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Re: Police, prison and abolition

Posted: Thu Nov 07, 2019 12:30 pm
by blindpig
An Introduction to Police Abolition

Photo by Brandon Soderberg

Like the conversation surrounding reparations, the idea of abolishing the police has shifted in recent years from something (wrongfully) viewed as radical to the kind of an idea many are trying to get a handle on in clear, pragmatic ways: Do we rely too much on police? Is there actually a correlation between police presence and crime reduction? What would it look like to no longer have the police? And here in Baltimore, amid plenty of police corruption, shouts of “abolish the police” went from being something chanted at protests during the Baltimore Uprising to something that was nearly mainstreamed amid the Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF) scandal which revealed seven police officers robbing people, dealing drugs, and planting guns and during the GTTF trial, where more than a dozen other officers were implicated. To get a better sense of what police abolition means and what it looks like, I spoke to abolitionist and restorative practices specialist Bilphena Yahwon.

Lisa Snowden-McCray: Before we discuss police abolition, you recommended starting first by just defining “abolition.” Can you define abolition?

Bilphena Yahwon: Tanuja Jagernauth provides a very clear and simplified definition of abolition: “Abolition is emptying cages and shutting down prisons, dismantling the systems that created them, and creating community-based processes for preventing, intervening in, transforming, and repairing after harm..” Abolitionists understand that the prison system and justice system as we know it was created to supplement for the “end” of slavery. Prisons are where unthinkable violence are allowed to thrive and they very much so resemble plantations (Angola prison in Louisiana sits on what used to be a plantation and is where the Angola Three spent the longest time in solitary confinement in U.S. history). There is a reason why the 13th Amendment deemed slavery unconstitutional with the exception of slavery as punishment for a crime. There is a reason why prison walls are bursting with black folks. Abolitionists question how we can truly receive justice and accountability from such a system.

LSM: And it police who are putting people in prisons—especially black people. So to get rid of on we must get rid of the other?

If we understand that the justice system was created to funnel black folks in prison for economic gain (carceral capitalism), then we know that police officers are the suppliers of the people. About $80 billion is spent each year on correctional facilities with the intention of receiving that profit back. Policing is the engine behind the justice system and ensures that prisons are filled with labourers and will therefore produce profit. Police officers are charged with enforcing the laws and are able to make their own interpretations of what is legal and illegal. They get to decide who will enter into the justice system and who will not (the decriminalization of opioids is an example of this). The documentary “Crime + Punishment” on Hulu examines police quotas and how despite quotas in New York policing being banned in 2010, officers are still expected to make a certain amount of arrests. In the documentary one officer says that he was explicitly told to “arrest black males between the ages of 14 and 21” and faced consequences for refusing to do so.

We also cannot ignore the roots of policing. Policing as an institution in U.S. comes out of slave patrols who were tasked with catching runaway enslaved people and preventing rebellions. If we know that the justice system cannot provide real justice and accountability then we know that policing cannot provide real safety because it is inherently anti-black. Michael Brown taught us this. Aiyana Jones taught us this. Atatiana Jefferson taught us this. Prison is modern day slavery and police officers are modern day slave patrols. This why the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense had armed panther patrols—it was a response to police brutality.

LSM: What are some common misconceptions about police abolition?

BY: The biggest misconception is that the absence of policing as we know it is the absence of safety. A lot of people think that police abolition means letting “rapists, murders and pedophiles run free”—as if the very same police officers we place our trust in aren’t the murders and rapists we claim to be ridding our communities of. According to the National Center for Women and Policing, 40 percent of police officer families experience domestic violence in contrast to 10 percent of families in the general population. There are numerous cases of police officers killing their wives. We also know that sexual assault runs rampant within policing and Black women and sex workers are particularly vulnerable. Daniel Holtzclaw who was convicted in 2015 of raping multiple women over a period of six months is just one example. We also can easily look at the GTTF (Gun Trace Task Force) Trial in Baltimore to see how officers used their badge to aid gangs, participate in drug trafficking rings, plant drugs and weapons, steal money from homes and even carried out robberies. GTTF was able to thrive for years and without any consequences.

Is this the policing we are so invested in? Are these the people who are supposed to keep us safe? Furthermore, most police officers are not even from the communities that they police and therefore lack awareness of the culture of the people they serve. In Baltimore in 2010, about 3 in 4 police officers did not live in the city. White people make up 28% of the population in Baltimore city but make up 45% of Baltimore city’s police force.

LSM: Are there any places in the U.S. or in the world living successfully without police? Where?

