So I was reading a pretty interesting article, The New Black Power. Good piece on some of the young Black folks putting in work for liberation in Chicago. Got down to this paragraph, and really started thinking about everything that’s been going on since George Zimmerman was acquitted for gunning down Trayvon Martin in July 2013:
But what happened the second day wasn’t part of the plan: George Zimmerman was acquitted on all charges in the slaying of Trayvon Martin. The young activists held hands as they watched the TV reports. Some wept.
The tension that had built up found its outlet in that verdict. It was, Carruthers says, “a moment of collective trauma, but also a moment of collective clarity.” That night, half of the participants hit the streets to protest, while the rest stayed behind to write what would become the group’s first public statement. (The New Black Power, Chicago magazine March 2016)
I had spent most of that week keeping up with the trial and preparing for the almost-inevitable protest we would have to have when there was no justice for Trayvon. It was a warm July summer weekend, and I was preparing to be sent back to jail to finish serving a 300 day sentence for a fabricated political prosecution based on video recording a political statement on an iPhone at the “Ethical Humanist” Society of Chicago. I was there in part to record any police brutality and instead became thesubject of police brutality and a political prosecution. That is another story for another time. But after appealing the case up to the Illinois Supreme Court, my appeal was rejected without any of my substantive legal claims being addressed. I also had a warrant out for my arrest for missing an alleged court hearing on said case which was never sent to my attorney. Another surreal side story I’ll omit at this time.
So this entire time that I’m participating in organizing these protests, I have a warrant, I’m preparing to “turn myself in” at the next court hearing on July 23, 2013. Turning oneself in was never something I saw as a noble act, nor did I intend to smugly submit to injustice based on knowing that I was being completely set up. There was nothing that I liked or felt good with about “turning myself in” – except for the agenda of struggle I set for myself to be part of during my time locked up.
I go to my court hearing on July 23rd, accompanied by 30 or 40 friends, comrades and supporters. I began the hunger strike the previous night just before midnight, after a small piece of baklava and my traditional libations of a blunt and a 40oz of Olde English 800. After a few perfunctory words from the judge, I’m taken out of the back of the courtroom in handcuffs into the bullpens in the bowels of the courthouse to be processed and sent on a bus back to Cook County Jail.
I spent two weeks on hunger strike in Cook County Jail in support of the California prison hunger strike that summer. The next summer I’d appear in newspapers and night vision green video returning tear gas to militarized pigs moving on us with APCs and assault rifles, standing with the people of Ferguson.
I’m trying to process and write about all of this, while living with way too many years in solitary confinement particularly but really, prison period. Fighting a 4 year long political prosecution where I was sent back to jail didn’t help in many ways, even though we did a tremendous amount taking on that case and won – hands down – politically even if I lost legally.
Shit has been really hard for the last year or so. In some ways I’ve made some important steps, in my personal life and in my writing. But in a lot of ways I struggle to even make it from day to day. I just gotta keep putting in work on the writing, on fighting to survive, on fighting this system… I got a few stories I need to tell yet.
Furthering the Movement to Stop Mass Incarceration
Crowne Plaza Chicago Metro – Ballroom Salon B – C
2.2 million people are incarcerated in the United States, with an additional 5 million under the control of the criminal “in”justice system on probation and parole. Over 30,000 are in immigration detention centers, and Obama has deported a record 2 million immigrants. As Michelle Alexander points out in The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness, courthouse doors are closed to systemic legal challenges to the racial inequality which has lead to more than 50% of the prison population being people of color.
This will not stop without a mass movement that demands an end to mass incarceration and the criminalization of Black and Latino youth. In this panel, former prisoners and others intimately familiar with the broader social consequences of mass incarceration will lead a discussion on how to turn around what is now two generations living under the injustice of mass incarceration. We will call for a Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration in October 2014, initiated by Dr. Cornel West and Carl Dix, co-founders of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network.
Gregory Koger – Revolutionary communist activist with the Stop Mass Incarceration Network (SMIN). Gregory just returned from spending most of the last month on the front lines of the Ferguson rebellion in response to the police execution of Michael Brown. A member of the National Lawyers Guild, paralegal and former jailhouse lawyer, Gregory spent 11 years in prison, including over 6 years straight in solitary confinement, where he transformed himself from a gang member to a revolutionary. Since his release from prison has dedicated his life to ending the injustices of capitalism. He has spoken from cellblocks to universities about need to build a mass movement to end mass incarceration as part of the struggle for a liberated world for all humanity. Deeply inspired by the California prison hunger strike, Gregory organized a Chicago Forum on the California Prison Hunger Strike and Torture in U.S. Prisons in August 2011. During the 30,000-strong resumption of the hunger strike in July 2013, he spoke on NPR and other radio stations in support of the brothers and sisters on hunger strike, and he spent two weeks on hunger strike in solidarity while locked down in Cook County Jail serving a 300-day sentence for recording a political statement on an iPhone. He is currently the Plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking to overturn the decades-old policy of banning all newspapers in Cook County Jail (Koger v. Dart).
