[Hpn] memos from a mad math teacher...
Coalition on Homelessness, SF
Thu, 07 Sep 2000 23:58:48 -0700
At 9:41 PM -0700 9/7/00, Andrew Rose wrote:
>people, I know I said I wouldn't forward other people's stuff, and
>I'd give the web address for the source, but I can't find it on the
>imc site, and I really wanted to share this account. Her writing is
>immediate and clear and really helps understand the environment and
>emotions during a jail solidarity action. If you know people that
>are considering risk arrest actions that don't have experience in
>the 'system' I recommend they read this. What touched me most
>(towards the end of the note) was the interactions and connections
>with the non-demonstrator prisoners, what she says the prison system
>is really about, and her inspiring closing.
>ps. there is no homework for tomorrow, unless you're in my 6th
>period 2nd year algebra (ha ha ha ha ha ha)
>From: Jazzineva@aol.com [SMTP:Jazzineva@aol.com]
>Sent: Saturday, September 02, 2000 3:58 AM
>Subject: [mothersforjustice] Moving Personal Account by RNC Protester
>Upon reading the following article by one of the over 70 Republican
>Convention protesters arrested in a warehouse raid on Aug. 1st, I had to
>fight back tears before passing it on. Since I first learned weeks ago of
>this outrageous incident through trusted family of one of the socalled
>"puppetistas", I have followed both individual stories and news reports
>closely on police mishandling of national convention protesters last month.
>Mali's account is widely collaborated by many sources on the Net, yet
>mainstream media refuses to cover the blatant injustice of obvious civil
>rights violations that occurred by Philadelphia police at ALL.
>As a firm opponent of the death penalty all my adult life, had I had the
>opportunity to support the creative protest display of large skeleton puppets
>representing those executed in Texas since Bush took office, I would
>certainly have been in that warehouse myself. For personal health reasons, I
>wouldn't have had the gumption to participate in any planned civil
>disobedience, yet I would have been hauled off to jail regardless. I also
>wouldn't have had the strength to withhold my name in solidarity, yet I
>clearly would have been subjected to everything Mali and many others have
>described of those first harrowing days at the Roundhouse. Therefore, I feel
>obliged to alert as many people as I can of the truth in how political
>dissent is actually approached in the good old USA.
>Please forgive the length and recognize how thought-provoking and
>enlightening Mali's report is. That's why I chose it over trying to briefly
>summarize dozens of articles I've been reading myself. I hope the time comes
>soon when I can figure out the best action(s) to suggest of how those
>concerned can join in to reclaim American democracy. For now, I simply thank
>you for taking the time to become aware of how serious the national crisis of
>the justice system truly is.
>Thursday August 31, @10:14PM
>10 Days as a Political Prisoner
>Philadelphia -- On the morning of Tuesday, August 1, ordained the "Day of
>Direct Action Against the Criminal In-justice System," I showered with my Dr.
>Bronner's Peppermint Castile Soap. Castile soap is supposed to alleviate the
>effects of tear gas. It was more of a tool to feel mentally prepared than
>something I thought really necessary. I wrote on the back of my shirt,
>"Listen to Truth / (not money) / Police brutality / Death penalty /
>Victimizing the poor / do not prevent crime / they are crimes / they cause
>crime and suffering." I was low on sleep and nervous, having spent long hours
>Monday in ponderous consensus-decision-making meetings to plan the most
>direct action I'd ever been a part of.
>Many decentralized, leaderless "affinity groups" had loosely coordinated
>their efforts to make their common concerns heard through civil disobedience
>tactics such as blocking traffic during the Republican National Convention.
>We were protesting police brutality, the death penalty, and the fact that
>almost 2 million people, overwhelmingly poor people of color, are currently
>incarcerated in the United States. We demand a fair trial for death-row
>inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal, and remember Shaka Sankofa, who was recently executed
>in Texas despite conclusive new evidence of his innocence. Our protests were
>answered by forced yet educational exposure to just the system we were
>My affinity group never got to the site of our action. Tuesday afternoon we
>were milling around the old warehouse on 41st and Haverford, a large desolate
>space that had lately become infused with the inspiring and surreal clutter
>of political papier-mache puppet- and sign-making. As a center of
>funny-looking young people doing creative protest preparation, it was under
>heavy surveillance. We were getting people and supplies together to head for
>Center City when we realized around 2 PM that the warehouse was surrounded by
>police. One man got pepper-sprayed through the mail slot. We heard there were
>about 150 cops outside, but we cheered when we heard that area residents were
>heckling them in our favor. Puppet-makers had made great local ties in the
>past weeks, with kids coming in to help paint and learn about free speech,
>and neighbors even sitting in on some higher-security meetings.
