(Originally posted 8/25/2017 on Read With The Gringa)
Malcolm gets a new job and fondly remembers his favorite dancing partner.
Image Credit: Wikimedia
Malcolm meets a half-sister who becomes a source of hope and inspiration.
Image Credit: Famous African Americans
Malcolm speaks of his behavior that leads him to reform school.
Image Credit: Yeyeolade
We begin the incredible life story of this powerful American, as told by Malcolm X to Alex Haley. In the first part of chapter 1, “Nightmare”, we learn that the terror of the KKK is one of Malcolm’s earliest memories.
Let’s read history together!
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While most Americans spent this past weekend focused on memorials of the tragedy of 9/11, the gringa found herself getting educated at a prison protest Saturday on the anniversary of the Attica Uprising 45 years ago. I’ll give you a rundown of a bit of history and then share some details of today’s U.S. prisons that shocked the gringa when she came to a fuller understanding.
Attica Maximum Security Correctional Facility, New York, September 9, 1975
Why did this happen? Frustration over deplorable living conditions:
Personal perspective of the prisoners began to change in the radicalized climate of the late 60’s and early 70’s. They began to see themselves as political prisoners rather than just convicted criminals. After all, isn’t our nation’s law enforcement, judicial and prison systems highly politicized? Aren’t convicted criminals often used as political pawns? Of course they are. And Attica’s inmates decided it was time to participate in the political system the only way a disenfranchised citizen can, through radical, attention getting protest.
Once the more than 2,000 inmates mobilized, a riot quickly ensued that included beating guards, acquiring weapons of any sort, and torching the chapel. One guard was thrown out a second-story window after a beating and died from his injuries days later. As state police struggled to regain control of the prison, D yard became the final scene of the showdown with a hostage situation that lasted four long days.
The prisoners requested U.S. Representative Herman Badillo to lead negotiations and offered their list of demands:
Although negotiations were on-going and none of the hostages were being harmed, Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller mobilized hundreds of state troopers and the National Guard which all soon descended upon the prison. Civilian observers who were present were dismayed by the Governor’s overt show of force and asked for him to personally appear as a sign of good faith. Rockefeller refused. Instead he gave the order for an act of force that resulted in a massive and tragic loss of life. The gringa thinks this was totally unnecessary and quite typical of the cowboy mentality that seems to take hold of the wrong kind of people who come into positions of power over other people.
Many would argue that strong leadership means being forceful and making a powerful display of strength and authority when challenged. The gringa disagrees. When in a role of managing the care of fellow human beings, even if they are convicted criminals, a strong leader must be a wise and humble benefactor. Human beings are complicated creatures with complex needs. Rockefeller was wrong to do what he did. Going in with guns blazing is absolutely the wrong approach to solve any crisis where human lives are at stake.
Rather than continue negotiations Rockefeller demanded the inmates’ surrender. They responded to his challenge by holding knives to the throats of their hostages. In short order 3,000 rounds of bullets tore through clouds of tear gas and killed not only inmates, but one fourth of the hostages. Emergency medical responders testified that some of the prisoners were shot and killed as they lie on the ground after surrendering or being wounded.
In light of this disastrous plan implemented by New York’s governor, Rockefeller tried to deflect blame with false stories fed to the press that the inmates had slit the throats of the hostages and even castrated one. Rockefeller was either extremely ignorant or extremely arrogant if he thought autopsy reports would not expose his lies. There was an eventual Congressional investigation into this cover-up and frame job of the inmates as brutal executioners.
The final aftermath of the Attica riot has reserved its place in history as the worst prison riot the United States has ever seen:
The gringa can’t speak on behalf of prisons in every state, but will share two distinct and troubling characteristics of prisons in her home state of Texas:
The gringa is struck by many shocking conclusions upon becoming aware of these facts:
The gringa has no solutions. I have only just now had my eyes opened to the complexity of this disturbing issue. Like a good, little patriot I have been conditioned by my society to believe it is acceptable that prisoners should have, at the very least, an uncomfortable time of it. I have also been conditioned to believe that complaints by prisoners are always a con job, they are simply not to be trusted. However, by conditioning Americans to ignore the plight of prisoners, capitalists have been empowered to pursue policies that have targeted the weakest among us in order to create a slave class they can profit from.
