You are browsing the archive for feminism.

Russell ‘Maroon’ Shoatz Files Lawsuit Protesting 22 Consecutive Years in Solitary

1:02 pm in Uncategorized by Angola 3 News

An interview with Dan Kovalik and Bret Grote

By Angola 3 News

A prisoner in leg shackles.

For how much longer will 'Maroon' Shoatz be held in solitary?

Earlier this week, on Wednesday, May 8, lawyers for Russell ‘Maroon’ Shoatz filed a federal lawsuit regarding his placement in solitary confinement for over 22 consecutive years. The written complaint, directed at Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel and the Superintendents of SCI-Greene, where Shoatz was last held, and SCI-Mahanoy, where he was transferred to on March 28, 2013, states that this “is an action for injunctive, declaratory and monetary relief for violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.”

Last month, when a 30-day action campaign was launched calling for Russell ‘Maroon’ Shoatz’s immediate release from solitary confinement, the campaign promised to file this litigation if Maroon had not been transferred into general population by the morning of May 8. On Thursday, May 9 the lawsuit was announced at a press conference was held in Pittsburgh, outside the City-County Building.

An update released on May 1 argues that the campaign “can already claim a victory” because “Maroon’s case and his work has received more attention over the past month that at any time during his incarceration.” One new article about Maroon was published by Solitary Watch and co-authored by Kanya D’Almeida and Bret Grote, who is also interviewed below. D’Almeida and Grote write that maroon’s “only time in the general prison population in the last 30 years was an 18-month stint spent at the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth that ended in 1991.” Furthermore, they note that Maroon has had only one violation since 1989 and “his most recent violation was in 1999, when he covered a vent in his cell that was blowing cold air in an attempt to stay warm.” 

Underscoring their argument that Maroon’s confinement is politically motivated, they write that “in 1982 he was released into the general prison population at the State Correctional Institution (SCI) Pittsburgh. Upon return to the general population Maroon became involved with the Pennsylvania Association of Lifers (PAL), a prison-approved organization that was supposed to further the interests of life-sentenced prisoners… Maroon’s reputation and the respect other prisoners had for him led to a dramatic increase in participation in the PAL. More than 100 prisoners would attend meetings in the early part of 1983. On the night that the old leadership was impeached and Maroon appointed interim president pending new elections, he and other new leaders of the PAL were placed in solitary confinement. The others were eventually released from solitary. Maroon remains in isolation to this day.” 

Other recent media coverage includes a new interview with Maroon, published by New Clear Vision, and conducted by Vanderbilt University Philosophy Professor Lisa Guenther. “Ironically,” Maroon writes in the interview, “the segment of the population that presently has the most potential to effect change in the PIC is those who usually have no direct — bodily — connection to this system. That is the taxpayers among the ninety nine percent. Without their massive yearly outlays of billions in taxes (taxes they’ve been bamboozled into believing serve a good purpose, but instead serve [to] keep active a police state machine) the whole house of cards would collapse!”

Last month, in part one of our report on Russell ‘Maroon’ Shoatz, we interviewed activist Matt Meyer and Maroon’s daughter, Theresa Shoatz. Here in part two, we interview activist Bret Grote and Maroon’s lawyer Dan Kovalik, taking a closer look at the lawsuit filed on May 8, the broader use of litigation to confront human rights abuses in US prisons, and the political economy of what Grote identifies as the ‘imperial police state.’ 

Daniel Kovalik is a labor and human rights lawyer living in Pittsburgh. He was counsel for Maroon in his first federal case challenging his solitary confinement.

Bret Grote is an organizer with the Human Rights Coalition, the Executive Director of the newly founded Abolitionist Law Center, and a member of the legal team for Russell Maroon Shoatz.

Angola 3 News:  An April 15 update reported on Maroon’s transfer from SCI-Greene to SCI-Mahanoy and accompanying statements from Secretary Wetzel that he was moved for the purpose of eventually being transferred into general population, where he will then, among other things, be able to physically embrace family and friends during visits. Have there been any more developments since the April 15 update?

