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[Revolutionary History] [Civil Liberties] [Political Repression] [National Oppression] [Security] [Attica Correctional Facility] [New York] [ULK Issue 84]
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Book Review: Tip of the Spear

Tip of the Spear book cover
Tip of the Spear Black Radicalism, Prison Repression, and the Long Attica Revolt
Orisanmi Burton (Author)
University of California Press
October 2023

“without understanding carceral spaces as zones of undeclared domestic war, zones that are inextricably linked to imperial and officially acknowledged wars abroad, we cannot fully understand how and why the U.S. became the global leader of incarceration that it is today.” (1)

Tip of the Spear is the story of the organization and flourishing of resistance to American imperialism as it developed in the New York state prison system in the 1960s and 1970s, including the time well before the four days of Attica in 1971. Professor of anthropology Orisanmi Burton does many things in this book, a lot of which we’ll only be able to mention briefly or not at all, but MIM(Prisons) has already sent out many copies of this book and is prepared to send out many more to enable further study and discussion of Burton’s very worthy research and ideas.

We are asking our readers to send their own feedback on this book, to write up their own local histories or stories applying the framework below, and to popularize this understanding of U.$. prisons as part of the imperialist war on the oppressed peoples of the world that we must unite against.

Prisons are War

Burton begins his investigation with George Jackson’s observation that Black people “were defeated in a war and are now captives, slaves or actually that we inherited a neoslave existence.” (2) Prison conditions don’t originate in the law or in ideas but in the historical fact of defeat in a war that still continues.

But what kind of war is it? One side surrounds the other and forces it to submit daily, the way that an army laying siege to a city tries to wear down the resistance of the population. These sieges include not just starving prisoners of food but of social life, education, and culture. In maintaining its rule the state uses the tools of counterinsurgency to split the revolutionary ranks, co-opt the cause and re-establish its rule on a more secure level. On the other side, the prisoners have themselves, their ability to unite and organize in secret, and their willingness to sacrifice for the cause – the attributes of a guerrilla army. (3)

prisons are war

Burton spends an entire chapter, “Hidden War,” laying out the strategies the state pursued when its naked brutality failed to prevent prisoner organization and rebellion. After the smoke cleared at Attica and wardens, politicians and prison academics had a chance to catch their breath, they settled on four strategies to prevent another Attica from happening: (4)

One, prisons were expanded across the state, so that density was reduced and prisoner organizing could be more effectively disrupted. If a prisoner emerged as a leader, they could be sent to any number of hellholes upstate surrounded by new people and have to start the process all over again. The longer and more intense the game of Solitaire the state played with them, the better. We see this strategy being applied to USW comrades across the country to this day.

Prisons were also superficially humanized, the introduction of small, contingent privileges to encourage division and hierarchy among prisoners, dull the painful edge of incarceration somewhat, and dangle hope. Many prisoners saw through it, and Burton makes the point that the brief periods of rebellion had provided the only real human moments most prisoners had experienced during their time inside. For example, Attica survivor, John “Dacajeweiah” Hill described meeting a weeping prisoner in D yard during the rebellion who was looking up at the stars for the first time in 23 years. (5) Burton sums this up: “the autonomous zones created by militant action… had thus far proven the only means by which Attica’s oppressive atmosphere was substantially ameliorated.”

Diversification went hand in hand with expansion, where a wide range of prison experiences were created across the system. Prisons like Green Haven allowed prisoners to smoke weed and bring food back to their cells, and permitted activities like radical lectures from outsiders. At the same time, other prisons were going on permanent lockdowns and control units were in development.

And finally, programmification presented a way for prisoners to be kept busy, for outsiders (maybe even former critics of the prison system) to be co-opted and brought into agreement with prison officials, and provide free labor to keep the system stable by giving prisoners another small privilege to look forward to. To this day, New York, as well as California and other states, require prisoners who are not in a control unit to program.

All of this was occurring in the shadow of the fact that the state had demonstrated it would deploy indiscriminate violence, even sacrificing its own employees as it had at Attica, to restore order. The classic carrot-and-stick dynamic of counterinsurgency was operating at full force.

Before Attica: Tombs, Branch Queens, Auburn

Burton discusses Attica, but doesn’t make it the exclusive focus of his book, as it has already been written about and discussed elsewhere. He brings into the discussion prison rebellions prior to Attica that laid the groundwork, involved many of the same people, and demonstrated the character of the rebellions overall.

The first was at Tombs, or the Manhattan House of Detention, where prisoners took hostages and issued demands in the New York Times, denouncing pretrial detention that kept men in limbo for months or years, overcrowding, and racist brutality from guards. Once the demands were published, the hostages were released. Eighty corrections officers stormed the facility with blunt weapons and body armor and restored order, and after the rebellion two thirds of the prisoners were transferred elsewhere to break up organizations, like the Inmate Liberation Front, that had grown out of Tombs and supported its resistance. (6) Afterwards, the warden made improvements and took credit for them. This combination of furious outburst, violent response and conciliatory reform would repeat itself.

Next Branch Queens erupted, where the Panther 21 had recently been incarcerated. Prisoners freed them, hung a Pan-Afrikan flag out of a window, took hostages and demanded fair bail hearings be held in the prison yard or the hostages would be executed. The bail hearing actually happened and some of the prisoners who had been in prison for a year for possibly stealing something were able to walk out. The state won the battle here by promising clemency if the hostages were released, which split the prisoners and led to the end of the rebellion. Kuwasi Balagoon, who would later join the Black Liberation Army, was active in the organization of the rebellion and learned a lot from his experiences seeing the rebellion and the repression that followed after the state promised clemency. (7)

At Auburn Correctional Facility on November 4th, Black prisoners rebelled and seized hostages for eight hours. Earlier, fifteen Black prisoners had been punished and moved to solitary for calling for a day off work to celebrate Black Solidarity Day. After the restoration of order, more prisoners were shipped away and the remainder were subject to reprisals from the guards.