>We didn't know if we should try to exit with the precious puppets, or if we'd
>be arrested. People were frantically on cell phones with the American Civil
>Liberties Union (ACLU), media, and lawyers. One lawyer managed to make it
>inside to advise us. We discussed possible scenarios, and then the radical
>cheerleaders entertained us with their witty activist cheers and one mooned
>an officer we spotted on the skylight high above. A search warrant alleging
>we possessed "weapons and elements of destruction" was reportedly on its way,
>though no one, not even the owner of the warehouse, ever saw it. We realized
>that since we'd be arrested while the warehouse was searched, we might as
>well go outside to be arrested in front of the media. With that decision, the
>big garage door lifted. Immediately behind it we first saw a row of police
>feet, and then blue pants, and then the whole swarm of media, cops,
>supporters, and voyeurs. We met them face to face and chanted, sang, and
>waved signs and symbols while one by one we stepped outside to be peacefully
>The warehouse stand-off was a big operation and the authorities had to
>justify it somehow, but the most incriminating evidence they could find was
>craft supplies/"weapons" such as chicken wire and a big puppet-carrying sling
>that was accused of being a jumbo slingshot. We'd known enough to keep
>anything that might be interpreted as illegal away from the innocent puppets
>that the authorities were itching to raid. Thus I got arrested without even
>bothering to break a law. However, that didn't deter my nine misdemeanor
>charges including "obstructing a highway" and "reckless endangerment," with
>But it was several days before we knew what we were charged with or why we
>were arrested. The first ordeal in a mass arrest is the bus ride: we were
>handcuffed and locked on a police bus for about seven hours. The heat was
>stifling. Our sweat flowed steadily and some people's hands went numb from
>the cuffs. At stoplights we chanted, "Arrested without charges!" and
>generally sought attention. Meanwhile, one of our men began to pass out.
>After he'd become total dead weight, our bus drivers reluctantly answered our
>demands for medical attention and came to pull him off the bus. They shoved
>back a woman who tried to hold up his head, yet he was very heavy and didn't
>fit well through the aisles. Somehow they got him out and put him on his back
>on a stretcher with his hands still bound underneath all his weight. That
>hurt to see.
>After hours of making exhaustive demands, we were given a sip of water. But
>thankfully, it started raining while we were parked at the Roundhouse jail
>waiting to be dealt with. We stuck our fingers out the cracked windows and
>let water run down our arms so that we could drink and wet our heads under
>streams coming off each other's elbows. Near the end of the bus stay, we got
>some more substantial water and found a tool to take off the plastic
>We were ready to practice "jail solidarity," in which arrested activists who
>don't need to get out right away join together and refuse to give their
>names; thus most of us were Jane/John Doe's, which makes us difficult to
>process. And we each had an "action name" (like Flea or Star or Rice) that we
>used in communicating with each other and our legal team so that our
>supporters could keep track of us, deal with emergencies, and pass messages
>without having to reveal our real names. The goal is to have a unified group
>that has leverage in making demands to the district attorney, while not
>allowing anyone to be individually victimized. We demanded that no one be
>separated from our group, that we be released with our charges dropped, and
>that we get basic needs like food, medical attention, and bathroom use
>Working together as equals is important because individuals seen as
>"ringleaders" always get singled out and slapped with ridiculous felony
>charges. Incidents like putting a hand out when a cop's bike hits you can
>easily be construed as assaulting an officer. John Sellers of the Ruckus
>Society was arrested merely while talking on his cell phone in the street,
>with charges such as conspiracy and possessing an instrument of crime (the
>phone). His bail was set at $1,000,000, which is unprecedented for
>non-violent incidents. So even if my own charges were easier to get out of, I
>had to stand by my "felon" comrades, who were no different than me except
>that they may have been more visibly involved in the movement.
>Around 1 AM, once placed in a holding cell at the Roundhouse with pay phones,
>water, and about 30 other activists who shared great stories from the day, I
>was in good spirits for a while. Many traffic blockades at strategic
>intersections had held for hours, and oftentimes the swarms of media were a
>blockade in themselves. My cellmate Imani described how exuberant her group
>from the New York International Action Center (IAC) was, running through
>traffic from blockade to blockade or surrounding Republican buses with signs
>and shouts, an empowering departure from many protests where participants are
>afraid of getting arrested for merely stepping off the curb. Imani, who is
>black, thought the Republicans were particularly hesitant to have police
>confronting people of color during the convention, since race is a touchy
>issue for them.