Dan Kovalik:  Yes, on May 2, Maroon was told that he would be released to general population within 90 days of his coming to SCI-Mahanoy, which was March 29. Therefore, if all goes well, and with continued pressure, Maroon could be in the general population by July.

A3N:   At this point, following the 30-day campaign, how can our readers most effectively offer their support?

DK:     We believe that continued calls and letter writing to Secretary Wetzel, as well as letters to the editors of local Pennsylvania newspapers could help to ensure that Maroon is finally released into the general population.

A3N:   How have authorities officially justified keeping Maroon in solitary confinement all these years?

Read the rest of this entry →

Why Russell ‘Maroon’ Shoatz Must Be Released From Solitary Confinement

9:31 pm in Uncategorized by Angola 3 News

–An interview with Theresa Shoatz and Matt Meyer

This month, a 30-day action campaign was launched demanding the release of Russell ‘Maroon’ Shoatz from solitary confinement, where he has been held for over 23 consecutive years, and 28 of the last 30 years, in Pennsylvania prisons. On April 8, when the campaign began, Maroon’s legal team sent a letter to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC), demanding his release from solitary confinement and promising litigation against the PA DOC if he is not transferred to general population by May 8.

The action campaign describes Maroon as “a former leader of the Black Panthers and the Black freedom movement, born in Philadelphia in 1943 and originally imprisoned in January 1972 for actions relating to his political involvement. With an extraordinary thirty-plus years spent in solitary confinement…Maroon’s case is one of the most shocking examples of U.S. torture of political prisoners, and one of the most egregious examples of human rights violations regarding prison conditions anywhere in the world. His ‘Maroon’ nickname is, in part, due to his continued resistance—which twice led him to escape confinement; it is also based on his continued clear analysis, including recent writings on ecology and matriarchy.”

Writing that Maroon “has not had a serious rule violation for more than two decades,” the campaign argues that he has actually been “targeted because of his work as an educator and because of his political ideas; his time in solitary began just after he was elected president of an officially-sanctioned prison-based support group. This targeting is in violation of his basic human and constitutional rights.”

On March 28, just before the campaign was launched, Maroon was transferred from SCI-Greene to SCI-Mahanoy  An update released by the campaign on April 15 reported that Maroon had been told by officials at SCI-Mahanoy that he had been transferred there with intent to move him into general population. Responding to the news, campaign co-coordinator Matt Meyer (also interviewed below) said: “We are encouraged by the words of the officials at Mahanoy, but we cannot rest until those words are followed by deeds: by the ultimate action which will end the current torture of Maroon.” Bret Grote, from the Pittsburgh Human Rights Coalition, who is himself a longtime legal and political supporter of Shoatz, added that, “while we are pleased that some of the concerns raised by the demand letter have been met,” including Maroon’s “access to his anti-embolism stockings and to a typewriter, we remain concerned that the timeline for release from solitary has been left vague.”

The April 15 update also reports that “the assistants at the office of PA DOC Secretary John Wetzel have confirmed that the Secretary personally ordered Maroon’s recent transfer from SCI Greene to SCI Mahanoy for the purpose of placing him in the general prison population. In conversations with some of the many people who have called in to the DOC central office on the first week of the 30-day pressure campaign, DOC personnel have suggested that Maroon supporters be patient as the process to get him into general population work its course. But Maroon and his family have been misled in the past about these issues.” While the campaign began by asking supporters to contact both Secretary Wetzel and SCI Mahanoy Supt. John Kerestes, it is now asking supporters to just focus on Secretary Wetzel, since he is the “ultimate decision-maker.”

This month also marked the release of the new book, entitled Maroon the Implacable: The Collected Writings of Russell Maroon Shoatz (PM Press), co-edited by Fred Ho and Quincy Saul, with a foreword by Chuck D. The collected essays examine a wide range of topics that are perhaps most striking for their honest self-criticism and for his commitment to confronting male supremacy and misogyny in all its forms. For example, in one essay entitled, “The Question of Violence,” after Maroon criticizes “the worldwide misogynist ‘gangsta’ genre of the hip hop culture” for being “a male, macho parody of exhibitionist violence,” Maroon writes:

