A Letter to the Prisoners on Strike in Georgia

We, as members of activist and community organizations in the Bay Area of California, send our support for your strike against the terrible conditions you face in Georgia’s prisons. We salute you for making history as your strike has become the largest prison strike in the history of this nation. As steadfast defenders of human and civil rights, we recognize the potential that your action has to improve the lives of millions subject to inhumane treatment in correctional facilities across this country.

Chain Gang

A chain chain gang in Florida. Chain Gangs are gaining popularity again and their end is one of the strikers' demands. (from sfbayview.com)

Every single day, prisoners face the same deplorable and unnecessarily punitive conditions that you have courageously decided to stand up against. For too long, this nation has chosen silence in the face of the gross injustices that our brothers and sisters in prison are subjected to. Your fight against these injustices is a necessary and righteous struggle that must be carried out to victory.

We have heard about the brutal acts that Georgia Department of Corrections officers have been resorting to as a means of breaking your protest and we denounce them. In order to put a stop to the violence to which you have been subjected, we are now in the process of developing contacts with the personnel at the different prison facilities and circulating petitions addressed to the governor and the Georgia DOC. We will continue to expose the DOC’s shameless physical attacks on you and use our influence to call for an immediate end to the violence.

Here, in the Bay Area, we are all too familiar with the violence that this system is known to unleash upon our people. Recently, our community erupted in protest over the killing of an unarmed innocent black man named Oscar Grant by transit police in Oakland. We forced the authorities to arrest and convict the police officer responsible for Grant’s murder by building up a mass movement. We intend to win justice with you and stop the violent repression of your peaceful protest in the same way—by appealing to the power and influence of the masses.

We fully support all of your demands. We strongly identify with your demand for expanded educational opportunities. In recent years, our state government has been initiating a series of massive cuts to our system of public education that continue to endanger our right to a quality, affordable education; in response, students all across our state have stood up and fought back just as you are doing now. In fact, students and workers across the globe have begun to organize and fight back against austerity measures and the corresponding violence of the state. Just in the past few weeks in Greece, Ireland, Spain, England, Italy, Haiti, Puerto Rico – tens and hundreds of thousands of students and workers have taken to the streets. We, as a movement, are gaining momentum and we do so even more as our struggles are unified and seen as interdependent. At times we are discouraged; it may seem insurmountable, but in the words of Malcolm X, “Power in defense of freedom is greater than power on behalf of tyranny and oppression.”

You have inspired us. News of your strike, from day one, has served to inspire and invigorate hundreds of students and community organizers here in Berkeley and Oakland alone. We are especially inspired by your ability to organize across color lines and are interested in hearing an account from the inside of how this process developed and was accomplished. You have also encouraged us to take more direct actions toward radical prison reform in our own communities, namely Santa Rita County Jail and San Quentin Prison. We are now beginning the process of developing a similar set of demands regarding expediting processing (can take 20-30 hours to get a bed, they call it “bullpen therapy”), nutrition, visiting and phone calls, educational services, legal support, compensation for labor and humane treatment in general. We will also seek to unify the education and prison justice movements by collaborating with existing organizations that have been engaging in this work.

We echo your call: No more Slavery! Injustice to one is injustice to all!

In us, students, activists, the community members and people of the Bay Area, you have an ally. We will continue to spread the news about your cause all over the Bay Area and California, the country and world. We pledge to do everything in our power to make sure your demands are met.

In solidarity,

UC-Berkeley Student Worker Action Team (SWAT), Community Action Project (CAP), La Voz de los Trabajadores (www.lavozlit.com), Laney College Student Unity & Power (SUPLaney.wordpress.com), Laney College Black Student Union (BSU) , Bay Area United Against War Newsletter (bauaw.org), ,Socialist Viewpoint magazine (socialistviewpoint.org), Workers International League (www.socialistappeal.org), Bay Area ISO (norcalsocialism.org), We Are the Crisis (UC Davis Chapter), Bicycle Barricades (UC Davis), Socialist Action, Socialist Organizer, San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper (sfbayview.com), UC-Berkeley Black Student Union (BSU), SF State Black Student Union (BSU), SF State Student Unity & Power (SUP), Advance the Struggle (AS), Bail Out the People Movement.

This letter was originally posted at Defend CA Public Education. You can sign it at Solidarity Petition for the Prisoners on Strike in Georgia or with your Facebook account here.

