid do these politicians really think we are? The recent news headlines speak for themselves: “Officials say New York City is country’s top terror target,” “Boston police taking extra security measures,” “U.S. embassy urges citizens to depart Iraq immediately.” And worse–what the U.S. media cannot even register—is the fact that the danger to American lives is nearly invisible compared to the danger facing the multitude of Iranian civilians and others in the region, especially if the promised Iranian retaliation provokes a U.S. invasion. The United States has proven that it is capable of carrying out such atrocities. We will not put our support behind any of the terroristic gangs practicing violence in the world today.
We can’t let any of the politicians set the terms of the conflict. We won’t accept Islamophobic aggression. We won’t accept endless war in the name of keeping us safe. Our safety lies in building a powerful grassroots movement to fight for a worthwhile future–the same movement already underway in the occupied Tahrir Square in Baghdad.
Bloomington Young Democratic Socialists of America

Eminent Domain: Families Crushed Under I-69

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From IDS:

Eminent domain

After their land was seized to make room for a new highway, families are crushed under the weight of progress.

Hunger Strike at Wabash Valley

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From IDOC Watch:

Several inmates at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility have announced that they have begun a hunger strike to protest their deteriorating conditions. Their immediate demands include: removal from camera monitored cells, relocation from abusive staff, and the cessation of tampering with food and the confiscation, reading and withholding of mail by administration. The announcement follows a sequence of escalating problems that have unfolded in the prison for the past several months, rekindling a too-long dormant culture of resistance to IDOC policies. Last year, a significant challenge to the censorship of Afro-Centric literature such as the San Francisco Bay View, which effects all prisons in the Indiana Department of Corrections, began a process of increasing clampdown on political prisoners. This was merely the spark which lit the fire. The hunger strike now in motion has its origins in the entire structure of the IDOC, in particular, and of mass incarceration, in general.

For some time, the IDOC has pursued a path of repression characterized by the isolation of inmates whom it perceives as threatening to the stability of their regime of oppression. These inmates are often kept in Indiana’s form of solitary confinement known as “Secure Control Units.” Wabash Valley has taken this practice, widely recognized to be a form of torture, to new extremes by indefinitely detaining inmates in isolation cells monitored 24 hours a day through video surveillance. Shaka Shakur, a political prisoner currently incarcerated at Wabash Valley, has demonstrated how these cells are intended to function as psychological torture, and the policies which are supposed to govern their use are flagrantly violated by administration.

The selective treatment of politically conscious inmates is not limited to isolation and surveillance, however. Prisons in Indiana have developed a parallel judicial system in which the civil protections available to free citizens are completely absent. Inmates are consistently penalized and charged with internal violations which can result in their placement in isolation or loss of “good time” which by Indiana Code cannot be regained. In these faux-courts, prisoners are deprived of any right to representation or possibility of viewing the “evidence” used against them. Charges are often brought as a form of reprisal, beginning with disciplinary reports filed by disgruntled or sadistic guards looking to punish inmates for refusing passive obedience to their oppression.

The increasingly severe forms of repression manifest on all levels of the IDOC and affect all inmates as well. Several trends have coalesced and finally culminated in an irreconcilable crisis. The current landscape of the IDOC is the result of these trends, primarily the entrenchment at the tops levels of executive administration of old-guard prison staff experienced in the ways of prisoner abuse, the construction of prison facilities in rural, economically depleted areas which produces a situation that pits the solidarity of largely euro/ “white” communities against predominately non-euro/ “white” prisoners, and finally the privatization of all aspects of prison operation and management. These trends mutual influence and extend one another, creating an increasingly antagonistic atmosphere, resolvable only through the initiative of prisoners in taking all measures to reassert their humanity.

The current crisis can be explained only by observing these facts. For example, guards in the Security Control Unit at Wabash Valley leverage their familial and professional ties to maintain impunity while threatening and intimidating inmates under their “protection.” The former commander of the SCU, Lt. Gary McMillin, consistently stated that he would “stand by” his guards whenever they filed disciplinary reports. Reports are supposed to be reviewed once filed and approved by the Lieutenant before any action can be taken against an inmate. In this case, those reviews were performed by Mr. McMillin’s wife, Mrs. S. McMillin. Her “reviews” tend to result in conviction rates that would make any prosecutor blush. The result of this circle of corruption? More good time lost, more years spent inside, more money to J-Pay, Union Supply, Aramark, and Global Tel-Link.