In each case, prisoners formed their own organizations, took control, made demands and also started building new structures to run the prison for their own benefit – even in rebellions that lasted only a few hours. After order was restored, the state took every opportunity to crush the spirits and bodies of those who had participated. All of this would repeat on a much larger scale at Attica.

Attica and Paris: Two Communes

Burton acknowledges throughout the book a tension that is familiar to many of ULK’s readers: reform versus revolution. He sees both in the prison movement of the 1960s and 1970s in New York, with some prisoners demanding bail reform and better food and others demanding an end to the system that creates prisons in the first place. But in telling the story of Attica and the revolts that preceded it he emphasizes two things: the ways reforms were demanded (not by petitions but by organized force) and the existence of demands that would have led to the end of prisons as we know them. On Attica itself, he writes that the rebellion demanded not just better food and less crowded cells but the “emergence of new modes of social life not predicated on enclosure, extraction, domination or dehumanization.” (8) In these new modes of social life, Burton identifies sexual freedom and care among prisoners emerging as a nascent challenge to traditional prison masculinity.

Attica began as a spontaneous attack on a particularly racist and brutal guard, and led to a riot all over the facility that led to the state completely losing control for four days starting on September 9th, 1971. Hostages were again taken, and demands ranging from better food to the right to learn a trade and join a union issued to the press. Prisoners began self-organizing rapidly, based on the past experiences of many Attica prisoners in previous rebellions. Roger Champen, who reluctantly became one of the rebellion’s organizers, got up on a picnic table with a seized megaphone and said “the wall surrounds us all.” Following this, the prisoners turned D Yard into an impromptu city and organized their own care and self-defense. A N.Y. State trooper watching the yard through binoculars said in disbelief “they seem to be building as much as they’re destroying.” I think we’d agree with the state trooper, at least on this. (9)

Burton’s point in this chapter is that the rebellion wasn’t an attempt (or wasn’t only an attempt) to get the state to reform itself, to grant rights to its pleading subjects, but an attempt, however short-lived, to turn the prisons into something that would be useful for human liberation: a self-governing commune built on principles of democracy and solidarity. Some of the rebels demanded transport to Africa to fight the Portuguese in the then-raging colonial wars in Mozambique and Angola, decisions were made by votes and consensus, and the social life of the commune was self-regulated without beatings, gassings and starvation.

Abolition and the Concentric Prison

Burton is a prison abolitionist, and he sees the aspirations of the Attica rebels at their best as abolitionist well before the term became popular. But he doesn’t ignore the contradictions that Attica and other prison rebellions had to work through, and acknowledges the diverse opinions of prisoners at the time, some of whom wanted to abolish prisons and some of whom wanted to see the Nixons and Rockefellers thrown into them instead. (10)

The Attica Commune of D Yard had to defend itself, and when the rebelling prisoners suspected that some prisoners were secretly working for the state, they were confined in a prison within a commune within a prison, and later killed as the state came in shooting on the 13th. There was fighting and instances of rape among the prisoners that freed themselves, and there were prisoners who didn’t want to be a part of the rebellion who were forced to. And the initial taking of the guards constitutes a use of violence and imprisonment in itself, even if the guards were treated better than they’d ever treated the prisoners.

Burton acknowledges this but doesn’t offer a tidy answer. He sees the use of violence in gaining freedom, like Fanon, to be a necessary evil which is essential to begin the process but unable to come close to finishing it. Attica, even though it barely began, provides an example of this. While violence is a necessary tool in war, it is the people organized behind the correct political line in the form of a vanguard party that ultimately is necessary to complete the transformation of class society to one without oppression.

Counter-intelligence, Reform, and Control

The final part of the book, “The War on Black Revolutionary Minds,” chronicles the attempts by the state to destroy prison revolutionaries by a variety of methods, some more successful than others, all deeply disturbing and immoral.

Some of the early methods involved direct psychological experimentation, the use of drugs, and calibrated isolation. These fell flat, because the attempts were based on “the flawed theory that people could be disassembled, tinkered with, and reprogrammed like computers.” (11) Eventually the state gave up trying to engineer radical ideas out of individual minds and settled for the solution many of our readers are familiar with: long-term isolation in control units, and a dramatically expanding prison population.

There is a lot else in this book, including many moving stories from Attica and other prison rebellion veterans that Burton interviewed, and who he openly acknowledges as the pioneering theorists and equal collaborators in his writing. Burton engages in lengthy investigations of prisoner correspondence, outside solidarity groups, twisted psychological experiments, and many other things I haven’t had the space to mention. We have received a couple responses to the book from some of you already, which the author appreciates greatly, and we’d like to facilitate more.

^Notes: 1. Burton, Orisanmi Tip of the Spear: Black Radicalism, Prison Repression, and the Long Attica Revolt p. 19 All citations will be of this book unless otherwise specified.
2. Jackson, Soledad Brother, 111–12 cited in Burton p. 10
3. p. 3
4. pp. 152-180
5. Hill and Ekanawetak, Splitting the Sky, p. 20. cited in Burton, p. 107
6. p. 29
7. p. 48
8. p. 5
9. pp. 88-91
10. p. 95
11. p. 205
^

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[Revolutionary History] [Political Repression] [ULK Issue 84]
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Sekou Odinga Has Joined the Ancestors

[The following statement was circulated by email from spiritofmandela.org]

Sekou Odinga

Sekou Odinga is celebrated & admired by freedom & justice movements worldwide for his persistence, courage, & principled adherence to freedom struggle.

Baba Sekou Transitioned on January 12, 2024.

