The Savage Murder of Darren Rainey

July 21, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


From a reader:

In the speech “What to the Slave Is Your Fourth of July,” quoted by Bob Avakian in his talk, Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About, Frederick Douglass, former slave and anti-slavery leader, said that America’s crimes “would shock a nation of savages” and that “for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.” It was true during slavery and it is still true.

Two years ago, Darren Rainey, a Black 50-year-old mentally ill prisoner serving a two-year term for cocaine possession at the Dade Correctional Center in Florida, was savagely murdered by prison guards—forced into a scalding hot shower and left there for more than an hour. According to witnesses quoted in the Miami Herald, he screamed the whole time, “I can’t take it no more,” while guards taunted him, “How do you like your shower?” When guards finally opened the door, Darren was dead, with his skin shriveled and peeling from his body, a condition called “slippage” in medical terms. One inmate said he saw Darren’s “burnt dead body” go by his cell on a stretcher. Another was told to clean up the scene, and said he found chunks of Darren’s skin in the shower and on Darren’s shoe that he was told to throw in the trash.

A witness later said that the water temperature was at least 180 degrees and that it was controlled by guards, who deliberately turned it up to full strength. A nurse reported that after he died Darren’s body temperature was too hot to be measured by thermometer.

On the second anniversary of this savage murder, have the guards or anyone else connected with this unspeakable crime been indicted, locked up, punished? No, but courageous witnesses who came forward to expose and speak out against Darren’s murder have faced retaliation.

George Mallinckrodt, a prison psychotherapist in the unit where Darren died, wrote grievances and letters to prison officials, the Florida Department of Corrections, and all the way up to Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder, exposing Darren’s brutal murder and the systematic abuse of prisoners at Dade Correctional Center. For this, he was fired 10 months after Darren was murdered. Mallinkcrodt wrote in his blog, “In the Middle Ages, the mentally ill were thrown into dungeons to be beaten, tortured and killed. What’s changed?”

Several inmate witnesses unrelentingly filed grievances and wrote letters, including to the Miami Herald, which subsequently published articles exposing the monstrous crime. One of the witnesses, Mark Joiner, said, “Look, I’m in prison for killing somebody, and I will never justify what I did... But nobody, nobody deserves to die like that. The thing that really got me was the cruelty of it and to hear them bragging about it.” He also said it wasn’t the first time guards had locked prisoners in scalding showers, and that they told new inmates they could kill prisoners and get away with it. He and other inmates who have exposed these crimes have been threatened and Joiner said he fears for his life.

After two years of a systematic cover-up, including the video camera in the shower that supposedly malfunctioned, the police never interviewed anyone, no autopsy was ever done, and the Department of Corrections closed the case. Recently the Florida affiliates of ACLU, Amnesty International, NAACP, and National Council of Churches called for a federal investigation of the murder. Howard Simon, the Executive Director of the Florida ACLU, said, “These revelations that are coming out are not about incompetence. They’re about guards killing people and public officials working feverishly to cover it up.” He also revealed that seven other inmate deaths in Florida are under investigation.

There has been outrage on the Internet. One blogger said it was “like something out of the Spanish Inquisition.” But we don’t have to go back that far. This murder is like something out of slavery, where slaves were routinely brutalized, tortured, and murdered. It is like something out of Jim Crow, where Black people were mutilated, lynched, and burned, and as Bob Dylan and Bob Avakian have said, then there were “postcards of the hangings.” It is something out of what Michelle Alexander calls the “New Jim Crow,” the mass incarceration of more than 2.2 million mostly Black and Latino people, and what Carl Dix has called the “slow genocide” of Black people.

As Bob Avakian said in his “3 Strikes” quote: “First, Slavery... Then, Jim Crow—segregation and Ku Klux Klan terror... And now, The New Jim Crow—police brutality and murder, wholesale criminalization and mass incarceration, and legalized discrimination yet again. That’s it for this system: Three strikes and you’re out!”

If there were no other reason for revolution but the brutal oppression of Black people, of which the savage murder of Darren Rainey is an expression, that would certainly be enough reason. But there is more. Darren Rainey’s death is also an expression of what is happening to mentally ill people in this “best country in the world.” In Florida, mentally ill individuals in jail and prison outnumber those in state mental hospitals by nearly five to one. Nationwide, the number of people with serious mental illness in prisons is now 10 times the number of mentally ill people in psychiatric facilities.

Florida is not the only state where brutality against mentally ill inmates is endemic. There have been several recent reports of savage brutality by prison guards against mentally ill prisoners at the notorious Rikers Island prison in New York. Numerous studies have documented how the mentally ill are vulnerable to especially brutal abuse, including disproportionate solitary confinement, a form of torture, in prison. Heather Barr of the Urban Justice Center’s Mental Health Project said, “We demolished the mental health system at the same time we skipped merrily down the path of criminalizing everything” and noted that Black people are much more likely to be incarcerated for exhibiting symptoms of mental illness than whites.

What kind of system locks up whole generations of Black people and brutalizes, tortures, and murders them in prison? What kind of system criminalizes its most vulnerable citizens, people with mental illness, and brutalizes, tortures, and murders them in prison? A savagely unequal and unjust system, and that system has a name: capitalism.

It is worth thinking about the underlying workings of capitalism that are giving rise to all this, as analyzed in a recent Revolution article, “Understanding Genocide, Black People, and Capitalist Accumulation”: “Black people are no longer serving the needs and profitable functioning of capital in the same way as before. They are no longer inserted into the larger economic structures in the same way as before. The system has increasingly turned African-Americans into a ‘surplus’ population.

“This was not the product of a grand plan. It is the product of the expand-or-die workings of capital in the U.S. and on a world scale—this anarchic, competitive drive of capital interacting with the historical and continuing oppression of Black people in the U.S. And there have been conscious policies with very conscious aims on the part of the U.S. ruling class which have enforced and deepened this oppression.

“But this ‘surplus’ population is a population that the U.S. ruling class recognizes as a potentially explosive and revolutionary one. From the standpoint of the ruling class, it is a population to be policed, criminalized, and broken. Which brings us back to the discussion of genocide and Black people: a machinery of social control and an economic dynamic that, taken together, are destroying life chances and the viable survival of a people.”


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