On the state level, the IDOC just this month “reviewed” its new mail restriction policies. As many know by now, inmates can no longer send or receive correspondence unless it is written on lined, white paper in a white envelope. The IDOC claimed this was to counter drug trafficking, but has provided zero data on the flow of drugs into the facility coming through mail. Ironically, the only confirmed source of trafficking in the recent past is that conducted by a former corrections officer at Wabash Valley. There are no indications that the mail ban will be overturned, and more inmates and their families are forced to go through J-pay for all correspondence and increasingly, visitations.

The current crisis is the latest iteration of the fundamentally racist and increasingly corporatist exploitation at work in the IDOC. The kinds of oppression outlined here are well-documented as ineradicable aspects of mass incarceration in Indiana. Indeed the condition in Indiana prisons was meticulously outlined in the 1997 Human Rights Watch Report, Cold Storage: Super-Maximum Security Confinement in Indiana. Since that time, conditions have only worsened. Now inmates are fighting back. Their selfless struggle deserves the widest possible, most dedicated support. IDOC watch firmly stands with Shaka Shakur and all the hunger strikers. We demand that their demands are met, and further that an independent investigation be permitted to inspect the facility. Those will be the first steps, and very far from the last, in a long march toward eradicating the unjust, racist prison system in Indiana and, one day, the united states.

Information on Wabash Valley and the case of Shaka Shakur can be found on our blog at idocwatch.org

Please call: Warden Richard Brown (812) 398-5050

IDOC Commissioner Robert Carter (317) 232-5711

IDOC Chief of Staff Randy Koester (317) 232-5711

Demand that the inmates on hunger strike be moved from abusive guards and camera-monitored cells, and that their mail and food be secured from tampering.

IDOC Watch

idocwatch.org

facebook.com/idocwatch

idocwatch@gmail.com

Resistance to Police Murder in Evansville

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From Where the River Frowns:

PDF of handbill from the vigil:  Thoughts on the Murder of Ricky Ard
More background here.
August 29, 2017:

Evansville residents gathered tonight outside the Winfield K. Denton Federal Building to hold a vigil for Ricky Ard who was murdered earlier today by police.

Approximately sixty people attended the spontaneous vigil, which was organized by word of mouth and social media. Although no centralized group took responsibility for organizing the event, the group appeared unified in their message that Ard’s murder was unjustified.

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Poster at the vigil reads “Rest In Power Ricky Ard 8.29.2017” (Photo: Where the River Frowns)

Attendees lit candles, wrote messages in chalk on the sidewalk, talked about their experiences with police brutality, and exchanged contact information throughout the night.

Those who knew Ard shared stories about him. A woman who said she had known Ard her whole life said that he was a good neighbor and a kind man who often helped out elderly people in their neighborhood. She also said that he was physically disabled and suffered from some kind of mental illness.

Another Evansville resident who recently retired from the military shared his experiences as an Iraq War veteran. He said that his “rules of engagement” during active combat in Iraq were more restrictive than those followed by the Evansville Police Department and that, had he been confronted by a man swinging a baseball bat in Iraq, he would have been expected to use non-lethal means of disarming him.

One woman demanded that police release body camera footage of the shooting and led the group in chanting “show me the body cam!”

Those present at the vigil discussed meeting up tomorrow, Wednesday, August 30, at 11 a.m. outside the federal building for a rally in protest of Ricky Ard’s murder.

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Sidewalk chalk outside the federal building reads “Bat vs 2 Guns = Excessive Force” (Photo: Where the River Frowns).

Sidewalk chalk outside the federal building calls attention to police murders across the U.S. this year (Photo: Where the River Frowns)

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Poster taped to a light post outside the federal building reads “Show me the body cam” (Photo: Where the River Frowns)

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Poster taped to a post outside the federal building reads “E is NOT for everyone. RIP Ricky Ard” (Photo: Where the River Frowns)

Solidarity Breaks Chains – against the Democratic co-optation of #Charlottesville

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This is the body of a flyer (PDF: Charlottesville text) distributed at yesterday’s vigil, called by Indivisible Bloomington (a front for the Democratic Party).  The organizers of the vigil hoped to recuperate the tragedy of Heather Heyer’s murder into votes for the Democratic Party.  Much of the crowd openly found this distasteful, leading many to leave early, while others called for a breakaway demonstration towards the end of the evening.

