Four More Bravely Stare Down State’s Fixation On Retribution For 2017 Smyrna Prison Uprising

from Support the Vaughn 17

Wilmington, DE

“Prison is not somewhere people aspire to spend their lives,” Delaware assistant attorney general Nichole Warner told us as she opened the state’s case against Kevin Berry, John Bramble, Abednego Baynes and Obadiah Miller. These four individuals, like those who were tried before them, know this fact all too well given the repression they have faced before and after the events of February 2017. And so, once again we bear witness and offer support however we can- by writing letters, by showing up in court, by raising money, by making time to listen, by lifting up voices for human dignity!

Speaking about February 1, 2017- AG Warner described “a day unlike any other, that not all would live to regret,” when prisoners seized control of C building at James T. Vaughn Correctional Facility, and held it for nearly a day. She spoke of the uprising in terms of terror and criminal responsibility, underscoring the state’s method of dealing with issues by making people pay, instead of taking even modest steps to correct dire problems. It was evident from the previous trial, where no service was given to the vicious, coordinated and planned machinations of prison (and the devastating impacts this causes to people and families), but rather, a singular desire on the part of the state to identify, isolate, and punish several individuals for the collective failure of a brutal, racist system to protect even its own enforcers, such as the late Sergeant Steven Floyd.

Cautions came in opening arguments from defense attorneys for each of the comrades currently facing trial, focusing on Delaware’s accomplice liability statutes and the state’s emphasis on circumstantial evidence. Cleon Cauley for Abednego Baynes noted that “everything the state said earlier was not evidence” and advanced his notion that “it will become evident that the state made a snap judgment” about his client. It is hard to disagree with Mr. Cauley’s claim that “constant questioning is the only way we can reach the truth.” Andrew Witherell, representing Kevin Berry, emphasized the need for presumption of innocence despite, in his words, the stigma of incarceration and the understanding of an inmate’s condition as being unpopular. Speaking to the jury, he said “you can see and hear [collaborating] witnesses, make conclusions about what they say and how they say it, how they act, their demeanor.. you can listen and make judgment as to their bias, their concerns. Is there trickery? What do they expect to get out of this trial?” Tom Pedersen, representing John Bramble, asked the jury “would you be satisfied with what you hear if Mr. Bramble was the valedictorian of the charter school?” He then warned the jury that they would hear a “dizzying array of contradictions,” asking them to consider whether they would “allow these contradictions to return a verdict of guilty.” He also correctly identified a “lack of dignity” in the state’s approach, extending this to Sergeant Floyd and making clear that this is “about finding truth, not about throwing it up against the wall and hoping something sticks.” He promised a “vigorous and zealous” defense of John Bramble moving forward. Obadiah Miller, who was anticipating release in October 2019 prior to being targeted by this- as the judge explicitly stated during court- ongoing investigation, is being represented by Tony Figliola. Mr. Figliola instilled the notion that his client was “a friend of some of the organizers, and he was dragged into this because of that association.”

A sobering reminder that in its relentless quest to retaliate against those who dare to assert their humanity, the state will also seek to criminalize us based on who our friends are.

Following a once more tedious and plotless offering and review of the state’s direct evidence- photographs and envelopes out of context while interviewing the state’s crime scene experts and evidence collection and processing teams- it was apparent that the approach of wearing out the jury by showing item after item would be used again, in addition to heavy reliance on collaborating witness testimony for the state. The state appears to be counting on the jury- and thusly on each of us- to accept its deadly assertions through trading on what Jarreau Ayers called “the illusion of prestige” during his own self-mounted defense in the fall’s first round of trials. Jarreau Ayers’ diligent and courageous pro se efforts resulted in his acquittal by jury on the murder charges and conviction on kidnapping, riot and conspiracy, but it was clear that this illusion of prestige he so perfectly identified was going to be strong again in the opening week here.

Details of what was described- as it had been in the last trial- as the biggest crime scene in Delaware history were reviewed, but the state continued to fail in accounting for why well under 10 percent of the items presented as evidence were in turn analysed by forensic experts despite this investigation being characterized as a “spare no expense” situation. The death of a law enforcement officer (as correctional officers are classified in Delaware) was one of the outcomes of the uprising- this carries its own separate murder charge in Delaware, so each defendant indicted for murder has two murder charges despite there being one death discovered in the end. The state demonstrated in its witnesses’ testimony once more that no outside consultation was made by the state’s investigators with professionals who had engaged with similar situations at any time. It was, as it had been before, abundantly clear early this week that the strength of the bamboozle would again be key to the state’s pursuit of retaliation, retribution and fear-mongering in a desperate attempt to persist in their agenda of domination over each and all of us.

Court support is always welcome- though discretion, composure and situational awareness all remain paramount as there is and has been constant media, state and law enforcement presence (all with smartphones) in the courtroom, hallways and surrounding areas in Wilmington. It remains advisable to note for care of self and others that this will be a long haul, with record of a 5 week trial completed thus far and reasonable belief that this second round of four planned trials will last at least that long as well. Stay tuned for regular updates as to the evolving cases both for and against the defendants of Smyrna.

vaughn17support.org

Second ‘Vaughn Uprising’ Prison Revolt Trial Underway in Delaware

from Unicorn Riot

Wilmington, DE – On Monday January 14, opening arguments took place in the second trial of prisoners accused of involvement in a prisoner revolt at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center on February 1, 2017. During the events that were quickly labeled the ‘Vaughn Uprising’, prisoners at Building C at the prison facility in Smyrna, Delaware took over the building and held several guards and a prison counselor hostage while demanding improvements to poor living conditions. The uprising ended the next day with police forcibly retaking the building and with corrections officer Sergeant Steven Floyd found dead in his office.

Prisoners have also filed a lawsuit claiming prison guards systematically tortured and abused them in indiscriminate collective punishment since the uprising took place. In the months after the uprising, 18 prisoners from Vaughn would be indicted on felony charges of murder, assault, kidnapping, riot, and conspiracy.

The first trial of three prisoners accused of involvement in the Uprising concluded late last year. Dwayne Staats and Jarreau Ayers, both prisoners serving life sentences at Vaughn who represented themselves at trial and freely admitted their involvement in events during the uprising, were both convicted on some of the charges brought by the state. Derric Forney, a younger prisoner scheduled to be released in a few years, was found not guilty on all charges despite prosecutors’ insistence that he acted as a “soldier” working under alleged planners of the building takeover.

Letters sent by Staats described how the intention behind the building takeover was to create awareness about abuse and poor conditions at Vaughn. In this respect he wrote, “the trial is an extension of the uprising.” Similar themes appear poised to define the second Vaughn Uprising trial as well.

Opening arguments in the second trial from the State of Delaware, given by Deputy Attorney General Nichole Warner, were nearly identical to those made in the first trial last year. Little evidence was mentioned that pertained to the specific defendants, with the prosecution instead giving a general overview of events on February 1, 2017 and making an emotional appeal over the death of corrections officer Steven Floyd.

The four defendants currently on trial are Abednego Baynes, Kevin Barry, John Bramble, and Obadaiah Miller.