Mark Lewis Taylor – Maxwell M. Upson Professor of Theology and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary. Writer, teacher, scholar and activist, Mark Lewis Taylor is a theologian in the vein of engaged thinkers who trace and analyze liberating spirit – the spirit of decolonizing political practices, wherein re-membered collective suffering of the earth and its oppressed peoples can become “specters,” material forces for multidimensional revolutionary change. In addition to being the author of several books, he is the founder of “Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal,” a group of teachers from all levels of education, organizing since 1995 for a new trial on behalf of Abu-Jamal, a journalist on Pennsylvania’s death row for 30 years. Activist movements achieved a victory in 2011, securing Abu-Jamal’s transfer from death row to general population. Nevertheless, the struggle to free him from prison continues, as many join in support of Desmond Tutu’s demand for his “immediate release.”
Brian Orozco – NLG member and practicing lawyer who has worked with prisoners and their families in California and Illinois and will speak to police/prison guard brutality, what the prisoners and their family members have been doing to protest their own conditions, and why massive resistance is needed to end the torture of solitary confinement and other atrocities. And why the NLG needs to be part of the Month of Resistance.
Hosted by Rev. Jessie Jackson. Panelists:
Barbara Arnwine, attorney, President and Executive Director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law;
Jonathan Jackson, RainbowPUSH national spokesman;
Gregory Koger, Stop Mass Incarceration Network;
Dr. Donna Leak, former high school superintendent;
Michael Seng, Attorney, Law Professor, John Marshall Law School, Chicago;
David Shapiro, Attorney, Bluhm Legal Clinic, Northwestern University Law School.
Former inmate Gregory Koger and Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Alexis Agathocleous discuss the progress since Pelican Bay hunger strike and the merits of solitary confinement as torture – March 7, 2014
Thursday, February 13, 2014 – 4:30 – 5:30pm
Outside the Thompson Center –
Randolph & Clark – Chicago, IL
UPDATE 2-13-14: We have just received word from Brian Nelson at Uptown People’s Law Center that Menard today has barred them from speaking on the phone with one of the men on hunger strike. Additionally, one of the hunger strikers has been transferred to Stateville in an attempt to break his hunger strike: “Mr. John Velez was one of the men that began hunger striking in Menard on Jan. 15. As of today he is still on hunger strike. He was moved from Menard temporally to Stateville NRC. His Mother and Wife attempted to visit him today and they were denied visits until Mr. John Velez comes off the hunger strike. None of his legal material or personal property was allowed to be transferred with him. He does not no why he was temporally transferred to Stateville NRC.”
A group of men in a high security unit at Menard (a prison in southwestern Illinois) began a courageous hunger strike on January 15. On Friday, February 9, several prisoners escalated the strike and began refusing liquids.
These men have put their lives on the line to protest inhumane conditions and placement in severe isolation, without reason or ability to challenge that placement. One prisoner was beaten in retaliation for being on hunger strike, others have been issued bogus “disciplinary tickets.” Attorneys for the prisoners were prevented by the IDOC from communicating with the men in the first weeks of the strike.
The conditions at Menard are intolerable: there is a lack of adequate heat and hot water, filthy, vermin-infested cells, a lack of access to basic cleaning and sanitation supplies, insufficient food and clothing, and a lack of access to legal resources and educational programming. Solitary confinement is considered torture under international law (over 80,000 prisoners in the U.S. are held in solitary).
One prisoner wrote, “Our conditions are inextricably linked to the social mobilization across the nation against the injustice of mass incarceration. We hope that we have your support & we thank you.”
No society should be permitted to treat human beings this way. We must stand with the hunger strikers and call for their demands to be met immediately.
The men on hunger strike have asked that “you & your friends call the Governor’s office, the Director of IDOC S.A. Godinez, & the Warden of Menard CC, and inquire about our peaceful protest & our reasons & conditions of confinement.”
Prisoners in Menard, IL have refused liquids as they entered the fourth week of a courageous hunger strike opposing their placement into administrative segregation without notice in filthy conditions of severe isolation. Attorney Alice Lynd reported, “The Menard hunger strikers have apparently decided to go without liquid as well as food, and their physical condition could deteriorate rapidly.”1 These men’s lives are on the line and we must support them.
At least one prisoner has been beaten in retaliation for being on hunger strike and others have reported receiving retaliatory “disciplinary reports.” A Chicago attorney for some of the hunger strikers has also reported that in the first weeks of the hunger strike the Illinois Department of “Corrections” (IDOC) had been barring the prisoners from using the telephone and holding up their legal mail, preventing information about the conditions of the hunger strikers from getting out in a timely manner.