Sekou Odinga was a globally recognized Black liberation activist, member of Malcolm X’s Organization of Afro-American Unity, founding member of both the New York City chapter and the International Section of the Black Panther Party, and former US political prisoner who survived 33 years of state captivity before his release in 2014.

Prosecuted as one of the “Panther 21” in New York City, Odinga was a prominent historical figure, having been featured on Democracy Now! and in numerous documentaries, concerts, mass public events, and major news outlets.

In addition to being featured in the widely circulated social movement texts Can’t Jail the Spirit (2002) and Hauling Up the Morning: Writings & Art by Political Prisoners & Prisoners of War in the U.S. (1990), Odinga published his writing in Look for Me in the Whirlwind: From the Panther 21 to 21st-Century Revolutions (PM Press, 2017) and Black Power Afterlives: The Enduring Significance of the Black Panther Party (Haymarket Books, 2020).

A survivor of state torture and the FBI’s notorious Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO), Sekou Odinga is both celebrated and admired by freedom and justice movements worldwide, exemplifying persistence, courage, and principled adherence to freedom struggle under the most repressive circumstances imaginable.

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[Revolutionary History] [Political Repression] [ULK Issue 84]
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Rest in Power Ruchell Cinque Magee

As we were assembling the copy for Under Lock & Key 83, Ruchell “Cinque” Magee died on 17 October 2023. We did not learn of eir death in time to announce it in that issue.

The Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu Jamal recently held a memorial event for Comrade Cinque. The lawyer who helped fight for Cinque’s last minute clemency release told a story of how the state’s attorney baited Magee on the stand. The lawyer asked Cinque what ey would do if the bailiff’s gun was sitting on the table right in front of em. Comrade Cinque responded that ey would pick up the gun, take the bailiff hostage and use the hostage to get to the local news channel to get eir story heard.

Sundiata Tate also spoke emotionally on behalf of the hardship that Comrade Cinque went through, spending eir entire adult life in prison, 67 years. The brutal conditions ey faced. And eir insistence on going through it all without kneeling down to the oppressor, but staying on eir feet.

Attendees appreciated the portrait of Cinque by comrade AK47 featured in ULK 83 and many grabbed a copy. Comrades made the connection to Cinque’s life and struggle as a Prison War Veteran to the state’s use of prison as a tool of war against the oppressed.

It has become customary for the state to release political prisoners shortly before they die, to soften the potential blow back of a death in their custody. They do so at no risk of the comrade contributing to the revolutionary movement after release. A speaker shared the precious moments Cinque had with eir family members in eir last months, most of whom ey was meeting for the first time in eir life. But a real victory for the people will be when we keep true freedom fighters out of the oppressor’s prisons. That is a sign of winning the war.


Related Articles:
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ULK 83: Prison Is War

Prison is War

The theme of this issue of Under Lock & Key was inspired by recent essays and interviews by Orisanmi Burton, previewing material from eir upcoming book: Tip of the Spear: Black Radicalism, Prison Repression, and the Long Attica Revolt. Comrades in MIM(Prisons) and United Struggle from Within (USW) have been studying Burton’s work. Though we have not had the opportunity to read the book yet, which comes out end of October 2023, we like a lot of the ideas ey has presented so far and the overall thesis that prisons are war.

As we go to press the genocidal war on Palestine is heating up. We have reports inside on Congo, El Salvador, Ukraine and Niger; and we don’t even touch on Guatemala or Haiti. History has shown that as war heightens internationally, war often heightens against the oppressed nations within the empire as well.

In this issue we have reports of political repression as war in U.$. prisons. We also feature articles from comrades who organized around, and reflected on the Attica rebellion and Black August. This is the history that Burton analyzes in eir work, exposing the state’s efforts to suppress the prison movement and how both sides were operating on a war footing. For over a decade readers of ULK have commemorated the beginning of Attica on September 9th with a Day of Peace and Solidarity, as part of the campaign to build the United Front for Peace in Prisons. But how do we get to peace when we find ourselves the targets of the oppressor’s war?

Burton pushes back against some Liberal/reformist lines that have been advanced onto the prison movement to oppose the line of liberation. Burton’s ideas harken back to V.I. Lenin, recognizing prisons as a repressive arm of the state, and the state being a tool of oppression and warfare by one class over another. War is one form of political struggle, and a very important one at that.

It is this framework that we have used to push back against “abolitionism.” Our organization emerged from the struggle to abolish control units, a form of prisons that is torture and inhumane. We see the abolition of control units as a winnable, if difficult, battle under bourgeois rule. In a socialist state, where the proletariat rules over the former bourgeoisie, we certainly won’t have such torture cells anymore; but the abolition of prisons altogether is a vision for the distant future. We find it questionable that Burton frames revolutionary communist martyrs like George Jackson as an “abolitionist”.

Where we have more unity is when Burton takes issue with building the prison movement around the legalist struggle to amend the 13th Amendment of the U.$. Constitution that abolishes slavery except for the convicted felon. Burton points out the history of Liberal thought in justifying enslavement of those captured in just wars. As most in this country see the United $tates as a valid project, it could follow logically that it is just to enslave the conquered indigenous and New Afrikan nations, as well as nations outside the United $tates borders. We see how settlers in Amerika and I$rael are now justifying all sorts of genocidal atrocities against Palestine.

The challenge we have repeatedly made to the campaign to amend the 13th Ammendment is how this contributes to liberating oppressed people? How does it build power for oppressed people?

