Big Brick Energy: A Multi-City Study of the 2020 George Floyd Uprising

from Its Going Down

A critical overview and analysis from Unity and Struggle on the George Floyd rebellion. Check out a booklet version here.

by: Ever, Lamont and Chino
photos: Lorie Shaull, Creative Commons

Introduction

The 2020 George Floyd uprising was a major event by whatever measure you use. It deepened the generational Black revolt that began with Black Lives Matter in 2014. It marked the most profound challenge to racial capitalist rule since the 2008 financial crisis. It saw the National Guard deployed to multiple U.S. cities for the first time since the 1960s, and by one estimate, it was the costliest wave of civil unrest in the postwar period.(1) The uprising was rich with lessons, and it will shape a generation of us who moved in the streets.

But rigorous analysis of the uprising remains limited. Many of us haven’t had time to reflect on it deeply: individuals and organizations have had to navigate state repression, sectarian infighting, interpersonal harm shaped by gender and race, and all kinds of tragedies stemming from the ongoing pandemic. More often, clusters of friends and comrades have drawn conclusions from local experience, and lefty commentators have produced think pieces that draw single themes out of the uprising, or spin it to fit their dogma.

Big Brick Energy takes a step beyond anecdotes and hot takes. For a year, members of Unity and Struggle studied the uprising by interviewing fifteen comrades in five cities, compiling news coverage from the same cities, and surveying official reports from local governments and police departments in seventeen cities nationwide. (For more on our methods, see Appendix A.) We drew out common dynamics across locations, identified tactics and strategies that the movement and the ruling class used, explored what worked or didn’t, and highlighted important challenges and questions that a future uprising will likely encounter.

Generally, the uprising involved a common sequence of moments unfolding at different speeds and intensities, based on national trends and local turning points. When the rebellion erupted, it decisively defeated the police and paralyzed the local ruling class, usually for several days. People launched waves of protests and looting, and improvised tactics from community self-defense groups to small autonomous zones. Different factions of the state (and white mobs or fascists) reacted in conflicting ways, but eventually settled on a mix of repression and cooptation that was able to contain the unrest. The movement was channeled into nonviolent protest and legislative reforms, which yielded much shallower gains than most of us hoped for.

Within this story there are many variations and nuances, and lessons to be learned. Below we draw out aspects of the uprising that carry implications for our tactics, strategy, and race politics.

Running Down The Walls

from Philly ABC


rdtw-2022.png

Download posters, flyers, and quarter sheets for sharing.

Sunday, September 11, 2022
11 am sharp (Yoga warm-up at 10am)
FDR Park

RDTW 2022

Philadelphia Anarchist Black Cross invites you to our fifth annual Running Down The Walls (RDTW)! Join us for another revolutionary 5K run/walk/roll and day of solidarity amplifying the voices of our comrades behind bars, lifting them up in their struggles, and maintaining material support. If you would like to participate in light yoga and warm-up stretches before, please arrive by 10am and bring a mat if you can.

Running is not required! You can also walk or roll. 5K is two loops around the park and at a walking pace will take about 45-60 minutes. Light refreshments and socializing will take place in the park afterward.

This year’s event will benefit the ABCF Warchest and the Philly chapter of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. Join us as we once again raise energy and funds for the freedom of long-term political prisoners and the struggles they are serving time for.

“Power in defense of freedom is greater than power in behalf of tyranny and oppression, because power, real power, comes from our conviction which produces action, uncompromising action.”

– Malcolm X

This year marks a milestone in the Warchest program as we surpassed $200,000 in funds raised! Due to the abominable conditions that political prisoners and freedom fighters are subjected to, and the prevalence of health issues from medical neglect, they need our support now more than ever. Join us as we celebrate our successes this last year and build momentum for the struggles ahead!

If you cannot make it to the event or would like to make an additional contribution, please sponsor a participant either outside prison, inside prison or one of each. Contact us for more information on sponsoring!

We will ship official shirts nationwide to people who register to participate remotely, pay online and leave their shipping address in the comment box!

Proceeds will be split between the Warchest Program and the Philly chapter of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. The ABCF Warchest program sends monthly stipends to Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War who have insufficient, little, or no financial support.

Elite Capture, Identity Politics, and Solidarity with Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò

from Making Worlds Books

A book launch and discussion on Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò’s Elite Capture: How the Powerful Took Over Identity Politics (And Everything Else)

Cosponsored by the Paul Robeson House & Museum

“Identity politics” is everywhere, polarizing discourse from the campaign trail to the classroom and amplifying antagonisms in the media, both online and off. But the compulsively referenced phrase bears little resemblance to the concept as first introduced by the radical Black feminist Combahee River Collective. While the Collective articulated a political viewpoint grounded in their own position as Black lesbians with the explicit aim of building solidarity across lines of difference, identity politics is now frequently weaponized as a means of closing ranks around ever-narrower conceptions of group interests.

