Writings

When Vengeance Trumps Justice

On October 30, 2013 in the case of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. lan Cunningham, in one stroke the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's right wing justices created a class of political prisoners within the state's prison population by denying retroactive parole relief to prisoners who were juveniles when sentenced to mandatory sentences of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole (LWOP) – sentences that the United States Supreme Court abolished as unconstitutional in 2012. The ominous signs were on the horizon when the six sitting justices deadlocked 3 – 3 along party/ideological lines and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, a conservative, appointed a fellow conservative, Judge Stevens, to the Court to cast the deciding vote. Justice Stevens, as expected, delivered for his gang and in doing so Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court disregarded the precedent of three prior US Supreme Court decisions in Roper, Graham and Miller that established juveniles are different from adults when it comes to imposing society’s harshest punishments and should be afforded greater protections from the one size fits all mandatory sentences that have proliferated in the hysterical “Tough on Crime” era of mass imprisonment.

Statement by Robert Saleem Holbrook regarding PA Supreme Court Denial of Retroactive Relief of Miller v. Alabama

Commonwealth v. Cunningham - Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied relief to children sentenced to life without parole in a ruling issued on October 30, 2013.

Re: Statement by Robert Saleem Holbrook regarding PA Supreme Court Denial of Retroactive Relief of Miller v. Alabama

Standing our Ground for Trayvon

Almost 50 years ago, in 1996, in Oakland, California as a response to the deliberate murder of unarmed African Americans by a racist and corrupt police department, Huey P Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party For Self Defense. In a dramatic gesture, Newton and Seale posed with weapons cocked and ammunition draped around their shoulders looking like “Ghetto Outlaws” while announcing the creation of the Party to protect the Black community from police officers who murdered Black people with impunity and that henceforth when confronted by racist police officers they will “Stand their Ground” and defend themselves and their communities. Often overlooked in the sensationalism that surrounds the Panthers is that the firearms they carried were legally purchased by Newton and Seale and they were within their Second Amendment rights to openly display them and stand their ground.

The Jackson Plan: Lessons from Jackson, Mississippi

After the election of Obama to the presidency of the United States in 2008, Stanley Crouch, a Black columnist who serves as a ventriloquist for the arch conservative movement within Republican party circles announced that the election of Obama, a Blackman, to the presidency of the United States crushed the legacy of Malcolm X’s militant and revolutionary Black nationalism under the heel of good old fashioned Americanism.  However just as enemies and opponents of the Black Liberation Movement were signaling its death and assignment to irrelevancy within the Black   politic, like the mythical bird Phoenix, the Black Liberation Movement has risen from the ashes of its alleged obsolescence and raised its clenched fists Black Power! banner of defiance and victory in one of the main bastions of conservative White America.  In Jackson, Mississippi one of the most significant projects in the contemporary history of the Black Liberation Movement is transpiring as Chokwe Lumumba, a veteran of the Black Liberation and New African Independence Movements was elected mayor of Jackson on June 2, 2013.  Jackson is the capital of Mississippi and is a city that is over 85% Black.  If the election of Obama to the presidency of the United States constituted the alleged end of the Black Liberation Movement, the election of Chokwe Lumumba must then represent its resurrection.

Assata Shakur Is A Freedom Fighter, Not A Terrorist

The inclusion of Assata Shakur, a former member of the Black Liberation Army, on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted Terrorists list last month marking twenty nine years since her liberation from a New Jersey maximum security prison in 1979 by members of the Black Liberation Army, while aimed at Cuba's leadership should also be interpreted as a shot across the bow of any internal revolutionary movement or revolutionary activists in the United States that dares challenge Empires mad march across the planet. 

Censorship on the Prison Plantation: Extinguishing Dissent

By Robert Saleem Holbrook

“We have as far as possible, closed every avenue by which light may enter the slave’s mind. If we could extinguish the capacity to see the light, our work would be complete: they [enslaved Africans] would then be on a level with the beast of the field and we would be safe.”

~ Henry Brown, Virginia House of Delegates, 1832
[speaking in favor of a law against the education for slaves]

The above words were spoken on the floor of the Virginia House of Delegates in 1832 in support of legislation that would make it a crime for anyone to be caught teaching slaves how to read. The legislation was introduced following the 1831 slave rebellion led by Nat Turner in Southhampton, Virginia and was one of the earliest open demonstrations of the state’s fear of slaves using education as a means of liberating themselves from the tyranny of slavery. The impetus for the legislation was the discovery that evidence had surfaced that Nat Turner’s rebellion in 1831 and Denmark Vesey’s rebellion in South Carolina in 1822 were inspired after reading about how slaves on the island of Haiti had risen up and seized their freedom and independence in 1804. To try and prevent future rebellions, slavery states in the South enacted laws that sought to prevent slaves from being educated and also embarked on widespread censorship of the press, ensuring that slaves and antislavery advocates were not exposed to inflammatory material that might inspire rebellion on the plantations.

