Oct 31 2013

Statement from Free Marissa NOW: Black Women’s Lives Matter – Free Marissa Alexander

black women’s lives matter: free marissa alexander

Marissa Alexander will be Prosecuted Again by the
State of Florida for Defending Her Life: 
The Free Marissa Now Campaign Vows to Keep Organizing until Marissa is Free

by Suey Park

by Suey Park

Thousands of people in Florida, the US, and around the world sent letters, e-mails, and phone calls to State Attorney Angela Corey urging her to drop the unjust case against Marissa Alexander. Despite this powerful mass appeal, Angela Corey has once again decided to prosecute Marissa Alexander for defending herself from her abusive ex-husband who attacked her and threatened to have her killed, despite the fact that the original guilty verdict was overturned, and despite the fact that Marissa injured no one when she fired a warning shot and has no criminal record.

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Oct 29 2013

Keeping Vigil For Marissa in Chicago

A dozen of us sat in circle and made wishes for you, Marissa. All of us women; always women. We harnessed energy from Chicago and channeled it toward you in Florida. Some of us read poetry and all of us shared words expressing our fears, anger, and most of all our hopes. We lit candles to conjure your spirit. We were together in solidarity with each other and with you, Marissa.

Chicago Candlelight Vigil for Marissa Alexander, 10/28/13

Chicago Candlelight Vigil for Marissa Alexander, 10/28/13

I wonder if you could feel our love while locked in that cage. You are not alone and I hope you know that in the depths of your soul, Marissa. Audre once wrote:

This woman is Black
so her blood is shed into silence
this woman is Black
so her death falls to earth
like the drippings of birds
to be washed away with silence and rain.

Source: Of Need: A Chorale of Black Women’s Voices by Audre Lorde

Last night, we tried to banish the silence, Marissa. We gathered in defiance of the violence that marks so many of our lives; most especially black women’s lives. We gathered to acknowledge and then to resist the battering, verbal abuse, stalking, rape, street harassment, incest, molestation, poverty, imprisonment and the murder that affects too many women, too many black women. Go away violence, go away incarceration, go away death… A litany, our collective chant.

As I tried to settle the butterflies that feel like bees stinging from the inside, the circle embraced and soothed me. I picked a card from a pile on the quilt lovingly made by my friends as a gift when I turned 40. I turned it over; it read “tenderness.” And so as I lit my candle to help light your way, I wished for more tenderness in the world and for you, Marissa.

Chicago Candlelight Vigil for Marissa Alexander, 10/28/13

Chicago Candlelight Vigil for Marissa Alexander, 10/28/13

I’m remembering Mary Wilson who 100 years ago in 1913 was charged with murder. She was arrested in February in San Antonio, Texas for killing a trooper named Olaf Olson. They say she confessed, Marissa. Like you, they held Mary without bail. She said that the soldier threatened her. She tried to flee to a friend’s home but Olson followed her and he grabbed her. She was scared, Marissa. She thought that “he intended to do her bodily injury.” Mary “drew a revolver and shot him.” It was self-defense, Marissa. But, like you, Mary was caged because mere flesh is not a self. And we black women have no selves to defend. So, in a very real way, we are in prison with you too, Marissa.

I hope that Mary had sisters who kept vigil for her. I hope…

When I was younger, I read an essay by Alice Walker about her failed attempts to visit another black woman who was severely punished for defending herself and a friend from certain rape. Her name was Dessie. As she languished behind bars in solitary confinement, Alice Walker & thousands of others kept faith and vigil.


We had some good news yesterday, Marissa. After 19 years in prison, Sara Kruzan is FINALLY being released on parole. She was convicted & sentenced to life without the possibility of parole at 17 for killing the man who had sexually abused and then prostituted her. So Sara will be freed. She’s had many sisters who’ve kept vigil for her over the years. So, we hold on to hope that you will join Sara in the “free world” soon too, Marissa.

Yesterday, a dozen of us sat in circle and made wishes for you, Marissa… May you soon be free.