IDOC has issued a number of bald faced lies in response to journalists’ inquiries into the prisoners demands. In regards to the prisoners having no notice of the reasons for their placement into administrative segregation, IDOC Director of “Communications” Tom Shaer told Solitary Watch that because prisoners have allegedly been “interviewed about issues causing [their] placement” into ad seg, they have “a very good idea of the reasons.”2 However, in the next breath Shaer actually revealed that – just as the hunger strikers have claimed – the IDOC has provided no actual formal legal notice of the reasons for their segregation: Shaer admitted that “the placement decisions and 90-day reviews contain confidential information, so issuing copies to prisoners could pose a security threat.”3 Shaer then had the audacity to claim that “we don’t have Solitary Confinement in Illinois prisons” while running down a listing of conditions of confinement that, as Solitary Watch pointed out, exactly fit the definition of solitary confinement used by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and other human rights groups.4
One of the hunger strikers wrote and asked that “you & your friends call the Governor’s office, the Director of IDOC S.A. Godinez, & the Warden of Menard CC, and inquire about our peaceful protest & our reasons & conditions of confinement.”5 He added, “Our conditions are inextricably linked to the social mobilization across the nation against the injustice of mass incarceration. We hope that we have your support & we thank you.”6
Illinois Department of Corrections Director Salvador Godinez, (217) 558-2200, ext. 2008, Illinois Department of Corrections, P.O. Box 19277, Springfield IL 62794-9277 or http://www2.illinois.gov/idoc/contactus/Pages/default.aspx
Warden Rick Harrington, (618) 826-5071, P.O. Box 711, Menard IL 62259
In 1878 convicts began backbreaking labor carving into the limestone bluffs along the bank of the Mississippi River outside Chester, Illinois. Over a decade of sweat and sorrow at gunpoint produced two cell houses enclosed by a massive wall built from the limestone quarried by the prisoners. The prison – formerly Southern Illinois Penitentiary and now Menard “Correctional Center” – is known as “The Pit.”
On January 15, 2014, prisoners in The Pit’s “High Security Unit” began a hunger strike to oppose their placement into inhumane conditions in isolation under Administrative Detention. Solitary confinement exceeding 15 days is considered torture and prohibited under international law. We must support the prisoners stepping forward and putting their lives on the line to demand an end to these crimes being systematically perpetrated by the rulers of the United States.
The courageous hunger strike by prisoners at Menard is the latest uprising in a wave of prisoner-lead struggle against torture and the dehumanizing conditions within the United States’ historically unprecedented system of mass incarceration. Last year’s 30,000-strong resumption of the California prison hunger strike (which I joined for two weeks in solidarity while a political prisoner in Cook County Jail) was the biggest and most publicized, but a number of other organized struggles by prisoners have taken place in the last several years – from work stoppages in Georgia to hunger strikes in Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, North Carolina, and Washington. Also last year prisoners in Guantanamo participated in a long hunger strike and faced brutal forced feeding, bringing resistance and exposure on a more international level. Recently, prisoners in Indiana’s Westville “Correctional Facility” began a hunger strike on January 13, 2014 to protest nutritionally deficient food.
Many of the prisoners on hunger strike in Menard were formerly held in Tamms – Illinois’ official “supermax” prison modeled after Pelican Bay SHU. Tamms was closed down in January 2013 after a fifteen year long political and legal battle by prisoners, family members and activists. Several of the prisoners placed in the HSU at Menard are “jailhouse lawyers” – prisoners self-educated in the law who help other prisoners with legal work and challenge prison conditions.
“They won’t tell anybody why they are in Administrative Detention, let alone give them an informal hearing to contest the undisclosed allegations,”1 one Menard prisoner wrote. He said, “There are mice just running wild. They have 20 guys using one pair of fingernail clippers with no cleaning in between uses, there is absolutely no mental health screening or evaluation, nor do any mental health staff even make rounds.” Another prisoner said, “I’m a jailhouse lawyer. And [I] file/help other prisoners with their grievances and lawsuits. Because of that I was retaliated against and transferred to Menard and placed in the High Security Unit under Administrative Detention.”2
Since beginning the hunger strike, prisoners reported to attorney Alice Lynd (and published in the San Francisco BayView) that “officers shook down their cells and took any food they found. The hunger strikers were sent to see medical staff and charged $5 for medical treatment.”3 In 2000 the IDOC began charging prisoners $5 per incident to receive medical care – a direct violation of international law, including the United Nations Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment which states that prisoners’ medical “care and treatment shall be provided free of charge.”
Additionally, Lynd reported one prisoner was pushed down the stairs by two officers while handcuffed and then beaten.4 Officers pushing handcuffed and/or shackled prisoners down the stairs is a common form of retaliation in segregation units in Illinois prisons, as prisoners are never allowed to leave their cells without handcuffs and/or shackles.
With the closing of Tamms – the most visible face of torture in Illinois’ prison system – prisoners were sent to other prisons where the practice of solitary confinement has been hiding behind older and less-scrutinized walls. Within weeks of Tamms prisoners being transferred to Illinois’ long-term disciplinary segregation prison in Pontiac, IL, nearly 50 prisoners began a hunger strike opposing the conditions there. A number of smaller and not well-publicized hunger strikes against the conditions at Pontiac have taken place since it was converted from a regular maximum security prison to long-term disciplinary segregation in the late-1990s.
Debate and struggle roil every day behind the prison walls about the repressive and degrading conditions and what to do about it – especially in solitary confinement. Far too often prisoners have little or no connection on the other side of the walls to expose the horrors of what they are facing – and to support them when they do organize to oppose those conditions.
Solitary confinement is specifically implemented to destroy people psychologically, emotionally and intellectually. It is a severely damaging and demobilizing form of torture that survivors never escape. Over 80,000 people are held in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons.