Mandatory Life Without Parole for Juvenile Offenders Abolished: The Fight Continues

By Robert Saleem Holbrook and Dr. Kristi Brian

The movements struggling for the abolition of prisons received a much needed glimpse of optimism on June 25, 2012 when the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs finally struck down mandatory life without parole sentences for juvenile offenders. This long-awaited first step towards the elimination of one of the most unforgiving tendencies of mass imprisonment has created a hopeful stir. Yet in Pennsylvania, which has more juvenile lifers than any other state, much has yet to be determined. There still exists a vocal and aggressive opposition comprised of vengeance-driven right wing victim rights advocates and “law and order” politicians who are afraid of being labeled soft on criminals. As a result, they vow to maintain the sentence in spirit by attempting to deny the retroactive application of the ruling to the hundreds of juvenile lifers in Pennsylvania and seek to enact draconian sentences that would require juveniles to serve a minimum of 40 years in prison before being considered for parole.

CONTINUING LEGACIES OF RESISTANCE:

Supporting Politicized Prisoners

When I first entered the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and during many of my journeys throughout its Restrictive Housing Units (a.k.a. “hole”) in various maximum security prisons, I had the fortune to directly or indirectly come in contact with a couple of the Black Liberation Army and Black Panther Political Prisoners buried within the Department’s holes in isolation from the rest of the prisoner population. As a juvenile entering Pennsylvania’s state prison system in 1991, I was completely ignorant to the reality of Political Prisoners in the United States, much less in Pennsylvania. Upon coming into contact with them, either directly or indirectly, I quickly learned why the state isolated these men (and women) from the prison’s general population. It wasn’t the men that the prison administrators feared; it was their example on other prisoners and their ability to lead by virtue of that very example. Youth that were in rebellion against everyone and everything would stand at their doors in silence while in the hole, listening to Russell Maroon Shoats or Joseph Jojo Bowen (just to name a few of the many) articulate a language and example of rebellion that we could relate to and that not only caused us to question our own actions, which were self-destructive, but also caused us to question the government’s actions which turned out to be just as unjust and corrupt as we were.

The Green Scare: The New McCarthyism In Imperial America

by Robert Saleem Holbrook

In the 1950‘s and 60s the United States citizens were caught up in a political climate that was dominated by fears of internal communists working in concert, as fifth columnists, with Communist Bloc countries to undermine the American way of life and overthrow the government of the United States. This political climate, in part was generated by an ambitious and unscrupulous US. Senator named Joseph McCarthy who used his position as a Senator to launch dubious investigations and Senate Committee hearings to destroy the lives and reputations of countless U.S. citizens falsely labeled "communist infiltrators" or communist extremists and sympathizers. Today this dark period in the history of the United States is referred to as "The Red Scare“ and the Senator's name has entered the American political lexicon as synonymous with political repression (McCarthyism).

Where's The Color in Occupy?

Some Ideas For inclusiveness

by Robert Saleem Holbrook

Twelve years ago, in the aftermath of the “Battle of Seattle" and the resurgence of the antiglobalization movement that followed it, commenting on the lack of participation by activists of color, longtime community activist Elizabeth Betita Martinez wrote an article entitled "Where Was The Color in Seattle: Looking For Reasons Why the Great Battle Was So White". It seems as though that same question can be asked today about the Occupation Movement that while capturing the attention and participation of white activists and people has failed thus far to generate more participation by activists and people of color. Many activists, of all races have asked the question why? Many activists have chosen to ignore it because race, especially in the "post-race America" of President Barak Obama, is always an uncomfortable issue to address and often serves as a stumbling block preventing coalitions around issues that on the surface are agreeable and important to all communities, ethnic groups and races. This is not an article of finger pointing or identifying responsibility for the lack of overall participation of activists and people of color in the Occupation Movement but rather is a primer, hoping to serve as a bridge that will help enlarge the coalition of people and ideas that represents the Occupation Movement. As Occupy Philly recharges itself for new movement in the sphere of protest and civil disobedience I share some thoughts on how more people of color may be added to its ranks and assemblies.

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