Apr 12 2014

Musical Interlude: Behind Enemy’s Line…

I love Dead Prez…

You ain’t gotta be locked up to be in prison
Look how we livin, thirty thousand niggas a day
Up in the bing, standard routine
They put us in a box just like our life on the blocks
(behind enemy lines)
You ain’t gotta be locked up to be in prison
Look how we livin, thirty thousand niggas a day
Up in the bing, standard routine
They put us in a box just like our life on the blocks
(behind enemy lines)

Apr 11 2014

STOP NEW PRISONS: California Has Always Been A Mess & So Has Jerry Brown…

25prisons-grx-popup

I’m really lucky. Since people know that I am interested in prisons, friends and acquaintances often send me items that they think I’ll like. A couple of years ago, a friend’s mother who was a prison abolitionist in the 1970s sent me some old issues of a feminist anti-prison publication titled “Through the Looking Glass.” I put them in storage but recently I pulled out a couple of copies for an exhibition that I am planning. As I flipped through one issue, I came across a statement published by Women Against Prisons in 1978. It’s incredibly relevant to what is currently happening around prison issues in California so I am republishing it. [Notice that Jerry Brown plays a central role here in 1978 - unbelievable]

STOP NEW PRISONS

Once again the law and order forces in California are pretending to solve the problems of poverty and crime by building new prisons. This year there are two separate actions pending in the legislature that would authorize millions of dollars for the construction of new prisons.

LAST YEAR’S VICTORY

Last year strong pressure from individuals and groups throughout the state stopped the allocation of nearly $100 million for 4-6 new men’s prisons and 1 new women’s prison. Two years ago similar pressure forced the closure of a behavior modification unit at the California Institution for Women (the state’s women’s prison). WE HAVE STOPPED THEM BEFORE. WE CAN AND MUST STOP THEM AGAIN!

THIS YEAR’S STRUGGLE
Despite last year’s widespread opposition to prison construction, the California Department of Corrections (CDC), Governor Brown, and certain right-wing legislators remain firm in their commitment to lock up more people. As part of his strategy for getting votes in the upcoming gubernatorial campaign, Governor Brown has proposed that $100 million be allocated to build 5 new men’s prison (to be located in Southern California) and one new women’s prison (to be located in Northern California), a total of 2400 new beds. Additionally, Senator Robert Presley of Riverside has proposed the spending of $130 million on facilities for 3600 more prisoners. Both the Governor’s proposed new prison budget and Presley’s bill, SB1342, have to go through subcommittees and committees of both the Senate and Assembly this Spring (April or May 1978). If approved, they will then move on to the entire legislature for a final vote. The Presley Bill has already passed the Senate Judiciary Committee. The legislature is moving faster than anticipated. It is important that we apply public pressure at every step. We must act now!

The CDC claims that new prisons are needed because existing prisons are overcrowded, rundown, and located far from urban centers. But new prisons will not necessarily mean better prison conditions or the tearing down of the old prisons. New prisons will cause more people to be locked up under the same intolerable conditions that exist now. The vast majority of prisoners are low-income, and a disproportionately high number are Third World. Their crimes are those of economic and social survival: robbery, forgery and bad checks, and drug-related crimes are among the most common. Most homicides for which people are in prison are related to family violence, drugs, and car accidents.

Read more »

Apr 10 2014

Poem of the Day: ‘I Am Somebody’ by Joan Little

Since I am in the middle of working on a project focused on the history of criminalizing women for self-defense, I am coming across a number of interesting pieces of information.

Here’s a poem written by Joan Little:

I AM SOMEBODY!
By Joann Little

I may be down today
But I am somebody!

I may be considered the lowest
on earth; but I am somebody!

I came up in low rent housing,
sometimes lived in the slums;
But I am still somebody!

I read an article where a black youth
was jailed, he stole some food, but got
15-20 years – he was somebody!

I killed a white in ‘self-defense’
but the jury doesn’t care – and when
he came for me to prepare trial –
he said she deserves the chair –

Every time

Every hurt and pain I feel inside,
Everytime I pick up the morning news
only to see my name on the front page –
I begin to wonder; they make me feel
less than somebody.

But in the end I will have freedom
and peace of mind. I will do anything
to help prove my innocence. Because
of one important fact above all…

‘I am somebody!’

