Heal Your Inauguration Blues!

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The Counted

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Korryn Davies, 23, now among The Counted

In memory of Korryn Gaines, who was killed today in front of her 5 year old son by Baltimore police, please take a moment and look at The Counted. Published by The GuardianThe Counted is an online database of people killed by police in the U.S. It appears Korryn Gaines will be number 631 in 2016.

The police officers involved attempted to arrest Korryn for failing to appear in court to answer nonviolent traffic charges.

Central Park Five

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On the morning of April 19, 1989, five Black and Latino teens were arrested when the body of a White female, later identified as Trisha Melli, was found unconscious, beaten and raped in Central Park. Three youth were initially arrested: Salaam, 15, Santana, 14, and McCray, 15, interrogated and held at the Central Park Precinct for the night, without their parents or attorney. The two others Richardson, 14, and Wise, 16, were also later arrested, interrogated and coerced by the police officers into confessions. All of them were convicted with sentences which ranged from six and a half years for the juveniles for rape and robbery, to eleven and a half years for Wise, eldest at 16, who was convicted as an adult for sexual assault, first-degree assault, first-degree riot and sent to Riker’s Island to fulfill his sentence.
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Black Resistance Screening List: “Shoot The Messenger”

Still from "Shoot The Messenger" Film. Photo Courtesy of BBC

Watch “Shoot The Messenger” Film

Shoot the Messenger is a BBC film written by Sharon Foster and directed by Ngozi Onwurah. The film aired in 2006, receiving a mixed reception. The film is an extremely provocative story that follows a young Black man in his own experience with racial self-hatred. It is clear that the filmmakers consider negative stereotypes a realistic hurdle to be crossed and shamelessly embrace them. However, if the satirically negative outlook of the film can be tolerated, there may be some worthwhile messages to absorb, including an analysis of the prison system in the U.K. and its treatment of Black citizens.

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Review – Melissa Higgins’ The Night Dad Went to Jail, What to Expect When Someone You Love Goes to Jail

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Melissa Higgins’ The Night My Daddy Went to Jail, What to Expect When Someone You Love Goes to Jail is a children’s book that tells the story of a young bunny nicknamed Sketch.  Sketch is a young boy whose father, whom he loves deeply, is taken to jail and sentenced to six years in prison.  Sketch must deal with the painful reality of witnessing his parent being taken away in handcuffs, dealing with peers mocking his pain and a major change in his family dynamic.  Higgins uses a book full of colorful pictures to explain the steps that a child goes through when their parent has gone through prison.  The book covers most topics (arrests, social workers, bullying, visiting prison, etc.) as honestly as possible while remaining sensitive to the age of the reader.  While using a bunny to remain neutral to race and ethnicity, it also helps the child empathize with a character that they can relate to in the form of fantasy.

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Lessons from the Challenging Punishment Conference

Photo Courtesy of Claudie Mabry

Photo Courtesy of Claudie Mabry

On October 5th, Progressive Pupil had the opportunity to attend the Challenging Punishment: Race, the People’s Health and the War on Drugs conference, sponsored by the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University and held at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. Scholars and advocates from around the country were invited to participate in the discussion. Topics ranged from public health, to the anatomy of the War on Drugs, to building and fortifying communities and families, to the arts and cultural production confronting mass incarceration. The conference also gathered individuals from a wide array of disciplines, including non-profit management, sociology, anthropology and the humanities. Progressive Pupil left the conference with some strong takeaways and crucial background information:

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Glossary: Political Prisoners

Image courtesy of ActNow Australia

Image courtesy of ActNow Australia

The term “political prisoner” is not easy to define. The category is contested, and there is a lack of global consensus about who qualifies as a political prisoner. For some, the term may convey a special status which necessitates immediate release. For others, political prisoners may include those who have undertaken acts of treason or espionage, which warrant harsh punishment. Still others take the definition to include acts of violence committed for political reasons or in support of a cause. The conflicted nature of issues surrounding political prisoners is represented in the old adage: “One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter.” Citizens convicted of participating in armed resistance may be designated as political prisoners by comrades and supporters, but considered criminals by the government.

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The Attica Rebellion

The Attica Rebellion of September 1971 was a pivotal moment in U.S. history and had a significant impact on the evolution of prison reform. The uprising at Attica Prison also highlighted the power of collective organizing and demonstrated the agency that even the most marginalized people possess. The rebellion, which involved nearly 1200 people, was prompted by many factors, most notably the murder of George Jackson in California and the brutal treatment of prisoners by Attica guards.

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Inmates at Attica State Prison raise their fists in a show of unity during the Attica uprising. Photo courtesy of the Associated Press.

After forcibly taking over the facility, prisoners drafted a list of demands, including: improved living conditions, access to medical care, suitable food and clothing, and humane, non-discriminatory, non-abusive treatment by prison guards. The state of New York, led by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, refused to meet these demands. The uprising ended in tragedy when the national guard entered the penitentiary and killed 29 prisoners and 10 guards. Today, the Attica Rebellion remains an important frame of reference for examining the problems within prisons and the larger structural issues within society which produce prisons. Finally, the events at Attica are a reminder of the humanity of all people, including those demonized by the media and powerful government officials.

By Odia Barker

San Quentin, May You Rot in Hell

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Johnny Cash gives the finger while performing a concert at San Quentin State Prison. Photo by Jim Marshall.

In February 1969, prisoners in San Quentin State Prison cheered while treated to a live concert by the man in black. Johnny Cash, with his characteristic bravado, brazenly declared, “San Quentin, may you rot in Hell.” One of the prisoners recalled of the performance: “He had the right attitude. He chewed gum, looked arrogant and flipped the bird to the guards—he did everything the prisoners wanted to do. He was a mean mother from the South who was there because he loved us. When he walked away, everyone in that place had become a Johnny Cash fan.” The performance was memorialized by a U.K. film crew and became a feature-length documentary. Cash was not new to concerts behind bars; he had been playing in prisons for years, most famously at Folsom Prison. However, this time, Cash performed songs specifically written for prisoners, including the title track “San Quentin” and “Wanted Man,” co-written by Bob Dylan. When Cash took the stage, his audience consisted of men designated as dangerous criminals. Most were poor and White, with many serving life sentences or awaiting execution. San Quentin has not surrendered its infamous reputation, and it remains the “most populous antechamber in the U.S.”

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The House I Live In

Image courtesy of thehouseIlivein.org

Image courtesy of thehouseIlivein.org

According to the Oxford Dictionary, cognitive dissonance is the “state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs or attitudes, especially related to behavioral decisions and attitude change.” It occurs on a number of levels, both individually and societally. Social worker and clinical psychologist Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary says that one example of this phenomenon in the United States is how society has attempted to reconcile its ideals of equality and justice with its harsh, dehumanizing treatment of people of color.

Watching Eugene Jarecki’s honest and personal documentary The House I Live In, a 2012 film that chronicles the U.S.’s “War on Drugs,” brought to mind this concept. In the movie, historian and professor Richard Lawrence Miller ties the history of drug laws to racist attempts by White elites to reduce the number of people of color represented in different regional workforces because of a perceived threat to White job security. Given this information, why hasn’t the U.S. government reevaluated its entire criminal justice system? Racially based discrimination is imbedded in drug laws. Anti-opium, anti-marijuana and anti-cocaine laws were all targeted at punishing and excluding people of Chinese, Mexican and African descent, respectively. This history should warrant a wholesale restructuring of U.S. institutions and a deliberate effort to undue entrenched racism.

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