Oct 28 2013

Poem of the Day: Praise for Black Women by Malcolm London

This poem by Malcolm brought me to tears when I read it. It’s not only that I find it poignant and beautiful. It’s also that I am so grateful to know that young men like Malcolm exist in the world. Whatever I was doing when I was 20 years old, it wasn’t writing like this. Malcolm’s writing is only one part of his heart and commitment to social justice. We are all so lucky to have him in Chicago and to have so many other amazing young people in this city too. Thank you Malcolm for thinking of Marissa and for writing this gorgeous poem in response. See and hear more of Malcolm’s work here

Praise for Black Women
by Malcolm London
(published as part of #31forMARISSA)

every black woman I know

is building a church behind her face

to hide

the razor bladed bible

in her mouth,

every black woman i know

whole smile a stained glass window

that shatter so almighty

it break into a constant redemption song

a congregation speaking in tongues

of resistance,

pews of teeth white

the ministry is not

religious, is refuge.

is not catholic priest adorned in jewels

is gem. is not hell, but woman scorned.

is not holy, is holy ghost

of 16th street baptist church,

of Recy Taylor, Joanne Little

Tyisha Miller, Eleanor Bumpurs,

Latanya Haggerty, Rekia Boyd

it is not easter, it is ressurrection of millions of voices



my Mama says “boy!”

like eternal damnation

like stones being thrown

to build me into the house

my father could never become


my Grandma say “nigga”

with inflections for each of her ex husbands,

three sons and all her grandchildren.

a sweet prayer we flee handcuffs and bullets

as Lots from Sodom and Gomorrah


Aunt Jackie laugh

heavy like a burden or anchor

in the face of jail, pimps and drugs

but she laugh.

she know trauma but she laugh

wide like full belly

cuz she ain’t never let her nieces and nephews go

hungry. one link card turn five loaves

and two fish into next month.


my Girlfriend say little

but speak hallelujah every time

the pulpit in her throat calls me to the altar

the dimples in her cheek

a westside vatican

i’ve kissed confessional into


Mariame Kaba say blackfeminist

oneword. preach systemic violence

creates interpersonal violence,

america having the largest prison system

is domestic violence, too.


Assata (my future daughters’ name) Shakur

preach “if you’re deaf, dumb, and blind

to what’s happening in the world,

you’re under no obligation to do anything.

But if you know what’s happening and do

nothing but sit on your ass, then you’re nothing but a punk”


marissa i can see the cathedral ‘

behind your eyes. staring a system down

that fails to protect your sanctity

while calling you jezebel.

from your crusade I am hearten

to fight, to pray with my feet.


every black woman i know

has baptized me in resistance

struggle and

how to love

while surviving.

it is from them i have learned black

power. learned a black power fist

is still a fist.

taught me samson strength comes from heart.


every black woman i know is building

a church behind her face

seen burning crosses, police and state violence,

can give sermons as thick as old and new testaments

on sexual assault and still

they speak, laugh, they gospel

they testament to courage

how they heaven to men who judas to them

they sunday school and manger to black boy

refusing to deny their names.


(p.s.) this is also to the men. who are ignoring the jehovah’s witnesses

knocking at our door. there is a seeping gospel we must listen to.

realize in our ignoring, we are silencing. we cannot be cowards

cannot hide behind rape jokes or pretend we don’t know men are crucifying

women who are our mothers, sisters, grandmothers, girlfriends, we must hold them

accountable. engage in dialogue and practice of love

refuse to see the church be bulldozed.


As a special treat, here’s Malcolm reading his poem at the opening reception of the “Picturing A World Without Prisons” exhibition on November 15.