Mass incarceration, rooted in the foundational white supremacy of this country, is a response of the ruling class to the driving dynamics of capitalism-imperialism. The drive for ever greater profits has decimated inner city communities as factories uprooted and set up sweatshops abroad where they can even more brutally exploit workers than they can here – leaving generations of principally Black and Brown youth locked out of society who will never be meaningfully employed. It is also a conscious response to the revolutionary upsurge of the 1960s – implemented to contain and repress millions who this system has no future for and who could become the backbone of the struggle for a radically different and more liberated world for all humanity.
The conditions and retaliation described by the men in Menard sound all too real and familiar to me. I spent over 6 years straight in indeterminate segregation in Pontiac – and most of my time there in the North Cellhouse. It was under those same conditions that I became part of a new generation of prison-educated revolutionaries beginning to emerge within those concrete tombs. I firmly believe it will take revolution – nothing less – to end the crimes of this system, and that we can bring into being a society that values and meets the material, cultural and intellectual needs of all humanity – a communist world.
“The world needs to know of the sadistic, systemic horror of long-term solitary confinement, which is enforced on more than 80,000 people in the U.S. prison system. We know that revisiting this can be difficult for those who are facing or have faced these conditions, but the truth must be laid bare for all. All of society needs to know of the racial profiling that sucked you into the pipeline to prison, of the horrific conditions everyone in prison endures and of the open discrimination formerly incarcerated people face after release. You are in a unique position to expose the lying justifications given by the authorities for what they are.”
“Send these stories to the Bear Witness Project of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network. Through this you will be opening the eyes of those who are shielded from the real situation in the inner cities and the actual conditions enforced in prison. And letting those caught up in the cycle of going in and out of prison know that what they’re up against are social problems, not individual ones, and that by standing up and resisting them together, we can change the way mass incarceration is looked at in society and contribute to bringing forward a movement that can end it.”
And I call on all people of conscience to support the prisoners and to step forward and follow the courageous example they are setting. Much love, respect and support to the brothers and sisters rising up from deep within the depths of this criminal system of injustice.
Mail Bear Witness correspondence to:
PRLF1321 N Milwaukee, #407 Chicago, IL 60622
or Stop Mass Incarceration Network P.O. Box 941, Knickerbocker Station, New York City, NY 10002-0900
I’m back down after a long legal and political battle, including two weeks on hunger strike in Cook County Jail in solidarity with the California prison hunger strike. Got some reading and writing done as well. Will have more to say soon. Much love – Gregory
“I will continue to be on the front lines and continue to fight, and I know many of you will be there with me.” – Gregory Koger
Over 50 people came together in Chicago on Saturday, November 2 to celebrate Gregory Koger’s release from Cook County Jail. Gregory’s release came after he served the remainder of an outrageous sentence that should never have been imposed, for a political act that was never a crime. (See “Revolutionary Gregory Koger Sent Back to Jail” for background.) The evening of music, hugs, and conversation was sponsored by the defense committee that has fought for his innocence and freedom for four years, warmly welcoming him back to the “outside” where he vowed to continue to fight to liberate humanity.
Sunsara Taylor, whose statement protesting censorship Gregory was filming when he was arrested, sent a beautiful statement.
Statement from Sunsara Taylor, sent to the celebration of Gregory Koger’s release:
I don’t know if this will reach you while you are all together celebrating—but either way I want to send the biggest virtual hug imaginable. I have been furious and agonized every day knowing that you have been unjustly and outrageously held behind bars and denied very basic freedoms. Yet, even behind bars your determination and strength and revolutionary understanding shined. Even as I know that millions of others remain in America’s hellholes and even though I know the world is teeming with unbearable and unnecessary suffering due to this outmoded, illegitimate capitalist-imperialist, life-crushing system we live under—my spirit is lifted and I am deeply happy to know that today you are out. Even more so to know that you are celebrating with people who know and love and deeply respect you. With people who have been touched by you and learned from your courage and strength. I am, as always, proud to count you as a friend and a comrade. It is great to have you back—we have much to accomplish together!
Until all are free,
A member of his defense committee, the Ad Hoc Committee for Reason, spoke for many when she said, “Speaking as a visitor to that hellhole, spending even one hour there was too much. How anyone incarcerated under those conditions could be expected to survive, much less be rehabilitated is unrealistic. Gregory did manage to survive and no doubt had some damned good discussions with his fellow inmates and will continue his fight against injustice.”
Gregory’s heartfelt talk was the highlight of the evening. We want to share this with the readers of Revolution, especially those who are locked down in the hellholes of this country:
“In talking to someone earlier tonight, I recounted that in the last 19 years of my life, I have had 9 months when I wasn’t in jail, in prison, on parole, on probation, or on bond. Including over half the time of the [seven years] since I’ve been out of prison has been spent fighting this case.”
“It didn’t surprise me what the criminal injustice system did in this case, but there were aspects that I think surprised all of us. The fact that I was charged with criminal trespass for just standing there holding an iPhone, which every legal scholar and lawyer we consulted with said there is no way that is trespassing; the fact they tried to hold me in contempt of court because my defense committee had a website that talked about the larger political questions related to this case; the fact that at the very end of the case, the judge issued a secret ruling without any notice to my attorney or myself that there was a hearing happening and then issued a warrant for my arrest. The fact that none of the substantive legal issues we raised were ever addressed by the court was not all that surprising to me because I know how the system works.”