>A drawback to the demonstrations was that, while they drew attention quite a
>bit of attention, their message, the whole point of the direct action, wasn't
>as clear as was hoped since the police had raided the puppet warehouse. They
>had confiscated important implements of free speech along with many of the
>people, not planning to risk arrest, whose job it was to convey what we meant
>by "criminal injustice system." And then the mainstream media, while
>consistently perpetuating an image of protesters as intent only on causing
>chaos and violence, criticizes us for having a muddled message.
>About 420 protesters were arrested Tuesday. Except for my companions and I in
>the holding cell, prisoners at the Roundhouse were kept in small cells in
>rows of 14 per cell block. Other arrestees were held a few nights at the
>notorious dungeon-like Holmesburg prison, condemned in 1995 but re-opened
>especially for protesters.
>My mood in the Roundhouse sobered up as the night went on. The night shift
>guards tended to be the most sadistic; women from the cell block later
>recalled guessing what time it was according to how many people were hog-tied
>or hobbled. Since you can't be arraigned if you're naked, many prisoners
>resisted the system by stripping and going limp when guards came to take them
>somewhere. The holding cell had windows onto the area where people were
>finger-printed and photographed, and we saw our brothers and sisters dragged
>around naked. The guards didn't like non-compliance too much. Imani made some
>good points about racial dynamics: most of the guards were black, most of us
>were white, and we were coming into their "house" but not obeying its rules.
>She thought many of the guards were just as humiliated as the prisoners who
>stripped, offended by having to deal with our nudity.
>The morning shift officers were better. They would come in and relieve
>prisoners who had been tightly bound ankle-to-wrist for hours. One of them
>explained, "Things change from point A to point B, depending on the officer
>and what kind of hard-on he has for you."
>We got 300-calorie meals of cheese sandwiches and fake iced tea about twice a
>day. Some people started a hunger strike right away, to be in solidarity with
>vegans who couldn't eat that food, or to use as a bargaining tactic. Others
>thought that tactic should be saved for later.
>Whether or not our solidarity was powerful, our smell was. Some people, busy
>with preparations and lacking convenient living accomodations, probably
>hadn't showered for days; in any case, we'd been drenched with sweat after
>the bus experience and then crowded together in jail with no hygienic
>facilities. Our own stink didn't bother us so much, but the guards were
>burning incense and spraying air freshener. I find that in jail where
>everything is taken from you, with no tools to work with, ordinarily pesky
>bodily functions tend to take on potential as tools of resistance.
>The holding cell didn't have a toilet, so occasionally we had to be let out
>and taken to the women's cell block. They had us use the toilet in Uncle
>Mike's cell. Since she was otherwise in isolation, it seemed nice that she
>got us as visitors, even if we just chatted while peeing. After a while,
>though, I think it got to be cruel to have this constant stream of people
>exercising their bodily functions in front of her. But this somewhat peculiar
>scenario was instrumental in our information dissemination; we had contact
>with the outside world through our holding cell phones, and we exchanged
>information with the women's cell block through Uncle Mike. The women also
>could pass messages to the men if they cooperated and chanted loudly.
>After a day or two of being detained, I must have been a little delirious
>from lack of sleep. It's easy to lose track of time under constant
>fluorescent light. I can't keep straight what happened when. Sometimes we
>would hear distant chanting from the men's cell block and want to help, but
>we didn't know what was happening. Rumor control is a problem. One time we
>heard a single clear cry of, "Stop the torture!" Over-tired and stressed, I
>got to a state where everything made me choke up. Half the time I wanted to
>cry after hearing something beautiful about all the support we had outside,
>and the other half from fear and frustration.
>I was arraigned Thursday morning, and kept for a few hours in a stuffy little
>room where my two cellmates, good people but not meeting under the best of
>circumstances, screamed at each other. We heard yelling down the hall and
>didn't know what kind of chaos was occuring; our guards seemed to have lost
>us in the general turmoil. We pounded on the door. Under these circumstances
>where everyone was pushed to their limits, I kept thinking, "This is so
>interesting," and wondering how I could write about it all. Finally I was
>taken to the cell block where the majority of the women were. They were
>approximately 5' by 7' cells with a toilet, sink, and metal ledge where a
>mattress would go. We had up to nine women in my cell. We'd be defecating
>with someone literally at our knee. We curled up together beside the toilet
>on the hard floor with our rank shoes as pillows. I began to feel one with
>dirt and didn't let it bother me. A girl who had just come from Holmesburg
>prison seemed glad to just have a safe toilet to sleep under.