To learn more, watch this video: Prisoner Advocate Elaine Brown on Georgia Prison Strike: “Repression Breeds Resistance”.


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Don’t Label People as “Outsiders”, A Message from Walter Riley

Famed Oakland Lawyer, political activists, and father of The Coup’s Boots, Walter Riley, urges against a language of division in analysis of the Oscar Grant protests. This is a message from him: 

Walter Riley Being Arrested

Lawyer and Legal Observer, Walter Riley was arrested at the Oakland protests on July 8th. (from insidebayarea.com)

The murder of Oscar Grant is a universal issue of justice and civil rights.

I do not like this divisive campaign to divide our community and protestors by calling people outsiders.  Oakland is not an isolated town in the desert.  This is a great metropolitan area with people from all over; with a world class university; we expect people from all over the map to participate in Oakland.  Calling people outsiders in this instance is a political attack on the movement.  The subtext is that the outsiders are white and not connected to Oakland.  From the days of the civil rights movement to now the outsider labeling failed to address the underlying problems for which people came together.

For those whose frustration with progress leads them to violent protest, we must engage in respectful political struggle.  I understand the frustration; I do not support destruction and looting as political protest.  I adamantly object to calling our youth and political activists outsiders.  I call upon everyone to push back against this tendency.

Walter Riley
Attorney at Law
1440 Broadway, suite 612A
Oakland, CA 94612

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Oakland Riots. Justice Remains Unwritten.

As the night of July 8 draws to a close, I suspect it will take some time to make sense of the events surrounding the Mehserle verdict, the ensuing Oakland protests, and what actually happened here tonight.

Shadow in police light

17th and Telegraph, July 8, 2010

That being said, it is important to keep in mind that the mainstream narrative is already being written. It is, perhaps, the nature of today’s world that times in which self-reflection and analysis are most needed are the ones that are most easily co-opted by other interests. Soon, answers and explanations that neatly categorize Oakland’s struggles will attempt to “make sense” of it all in ways that don’t express the real meaning of, or impetus behind, why things happened the way they happened. Inevitably, the mainstream media and all of those that seek to sensationalize will draw boxes around “violence”, rioting, outside agitators, and other such easy phrases, in ways that compartmentalize and fracture the communities that hope to organize for change.

Accordingly, it will take a concerted effort to make sure that the conversation remains on the real issues at hand: racism, institutionalized injustice, police murder, and accountability. Let’s reflect but remain vigilant. The struggle for justice cannot be defined by the outcome of the Mehserle trial, it did not begin with the shooting of Oscar Grant and is not over with today’s verdict; it is up to us to ensure that it perseveres.

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Photos from July 8th; Oakland Protests Oscar Grant Verdict

Some photos from tonight’s protests in Downtown Oakland. Stay tuned for more coverage.

Oakland Says Guilty Banner. 14th and Broadway

14th and Broadway -- "Oakland says GUILTY"

Police Line up at 12th and Broadway in Downtown Oakland

The Oakland Police and CHP were out in numbers and early.

Sound Cannon

I am pretty sure this is a sound-cannon. Dellums said there wouldn't be any.

A News-reporter holds a shoe

I reported on the Oscar Grant protests and all I got was this one shoe.

Parked Cop Cars, Downtown Oakland

Parked CHP cars, downtown

Shadow in police light

A boarded-up wall is illuminated by the lights of a CHP cruiser.

Cops Lineup in Front of Oscar Grant Mural

Cops lineup in front of an Oscar Grant mural on 17th and Telegraph.

Trash Burns on Broadway

A trashcan burns on Broadway at 17th.

Photographers snap pics of burning trash

Tomorrow's front page photos.

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Oakland, Police, and the Optimism of the 1970s

This is a video (in two parts) from 1974 on the growth of Oakland and the development of its police force. It’s a pretty optimistic take on the future in which “social scientist” will dictate police relations. Worth a watch:

part 1:

part 2: 

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Too Late for Justice

As the city of Oakland prepares for the Grant trial verdict in which former Oakland BART cop, Johannes Mehserle, is on trial for murder in the 2009 New Year’s morning shooting of Oscar Grant, it may be important to ask a bigger question: is it too late for justice? Flyers in support of Oscar Grant

It is impossible to not notice that there is an air of apprehension throughout the Town. From Downtown to the Fruitvale, stores have been boarded up in preparation for rebellions, civil disobedience, and property destruction that nobody is quite sure if is coming.