  • Baynes is alleged to have been seen participating in the attacks on each of the 3 corrections officers taken hostage that day.
  • Barry is accused of being seen “in the group huddled up in the yard” before the uprising took place, and prisoner witnesses for the state reportedly claim he was seen assaulting two corrections officers and had blood on his clothes.
  • Bramble is accused of being seen wearing a mask, assaulting one of the COs, and having blood on his hands and clothing.
  • Miller is accused of being seen by prisoners with Sergeant Floyd after he was taken hostage, is accused of being seen with a knife, allegedly had blood on his clothes, and prosecutors claim his DNA was found in the mop closet where Sergeant Floyd was kept after he was taken hostage (Floyd was later moved to the Sergeant’s office where his dead body would later be recovered. According to the autopsy by the medical examiner, Floyd did not die from a specific wound and likely would have survived if police had rescued him sooner.)

Defense attorneys for all four prisoners on trial aggressively contested the evidence against their clients in their opening arguments, insisting that the state would not meet its burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Andrew Witherell, representing Kevin Barry, told jurors that “simply because [Barry] is a sentenced inmate…that doesn’t lower his standards” of rights to due process: “the fact that he’s a prisoner does not imply any additional bad will.”

Witherell told jurors that “little, if any” of the evidence they would hear at trial would have anything to do with his client. He also cast doubt on the integrity of investigations by the prosecution, which he said was largely based on incomplete police work done in haste in the immediate aftermath of the prison revolt: “Police wrote a report, rubber stamped [it], and here we are.

Anthony Figliola, representing Obadaiah Miller, also took shots at Delaware prosecutor’s assertions about his client’s guilt. Figliola told jurors “this whole prosecution is selective” because out of “126 inmates in the C Building…only 18 were charged.” Miller was due to be released in October 2019, Figliola told the courtroom, which cast doubt on his motive to attack prison guards because he “was not one of the guys that had nothing to lose“.

Figliola asserted that the only “direct evidence” against Miller, who is accused of participating in the attack that led to Floyd’s eventual death, is from other prisoners, “individuals who weren’t charged” and therefore have a clear motive to curry favor from prosecutors and prison officials through testimony favorable to the state’s case. He also told jurors about how many of the inmate witnesses had been housed together in the months leading up to trial, creating a scenario where “some of them go back, and they talk to the other inmates, and a plan is formulated” to change their stories.

Maybe 8 people…had access to that mop room at all times…whose DNA did they look for? One person. That’s what I mean when I talk about selective prosecution.” – Anthony Figliola, defense counsel for Obadaiah Miller

Miller’s lawyer further attacked the assertions that he stabbed Sergeant Floyd, saying that investigators “didn’t find any shank on Mr. Miller“, “didn’t find his fingerprints or DNA on any shanks“, and didn’t find any blood on his clothes. Miller is also accused of being seen wearing a mask during the uprising, which Figliola said doesn’t mean he is guilty since many prisoners were covering their faces to avoid breathing in smoke from fires that had been set inside the building. Figliola also told jurors that Miller’s DNA being found in the mop closet where Floyd was held hostage didn’t mean he was guilty either, since Miller was a “tier man” who was entrusted with a job cleaning the prison facility, meaning that he had regular access to the mop closet, meaning that his DNA could have ended up there as the result of his normal cleaning duties.

Thomas Peterson, defense counsel for John Bramble, began his opening argument with a folk tale about a farmer who finds a snake freezing to death and puts it in his pocket, only to be bitten and poisoned by the snake. He told jurors that the fable illustrated why they shouldn’t trust the inmate witnesses central to the prosecution’s case: “really what this case is going to boil down to…[is] the testimony of snakes from James T. Vaughn…this case is predicated upon the testimony of those inmates.”

Peterson went on to tell the court that “there is not one iota of objective, scientific evidence that points to the guilt of John Bramble” and promised that “you are going to hear a dizzying array of contradictions” in the evidence provided by the state.  Bramble’s lawyer also challenged jurors to reflect on whether it was truly possible for them to give a fair trial with the presumption of innocence “to someone who’s already in jail”, asking them “Would you be satisfied with this same quality of prosecution…if Mr. Bramble were the valedictorian of the charter school?

Peterson said that Bramble deserved “to be prosecuted based on quality evidence” and denounced the prosecution’s evidence as having “no dignity” and providing “a lack of dignity to Sergeant Floyd” by not adequately investigating the circumstances surrounding his death. Characterizing the Delaware Attorney General’s work on the Vaughn Uprising case as a “throw everything up against the wall and hope something sticks approach“, Peterson told the jury that “an inmate doesn’t come to court and testify unless he wants something in return.”

After the first three defendants made opening arguments, Judge William Carpenter told the state to call their first witness, and had to be reminded that he had forgotten entirely about Abednego Baynes, the fourth defendant on trial in his court. Baynes is represented by attorneys Saagar Shah and Cleon Cauley, whose opening argument alleged that the state made a “snap judgement” after the uprising and that the case against their client is based on that snap judgement rather than proper evidence. “My client was put on a list early in this process,” Cauley told the court, asking jurors to “question everything” and to look out for missing or contradictory evidence in the state’s case. Like other defense counsel, Cauley insisted that “little, if any” of the evidence to be presented at trial would implicate Abednego Baynes.

The case brought by the Delaware Attorney General, like their case in the first trial, depends on accounts by cooperating inmate witnesses, many of whom have given contradictory statements and live at the mercy of prison officials who will be watching their testimony with interest.

Testimony by inmate witnesses is also expected to be used as evidence in a lawsuit on behalf of prisoners housed at Vaughn. The lawsuit, which is being brought by Delaware attorney Stephen Hampton, alleges a deliberate policy of “ongoing abuse” and “ubiquitous torture” of prisoners. Hampton also noted that three suspicious deaths of Vaughn prisoners since the February 2017 uprising have been dismissed by state officials as unrelated to any foul play by prison staff. In the first Vaughn trial last year, several inmate witnesses for the state testified about being violently abused by prison guards and police in the immediate aftermath of the uprising.

The second Vaughn Uprising trial, like the first, is scheduled to last over a month, with weeks of witness testimony from corrections officers and inmate witnesses. 11 other prisoners indicted for their alleged role in the uprising are scheduled to go to trial later in 2019.

 

Title photo credit: Tomasz Kuran aka Meteor2017, via Wikimedia Commons


Unicorn Riot’s Coverage of the Vaughn Uprising trials:

Philadelphia, 2018: Year in Review

from It’s Going Down

Originally published in the pages of the anarchist magazine, Anathema, what follows is a look back and reflection on anarchist activity in 2018 in the Philadelphia area.

Most of 2018 was a disaster, as the Trump administration carried on with its daily diversions and atrocities against the backdrop of the rapid destruction of the earth, ever-worsening economic downturn and class stratification, and rampant white supremacy, border violence and fascism. Our efforts to fight these worsening conditions seem to us to be both extremely inadequate and to offer a glimpse of what might still be possible. Below we share some of our thoughts on changes in the local anarchist space, some of our critiques and disappointments, and some of our moments of joy and success. This article is written with the intention of initiating reflection and dialogue, and of furthering anarchist struggle; responses and critiques are welcome.

CHANGES

In 2018, we’ve seen the feeling of urgency about Trump’s presidency die down. The rush to get active has slowed and radical struggles have changed as a result. It seems that many liberals have left the streets. At the demonstrations and public meetings, instead of a mix of restless liberals and radicals, we have seen that a diversity of radicals (communists, socialists, anarchists, and others) make up a large part of who is present. The major struggles of 2018 here — anti-fascist counter-demonstrations, Occupy ICE, the prison strike — were spaces opened up by and filled with many different radical actors.