In one essay Burton draws connections to how the state was handling the war against the Vietnamese people at the same time as the war against New Afrika at home.(1) We have a draft paper out on the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement that discusses the counter-insurgency in Peru, and how the fascist U.$.-Fujimori regime locked communist leader Comrade Gonzalo in an underground isolation cell and then used confusion around political line to crush the People’s War in that country. In Under Lock & Key 47, we reprinted an in-depth analysis of the use of long-term solitary confinement against the revolutionary movement in Turkey and the use of hunger strikes to struggle against it from 2000-2007. All of these historical examples, including to some extent New Afrika in the 1970s, involved an armed conflict on both sides. Today, in the United $tates, we do not have those conditions. However, we can look to the national liberation struggle in Palestine, and the connection to the prison movement there as a modern-day example.

Burton spends time exposing the politics of the federal counter-insurgency program PRISACTS. And one of the things we learn is that PRISACTS is officially short-lived as the counter-insurgency intelligence role is taught to and passed on to the state institutions. We see this today, especially in the handling of censorship of letters and reading materials we send to and receive from prisoners. We see the intentional targeting of these materials for their political content, and not for any promotion of violence or illegal activity. Our comrades inside face more serious consequences of brutality, isolation and torture in retaliation for attempts to organize others for basic issues of living conditions and law violations.

The arrest of Duane “Keffe D” Davis for involvement in the murder of Tupac Shakur has also been in the news this month. Keffe D is a known informant who confessed to driving his nephew to murder Tupac years ago in exchange for the dropping of a life sentence for an unrelated charge. Author John Potash notes that there were many attempted assassinations of Tupac prior to his death, at least one that involved the NYPD Street Crimes Unit. This unit was launched following the supposed “end” of COINTELPRO.(2) This directly parallels what we see with the “end” of PRISACTS and the passing of intelligence operations on to state pigs.

As we’ve discussed in drawing lessons from the repression of Stop Cop City, we need to take serious strategic precautions in how we organize. We must recognize the war being waged on us. If we treat this as something that can be fixed once people see what’s going on, or once we get the right courts or authorities to get involved, we will never accomplish anything. And as always we must put politics in command. There is an active intelligence counter-insurgency being waged against USW and the prison movement in general, and the best weapon we have is grasping, implementing and judging political line.

Prison is War is not just a topic for ULK, it is a political line and analysis. We welcome your future reports, articles and artwork exposing the ways this war is happening in prisons today.

Notes: 1. Burton, Orisanmi (2023).“Targeting Revolutionaries: The Birth of the Carceral Warfare Project, 1970-1978.” Radical History Review. Vol. 146.
2. John Potash on I Mix What I Like, 16 October 2023. (author of “The FBI War on Tupac Shakur and Black Leaders”)

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Ruchell Magee

Ruchell Magee free

Comrade Ruchell Magee was one of two survivors from the Marin County Courthouse massacre that took General Johnathan Jackson’s life on August 7, 1970 (peace be upon him). Comrade Ruchell Magee is now 84 years old. Ruchell Magee was born in 1939 in Louisiana. He would go on to spend 67 years of his life in unjust captivity, starting the year after the murder of Emmett Till. In 1956, Ruchell Magee (like Emmett Till) was framed in a similar fashion of unfounded accusations of rape, where the victim originally did not identify Ruchell Magee. Nevertheless, he was convicted in a one day trial by an all white jury. After serving 7 years on a 12 year sentence he was released on parole in 1962. Comrade Magee then moved to Los Angeles.

After a 10 dollar quarrel over marijuana ending in a kidnapping charge, Magee was convicted (with little evidence) after a two day trial and sentenced to serve seven years to life on kidnapping charges that legally only carried a penalty of up to the maximum of five years. In 1965 he appealed the charges and was denied. While housed at San Quentin Magee became a jailhouse lawyer. There he met Comrade George who was also serving a Cali-type sentence of one year to life. They were routinely denied by the parole boards. Ruchell was also a major participant in the movement for prisoners’ rights and never stopped fighting for his release.

The Marin County Courthouse Massacre

Around the young age of 15-years old, Johnathan Jackson became politically active witnessing the injustice done to his brother George by the legal system. Johnathan was a very smart student, scoring at the top of his classes.

George Jackson later had Johnathan move in with Angela Davis to keep her safe. There he learned weapons training and dated Angela’s girlfriend who was white. He would later impregnate her before his demise, with a son his mother would deny. A son that would grow into a polar opposite of George Jackson.

The day before the Marin County Courthouse Massacre, Johnathan Jackson sat in the courtroom in a trench with a bag for the trial of James McClain. The next day he visited George Jackson. They spoke, embraced, then left.

A few hours later a Sheriff spotted Johnathan in the courthouse with the same trench coat and bag on from the day before. The suspicious Sheriff approached Comrade Johnathan and asked him: “What’s in the bag?” Johnathan replied:

“Alright gentlemen, freeze. Nobody move. We’ll take over from here.”

After equipping his comrades with artillery the armed defendant James McClain and the witnesses called there for a prison murder, William Christmas and Ruchell Magee, left with the prosecutor, judge, and three jurors as hostages, demanding the release of Comrade George and the guarantee of safety for themselves.

James McClain walked the judge (with a shotgun barrel roped around his neck) to the van with the hostages. As they where leaving the parking lot hundreds of officers took aim on the custom made bullet proof van. A lot of the officials were from San Quentin. As Johnathan was leaving the parking lot holding a handgun out the window he was shot in the hand while holding it out the window.

The rest of the officers opened fire on the van, the shotgun goes off, and the prosecutor snatches the gun off Johnathan’s hand as he brings his hand back in the window with the gun. The prosecutor would then murder Comrade Johnathan, James McClain, and William Christmas. As the Sheriff and state officials continue to shoot the van they eventually shot the prosecutor in the back, paralyzing him. Ruchell Magee was later found unconscious.

Ruchell Magee was charged with murder and kidnapping, along with Angela Davis who allegedly provided Mr. Jackson the guns. In a separate trial Angela was acquitted, but in 1973 Mr. Ruchell Magee was convicted of simple kidnapping and voted 11 to 1 to acquit him of the murder charge.

