U.S. Solitary Confinement Practices of Immigrant Detainees Deficient: International Human Rights Students, Experts at John Marshall in Chicago
From: PR Web, Feb. 5, 2014
U.S. Solitary Confinement Practices of Immigrant Detainees Deficient: International Human Rights Students, Experts at John Marshall in Chicago
From: PR Web, Feb. 5, 2014
This is the school-to-prison pipeline, which can also end up in murder. The State has no money for schools, yet there is enough money for police, weapons, prisons, and destroying people’s lives. Why?
Received per email:
Oakland, California, July 3, 2012
Friday, July 6th, anti-police brutality advocates will march in solidarity with the family of Raheim Brown Jr, gunned down by Oakland School Police officers Bhatt and Bellusa January 22, 2011.
Raheim was barely out of his teens when he was gunned down by school police on Joaquin Miller Rd. Officers Bhatt and Bellusa attempted to pull Raheim out of the vehicle he sat in with a female friend, and, when they were incapable of pulling him out, shot him seven times, twice in the head. They also brutalized the young woman.
Instead of counselors, the city of Oakland and its school board employs armed guards to patrol children as young as 11-years-old.
At a time when the school board is claiming to not even have enough money to keep schools like Marshall, Santa Fe, Lakeview, Lazear, and Maxwell open, they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on school police. Just last year, Cole Middle School in West Oakland was closed down and now functions as a school police station.
The fact that there is a separate police department to deal with our children is an insidious abuse of power perpetrated by the school board.
Friday, July 6th, 11am, we will convene at Oakland Police Department headquarters on Broadway and 7th Streets and march to the school police office located at 1011 Union Street to demand JUSTICE FOR RAHEIM BROWN JR. AND AN END TO POLICING OUR KIDS!
Good article from the L.A. Times – unfortunately it comes as no surprise, though. Sadly, no one believes it when the prisoners themselves say this stuff goes on all the time. Hopefully someone will actually be prosecuted on the testimony of these folks who took considerable risks to come forward with this information. Check out the background story on the FBI investigation of the jails and the original documents the article links to. We could use a few brave volunteers at the Maricopa county jails, too, since Sheriff Joe’s deputies themselves are all too cowardly to report on their abusive colleagues…
– Arizona Prison Watch
Two of the volunteers said they heard deputies yell “stop fighting” as deputies pummeled inmates who appeared to be doing nothing to fight back.
The allegations come on the heels of Los Angeles Times stories detailing FBI probes into deputy misconduct in the jails. The declarations are expected to be filed in court Wednesday as part of a report compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is a court-appointed monitor of jailhouse conditions.
It’s not uncommon for inmates to make allegations of abuse, but these sworn statements are noteworthy because all three are from independent civilians in the jails who say they came forward because they were troubled by what they saw. Two have included their names. The third, a chaplain whose identity was learned by The Times, opted to have his declaration filed anonymously at the last minute for fear of reprisal.
Sheriff Lee Baca did not return calls seeking comment.
In one declaration, Chaplain Paulino Juarez said he was ministering to an inmate at a cell inside Men’s Central Jail on Feb. 11, 2009, when he heard thumps and gasps. He went toward the sounds and saw three deputies pounding an inmate pressed against the wall. Juarez said he believed the inmate was handcuffed because he never raised his hands to protect his face from the deputies’ fists, instead shouting: “I am doing nothing wrong; please stop.”
The inmate, Juarez said, collapsed face first. His “body lay limp and merely absorbed their blows.” The deputies continued kicking for a minute, the chaplain said.
One deputy eventually turned and saw Juarez. “When we made eye contact, the deputy … had a nervous and surprised look on his face. Then he began making signs to the others with his hands, motioning them to stop the beating,” according to the declaration.
Later, the chaplain noticed a pool of blood, 2 feet around. He recalled one sheriff’s official yelling: “Check if he has HIV.”
The chaplain filed a report at the time — reviewed this week by The Times — and was interviewed by Sheriff’s Department investigators. In the weeks after he filed his complaint, he said passing deputies would call him “rat” and other insults. After hearing nothing for two years, Juarez reached out to the department and was granted a meeting with Baca.
The sheriff, Juarez recalled, said he had never heard about the incident.
“This happened two years ago and I’m only finding out about it now?” Baca asked his executive staff, according to the chaplain. Baca looked over the file, about 10 pages, and told the chaplain his investigators had determined the inmate was schizophrenic. Juarez said Baca told him that deputies had to punch the inmate a couple of times to get him into the cell. “Punches are allowed, but kicks are not allowed in my department,” Baca said, according to Juarez.