The gringa heard the story of one mother who was visiting her 19 year-old son on the one day weekly he is able to see his loved ones. I listened in horror as she told me a tale that could have happened to my own son. A tale of a teenager arranging to purchase some expensive sneakers he had seen online. However, when he met the individuals to exchange his money for the shoes, they took his money and basically ran. It was a scam. Incensed, he tracked down the individuals and gave them a beat down to get the shoes he had paid for. He was charged not just with assault, but also with robbery. Being high end sneakers, the sale price constituted a felony. This young man was facing 8-25 years of hard time and having to place his trust in a court appointed attorney. Unlike many others like her son, this mother was very fortunate to work out a deal with a youth program yet he will still serve 6 months in prison that will certainly be a harrowing experience that will change him forever. Because he beat up a con artist and took back his shoes.
Might an affluent teenager with a hotshot lawyer have gotten off with a fine and probation or perhaps even an aquittal? It’s highly likely. However, a low-income, minority teen is advised by a court appointed attorney to work out a plea deal, securing, at the very least, 6 months of free labor for a capitalist prison system model to profit from. And the young and strong are who the for-profit systems want for slave labor. Even a minimal sentence is a good thing for prison profiteers. It increases the chances that a 6 month slave will return for a longer stint of labor in the future. The system is ensuring that as much of the poverty rabble as possible is kept off of America’s streets and enslaved for the profit of corporations. This is outrageous.
What is the interest of a court appointed attorney who takes on a case for free? His interest is to get the case over with as soon as possible so he can get back to jobs that pay. This is not justice. Consider just a few very telling statistics and see if the gringa is right when she says that the United States should be very ashamed:
The gringa does not believe any of this is an accident. Re-designing prisons as modern day plantations is purposeful. In 1964 the Civil Rights Act was passed. This had an incredible economic impact for bad or good depending on where a person stood. For minorities it was an economic boon, finally having their right to equal job opportunity and equal pay protected. For businesses that had enjoyed the freedom to pay as little as they pleased to minorities, they suffered. Imbittered, it did not take long for American businesses to devise a work around.
Within 7 years President Nixon announced the U.S. War on Drugs. Within another 7 years America’s prison systems were privatized to deal with exploding prison populations as a result of the War on Drugs. A war that has been effectively proven to disproportionately incarcerate poor, non-violent, drug offenders that are more of a threat to themselves than society, and most are capable of complete rehabilitation. American business preserved their slave class despite the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil Rights Act. And it continues today.
Although the average citizen is conditioned to point the finger at inmates for their less than humane living conditions, what of the creators and enforcers who have the power and resources to implement change that would be decidedly better? What about other first world countries who are successful with humane, rehabilitative prison systems that are minimally populated and experience extremely low rates of returning inmates?
The gringa believes this is all by design as well. By creating and enforcing conditions that dehumanize even a non-violent drug offender who originally was no real threat to the public at large, for-profit prisons can damage a human so badly that person is incapable of living successfully and independently as a free man or woman. They ensure their slave workforce by intentionally designing living conditions that psychologically ruin a human being’s ability to ever have healthy emotional and working relationships. In the gringa’s opinion, this places every prison official in the category of guilt of crimes against humanity. And it seems that the United Nations agrees with the gringa, making it very clear that the United States is not living up to UN standards of humane treatment of incarcerated peoples.
I urge my dear readers who are as alarmed and as concerned as the gringa to use whatever is your gift or talent to help bring about awareness and change. The U.S. model of how criminals are dealt with is barbaric. No other civilized, first world nation operates in such a way. Human beings that are poor, or of the wrong ethnicity, are considered disposable in the United States. You only get one chance and if you make a mistake and end up in the prison system, there is no rehabilitation, only living conditions that reduce human beings to their basest instincts for survival. U.S. imprisonment is modern day slavery that creates a social stigma that prevents any success once free, only recidivism just to survive, where a person is then guaranteed a return to the plantation.
The gringa has provided below some video and photos from the rally.
