Please Stop the Killing

It is time for all of us to work together for systematic change. Together we need to combat the structural, social, economic, and political exclusion experienced by many black people in this country. Ignorance and silence are violence to those around us.

Police violence against black people is not anything new. This country was founded on the backs of black people. At the core of the country is violence against black lives. At the core of the US is a statement that black lives don't matter. This is one of the strongest held foundations of this country. And today, this country is still run on the unpaid labor of people of color.

The US prison system, the largest in the world, is primarily comprised of black lives.
  • Today, the US is 5% of the World population and has 25% of world prisoners.
  • Combining the number of people in prison and jail with those under parole or probation supervision, 1 in every 31 adults, or 3.2 percent of the population is under some form of correctional control.
  • African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites.
  • Together, African American and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the US population.

Paid in pennies, people living in prison make not just the license plates that mark our cars but Maya Schenwar for Truthout reported that thousands of prisoners at the maximum security Louisiana State Penitentiary, otherwise known as Angola, pick cotton, wheat, soybeans and corn, while armed guards, mostly white, ride up and down the rows on horseback, keeping watch. Yes, black inmates are picking cotton in the US being paid pennies while white people guard them, in the 21st century.

In 1963 Martin Luther King was incarcerated in Birmingham and faced deplorable conditions. He smuggled writings out in the margins of newspapers, stating, "Why we can't wait" His Letter from a Birmingham Jail is a message for us today, as much as it was in 1963. It defends the strategy of civil disobedience to racism, arguing that people have a moral responsibility to break unjust laws.

"You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension."

King also referred to his belief that all communities are interrelated.

He wrote, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

Over the past year I have become friends with a revolutionary living in a Texas prison named Keith "Malik" Washington. Comrade Malik is doing all he can from behind bars to get the word out about the deplorable conditions inside the Texas prison system, and he needs our help.

Recently he put together an info-pak about the conditions in Texas prisons and is encouraging people to use the hashtag #pleasestopthekilling to highlight the issues of people suffering and lives lost to state violence.

I talked to Malik last week and he wanted me to relay part of this info-pak to you today. To find out more go to his facebook page, "Support Comrade Malik"

Writing inmates is an important task for us in the "free world." In the vein of Martin Luther King's letter crying "Why We Cant Wait", Comrade Malik writes us about current conditions in Texas prisons and specifically with the Houston Police Department and why we can't wait as prisoners are dying.

Please join me, and stand up to injustice everywhere. Use the hashtag #PleaseStopTheKilling to post about killings and abuse in prisons, in your community, and around the world. Share Comrade Malik's call to free world comrades and friends to join this campaign on Prison Radio recorded 1/17/15. Together we can overcome.

This is his letter:

Revolutionary Greetings,
For the past four years, community activists and civil rights leaders in the Houston area have been fighting hard to establish a civilian review board with prosecutorial power over local police. The board would oversee the activities of a Houston Police Department which has had a "love affair" with the use of excessive and lethal force on Houstonians.

As public and legal pressure mount to save prisoners from dying of the heat this summer, Texas officials announced June 23 they've bought a new kind of fan, but insist the purchase was not in response to the pressure. Texas houses many of its prisoners in metal buildings

Many residents have viewed this as only a Black or Brown issue. It is true that a disproportionate number of the human beings beaten up, mistreated or outright murdered by HPD officers are people of color from disadvantaged backgrounds. Nevertheless, the problem with HPD is much larger than it appears and affects everyone in Houston.

In light of the recent flaws exposed within the HPD Homicide Division, as well as the ballooning budget of HPD that is heading towards a billion dollars, having doubled over the last decade to a proposed $800 million, I think all of us have an interest in seeing effective and meaningful oversight of the Houston PD.

When questioned about the lack of accountability, transparency or fiscal responsibility that exists in HPD, Chief Charles McClelland stated that the department has "meted out discipline in appropriate measures."

This statement is an outright lie and I have facts to back up my charge. When the HPD officers who kicked and stomped teenager Chad Holly were reinstated, was that an appropriate measure?

Last year, Emily DePrang, a staff writer with the Texas Observer in Austin, did a two-part series that highlighted the gross inadequacy and impotence of HPD's Internal Affairs Division, which is supposed to investigate police criminality. Time and again, bureaucratic red tape, cronyism and a police officer union with little integrity have kept sadistic, unethical police officers from being held accountable. These are not appropriate measures! I'm tired of being lied to; aren't you?

There seems to be a lack of will in the upper echelon of Texas state government as well as in the Texas Legislature to create or craft a piece of legislation that would mandate transparency and accountability in law enforcement agencies throughout the state.

Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott fought vigorously to obtain legislation that infringes on Black, Brown and poor people's right to vote or on a woman's right to choose, but we haven't seen him fight at all for people of color who are getting murdered in Texas by cops! And this racist is aiming to occupy the governor's mansion next.