“People have spoken about where I come from. It was very much in the conditions of torture, conditions in which tens of thousands of people in U.S. prisons are held in solitary confinement, where I began to really grapple with the broader questions of society, including why is the world this way. And that is where I ultimately came to conclude, through reading Revolution newspaper and other revolutionary literature, that there is absolutely no reason for this system to do what it does to people—billions and billions of people in the world—ruining their lives and offering them no hope whatsoever. There are the resources on this planet to feed, clothe, provide housing, healthcare, and education for everyone, and to provide intellectual and cultural life for the millions and billions of people who are systematically locked out of those realms. All that could happen, but it doesn’t because of the capitalist-imperialist system. But we can get to that world through revolution—nothing less. This is what I firmly believe.”
“During the course of this battle I have made friends with so many people who don’t all agree with what I believe, including many who do not agree with communism. But we have united together to oppose the glaring injustices of this system, of which one small part is this case we have fought for the last four years. To me this is an expression and an example of what needs to happen much more in society. An example of both the core strategic approach and outlook of the Revolutionary Communist Party—that we have to bring together people from the bottom of society and people from middle class backgrounds who don’t have the direct experience of that kind of oppression and injustice. We will never get to another world without people from the bottom and people from other parts of society being firmly committed toward humanity. We really had a great expression of that throughout the course of this case.”
“On a personal level, just seeing and knowing everybody here, many of whom I first met through the work of struggling against this case, people from many different backgrounds—writers, intellectuals, and people who don’t have a fucking thing. Artists like [the world-renowned jazz musicians] who are performing here tonight. Other people who know what torture is like [a friend at the party] who was tortured in Chile under Pinochet, who was out there fighting against the torture that’s happening to prisoners in solitary confinement in the U.S. People like me, and like this brother here, who was in the same prisons as me in the same conditions, who are now revolutionaries fighting against the system. I was on a hunger strike the first two weeks I was in jail in solidarity with the California prisoners’ hunger strike against torture…”
“I want to thank everybody. This has been a very trying and difficult four years, but we have built a tremendous amount of strength taking this on. On the biggest level in society, the core fault line contradictions that were embodied and encapsulated in this case—from the role of prisoners in this society, and mass incarceration, to the repression of voices of dissent and critical thinking. I will say that we lost the case legally, but we won it politically.” [cheers]
“This is a big inflection point, not the least for me. This has been a major component of the last 4 years. The last time I was in Cook County Jail three years ago there was a point when I was depressed, recognizing that the place they had me—in that jail cell—was exactly where they wanted me and people like me. But this time I didn’t get depressed, I got pissed off. My life will continue to be dedicated to fighting against this system and its outrageous manifestation of mass incarceration, against the degrading oppression of women and LGBT brothers and sisters; against the oppression of immigrants and all the things this system does to people here and around the world. I will continue to be on the front lines and continue to fight, and I know many of you will be there with me. So I want to thank everybody for coming out tonight from the bottom of my heart.”
Gregory asks that all those who wish to celebrate his release donate to the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund. Thousands of dollars are needed to continue to send Revolution newspaper, BAsics, and other revolutionary literature to all the prisoners who are requesting it. Donate online at prlf.org. Or contact PRLF at:
1321 N Milwaukee Ave. #407, Chicago, IL 60622 773-960-6952 contact@PRLF.org
On July 8, 2013, over 30,000 prisoners in over two-thirds of California’s prisons began a hunger strike to demand an end to the systematic torture they face through long-term solitary confinement. Prisoners in several other states have joined them in work stoppages and hunger strikes. 2.3 million people are in prison in the U.S. and over 80,000 prisoners are held in solitary confinement in the United States – under conditions that amount to torture under international law.
Dr. Antonio Martinez, a psychologist with the Institute for Survivors of Human Rights Abuse and co-founder of the Marjorie Kovler Center for the Treatment of Survivors of Torture. Dr. Martinez has been recognized by UNESCO for his lifelong work treating survivors of torture and human rights abuses.
Gregory Koger, torture survivor who spent over six years in solitary confinement in Illinois prison. He is a revolutionary who works with the Stop Mass Incarceration Network and has spoken in universities and high schools regarding torture in U.S. prisons. Mr. Koger – a jailhouse lawyer in prison and a member of the National Lawyers Guild – was a homeless teenager in a street gang when he was sent to an adult maximum security prison; he transformed himself in solitary confinement and has dedicated his life since his release to opposing injustice. He will be joining the hunger strike on July 23 when he faces a court hearing to jail him to serve an unjust 300-day sentence for recording a statement against censorship on an iPhone at a public meeting of the “Ethical” Humanist Society of Chicago. More details on his case available at www.dropthecharges.net
During the initial California prison hunger strike in July 2011, Mr. Koger organized a Forum on the California Prison Hunger Strike and Torture in U.S. Prisons. Dr. Martinez spoke at that Forum, and compared the widespread, systematic use of torture in U.S. prisons to experiences of torture in other countries: “What I hear here is very similar to what I hear about the torture chambers in Guatemala, in Colombia, in Chile. Actually in Chile, Pinochet was more humane. They allowed people to be among others, they allowed some music, they allowed some type of interaction and they allowed more generous visits. And that was Pinochet. So what does that say about us as a society where all these things are the rule and not the exception? …”
Three weeks from today, on July 23, 2013, a court hearing has been set where the State will move forward with their attempt to put me back in jail for documenting a political statement opposing censorship at the “Ethical” Humanist Society of Chicago (EHSC) with an iPhone – a “crime” for which I received a 300 day jail sentence. Further details of our nearly four-year-long struggle against this political prosecution are available on my defense committee’s website: www.dropthecharges.net
Being under imminent threat of days, months, years of vicious, violent repression at the hands of the State within their timeless tombs clarifies the mind. Uncertainty coalesces into preparation and determination. Instantly the mind shifts to political battle mode, recognizing keenly that one is directly on the front lines of the class struggle – a gravedigger of the bourgeoisie. That you are being called on to reaffirm boldly – and in starkly visceral terms – your commitment to standing with the wretched of the earth, and of your dedication to struggling with them towards the liberation and emancipation of all humanity.