As always, 2018 brought with it social shifts in the anarchist space. Friendships forming and ending, new groups coming together and coming apart, individuals taking on more and less active roles. Some organizational projects are finished, like RAM Philly and Love City Antifa; others have sprouted up (Liberation Project, Friendly Fire, the latest incarnation of the Philadelphia IWW, and the informal pseudo-organization Summer of Rage). Other projects have stayed put, continuing and even expanding their activity during 2018: the North, West, and Solidarity chapters of Philly Food Not Bombs; Radical Education Department; the Philly Anti-Repression Fund; Philly Antifa; as well as this publication, Anathema.

One difference between 2018 and the year before has been that things have felt less frantic — the need to respond to Trump’s election by “doing something” has slipped away like so many liberals from the street. This is not to say that anarchist activity has slowed or stopped; anarchists are still doing their thing, this time with an energy that feels more unhurried.

STRENGTHS

The anarchist space has proved itself to be consistent, communicative, and intense in 2018. Through the major struggles of the year, a range of tactics and approaches were put forth. From doxxing fascists to knocking on doors to spread information in neighborhoods, from sabotage and attack to squatting and occupation, the methods used in the last year have been much more varied than in 2017. This may be due to the diversity of radicals present in and around the anarchist space.

The diversity of tactics and actors has led to a need for communication and clarification, which, although sometimes in an abrasive manner, has been met with publications, conversations, and communiques. The most notable example is the conflict between some anarchists and others at Philly’s Occupy ICE. This feud led to the clarification of anarchists’ positions within the larger radical space, via participation in assemblies, the publication of a controversial zine, the distribution of anarchist literature, and countless face-to-face conversations. Tensions along lines of class, race, and comfort were addressed by anonymous writer(s) Philly Anarchy Jawn, and texts were written by a heterogeneous group that emphasized the role of homeless comrades in the struggle against ICE and policing in general.

This kind of clarification between radicals is important to understanding each other’s struggles. It’s clear that ideas of left unity are not appealing or relevant to all anarchists in Philadelphia, but it seems that mutual understanding and the possibility of collaboration (when our goals line up) is still very much on the table. What will it look like to continue putting forward our analysis and positions? Is it really so bad if we’re not all on the same page about everything? Can we re-imagine discord between radicals as a multiplication of fronts on which to fight the social war? How can we use the diversity of ideas and approaches to struggle as a strength, and work together when our projectualities align?

Beyond Occupy ICE, counter-information initiatives continue to provide a space to encounter and deepen anarchist and anti-authoritarian ideas. The walls in 2018 were not kept blank, and anarchist zine distros, social media accounts, this newspaper, the PHL AntiCap website, conversations more and less public, and the publication of the book Movement for No Society by local anarchists have helped spread and deepen anarchist ideas. What messages are we interested in spreading, and to whom? How can we articulate our ideas in ways that are accessible to our intended audience? How can inter-anarchist communication better sharpen and solidify our ideas?

Public social space was opened up for benefit events more often this year, including for a J20 brunch, a J20 benefit at LAVA, the annual June 11th barbecue, and Running Down the Walls. If these events continued or happened more often, it could serve a number of purposes in building a stronger radical milieu.

Relatedly, anti-repression efforts among anti-authoritarians were strong: J20 resistance defense successfully drew to a close in the spring; the Anti-Repression Fund and other individuals conducted a campaign against the Mural Arts Program’s Frank Rizzo mural that succeeded in driving down the plea deal for a friend who had been charged with most recently vandalizing it; and a coalition of Philly anti-authoritarians got together to help coordinate support for the Vaughn 17 prison rebels as their trials began in the fall in Wilmington, DE.

Philadelphia ABC has been a consistent project that aims to support political prisoners, but has made efforts to do much more. Monthly letter-writing nights not only open space to communicate with prisoners, but also for anarchists, new or not, to run into each other and share a meal. ABC organized Running Down the Walls in August to uplift the struggle of political prisoners, and has also been focused on freeing the Virgin Island 3 by organizing a call-in and write-in campaign. What other long-term anti-prison projects are we interested in creating? How can we bridge the gap between so-called political and social prisoners?

As anarchists face a society whose notion of time matches the speed and amnesia of scrolling through a smartphone feed, memory and remembrance begin to feel more and more important. Timelines and chronologies have been published online and as zines, specifically a text on the unfolding of the anti-ICE camps and a zine recording the struggle against gentrification over the last five years. This year saw the death of Pablo Avendano, which had a powerful impact on many radicals. People wrote graffiti, dropped a banner, and organized two bicycle rides to commemorate his life and keep his name in the street and in struggle. Some attacks during Black December (an international call for action and communication in remembrance of dead anarchists) were accompanied by communiques that explicitly reference anarchists internationally who have passed away. How can our sense of memory and time be used to further struggle? How can we avoid the trap of longing for the past while remaining immobilized in the present?

Like 2017, 2018 saw consistent clandestine attacks and sabotage throughout the year, reminding us that breaking the social peace is still possible. Attacks were one way that people were able to practice and deepen their skills, experiment with what does or does not work, and figure out what it will take to fight against domination as this global shitshow gets even worse.

This year, the timing of various attacks has been more lined up with the directions of local events and social struggles. During Occupy ICE, attacks took place against collaborating companies and banks; during the prison strike, prison profiteers like Starbucks and UPS were struck; and in the lead-up to fascist and far-right gatherings, symbols and people involved were attacked.

In the spring, an underground campaign against Amazon, during which most notably an Amazon Treasure Truck was set on fire overnight in the parking lot of a West Philly Amazon warehouse, was probably a major reason that the corporation ultimately decided to place its second headquarters elsewhere. Prior to the campaign, Philadelphia had been within Amazon’s top three choices for HQ2.

In the fall, anti-fascists waged a concerted campaign to stop Keystone United (a state-wide white supremacist bonehead crew) from holding its annual Leif Erikson Day celebration at the Thorfinn Karlsefni statue in Philadelphia. After 30 days of impressively doxxing seemingly everyone who has ever purposely hung out with KU members, including detailed information on the housing, employment and cars of some key regional members, KU members and associates were scared and panicking. When vandals in the night took down the Thorfinn statue itself and threw it in the Schuykill River, the conditions for KU’s event were completely destroyed. This is the first time in recent memory that anti-authoritarians have succeeded in completely preventing a fascist or far-right event from occurring here, rather than from simply disrupting it — this can point us in the direction of further success.

2018 saw some escalation in terms of attacks. Attacks aimed at individuals responsible for domination (a prison guard’s car and a far-right organizers home), attacks using fire (the burning of a cell phone tower and an Amazon truck), and attacks during Black December (against police cars and ATMs) indicated more frequent use of more intense methods than in previous years.

The last year has seen the continuation of many anarchist practices based in time and continuity. May Day, June 11th, International Week of Solidarity with Anarchist Prisoners in August, the days surrounding Thanksgiving and Columbus Day, Black December, and New Year’s Eve have all been accompanied by intentional anarchic activities. What would it look like to extend this calendar to encompass the whole year? What can we do in the time in between these rituals? How can we continue to maintain them and also extend our activity beyond them?

LESS GOOD STUFF

We still haven’t figured out how to completely prevent or even disrupt major public fascist and far-right demos in Philly. A major effort was made to push back against the Proud Boys’ rally here on November 17th, which got a great turnout for the opposition, but the rally itself still happened as planned. As with the protest against the MAGA march in 2017, counter-demonstrations this year like the anti-Blue Lives Matter march in August have been confrontational, but not pointed. They gave us some valuable practice acting together in the streets, but did not complete their original goal of stopping the right-wing from marching. If we want to make sure the far right does not assert themselves in the streets, we need more people to show up to counter their street presence, and we also need to experiment with new strategies to prevent them from getting there in the first place.