Source: Save Joann Little (Women’s Press Collective, 1975)

Apr 09 2014

Video: Explaining Mass Incarceration in Under 4 minutes…

This new video is a useful primer about mass incarceration in the U.S. I would of course make a different video; one that explicitly addressed the RACIST, CLASSIST, and HETEROSEXIST nature of the system. But alas this is intended to be an introduction and it is palatable to a broad audience. I think that it would be a useful teaching tool and one question that you might ask students is: “What’s missing in this narrative?” Another would be: “How would a prison abolitionist present their case in under 4 minutes?”

Apr 08 2014

Image of the Day…

Orlando (Florida) Prison (1938) by Ralston Crawford

Orlando (Florida) Prison (1938) by Ralston Crawford

Apr 07 2014

On Police Torture, Bearing ‘Witness’ and Saving Ourselves…

I misjudged the weather. I didn’t dress appropriately. It’s cold and gray. Perhaps this is fitting.

Standing outside the Daley Center & across from City Hall, on Friday, about three hundred people chant: “What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now.”

Over one hundred people (118 to be exact) hold black banners/flags on wood sticks with the names of Jon Burge and his police officers’ torture victims. They called themselves the “midnight crew.” For over 20 years, they tortured an estimated 118 people, all of them black. 118 black bodies tortured in plain sight. The names are written in white on the black flags. Perhaps this is fitting too.

photo by Alice Kim (4/4/14)

photo by Alice Kim (4/4/14)

Most of the people who carry the banners are attending the Amnesty International 2014 Conference. They are mostly young and white. When the names are read out loud from the stage, they move over to stand in formation, silently acknowledging the sins of white supremacy. I wonder if they think of it this way; as atoning for a legacy of white terrorism. It strikes me again that the past is not past.

photo by Toussaint Losier (4/4/14)

photo by Toussaint Losier (4/4/14)

Nineteen men who were tortured by Burge still languish behind bars — their confessions extracted through electrocution, suffocation, and vicious beatings. I wonder if people know about this Guantanamo in Illinois or more accurately our Illinois in Guantanamo.

Read more »

Apr 06 2014

On Desperate Acts & Social Context: The Story of James Hickman

I’ve been thinking a lot over the past week about the intersections and connections between individual acts of desperation and the social structure within which we live. In particular, I’ve been thinking about James Hickman.

On January 16, 1947 in a Near West Side building in Chicago, a fire broke out in the attic and took the lives of 4 children: Lester (14), Elzina (9), Sylvester (7), and Velvina (4).

On July 16, 1947 James Hickman, the father of those children, shot and killed his landlord/building manager, David Coleman.

On December 16, 1947 James Hickman walked out of court, a free man, after a jury could not reach a verdict on his murder charge and prosecutors offered a plea deal to a lesser one. Writer and activist Joe Allen recounts Hickman’s story in his 2011 book “People Wasn’t Made To Burn: A True Story of Race, Murder, and Justice in Chicago.”

James Hickman was part of the migration of Southerners who moved North to improve their lives. Hickman, a sharecropper, moved to Chicago from Mississippi in 1944. He came without his wife and younger children at first. He lived with his older married daughter and her family for 10 months while working at Wisconsin Steel. He planned to save money and find a place to live before sending for his family. The search for adequate living quarters was long and fruitless. Hickman found some apartments but they didn’t want children. Others took his money but never actually rented him an apartment.

In January 1946, he thought that he had a place to live and sent for his family to join him in Chicago. When the family arrived, the rental fell through so Hickman, his wife Annie, and children had to stay with the older daughter. Her landlord found out and insisted that the family had to move out.

Out of desperation, Hickman located a dilapidated apartment at 1733 West Washburne. David Coleman, a young African American budding entrepreneur, was their landlord. Hickman and his family were living in a tiny kitchenette apartment that was inadequate to their needs. It was a one room attic apartment for six and sometimes seven people. Chicago was suffering from a crisis of overcrowding for black people due to racial covenants and redlining. Many fires were also raging throughout black communities; some attributed to terrible maintenance and others to suspected arson by unscrupulous landlords.

James Hickman complained to his landlord, Coleman, about the awful conditions in his building. He wanted his $100 deposit back so that he could find another place to live. The landlord refused to comply. After several more complaints, David Coleman threatened to “burn [Hickman] out.” Annie and James reported the threat and the terrible building conditions to the police. They took out a warrant for Coleman’s arrest but nothing actually happened. The police never arrested him.

Read more »

Apr 05 2014

Musical Interlude: One Love…

An all time classic…

Apr 02 2014

No Selves To Defend #2: Some Upcoming Projects…

Whew, it’s been an incredibly busy few days and it hasn’t slowed down yet for me!! For those who want ongoing updates about Shanesha Taylor’s case, I put together a blog titled “Justice For Shanesha.” As I learn information, I’ll post there. So if you are on Tumblr, do follow the blog. The latest updated information that I have is posted there today.