We find this text to be a potent criticism of Indivisible’s craven politicking:

We cannot separate yesterday’s murder from the structure of white-supremacist power in the United States. The police, the judges, the politicians have for the entirety of this nation’s history grounded their political base in the violent suppression and exploitation of people of color. Only now, when it has become politically opportune, have the Democrats and reformers made any effort to express their supposed opposition to alt-right and neo-nazi mobilization. But where was their outrage when the Traditionalist Youth Network was forming itself right here in Bloomington? Where were they when motorists were threatening and on numerous actions attempting to drive through peaceful demonstrations on these very streets?

Refining laws and electing politicians cannot dismantle white supremacy. The way to Honor Heather Heyer is to live as she died, fighting. It’s easier to attend SURJ meetings, finally cut your dreadlocks, and check off your daily call-a-congressman, than to struggle to materially, actually dismantle a centuries-old system of white power. With neo-nazis now openly marching and murdering leftists, let’s not get distracted with individual gestures of allyship, attending vigils to express abstract “solidarity”, or with electing one more Democrat, Republican, or “independent” who professionally pretends to solve the problem for us.

The truth is that the terrorist violence in Charlottesville did not magically appear out of nowhere. Fascists like the neo-nazis marching in Charlottesville, or the back-to-the-land white supremacists down in Paoli (that the Herald Times so enthusiastically promoted), do not appear out of nowhere. They are a paramilitary force, working on the same project of white power as Trump and the Fraternal Order of Police that endorsed him. You don’t have to look as far as Charlottesville to see the violence of white supremacy in action. To be fair, focus is hard. It’s difficult to train your eye on what’s important in life, especially when there are distracting, easy answers at hand.

Politicians and their local “organizer” allies know this, and their game (of thrones) is one of redirection. But if we take the question of fighting white supremacy seriously enough to take the time to refocus, it’s clear that there is plenty of work to be done right here, at our fingertips.

The Bloomington Police Department plays their PR game carefully. But even then, it’s a very thin veil over their classist and racist violence. It’s not a coincidence that the largest anti-racist movement in recent history, the Black Lives Matter movement, focused on dismantling the power of the police. It’s not a coincidence that it was a police officer in an unmarked car who was most recently threatened a peaceful Bloomington demonstration outside the jail (in defense of recently arrested homeless neighbors and friends). The BPD and Monroe County Jail have a recent and decades-old history of violence against people of color and the socio-economically excluded in Bloomington. It’s time to look at the whole system which perpetuates white supremacy, which includes BPD, and fight back.  

Actions in Solidarity with Indiana Prisoners, August 11

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Demonstration in Indianapolis accompanied by solidarity phone zap, from SF Bay View and IDOC Watch.

Demo:  Friday, Aug. 11, 11 a.m., outside the Indiana Department of Corrections headquarters, 302 W. Washington St. in downtown Indianapolis

Phone Zap:  Any time on Friday, call Indiana Department of Corrections Commissioner Rob Carter at (317)233-6984 and demand that he not put into effect the policy banning all incoming mail if it’s not on lined paper and in a white envelope

Call to Action by Kwame ‘Beans’ Shakur, New Afrikan Liberation Collective:

“Prison Lives Matter” and “Amend the 13th: Abolish Legal Slavery in Amerika Movement” are seeking to get the people, i.e., family, friends, inmates and the outside movement, involved in the struggle to raise awareness and fight the cruel and inhuman treatment of prisoners, the daily violations of our human and civil rights, and the economic exploitation of our families. This can only come about if we educate the people to the politics of imprisonment and state repression, then organize and mobilize our families and supporters around these issues.

As we all know, those of us locked in these cages aren’t the only ones being affected – our families and loved ones are also doing time. If we are serious about changing our conditions, then it is fundamental that we take a more progressive stand against the Department of Corrections and the parasite corporations that attach themselves to the prison industrial slave complex to profit from our oppression, including Aramark, Global Tel Link, Evercam, JPay, Union Supply etc.

On April 1, 2017, the Indiana Department of Corrections implemented a new policy that targets our incoming mail: ALL mail must be handwritten on white lined paper in a white envelope. This policy restricts us from receiving any greeting cards on birthdays, Father’s Day, holidays etc., any typed letters or political documents, or any type of drawings from our kids!