BY: I think it’s important to understand that the purpose of policing varies from country to country. There is a reason why year after year the U.S. has the great honor of having the highest incarceration rate in the world. This is not to say that violence and corruption does not exist in other country’s police forces, but the militarization of U.S. policing allows it to function in a different—a way that has influenced other countries as well. While there are sovereign states who do not have armed forces or policing as an institution, I do not know of any western country that is without police. This is proof of the globalization of policing. Even with police, there are countries who have disarmed policing. This includes Norway, Iceland, New Zealand, Britain, and Ireland.

LSM: After the death of Atatiana Jefferson, a Black woman in Texas who was shot by a police officer, I saw some people saying that you shouldn’t call the police for wellness checks for folks (as Jefferson’s neighbor did). Can you talk a little bit about alternatives people could go to in that specific situation?

BY: Atatiana Jefferson is an example of how strong communities can often provide the needs that we look to policing for. If her neighbor had a relationship with Atatiana built in trust, he would have been more likely to check on her himself rather than calling the police. And if he himself didn’t feel comfortable, he would have been able to reach out to another neighbor to do so. I don’t think people understand how fairly new of a thing the U.S. police force is. The first organized police force with full time officers was created in Boston in 1838. People calling police for noise complaints, parking issues and welfare checks wasn’t always the norm and is why community associations exist.

LSM: How might for example, a community association go about differently than a neighbor calling the police?

BY: Mariame Kaba shared on Twitter recently how she was able to create a system within a neighborhood she lived in that decreased calls to police through community building. Through community meetings, they created a group of neighbors to create an apartment complex phone tree. Issues were resolved and folks were able to receive assistance through this system. What Mariame did in her community is another example of how community associations can serve to address issues people may be inclined to call the cops for.

LSM: So what can you someone living in a neighborhood, the individual do to decrease the need to call the police?

BY: There are a number of ways to imagine a neighborhood operating without police and I’ll list a few.

-Get to know your neighbors and discuss community safety that begins with redefining crime and is honest about how black neighbors are criminalized.

-Create a safety plan with neighbors that maximizes the area of expertise of those within the community. Is there a social worker who can be a first responder if necessary? Is there a nurse or doctor who can be called? Is there someone trained in CPR? Someone who knows how to administer opioid overdose reversal drugs? Etc. Police officers are not trained in trauma informed care and can often escalate and agitate those in distress. Neighbors can have the relationship and tools needed to de-escalate incidents better than officers.

-Implement a restorative justice based approach to address crime and conflicts in your neighborhood. Restorative Response Baltimore offers RJ based processes to communities for free.

-Create an alternative to calling the police list that can be shared throughout your community. Include resources for domestic violence, suicide prevention, homeless shelters, rehabs etc.

The May Day Collective and Solidarity & Defense produced a joint zine called “12 Things to do Instead of Calling the Cops” that provides more alternatives. ... abolition/

Re: Police, prison and abolition

Posted: Sun Nov 17, 2019 6:18 pm
by blindpig

Spotlights like this one provide original commentary and analysis on pressing criminal justice issues of the day. You can read them each day in our newsletter, The Daily Appeal.

In April, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a report on conditions in Alabama state prisons, detailing the findings of a more than two year investigation. The DOJ found “overcrowding, dismal conditions, a lack of staff, and deliberate indifference from prison officials contributed to rampant unchecked violence, sexual abuse, and extortion,” reported Raven Rakia for The Appeal. The DOJ report elaborated on what had come to national attention that month, when more than 2,000 photographs were smuggled out of one notorious Alabama prison and published in various outlets, including the New York Times and Splinter. The pictures, believed to have been shared by a corrections officer at the St. Clair Correctional Facility, showed rampant violence and bloodshed, abysmal medical care, and untreated mental health issues.

The revelations were not new to people in Alabama’s prisons who, Rakia wrote, “have tried to expose this reality for years.”

But as Melissa Brown of the Montgomery Advertiser points out in an article this week, incarcerated people’s own accounts of life inside these places has rarely been sought out or heard in a way that matches their importance. “All too often,” she wrote, “the voices of the people directly affected by the Alabama prison system are not heard.” In fact, “Nearly every day, accounts released by state officials are reported without verification, despite the fact multiple federal institutions have found that [the Alabama Department of Corrections’] own employees have lied in their record-keeping and under-counted violent incidents as severe as murder.”

Brown shares the accounts of multiple men incarcerated in Alabama prisons who spoke up about the degrading, violent conditions in prison. “I have found myself living in hell,” said Wendell Roberts. Another man described the elderly men incarcerated decades after their convictions. “What threat are they to society? I’m talking about people in their 80s. Some of them in here are blind. They have to put their hand on another person’s shoulder to go to the chow hall or the store.”