Aside from some Philly anarchists’ ongoing support of local political prisoners and recent support of the Vaughn 17, anarchists still mostly don’t have connections with prisoners in the region. Developing better connections to prisoners would help us have an ear to what’s happening inside, and would enable us to intervene more directly in prison struggles, in addition to supporting actions like the prison strike through outside solidarity actions.

As with almost everything else, we are generally nowhere near in skills, resources, or capacity to effectively take on the energy industry’s ever-growing encroachments on the region’s land and water, much less to move towards destroying forever the infrastructure that makes global capitalism and American settler civilization possible. Daily news reminds us of the massive extinction events, climate catastrophes, and human migration and suffering that is already resulting from climate change. We were glad to see people take up sabotage tactics against pipeline construction this year, as well as blockades against the Mariner East 2 and other pipelines, and we encourage more imagination and exploration of concerted action this year as new infrastructure continues to be built. For more socially oriented anarchists, imagining and spreading resources that could provide new means of survival, to show what else is possible as well as provide in case others do succeed in destroying the current infrastructure, could be a crucial contribution.

The insurrectionary milieu still experiences people moving relatively quickly in and out of activity, as people figure out what they are or are not into, and struggle with fear, life under capitalism, and feelings of exclusion. We would welcome more initiatives that create the feelings of community and acceptance that many of us are looking for. The lack of it is an ongoing issue for people trying to remain active in the scene, and as usual we encourage people who perceive a problem to offer their critique through action – in this case, this could look like helping correct the problem by organizing a potluck, a game, a demo, etc.

Death, illness, and sadness have weighed heavily on the anarchist space this year, and we have found friendship and care to be ever more important, and at times life-saving.

Philly Turns Up the Heat for Mumia Abu-Jamal

from It’s Going Down

The following press release about continued action in support of Black Liberation prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal was sent to It’s Going Down, which we reprint below.

A community delegation delivered thousands of petitions to Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner on January 7th, asking him to not stand in the way of justice for Mumia Abu-Jamal and to not appeal a December 27, 2018 court decision by Common Pleas Judge Leon Tucker.

Wayne Alexander Cook (nephew of Mumia Abu-Jamal) handed the 4,227 signed petitions to Krasner’s assistant as they entered the DA’s lobby. The thick manila envelope also contained letters from Tadashi Seto (Doro-Chiba, Japanese rail workers’ union), Edwin R Ferris (International Secretary-Treasurer of International Longshore & Warehouse Union) and other labor statements in support of Abu-Jamal’s quest for freedom after 37 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

The DA refused to talk with the group that included Michael Africa, Jr (MOVE Organization), Sandy Joy (Rowen University professor) and other members of the umbrella group Mobilization4Mumia. The DA’s Director of Communications Ben Waxman did meet soon after, but revealed no new information when asked whether or not Krasner will appeal. “That’s above my paygrade,” he said.

The online petitions were gathered in ten days from thousands of people in the US and from around the world by Roots Action and Mobilization4Mumia.

The petitions are part of an effort to persuade Philadelphia DA Krasner to refuse an appeal of Tucker’s ruling. Such an appeal would lead to years of court proceedings and further postpone Abu-Jamal’s chance to prove his innocence. After almost four decades in prison and suffering from cirrhosis of the liver and related ailments, years of court delays will be nothing less than a death sentence and a denial of justice.

On January 5th, 2019 almost 200 people marched in the rain with signs and banners in front of the DA’s office with demands of: “Justice Now! Krasner: Don’t Appeal! Free Mumia! ”

Mumia Abu-Jamal won the significant victory before Judge Leon Tucker in a decision granting Abu-Jamal new rights to re-open appeals. The ruling could impact other prisoners whose appeals were similarly denied by biased judges.

Tucker ruled that former PA Supreme Court Justice Ronald Castille denied Abu-Jamal fair and impartial hearings by not recusing himself from the defendant’s appeals between 1998 and 2012.  The ruling referenced Castille’s public statements of being a “law and order” prosecutor, responsible for 45 men on death row, the support of the Fraternal Order of Police, and new evidence supporting the claim that Castille singled out men convicted as “police killers.” Tucker cited all the above because they created the appearance of bias and impropriety in the appeal process.

Abu-Jamal has always maintained his innocence in the fatal shooting of police officer Daniel Faulkner. Judge Tucker’s ruling means that Abu-Jamal’s appeals of his 1982 convictions are restored. Abu-Jamal has argued through his past appeals that he was framed by police and that the prosecution manufactured evidence of guilt and suppressed the proof of his innocence, in addition to other violations of his due process rights.

After decades in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Abu-Jamal’s supporters are demanding that the charges should be dismissed and he should be freed.

On Flexing and Cyberspace: Brief Thoughts on the NYE Noise Demo

Submission

Happy Twenty-Nine Guillotine! As many huddle around the television, all dressed up in their most glitzy and glamorous attire in anticipation of the clock tick tocking to midnight, those rowdy neighborhood anarchists have taken to their own NYE ritual. Instead of popping bottles of champagne, we pop bottle rockets at prisons. This year was no different. A rowdy noise demonstration took place in center city on NYE, full of noisemakers, fireworks and spraypaint. It was quick, well executed, and everyone got away ok! I sincerely hope that those inside were able to hear/see a bit of the show before Philly’s Swinest had to show up and ruin our fun :(. It was a well executed demonstration from rushed start to the final dumpster dive. Some cute tags went up, the demo at the FDC started with a very large fireworks display, followed by many bottle rockets, and once too many cops showed up we made a timely exit. I would like to touch on two observations though and pose some questions pertaining to them.

Firstly, I’m not one to try and tell people what to chant. In my personal opinion, however, the amount of flexing that goes on in Philly’s chant game is pretty corny. There were many “aggressive” chants pertaining to cops. They reminded me of middle school and listening to Leftover Crack. Love the sentiment and if people feel empowered by these chants that’s fantastic, but the degree of flexing in these statements is so extreme. Out in the streets we are most certainly not in a place to be performing these actions, nor are we even armed. Empty threats and talking too much potentially puts you and others around you in danger. Security culture is important, even in our chants. Essentially don’t talk about shit you are gunna do in public and don’t talk about shit you’re not gunna do in public. Sure these chant’s are cute and fun, but are they entirely realistic both in expressing ones desires and current possibilities? Furthermore, are they smart chants to be saying, or could these messages be conveyed in a more secure fashion?

Secondly, I would like to touch on the ever present monster in our modern lives that is the smartphone. Scouring the interwebs I saw photos that were taken at the demonstration last night. None of them were of people doing anything, however, does insta really have to know about this tonight? One can’t come back tomorrow or another time to catch a shot of the tags? Taking your smart phone to the demo and taking photographs at the thing poses a risk for yourself and other individuals. It can definitively place you at the demo via location data and track the march route. If police were to get a hold of someones phone, they could find cameras on the march route and the footage on those may potentially catch people a case. Furthermore, your microphone is always on, recording everything that you say and that is said around you…see the previous paragraph. Another thing with taking photographs, the image files have data encoded into them when you take them. This data includes the time, date, and location the photograph was taken and data pertaining to what phone took the image. These images can then potentially be synced with icloud or google photos where these companies now presumably have some sort of record of the photographs. I guess what I am trying to say is that a lot can go wrong with bringing your phone to the demo and using it. It’s typically a better idea to leave it at home, or if you must bring it, password protect everything, encrypt your SD card, uninstall any apps that have a profile linked to you, turn off location data, and turn it off. Your friends don’t need to know what you’re up to for social media clout, it’s actually better if they don’t.