But the trouble, Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò deftly argues, is not with identity politics itself. Through a substantive engagement with the global Black radical tradition and a critical understanding of racial capitalism, Táíwò identifies the process by which a radical concept can be stripped of its political substance and liberatory potential by becoming the victim of elite capture—deployed by political, social, and economic elites in the service of their own interests.

Táíwò’s crucial intervention both elucidates this complex process and helps us move beyond a binary of “class” vs. “race.” By rejecting elitist identity politics in favor of a constructive politics of radical solidarity, he advances the possibility of organizing across our differences in the urgent struggle for a better world.

Advanced registration required, click here.

Friday, June 17, 2022
4:00 PM 5:30 PM
Making Worlds Bookstore & Social Center 210 South 45th Street Philadelphia, PA, 19104 United States (map)

For Russell Maroon Shoatz: The tradition of Maroon “anarchism”

from Abolition Media

Russell Maroon Shoatz, activist and writer, was a founding member of the revolutionary group Black Unity Council in 1969, as well as a member of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army. In 1972, he would be convicted for a 1970 killing of a Philadelphia police officer. He would spend 49 years in prison (22 of which in solitary confinement), being released in October of 2021 on grounds of compassion, only to die in December of the same year.

 

While not describing himself as an anarchist, Shoatz’s history of decentralised slave and indigenous rebellions in the americas looks “a whole lot like anarchism”. For Shoatz, it was in the diffused, archipelago like resistance of autonomous maroon communities, that colonialism and plantation slavery would find its greatest opposition, to which the colonial would be forced to respond.

Against the “Dragon” of colonial authority, Shoatz celebrates the “Hydra” tradition of a black-indigenous “anarchism” that did not bear this name, but from which anarchists, and others, must learn.

Below are two essays by Russell Maroon Shoatz, to celebrate his legacy.

Assata Taught Me—Book launch with Donna Murch

from Making Worlds Books

Join us for a book launch and discussion of Assata Taught Me with author Donna Murch, Koren Martin, and Christina Jackson. Black Panther and Cuban exile Assata Shakur has inspired generations of radical protest, including the contemporary movement for Black lives. Drawing its title from one of America’s foremost revolutionaries, this collection of thought-provoking essays by award-winning Panther scholar Donna Murch explores how social protest is challenging our current system of state violence and mass incarceration.

Murch exposes the devastating consequences of overlapping punishment campaigns against gangs, drugs, and crime on poor and working-class populations of color. Through largely hidden channels, these punishment campaigns generate enormous revenues for the state. Under such conditions, organized resistance to the advancing tide of state violence and mass incarceration has proven difficult.

This timely and urgent book shows how a youth-led political movement has emerged in recent years to challenge the bipartisan consensus on punishment and looks to the future through a redistributive, queer, and feminist lens. Murch frames the contemporary movement in relation to earlier struggles for Black Liberation, while excavating the origins of mass incarceration and the political economy that drives it.

Donna will be in conversation with Koren Martin and Christina Jackson.

[April 9 2022, 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM at Making Worlds Bookstore & Social Center 210 South 45th Street]

Monday February 28th: Letter-writing for Veronza Bowers

from Philly ABC

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Join Philly ABC this 2022 Black Futures month to send letters of solidarity to one of the longest-held political prisoners of the Black Liberation struggle, Veronza Bowers. Veronza is a former Black Panther Party member framed for the murder of a U.S. Park Ranger on the word of two government informants, both of whom received reduced sentences for other crimes by the federal prosecutor’s office. Because Veronza’s case falls under “old law” guidelines, he was supposed to be granted mandatory parole after serving 30 years. That day was in 2004, but due to the intervention of a former aid of President Bush, he continues to be held unlawfully.

In Veronza’s own words :

After 30 years of being denied release on parole, despite the fact that your conduct has been exemplary for over 20 years and you have long since met the criteria to be released on parole, finally your Mandatory Release date rolls around: April 7th, 2004. Everything is set, viz: your daughter, who was 5 years old when you were taken away to prison and is now 36, sent you a top-of-the-line fashion suit of clothes so that you would be properly dressed to ‘step in the name of freedom with love.’ She, along with 3 of your sisters fly in from across the country to be there at the prison gate to pick you up. …

You’re sitting outside in the Sweat Lodge area with your two closes friends just enjoying each other’s company in SILENCE. A loud announcement over the loud speaker ordering you to “report to your unit-team immediately” beak your peace. You know that something is not right. …

“You won’t be leaving tomorrow.”