The men describe a situation in which the state has abdicated any responsibility for the people it imprisons. They speak out at what they assume will be significant risk to themselves.

The impeachment hearings underway in Washington are a reminder that in times of crisis, we rely on people who speak up, sometimes at great personal risk, to alert us to grave danger and wrongdoing. The horror of our criminal legal system—its racism and violence, the millions of years taken from millions of lives, the indifference to human suffering and disregard for human potential—will never command the coverage of a presidential impeachment proceeding. Incarcerated people who share their experiences from our prisons—taxpayer-funded institutions, Brown points out—may never be hailed as heroes.

But the risk they run in speaking out is real. In today’s Washington Post, Jessica L. Adler looks at how people in prison have spoken out for decades but “even as legal precedents and criminal justice policies have changed,” people “have been consistently and flagrantly intimidated, discredited and worse, with far-reaching consequences.” She mentions the example from 1975 of one woman who told a federal judge “that she was placed in solitary confinement for 54 days and beaten after making her dissatisfaction with prison administrators known, in part by publicly singing ‘We Shall Overcome.’”

In the April article, Rakia reported on alleged state retaliation against people in Alabama prisons who said they were being punished for trying to improve conditions and reduce violence. Members of the Free Alabama Movement and Convicts Against Violence alleged that they were transferred and placed in solitary confinement because of their organizing work inside prison. One man described the conditions they found themselves in after the transfers to The Appeal: “They were just put in the cell with no soap, no toiletries, no toothbrush, no nothing—nothing but a mattress. Some of them didn’t even have a sheet or blanket. They were transferred from St. Clair to Holman with nothing. The COs [corrections officers] took all their property. They were left in there for about a week, I think, before DOC even gave them any tissue.”

During the 2018 national prison strike, Rakia reported on how the organizers of the strike had “decided to remain anonymous in their interactions with the public to try to prevent the type of retaliation” experienced by previous prison strike organizers.

What they feared was violence by corrections officers. “Several guards beat alleged strike leader Terrance Dean unconscious” after a 2010 Georgia strike,” wrote Rakia. ““The system is not a game to be played with,” one organizer told her. “The one thing [strike organizers] always said was don’t put your face out there, don’t put your name out there under any circumstances because if we’re doing five or 10 years [in a] supermax, there’s nothing [the public] can do” to prevent reprisals.”

“Correctional officers who retaliate … cannot be regarded as rogue actors,” wrote James E. Robertson in a 2009 law review article. “They act within the norm.” That norm is the product of the “surplus power” of prison staff, the gaping power differential state policymakers create between the incarcerated and guards. “The cell door symbolizes surplus power,” Robertson wrote, since it is the officers, not the people in the cells, who decide when the door is opened or closed. That power differential builds off the unchecked latitude handed to officers, “rule enforcement powers that readily mask retaliatory intent” because of “the frequent vagueness of disciplinary rules,” which give them “ample leeway in deciding when and where to enforce these rules.” They have the power to write disciplinary tickets backed up by little or no evidence and the power to throw someone in an isolation cell.

In New York, the suspicious death of a man in one of the state’s most notorious prisons would not have come to light but for the efforts of incarcerated people to speak about it, despite these risks. Last month, Jan Ransom of the New York Times wrote about the January death of 67-year-old John McMillon, billed as a heart attack by department officials but described as the result of a brutal beating by nine men incarcerated with McMillon who said they witnessed what happened. In a follow-up piece, Ransom described how her reporting was driven by the willingness of people in prison to talk to her, in some cases even allowing her to use names.

The reasons they gave for talking to her were strikingly similar to what men in Alabama told Melissa Brown: feelings of fear, vulnerability, fellowship, and responsibility. In New York, Ricardo Rosado told Ransom, “If it had happened to me, I would want someone to do the same thing.”

In Alabama, one man told Brown, “If I die in here, I don’t want it to be a waste. Maybe what I’m saying will save somebody.” ... Ms.twitter

Re: Police, prison and abolition

Posted: Thu Nov 21, 2019 10:51 pm
by blindpig

Some pre-trial prisoners and immigration detainees are forced to work without pay in violation of the 13th Amendment, according to attorneys.
In a class action lawsuit filed Wednesday, attorneys accused the Alameda County, California, sheriff and Aramark Correctional Services of forcing some pre-trial prisoners and immigration detainees to work without pay in violation of the 13th Amendment, which prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude, except if used as punishment for a person who has been convicted of a crime. As of June, about 85 percent of people at the jail had not been sentenced, according to state data.

“The work plaintiffs performed was not a part of daily housekeeping duties in the jail’s personal and communal living areas,” the complaint reads. “Rather, it was forced labor for the profit of Aramark.”

