To my brothers and sisters locked down behind the walls:
One important dynamic that developed during the historic uprising in Ferguson, Missouri, that began last August after the police execution of 18-year-old Michael Brown for “walking while Black” was that brothers and sisters who the morning before were into it with each other in rivalries between different street organizations and other conflicts, courageously and defiantly stood together in the face of racist pigs desperately trying to repress the rebellion. The world watched the people of Ferguson stand boldly and unrelentingly in the face of old-school Jim Crow tactics like threatening people with snarling, vicious police dogs straining on leashes held by white cops, to the New Jim Crow-era tactics of armored assault vehicles with snipers atop aiming down their sights at women and children holding hand-lettered “Justice for Mike Brown” posters, body-armor and desert-camo-clad SWAT teams with assault rifles and no ID tags, and the flash-bangs and tear gas of advancing police blockades attempting to push the overwhelmingly Black protesters out of the streets — their utterly failed attempts to get people to “go away” and get this rebellion off the streets and out of the view of the world.
In the face of all of that — and I was there personally on those front lines in those first days, in that tears gas with the people of Ferguson — many, many young brothers and sisters who live every day with the boot of these racist pigs on their necks for the first time saw and experienced the power of standing collectively against the real enemy — the police, the armed enforcers of this whole racist, oppressive system. Blue, red, Crips, Bloods, GDs, Vice Lords, Folks, People — it didn’t matter what organization they represented, or who they rode with — what mattered was that for the first time in way too damn long the people refused to accept another police murder of another Black youth, and the daily repression of police-state New Jim Crow America.
And those of us who have spent time behind the walls, many of us have had similar experiences when we are locked down with brothers and sisters who are in different street organizations, or of difference races. We’ve had the chance to stand together and put those differences aside in the face of our real enemy. Many of you, I’m sure, know of (and some of you, like myself, took part in and/or supported) the California prison hunger strikes in 2011 and 2013. Tens of thousands of prisoners, of all different racial backgrounds, from many different street organizations, came together and put their lives on the line to demand an end to the torture of solitary confinement and demand humane treatment. In fact, the lead organizers of the California prison hunger strike collectively issued an Agreement to End Hostilities in August 2012, in which they called on brothers and sisters locked up across California — as well as on the streets — to put aside their differences and direct the struggle towards the oppressors running this system.
These examples show the power and potential of what we can collectively accomplish when we stand together and recognize who our real enemies are. And look, we know the youth are far too often engaged in rivalries and violence against each other, all of us locked on the bottom of this society, fighting over crumbs or for a little respect. Many of us have been caught up in and been part of that ourselves, myself included. This must be transformed, we must be part of transforming ourselves, and the world.
I’ve been through that struggle myself. I was never no “big time shot caller” or anything, but during my time in prison — particularly during the years I did in solitary confinement — I began to see how all the shit we were going through to try to survive on the bottom of this society was part of how this capitalist system operates. And through a lot of study and struggle, in which this newspaper (Revolution) was very integral, I came out of prison and got involved in the movement for revolution. Because nothing short of revolution is going to end this — the world doesn’t have to be like this and can be radically different.
But you don’t have to be a revolutionary to see and know that if we put aside our differences, especially those of us in street organizations, we can be a powerful force in the struggle to push back the New Jim Crow, the pigs fucking with and trying to lock us up every day, murdering Black and brown youth every fucking day.
The Stop Mass Incarceration Network has called for April 14 to be a nationwide day of shutting this system down, to take forward and heighten the struggle that kicked off in Ferguson and spread nationwide through the end of the year. An important component to that would be for those youth and O.G.’s and others in street organizations to make a formal call for nationwide cessation of hostilities with each other and to take up being part of the struggle against the New Jim Crow. So we are calling on those of you locked down to take this up. Write to us — and to everyone you know on the streets, as well — and give us your thinking on this. I know you have been watching and reading and keeping keenly abreast of the historic uprising that has been going down nationwide since Ferguson kicked it off in August. Many of us have been in the streets a lot, and one shortcoming has been getting the voices of the brothers and sisters behind the walls into the mix of this. A nationwide Call for a Cessation of Hostilities between street organizations could play a monumental role in taking this struggle to a higher level.
Send your letters right away to:
Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund
1321 N. Milwaukee #407
Chicago, IL 60622
Originally published in the March 2, 2015 edition of Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Join us for a workshop at the People’s Summit on Prison System Injustices: Racism, Solitary Confinement, and the Detention of Immigrants with Gregory Koger, Mark Clements, Lynne Jackson, and Anthony Rayson
Saturday, May 12th, 11:45am at 500 W. Cermack – Room 715
Mark Clements & Gregory Koger
Mark A. Clements, is a Chicago Police torture victim who spent 28 years inside Illinois prison for a crime that he did not commit. He serves today as Administrator over the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and Jail Jon Burge Coalition.