More troubling is the fact that this male exhibitionist violence has also permeated the minds, practices, and circles of otherwise brilliant and well-meaning revolutionary thinkers. Such theorists as the renowned Frantz Fanon, icons like Malcolm X and Kwane Ture (formerly Stokely Carmichael) and others have unconsciously conflated the necessary utilization of defensive revolutionary violence, in seeking meaningful revolutionary socioeconomic and cultural change, with what they believed was a need for males to use ‘revolutionary violence’ to also ‘liberate their minds and spirits’ subservience imposed on them by the vestiges of slavery and the colonialism /neocolonialism of their times. These individuals failed to recognize that their ‘revolutionary’ worldview would still leave in place the entire male-supremacist /patriarchal framework, an edifice that we can term the ‘father of oppression.’ The destruction of this edifice will signal the true liberation they sought. Otherwise, the ‘revolutionary violence’ they formulated must also be recognized for what it is: exhibitionist, ego-based male violence.

Featured below is our interview with Theresa Shoatz and Matt Meyer. Theresa Shoatz is the daughter of Russell ‘Maroon’ Shoatz. Theresa has worked for decades as a public advocate for her father and through the Human Rights Coalition, she fights for all prisoners in Pennsylvania and beyond. You can watch a video interview with Theresa Shoatz, released by Solitary Watch in 2011. This month, Theresa has been traveling around the US as part of a book tour promoting Maroon the Implacable, and this week she is in the SF Bay Area.

Matt Meyer, a native New York City-based educator, activist, and author, is the War Resisters International Africa Support Network Coordinator, and a United Nations/ECOSOC representative of the International Peace Research Association. Now the co-coordinator of the Campaign to Free Russell Maroon Shoatz, Meyer also has a long history in solidarity with the people of Puerto Rico. In 2009, Meyer edited Let Freedom Ring: A Collection of Documents from the Movements to Free U.S. Political Prisoners (PM Press), and in 2012, co-edited another book entitled, We Have Not Been Moved: Resisting Racism and Militarism in 21st Century America (PM Press).

Please look out for part two our report on the 30-day action campaign, which will further examine the legality of Maroon’s placement in solitary confinement and take a closer look at his recently published book, Maroon the Implacable. In the meantime, you can stay updated on the campaign for his release from solitary here.

Angola 3 News:         Political prisoners are often seen as symbolic of what is wrong with the US government, but we don’t usually hear about the actual person and how their imprisonment has affected their families. As fellow Pennsylvania political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal has commented, “I am a man, not a symbol.” To begin our interview, can you please describe your father, Maroon, for us, so we can better understand who he is as a person?

Read the rest of this entry →

VIDEO: Resisting Gender Violence Without Cops or Prisons –An interview with Victoria Law

12:29 am in Uncategorized by Angola 3 News

 

VIDEO: Resisting Gender Violence Without Cops or Prisons
–An interview with Victoria Law

By Angola 3 News

Activist and journalist Victoria Law is the author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women (PM Press, 2009). Law has previously been interviewed by Angola 3 News on two separate occasions. Our first interview focused on the torture of women prisoners in the US.

The second interview looked at how the women’s liberation movements of the 1970s advocated for the decriminalization of women’s self defense. Taking this critique of the US criminal “justice” system one step further, Law presented a prison abolitionist critique of the how the mainstream women’s movement, then and now, has embraced the same “justice” system as a vehicle for combating violence against women.

While citing the important work of INCITE: Women of Color Against Violence, Law argues that “today, abuse is treated as an individual pathology rather than a broader social issue rooted in centuries of patriarchy and misogyny. Viewing abuse as an individual problem has meant that the solution becomes intervening in and punishing individual abusers without looking at the overall conditions that allow abuse to go unchallenged and also allows the state to begin to co-opt concerns about gendered violence.” Read the rest of this entry →

Resisting Gender Violence and the Prison Industrial Complex – An Interview with Victoria Law

10:33 pm in Uncategorized by Angola 3 News

Resisting Gender Violence and the Prison Industrial Complex

–An interview with Victoria Law

By Angola 3 News

Victoria Law is a longtime prison activist and the author of the 2009 book, Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women (PM Press). Law’s essay “Sick of the Abuse: Feminist Responses to Sexual Assault, Battering, and Self Defense,” is featured in the new book, entitled The Hidden 1970s: Histories of Radicalism, edited by Dan Berger.