None of these ideas are meant to be proposed in a fashion asserting that anyone did anything “wrong”. These are just a few points that I think could be beneficial for people to think about and talk with their respective affinity groups about. Stay safe and stay smart so we can continue to be dangerous in the streets together.

Love and Solidarity to those locked up for daring to take on law and order!
Till all prisoners are free and all prisons are ash!
Go Birds!
Be Crime Do Gay (Come up with a fresh catch phrase 2k19)

Report from New Year’s Eve Noise Demo

Submission

A call was made for an anti-prison solidarity noise demo on NYE. When we arrived to the meetup there were scattered crews huddled in the rain, around 20 or 30 people in all. A short announcement was made explaining the route and dispersal for the march, supplies to share, and the legal number.
The march began by taking the street. There was a banner that read “Total Freedom Against All Authority”, drums, black flags, fireworks, leaflets, shakers, graffiti, and rowdy voices showing disdain for prison and police.
Once at the prison more fireworks were shot and we made a bunch of noise. Cops showed up surprisingly fast compared to other years. But the march left the prison as the plan was to leave once police presence was significant. We marched against traffic until we turned into an alley, where a dumpster was thrown to block the way. Everyone dispersed.

What we liked
We liked keeping this New Year’s Eve anti-prison tradition alive. We were happy with the turnout despite the weather. People came prepared with their own objectives and the tools to carry them out. We liked that the bloc stayed together and kept it tight once the cops arrived. We liked that we didn’t wait around to get fucked up by the police. We’re glad that the planning and promotion were kept offline. We thought overall that the demo went smooth. This demo opened our eyes to the potential of short flash mob type actions and left us wondering what something like this would look like with a different intensity.

What we didn’t like
Because of its shortness we regret not seeing the prisoners. That was our biggest disappointment because the intention behind the demo was to have an interaction with the prisoners. It’s difficult to navigate how long to stick around while maintaining an intensity that feels honest and defiant without making it easier for the cops to arrest us. Two more take aways were: we could have done more to make our banner less flimsy, and that we wonder if this particular demo is becoming predictable to the police. Lastly the unfortunate timing of a park ranger meant we couldn’t have more time for discussion before the march began.

We hope that other people at the march share their reports, thoughts, criticisms, and feelings and we can create an open dialogue around actions.

For the blackest December
No prisons
No borders
Fuck law and order
Happy New Year!

Report from End of the Year Critical Mass Ride on December 14.

Submission

I want to go over how the ride went and open a dialogue on the possibilities of bike demonstrations. Even though the demonstration was publicly called for, the location was not immediately posted online, police did not come to the starting location. The starting time of ride at 5PM was an excellent choice because the bikes could easily move through rush hour traffic and avoided a police tail for the entire ride. Police arrived at the end when people were gathered in the street blocking traffic for around 45 minutes. Some of the riders carried black and red flags, flares, or music. The colorful, loud, crowd drew attention in a way that wasn’t seen as threatening by most people on the street, which allowed for paint and flare throwing to take place in a setting without a hostile crowd. The ride went through multiple neighborhoods, disrupting traffic without sacrificing mobility. Chants against capital, and in memory of Pablo, an anarchist killed by a car while making food deliveries were shouted during the ride. During the ride I attempted to thrown paint balls at two symbols of capital. One against a Bank of America failed, the other was against a new luxury housing building. The former failed because I tried to thrown the paint ball from a moving bicycle, while the latter succeeded, that time I stopped and then threw. Throwing accurately from a moving bicycle is a lot harder than stopping for a moment and throwing. I don’t want to make the ride seem more confrontational than it was, most people in attendance were focused on making noise, slowing traffic, and bringing the memory of people killed by cars to the street.

Demonstrations on bikes seem underused among Philly anarchists and have potential for festive and offensive uses. An advantage of the bicycle demonstration is speed, it’s likely that police will not catch up with a demonstration moving through congested traffic faster than a car can. This can allow for offensive actions to be carried out across a large area without as much risk as a demonstration that marches. Using bikes brings up questions that aren’t addressing when marching on foot. The practice of anonymity is complicated when bicycles enter the picture, not everyone has extra anonymous bikes ready to use and potentially abandon. How can a bike be made nondescript?

Carrying the memory of the dead as a weapon
Furthering anarchist dialogue and action

Mixed Guilty Verdict Against First Vaughn 17 Trial Group

from Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement

Mixed Guilty Verdict Against First Vaughn 17 Trial Group
“Dwayne Staats testimony reiterates the painstaking process of attempting to be heard in a society that consistently renders black voices, and especially black incarcerated voices, silent.”

The Delaware courts have issued guilty verdicts for two of the defendants of the first trial group for the Vaughn 17. Only one person, Dwayne Staats, was found guilty of murder, Jarreau Ayers was found found guilty of kidnapping and assault, and Deric Forney was found not guilty of all charges.

Dwayne and Jarreau were forced to represent themselves due to insufficient legal representation. Despite having no physical evidence connecting Dwayne to the murder he was still convicted, based solely on the word of a cooperator.

In the midst of a trial, particularly one of this magnitude, it is easy to get lost in legal arguments, the moralizing, and the grand sweeping statements from the press, prosecutors and politicians. But as the smoke clears and the dust settles, this trial, and the uprising in general is about the inhumane and barbaric conditions inmates in the US are forced to suffer.

The Vaughn 17 were protesting for very basic improvements, which are routinely ignored. Dwayne Staats’ testimony reiterates the painstaking process of attempting to be heard in a society that consistently renders black voices, and especially black incarcerated voices, silent; a society that deems it acceptable to coldly and in a calculated way, rip the humanity the away from those it incarcerates. The Vaughn 17, and many others who were incarcerated at Smyrna prior to the uprising, had protested, cried, and plead to be treated humanely. The uprising was a last resort to ask for better treatment, but the judgement confirmed that those incarcerated should have no voice and should accept this treatment.

While this outcome is a hardly surprising result from white supremacist America, we would like to celebrate the principled stance of the Vaughn 17. They stood strong in their solidarity and did not implicate each other and have successfully politicized their trial. In light of the prisoner led anti-slavery campaign, the Vaughn 17 is proudly poised as an important voice and example in this movement. We will continue amplifying their voices, making their case known and struggle along side them as these trials continue, and they face their sentences.

Dare to struggle! Dare to win!

Delaware Vaughn Prison Revolt Trial Ends In Mixed Verdict

from Unicorn Riot

Wilmington, DE – The trial of three prisoners accused of involvement in a February 1, 2017 prisoner uprising at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center finished testimony and closing arguments last week. After a trial lasting about a month, jurors began deliberations on Friday, November 16, and reached a verdict Tuesday afternoon.

In what has become known as the Vaughn Uprising, prisoners took over Building C at the Vaughn prison in Smyrna, Delaware, and took three prison guards and one prison counselor hostage. Demands issued during the hostage standoff included that Delaware Governor John Carney investigate poor living conditions at the facility. One correctional officer who was taken hostage, Steven Floyd, would later be found dead after police re-entered the facility.