Oct 27 2013

Image of the Day: The Prisoner Who Drummed

The prisoner who drummed. (Haiti, 1926) - by Robert Niles -

The prisoner who drummed. (Haiti, 1926) – by Robert Niles –

Oct 26 2013

Prison Architecture #14

Women's Prison, Auburn Prison, NY

Women’s Prison, Auburn Prison, NY

Oct 25 2013

The Young Lords: A Brief Introduction with Some Illustrations…

I am surprised that my friend Billy hasn’t disowned me yet. For over a year, I’ve promised to write a few words about the Young Lords for a zine that ze has illustrated. I’ve been distracted, then swamped, then distracted again. So to push myself to work on this, I’m writing a post today. It’s very drafty but I need the kick in the butt…


There had of course been Puerto Rican nationalist organizations throughout the early to mid-20th century. But they mostly focused on the struggle for Puerto Rican independence. Meanwhile Puerto Ricans on the mainland were living in dire conditions. They experienced poverty, dilapidated housing, substandard schooling and terrible health care. Pedro Pietri gave voice to this marginalization and violence in his amazing spoken word poem titled “Puerto Rican Obituary” which appeared in the 1971 book “Palante.” Below is a short clip of Pietri sharing an excerpt from the piece:

In 1959, seven Puerto Rican young people formed (PDF) the Young Lords in Chicago. The group was initially created to protect its members against attacks from white ethnic, black and other latino ‘gangs.’ Jose “Cha Cha” Jimenez became the group’s chairman in the early 60s.

During the mid to late 60s, many black gangs in Chicago were transforming into political organizations very much influenced by the Black Power movement. Gang members joined the Black Panther Party, the Nation of Islam, and other radical organizations. By 1967, the three largest gangs in Chicago, the Vice Lords, Blackstone Rangers, and the Gangster Disciples founded the LSD (Lords, Stones, and Disciples) peace treaty. This newly formed group ran local businesses (bookstores, cafes, clothing shops) and facilitated political education in their communities.

Puerto Rican gangs underwent a similar process of consciousness-raising and transformation. Cha Cha Jimenez and the Chicago Young Lords re-evaluated their mission & took on the name ‘Young Lords Organization.’ In 1967, they opened Uptight #2, a cafe where they discussed the issues of the day. The Lords established substance abuse programs, gave away food, and organized various community events. After spending time in prison in 1968, Jimenez became particularly interested revolutionary movement-building.

Fred Hampton, the deputy Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, approached Cha Cha Jimenez to discuss a revolutionary framework for liberation. Hampton believed that it was important to marry social service delivery with revolutionary politics. As Jimenez said: “Giving gifts wasn’t going to help their people. They had to deal with the system that was messing them over.”

Che Ja-Ja, Bronx Office, May 1970 Image by Billy Dee (inspired by Palante, photo by Michael Abramson)

Che Ja-Ja, Bronx Office, May 1970
Image by Billy Dee (inspired by Palante, photo by Michael Abramson)

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Oct 23 2013

Update on Marissa Alexander Case…

by Molly Crabapple

by Molly Crabapple

A number of people have asked for an update on the case of Marissa Alexander. So here goes:

1. On September 26, the 1st District Court of Appeal ordered a new trial for Marissa Alexander, a mother of three sentenced to 20 years in prison for a shot fired during a 2010 domestic dispute in her home.

2. The appeals court found that a Duval County circuit judge erred in his jury instructions, though it supported the judge’s ruling that Alexander could not plead immunity under Florida’s “stand your ground” law.

3. This means that Marissa will not have another hearing on the “stand your ground” law.

4. Circuit Judge James H. Daniel instructed the jury that Alexander had to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that she feared an aggravated assault at the hands of her husband, Rico Gray. The jury convicted her of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, which carries a mandatory sentence of 20 years under Florida’s 10-20-Life law.

The appeals court ruled that Daniel’s instructions put too much of a burden on Alexander. “The defendant’s burden is only to raise a reasonable doubt concerning self-defense,” a three-judge panel ruled. “The defendant does not have the burden to prove the victim guilty of the aggression defended against beyond a reasonable doubt.”

5. Marissa is still incarcerated. Prosecutors Rich Mantei and David Thompson told reporters that Alexander would be returned to jail for the retrial and, as before, would have no possibility of bond. “The opinion doesn’t say anything about the facts of the case,” Thompson said. “We’re going to make pretty much the same argument, because the facts haven’t changed.”