>One of my companions in that cell had an untreated concussion from getting
>her head slammed in the police bus door; she was merely told not to sleep.
>But after days of extremely cramped conditions, having left only once to use
>the phone directly across the hall, she was stir-crazy and we had great fun
>telling stupid jokes and making fun of our own decision-making process.
>"Okay, each cell one at a time, we need to get a count of how many people
>have eaten raisins from Zimbabwe! Then we'll pass it on to the boys!" You had
>to be there, I suppose. When we were serious we managed to keep track of our
>numbers and how many had been arraigned.
>We actually had meetings in that cell block. We could reach out our bars to
>touch someone's hand from the next cell, and we could yell at the top of our
>lungs to get most of the other cells to hear us. Sometimes we were able to
>facilitate semi-orderly collective decision-making, but often meetings
>descended into chaotic shouting, with some people pleadingly and
>counter-productively yelling for a few minutes of silence. Sometimes chants
>like, "Women are strong!" came from the men. We answered with "Men are
>strong!" but then changed it to "Men are gentle!" There was also lots of
>singing of "Solidarity Forever," which I got very tired of; the best song we
>sang to support each other was "Lean on Me."
>Thursday August 3, at 10 PM, our whole cell block managed to unite with the
>men to all flush our toilets at the same time as George W. Bush was coronated
>at the RNC.
>Once a woman in cell 11 had a breakdown and broke her hand slamming it
>against the wall. It was pretty impossible to decide whether to demand
>medical attention for her by chanting, or if it would be better to be less
>rambunctious and try to reason with the guards. But eventually she was taken
>away to get some kind of inadequate treatment. I'm surprised at how
>threatening rape that we knew we were actually going to a much better place,
>and the more egregious their lies, the more they were scared of us. I always
>look police officers in the eye, and I particularly had fun with Curry. I
>stared him down easily about five times. That was a victorious episode, for
>even though Curry had me shackled, this big white man could not withstand my
>gaze and I could tell we both knew it. I valued my free mind over a free body.
>At PICC, we finally got hot food, beds, showers, and orange jumpsuits, though
>not before making an unfortunate pregnant woman who was in a holding cell
>with us throw up apparently from the smell. In these more humane living
>conditions, my condition at the Roundhouse seemed animalistic. They might as
>well have thrown down straw for us; it would have been more comfortable.
>After a couple days at PICC I was held a few nights with other Jane Doe's at
>a low-security facility with trailers full of beds. It was surrounded by
>razor wire and a high stone wall with towers that made me think of chain
>gangs. We still had plenty of frustrations there, but at times it was a
>little reminiscent of a slumber party or summer camp. At least we were able
>to talk freely within a group and determine our demands, record stories, and
>write editorials. One of our lawyers came to talk to us, and though he was
>usually straightforward and composed, out of the blue he started crying. He
>said we were national heroes and an inspiration. We had some good talks with
>our guards there, who had lots of misconceptions about us (as we may have
>about them). One said something about, "When all your parents get back from
>France and Spain?" She also said she'd been watching some protests and saw
>undercover cops throughout the crowd who couldn't get the chants right.
>It's easy to get a spy mentality when one sees how invasive undercover agents
>are, but being suspicious of any newcomers who may not have quite the right
>look also damages the growth of the movement. I almost got kicked out of an
>important meeting because I said I was with the media since I'm writing this
>article. But some supposedly union guys who helped for days building a float
>turned out to be cops, and one even drove a van for some protesters. Suddenly
>he was gone when they got arrested. We laughed about the costumes of some
>obvious undercovers; one had red, white, and blue extension dreadlocks.
>The best time of my 10-day jail stay was the last three nights, in
>Alternative and Special Detention (ASD). We had extensive contact with the
>general prison population there, which was wonderful. Those women treated us
>like heroes, giving us more cookies than we could eat and asking lots of
>questions. A vital part of the jail experience was hearing their stories.
>Many inmates said that they got treated better with the Jane Doe's there;
>usually the COs treated them "like dogs." Yet there were cheesy
>guidance-counselor-type motivational posters around the room where we ate.