On July 23, 2013, I will attend the court hearing and my legal team will challenge this baseless political prosecution and outrageous sentence. However, I am fully prepared for the State to lock me up. This will be happening as hundreds of prisoners being tortured and held in indefinite detention without charge or trial in Guantanamo Bay are on hunger strike, and during the National Prison Hunger Strike called by prisoners in Pelican Bay SHU – which is set to begin on July 8, 2013.
I am prepared to follow their courageous example and join them on the National Prison Hunger Strike for as long as the State intends to hold me captive along with the millions of others entombed within the United States’ criminal system of mass incarceration. I will spend every day that I’m held captive working with other prisoners to take up the call for the National Prison Hunger Strike and to step forward as the powerful force for revolution that we have the tremendous potential to become.
I know personally the hopeless life far too many of the youth are caught up in – and I know the horrors of spending many years in solitary confinement. As a teenager, my family lost our home and I got involved in a street organization (aka “gang”) to survive on the streets. After being sent to an adult maximum security prison at the age of seventeen, I became increasingly politically conscious in the midst of spending over six years straight in solitary confinement – conditions that amount to torture under international law.
Since my release from prison nearly seven years ago, my life has been dedicated to opposing and bringing to an end the crimes and injustices of this capitalist-imperialist system. I’ve been in street protests, abortion clinic defenses, human chains defending parents sitting-in to oppose their children’s schools being shut down. I’ve debated and discussed the prospects of and necessity for revolution and a radically different world from prison yards and street corners to universities and high schools.
I firmly believe another world is possible – a world drastically different than the current oppressive and exploitative capitalist system of private appropriation of the vast wealth produced by billions of people globally. This completely outmoded and unnecessary system is enforced by brutal police terror and a court and prison system unparalleled in the history of human society domestically, and by bloody imperialist military force abroad.
The world does not have to be like this! Collectively, we can dismantle these oppressive institutions and bring into being a world without nations or borders, a world of voluntary economic, political and social structures devoted to meeting human needs and unleashing humanity to express its highest potential – a communist world.
Getting to that world will take revolution – nothing less. I would encourage anyone seriously grappling with how to end the injustices of this system and transform the world to check out the film BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! Bob Avakian Live. In this talkBob Avakian, chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, gets deeply into the historic roots of the development of this oppressive system and the strategy for how we could make a revolution and unleash those who are counted as nothing by the rulers of this system to transform themselves as they transform the world in the interests of all humanity.
And that is what this political prosecution has actually been all about. Those who rule this system do not want those of us born into life at the bottom of society – that this system has absolutely no future for – to recognize our revolutionary potential. They do not want people from other backgrounds and social strata to see that those most demonized and degraded by the rulers of this sytem can become the backbone of a movement to radically transform all of society. And they will use any means they feel necessary to crush the potential of those most oppressed from stepping forward.
I call on you to stand with the prisoners being tortured in the dungeons of this criminal capitalist system. One way you can do that is by signing the EMERGENCY CALL! JOIN US IN STOPPING TORTURE IN U.S. PRISONS! statement being circulated by The Stop Mass Incarceration Network and donating to have the statement published in the Los Angeles Times. You can sign the Close Guantanamo Now statement being circulated by The World Can’t Wait to support the men on hunger strike in Guantanamo. There are many other bold and creative actions we must develop to support the hunger strikes and to end the torture being committed upon tens of thousands of men, women and children by the rulers of the United States. And I ask that you stand with me in the final stages of opposing this political prosecution, including coming out to the court date on July 23rd.
With Hope and Determination for a Liberated World for All Humanity,
A court hearing has been set for July 23, 2013, where the State will move to put Gregory Koger in jail to serve the remainder of his 300 day sentence for peacefully videotaping a statement against censorship at a public meeting of the “Ethical” Humanist Society of Chicago (EHSC) on Sunday, November 1, 2009.