You already that, but you didn’t know why…so you breathe deeply…1 full breath, 2 full breaths – a strange silence fills the room, and since it’s quite obvious that some reaction is expected of/from/by you, you just continue focusing upon the Breath. “Why?”

“Well, all we know is that the National Parole Commission called the institution and ordered that you not be released tomorrow. …

Just like that! A simple phone call from a National Commissioner in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and all of the plans for you to be “Steppin’ in the Name of Freedom, with Love” are cancelled, wiped out, voided until further notice.

Now almost 20 years have passed since his mandatory release date – we have to show Veronza some love ❤️!

Veronza Bowers, Jr. #35316-136
FCI Butner Medium II
P.O. Box 1500
Butner, NC 27509

If you can, please also drop a ‘happy birthday’ note in the mail to prisoners with birthdays in March: Joy Powell (the 5th), Andy Mickel (the 13th), and Ruchell Magee (the 17th).

Fragments Against Reparation

Submission

“Most of the criticisms of reparations that have been circulating have come from an anti-Black and often pro business as usual perspective. This text, instead, aims to criticize reparations as a way of moving towards Black liberation.”

[PDF] [Printing PDF]

Former Black Panther Russell “Maroon” Shoatz Freed From Prison After 49 Years

from Truthout

Russell "Maroon" Shoatz is pictured after his release from solitary confinement.

Russell “Maroon” Shoatz, the Black liberationist long respected as a political prisoner and freedom fighter by friends and supporters, was granted a medical transfer on Monday to leave a Pennsylvania prison for treatment and hospice after five decades of imprisonment.

A former member of the Black Panther Party and a soldier in the Black Liberation Army, Shoatz organized inside prisons for decades to abolish life sentences without parole, inspiring activists and attorneys to take up the cause.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is now considering whether a legal challenge to the state’s practice of denying parole hearings to people serving life sentences for certain second-degree murder convictions can proceed. All life sentences in Pennsylvania excluded the possibility of parole, and the state has the highest per-capita rate of people serving life sentences in the nation and the world, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights.

The 78-year-old Shoatz, who remains highly influential within the Black liberation and prison abolition movements, is reportedly terminally ill after being diagnosed with cancer. In social media posts, activists and family members who spent years fighting for his release celebrated on Monday after a judge in Philadelphia agreed to transfer Shoatz from a prison to a hospital.

In 2014, Shoatz was released from solitary confinement after spending 22 consecutive years in “the hole” and later won a $99,000 legal settlement. Supporters say the solitary confinement amounted to retaliation against Shoatz’s efforts to organize other “lifers” and abolish what activists now call “death by incarceration,” or life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Shoatz, who is considered both a political prisoner and prisoner of war by supporters, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison after a 1970 attack on a Philadelphia police station.

As they are today, tensions over racist police violence were running high in Philadelphia during the summer of 1970, when Police Chief Frank Rizzo ordered a crackdown on Black liberation groups ahead a national convention of the Black Panther Party. Anger boiled over after police once again killed an unarmed Black youth, and police were attacked in retaliation, leaving one officer injured and another dead. The attack prompted a raid on the Black Panther headquarters and the arrest of multiple activists.

Shoatz went underground but was arrested and convicted of murder two years later; supporters have said he was falsely accused. Shoatz escaped prison with other Black liberationists twice before being hunted by authorities and captured again. The liberationists were called the New African Political Prisoners of War.

Shoatz spent much of his life resisting solitary confinement, inspiring activists in the free world and working for the liberation of people sentenced to die in prison. Shoatz’s supporters say he is now free to rejoin his family during the final stage of his life.

Thursday August 26th: Letter-writing for Sundiata Acoli

from Philly ABC

sundiata-acoli.jpg

Black August began in the 1970s to mark the assassination of the imprisoned Black Panther, author, and revolutionary George Jackson during a prison rebellion in California. Each year in August we take time to honor captured freedom fighters of the Black Liberation struggle as we study, train and recommit to the struggle for freedom year-round.

In lieu of our normal Monday night letter-writing, we will be co-hosting a Black August event with Philly Jericho. We will be focusing on sending meaningful letters of solidarity to long-term political prisoner Sundiata Acoli. Sundiata was a prominent member of the Harlem chapter of the Black Panther Party. After targeting by the FBI’s illegal COINTELPRO, Sundiata continued the struggle underground with the Black Liberation Army. In 1973 he, Zayd and Assata Shakur were stopped by New Jersey state troopers. Zayd Shakur was killed, while Assata was wounded and taken into custody. One state trooper was killed during the incident and another injured. Sundiata was later captured and sentenced to life plus 30 years in a politically charged and biased trial. We will also send birthday cards to political prisoners with birthdays in September: Leonard Peltier (the 12th) and Maumin Khabir (the 15th).