According to the chaplain, Baca said his investigators determined the bruises were the result of being run over by a car before the inmate was incarcerated, not from a beating.
Michael Gennaco, who heads the Office of Independent Review, said in an interview with The Times on Tuesday that the investigation file was inconsistent with the chaplain’s account. The inmate’s medical records showed he had only a cut on his forehead, burning in his eyes and redness to his left elbow — injuries that don’t match up with an extended beating.
Gennaco also said that the inmate told investigators that he was resisting and that he deserved the amount of force deputies used.
“Some of the allegations just simply don’t match up with the other evidence,” Gennaco said. “We’ve got to rely on evidence rather than mere allegations.”
Scott Budnick, a producer for “The Hangover” movies and a former writing tutor at Men’s Central Jail, also gave a sworn declaration about abuse he witnessed.
In 2009, he said he opened the door to the jailhouse chow hall, empty but for three deputies kicking and punching an inmate who fell to the floor. The deputies, he said, repeatedly yelled “stop resisting” even though the inmate wasn’t.
On another occasion, in 2008, he said he was standing outside his class, when he saw a deputy stop an inmate for a strip search.
“I then saw the … deputy grab the inmate’s head and smash his head into the wall, hard. It was so hard that I could hear an audible crack,” Budnick stated.
The chaplain who opted to be anonymous described an incident on Feb. 9. He said he was on the third floor of Men’s Central Jail filling his cart with Bibles and Christian literature when he heard deputies running and keys jangling. He then saw a group of deputies kicking an inmate face down on the ground with his hands behind his back. One deputy, the chaplain said, held the inmate’s feet and legs, another had a knee on the inmate’s neck, while the other deputies kicked his torso, the chaplain alleged.
“Chaplain, go inside!” he said one deputy yelled.
“I didn’t go inside because I had heard too many inmates tell me about beatings that the deputies had inflicted on them and I wanted to observe what was happening with my own eyes,” the chaplain said.
The allegations come as new details emerge about a flurry of federal scrutiny into the jails. The FBI has confirmed that it is looking into at least two inmate allegations of abuse. The bureau is also investigating a January incident in which an ACLU monitor said she witnessed two deputies beat an unconscious inmate for two minutes. According to sources, federal agents recently paid off a deputy in an undercover sting to smuggle a cellphone to an inmate who was secretly serving as an FBI informant.
Along with the jails, the feds are investigating a sheriff’s captain suspected of being overheard on a wiretap of an alleged Compton drug ring. The U.S. Department of Justice‘s civil rights division also recently announced a wide-scale “pattern and practice” investigation into allegations that deputies in the Antelope Valley discriminated against minority residents who receive government housing assistance.
Excellent guest post today from Max Kantar (originally published at Counterpunch): Max is a Michigan-based independent writer and the Midwest representative for the Committee to Free Alvaro Luna Hernandez. For more information on Alvaro’s case, visit www.freealvaro.net. Max can be reached at email@example.com.
May 16, 2011
By MAX B. KANTAR
“I will never surrender my pride and dignity nor allow the system to ‘cut my tongue’ and I will always, without fear, speak out against these war crimes and crimes against humanity, no matter if I spend the rest of my life in a prison cage, and draw my last breath of air laying down in this steel bed surrounded by razor-wire fences and cages, and its prison policies that are designed to destroy one’s humanity….”
—Alvaro Luna Hernandez, October 18, 2010, Hughes Unit Prison, Gatesville, Texas.
Locked in solitary confinement in a tiny cage inside one of the most notorious control units in the Texas state prison system, Alvaro Luna Hernandez is immersed in a stack of old law texts, his eyes glancing back and forth between court transcripts and a thick legal book every few moments. The streaks of gray in his full, and otherwise dark, beard betray his age in spite of his healthy, powerful frame as he reaches towards the ledge of the sink for a lone Styrofoam cup to take a sip of the stale, lukewarm commissary-bought coffee he drinks every morning, when he can afford it.