Even though an autopsy of the judge who had been killed proved Ruchell did not kill him, and no evidence proved Ruchell knew anything about Johnathan Jackson’s plan to liberate the prisoners from the Marin County Courtroom, on 23 January 1973, Magee was sentenced to life in prison.

After the conviction he was denied parole 16 times and housed at high security prisons like Folsom and Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit, while he became one of the most consistent and successful jailhouse lawyers and advocates for prisoners.

Earlier in his bid, Ruchell took the name Cinque from the African leader Sengbe Pieh of the 1839 La Amistad slave ship rebellion, insisting that Africans have the right to resist “unlawful” slavery. Ruchell maintains that Black people in the U.$. have the right to resist this new form of slavery which is part of the colonial control of Black people in the country.

“My fight is to expose the entire system, judicial and prison system, a system of slavery. This will cause benefit not just to myself but to all those who at this time are being criminally oppressed or enslaved by this system.”

Ruchell has now been released on a new bill passed in California that allows incarcerated medical leave for those who are at fatal health risks.

Welcome home the G, AKA General Magee

Sources: The Road to Hell, by Paul Liberatore
Ruchell Magee released after 67 years in prison!, by Claude Marks of Freedom Archives

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[Revolutionary History] [Attica Correctional Facility] [New York] [ULK Issue 83]
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In Remembrance of the Attica Uprising

Attica

In 1970 few of Attica’s captives made more than 6 cents a day and the state’s food budget was a meager 63 cents per day per prisoner, causing able-bodied men to go to bed hungry in, of all places, the United $tates of America! These same men were also only allowed 1 shower per week & spent 15-24 hours everyday locked in tiny cages as if they were some type of exotic bird. For prisoners from the New York City area it would cost loved ones over $100 in travel expenses to visit and 24 hours of time away from work, school, etc., leaving no realistic way for those struggling to provide help to their loved ones in the future if they did in fact decide to visit.

With money being a known issue for these poor Black and Brown prisoners, doctors at Attica Correctional Facility would offer these men money to be “volunteers” as subjects for exposure to a test virus.(1) Albeit, these men were made to sign informed consent agreements being denied access to real vocational & educational training opportunities and/or drug programs. How “informed” were they really? Only 1.6% of Attica’s operating budget was allotted to academic & vocational training. That is 1.6% out of 100%! So, malnourished, ignored, & hindered from life skills, “They’d need to fight the invisibility that comes with being poor… They would have to work just to learn!” (quoting imperialist Michelle Obama) And “a riot is the language of the unheard.” (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.)

What was falling on deaf ears were a list of 15 “practical proposals” by these oppressed prisoners, which could’ve been easily agreed to putting an end to this uprising. Question: Why not “allow all inmates at their own expense to communicate with anyone they please”? (Request #5) Why not “when an inmate reaches conditional release, give him a full release without parole”? (Request #6) Why not “institute realistic rehabilitation programs for all inmates according to their offense & personal needs”? (Request #8) Why not “educate all Correctional Officers to the needs of the inmates, i.e. understanding rather than punishment,” (Request #9) & so on & so forth.(2)

Instead government would rather send in armed troopers, policemen, Correctional Officers, Conservation Corps helicopters that would drop C.S. gas [orthochlorobenzylidene] that would hang suspended in the air causing tearing, nausea, & retching in anyone that inhales it. Instead, Governor Rockefeller via Executive Order No. 51, even after all inside were immobilized by the gas, would give the command: “Tell all your units to move in!” Cosigning the murder of hostages and prisoners alike. “Trooper Gerard Smith … saw a trooper approach a prisoner who was lying still on the pavement and shoot him in the head.”(3) “It was very painful to see all these old & crippled guys getting shot … They were in D yard because they had no place else to go.”(4) “Another prisoner who had been shot in the abdomen & in the leg was ordered to get up and walk, which he was unable to do. ‘The trooper then shot him in the head with a handgun.’”(5) “Guard Robert Curtiss also felt the fear of imminent death when a trooper kept knocking him over every time he tried to sit up. He shouted… that he was an officer, but still had to beg the trooper not to shoot him.”(6) “Ultimately … 128 men were shot – some … multiple times … 9 hostages were dead & … 29 prisoners had been fatally shot.”(7) Another hostage in critical condition would later die, pushing the total to 10 hostages killed. “The most tragic thing about the bloody riot & massacre … is that it could have been avoided. If the state had listened to warnings from correctional officers, if administration had shown a modicum of sensitivity in providing for the inmates – if the state had just listened, the revolt might never have occurred!”(8)

For this carnage, escalated by the state to a protest for civil rights and basic liberties, you must blame someone and so you charge 63 prisoner survivors with 1,289 crimes, and not 1 single trooper or guard was indicted. However, some of these survivors continued to fight & share their little light on the hidden truth(s) and via civil rights litigation would win their lawsuit against one man, Attica’s deputy superintendent Karl Pfeil. But, “if any defendant was found liable, the state was liable, and this was no small thing.”(9)

On 5 June 1997, they awarded one of the survivors “Big Black” $4 million in damages. The state would recoup for these losses by underhandedly paying hostage survivors and surviving family members from the workman’s compensation fund, knowing that these people could no longer sue under NYS law because they had elected a remedy the moment they cashed these much needed checks. This is after 2,349 - 3,132 lethal pellets from shotguns were fired indiscriminately in Attica’s D yard; 8 rounds from a .357 caliber; 27 rounds from a .38 caliber & 68 rounds from a .270 caliber, [not to include C.O.’s and other members of law enforcement] fully aware that not 1 prisoner or hostage had a single firearm.