Reports have focused on the protests and property destruction that took place in Oakland only a few days after Grant’s death. Back then, in January of 2009,  after video of the shooting circulated widely, thousands of people took to the streets and over a hundred were arrested. In anticipation, comparisons to the Rodney King trial of 1992 in which four white cops were acquitted of a brutal beating of King have been made. As some have ominously pointed out, in that case King was only beaten whereas Johannes Mehserle killed Oscar Grant, so the logic dictates, the rebellions and backlash against police may be more severe. One thing is for sure, as officials seek to prevent the disruptions of 2009, the police crackdown will undoubtedly be harsh. As Jesse Strauss writes, reports have swirled for days of a preëmptive police state in Oakland.  And walking down the street in downtown sure is eerie: [see our pics].

It is hard to be optimistic about the potential verdict in a trial of a white cop for the killing of a black man, by a jury with no black jurors.

A helpful break-down of the Mehserle verdict options

A helpful break-down of the Mehserle verdict options

If history has shown anything, it is that cops get off free. Understandably much of the community hopes that Mehserle is convicted of the highest crime he is eligible for: second-degree murder. Such a verdict would mean that at least one cop would pay for his actions. But on a macro  level it seems important to question whether asking for a guilty verdict is enough.

Some might say that it is time to make an example of Mehserle – just as the shooting of Oscar Grant was an example of a racist police system. And it’s hard to argue with that line – this is one of the few chances that exist to punish a cop, not only for shooting an unarmed black man but for what are widespread, systemic, institutional, and epistemic transgressions. The very significance of the case, it seems, lies in that the prosecution seeks a murder conviction:  one of the only times that a cop has ever been tried for murder. But the undeniable and understandable satisfaction a guilty verdict would bring could prove to be short-lived unless we work for alternative models of justice. After all, would Mehserle’s conviction prove that “the system” “works”? Conversely do we need an acquittal to understand that it’s broken?

Furthermore, let’s be wary of another possibility: that a dangerous narrative can emerge (and likely will in the conventional media) on the chance of a guilty verdict – one that presents the case as a closed loop in which damage that was done with the shooting is undone by the conviction of a cop who will now “pay” for his crime. Such a line is particularly troubling because it is entirely limiting; it leaves little room for pointing out the everyday racism (et al.) of the prison-industrial-complex. So let us hope for a guilty verdict but not lie to ourselves that even the most severe punishment will have solved the injustice of the judicial system.

If we bracket off (bear with me) the fact that the judicial system, the police force, and the narrative around the Oscar Grant are racist, we are left with an opportunity to create change regardless of the outcome of this trial. Let us concede: there can be no justice. (Yet.) A guilty verdict is only the best we can get right now.

But this is not a call to apathy; it’s a realization that letting go of the broken model opens up new possibilities for change. While cooperation with police and government is worrisome and the focus on property destruction and not on police brutality ominous, some of the conversations coming out of the groups organizing part of the post-verdict response are uniquely heartening. They focus on creating new organizing opportunities, ways of expressing anger, frustration, rather than condemning others’ actions. As one organizer, a preacher at an East Oakland church, put it, “we are not here to tell people what to do, we are here to present constructive alternatives and point out that the struggle for justice does not start nor end with Oscar Grant”.

So why wait for the verdict? The cycle of injustice will not have been started with then. Neither should the response. In the future we can look back on the Mehserle trial verdict as a catalyst for widespread reform and fortunately that narrative remains unwritten. Let’s get writing.

Helpful reading:

Oakland on the eve of the Mehserle verdict: between “Do the Right Thing” and “What is to be Done?” [Solidarity-us.org]
Chronicle of a Riot Foretold [George Ciccariello-Maher / Counterpunch]
A Verdict Against Racism and Towards Liberation [Just Cause Oakland]
Continuing the Fight [Critical Resistance]

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Verdict is Coming

He says tazer, we say murder

Oakland waits for the Mehserle trial verdict

The Corner of 17th and Telegraph

The Corner of 17th and Telegraph

14th and Franklin

14th and Franklin

17th and Franklin

17th and Franklin

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