On the afternoon of Tuesday, November 20, jurors in the case returned a verdict, according to the Delaware News-Journal:

After a nearly four-week trial, a New Castle County jury found Dwayne Staats guilty of first-degree felony murder, first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer, kidnapping, assault and conspiracy. 

Staats was found not guilty of intentional murder in the first degree.

Jarreau Ayers was found not guilty of any of the three murder charges but guilty of kidnapping, assault and conspiracy. 

Deric Forney was found not guilty of all charges against him and is set to go free. – Delaware News Journal, November 20, 2018

Below is Unicorn Riot’s full report on the evidence and testimony made in the first Vaughn Uprising case.

Read our first report from the trial, covering opening arguments, here. 


The three defendants in the first trial group were charged with riot, three counts of murder in the first degree (Delaware law allows to charge multiple counts based on the same murder), two counts of assault, four counts of kidnapping, and conspiracy to commit riot. 13 other defendants from the uprising are also slated to face trial throughout 2019.

A cooperating defendant, Royal Downs, was also indicted on lesser charges and still awaits trial and sentencing, with results presumably depending on how pleased prosecutors are with his performances at trial.

Defendants Derric Forney, Dwayne Staats, and Jarreau Ayers (left to right). Composite image via WDEL News

Judge William Carpenter’s courtroom held a tense, electric energy at times as two of the defendants – Jarreau Ayers and Dwayne Staats, both of whom represented themselves in court and are already serving life sentences for previous murder cases – each took the stand to testify on their own behalf. Both men denounced the conditions in Vaughn, mocked the contradictions in the prosecution’s evidence, and refused to implicate other prisoners they knew to be involved in the takeover.

It is unclear what punishments the court could impose against the two men, since they both already are sentenced to life without the chance of parole. Conservative Delaware lawmakers recently failed to reinstate the death penalty, which the state’s Supreme Court effectively abolished in 2016. Jarreau Ayers told jurors that the Department of Corrections could still retaliate against them by essentially keeping them in solitary confinement, or “the hole“, for the rest of their lives.

The two men representing themselves added an explicitly political element to the case, allowing details and opinions about prison life to come up in court that probably wouldn’t have been mentioned otherwise. In his closing argument, Jarreau Ayers thanked Judge William Carpenter, saying that Carpenter had been highly conscientious in allowing himself and Dwayne Staats a wide latitude to defend themselves in court. Both men were provided with standby counsel, lawyers who did not represent them but directly assisted them in matters such as evidence and motions.

The third defendant, Derric Forney, serving an 11-year robbery sentence, was barely mentioned at all by the prosecution. A few inmate witnesses claimed to have seen Forney attack and handcuff corrections officer Joshua Wilkinson, although other state’s witnesses testified that they saw the entire attack and Forney was not involved. Forney was represented by defense lawyer Ben Gifford. Forney himself took the stand to say that he was not involved in the uprising. He also shared his trauma of being brutalized by officers who he said went cell to cell violently beating and pepper-spraying inmates after police retook Building C. In closing arguments, Assistant Attorney General John Downs seemed to gloss over the lack of evidence against Forney by calling him a “soldier” in contrast to Ayers and Staats, whom he cast as “leaders“.

A fourth defendant, Roman Shankaras, who prosecutors had accused of being the “mastermind” behind the uprising, had been a part of this first trial group but was later severed from the case. He is expected to face trial sometime in 2019.

While the state showed jurors mountains of evidence, very little of it was tied directly to the defendants. Among primary pieces of evidence against both Jarreau Ayers and Dwayne Staats were radio recordings from the hostage negotiations, in which both men’s voices can be heard. Prosecutors have also used a letter from Dwayne Staats to another inmate, seized during a cell search, in which he appeared to take responsibility for organizing the revolt. Another letter from Roman Shankaras to Royal Downs, an influential prisoner involved in the uprising who later flipped and became a state’s witness, was cited as evidence of a conspiracy.

One defining element of the case is a total lack of any video evidence from inside Building C; no surveillance cameras existed inside Vaughn’s Building C at the time of the uprising when the building was taken over. Some video of inmates and hostages being released from inside the building were filmed by a state police bomb squad robot in the yard outside the building, but no defendants could be seen in the video. Another video the state played for the jury showed police in SWAT gear entering the building during their operation to retake Building C. However, none of this footage showed any of the defendants and offered little insight as to what exactly happened inside Building C.

Some physical evidence was introduced by the state, such as various shanks, fire extinguishers, and mop wringers allegedly used as weapons to subdue prison guards who were taken hostage. However, Delaware State Police Sergeant Andrew Weaver, the main investigator in the Vaughn case, would admit under cross-examination that only some items were sent for forensic DNA testing. Weaver appeared unable to give an explanation for this inconsistent testing of evidence, with untested items including several shanks as well as blood-soaked gloves. Weaver repeatedly denied responsibility for deciding which items were tested, instead referring to the “collaborative effort” by the prosecution team of which he is part.

Sergeant Weaver also told the defense that he only sent in for DNA testing items which he believed to have been used in the attack on Sergeant Floyd. Weaver was unable to offer an explanation as to how he could determine, before testing, which items had or had not been used in the attack. Assistant Attorney General John Downs suggested that some items had not been sent for forensic testing due to concerns about high cost, but multiple state forensic technicians who later testified denied that cost was a consideration in testing evidence for the case. Jarreau Ayers asked Weaver if it was true that “you just left five shanks and a pair of bloody gloves off the list” of evidence to be tested in a case involving the murder of a corrections officer. Weaver did not deny that he left those items off of his list of what was sent for testing.

Other issues with evidence used by the prosecution included a map that jurors were told represented the layout of Building C and showed where pieces of evidence, such as shanks, were recovered. However, upon cross-examination, a state investigator admitted that the map, which he had claimed was simply “not to scale“, in fact left out an entire portion of the building. The defense also pointed out how many evidence items were misrepresented on the map, being shown as found in locations other than where they were actually recovered. Prosecutors quietly dropped any further use of the map from the rest of their case, although Ben Gifford, defense counsel for Derric Forney, referenced it in his closing arguments, calling it a “gem” and reminding jurors that the state had made a false representation of the evidence.

With a total lack of video evidence from inside the prison, and inconsistent testing for DNA and fingerprints, the prosecution’s case relies almost entirely on cooperating inmate witnesses. The state’s primary cooperating witness, Royal Downs, is alleged by the defense to have been an influential gang leader within the prison. At one time, Royal Downs was romantically involved with a female correctional officer who was working at Vaughn, who was eventually fired over her relationship with Downs. Opening arguments by Jason Antoine, defense counsel for Roman Shankaras (who ended up getting severed from the first trial group) alleged that Downs himself could have been the one to order the killing of Sergeant Stephen Floyd.

Several inmate witnesses for the state, including Royal Downs and Walter Smith (aka Abdul-Hafid Al-Salafi), gave the prosecution the kind of evidence they sought, namely claiming that all three defendants were involved in one way or another in the actual assaults on correctional officers. However, other inmate witnesses for the state contradicted much of this testimony.

For instance, Al-Salafi claimed that he saw one of the defendants assault a correctional officer because he was on the phone in the prison’s barber shop at the time, where he was able to see the incident through a window. Other state’s witnesses, such as prisoner Anthony Morrow, testified that they were in the barber shop using the phones at that same time and that Al-Salafi was not there. Notably, no phone records were produced by the state to prove that Al-Salafi even made a call from that phone at that time. State police detective David Weaver admitted under cross-examination that his investigation had pulled records of thousands of prison phone calls from Vaughn, and that he was not aware of any instance of DOC phone records going “missing“.