6. On the morning of Thursday, October 31 (date just changed), a status hearing will take place where the state will either drop the case or set dates for moving ahead with a re-trial.

Supporters of Marissa are asking that letters, faxes, and calls be made to Prosecutor Angela Corey asking that she drop the case. If you can mail actual letters and cards, those are particularly impactful. If not, faxes and emails are also good. Please spread the word to others about this.

Don’t forget that you can read all of the letters submitted so far as part of the #31forMARISSA campaign at Ebony.com.

Oct 23 2013

Picturing A World Without Prisons: An Inside/Outside Exhibit (Nov 11-Dec 6)

Coming Soon! Hope to see you there.


Picturing a World without Prisons

The U.S. is a prison nation. There is no other society in the history of humanity that has imprisoned more people. Over 2.2 million people are incarcerated in this country; representing an over 500% increase since 1970. This number excludes those we imprison in hundreds of immigrant detention centers. Our obsession with locking people up isn’t cheap. States spend over $50 billion a year just on their prison systems. The Federal government also spends tens of billions to police, prosecute, and imprison people.

Yet research and anecdotal evidence show that incarceration makes people worse and does not improve public safety. Instead of spending money on drug treatment programs, meaningful employment initiatives, health care, affordable housing, and public education, our tax dollars funnel the most vulnerable populations into the prison system so that they may languish with little-to-no access to needed resources. This is not justice. Nor is it humane. We believe that this must change.

We must dismantle the prison industrial complex. In order to do so, we have to envision what a world without prison can and should look like so that we can build that world together.

Through this exhibit which brings together the visions of incarcerated youth and people on the outside, we want to engage the public in imagining a world without prisons with us.

This exhibition is curated by Project NIA and Free Write Jail Arts & Literacy Program.

It will run from November 11 through December 6th at the HumanThread Center/Gallery for Nonviolence, Arts & Education, 1200 W. 35th street (Bridgeport Art Center, 5th floor)

Please join us on November 15th from 6 to 10 p.m. for the Opening Reception. RSVP HERE for the reception.

This event is part of Chicago Transformative Justice Fall and you can view other upcoming events HERE.

Oct 21 2013

URGENT ACTION NEEDED: Oppose SB1342 Mandatory Minimum IL Gun Bill

Update: SB1342 was not called in the Judiciary Hearing today. It might be called later today. The time for filing witness slips has expired. However, we still need your help if you live in Illinois. Please use this easy LINK to contact your elected representative to oppose this bill. It will take three minutes. All you need to do is input your zip code to contact them. Thanks.

Your action is urgently needed! Tomorrow, the Illinois House Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on a proposed bill to increase the mandatory minimum sentence for gun possession charges from 1 to 3 years (SB 1342). Decades of empirical research demonstrate that mandatory sentences will not reduce gun violence. Instead of increasing public safety, SB 1342 will dramatically increase costs to the state (at least $392 million in prison costs) and to individual counties and communities (disproportionately communities of color). Please raise your voice for smart, strategic, evidence-based solutions to gun violence.

To voice opposition to SB 1342, please submit a slip by taking the followings steps:

  1. Go to the House Judiciary Hearing website.
  2. Click on the right icon under the “Witness Slips” column for SB 1342 to create a witness slip.
  3. Under Section I, fill in your identification information.
  4. Leave Section II blank.
  5. In Section III, select the “Opponent” button.
  6. In Section IV, select “Record of Appearance Only.”
  7. Agree to the ILGA Terms of Agreement
  8. Select the “Create Slip” button.
Slips can be submitted until 1:45 p.m. tomorrow.

Read several editorials and articles opposing this bill here, here, here, and here.

Oct 21 2013

Dollree Mapp, the Right to Privacy & Sexual Violence in Prison…

If you didn’t go to law school, chances are that you’ve never heard of a woman named Dollree Mapp. The supreme court decision Mapp v Ohio held that evidence obtained without a search warrant was inadmissible in criminal proceedings, thereby reinforcing the right to privacy.

Dollree Mapp (1957)

Dollree Mapp (1957)

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