You don’t show a modicum of remorse & pay everyone their just due, but instead you con and scam the dead in the name of budgeting. “40 years after the uprising of 1971, conditions at Attica were worse than they had ever been … by 2001 the Department of Correctional Services had cut over 1200 programs providing services to inmates that were there in 1991.”(10) I wonder how much more money they’d save if they cut out prison & kept the programs? There will be more Attica’s until Federal and State governments and the American people accept their responsibility to establish minimum standards of decency & respect for human rights in our prisons. We cannot afford to wait for new explosions." (Senator Jacob Javits) Instead of waiting for “new explosions” why not get rid of the powdered keg altogether… prisons!

In remembrance of Sept. 9, 1971 REST IN POWER


MIM(Prisons) adds: This issue of ULK is inspired by recent scholarship by Orisanmi Burton, that centers around Attica. One of the points made by Burton is about the revolutionary vision of leaders in Attica and other contemporary organizing efforts, some of which included the same people. These were people who were members of or worked closely with formations like the Black Panther Party, Young Lords Party, Republic of New Afrika, the Puerto Rican Nationalist movement, etc.

One of the conclusions drawn from this is that the reformist demands listed by the comrade above were merely a campaign, with obvious and reasonable demands, that would appeal to the broadest sectors in this country. These reformist demands were not the be all end all goals for many of the leaders involved in these movements. They were winnable demands within a broader strategy for total liberation from oppression.

Notes:
1. Dr. Michael Brandriss, Interview Transcript, Aug. 18, 2012, Criminal Injustice: Death & Politics at Attica, (Blue Sky Project 2012).
2. Richard X Clark, Testimony, Akil Al-Jundi et al. v. The Estate of Nelson A. Rockefeller et al., October 25, 1991, 131;133.
3. Heather Ann Thompson, Blood in the Water p. 183 (Vintage Books)(2016).
4. Ibid. @ p. 184
5. Ibid. @ p. 185
6. Ibid @ p. 186
7. Ibid @ p. 187
8. Ibid. @ p. 260
9. Ibid. @ p. 477
10. Ibid. @ p. 567

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[First Nations] [Revolutionary History] [California] [ULK Issue 83]
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Book Review: "Geronimo: The True Story of America's Most Ferocious Warrior"

geronimo most ferocious warrior

It’s uncanny how books fall into your hands at times. Recently my circle has been discussing the subject of prisoners of war (POW’s) in the United $nakes and, what do you know, a comrade slides me this book on a POW who died imprisoned, the Chiricahua Apache Chief Geronimo.

Going into the book I treaded lightly as biography type books are quite biased. Many of the tomes written on leaders of the oppressed within the empire tend to be heavily biased slander that amounts to imperialist propaganda. This book was written as an “Interview” by Barret while Geronimo was a POW at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. I went into the book bracing myself for a book that would attempt to tell Geronimo’s story while promoting Amerikkkan ideals if even unconsciously. I was not wrong.

The subtitle of the book itself is an error: “The True Story of America’s Most Ferocious Warrior.” Geronimo was a First Nations warrior. America is the name of the white nation who stole the land it now occupies. The subtitle thus describes Geronimo as a member of this white settler nation which is ridiculous, as he fought against Amerikkka.

The first part of the book focuses on general Apache life with an emphasis on the mythology of the Apache creation story of origin. Steeped in the metaphysical ideas of a “God” and how a talking dragon would visit early ancestors. Sadly many of the world’s societies have such creation myths that are passed down. It highlights the need for a materialist approach to all we do and gives a glimpse of how the world would think if we were without dialectical materialism.

Part two, “The Mexicans”, answered a lot of questions I had. Here it describes how at one point Geronimo and his tribe traveled into “old Mexico” – as he calls it – and while the warrior went to trade in the town they returned to a massacre where it was reported that Mexican troops had killed everyone including Geronimo’s aging mother, wife, and three children.

I had often heard of Geronimo’s anti-Mexican sentiment, now I know why. Contradictions among the people continue today where oppressed nations fight for crumbs and leave devastation on either side. It’s disappointing to hear, knowing Geronimo’s passion for fighting Amerika it would have been beneficial for the oppressed to join forces and fight Amerika as this was in 1858, ten years after the U.$. war on Mexico and the birth of the Chican@ nation. Surely there was much resistance sparking and embers of resistance still burning.

I can’t stop to wonder had a united front of oppressed nations come together and resisted the U.$. how it would have resulted, add Black folks in the mix and it would be even better.

The first half of the book seemed to exalt Geronimo’s raids and murder of Mexican people. The first half has almost no mention of his war on the white nation, on which much of his reputation is built on.

Part three titled “The White Men” depicts various attacks and treachery when U.$. troops would call “peace” only to meet up and murder the Apache forces. At one point the Apache Chief Manigus-Colorado was called by the U.$. military for peace talks and assassinated. Geronimo seemed to be the only one who did not trust the U.$. troops or “white men” and thus never attended peace talks during that time period and lived through the treachery.

Chapter 16 titled “In Prison And On The War Path” was chilling to read. Here Geronimo contemplates war on Amerikkka and death. This portion of the book struck me more than any other of the passages. I feel his words and taste them internally. To me it’s as raw as it gets for those of us who are prisoners of war.

He states:

"In the summer of 1883 a rumor was current that the officers were again planning to imprison our leaders. This rumor served to revive the memory of all our past wrongs, the massacre in the tent at Apache Pass the fate of Mangus-Colorado, and my own unjust imprisonment, which might easily have been death to me.

“We thought it more manly to die on the war path than to be killed in prison.”