Attorneys filed the suit on behalf of eight named plaintiffs—pre-trial, convicted, and immigration detainees who worked for Aramark while incarcerated at the Santa Rita Jail—as well as all past, present, and future prisoners at the jail who work for Aramark. The complaint argues all should be paid, including those who have been convicted.

According to California state law, prisoners who work for a private company must be paid wages that are comparable to their non-incarcerated counterparts. Jails can deduct from a prisoner’s earnings—such as for taxes and room and board—but a prisoner must receive no less than 20 percent of their wages. Prisoners at Santa Rita Jail clean the kitchen, prepare food for fellow inmates, and make meals for other jails in California, according to a 2017 health inspection report. Aramark is a for-profit food services company which contracts with the Santa Rita Jail.

Sheriff Gregory Ahern and Aramark are also violating the state’s equal pay act by, the suit claims, “assigning women prisoners fewer and less desirable hours to work based on gender.” Female prisoners work a four-hour night shift, and men work an eight-hour day shift. If they were paid, the suit argues, women would be denied the opportunity to earn as much as their male counterparts.

“This corporation is benefiting from people inside,” Carey Lamprecht, who worked as an investigator for the suit, told The Appeal.

The sheriff’s deputies threatened incarcerated workers with longer sentences or solitary confinement to coerce them to work, the suit alleges. As of the filing date, no prisoner has received a lengthier sentence for refusing to work, according to Lamprecht. The plaintiffs are asking for unspecified damages and for the court to declare these labor practices unconstitutional and illegal.

Sheriff’s office spokesperson Sgt. Ray Kelly confirmed that incarcerated workers are not paid by the sheriff’s office or Aramark. However, he said, workers are not threatened or coerced. On the contrary, he told The Appeal, they are grateful for the opportunities to work.

“I think it’s all part of a very well-defined movement against county jails in regards to deincarcerating and defunding county jails,” Kelly said of the suit.

Aramark did not respond to The Appeal’s requests for comment. The district attorney’s office declined to comment.

Advocates have previously accused Ahern of operating a jail that routinely subjects prisoners to inhumane conditions. Since Jan. 1, 2014, more than 40 people have died at the jail, 16 of them by suicide, according to a report by KTVU. So far this year, nine people have died at the jail, though the sheriff’s office claimed three of the people died after they were released under the office’s compassionate release program, according to the report. However, all three were listed as in-custody deaths on the coroner’s reports, the report notes.

Prisoners and their families have sued Ahern over a wide range of abuses at the jail, including an incident when deputies allegedly forced a woman to give birth alone in solitary confinement. In July 2017, Candace Steel was eight months pregnant when she was arrested on misdemeanors. While at the jail, she began cramping and could not walk. A jail nurse accused Steel of exaggerating her symptoms, and deputies placed her in an isolation cell as punishment, according to Steel’s suit. She screamed for hours, but was ignored, the suit claims. Deputies finally opened the cell when they heard a baby cry, according to her complaint. The sheriff’s office and other defendants filed a motion to dismiss. The case is still in litigation.

This month, another suit filed against the sheriff alleged that incarcerated workers at the Santa Rita Jail must wash sheets, towels, and other linens from the coroner’s office, which are soiled in human bodily fluids. “While these linens are transported in bags clearly marked as ‘biohazard,’ these linens are given to jail laundry workers, who have no protective clothing,” reads the complaint.

Kelly, the sheriff’s office spokesperson, confirmed that prisoners wash sheets from the coroner’s office, but denied that they handle biohazardous materials.

“If they are biohazard they are bagged and destroyed and not opened by inmates,” he wrote in an email to The Appeal. “Sheets that are not considered a hazard are washed by the work crew.”

The conditions at the jail are so dire, according to advocates, that male prisoners launched a work stoppage and hunger strike in late October, which lasted about a week. In response to the men’s strike, Sheriff’s deputies forced women—including two of the named plaintiffs—to work in their place, according to the suit filed this week. The deputies threatened to withhold meals from female prisoners if the women did not work, the suit alleges.

Kelly told The Appeal that during the strike, female prisoners “stepped up, came forward.”

“They were very helpful to us when the labor strike occurred,” Kelly said. “We did not single them out in any way. As a matter of fact, it was the opposite. We were really happy that they came in.”

For the last two years, activists have called on the county board of supervisors to perform a financial and performance audit of Ahern’s office, but they have failed to do so, said Jose Bernal, senior organizer and advocate with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, one of the groups that launched the #AuditAhern campaign.

“Over 400 prisoners went on strike asking for basic dignity,” Bernal told The Appeal. “Santa Rita Jail is a very dangerous, dangerous place.” ... servitude/