The defense claims that Al-Salafi, like other cooperating witnesses, is fabricating his testimony in order to curry favor with the Department of Corrections. While prosecutors claimed they had promised inmate witnesses no favors, defense counsel Ben Gifford pointed out the constant courtroom presence of several Delaware DOC officials, who he said easily had the means to reward prisoner witnesses with better living conditions in return for helping them “get justice for their brother” Steven Floyd, the guard hostage who died.

Delaware DOC Commissioner Perry Phelps, Deputy Commissioner Alan Grinstead, Bureau of Prison Chief Steven Wesley, and other state prison officials have been a constant presence at the trial, often taking up an entire row. Many of them were seen actively texting on their phones while inmate witnesses were testifying. Daniel Masi from the Criminal Intelligence section of the Delaware Department of Justice has also been seen in attendance.

The James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Delaware. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

During his closing arguments, Assistant Attorney General Downs admitted that Building C after the uprising was “a large, contaminated crime scene” and tried to downplay the significance of the inconsistent DNA testing done by investigators in the case. Downs instead asked jurors to rely on eyewitness testimony, saying “this case is about what the witnesses said“, apparently ignoring the blatant contradictions in different versions of events that had been offered by state’s witnesses.

According to the prosecution’s summary of their case in closing arguments, Ayers is guilty because he knew about “the plan“, he told inmates to remove locker boxes from their cells to be used to barricade doors, he “was a shotcaller” among prisoners, and allegedly had keys he was using to let prisoners out of their cells.

The case against Dwayne Staats largely relied on Staats’ own testimony in which he admitted to planning the uprising and taking Counselor Patricia May hostage. Assistant Attorney General Downs also claimed that cooperating witnesses saw Staats with a shank. One inmate witness claims he saw Staats attack Sergeant Floyd, although other state’s witnesses’ testimony contradicted this claim.

After the state rested its case, defendants Jarreau Ayers and Dwayne Staats both took the stand to testify on their own behalf. Ayers shared his version of event surrounding the uprising, saying that he had been involved in planning a peaceful protest over living conditions at Vaughn.

Ayers told the jury that eventually he was cut out of the planning and that those involved in the uprising didn’t inform him of their plans. He said he called his sister shortly before February 1, 2017 and asked her to put money on his commissary because he knew some sort of protest might happen at the facility, and he wanted to have food and supplies stocked in his cell ahead of a potential lockdown. The state has argued that the prison phone call to Ayers’ sister represents his participation in the conspiracy.

Ayers also stated that his only real active role in the uprising was to find inmates with medical conditions and make sure they were released from Building C earlier on in the takeover. He described opening the door to first try to let the inmates out (“nobody wanted to open that door“, he said) only to see a SWAT team charging towards him, leading him to quickly close the door again. He says at that moment, frustrated with the police seeming to break their word, he grabbed a walkie-talkie from Royal Downs. The police outside reportedly told him their attempted charge was a “misunderstanding” and he then re-opened the door to release the rest of the inmates with medical needs.

When Dwayne Staats took the stand, he began by reading jurors portions of a letter he wrote another inmate that had been seized as evidence. Staats told jurors that he planned the uprising as a building takeover well ahead of time, because he decided that something had to be done to bring state officials and the public to pay attention to poor conditions at Vaughn. Staats had previously surprised courtroom observers by admitting during his cross-examination of prison counselor Patricia May that he was the inmate who took her hostage.

Staats spoke about how he saw everyone at Vaughn, not just prisoners in Building C, as “victims” and described inmates, guards, and staff all being subject to a culture of “physical abuse, mental abuse…” and said he saw prison staff routinely “bullied or looked down upon by their own coworkers.

Staats said that “I didn’t kill anybody, I didn’t even assault anybody” but that he accepted responsibility for anything other than those acts. Previously during his cross-examination of Counselor Patricia May, the prison counselor who was taken hostage during the uprising, Staats surprised many observers in the court by telling Ms. May he “owed” it to her to tell her that he was the one who took her hostage that day.

Staats told jurors that “my goal was to do something to expose this place” so that the public and Governor Carney would pay attention: “It was mainly about the Governor at least acknowledging what as going on.

Staats told the jury that after his 14 years at Vaughn, “these petitions, lawsuits, peaceful protests…in my eyes, that stuff’s run it’s course.” He also said that he felt the need to create a situation that would get the attention of Delaware’s Governor, because current DOC Commissioner Perry Phelps had previously been the warden at Vaughn for 10 years “So I had to go over their head.

Staats said his plan to take over Building C to draw attention to conditions at Vaughn was “no rash decision” but rather the result of months of “deep contemplation“.

Staats claimed that his plan for the building takeover only extended so far as getting on the radio with state authorities to express prisoners’ demands. He said he was aware that Correctional Officers might be attacked as part of the takeover, but denied any knowledge of Sergeant Floyd’s death until after the uprising had ended. He claimed to be unaware of several other aspects of events, noting that he was surprised when he heard that some inmates and CO hostages had been released from Building C during the negotiations.

While Assistant Attorney General John Downs seemed on his cross-examination to try to cast Staats as the mastermind of the uprising, Staats downplayed this notion, claiming responsibility while also highlighting what he claimed was the disorganized nature of what took place. “All it took was a little push,” Staats said, adding that it wasn’t “a plot to break out of jail.

Staats said that state negotiators on the radio promised him a letter of intent from the Governor to look into the demands made by prisoners in the uprising. That letter never came, although Staats hinted that if he had received it, Sergeant Floyd could have been released. (The medical examiner who did Floyd’s autopsy said the CO likely would have survived with his wounds if he had gotten to a hospital earlier, as his wounds weren’t inherently fatal.)

Staats told jurors that while he never received that letter of intent, the same conditions at Vaughn addressed in the uprising’s demands came out in a report on the state’s investigation into Vaughn after the uprising. Staats also seemed to feel somewhat successful in regards to the plan he had executed, saying “a lot of people’s families didn’t know what was going on until the prison got lifted from obscurity.

Assistant Attorney Generals John Downs and Brian Robertson both both quite agitated during their cross-examinations of both Ayers and Staats, going red in the face with veins visibly pulsing, raising their voices and slamming fists on tables, although these behaviors may have been a deliberate emotional appeal to the jury. With Staats having taken responsibility for a fair amount of the conspiracy alleged by the prosecution, much of the prosecution’s cross-examination of him consisted of Assistant Attorney General Downs angrily repeating his own testimony to him, which he would usually nonchalantly answer in one-word responses like “yeah“.

Staats told jurors that six inmates were involved with him in the plan to take over Building C. But when he was cross-examined by Assistant Attorney Downs, he refused to identify them, answering “I can’t recall” in an ironic quotation of many of the state’s own witnesses. When AAG Downs continued to press the matter, Staats chuckled slightly and told him, “You know, I think me and Mr. Weaver have the same condition.” (Sergeant Andrew Weaver, the Delaware state police investigator assisting prosecutors with the case, had extensive testimony to offer the state but when questioned by the defense claimed to “not recall” or have forgotten many of the details he was asked about.)

Staats also told the Assistant Attorney General that he believed Lieutenant Charles Sennett, one of the first DOC officers to enter Building C, could have freed Ms. May as a hostage and ended the standoff hours earlier, but he chose not to. “The officers left her, the governor didn’t show his face to come get her, but I bet you didn’t care about that.