I am swamped with tons of other work (believe it or not, I run an organization too) so I will be taking a blogging break for the rest of the week. I hope to be back to regular blogging soon. In the meantime, I am excited about two projects that I am currently working on, both relate to the Marissa Alexander case.

First, I am blessed to be working with a group of writers and artists to create a publication featuring stories of women of color who have been criminalized for self-defense over the years. The publication will feature portraits and short narratives. We will print a limited number and use the proceeds to support Marissa’s legal defense. I am in debt to my friends and co-strugglers who have come together on short notice to make this project a reality. Stay tuned for more information soon. And as a preview, I am excited to share one piece of art from the project; it’s a portrait of Lena Baker drawn by my extraordinarily talented friend Bianca Diaz.

Lena Baker by Bianca Diaz (2014)

Lena Baker by Bianca Diaz (2014)

Secondly, I am excited that I will be co-curating a new exhibition titled “No Selves to Defend: Criminalizing Women for Self-Defense.” The exhibition will run here in Chicago in July and August at Art in these Times. My thanks to my comrade Daniel Tucker for facilitating this opportunity. The exhibition will feature various artifacts from my collection as well as art from the project mentioned earlier. The Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander is planning a series of events leading up to Marissa’s trial at the end of July. I’ll share more about the exhibition as it comes together.

Have a peaceful next few days!

Mar 31 2014

Shanesha Taylor’s Been Released From Jail…

Update from Shanesha:
Anyone interested in contacting me directly can contact me at shataylor049@gmail.com. Please do not ask the details of my case I will not provide that info. I am happy to accept your prayers, well wishes or general inquiries.

Thank you again
Shanesha Taylor

Shanesha Taylor

Shanesha Taylor

And so it was, just before midnight, I learned Shanesha Taylor would be released from jail in just a couple of hours. I don’t know her personally but still feel as though I’ve been living with her over the past few days. So I stayed up in anticipation of getting an email or Facebook message announcing that she was safely at home with family. Like a child who is desperate to stay awake on Christmas eve to catch a glimpse of Santa, I fell asleep at some point with the lights still on. I was jolted into consciousness a couple of hours later and immediately checked for the news: Shanesha was released from Estrella Jail early this morning. She’s with family. It’s a wonderful way to kick off the week and I am really grateful to every single person who has donated money, signed the petition, called the County Attorney to have charges against her dropped and more. Special thanks to Amanda Bishop who started the online fundraiser for Shanesha and has been working tirelessly for days. Thank you all.

Shanesha and her family have a long road ahead of them in the criminal punishment system. She’ll have to secure good legal representation, she’ll have to figure out how to reunite with her children, she’ll have to stabilize her financial and housing situation. There’s a lot to do.

In the meantime, supporters and those who want to help can do the following:

1. Send letters, cards, checks etc… directly to Shanesha Taylor at:
PO Box 5988
Glendale, AZ 85312

2. Sign the following petition to Bill Montgomery who is the County Attorney for Maricopa County. Share the petition with everyone you know. Can we gather 10,000 signatures by Friday? Let’s try.

3. After you have signed the petition, directly EMAIL Bill Montgomery to ask that he DROP THE CHARGES against Ms. Taylor.

4. It’s always great when Prosecutors also receive phone calls. Please call the Maricopa County Attorney’s office to ask them to drop the charges against Shanesha Taylor. Be polite about it but suggest that resources would be better spent providing Ms. Taylor and her children with help over punishment. They have already suffered enough.

Maricopa County Attorney’s Office
Phone: (602) 506-3411
Hours: 8am – 5pm Mon-Fri

5. Are you on Facebook? Post a message on Bill Montgomery’s Facebook Page explaining why he should DROP THE CHARGES against Ms. Taylor.

6. Are you on Twitter? Tweet Bill Montgomery directly @marcoattorney and ask him to #DropTheCharges against #ShaneshaTaylor.

7. If you are on Twitter? Contribute your thoughts to the #ISUPPORTSHANESHA because… conversation. Yesterday evening, the conversation trended on Twitter thanks in large part to support from Suey Park.

Below you can see a visual representation of the activity on Twitter:
shaneshatwitter

8. Most importantly, Ms.Taylor and her family need funds. You can continue to donate to her Fundraiser and ask others to join you.