July 23, 2013 at 1:30PM
Cook County Courthouse – Courtroom 104
5600 Old Orchard Rd Skokie, IL
Neither the Court nor the Cook County State’s Attorney has responded to the Post-Conviction Relief Petition that Gregory’s legal team filed in March. This Petition exposed the lies at the heart of the false charges against him and provides documentary evidence (suppressed by the judge at trial) of the perjured testimony and prosecutorial misconduct that laid the basis for his conviction – and demands that his wrongful conviction and outrageous sentence be overturned. For more details, see www.dropthecharges.net
In his youth, Gregory spent years in solitary confinement while in prison. He transformed himself and has dedicated his life since his release to opposing injustice and struggling for a liberated world for all humanity. Gregory’s legal team will vigorously oppose any attempt to put him back in jail.
We call on you to come out to stand with Gregory and demand:
A major element missing from the media reporting on this is the fact that there had been a significant ideological change within the leadership of the GD’s and specifically its Chairman Larry Hoover, beginning in the late-1970’s/early-1980’s. The main thrust of this transformation was a move toward mobilizing the organization towards electoral politics, explicitly following the example of the original Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago, who was a member of an Irish street gang known as the Hamburg Athletic Club.
Daley was a 17-year-old member of the gang during the notorious “Chicago Race Riot of 1919,” an extremely disingenuous characterization of what in reality consisted of mobs of whites viciously attaching Black folks, some of whom defended themselves. These racist white supremacist attacks occurred not just in Chicago, but in more than three dozen cities across the country in the summer of 1919.
Several important factors contributed to these white supremacist attacks. They occurred in the aftermath of World War I and the victory of the Russian Revolution, led by V.I. Lenin, which established the first socialist state. And they occurred in the midsts of tremendous changes in the U.S. economic base, particularly in relation to Black folks, with reverberating effects throughout the social and political superstructure of society.
Briefly, as global capitalism increasingly moved into the stage of imperialism, and as mechanization began to replace the need for slaves or former slaves working the land as sharecroppers, Black folks began the Great Migration to the north in search of factory jobs and an escape from the horrific racism, lynch mob terror and Jim Crow laws of the south.
The “Race Riots” of 1919 took place in the mix of these developments, along with labor struggles breaking out amongst workers across the country. President Woodrow Wilson stated one of the greatest fears of the ruling class in a private meeting in March 1919: “[T]he American Negro returning from abroad would be our greatest medium in conveying bolshevism to America.” 1
Crushing the Leadership of Growth & Development
Daley’s rise to power out of the street gangs offered an example of a potential path to political, economic and social power to the leadership of the GDs. Larry Hoover led the organization in transforming itself from Gangster Disciples to Growth & Development, and laid out a Blueprint – a vision of how they sought to overcome the shared oppression of the Brothers of the Struggle. This happened in the aftermath of the 1960s, the ebbing of the revolutionary movement, and the specifics of the political repression and assassination of revolutionaries in the Black Panther Party and other revolutionary groups. The films Bastards of the Party and Crips and Bloods: Made In America get into some of the history of this phenomena in California among gangs there – especially the dire impact of the concentrated repressive efforts of the ruling class against revolutionary forces.
By the early 1990s, the GD’s – as Growth & Development – were mobilizing thousands of youth in the projects through 21st Century VOTE, and running candidates for Alderman. Additionally, Growth & Development was involved in the nationwide gang truces of the early 1990s in the aftermath of the LA Rebellion. (See Former Chicago Gang Members and 21st Century Vote – Democracy Now! 3/19/1996).
But the rulers of this system were not about to allow the GDs – or any of the other street organizations – to follow the same path to political power as Daley. By the mid-1990s, federal prosecutors had brought charges against the alleged leadership of the GDs, and buried them in federal prison. Larry Hoover was put in the notorious federal ADX supermax prison in Florence, Colorado – living under conditions that meet the international definition of torture, that over 80,000 prisoners across the U.S are held under and that prisoners in Pelican Bay SHU have called for a National Prison Hunger Strike beginning on July 8, 2013.
The System Has No Future for the Youth – The Revolution Does
Like many other youth who this system has no future for, I was attracted to becoming a GD in part because of the political ideology of Growth & Development. For example, while I was in Cook County Jail serving part of my 300 day sentence for holding an iPhone at the “Ethical” Humanist Society, one brother put it this way: “When I joined the GDs, they had me thinking I was joining the Black Panthers.” The political and ideological line coming out of the transformation of the GDs is fundamentally capitalism for oppressed nationalities and taking up bourgeoise electoral politics; however, something extremely important that should not be dismissed is that there is an underlying ethos of struggle against the economic and social conditions imposed by the system – especially national oppression.
That can – and increasingly needs to – lead to a radical rupture with capitalist ideas and thinking, and these youth – and even the older brothers – have the potential to become the backbone of a revolutionary force to transform society in the interest of all humanity. I’m a living example of that. And we must stand with these brothers and sisters against any fascist attacks by the rulers of this system, while struggling with them to become revolutionaries and emancipators of humanity.
Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, gets into this deeply in his recent talk, BA Speaks: Revolution – Nothing Less! Bob Avakian Live, in the section: A Revolutionary Situation… The Role of the Youth… & How to Work Today So That There Is A Revolutionary Force When That Time Comes:
“The revolution has a future for the youth. For the masses of youth in this country and throughout the world, this system has no future for them but the revolution does. A revolution and a future in which these youth can and must have a decisive and increasingly conscious role. People tell us that these youth, especially these youth who are on the bottom being stepped on and beaten down every day, have been reduced to conditions where they could not any longer rise up to play this revolutionary role. But this is not true. People need to think about how hard many of these youth have tried to get out of the conditions they’re in and get to some place where they could do something much better. This too gets not only forgotten but consciously covered up.
