London Civil Unrest: An Interview with Former London Black Panther Darcus Howe.

On August 4th in the Tottenham section of London, 29 year-old Mark Duggan was killed by a police officer after the cab he was riding in was stopped.What followed within hours was a wave a violent attacks on property spilling into several sections of London and lasting for several days.

London community activist Stafford Scott explains that after waiting four hours for the police to make a statement about Duggan’s death to a crowd that had gathered around the Tottenham police station, the congregation of people began to leave in frustration. Moments later, with the torching of police cars, the peaceful gathering had turned violent.

“It was…an outburst…spontaneous outburst, because people saw, we’ve been here for four hours.Women were leading the demonstration.When the women said,‘Look, four hours. Our kids are now tired, we’re going home.’When the guys saw the women leaving, that’s when the guys said, ‘Wow, we’ve been here for four hours and nothing’s happened.Nothing’s changed.They haven’t come to speak to us.’And then when they saw some police cars—which for some reason were just parked up, unmanned—that was like a red flag to a bull.And they just had their go.”

Darcus Howe, Trinidadian-born columnist and broadcaster, in attempting to place the events in the context of current racial dynamics in London, explains, “In England right now, black boys are seen by the police as pests.”For the past 2 years, he says, young Black Londoners have been subjected to being stopped and searched by police in the street without being given an explanation of reasonable cause.

As well, Howe argues that recent cuts in public spending have resulted in increased lawlessness among youth in London.

“And then came the cuts,” he explains, “There are no youth clubs.Nothing for young people. And everything is going up….[T]he cuts in public spending…locked the fridge.You get one meal a day.That is the poverty that is taking place in this country.And so they’re out on the streets in Putnam.If you had walked around that day [the day of Duggan’s death]…you will see four guys leaning on a lamppost…where usually they would have been in a youth club paid for by the local government. …Supervised, areas for sporting activities, and then there in another area you do your homework.[T[hey have been so ignored, that they will sit in your class at school, and you can’t, as we say, read the play.You can’t know what is going on with them….Watch it.Watch how his eyes start to dart around….and wanting to tell you the teacher, ‘Fuck off….’ And that’s been going on under their noses, beneath the surface; and it exploded on that fateful day when Mark Duggan was executed.”

Included in the acts of violence that communities of color are dealing with in London is Black on Black violence, Howe adds.But the wave of civil unrest that moved through the streets of London last week represents a shift–predicted decades ago by the Afro-Caribbean intellectual Franz Fanon–in the way that social unease is manifested by Black youth, Howe argues.“I am sure now, as Franz Fanon warned us, this internecine strife—killing each other—sometimes it reaches a stage where it turns against something else.I promise you, Black on Black violence is going to fall considerably in the next few months….The energies are targeted elsewhere.The energies are targeted against the police.”

Previously, in the 1980s, London also grappled with a series of insurrections in communities of color in response to police abuse of power.What distinguishes these two periods of civil unrest, Howe opines, is the body of intellectuals that shaped the social awareness of the two sets of youth.

“There has never been at anytime until 1981 a mass consciousness informed by the songs of Jamaica, by the Malcolm X autobiography, by Franz Fanon, by C.L.R. James, series of writings.And then they’d have the Panther newspaper here.Stokely came through and he gave lectures and stuff….That made the foundation.Huge intellects like CLR James and younger ones from India and Pakistan.We weren’t looking like lost children. [We were] full of energy and well-read; and trying to build a base for new ideas.[Rather] than simply saying, ‘No, no, no.’”

On this edition, we speak with columnist and broadcaster Darcus Howe about the recent acts of disobedience by youth in the streets of London.

[Audio of interview is forthcoming. Please check back.]

Decarcereate PA and the Social Costs of a Growing Prison Industrial Complex.

The Decarcerate PA Coalition plans to rally outside the Philadelphia offices of Hill International on Wednesday August 17 in an effort to pressure the company to end its plan to manage the construction of a new Graterford Prison in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

Hill International has been awarded a 14 million contract to oversee the building of the new prison. That is a fraction of the 400 million dollars of Pennsylvania state funds slated for various aspects of the new Graterford Prison construction project. According to Dan Berger of Decarcerate PA, the larger aim behind the August 17rally is the reprioritization of Pennsylvania’s social agenda.

“We are going to be out there rallying against the proposed construction of a new prison at Graterford…and really demanding that the money—the 14 million dollars that Hill has been given in various contracts so far and the 400 million dollars that the Graterford Prison is supposed to cost—not go into prison construction, and instead be spent on schools, jobs, healthcare and things that will actually sustain our communities,” Berger says.

According to the recent Sentencing Project report “On the Chopping Block: State Prison Closings,” 13 states in 2011 have either closed prisons or are considering doing so, creating the potential for a total decrease in prison capacity nationwide of up to 14,793 beds. Pennsylvania’s 400 million-dollar new Graterford prison construction project, however, is a move in a different direction.