So much to unpack here. The mention of the leaders being imprisoned brought back memories of Pelican Bay SHU. The SHU was where leaders of the imprisoned oppressed nations in Califas were kidnapped and “imprisoned”. Taking leaders is a common practice of the oppressor nation. For Geronimo it triggered the Apache when they heard that their leaders would be kidnapped again. That’s a very traumatizing experience. I feel it. For those who have never been captured, tortured or kidnapped I can only say that the closest example I can give of Geronimo’s words here is that of a child who was kidnapped by a stranger, taken from their family and returned as an adult and then one day this persyn was either snatched again or told that another person would be kidnapped. Imagine the trauma this persyn would feel: the memories of being taken. The trauma likely became unbearable to the point that resistance, even resulting in death, must have seemed welcoming.

It seemed that every few pages Geronimo or his tribe would sign another treaty with Amerikkka. A lack of political investigation resulted in decisions based on subjectivity. As materialists we know that the oppressor will not relinquish power willingly, hystory has taught us that. Had Geronimo been a dialectical materialist he would have come to that realization much sooner.

Reading how the U.$. Army General Miles told Geronimo he would build Geronimo a house and give him access to cattle and provisions if he would simply stay in his place on the reservation was really revealing. Geronimo was a prisoner of war and knew it. Today many Chican@s and other oppressed don’t even know that we too are prisoners of war, for the U.$. war on Aztlan continues. We too are in a reservation called the United Snakes.

A low intensity war continues on the Chican@ nation. The U.$. government has always maintained an offensive on the colonies since the invasion was first launched, the offensive simply changes names, vehicle, and nationality, but its vision and operation remains fully intact. On April 20th, 1886 U.$. troops stationed in Arizona and New Mexico were issued this order by the U.$. War Department:

“The Chief object of the troops will be to capture or destroy any band of hostile Apache Indians found in this section of country and to this end the most vigorous and persistent efforts will be required of all officers and soldiers until the object is accomplished.”

If one were to substitute the word “Chican@s” instead of “Apache Indians” this statement could have been written last night. Insert the dreaded “gang member” which the colonizers love to use to vilify oppressed nations youth survival groups and the statement may be even more authentic to today’s mission. The pigs are tasked with accomplishing this mission in their war on the poor. Political groups or parties claiming to work in the interest of the oppressed here in the Snakes who do not move in ways that acknowledge this program of protracted soft war on the oppressed while conducting their work in the field in the so called interest of the colonized reduce their efforts to crass concerns of proletarian morality.

Today the state is resuming its offensive to “capture or destroy” hostile indigenous people (Chican@s, not First Nations in this context) and as the statement says they are obligated to do so “until the object is accomplished.” “Their vigorous and persistent” efforts today amount to the KKKourts, three strikes, “gang” enhancements, hyper-policing, and of course murder and assassination to none but a few.

It is not that Chican@ people are dimwitted and without comprehension to grasp that we are being attacked and targeted. What muddies the water is to see Chican@ or Black pigs carry out this program of “capture or destroy.” This works in the state’s interest to disguise the ONGOING onslaught on our people, that has not stopped since 1848 and before. As one long chain of oppression the state may employ Chican@ Toms and Black Uncle Toms as actors, but it is a state operation, that is: a program of white supremacy to maintain white power.

At the end of this book it’s a shame to read about Geronimo converting to Christianity to which he describes associating with Christians will “improve my character”. A warrior reduced to surrendering to the oppressor. Metaphysical thought like Christianity has not “improved” the character of the oppressed, rather, it has worked to subdue and pacify even one of the “ferocious” warriors like Geronimo. There’s even a picture of Geronimo in his Sunday best with the caption “ready for church” at the end of this book.

Republic of Aztlan

This was an interesting book that teaches one of the injustices committed by Amerikkka against indigenous peoples; but there are also lessons of how a warrior can (through the brute heel of the oppressor) become broken and surrender, and in doing so lead much of eir people into the abyss of plantation-minded Amerikan apologia. I needed to read this book at a time of extreme repression in my own life to re-energize and I think you need to read it as well. To die on the war-path for liberation . . .

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[National Oppression] [Revolutionary History] [ULK Issue 83]
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Freedom Comes From Having a Free-Dome

Chains On Mind

The minimum security prisons out there afford some freedom of movement. To the 85%er this freedom of movement, no matter how limited, is interpreted to the 85% as freedom in its totality. This is partly due to the knowledge that he doesn’t have a free-dome. So let’s now focus on freeing the dumb by giving them the correct knowledge. So far the one who isn’t “free” mentally, we’ll now explain the difference between freedom and the illusion of freedom.

True freedom means liberation. The illusion means reforms. Liberation is an exodus or a migration from the system that it springs from – slavery. Reform is an adaptation to the slave system that makes it seem that since you received a trinket, you have received freedom. The difference is based on the truth vs the illusion. The world over, there are still struggles that stem from a lack of freedom. This lack of freedom is different for those who aren’t free, I’ll explain.

You see physical freedom does not preclude mental freedom. But mental freedom can only come from a free-dome. Ask yourself this, will the person who enslaved you free you? If you look at the history, the role between captor and the captured only changes when those who were captured unchain themselves. So the question answers itself. In Amerika a so-called war for the emancipation of Blacks was fought. However, we know that Ol Abe Lincoln only freed the slaves because ey had to not because ey wanted to. In fact Texas celebrates Juneteenth because they were the last state, 2 years after everyone else, to free their slaves. The North, who wanted to industrialize Amerika, saw that the South if it had the manufacturing industries like cotton gin etc. that they could take over Amerika because of its free slave labor. So they fed on the moral factor of the slave as an incentive to fight for the cracker. But what happened after the war?

Well let’s see, vagrancy in Amerika was illegal because you couldn’t pay taxes, so whitey invented black codes and then came up with convict leasing camps for anyone who couldn’t pay taxes. Brothers were right back where they left and convict leasing led to the legislation of the 13th Amendment that put us back into slavery in the penitentiary. So are we free or were we ever free? The answer must be no.