Whether it’s simply more convenient, or out of necessity, our elderly family members with medical conditions like arthritis can’t handwrite their letters, and typing is the only way they can send us mail. With the increase of political education material like this very memo coming into the prisons with the intent to educate, agitate and organize prisoners, this new policy is also aimed to eradicate any such efforts.

This is blatant censorship and repression from the state. In their words, they “are going to see how it goes” from April to October before they actually put the policy into effect permanently. If there is no public outcry and resistance from the people on the outside against this policy, then they will have no reason to retreat: Once it goes into effect across the entire state, there will be little we can do.

The powers that are over Pendleton Correctional Facility are slowly attempting to turn this prison into a supermax facility, cutting us off completely from the outside world. Aside from the restriction of incoming mail, those of us like me who are housed on the G Cell House lock up unit (administrative disciplinary segregation) have also been stripped of our phone and video visitation the past 10 months. The policy states that we are entitled to phone privileges at least three times a week.

This cell house is only allowed visitors two days out of the week, Monday and Wednesday. With work and school during the week, it is extremely difficult for our loved ones to travel here during visitation hours. Fortunately, we were able to receive video visits on the JPay kiosk with our loved ones in the comfort of their own homes any day of the week – after work hours until 8 p.m.

However, the lieutenant of this cell house – not the facility or the DOC – recently made it to where we can only receive one 30-minute phone call per week. We can only receive video visits once a week, on the same day and time as our phone call.

We are locked in cages 24 hours a day. The courts and policy have determined that we are entitled to leave these cells for at least an hour of recreation five days a week; however, on average we may get rec once or twice a week, a direct violation of their own policy and procedure.

We have pushed our pens until the ink runs dry and filed the necessary grievances to seek relief. The same individuals who we file our paperwork on are the SAME individuals who respond to our claims, making the entire grievance process ineffective and contradictory.

If the policies and court rulings can be so irrelevant to these people, if the process we are told to follow in order to seek relief and correct such violations is ineffective, then where is the justice? Again, we’re being silenced and censored; we are powerless in these cages against the prison politics of prison autocracy.

Nobody is investigating or calling into question the death of an inmate who was excessively sprayed with multiple cans of mace, shot by pepper balls – a paintball gun that shoots paint balls filled with mace – and then left in a cell untreated to die last year!

For far too long, these people have gotten away with their crimes, without any blowback and resistance from the masses. For far too long, they have gotten away with the exploitation of our families through overpriced phone calls, vending machines in the visit room, JPay fees and commissary.

All across the country, we have formulations and prisoner advocacy organizations assisting us in our struggle to expose the prison industrial slave complex and fight for our rights. It is time that we organize and mobilize right here in our own back yard; our captors must come to learn that there will be consequences for their actions, that they will have to answer and face the people here in Indiana as well.

We are calling on our family, friends and comrades to gather in downtown Indianapolis on Friday, Aug. 11, at 11 a.m. outside the Department of Corrections building, 302 W. Washington St. We urge that ALL of us held captive do our collective part by encouraging loved ones to attend this demonstration and that our loved ones do their part by making copies of this memo, the “Prison Lives Matter” and NALC mission statements, spread the word and push the information for this demonstration on social media.

 Contact us on Facebook at New.Afrikan.Liberation.Collective or email us at NALC_shakur@yahoo.com.

On behalf of the Prison Lives Matter campaign and Amend the 13th: Abolish Legal Slavery in Amerika Movement, One Love, One Struggle!

Kwame “Beans” Shakur, co-founder and chairman of the New Afrikan Liberation Collective

Send our brother some love and light: Michael Joyner (Kwame Shakur), 149677, Pendleton CF, 4490 W. Reformatory Rd., Pendleton IN 46064.

IDOC Watch’s call for a phone zap:

Starting in April, the Indiana Department of Corrections implemented a ban against all incoming mail not written on white lined paper in white envelopes. The ban is a means of political repression and attempt to limit prisoner support, as people can no longer receive documents, articles, cards on the holidays, or drawings from their children.

Call Indiana Department of Corrections Commissioner Rob Carter at (317)233-6984 and demand that the policy restricting any incoming mail not on lined paper and in a white envelope does not go into effect in October and that is harming those who are incarcerated, as well as friends and family on the outside.

Call the commissioner during the rally against the ban happening on Friday, Aug. 11, at 11 a.m outside of the Department of Corrections building at 302 W. Washington St. in Indianapolis.

For background on the history of prisoners’ struggles in Indiana, the imposed PDF for Down can be found here.