Never written a letter to a prisoner before? No Problem! Join us at Clark Park (stone platform near 45th and Chester) and we will go over some of the basics and have all the letter-writing supplies and snacks available.

If you are unable to make the event, please send your solidarity to Sundiata at:

Sundiata Acoli (Squire) #39794-066
FCI Cumberland
P.O. Box 1000
Cumberland, MD 21501

Looking Critically at the Brooklyn Center Riot: An Interview from Anathema

from It’s Going Down

Originally published in Anathema, an anarchist publication from Philadelphia, the following interview talks about the realities of the Brooklyn Center riot that kicked off in the wake of the police murder of Daunte Wright in the spring of 2021. 

This interview was conducted two months ago, which was already two months after the events this spring in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. The riot in Brooklyn Center took place in the context of the Derek Chauvin trial, almost a year after he murdered George Floyd. This interview was an attempt to reflect on one participant’s experience of the events in Brooklyn Center and consider what they tell us about how things might unfold in the future. For many of us, the George Floyd uprising has weighed heavily on our minds as we try to imagine next steps to take. What became clear to me in this interview was that between the George Floyd uprising and the Brooklyn Center riot — despite the direct influence and geographic proximity — was an expanse.

Although the Brooklyn Center riot was an outgrowth of the George Floyd uprising, it was also a reminder that the previous summer’s events would not be repeated. Now, after a relatively quiet summer, it seems all the more important to be looking toward the future rather than fixating our gaze on last summer’s uprising. In this interview, we explore some of the developments and unique characteristics of uprisings in the aftermath of the George Floyd uprising.

You were in Brooklyn Center in April. Can you describe what happened?

Yes, there was a police murder: Daunte Wright, 20 years old. He was basically trying to flee the scene where he got stopped. There was two nights of rioting — I am going to say rioting. Some people want to say “it’s not a riot, it’s a rebellion.” I am just going to say it was a riot.

People were throwing stuff at the cops. There was looting by car in the Brooklyn Center area, also in Minneapolis and surrounding suburbs. The first night the neighboring police station got shot up; someone shot the front doors of it. Someone else shot at a cop — maybe 3 days after it started.

All throughout people were calling for the burning down of the police precinct (that was the focal point of the riot). They never succeeded. People tried. The police set up a gate. It was similar to what happened in Portland at the courthouse. But they didn’t actually breach the gate.

After the first two days of looting, arson, street fighting, and property destruction, there was basically a week of confrontational protests in front of the police precinct.

From what you witnessed, what have been the most significant changes since last year?

What’s been happening since the fall of last year, the police have been really ready for riots. So, when people engage in riot tactics, they need to outmaneuver the police. It can’t be this kind of frontal assault the way it happened in Minneapolis at the 3rd precinct.

That started with the Breonna Taylor revolt of late September. There isn’t 1000s of people in the street fighting the cops. That’s not happening.

Also, in Brooklyn Center, you would see people in black bloc or this “frontliner” aesthetic trying to stop young, mostly Black kids from setting things on fire and building barricades.

Wait — what would motivate people to dress up in black bloc attire in order to stop riots?

I don’t know. I just think it’s become a popular aesthetic and people have adopted it that have never experienced revolts before. It’s weird, this group called Minnesota Freedom Fighters — it’s basically like a nonprofit. Their goal is to deescalate riots, but they all dress in black bloc and wear gas masks and have umbrellas. It’s a strange thing that’s been imported from Portland, and originally from Hong Kong and Chile. It made sense in Portland and Seattle, but then once it makes it to places like Philly and Brooklyn it gets isolated from the insurgent activities happening. It’s very bizarre.

In Brooklyn Center, it’s almost exclusively young, Black, poor and working class still out there willing to engage in insurgent tactics. And they are becoming isolated.

Brooklyn Center is 20 minutes outside of Minneapolis and it’s very suburban. That’s what made the terrain really hard for rioting to happen. It’s pretty much a residential neighborhood with apartment buildings. There were two gas stations and a strip mall — that all got fucked up.

You say it was difficult terrain. What was the rioting like in the suburbs?