We speak with 3 members of the Decarcerate PA Coalition–Dan Berger, Joshua Glenn, and Omar Shabazz–about the relationship of the Hill International contract to the larger issue of the social costs of the growth of the prison industrial complex.

Corrections.

1. In the interview, an incorrect meeting spot was given for the Decarcerate PA Coalition. The correct meeting location is: 21 South 12th Street, 7th floor.

2. In addition, in the interview it was stated that Hill International had built only a few prisons in the United States. After further exploration of the Hill International website, however, Dan Berger discovered a list of more than 30 jails and/or correctional institutions that Hill was involved in constructing.

[Audio of interview is forthcoming. Please check back.]

The End of the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike: Interview with Hunger Strike Mediator, Laura Magnani.

On this edition of “On the Block Radio,” we speak with Laura Magnani, regional director of the American Friends Services Committee (AFSC) and one of the five mediators who communicated with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) on behalf of striking prisoners during the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike that began on July 1st.

She discusses the lead up to the end of the strike and the work that former SHU hunger strikers and their outside supporters will be engaged in since the ending of the strike in the interest of bringing change to what they consider to be oppressive conditions in California State prisons.

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Pelican Bay State Prison Hunger Strike: Response from the California Prison System.

We speak with Terry Thorton, spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (the California Prison System) about the hunger strike launched on July 1st by Pelican Bay State Prisoners housed in the prison’s Security Housing Unit (SHU).

In a statement published under the byline SHU Short Corridor Inmates, Pelican Bay Prison, in the summer 2011 edition of California-based Prison Focus, the following demands were listed as goals of the hunger strike:

–Individual accountability.
–Abolish the Debriefing Policy, Modify Active/Inactive Gang Status Criteria.
–Comply with the U.S. commission 2006 Recommendations Regarding an End to Long-Term Solitary Confinement
–Provide Adequate Food
–Expand and Provide Constructive Programming and Privileges for Indefinite SHU Status Inmates

Prison Focus, Summer 2011.

Thorton responds to the demands and recent reports on the deteriorating health of hunger strikers.

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Pelican Bay State Prison Strike: Update.

We speak with Taeva Shefler of the Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition about recent developments in the hunger strike that was launched on July 1st by prisoners confined to the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay State Prison in California. The following five conditions have been listed as the core demands of strikers in statements made by Pelican Bay SHU prisoners explaining the goals of the strike:

1) Eliminate group punishments
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.”
–from the Human Rights Coalition PA Prison Report.


She discusses reports of the spread of the strike into the general population at Pelican Bay
and into other prisons in California and how women in California’s prisons have responded to the hunger strike.

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Jailhouse Lawyer Andre Jacobs: Some Background.

Below is an excerpt from a pamphlet published by the Committee to Free Andre Jacobs:

Andre is a 29 year old Black man unjustly imprisoned and heavily targeted for his filing of grievances and lawsuits in defense of human rights inside the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. We seek to build a network of civil and human rights organizations, human rights defenders, legal associations, and concerned citizens in order to provide financial, media, legal, and popular support for Andre. By highlighting Andre’s battles against wrongful convictions and solitary confinement, we aim to bring greater public awareness to the injustices of the U.S. criminal justice system.

Andre Jacobs’s childhood was plagued with abuse and alcoholism in his immediate family. In 1997, when he was only 15 years old, Andre was first sentenced to prison for non-violent offenses. In 2001 Andre was placed in solitary confinement in retaliation for a lawsuit he had filed after being assaulted by a guard, and the PA DOC illegally suspended his court-ordered mental health treatment. Andre remains in solitary confinement to this day.

In 2005, at the Federal Courthouse in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Andre was dragged onto an elevator by U.S. marshals in front of his grandmother and beaten unconscious after the completion of a civil rights suit he had brought. Federal marshals conspired to frame Andre for assaulting them, despite his being cuffed and shackled at the time, and he was sentenced to an additional 17 years in prison as a result.

In 2008, Andre was awarded $185,000 by a jury in a civil rights suit after they determined that PA DOC staff had violated his rights. This was one of the four civil suits Andre has brought to trial from his solitary confinement cell, where he is held 23-24 hours per day in conditions of extreme social isolation, sensory deprivation, and subjected to constant acts of retaliation.

Against all odds, Andre has persevered through the torture, received a degree from Blackstone University, and is now a certified paralegal. Because of his talents as a jailhouse lawyer and his uncompromising defense of his rights and the rights of all prisoners, Andre has become a frequent target of racist guards and ranking officials and repeatedly subjected to assault, destruction of property, unlawful confiscation of legal mail, food tampering, withholding of medical care, starvation and deprivation of water, and placed on indefinite/permanent solitary confinement status by the secretary of the PA DOC.