Gregory Koger spent over six years straight in solitary confinement during his eleven years held in Illinois prisons. During his time in solitary confinement, Gregory studied broadly and became increasingly politically conscious and developed as a revolutionary and communist. Since his release, Gregory’s life has been dedicated to struggling against the injustices of this capitalist system and for a radically more liberated world, and he speaks and writes on the horrendous conditions and torture in U.S. prisons, mass incarceration and the criminalization of the youth, as well as the vast potential for those that this system has cast off to transform themselves and the world. He will focus on the historically unprecedented and racist system of mass incarceration and the New Jim Crow, situating its development in the historical context of the foundational white supremacy of the United States and the dynamics of capitalism-imperialism.
Lynne Jackson of Albany, NY is a co-founder of Project SALAM (Support and Legal Advocacy for Muslims). Her involvement with the issue of preemptive prosecution began when two Muslim men in Albany, Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain, were sentenced to fifteen years in prison after being entrapped by the FBI. In 2010, Lynne organized the campaign for the Albany Common Council to pass the Albany Resolution, which urges the U.S. Justice Department to implement the recommendation of its own Inspector General and establish an independent panel to review the convictions of Muslims who have been preemptively prosecuted to ensure their fair treatment under the Constitution and Bill of Rights. She will focus on pre-trial and post-conviction solitary confinement conditions, as well as their effects on the prisoners, their families, and the community. Case examples will be given in detail, and letters and poems from prisoners describing their experiences will be read.
Anthony Rayson of the South Chicago Anarchist Black Cross will discuss the Crete Detention Center, ICE and the Corrections Corporation of America, as well as his experience with providing literature and zines to prisoners and the importance of letting the voices of prisoners be heard.
Opening remarks by former prisoner Gregory Koger at LaSalle & Jackson on February 20th for the Occupy4prisoners march and rally in Chicago:
Photo courtesy FJJ
Amidst these financial buildings that literally and figuratively concentrate the stark reality of a system that puts the interests of profit over people, where commodities produced collectively by the people all across the world are bought and sold in trading pits and electronic blips on computer screens, and where the wealth of all that labor is wrenched away from the 99%, the people who created it, and into the coffers of the 1% – and the class that rules over society – Occupy Chicago headquarters at LaSalle and Jackson stands in the shadow of a federal prison. The Metropolitan Correctional Center, which we will be marching to momentarily, looms in eerie silence a block away from the Federal Reserve Bank, just beyond the Chicago Board of Trade.
This is emblematic of the omnipresent invisibility of the nearly 2.5 million men, women & children locked down in the hellholes of America’s historically unprecedented system of mass incarceration – and the millions more, mainly youth and people of color, who live under the threat of incarceration or the stigma and discrimination of life branded as a “criminal” or “felon.”
Wall Street and much of the financial district of Manhattan is built on the bones and bodies of slaves, and the first slave market in New York was built at the end of Wall Street. This system was founded on slavery, the extermination of the native peoples and the theft of their land, and the theft of half of Mexico.
Prisons have been integral to enforcing the brutal inhumanity of this system, repressing whole sections of society as well as groups and movements who have risen up in struggle for liberation. After the Civil War, “slavery by another name” was reimposed on Black folks through a Jim Crow system of racist laws that had former slaves arrested for such “crimes” as vagrancy and forced to labor for corporations – and sometimes even forced back to the owners of the plantations from which they were just freed.
When workers began to form unions and struggle against capitalist exploitation, the police and prison cells were waiting. When Black folks in the South began to stand up in determined struggle to demand to be treated as human beings, the police were there – with clubs and dogs and water hoses and jail cells. When broad sections of people rose up in the 1960s, the rulers of this system were profoundly shaken by the power of the people and unleashed wave after wave of repression, including assassinating and imprisoning leaders of the movement. And, as we’ve seen in our time, the coordinated national repression of the Occupy Movement – which we must stand against.
"Free 'em all!" - Occupy4prisoners Chicago formerly incarcerated: (from left) Gregory Koger, Fred Hampton, Jr., Dickey Gaines, and Darby Tillis. Photo courtesy FJJ.
Recognizing and fearing the power of the people, the rulers of this system set out to prevent any liberating movement from developing again. And as they searched for ways to more profitably exploit people in other countries, and took the factories and industrial jobs out of our cities, so began the explosion of mass incarceration and the New Jim Crow, with a constant and growing stream of primarily Black and Brown people ripped from their families and intentionally defunded communities into the prison-tombs springing up across the prairies and plains.
Today we stand with thousands of others across the country in support of the bottom 1% of the 99%, locked down in prisons and jail cells and immigration “detention centers” across the country…