It made it harder to have a sustained riot that would breach the gates since there weren’t 1000s of people there. There were isolated forms of struggle: shooting at cops, the national guard. Winston Smith is an example of this. It’s not something everyone can participate in — it’s dangerous. But it’s also what’s happening in the absence of mass uprising.

A dollar store got set on fire. That whole strip mall got fucked up and looted. There was a really interesting moment: the owner of a pizza shop was like: I will make you guys some pizza. He started making pizzas for the crowd of potential looters. And that’s how he avoided his store getting fucked up.

There were a couple of militia people with assault rifles trying to protect the dollar general and they quickly got surrounded by young people who were like: you are not going to stop us. And they just walked around them. That was a very intense moment.

There were other people who didn’t have guns who tried to protect property and they just got beat up. The people who were rioting on the first two nights were still in the minority but they were able to do things.

What changed on the third night? Were the militias and peace police more successful at stopping rioters?

I think it was that in combination with police repression: the National Guard was out there; the FBI was out there. We got stopped by people who said they were working with the FBI.

We were just leaving an area where all the stuff was happening and got stopped by like 5 different squad cars. They took pictures of us, our tattoos, our injuries. We had all this stuff in our car (gas masks, body armor), but we didn’t have anything illegal on us. So, they couldn’t actually do anything. They were gathering intelligence. They interrogated us.

Each of us got separated; there was 4 of us. We got put in a different car. They tried to scare the shit out of us saying “you are all getting booked, you are getting processed and fingerprinted, we are impounding the car.” They asked us questions about how we knew each other and how we were connected. Then they just let us go.

People like got away with so much shit last summer that people got comfortable. The terrain has changed and people can’t get away with the same kind of stuff. People weren’t as aware as they should have been

Last year, especially with the pandemic, the State was not ready. That changes what people can do. There will continue to be smaller localized uprisings with short duration, and there’s a limit they will reach very fast.

Beginning with the Breonna Taylor protests in September and confirmed by the Walter Wallace riots in October, the cops got a lot more violent. One result of it is the multi-racial dimension has diminished. Because of the repression. The first time I noticed that was when I was in Louisville in September and it was mainly young Black people out there.

Were there anarchists in the riot?

Out of any political tendency, the anarchists went the hardest, but they were still a small minority. And they weren’t relevant “as anarchists.” The starting point should be what the people in the street that are fucking shit up want to do. It hasn’t been anarchist politics that has pushed people to be confrontational with the State.

What needs to happen next is burning down every police precinct in the United States. So that’s what we push for. We don’t push for people to become anarchists.

Brooklyn Center riot was localized and several months ago. Is it relevant to people in Philly now?

There’s things to learn from it. Things are becoming more atomized, more dangerous and falling into a more general outlaw culture. The impasse experienced in Brooklyn Center is happening in Philly too. There is not a full-blown uprising; instead, you see these more diffuse forms of struggle. When the Chauvin trial concluded, in Philly there was groups of young people on dirt bikes throughout the whole city, with cops chasing after them. It was clearly a form of resistance.

Final thoughts?

People don’t care what you say you are about. It’s whether you are perceived to be part of the riot. It’s those who are loyal to the spirit of revolt and everyone else. That’s the divide. If you are just being a spectator, you might not be so welcome. More than anything, it’s what you communicate by your actions.

Arthur “Cetewayo” Johnson Ordered Released After 51 Years in Prison

from Unicorn Riot

August 11, 2021

Philadelphia, PA – Longtime Pennsylvania prisoner Arthur “Cetewayo” Johnson, age 69, was ordered released today after five decades in prison, 37 years of which he spent in solitary confinement. Johnson had been convicted in the 1970 murder of Jerome Wayfield, when he was just 18. The Conviction Integrity Unit of the Philly District Attorney’s Office recently identified evidence that the sole witness against him, 15 years old at the time, was beaten by police for hours until he agreed to incriminate himself and Johnson.

Johnson was represented in court today by Bret Grote, executive director of the Abolitionist Law Center, a public interest law firm that has been working to secure his release. In a statement, Grote said “we are grateful to the Conviction Integrity Unit that Mr. Johnson is finally able to return home to his family. When I first met Mr. Johnson I promised we wouldn’t stop fighting until we brought him home. Today we fulfilled that promise.”

Pennsylvania state prosecutors agreed with the determination of Philly DA Larry Krasner’s office that Johnson’s original conviction should be overturned, citing interviews with Wayfield’s surviving relatives who said they supported his release.