Andre’s resilience and refusal to submit to arbitrary, racist, and lawless authority has placed him in harm’s way repeatedly and transformed him into an exceptionally talented and committed human rights defender. His story needs to be heard, his rights protected, and his cause championed.

“I am being killed psychologically. I’ve never had a chance at life and here people are conspiring to take my future from me. This is my first time in prison and it is truly a nightmare! I call on every organization, attorney, and member of society to assist me in educating the world in what goes on behind prison walls in America.”–Andre Jacobs.

The Pelican Bay State Prison Hunger Strike: Interview with Ed Mead of California Prison Focus.

A group of prisoners housed in Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Unit, a housing assignment in which prisoners are restricted to their cells in solitary for at least 23 hours a day, has announced plans to begin a hunger strike on July 1st. According to a formal complaint published by a group of prisoners in the Summer 2011 issue of Prison Focus, one of the goals of the hunger strike is the implementation of 5 demands by the administration of Pelican Bay Prison.
They are:
1) Eliminate group punishments
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.”
–from the Human Rights Coalition PA Prison Report
We speak with Ed Mead–editor of the California-based newspaper Prison Focus and one of the organizers of the outside support for the Pelican Bay State prisoner hunger strike–about the living conditions for prisoners inside of Pelican Bay State Prison and the development and structure of this latest planned prison protest.

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Interview with Psychriatrist Terry Kupers on the Damaging Effects of Long-Term Solitary Confinement on Prisoners.

In the wake of the recently released publication by the Human Rights Coalition called Unity and Courage: Report on State Correctional Institute at Huntingdon which contains prisoner and eyewitness detailed accusations of human rights abuses against prisoners in SCI Huntingdon Prison’s RHU (Restricted Housing Unit), we speak with Psychiatrist Terry Kupers. Dr. Kupers has served as an expert witness on several cases in which the use of solitary confinement in United States’ prisons is placed in critical focus. Namely, he has been asked to testify in U.S. courts on the damaging effects of solitary confinement on prisoners for such organizations as the ACLU and on behalf of Black Panther Party members.

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An Interview with Journalist Linn Washington on the Recent Judicial Victory for Mumia Abu-Jamal.

In the wake of the recent decision by the Third U.S. Court of Appeals declaring Mumia Abu-Jamal’s death sentence unconstitutional and granting him a new sentencing trial, we speak with Philadelphia Tribune journalist Linn Washington. As a blogger, writer with the Tribune, and a public speaker, Washington has been reporting on developments in the Mumia Abu-Jamal case for years.

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Update on Jailhouse Lawyer Andre Jacobs.

Thanks for joining us for another edition of On The Block Radio, the show that takes a critical look at the United States criminal justice system.

On today’s show:

PA Prison Report Headlines.

–A woman in solitary confinement is repeatedly denied medical care by prison authorities
–“Ban the Box” legislation is proposed in Pittsburgh and made law in Philadelphia
–Victims of police attacks in Philadelphia win a chance at publicly demonstrating the extent of police brutality, and more…

Interview.

We talk with Elizabeth Springer, the grandmother of jailhouse lawyer Andre Jacobs. Andre has been locked up in Pennsylvania correctional institutions since he was 15 years old. Ms. Springer talks about his early childhood, his experiences with harassment while in prison, developments with his appeal on federal charges of assault against prison guards, and the federal civil rights lawsuit he filed this past December against the PA DOC.

In December of 2010, Andre Jacobs filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in the Middle District of Pennsylvania against Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and state law enforcement agents in which he charges acts of torture against him. He filed that lawsuit while at SCI Huntingdon.

On April 8th, Andre Jacobs was transferred from SCI Huntingdon to SCI Rockview. When asked to provide a reason for the transfer, SCI Huntingdon’s Public Information Officer, Connie Green, declined to give an explanation.

In 2008, Jacobs represented himself in a case in which he charged Pennsylvania Department of Correction staff with confiscating and not returning important legal property to him. He won the case, and the jury issued a judgment of $185,000 on his behalf.

Subsequently, according to the claims in his recent civil rights lawsuit, he was harassed by prison officials. He has been the victim of physical assault, verbal abuse, and food deprivation.

In addition, Jacobs has continued to be held in soilitary confinement, or the hole, since 2001. This means he is restricted to a cell by himself for at least 23 hours a day.
Special Thanks.

The PA Prison Reports are compiled by Andy, Bret, and Amanda of the Human Rights Coalition based on the accounts of prisoner correspondents and the investigations of HRC members. From the compiled data, the reports are re-written by Andy into the narratives you hear on “On The Block Radio.” Tonight’s report was read by Hannah of the HRC. Many thanks. To access written transcripts of the PA Prison Reports, please go to: www.hrcoalition.org.

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