Just killing us for the sport of it!
Alfred Wright, a father of three, was found murdered in the woods near Hemphill, Texas, in November 2013. Hemphill is close to Jasper, Texas, where we all remember the racially-charged murder of James Byrd took place.

Like Byrd, Wright was a Black man. However, in the eyes of many of the residents of Hemphill and Jasper, Alfred may have committed the "unforgivable crime." That crime was to offer his unconditional love to a white woman and their beautiful children. A daddy was murdered, yet Sabine County law enforcement officers conducted a less than enthusiastic investigation. Why? Why did Quanell X and Sister Krystal Muhammad have to go there in order to demand justice for another murdered young Black male?

Pearlie Golden was a 93-year-old Black woman murdered by a white police officer on May 6, 2014. Pearlie was a life-long resident of Hearne, Texas. That's the same town that made national headlines by conducting racially motivated drug sweeps, in which a movie was made, "American Violet."

The white male officer who murdered Pearlie, Mr. Stephen Stem, had earlier been cleared by a grand jury in December 2012 for the shooting death of another Black human being, 28-year-old Tederalle Satchell. Pearlie's husband had served for a long time as a police officer for the city of Hearne. I wonder if Mr. Stem considered the decades of public service Pearlie's husband gave to the people of Hearne before he shot and killed her?

In November 2013, Michael Blair, another young Black male, was shot to death by a Fort Bend County deputy sheriff. Another grand jury decided not to indict!

A video of the barbaric murder of Michael Blair has surfaced. The family has given the video to the U.S. Department of Justice. Why can't Texas provide justice for Texans? Why does the DOJ always have to force Texas law enforcement to respect the rights and lives of people of color?

Michael Eric Dyson, writing in Ebony magazine, said: "I have come to face the facts there is nothing we can say or do to change the minds of white people who believe that Black folk are a threat to them. We can't be smart enough, good enough or humble enough to please them."

A solution
I do not believe in spending my time highlighting the numerous problems that exist within the criminal justice system and not devoting energy toward finding solutions. Given that, I offer this example.

Michael Bell, a 21-year-old unarmed man, was shot in the head on Nov. 9, 2004, by police officers. They were cleared of any wrongdoing by their department. Sounds like something that might have happened in Houston, Texas.

But this wasn't Texas; it happened in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Bell's father, Michael Sr., fought hard to expose the injustice that took his son from him. Recently, his persistence paid off. Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed a Wisconsin law that requires all police departments in the state to bring in investigators from outside their agency when officer-involved deaths occur.

Wisconsin Assembly Bill 409 requires that at least two outside investigators, one of whom will lead the effort, look into such cases. And if the district attorney chooses not to charge officers, the investigators must release their report about the death to the public.

Will there be a significant amount of public outcry here in Texas to urge legislators in Austin to craft such a bill for the residents of Texas? Maybe Sen. Rodney Ellis, Rep. Sylvester Turner or Dr. Alma Allen, or the much respected "Miss T" - Rep. Senfronia Thompson - will lead the way in 2015.

The deaths you don't see
Prisoners are suffering horribly in prison cells where temperatures reach 130 degrees F!

Many have heard of the wrongful death lawsuit against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in connection with the 14 heat-related deaths of Texas state prisoners housed in TDCJ facilities since 2007. However, there are numerous deaths that occur in Texas prisons that the public never hears about.

One such "incident" is the murder of prisoner Christopher Woolverton. On Oct. 22, 2013, on the Bill Clements High Security unit in Amarillo, Texas, Woolverton, a known asthmatic, was murdered by pepper spray utilized by TDCJ correctional officers. Prior to his murder, Woolverton lay in his own feces and urine, virtually unresponsive for three days without treatment. No indictments, no accountability, no transparency - and no justice!

Texas State Sen. John Whitmire, chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, says he is against providing air conditioning in Texas state prisons. He claims it is fiscally irresponsible. Furthermore, the senator has a list of things which he thinks take priority over the heat in Texas prisons that is killing human beings.

I understand the complex dynamics of fiscal responsibility, but I am trying to figure out why Sen. Whitmire continues to ignore the outright murder of prisoners by sadistic and brutal correctional officers? You don't want to pay for air conditioners that might save some lives? OK then, why not hold TDCJ officers accountable when they take lives?

And let me be clear: This is not a race issue. Mr. Woolverton was a white man! This is a human rights disaster that Sen. Whitmire continues to downplay, minimize and ignore.

Update (December 21, 2014)
Jordan Baker was an unarmed young Black male shot and killed by an off-duty Houston police officer. There have been 288 instances in a row in which Grand Juries in Harris County, Texas, have failed to indict officers who have shot and killed Houstonians. J. Castro, the officer who killed Jordan, was #289. No indictment, no accountability, no justice. Jordan's life mattered!

In Solidarity,
Keith "Comrade Malik" Washington

TDCJ #1487958
Ramsey I, 1100 FM 655, Rosharon, TX 77583