Chants of the protestors:
Judy Kotun who told me the story of her 19 year-old son:
Image Credit: tse1.mm.bing.net
I am a white woman. Because of my skin color, I often get pre-judged and discriminated against by darker skinned people who do not know me. They assume I have nothing valid to offer when it comes to the issue of race. However, I beg to differ. Being a part of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious and multi-political family, I have plenty of experience dealing with racism and turning people’s minds around or, sometimes, inside out. I haven’t experienced every single racial injustice that can be imagined, but I have learned a little something from my own experiences.
One such experience involved my oldest son. He is bi-racial, half black, half white. One afternoon I got a call from his high school principal. My son had received a disciplinary action. The school thought I should know about it. I told the principal I was on my way if he had time to discuss it. He did.
I arrived at the principal’s office and found in his office himself, my son, and my son’s teacher present for this meeting. I did not enter this meeting with any pre-conceived ideas as to who may be right or wrong. I did not enter this meeting defensive and assume my son had done no wrong. He was a teenager. He got it wrong about as often as he got it right. That’s why he still needed parenting.
The principal introduced everyone then let the teacher explain the situation. She said, “Class was almost over and we had completed our work for the day so I let the kids hang out and talk for about ten minutes before the bell. Your son was hanging out with his friends. I didn’t hear what all was being said but I did hear your son’s comment because he said it very loud. He said, ‘But, I’m BLACK, nigga!”
At this point my son interrupted and exclaimed, “Exactly! I am!” I corrected him and told him it was inappropriate to interrupt. He needed to respect her right to talk and he would get his turn.
The teacher then told me she went over to my son and told him he could not speak like that and say the “N” word and he began to argue with her that he could because he’s black. She told him, “No you are not black. You need to report to the office because you are going to be getting ISS (in school suspension).” That was the end of it until I arrived.
I asked the teacher if she was unaware of my son’s ethnicity. Did she not know that he really was half black? She did not. She “assumed” he was Indian. I laughed and told her he gets that alot. I assured her that he was, indeed, black. The gringa then was certain that he was not being singled out for disciplinary action because he was “black”. To be honest, the idea never occurred to me that my son would experience racism in the diverse school he went to. This just simply affirmed it.
I turned to my son and asked him if what she had said was true. He said it was. I asked him if she left anything out that was important. He said she didn’t. I then asked the principal exactly what school policy had been violated. He explained the “N” word was not a word allowed on campus.
I turned to my son and told him, “You did the crime. You are going to do the time.” He protested that it was unfair. That he was black. It wasn’t racist for him to say that word. The purpose of the policy was to prevent racists from calling black kids names. He wasn’t doing that. Why should he be punished? Hearing such logic in his argument warmed the gringa’s heart to a degree, but his logic was flawed.
My pearl of wisdom for that day was to explain to my son all about double standards as well as to respect where other people are coming from. He enjoyed the privilege of growing up in a family and area that was very diverse. Because of this he also enjoyed the privilege of not being exposed to white supremacist hate. He had no idea just how disgusting that word is. His only personal experience with it was hanging out with his friends and using it as a form of “smack talk”. To his crowd, they just didn’t see why everyone made such a big deal out of a word. It was just a word.
He needed to learn that prior generations used that word completely differently. He would just have to wait until all those folks died off and his generation was the ruling old folk class and then they could all use that damn word as much as they like. But for now, the word is offensive. It’s history is offensive. As long as my generation is still alive and running the show, he better only use that word in private.
As far as double standards were concerned, the purpose of the policy was to create an environment of respect. The school was not going to practice a double standard and let a black student say a word the school would not allow students of other races to say. I was going to support the school’s decision to enforce the policy because the gringa was also not going to raise her son up to live a double standard. Allowing or disallowing a particular behavior simply based on skin color is racism.
I asked him if I allowed this word to be spoken in my home or in my presence outside the home. He admitted I did not. I told him he was to respect the authority of the school and not say it just as he respected my authority and did not use it around me.
As the United States continues to deal with race issues today, I support almost every cause against injustice of any kind against any people being singled out for race, ethnicity, religion or financial status. Wrong is wrong and right is right. You’re either a racist or you’re not a racist. It’s very simple. Morality knows no racial, religious or financial barriers.