>The official objective of the Philadelphia Prison System is to rehabilitate
>people, yet that's a farce when officers don't even take the basic step of
>treating inmates like humans. Most of them were in on drug charges or
>generally caught in the cumbersome slowness of the system. Many had families.
>None were intimidating to us. They were the only people we encountered in
>jail who consistently treated us with love and could give us a straight
>answer about how anything worked. They understood that we were out there
>fighting for them, and didn't resent that we had better access to lawyers and
>media than them; inmates and officers alike told us that we'd made our point
>and we should get out of jail while we could and go be a lawyer.
>Sexuality in ASD was interesting and amusing. A lot of women, if not gay
>anyway, were "gay for the stay." Lesbianism was quite open, though supposedly
>sexual activity was almost as serious an offense in jail as inciting a riot.
>Our first night in ASD, the CO warned the inmates in explicit, creative terms
>that no matter how good us new women looked, we were not to be touched.
>We had plenty of time outside at ASD, playing volleyball and basketball. We
>were able to watch TV and laugh about the fabrications in the news about us.
>We wore blue uniforms and showered a lot, for the inmates seemed to be
>sensitive about anyone who smelled. When I left, the women I'd met drew a
>heart chained to prison bars on my jail-issue t-shirt and signed their names
>with comments such as "thanks for sticking your neck out for us."
>After 10 days in jail, constantly re-evaluating the effectiveness of jail
>solidarity, a group of us decided to give our names to get out on sign-on
>bond, which meant we didn't have to pay our bail. About 30 Jane and John
>Doe's were released on Friday, August 11 and held a press conference. Our
>tactics now shift to "court solidarity." It's probably still being worked out
>what exactly that means, but about 70 lawyers from across the country are
>mobilizing around our cases. Their outcomes will determine how chilling of an
>effect Philadelphia's hard-line, unconstitutional reponse to protest has on
>demonstrations to come.
>My main impression of my experience with the criminal "justice" system is
>that it is based on intimidation, lies, and incompetence. Even if we tried to
>work within the system, we constantly received blatantly contradictory
>information, and written policies were completely disregarded. Lame excuses
>were offered for denying us our rights, such as not being able to get our
>phone-use codes processed because the computers were down. Threatening lies
>as well as brutality or forcing us to witness brutality are clearly meant to
>intimidate people like us out of exercising our first amendment rights.
>Incompetence persisted until the very end when I had trouble retrieving the
>portion of my personal belongings that hadn't already been trashed, even
>though I knew exactly where they were.
>Though parts of the system are disorganized rather than outright evil,
>unworkable confusion is one of its cornerstones. Though much brutality is
>initiated by individually cruel people, these people are a deliberate part of
>a larger system that not only smooths over brutality, but actually promotes
>the militarization and disregard for humanity of the police force. Yet human
>nature doesn't want to acknowledge injustice, and tends to settle for a
>shameful, broken system because, after all, someone has to catch the
>murderers and rapists. I don't think that's an excuse for all the resources
>wasted on ineffective, damaging policies towards the predominantly
>non-violent prison population.
>It's no wonder that those involved in direct action are predominantly young
>and white. Youthful vitality can better withstand jail, and the poor, people
>of color, and queer people are more vulnerable in jail. What this experience
>did was show hard realities to a lot of relatively privileged people who
>don't usually directly suffer from police brutality. We looked at what we
>suffered even while possessing a solid legal team, media attention, and the
>comfort of hundreds of fellow activists, and wondered how much worse it is
>for the average inmate with much less resources.
>I think of the power this experience has given the hundreds of us who went
>through it together. I learned so much and grew stronger and gained reasons
>for my convictions on a personal level, and that is multiplied by 420 people.
>Suffering for a cause and surviving it makes a person all the more committed.
>It's not going to scare away a movement. Throughout it all, I was glad to be
>witnessing inside, rather than outside just reading urgent e-mails about the
>situation. And I was very proud to be a small part of a movement following in
>the steps of historic struggles like the civil rights movement, the ugly
>parts of which get glossed over these days.
>I've decided that getting arrested for civil disobedience is like having a
>baby. While it's happening, it's really rough; you don't ever want to go
>through it again. But afterwards, looking back on it, you remember the
>beautiful, powerful moments, and the good that came of it, and you work up
>enough amnesia about the bad parts that you'll put yourself on the line again
>and again. And so the species is perpetuated / justice slowly gains ground.
## END FORWARD ##
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