Philadelphia Judge Scott DiClaudio agreed to nullify Johnson’s original conviction in the 1970 murder case, saying he believed the sole witness Gary Brame, known as ‘Ace’, “was coerced when interviewed in such a manner that the circumstances of the information provided to the police and the jurycould cause the court to hesitate as to the veracity of the witness.” DeClaudio described the role of Brame’s coerced testimony as “serious misrepresentation to the jurythat went unchecked.” Johnson was arrested and charged in 1970 by Philadelphia cops working under then-police chief Frank Rizzo, notorious for encouraging corrupt, brutal and racist practices amongst his officers.

After entering a new guilty plea today to the lesser charge of 3rd degree murder, Cetewayo Johnson is set to be released today or tomorrow once cumbersome logistics allow him to be processed out Pennsylvania’s prison system. The 10-20 year sentence imposed by Judge DiClaudio in the new lesser guilty plea is over 30 years shorter than the amount of time Johnson has already spent in prison.

One obstacle holding up Johnson’s release even though Judge DiClaudio ordered him to be “immediately released” is the fact that the text of the out-of-date 1970 murder statute he was charged under was not readily available to court staff filling out the necessary forms.

Passing family, friends and supporters of Johnson mingling in the hallway as he left his courtroom at lunchtime, Judge DeClaudio said that Johnson’s release was delayed because the court couldn’t find the 1970 murder law, and would have to “pull a book off the shelf” in order to complete filings.

It’s not gonna be anytime soonthey can’t even find the section of what the crime was 51 years ago.. when i pled him today there’s a certain section they have to pull up on the computer so they can send the order up…nobody knows where the section was, so we’re trying to call up to Harrisburgto go find a book off the shelf to see what the sub-section was of homicide in 1970.

– Judge Scott DiClaudio, Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas

Early in his incarceration, Johnson became politicized via friendships with political prisoners like Joseph “Joe-Joe” Bowen, a combatant in the Black Liberation Army (BLA), and Russell “Maroon” Shoatz, a member of the Black Panther Party and the BLA.

Johnson attempted to escape prison three times – in 1979, 1984 and 1987. The 1979 attempt allegedly involved using improvised weapons and restraining a guard he had incapacitated inside a cell. Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections (DOC) cited the escape attempts as recently as five years ago to justify holding him in prolonged solitary confinement.

In 2016, the Abolitionist Law Center represented Johnson in a lawsuit which successfully forced prison officials to stop holding him in solitary confinement after doing so for nearly four decades. Solitary confinement is classified as a form of torture yet is still used as a routine punishment in US prisons.

Saleem Holbrook, Executive Director of the Abolitionist Law Center, was once incarcerated alongside Johnson at SCI Greene. Holbrook told Unicorn Riot that Johnson’s case was “personal” for him because “Cetewayo was one of our mentors and elders.”

He was legendary within the system for his resistance – 38 years in the hole, and he stood tall. When prisoners… went in the hole, Cetewayo used that as a university. They isolated him, they wanted to use him as an example to us, like ‘don’t be like him’… but Cetawayo’s personality and his resistance was just so infectious that a lot of us younger guys looked up to him.

What was really impressive was that influence he had. He pushed us in the right and positive direction. He easily could have, had he been into the prison culture, pushed us into a more negative direction… Cetwayo pushed us into a direction of self-improvement, self-development, self-determination – study our history, study the Black Panthers, the Black Liberation Army, and more importantly, prepare ourselves for freedom.

– Saleem Holbrook, Executive Director, Abolitionist Law Center

Holbrook said that winning Johnson’s release was a “victory, it feels good, but it’s also bittersweet because we didn’t get justice” by exonerating him from all charges, with Johnson settling for the compromise of a guilty plea to lesser charges whose maximum sentence he has already served. “We got freedom for him, but I’ll take that.

Cetewayo Johnson’s cousin, Julie Burnett, told Unicorn Riot that Johnson was “like a brother” to her and that she’s missed him since his arrest in 1970, when she was just 4 years old: “I’ve been writing [him] letters since I knew how to address envelopes at about 5 or 6.” She’s been visiting him in prison for decades (“it’s like a way of life for me“), most recently on her 55th birthday this last July.

Burnett, who lost another brother when he died in prison in 1990, said she “always had hope” that Johnson would someday be released – “I was told never to give up on family.” She said that in spite of the “cruel and excessive punishment” of extended solitary confinement, her cousin “was a mentor to me over the telephone” and supported her through the loss of other family members when she was young. When Judge DiClaudio ordered Johnson released, Burnett described herself as “bursting at the seams with joy and thankfulness to God for allowing this to happenI can tell other people that there is hope, there’s a chancewhere there’s hope, never give up.”


UPDATE – Tuesday evening: After some confusion about the time and place of his release, Arthur “Cetawayo” Johnson was finally freed at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility (CFCF) in northeast Philadelphia.