Yesterday marked the 52nd year anniversary of the assassination of comrade George L. Jackson. George bravely gave his life to the revolution. Let’s not let his legacy die. In the spirit of George and all our other beautiful comrades, let us usher in the true freedom, not the illusion but the true freedom. First acquire knowledge of self so that you can mentally be free and then once we acquire mental freedom we can physically take back what is ours. If we don’t know what to fight for we’ll keep ending up in prison well the maximum security prison. To change that we must transform our communities from minimum security prisons to people’s collectives. Get the devil out & destroy him.

Power to the People


MIM(Prisons) responds: Peace, Comrade. We thank this comrade for covering the importance of the subjective forces with regards to the liberation of the oppressed.

We would like to comment shortly with regards to the Civil War. This comrade states that the Civil War was fought between the North and the South due to the former’s rivalry to the South and its fear that the South’s industrialization would beat the North quickly due to the latter’s chattel slavery. However, we would say that the chattel-slavery mode of production of the U.$. bourgeois dictatorship in the South was an impeding factor for the development of the productive forces (what is often called industrialization) and that the U.$. empire found out that this backward relations of productions far out-lived its usefulness and need. Not only did it keep the South in a backwards agricultural economy, it also bred the new Black nation inside the U.$. borders which would to this day remain an intense problem population for Settler-Amerika.

There are many discussions today in U.$. society of what the Civil War was over. The neo-confederate fascists obscure the line and muddy the waters by saying that the Civil War was a war over “state’s rights.” The bourgeois Liberals say that the Civil War was a war where Amerika’s democratic values were restored to the fullest and united the empire. As Marxists, we see the class forces behind these conflicts rather than the psychological state/goals of individuals participating in it. The truth is, that the chattel-slavery relations of production was more bad than good for the U.$. empire by the time the war erupted. The class forces that wanted to keep it in the South such as the landed aristocracy (i.e. family bloodline plantation owners) and the agricultural bourgeoisie (i.e. modern capitalists who operated in cotton and other various industries of agriculture) were in antagonistic contradiction against the industrial bourgeoisie of the north who was leading the development of the productive forces in the country. We tell the fascists that if there was no slavery, then there would have been no Civil War. We tell the liberals that enslaving oppressed nations for parasitic superprofits is as Amerikan as apple pie. The Civil War helped release the New Afrikan masses to become a true proletariat, selling its labor power on the market.

And as the author above alludes to, the empire continues its war against the internal semi-colonies within the United $tates as well as the oppressed nations around the world, and the only solution to this contradiction is liberation.

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[Rhymes/Poetry] [Revolutionary History] [Black August] [ULK Issue 83]
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Mi Hermano: Lost But Never Forgotten

The blackest pupils you’ve ever seen
       Es mi hermano
A man who wore his emotions on his sleeve
       Angu ndugu
i’ve only touched his finger tips
& even that violated the policy of no human contact
But it’s mi hermano …
i’ve never seen a grown man cry
That’s how I remember those blackest eyes
i literally sob at the feet of the giant
his mattress rolled up at the front of the cage
& me sitting cross-legged on the tier
it’s how I spent my hour, every hour I was ever allowed
to be out my cell.
Had to beg the officer, almost like saying yesa massah
At least that’s how I felt it to me
But at that moment there’s no place in the world
i’d rather be than with mi hermano
His enemies think they got the last laugh
& you should’ve seen how the
badges danced …
The captive told the captor that’s a captive that’s
better off dead
But it’s mi hermano & this is something i
never will forgive!
BLOODY AUGUST 2023
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[Revolutionary History] [New Afrika] [ULK Issue 82]
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Rest In Power Mutulu Shakur

Rest in Power Mutulu Shakur

Mutulu Shakur passed away on 6 July 2023, about 8 months after being released from prison. From a young age Shakur got involved in the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), and soon after became a citizen of newly founded Republic of New Afrika in 1968. Ey was a leader in the movement in eir late teens.

Shakur was a Prisoner of War for 36 years before eir release this winter. Shakur was imprisoned for the Brinks robbery case where a guard and two cops were killed. This incident is analyzed in detail in the book, False Nationalism, False Internationalism by Tani and Sera.

While in prison, Shakur spent most of eir years in torture cells. Ey was sent to the original control unit in Marion, IL for eir organizing of young New Afrikans, and was later sent to the infamous ADX prison. During this time ey also worked with step-son Tupac Shakur to develop the THUG LIFE code.(1)

Mutulu Shakur is also well-known for eir participation in the Lincoln Detox Center in New York, where ey spearheaded the practice of using acupuncture, as opposed to methodone, which the revolutionaries of Lincoln Detox saw as just hooking the people on another form of dope.(2) This history has been an inspiration to our own work, and the development of the Revolutionary 12 Step Program, which we aspire to develop into a Serve the People Program at the level that Lincoln Detox did in the early 1970s.

While Shakur continued to have an impact, as an educator, and especially through eir collaboration with Tupac, the decades spent in solitary confinement were a great loss to New Afrika and all oppressed people. There is no question that Shakur had decided to wage war against U.$. imperialism, renouncing eir citizenship at 17 years old. And the imperialists waged war against em through the prison system and the extreme isolation of the control units. This is why shutting down control units and supporting prisoners organizing against imperialism remains an integral part of the anti-imperialist struggle to this day.

This Black August, we will remember Mutulu Shakur, along with many others who gave their lives to the New Afrikan Liberation Struggle.

Notes:
1. MIM(Prisons), March 2009, Peace in the Streets, Under Lock & Key No. 7.
2. Wiawimawo, November 2017, Drugs, Money and Individualism in U.$. Prison Movement, Under Lock & Key No. 59.

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