As a person battles for their cause, it is important to remember exactly what your are fighting for or fighting against. If you are fighting for racial justice, do not make the mistake of becoming a racist yourself. Personal rage and frustration is perfectly understandable, but it cannot cloud your judgment and then hijack your movement. Racists come in all color, genders, and ethnicities. If you find yourself behaving in a way that you in turn point the finger at another and accuse them of wrongdoing, you may be a racist. You are most definitely a hypocrite. It’s very simple.
At the 13:55 mark in the video, Sandra, you are off camera. You’ve been knocked to the ground by the State Trooper and a female officer. You tell them, among other things… “You knock my head in the ground and I got epilepsy.” The trooper says, “Good, good.” Sandra, the medical examiner said you died because of asphyxiation. Sandra, from one epileptic to another, I know that when an epileptic has a grand mal seizure, that person stops breathing. Many die from asphyxiation. I have had grand mal seizures. I have managed to survive them because I have never been alone when it has happened. I have always had loved ones who have acted quickly to get me the emergency care I need.
As of yet, there is no video of when they booked you into jail, Sandra. Right now, I don’t know what happened to you. And you were so close to me. Maybe just an hour from my doorstep. So far, the last time I saw you alive was when the female officer took you out of her car to pat you down. The only video about the jail, so far, is when they supposedly found you. When I watched that video, I started to cry. However, I didn’t let myself cry because of my epilepsy. If I get too emotionally wound up I could have a grand mal seizure. I was home alone when I watched that video. If I had a seizure alone, I could die. So, I didn’t let myself cry about the video of the jail where you lay dead. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to shed the tears for you I would have liked to.
As I watched that jail video, I noticed that the cell you were in was near a back exit door. They put you in a hallway with a door closing off the hallway from the other holding cells. The other holding cells could be seen by camera. Your cell could not. They left you all alone. Isolated. Unseen. Vulnerable. The most dangerous situation to be in for an epileptic. The only way they could have endangered you more was if they put you in a tub of water. It seemed the only way a passerby could see you was if they bent down to look in a little window at the bottom of your cell door.
This jail video made me think of many possibilities. At almost every jail, in any area where there is interaction between police officers and prisoners, there are video cameras recording all interactions. I’m sure, Sandra, the booking area at the jail you were taken to had video cameras. I would really like to see you alive and well at the booking desk. Until I do, I have to consider several possibilities.
One possibility, Sandra, is that you had a seizure en route to the jail. If you did, you would have thrashed around and kicked in the back of the patrol car. The officer may have thought you were just causing trouble. Sandra, I believe it is possible you may have died in the back of that female officer’s police car. I believe it is possible that you never went to the booking desk because you arrived at the jail dead. I believe it is possible they brought you in that back, secluded exit, unseen, and hid you away, all alone, disgracefully and disrespectfully, in that isolated cell. Sandra, I believe it’s possible. I will continue to believe it’s possible until I see you in a booking video.
Another possibility, if the police release a booking video proving you arrived alive and well at the jail, is that you had a seizure in that cell all alone. Law enforcement must have heard the same words I heard about your epilepsy on your arrest video. They know if they did not get you proper medical attention for your epilepsy, after telling them you had the disease, and had a seizure in custody, they would be held liable for your death. Sandra, it’s possible that if you had a seizure and died in that cell it only took minutes. It would have happened suddenly. You may have had no warning. When they found you dead, it’s possible they made up this story of you hanging yourself. I don’t believe you killed yourself.
When the medical examiner looked at your body, if you had died from a seizure, he would have found that you asphyxiated. That’s exactly what the medical examiner said. He said you died of asphyxiation. The only thing he failed to say, is why you died of asphyxiation.
Sandra, I don’t personally know you. I don’t really know if you had epilepsy or not. But, I do know crying out you have epilepsy is not something most people would think to do in a situation like yours. Most people go about their lives blissfully unaware of epilepsy. I think, Sandra, that you had a seizure and died. I think, Sandra, the stress from how you were treated triggered it. I think, Sandra, law enforcement failed to take care of you. I think, Sandra, you shouldn’t have died.