Just fifteen months shy of 60 years old, Alvaro has a remarkable amount of energy and routinely gets more work done before noon than most attorneys do in an entire day. Today he’s putting together the documents to get a new trial on a writ of habeas corpus proceeding for another prisoner who is both indigent and illiterate and feels he has been wrongly imprisoned. After that, it’s on to the cases of two other inmates Alvaro is helping out who are each facing several decades behind bars if their appeals fall through before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin. Other prisoners know to go to Alvaro for legal help; he has a well-known reputation throughout the state—indeed nationwide, as highlighted in the recent book Jailhouse Lawyers (City Lights: 2009) by Mumia Abu-Jamal—as a tenacious and effective “jailhouse lawyer” who has filed and won no small number of civil rights suits over the past four decades.
* * *
Alvaro Luna Hernandez is a political prisoner of the State of Texas and the U.S. government. He is nearly 15 years into a 50 year prison sentence for an “aggravated assault” conviction stemming from a July 1996 incident in which he disarmed a Brewster County Sheriff attempting to shoot him. Alvaro vehemently denies the charge that he assaulted the Sheriff. To Mexican-Americans in the cities, slums, plains, deserts, and prison cages of the Southwest, he is a civil rights hero, a Chicano freedom fighter true to his barrio roots and eternally fearless in the face of injustice. For years, he has been internationally recognized by amnesty movements and human rights lawyers and experts as a U.S. political prisoner, yet inside the United States, the name Alvaro Luna Hernandez remains largely elusive on the lips of progressives and social justice advocates.
* * *
A high-school dropout with no formal education, Alvaro hasn’t always been such a capable, and indeed, brilliant, litigator. It was during the late 1970s that he transformed himself from a rebellious, zoot suit-wearing “pachuco” hustler in his youth into a prominent leader in the struggle for racial justice and human rights in the Southwest United States. While serving hard time for a crime he didn’t commit, Alvaro educated himself about Chicano history, the prison system, and revolutionary political theory. He founded and headed up prisoners’ study groups designed to rehabilitate and politicize other inmates.
With Alvaro in the lead, a powerful prison reform movement swept across Texas’ criminal justice system and through the state’s federal courthouses in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Alvaro diligently studied the law and used his newly found skills to file an impressive array of constitutional and civil rights lawsuits against Texas police, judges, and prison officials. He and other prisoners utilized hunger strikes, work stoppages, yard takeovers, and federal civil rights lawsuits in a concerted effort to compel the brutal Texas prison machine to respect the human rights of its exploding prison population, made up almost entirely of poor men of color. Along with a handful of other prisoner-plaintiffs, Alvaro won a landmark federal civil rights lawsuit against the Texas Department of Corrections (TDC) after a trial that lasted 159 days in 1978 and ’79 (Ruiz v. Estelle). The court ruled, in a scathing denunciation of the widespread abuse of inmates by the prison system, that the practices of the TDC constituted “cruel and unusual punishment,” and ordered a number of substantial reforms.
“Unfortunately,” Alvaro says, “most of these ‘reforms’ were merely cosmetic….Despite these ‘prisoner victories’ in reforming the system, the federal-nation-state will only go so far because in Texas, the super profits of the state policy of mass incarceration has replaced oil, cotton, and cattle [as the biggest industry in the state].”
Alvaro’s principled work to rehabilitate prisoners and enforce human rights standards in Texas prisons earned him the disdain and contempt of prison officials who locked him in administrative segregation, forcing Alvaro to spend almost the entire decade of the 1980s in solitary confinement as part of a campaign of repression aimed at political prisoners and jailhouse lawyers who threatened to expose abuses in U.S. prisons—including torture, killings, and beatings at the hands, or directions, of prison guards and administrators—and unite inmates under a banner of revolutionary change.
* * *
In March 1991, one year after he was moved out of solitary and back into the general prison population, Alvaro was freed from prison, having served over 15 years, after an investigative journalist for the Houston Post, Paul Harasim, uncovered a gross pattern of systematic prosecutorial misconduct and abuse (which included paying off the lead witness and suppressing physical evidence) in the murder case in which Alvaro was wrongfully convicted, narrowly escaping the electric chair. Certainly no bleeding heart liberal, Harasim nonetheless told readers that “What I learned about the prosecutorial behavior in the trial of Alvaro Hernandez in West Texas made my stomach turn….I wonder if I can support state sanctioned executions any longer.”