In this interview, Law discusses her new article, which provides a history of radical feminist resistance to the criminalization of women who have defended themselves from gender violence. Furthermore, Law presents a prison abolitionist critique of how the mainstream women’s movement has embraced the US criminal justice system as a solution for combating violence against women.

Previously interviewed by Angola 3 News about the torture of women in US prisons, Law is now on the road with the Community and Resistance Tour.

Angola 3 News: In your essay “Sick of the Abuse,” you write that “a woman’s right to defend herself (and her children) from assault became a feminist rallying point throughout the 1970s.” You focus on the four separate stories of Yvonne Wanrow, Inez Garcia, Joan Little, and Dessie Woods. All four women were arrested for self-defense and their cases received national attention with the support of the radical women’s movement. Can you briefly explain their cases and why they were so important for the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s?

Victoria Law: Yvonne Wanrow was an American Indian mother of two living in Washington State in the 1970s. In 1972, her 11-year-old son was grabbed from his bike by William Wesler, a known child molester. He escaped and fled to the house of a family friend named Shirley Hooper, whose 7-year-old daughter had been raped by Wesler earlier that year. When Hooper called the police, they refused to arrest Wesler.

Understandably shaken, Hooper called Yvonne Wanrow and asked her to spend the night. Wanrow, who was 5 foot, 4 inches, and had recently broken her leg, brought her gun. At five in the morning, Wesler came to their house. When he refused to leave, Wanrow went to the front door to yell for help. She turned around to find Wesler, who, at 6 foot 2, was towering over her. She shot and killed him.

At her first trial, the judge instructed the jury only to consider what had happened at or immediately before the killing. This omitted (1) Wesler’s record as a sex offender; (2) Wesler’s assault on Hooper’s 7 year old; (3) His attempted assault on Yvonne’s son

Wanrow was convicted of murder and sentenced to 25 years.

However, various groups and people involved in the women’s movement and the American Indian movement had taken up her cause. They recognized that a woman had the right to defend herself and her family from assault. They held events that raised awareness, educated people, and tied her case into issues of violence against women and the systemic violence against Native people in the US. They also raised funds for her legal defense, which enabled her to have a better defense than she might have been afforded otherwise.

As a result, in 1977, the Washington State Supreme Court granted her a new trial, partially on the basis that the jury should have considered ALL relevant facts when considering self-defense. At her new trial in 1979, Wanrow pled guilty to reduced charges & received a suspended sentence, 5 years’ probation and 1 year of community service. The court decision also established that that women’s lack of access to self-defense training and to the “skills necessary to effectively repel a male assailant without resorting to the use of deadly weapons” made their circumstances different from those of men.

Two years later, in 1974, Inez Garcia shot and killed the man who had blocked her escape from rape. She was arrested and charged with 1st degree (or premeditated) murder. Like Wanrow, her cause was taken up by the women’s movement, which organized teach-ins and fundraisers and galvanized popular support with the recognition that women had the right to defend themselves against rape.

During her first trial, the judge did not allow testimony about the rape as part of the evidence. After her conviction, the women’s movement continued to rally on her behalf and hired feminist attorney Susan Jordan to take over her defense.

Two years later, an appeals court reversed her conviction because the trial judge had instructed the jury not to consider the rape

During the re-trial, Susan Jordan challenged potential jurors about their preconceptions of rape, making the assault an integral part of the case from the beginning. Garcia was acquitted. The entire jury agreed that the rape and threat of further harm were adequate provocation for Garcia’s action.

That same year, Joan Little, a black woman and the only female prisoner in North Carolina’s Beaufort County Jail, killed Clarence Alligood, a sixty-two-year-old white male guard, after he had entered her cell, threatened her with an ice pick and forced her to perform oral sex. Little was charged with first-degree murder which, in North Carolina, carried a mandatory death sentence.