Monday July 26th: Letter-writing for Ronald Reed

from Philly ABC

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Join us in Clark Park this coming Monday for the next letter-writing event. Snacks and materials will be provided! We will be writing letters to extend our solidarity to Ron Reed, long-time civil rights activist and Black revolutionary who is fighting his conviction for which he was framed and given a life sentence. His birthday is August 31st, so if you are writing to him from home, please send him birthday greetings as well.

Ron is a former 60s civil rights activist. In 1969, Reed was among the students at St. Paul Central High School who demanded Black history courses and organized actions against racist teachers. He was also instrumental in helping to integrate college campuses in Minnesota. During this period, Reed began to look toward revolutionary theory and engage in political street theater with other young Black revolutionaries in the city of St. Paul.

Reed went on to join the Black United Front. In 1970, he was convicted of shooting an off-duty police officer during a bank expropriation and served 13 years in prison. Twenty-five years later, Reed was convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder after having a cold case of another police shooting pinned on him. He is now serving life in prison for the second conviction.

We will also be sending birthday cards to political prisoners with birthdays in August: Eric King (the 2nd), Bill Dunne (the 3rd), Hanif Bey (the 6th), Mutulu Shakur (the 8th), and Russell Maroon Shoatz (the 23rd).

Meditation on Accountability

from Dreaming Freedom Practicing Abolition

Abolition is truly a project that requires balance. It is a negative and positive project. It is presence and absence. Often, we lean one way to the detriment of the other way. Inside, we tend to focus on the dismantling, the negative aspect. We are captive in an oppressive system predicated upon anti-Blackness. We are trapped in a space maintained by racialized and gendered violence. The terror is quotidian. Everyday we are under the boots of people who see us as less than human. No wonder our focus is getting rid of this system.

But then what? What have we done while inside to prepare ourselves for a world without prisons? This is the struggle I am engaged in everyday. Each day, I am fighting against the death this system has prepared for me and my peers. Each day, I am struggling to not drink the PIC kool-aid that says we are unworthy. Each day, I am locked in battle with a system that is determined to isolate and alienate us, not only from you, but from each other. But there is another fight.

Over ninety percent of incarcerated folks have a release date. We are coming home. What are we doing to prepare ourselves for that date? The system is rigged. It is designed for us to fail, to recidivate. No DOC is really going to prepare incarcerated folks for successful reentry. No DOC is going to prepare any of us for a world without prisons. No DOC teaches accountability. Punishment, yes. But not accountability. And we desperately need to learn accountability.

In 2019, I was asked to speak at annual assembly on responsibility. I saw this as an opportunity to speak on accountability. I knew it would be the first time many incarcerated folks engaged in a discussion on this topic. I opened by citing a question from a Vera Institute report that asked crime victims what they wanted more than anything else to happen. Audience members guessed the answer would be long term sentences or corporal punishment for people who perpetrated harm. But that wasn’t the number one answer. What people wanted most: that it never happen again, to them or anyone else.

I chose this question because I wanted the audience to know that the police could not give these people want they wanted. They only become involved after the harm has occurred. Neither could the district attorney or the judge. The DOC and the parole boards definitely are powerless to give people who have been harmed what they want most. The only people who can give them what they want is us. We have the power to make sure the harm doesn’t happen again. And just as some of us had made a decision to harm another person, we could make another decision to not repeat our behavior.

From there, I was able to springboard into a conversation on accountability. On not just being sorry, but “doing” sorry. I focused on what we could do right now to make sure we didn’t continue to harm others. I spoke about the pillars of accountability. I spoke on what it means to really be remorseful and not just regretful. I spoke on making amends. But that was one day.

What we need is sustained study and practice. What we need is community where we can practice accountability. What we need are allies that support and encourage accountability practices. And we need it now. This is one of the things we need to build if we are to create a world we can all thrive in and that doesn’t use cages to remedy harm. It’s tricky. I have to keep everyone’s humanity in the forefront of my mind. No one is disposable. And I have to be firm and require accountability from my circle.

Aishah Simmons’s new book is entitled “Love with Accountability”. That sums up what is required. Love has to be the motivation, the impetus. Accountability has to be the practice. Some days, I can keep all the balls in the air. Other days, I drop all of them. It’s tricky. But with practice, I am getting better. With comrades and allies, I am becoming more adept at loving with accountability.

Join me in this balancing act.