Settling in Houston with his wife following his release, Alvaro wasted no time throwing himself into community organizing and political activism. He founded, and became National Executive Director of, the National Movement of La Raza, a civil and human rights group dedicated to empowering Mexican-Americans and struggling for social justice. Alvaro also helped organize and form committees to support the families of prisoners and bring about “truces” between Chicano street gangs in Pasadena, Texas following a number of tragic shootings. Spearheading the campaign to stop the execution of Mexican national, Ricardo Aldape Guerra, Alvaro founded and headed up Guerra’s defense committee. Following years of tireless campaigning and legal battles, his frame-up conviction for killing a Houston cop in 1982 was overturned and Guerra was freed from Texas’ Death Row in 1997.
Alvaro’s impassioned and successful activism in the Houston area earned him international recognition. In the spring of 1993, serving as a delegate for an NGO, Alvaro addressed the United Nations General Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, criticizing the U.S. government for its record of human rights abuses of political prisoners and Mexicans in the Southwest. Alvaro’s delegation was headed by Rigoberta Menchu of Guatemala who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her courageous human rights activism during the U.S.-backed genocide against Mayan peasants in Guatemala during the 1980s. Upon returning from Europe, Alvaro was invited to speak on national television in connection with the Ricardo Aldape Guerra defense case and began hosting Houston-area radio talk shows to spread a message of racial equality and Chicano empowerment. In the following years, Alvaro worked to inspire and educate young people across the United States, speaking not only at universities and conferences, but also at elementary and high schools, lecturing on an array of social and political issues ranging from human rights and grassroots activism, to American history, the criminal justice system, and the death penalty.
* * *
Following his divorce in August 1995, Alvaro moved back to his hometown of Alpine, Texas, located just 80 miles from the Mexican border. In spite of the fact that Alvaro had virtually zero interactions or confrontations with police in the five and a half years that he lived in Houston, almost immediately the local police forces in Alpine were all over him—arbitrary searches day and night, K-9 drug dogs, and frequent “traffic violation” vehicle stops resulting in no citations.
The police hatred of Alvaro in West Texas, especially in Alpine, is fierce, both personal and political, and decades old. Alvaro has always refused to submit to police authority and abuse; sort of like a rebellious slave in the spirit of Fredrick Douglas, but more like a modern-day Gregorio Cortez. When he was 17 he smashed up some police squad cars as well as the personal vehicle of a racist Sheriff following a police confrontation, a stunt which landed him three years in prison. Years later, in 1976 following an escape from county jail—at which he was awaiting transfer to state prison for the wrongful murder conviction—and subsequent shootout with law enforcement, Alvaro was taken to a windowless “conference room” in the jail where he was beaten within an inch of his life by several on-duty police officers. The cops took turns beating and stomping their handcuffed captive, causing him to lose consciousness, his face, eyes, and lips swollen and bloodied beyond recognition, his scalp ripped open with blood pouring from his head onto the cold concrete floor. Once the police were finished, they dragged a bloodied and unconscious Alvaro across the jail and threw him in a cell, leaving him for dead. The near fatal beating meted out to Alvaro resulted in federal criminal civil rights indictments of Pecos County Chief Deputy Sheriff Mike Hill and Deputy Sheriff Bill Mabe, culminating in misdemeanor convictions and probation for the officers. For his part, Alvaro was awarded substantial monetary compensation for damages following a civil suit. The convictions of the officers, however mild, ultimately destroyed their careers as policemen, thus earning Alvaro a special animosity in local law enforcement circles for daring to fight back against police on their own terms, both in the streets and in the courts.
Alvaro’s persistent defiance against oppression has always stemmed from a deep-rooted thirst for the freedom so cruelly denied to him and millions of other Chicanos in the Southwest United States since the colonization and annexation of the Mexican territories north of the Rio Grande following what is commonly known as the U.S.-Mexico War (1846-1848). In a very real sense, the rural West Texas community of Alpine is like a microcosm of race-relations in the region. Like all of Alpine’s Chicano residents, Alvaro grew up on the south side of the Southern Pacific railroad tracks which served as the de facto racial dividing line between Mexican-Americans and whites. Much like the Jim Crow South at the time, the parallel social universe of rural West Texas manifested harsh economic and political means of control to ensure the subordinate position of Mexicans in an Anglo-dominated society. The town’s Mexican population was largely impoverished, locked into a near-permanent state of economic subservience to white business interests while the gross disparity in social services and infrastructure served as a very visible reminder of the prevailing racial hierarchy, not only in Alpine, but in the American Southwest in general.
The Alpine police and the Brewster County Sheriff’s office were, of course, all white and patrolled the Chicano barrio south of the tracks daily and nightly with a brutality usually reserved only for the town’s “meskins.”