Again, there was a HUGE outpouring of support from various movements, including people and groups in the women’s liberation and Black Liberation movements as well as more mainstream groups. During her trial, Little’s defense exposed the chronic sexual abuse and harassment endured by women in the jail and prison system. Countering the prosecution’s argument that Little had enticed Alligood into her cell with promises of sex, the defense team called on women who had previously been held at the jail. They testified that Alligood had a history of sexually abusing women in his custody.

Little herself testified about Alligood’s assault.

After seventy-eight minutes of deliberation, a jury acquitted Little, establishing a precedent for killing as a justified self-defense against rape.

Dessie Woods was a Black woman in Georgia who shot and killed a man who tried to rape her and her friend while they were hitchhiking. She was sentenced to 22 years. Black nationalist women took up the case of Dessie Woods, framing it as a case of colonial violence. Radical (White) feminists also took up her cause and used it as a way to challenge white feminists to examine not only sexism and patriarchy but also racism and colonialism.

However, unlike the cases of Little, Wanrow and Garcia, the larger White feminist movement(s) did not rally to her cause.

Even though she did not have the massive outpouring of support as the other three women, the prolonged support that she did have eventually won Woods her freedom in July 1981. A lawyer from the People’s Law Center challenged the use of circumstantial evidence and the use of a special prosecutor (hired by the dead man’s family). The U.S. Court of Appeals determined that there had been insufficient evidence to convict and imprison her.

The first three cases were groundbreaking in that they established legal precedents stating that women had a right to defend themselves (and their children) from sexual assault. In the case of Inez Garcia, her lawyer Susan Jordan extended the legal interpretation of “imminent danger” beyond the immediate time period, thus laying the groundwork for battered women’s defense—that a woman who kills her abuser is acting in self-defense even if she is not under attack at that time.

A3N: What impact did activism have in these four cases?

VL: The activism and organizing around those four cases enabled the women to have better legal defenses than they would have otherwise been afforded. For example, $250,000 was raised for Joan Little’s defense. Almost $39,000 was spent on social scientists who devised an “attitude profile survey:” designed to detect patterns of (racial) prejudice. The defense used their findings to win a change of venue from conservative/racist Beaufort County to Raleigh, which was key in her acquittal. Without the money garnered by supporters, Joan Little, a poor Black woman, would never have been able to have that kind of legal support. Instead, she would have been convicted and executed.

A3N: How are things different today, in 2010?

VL: We don’t see the same outpouring of support for women arrested for self-defense today. We can look at the case of the New Jersey Four, who are four Black lesbians arrested and incarcerated for defending themselves against a homophobic attack on the street. Their case has garnered support from groups working around incarcerated women’s issues and queer issues, but it hasn’t been taken up as widely as, say, the case of Joan Little or even Dessie Woods. Women who are incarcerated for defending themselves against partner violence receive even less public attention and support.

A3N: Shifting our focus to the issue of domestic violence, you write that the early women’s shelters formed by the radical women’s movement in the 1970s “utilized the self-help methods, egalitarian philosophies, and collective structures that had developed within the women’s liberation movement, striving to be democratic alternatives in which women had the space to safely communicate, share experiences, examine the root causes of the violence against them, and begin to articulate a response. However, these efforts received nowhere near the amount of attention, publicity, and support that the women’s movement paid to Wanrow, Garcia, Little, and Woods.”

Why do you think these projects, as well as court cases where women defended themselves from intimates, did not receive the attention they deserved?

VL: Then (and now), people saw battering as a “personal” issue and were reluctant to get involved. Some felt that marriage (or partnership) somehow condoned abuse. Others felt that this was not an issue that a movement could be built on. Perhaps it was also recognized that the issue could divide a movement. After all, when reading histories of revolutionary groups during the 1960s and 1970s, we see that abuse and misogyny often went unaddressed.

A3N: What did these radical activists identify as the “root causes” of violence against women were? What is your personal opinion regarding these root causes?

VL: Radical activists identified society’s misogyny and patriarchy as root causes of violence against women. They pointed out that women are most often the ones who are attacked and abused because they are often the ones with less power (both physically and in terms of resources).

I strongly agree with this analysis and feel that only when we radically transform societal attitudes around gender and power will we be able to have a world without gendered violence.