Toward Insurrection: Anarchist Strategy in an Era of Popular Revolt

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What role can anarchists in the United States play in popular uprisings like the ones of 2020? While many of us made solid contributions to the riots, the events of last year also highlighted some of our significant deficiencies. Anarchists’ attempts to show up to riots in the ways in which we’re accustomed, at least here in Philly, often felt ineffective and at best out of touch with those around us. I still believe that anarchists have the potential to contribute in crucial ways to destroying this system and making another end of the world possible. At this point, though, a willingness to reflect on and question our views is needed in order to really move in that direction.

This question of anarchist participation is fundamentally intertwined with issues around race and whiteness, and the past year’s discourse on the topic has felt typically inadequate in addressing these questions. Leaving the bad-faith nature of many of the critiques aside, many white anarchists have found it easier to dismiss criticisms by automatically conflating them with liberalism or political opportunism. While this is often accurate, it shouldn’t allow us to not take questions about our relationship to whiteness seriously. Whiteness isn’t just a skin color that non-white people happen to be skeptical of. It’s also a particular kind of colonized (and colonizing) mentality that restricts our imagination and can affect everything from how we interact in the streets to what we as individuals personally envision as our insurrectionary future (or lack thereof).

Aside from the anarchists who were radicalized over this past year, most anarchists today came into radical politics through resistance to Trump’s presidency (which centered on an “antifa”that was majority white in the public imaginary, and often in reality), an Occupy movement dominated by white progressives, or what are now called the anti-globalization struggles of the early 2000’s. Throughout these movements, anarchists of color have also appeared alongside white anarchists in the streets, though not necessarily identifying with them, and have tried to carve out space for the primacy of anti-racist struggles. But this past year has been a visceral and unavoidable reminder that Black (as well as Indigenous) radical struggles against the state have always been and continue to be far more powerful than most anarchists’ occasional vandalisms, or even our more targeted (but isolated) acts of property destruction.

This article tries to take seriously the claim that white people, including white anarchists, will not be the protagonists of liberatory struggle in the United States —not in order to marginalize anarchists’ uncompromised visions of freedom from the state, capital, and white supremacy, but instead to reveal some under explored strategies for how we might actually get there. Today we face an unprecedented crisis of capital and the state, and despite our best efforts none of us can predict how any of it will shake out. Despite the Biden administration’s best efforts to restore order and recuperate rebellion, it feels like the chaos that boiled over last year is fated to return, especially as ecological and economic collapse creep closer and the everyday executions of Black people continue with no particular changes that we can observe. In this context, we look around and take our inspiration from the resistance we see actually happening, even if it counteracts some of our inherited assumptions and desires. Right now, all possibilities are on the table.

This essay begins with some brief reflections on anarchist activity in the context of uprisings in several cities in the U.S. over this past year. In cities like Portland and Seattle, anarchist activity has shown both the potential and the limits of some tried-and-true tactics of the insurrectionary anarchist approach that’s been established in the U.S. over the past couple decades. The rest of the essay explores other traditions that might expand our sense of how insurrections occur and how we might personally participate in moving things in that direction. We also include [not in the online version]a Philly-specific map that we hope will provide a useful resource for readers in Philly. Maybe it’ll also inspire others elsewhere in how they approach future moments of potential insurrection and State collapse.

Monday May 24th: Letter-writing for Ruchell Cinque Magee

from Philly ABC

ruchell-magee.jpgRuchell Magee is one of the longest-held California prisoners who has been dubbed a political prisoner due to his spontaneous participation in the Marin Courthouse rebellion– the famous incident that spawned Black August. He is serving a sentence of 7 years to life for a nonviolent disagreement that landed him the wrongful charge of ‘kidnapping to commit robbery.’ Years later, he happened to be in the courthouse for unrelated reasons when Jonathan Jackson entered to free his brother and Black Liberation icon George Jackson. According to a sworn affidavit from one of the jurors, the jury voted for acquittal on charges from the Courthouse rebellion, however, this acquittal has been obscured and he continues his fight to expose this.

Ruchell is now 82 years old, and has spent more than 58 years in prison. From behind bars, he has been a positive force by helping many people with his tireless work as a jailhouse lawyer. He currently has a pro se motion pending review by the Supreme Court as well as a commutation application to be reviewed by the Governor. He is also parole eligible. Please join us Monday at Clark Park (stone platform near 45th and Chester) as we reach out to Ruchell to connect, offer solidarity, and see what all can be done to free him this year so that he can finally reunite with his family.

Because we are not aware of any political prisoners with a birthday in June, instead of birthday cards we will pass around cards for Palestinian freedom political prisoners: Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, Dr. Issam Hijjawi Bassalat, Khalida Jarrar, Layan Kayed, Ahmad Sa’adat, and Khitam Saafin.