Right now in the California prisons, the people who carried out self-sacrificing hunger strikes have made a call for peace among people of the different races in the prisons. We should understand how tremendously significant and difficult this is. How much is going up against it, both among the masses spontaneously but also for the workings of the authorities and how much they’ll try to undercut and sabotage all this. This needs a lot of support and needs to be popularized.
People need to know about it, they need to support people who have been condemned and cast aside as less than human and the ‘worst of the worst’ when they reach for something lofty like this. But from the perspective of understanding all that I have been talking about and for those who do understand this, we need to work to make this part of building a movement for revolution. We need to approach everything in that way and from that framework, even while uniting with other people who have not yet been won to that position or are coming from different perspectives.
Or think – let’s go back again to the LA Rebellion. Sometimes it’s forgotten – and we need to not forget – how hard so many of the people caught up in a lot of bad shit tried to break out of that at that time. From the first night of the rebellion to sometime in its aftermath, there was the graffiti on the wall in LA on the first night of the Rebellion: ‘Blacks and Mexicans together tonight.’ Think about what that signified and how significant that was. And then in the aftermath of the Rebellion you had all these attempts at forging unity, overcoming these deep divisions among the people that had grown over years with bitter antagonism. There were unity picnics. There were attempts at unity conferences all around the country. The police would attack the unity picnics.
I remember seeing a picture at that time of two young guys, one a Blood and one a Crip, shortly after the Rebellion with their arms around each other. Do we understand the significance of that and how much that means? These are youth who from a very early age are taught that they count for nothing and deserve nothing but a boot up their ass and a bullet in their brain – or a long time in jail. And so you have nothing and you are told to expect nothing. And so you try to get something by carving out a little space on a street in a neighborhood that doesn’t belong to you, doesn’t really mean anything but it’s all that you can feel that you can plant yourself in and find some meaning and purpose in. And then there are other people two blocks away – whether you’re Mexicans and in your rival gangs, or Black in your rival gangs, or Vietnamese or whatever – people two blocks away just like you. But if they come in the little territory that you staked out your hood, the rules are they’re slippin’ and you gotta shoot them. You shoot them, so then they have to come back and kill you and your family and your friends. And on and on it goes, back and forth for years and years. People kept like in cages.
And here they took the step, after all these years of this bitter experience of friends and loved ones being killed on both sides back and forth, and the meaning of their putting their arms around each other and trying to forge something different… But the system wouldn’t have it and couldn’t have it. They attacked the unity picnics time and again. But more than that the program that these people – that these youth and others, the O.G.’S in the gangs and whatever – tried to come up with was a program for reform, for entrepreneurialism that couldn’t work under this system. There was no room for it.
And so it didn’t go anywhere and many went back to the old ways and youth coming up fell back and, you know were sort of channeled into those ways. But they tried so hard! And so genuinely heroically. And the problem is that under this system there’s no basis for overcoming these kind of divisions. But in striving for and building a movement for revolution there is the basis – and this is what we have to be fighting for: to bring forward the full potential of these and other youth and other sections of oppressed people, men and women, to be the backbone and driving force, and win them through a lot of struggle to be that backbone and driving force of this revolution. [Applause]
And where this happens, when they do make this great leap to becoming part of the revolution – and yes, it is a great leap – then among others in the communities they come from and much more broadly among other sections of society as well, people have to be rallied in different ways and forms to encourage and back up these youth who take this great step of joining the ranks of the revolution. So that they can not only continue to get more and more deeply involved themselves but can play a key part in bringing forward many others. We need to find whatever the forms are to give life and expression to this. We need to find the forms for people who are not going to be on the front lines actively out there fighting the power but are contributing to the revolution and can contribute in many ways to back up these youth. To say in ways that have meaning: we are proud of our youth when they step forward into the ranks of the revolution. We need to even develop ceremonies that express this. We need to develop a collective culture that gives life and meaning to this. And there’s much sentiment out there that can be tapped in this direction.
Everybody wants the youth to do better. Even the churchgoing ladies: ‘[Sighing], these boys out here they ain’t doing anything good. They need to do something better. They need to get to Jesus.’ Well no they don’t need to get to Jesus – they need to get with the revolution. But even the churchgoing ladies can be appreciative of this – and this is not just in one community or among one section of society, but much more broadly. And this is a way that we can implement what’s talked about in that Strategy Statement (A Statement from the Revolutionary Communist Party: ON THE STRATEGY FOR REVOLUTION), of developing growing cores of people that constitute relatively small numbers now – dozens here, but then become hundreds and the thousands as we put it in that statement that are actively and openly with the revolution and are influencing millions, among all different sections of the people. And being prepared and preparing themselves to get to the point where they can lead those millions when a revolutionary situation has been brought into being through the workings of this system itself and the ongoing conscious and consistent work of revolutionaries, and people are looking for leadership that has an actual program and has the actual orientation and determination to fight through to actually bring about a radical change.”
1 McWhirter, Cameron, Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America (NY: Henry Holt, 2011), p. 56