A3N: The number of battered women’s shelters grew (by 1982, there were an estimated 300-700 shelters nationally), but you write that “the increased interest in the issue by those who did not identify with the women’s liberation movement resulted in a watering down of the radical feminist analyses that led to the first refuges for battered women. These emerging institutions emphasized providing services without analyzing the political context in which abuse occurred. There was a shift from calling for broad social transformation to focusing on individual problems and demanding greater state intervention.”

How do you think this watering down and shift towards greater state intervention has since played out in later decades, leading up to today?

VL: Today, abuse is treated as an individual pathology rather than a broader social issue rooted in centuries of patriarchy and misogyny. Viewing abuse as an individual problem has meant that the solution becomes intervening in and punishing individual abusers without looking at the overall conditions that allow abuse to go unchallenged and also allows the state to begin to co-opt concerns about gendered violence.

For example, 29 states have some form of mandatory arrest policy in a DV call. There is also the possibility of dual arrests (in which both parties are arrested). In addition, many states now have “no-drop prosecution” in which the District Attorney subpoenas the battered spouse to testify with threats of prosecution if she recants or refuses.

The shift towards greater state intervention has also resulted in resources such as battered women’s shelters mirroring some of these same abusive practices (such as isolating the survivor). It also ignores ways in which the state inflicts violence upon women. I would greatly recommend the INCITE! anthology, entitled The Color of Violence, which explores various aspects of violence against women.

A3N: If you were dialoguing with those sectors of today’s anti-violence movement that embrace the criminalization approach, what are the key points you would make in arguing that prisons are not the answer? What do you think is the best way to reduce and prevent violence against women both inside and outside prisons?

VL: The threat of imprisonment does not deter abuse; it simply drives it further underground. Remember that there are many forms of abuse and violence and not all are illegal. It also sets up a false dichotomy in which the survivor has to choose between personal safety and criminalizing/imprisoning a loved one.

Arrest/imprisonment does not reduce, let alone prevent, violence. Building structures and networks to address the lack of options and resources available to women is more effective. Challenging patriarchy and male supremacy is a much more effective solution (although not one that funders and the state want to see).

A3N: Can you please tell us about recent cases of women who are facing charges or have been wrongly convicted for defending themselves?

VL: There’s the case of the New Jersey Four, whom I mentioned above.

There’s also Sara Kruzan, a 31-year-old woman incarcerated at the California Institution for Women. When Sara was 11, she met a 31-year-old man named G.G. who molested her and began grooming her to become a prostitute. By the age 13, she began working as a child prostitute for G.G. and was repeatedly molested by him. At age 16, Sara was convicted of killing him. She was sentenced to prison for the rest of her life despite her background and a finding by the California Youth Authority that she was amendable to treatment offered in the juvenile system.

There’s been a letter-writing campaign to the governor urging clemency. Sara is also up for resentencing and needs letters of support. The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth and the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) are working on publicizing and garnering support for her case. However, we’re not seeing a fraction of the support from women’s or other non-prison groups that the cases of Wanrow, Garcia and Little received in the 1970s even though you would think that her story would provoke widespread outrage and calls for release.

I recently received an e-mail from CCWP about Mary Shields, a domestic violence survivor incarcerated for nineteen years on a seven-to-life sentence for attempted murder. This past September, Mary was found suitable for release by the Board of Parole Hearings. In 2006, the Parole Board had also found Mary “suitable for release” but rescinded its decision after Governor Schwarzenegger recommended against release. This time around, the governor has until January (when his term will be up) to either let the Board’s decision stand or recommend that it be reversed and so CCWP is calling for people to send letters supporting Mary’s release.

A3N: Anything else to add?

VL: I want to remind readers that if we’re not coming up with solutions to gender violence, then the fall-back becomes relying on prisons and policing to keep women (and other vulnerable people) safe. It is also imperative to support women incarcerated for killing their abusers as well as to support battered women on the outside and to remember that abuse isolates people.

We should be working to end violence against women without strengthening government control over women’s lives or promoting incarceration as a solution to social problems.

–Angola 3 News is a new project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is www.angola3news.com where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. We are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more.