In closing arguments by the defense, Ben Gifford, representing Derric Forney, lambasted the state’s “poor, shoddy investigative work” in the Vaughn Uprising case. He told jurors that the lack of proper police work in the case was something Sergeant Floyd “didn’t deserve“:

What happened to Sergeant Floyd was a tragedy…so was this investigation.” – Ben Gifford, defense counsel for Derric Forney

Staats had previously written in a letter published by supporters of the Vaughn 17 that “the trial is an extension of the uprising.” Building on this theme, he closed out his testimony by telling jurors “I guess y’all witnessing the conclusion. Y’all gon’ put the exclamation mark on the whole thing.


Anti-Racist Crowd Overwhelms Small Far-Right Rally in Philly

from Unicorn Riot

Philadelphia, PA – Over a thousand anti-racist protesters gathered on Independence Mall on Saturday to oppose a “We The People” rally organized by right-wing groups tied to groups like the Proud Boys and the Three Percenter militia network.

The rally was organized by a Facebook page called ‘Sports Beer and Politics’, associated with Philly-area far-right organizers Zachary Rehl and Holly Delcampo. Social media postings leading up to the event showed organizers coordinating with members of the violent “western chauvinist” Proud Boys, a group which has been called a “gang” by its founder Gavin McInnes. Members of the neo-Nazi group, Keystone United (formerly called Keystone State Skinheads), had also indicated that they would be attending.

Around 10:30 AM, as both the far-right rally and the counter-protest began, Philadelphia police made their first arrest as officers with bikes pushed anti-racists and journalists across the street to create a wider perimeter. After police forcibly created a control zone, the event largely consisted of two opposing rallies on either side of the street. The far-right group had between 12-50 attendees throughout the day, with the anti-racist counter-protest opposing them made up of roughly 1,000 people.

See our livestream coverage from the event below:

(Correction: At times in our livestream Philadelphia Police Chief Inspector Melvin Singleton is misidentified as Police Commissioner Richard Ross. Any reference to Ross in our stream narration actually refers to Singleton. Unicorn Riot regrets the error.)

Many different Philadelphia groups came out for the event, including several unions, the Philly Coalition for Real Justice, and a coven of witches.

Witches hex Proud Boys in Philadelphia. Photo by Unicorn Riot.

The Philadelphia Flyers’ new mascot, ‘Gritty’, who has become an international antifascist symbol, made several appearances, along with internet sensation ‘Grumpy Cat’:

‘Grumpy Cat’ puppet operated by two people at the anti-racist counter-protest. Photo by Unicorn Riot.

After about an hour of speakers with a sound system and a marching band drowning out the right-wing rally from across the street, two Proud Boys were spotted in the counter-protest crowd. The two men, David Kuriakose and Simon Greenwood, had previously been identified as present at the Proud Boys’ gang beating attacks in New York City outside the Metropolitan Republican Club last month. Kuriakose was charged and arrested for his alleged role in the Proud Boys attack, according to the New York Post. The two men were escorted across the street, after some counter-protesters pushed them and threw items like water bottles.

Proud Boys David Kuriakose and Simon Greenwood ushered out of the counter-protest in Philadelphia by police, as hundreds of people chanted “assholes” at them. Photo at left by Unicorn Riot; New York photos by Shay Horse in upper right & Sandi Bachom in lower right.

Another altercation occurred down the street a few minutes later, in which a man seen hiding his face from cameras appeared to have been headbutted. Police who were already present at the scene quickly made two arrests. An unconfirmed report claims this scuffle was the result of a case of a man being mistakenly identified as part of the far-right rally.

Shortly after that incident, 48-year-old Proud Boy Alan Swinney, wearing body armor and holding a large flagpole, left the right-wing rally area in an apparent attempt to provoke a confrontation with counter-protesters. Quickly surrounded by anti-racists and reporters, Swinney was quickly escorted back into the fenced-off “We The People” rally area by Philadelphia Police as well as federal park rangers (the Independence Visitor Center where the rally took place is under federal jurisdiction).

48-year-old “Proud Boy” Alan Swinney in Philadelphia. Photo by Unicorn Riot.

A few minutes later, a group of the “We The People” rally attendees walked away from their rally location on Independence Mall. The group then walked a few blocks, escorted by dozens of police and about as many counter-protesters, to the old Philadelphia police headquarters. After presenting an award to police inside the building, the group waited around behind their police escort waiting to get picked up. However, the group had a hard time getting a ride, as an Uber driver, and later a taxi driver, both declined to pick up the passengers once counter-protesters told them they were affiliated with the Proud Boys.

Around this same time, Philadelphia police made a major show of force by Independence Mall in order to prevent counter-protesters from approaching far-right rally attendees who were leaving. Video by local reporter Joshua Scott Albert shows officers pushing a man into a tree before hitting him on the head with overhand baton strikes. At around the same time, officers were ushering Alan Swinney, the Proud Boy who had shown up wearing riot armor, into his Uber.

Red liquid that seemed to be blood was seen on the ground shortly after the police beatings. Philadelphia Police did not directly respond to an inquiry about whether overhand baton strikes to the head are consistent with policy, instead directing us to visit a webpage that includes PPD use-of-force directives.

According to Philadelphia Police Public Affairs, a total of four people were detained or arrested on Saturday, November 17: two for failure to disperse, one for disorderly conduct, and another for allegedly assaulting a police captain. No attendees from the far-right rally were cited, detained, or arrested.

The day after the rally, The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story incorrectly claiming there was “no indication” that Proud Boys or Three Percenters were present at the rally. The story was eventually corrected two days later, but not before a headline on the front page told readers there had been “no sign of hate groups“.

The Inquirer’s curious claim was easily disproven by the documented presence of Proud Boys Alan Swinney, David Kuriakose, and Simon Greenwood. Numerous rally attendees were also photographed with clothes bearing the insignia of the Three Percenter militia movement, which provided security for neo-Nazis at Unite The Right in Charlottesville.

The event’s official organizers, Zachary Rehl and Holly Delcampo, also have their own unique and checkered backgrounds. Zach Rehl is the son and grandson of Philadelphia police officers, a fact he often uses when explaining the pro-police messaging of his events. However, Rehl himself has a criminal record, including a 2015 incident that resulted in him facing charges of aggravated assault, criminal mischief, terroristic threats, assault, reckless endangerment, and drunk driving.

Comments made by Holly Delcampo on Facebook have claimed that anti-racist protester Heather Heyer died in Charlottesville from a “heart attack” and “was not hit by a car“, echoing debunked conspiracy theories spread by the alt-right about the car attack at Unite The Right.

Notably, events organized in 2017 by ‘Sports Beer and Politics’ under a pro-Trump, pro-police banner, were attended by white supremacist extremists who were seen at Unite The Right in Charlottesville.

Unicorn Riot has previously reported on the involvement of “Three Percenters” in attacks and right-wing activity at demonstrations: Three Percenters attacked a Democratic Socialists of America gathering in Kentucky in September 2018; Three Percenter social media amplified false stories that Georgia police used to craft crowd management in April 2018; Three Percenters participated in an August 2018 rally in Portland; and through data requests Unicorn Riot recently determined that in St. Paul, armed Three Percenters were improperly released from police custody after detainment in the summer of 2016.

Live reporting, photo editing and research contributed by Dan Feidt, Unicorn Riot. 

Editors note: An earlier version of this story had mistaken Holly Delcampo for another person. Unicorn Riot regrets the error.