“People were scared of them,” Alvaro writes in a letter from his prison cell, recalling how as a young boy he would go looking for his father or grandfather in the local bars, the Sheriff would often barge in, gun on his hip, to intimidate, arrest, and humiliate Chicano men and elders simply as a means of letting them know “who was boss.”
Whether at the pool hall or walking the streets, Chicano youth were routinely singled out for arbitrary beatings and harassment by the cops. Alvaro was a tough kid, a self-proclaimed “vato loco” and product of the “pachuco” subculture. He was often getting into trouble for drinking beer or fighting, and had many violent confrontations with police as a teenager. Once at a high school football game some policemen were trying to arrest another Mexican kid and started beating the young man; Alvaro intervened to stop the assault and the cops turned their attention, and rage, to him, beating and pistol whipping young Alvaro as a hostile crowd gathered around, throwing garbage at the officers. The police busted open his skull, requiring several stitches, but not before taking him to jail, charging Alvaro with “assault on a peace officer.” Alvaro’s run-ins with the police landed him, at the age of 15, in a juvenile prison run by the Texas Youth Council (TYC) for a year. The juvenile detention centers in Texas had reputations for being extremely brutal and abusive—so much so that the Texas Youth Council was ultimately shut down by federal courts in 1983 following over a decade of lawsuits.
* * *
Just months after getting released from the custody of the TYC, something happened that would change Alvaro’s life forever. It was June 12, 1968. Alvaro was hanging out with his best friend, Ervay Ramos. The two buddies were cruising around Alpine in Ervay’s brother’s car when red police lights started flashing in the rear view mirror. Ervay was, like Alvaro, 16 years old, but didn’t have a valid driver’s license. He sped off and the police car gave chase. Fishtailing through a back alley with the wail of the siren growing louder in the distance, Ervay quickly stopped and told Alvaro to jump out of the car. He drove off and struck a nearby fence next to the football practice fields and landed in a ditch. With the cop car getting closer, Ramos jumped out of the car and ran down the alleyway hoping to escape. Alvaro was just feet away and saw with his own eyes what transpired next.
“The police car, driven by Bud Powers, a well-known cop with a reputation in the barrio for being racist and brutal, pulled up and stopped [behind] the Ramos car,” Alvaro vividly recalls. “[Powers] stepped outside, pulled his revolver and shot the fleeing Ramos in the back with his .357 magnum pistol killing him instantly.”
The murder of Ervay Ramos was one of a number of similar killings of Chicano youth by police in the Southwest at the time. Officer Bud Powers received a proverbial slap on the wrist—five years’ probation—and never served a day in jail. The killing of Ervay Ramos was cited by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in their 1970 report to the President entitled “Mexican Americans and the Administration of Justice in the Southwest” as one of several examples of what the Commission referred to as a pattern of “serious police brutality” and “widespread discrimination” suffered by Mexican-Americans at the hands of law enforcement officers and the U.S. judicial system in the Southwest United States.
* * *
So when Alvaro moved back to Alpine in 1995 with political struggle and courtroom justice for his slain childhood friend on his mind, he was met with considerable police opposition. He was working as a freelance paralegal for attorneys throughout the state when Alpine community members began approaching him for help regarding police brutality and other injustices in town. They had seen Alvaro on television when he was in Houston, working against the death penalty and police oppression. They knew about his impressive record of civil rights activism and how he had litigated a number of successful federal and state civil rights lawsuits against Texas police, judges, and prison officials. Moreover, citizens sought out Alvaro for help because, in addition to being a prominent public critic of racial and social inequalities in Alpine, it was well known—both by the general public, as well as by law enforcement—that he was working on re-opening the 1968 Ervay Ramos murder case with the intention of bringing his killer, policeman Bud Powers, into federal court on murder charges.
The response of the Alpine police to all of this was to organize and carry out a sophisticated campaign, in the spirit of the F.B.I.’s “counter intelligence program” (COINTELPRO) of the 1960s and ’70s, of surveillance, harassment, and repression against Alvaro. They hired a local heroin addict, Mary Valencia, to work as a police informant, ransacking his legal files and personal belongings while working as a maid at the motel he was staying at. Police followed him around, subjecting him to unjustified searches and harassment.
