October Is the Time to Act!

by Carl Dix | July 21, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


Unspeakable brutality is being inflicted on people in U.S. prisons. The authorities keep most of us in the dark about the horrific things they do in the name of “keeping society safe.” The truth is that prison authorities enforce a regime of brutality and revenge aimed at dehumanizing people in prison in order to keep them under tight control. People are being scarred physically and mentally for life. People are being killed. This is unacceptable and illegitimate. It must be stopped! And now that you know about these horrors, you must be part of acting to stop them.

Prisoners at Rikers Island, 2011. Photo: AP

It has been dragged into the light of day that prison guards at Rikers Island, one of the largest prisons in the U.S., routinely inflict unspeakably brutal beatings on inmates, especially inmates who suffer from mental illnesses. Reporters for the New York Times discovered a secret report that detailed 129 cases of people who suffered “serious injuries” in altercations with guards at the NYC prison in 11 months in 2013.

We're not talking here about injuries suffered in fights started by the inmates. The report revealed that in most of the cases, the inmates were brutally beaten after they were handcuffed! Seventy-seven percent of the people beaten had been diagnosed with mental health problems.

Here is some of what this secret report dragged into the light of day:

  • Jose Bautista tried to hang himself. After pulling him down, guards threw him to the ground, and while several held him, one punched him in the gut so hard that his bowel was perforated and feces were leaching into his abdomen. When medical staff at the prison discovered the injury, Bautista was checked out of the prison to be taken to a hospital 15 minutes away. The van taking him took nine hours to get there!
  • Andrew Lane threw water or urine at guards. In response, they handcuffed him to a gurney, wheeled him to a clinic where there were no security cameras, and beat him till his blood covered the walls and cabinets of the clinic.
  • Brian Mack complained that guards were stealing inmates' food. A guard captain hit him in the eye with his radio, while another officer punched him in the jaw. His eye socket and his jaw were broken. Correction officials said his injuries stemmed from a fight with another inmate, but no such fight was mentioned in prison records.

None of the guards involved in these incidents have yet faced criminal—or even administrative—charges.

At a press conference opposing the NYPD raids in Harlem, June 2014. Photo: Special to Revolution

And this isn't the only foul shit that goes down at Rikers. At least two women held there have died in the past year because guards refused to allow them medication or medical care. I know this not because the authorities have released this information, but because people incarcerated with them exposed these horrors. A man held at Rikers, again someone with a mental health diagnosis, was deliberately placed in a cell where the temperature soared above 100 degrees and was left there till he baked to death!

And it doesn't just happen at Rikers Island. Eighteen Los Angeles County sheriffs were indicted in December 2013, including two high-ranking officers, for maintaining a culture in which widespread brutality and dehumanization of inmates was tolerated. In the women's prison in Tutwiler, Alabama, a federal investigation found that guards subjected the female inmates to rape and other forms of sexual abuse in order to get basic necessities like toilet paper and tampons! In Chicago, a high-ranking police officer named Jon Burge ran a torture chamber in a police station that used beatings to extract confessions out of more than 200 people between 1972 and 1991! This went on until some of the victims of these frame-ups connected with people who proved their innocence and showed there was a pattern of wrongful convictions Burge was responsible for.

And on top of that, there's the torture of long-term solitary confinement. Eighty thousand people in prison in the U.S. are held in these conditions. People are held inside cramped, concrete, windowless cells in near total isolation for between 22 and 24 hours a day, with no human contact, no chance to feel the sun, to see the moon and stars, or to breathe fresh air. People have been held in these conditions for months, years, and even decades. Studies have shown that this kind of confinement can drive people insane, yet the U.S. continues to subject tens of thousands of people to it!

This is not a matter of a few rogue officers who took things too far. One-third of the 99 guards at Tutwiler were found to have had sex with the inmates. The assaults on the mentally ill inmates at Rikers Island typically involved multiple guards and often were caught on the security cameras, but still no guards have been punished for those 129 cases where inmates were sent to the hospital. The county sheriffs in Los Angeles were indicted for creating a culture of violence and dehumanization, not for isolated cases of brutality. The unspeakable brutality being inflicted on far too many incarcerated people concentrates the injustice of mass incarceration in the U.S.

What kind of society treats people like this? What kind of people allow outrages like this to be done in their name?

In Germany during World War 2, people claimed they were unaware of the atrocities being committed by the Nazis. I think it was more the case that the “good Germans” didn't really want to know what was going down in the ghettos or where Jews, gays, Romany (Gypsies) and others were being carted off to.

But you can't use that excuse today in this country. The foul shit is being dragged into the light of day. It's sitting right there in front of your eyes, fouling the atmosphere everybody's breathing in.

So, what are you going to do now? Are you going to be a “good American” and go about your daily routine as if nothing's happening?

Or are you going to join those who are standing up and saying, NO FUCKING MORE OF THIS FOUL SHIT?

The October Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration is the time to raise your voice and to act. The horrific brutality visited on people in the jails of this country, like the genocidal program of mass incarceration this brutality concentrates, is unjustifiable, immoral, and illegitimate.

In October people all across the country will stand up and say NO MORE to mass incarceration and all its consequences. There must be tens of thousands of people who engage in many different forms of mass, determined resistance; ferment in religious institutions, panels and symposiums on campuses, cultural events, defiant demonstrations, and more. If there's an ounce of justice in your hearts, you need to join us.

Rikers Island jail, New York City. Photo: USGS


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