Category Archives: Violence

Robert King in L.A. and San Diego

I had the honor to drive Robert King around Southern California this past weekend to a handful of events centered on the Angola 3 campaign and his new book From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of ex Black Panther Robert Hillary King.

 It’s an incredible story of what it means to be Black in this country; beautifully written and deep and it made me cry at two different points. And never fear, it has an inspiring ending.

I learned that I actually eat more than King, I wake up MUCH later, and that      there were possibly a few too many things edited out of the book (which I take responsibility for, though all complaints should be sent to my colleague ramsey). And a lot of really great stories that should have been in there but somehow never made it. Like the exact plan of how he escaped from Angola, and climbed walls using rope made out of the ticking from the mattresses and stepped on someone’s face and heard one of the women yell hey Tarzan, take me, it’s Jane…Which is why you have to hear him speak. But we were there to educate, not just tell stories, so I’ll be serious for a moment.

Slavery has continued in this country under the guise of prisons. There are now approximately 2.3 million people in prison, another 5 to 6 million people are on some kind of parole or probation, and 1 in 9 black men between the ages of 21 and 29 are incarcerated…

And there is a vast amount of money to be made on prisoners. The prisons get money for housing and feeding prisoners, and money for transporting them. They get money for the work that prisoners do while in prison. Prisons form the entire economic base and are the principal employer in many a small town. In Angola, Louisiana the 5,000 prisoners are counted in the town census as citizens allowing the town to receive additional federal benefits. Angola is 18,000 acres that went from plantation to prison with no break in between, even maintaining the sugar cane and cotton fields. Prisoners are guaranteed no rights in the constitution that supposedly abolished slavery. Here is a view of the place from the book:

So Robert Hillary King. He joined the Black Panther party in a Louisiana prison and worked to organize prisoners to protest the terror of the conditions they lived in. He, along with compañeros Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace were actually succeeding in some things, like getting holes cut in the cell bars so that their food no longer had to scrape along the bottom of their doors when it was shoved underneath. They held classes in literacy and political education. They protested and worked to end the physical and mental abuse of prisoners, the constant invasive strip searches, and the prevalence of rape. They were reaching out to white prisoners. And so they were stopped.

King was framed in the murder of another inmate on his tier, found guilty though the man who had killed testified it had been in self-defense and that he had acted alone. Albert and Herman were framed in the murder of a prison guard (based on the testimony of seven eye witnesses – each of whom claimed they were the only ones at the scene besides the murderers! One of whom was shortly released on furlough due to his blindness. All of whom received incredible treatment from that day on, in spite of testimony that was hopelessly contradictory). King, although he was not in Angola at the time, was put under investigation as an accomplice, and was held in solitary for 29 years on that ground.

King fought his case over the years, and walked free in 2001. He said that he might be free of Angola, but Angola would never be free of him. He has kept that promise. Herman and Albert continue in prison, though Albert’s conviction has been overturned. The State has appealed the decision, and are resorting to character assassination in their attempt to ensure that both Herman and Albert remain safe and sound behind bars until they die.

So we started with an event sponsored by the Southern California Library at the L.A. Grand Theatre, a showing of the documentary on the Angola 3 (could use a bit more editing but is really a great documentary) with King speaking after. We had dinner with Gary Phillips and Gilda Haas (both future PM authors), then drove down to Whittier to stay with the Cambrons. It was a weekend of brilliant people and great hospitality I have to say! Then on Saturday we drove down to San Diego, where we stayed with Dennis Childs and his wife Saranella, both of them beautiful in every sense of the word. That day’s event was at the Malcolm X library, and the following day at UCSD.  Here he is at the Library:

And here are King and Dennis at UCSD:

And of course, we were traveling in style in the rented red mustang, here are King, Saranella and I, it has been extraordinarily hot here as you can see:

A brilliantly intense weekend, though I’ll admit my thoughts had a certain tendency to stretch somewhere rather different in a smiley day-dreamy sort of way. And it was an exhausting though rewarding trip, so happy reverie came as some relief in the rare downtime. I don’t think that’s why I did my best to make King miss his flight up to the Bay by jumping on the 605 North rather than South in rush hour traffic after a last lovely night in Whittier, it’s the fact I’ve yet to try my bike on the freeways I believe! Or that I don’t know Whittier. Or that I forgot to clarify the direction with Arturo before leaving. But everything worked out all right in the end…

There is much to be done on the campaign to free the remaining two of the Angola three. For more information on how to get involved, go to www.angola3grassroots.org, and for the book or dvd, click on the images above or go to www.pmpress.org.

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LAPD officer wounded, resident killed, in Boyle Heights

Yesterday a gun battle broke out on Malabar Street, when police tried to serve a narcotics warrant. The four hour stand-off left one of the men in the building dead, and a police officer in the hospital with a wound in his leg, and the mark of a ricocheting bullet on his helmet…the swat team evacuated 30 residents from the block, and this is what they looked like to the folks living in Boyle Heights:

Luis Sinco - L.A. Times

It’s an armed invasion team really, how can this make anyone feel safe?

I was talking to my friend Leonardo yesterday, who has been organizing in Boyle Heights for years upon years…they’ve done a lot of work on the issues of gangs and drugs. And the reality is that there are systemic reasons that these things exist, the lack of jobs, good schools, opportunities. The reality is that our economic system is broken, and while it remains broken we will continue to struggle with gangs and drugs because they provide for very real needs, whether an escape or income or sense of belonging or protection.

And so while fighting to change the system, we must also fight to control the violence. And in Boyle Heights the community is beginning to do it, people are beginning to walk the neighborhoods at night, to talk to their youth, to build altars together to those have died and work together to try and stop it. It is slow, but sure, and Union de Vecinos is having an impact. The idea that humvees full of police carrying automatic weapons can bring any kind of security seems almost funny, if an endgame where people die riddled with bullets could ever be funny.

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Another War: Juarez, Mexico

Over 210 people have been killed in Juarez since the beginning of the year…it’s hard to know the exact figures, they keep finding bodies. It’s an all out war between the drug cartels, and the victims include corrupt cops, hired mercenaries, local street gangs, the soldiers sent in force to try and control the situation…and one can always hope not too many innocents. But this is a war complete with mass graves, automatic weapons, masked men roaming the streets, humvees full of men in fatigues. Such wars find it hard it hard to limit themselves to the active participants. It is generated and funded by the immense wealth to be found in supplying the immense demand in the United States for drugs and good times. Of course, the profits do not just come from trafficking drugs into the United States, they also come from trafficking people, many of whom are the afore-mentioned innocents. These people seeking hope and a better life (and miles between themselves and Juarez) also make good times possible by cleaning kitchens, cooking food, taking care of children, picking crops, building houses…In short, a lot of good times in the US are sponsored by Mexico. A lot of them are even enjoyed in Mexico, border towns are always good for hopping into for a cheaper currency, and picking up cheap goods along with your sex and drugs. Tijuana, Nogales, Juarez, they all have their strip of excess with their sex shows their buckets of cheap beer their drunken underaged drinkers their sunburned tourists. Survival is a difficult business, an ugly business here where extreme poverty collides with extreme wealth.

Juarez is famous in Mexican corridos for the drug running exploits, the colorful characters of the cartels, and its legion of corrupt officials. It is almost as famous for acres of maquiladoras manufacturing things very cheaply to sell quite expensively across the border. The women working in the maquiladoras are more victims, not only due to low pay and horrifying working conditions, but also the hundreds dead or disappeared over the past 15 years and no one prosecuted. They too have made it into song, these things might not hit the news very often but communities are always working to make sense of the world, talk about what is happening, try to improve thinsg for their children…

Las Mujeres de Juárez (Letra y música de Paulino Vargas, grabado por Los Tigres del Norte en su disco Pacto de Sangre [2004])

Humillante y abusiva la intocable impunidad
Los huesos en el desierto muestran la cruda verdad
Las muertas de ciudad Juárez son vergüenza nacional

Mujeres trabajadoras de maquiladoras
Cumplidoras y eficientes, mano de obra sin igual
Lo que importan las empresas no lo checa el aduanal
Vergonzosos comentarios se escuchan por todo el mundo

La respuesta es muy sencilla cuáles saben la verdad
Ya se nos quitó lo macho o nos falta dignidad
La mujer es bendición y milagro de la fe, la fuente de la creación
Parió al zar y parió al rey y hasta al mismo Jesucristo lo dio a luz una mujer

Es momento ciudadanos de cumplir nuestro deber
Si la ley no lo resuelve, lo debemos resolver
Castigando a los cobardes que ultrajan a la mujer
Llantos, lamentos y rezos se escuchan en el lugar

De las madres angustiadas y al cielo imploran piedad
Que les devuelvan los restos y poderlos sepultar
El gran policía del mundo también nos quiso ayudar
Pero las leyes Aztecas no quisieron aceptar

Tal vez no les convenía que esto se llegue a aclarar
Ya hay varias miles de muertas en panteones clandestinos
Muchas desaparecidas que me resisto a creer
Es el reclamo del pueblo que lo averigüe la ley


The Women of Juárez (Words and music by Paulino Vargas, recorded by Los Tigres del Norte on their album Pacto de Sangre [2004])

Humiliating and abusive, the untouchable impunity(1)
The bones in the desert show the raw truth
The dead women of Ciudad Juárez are a national shame
Women workers of the maquiladoras
Reliable and efficient, hired hands without peer

What is important to the businesses is not checked by the customs office
Shameful commentaries are heard throughout the world
The response is very simple to those who know the truth
Either we have lost our manhood or we lack dignity
Spoken: Woman is a blessing and a miracle of faith, the fount of creation

She gave birth to the czar and gave birth to the king, and even Jesus Christ himself was born of woman
It is the moment, citizens, to live up to our responsibility
If the law does not resolve this, we must
Punishing the cowards who abuse women

Tears, laments, and prayers are heard in the region
Of the agonized mothers and they cry on heaven to have pity
That the bodies be given to them so that they can be properly buried
The great world policeman also wanted to help us
But the Aztec laws did not allow it (2)

Perhaps it was not in their interest for this to be cleared up
Already there are thousands of dead women in hidden graves
Many disappeared, that I can hardly believe
The public demands that the law investigate this.

(1) “impunidad” is a common term in Mexico, referring to the routine failure of officials to bring criminals to justice. (2)This appears to be a reference to the Mexican government’s refusing US law enforcement assistance.
Translation ©2004 Elijah Wal

also published at http://www.allvoices.com/users/Andrea#tab=blogs&group=2

LA’s skid row effort hits a wall

The LA Times can really write a headline. Is this the effort to deal with the systemic problems that have led to massive homelessness and widespread drug addiction? An attempt to deal with the absence of community mental health clinics, affordable housing, living wage jobs, a solution to racism?

I’m afraid not, it is Chief Bratton’s effort to criminalize homelessness itself, to clean up downtown by simply shoving thousands of people in jail, and harrassing them enough to move on. It was the three cops on every corner, seven cops to make each arrest, cops on horses running people down on foot, a frightening show of force. And the fact that it has hit a wall shouldn’t be too surprising. You can’t stop the drug trade by arresting junkies, you can’t clean out an area of people who have nowhere else to go, and it’s never good to piss people off who have nothing left to lose. Though they’ve certainly tried.