Worse yet, the police convinced the father-in-law of an Alpine Police Sergeant—a man who was known around Alpine as a local town drunk—to falsely accuse Alvaro of armed robbery—a ridiculous frame-up charge which Alvaro ultimately ended up getting dismissed in court while acting as his own attorney. In the meantime, however, Alvaro bonded out of jail by selling his car to the bail bondsman, but just weeks later the bondsman “withdrew” from the bond, unbeknownst to Alvaro at the time.
* * *
On July 18, 1996 Sheriff Jack McDaniel showed up on Alvaro’s doorstep looking to re-arrest him. Brewster County’s new sheriff was far from an anonymous cop just “doing his job.” McDaniel had been cited in a victorious civil rights lawsuit filed by Alvaro against then-Sheriff Jim Skinner a few years back. Moreover, it was no secret around town that Alvaro was investigating Sheriff McDaniel for corruption and embezzlement of funds from the county treasury—funds that Alvaro alleged were being used at McDaniel’s private ranch in West Alpine. Coupled with his work on re-opening the Ramos case and his long history of resistance to local police power, Alvaro argues that the prerogative of the cops was clear: “The police all knew what I was up to and they were determined to stop me at all costs.”
When questioned on the legality of the arrest—for which no warrant was presented—an enraged McDaniel pulled his gun on Alvaro. Fearing quite literally for his life, Alvaro disarmed the Sheriff in self-defense before he could shoot, told McDaniel to leave, and then fled the scene. Nobody was injured. For three days Alvaro was able to evade law enforcement in the rugged countryside of Brewster County during the course of what was one of the most massive manhunts in recent West Texas history. Following a shootout with police at his mother’s house, Alvaro was captured and charged with two counts of aggravated assault; one for allegedly pointing the gun at Sheriff McDaniel after disarming him, and another count for allegedly shooting an officer, Curtis Hines, in the hand during the shootout.
At the trial, witnesses testified that Alvaro never pointed the gun at McDaniel. McDaniel accused Alvaro of pointing the gun at his chest—threatening him with a deadly weapon—but Alvaro swears this is a lie. In a live interview on local television on July 18th following the confrontation at Alvaro’s house, McDaniel told viewers that Alvaro had only disarmed him and neither threatened nor shot him.
“Days later,” Alvaro explains, “when the Sheriff met with the District Attorney he changed his story to say that I had not only disarmed him but had pointed the gun at him—the difference between a minor misdemeanor and a first degree felony offense.” The videotape was ultimately kept out of court proceedings; Alvaro’s lawyer Tony Chavez is rumored to have potentially struck a backdoor deal with the prosecution. At the time, Chavez was under investigation himself for drug trafficking and was facing many years in prison under a plethora of forthcoming RICO charges. In fact, just months after Alvaro’s trial, Chavez immediately took a plea bargain and was sent to federal prison for 30 months and disbarred from the practice of law.
Throughout the trial numerous witnesses, including former law enforcement officers, also testified to the intense, longstanding police hatred of Alvaro. Alvaro was found not guilty on the second count of shooting Officer Hines in the hand (it was determined that Hines was hit by a ricocheting police bullet). Despite considerable public protest, however, the nearly-all-white jury found Alvaro guilty of “aggravated assault” for allegedly pointing the gun at McDaniel’s chest—an accusation which Alvaro vociferously and consistently denies to this day.
Alvaro Luna Hernandez was sentenced to 50 years in state prison in the summer of 1997. He will not be officially “eligible” for parole until 2021.
* * *
Though his appeals have all been exhausted, options still remain within the legal system to bring about Alvaro’s release. The KOSA TV videotape interview with McDaniel may still exist, and a full review of federal, state, and local files pertaining to Alvaro, and his ex-lawyer Chavez, is likely to shed light on Alvaro’s conviction and political imprisonment. Obtaining the pro bono assistance of one or more bright legal minds to help pursue other existing, and very promising, legal avenues to reenter the courts continues to be a top priority and a potential source of hope.
There is one thing, however, that remains clear and undisputed: absent a substantial popular mobilization and grassroots campaign pushing for his freedom, Alvaro faces a virtual life sentence of incarceration in the brutal control units of Texas’ state prisons. Yet in the meantime, although buried deep beneath the razor-wire fences, uncounted tons of cold steel, and the rows of soul-destroying concrete cages of Hughes Unit Prison, Alvaro Luna Hernandez remains among America’s most fearless political prisoners, incessantly struggling for freedom, locked up but never defeated.
Max Kantar is a Michigan-based independent writer and the Midwest representative for the Committee to Free Alvaro Luna Hernandez. For more information on Alvaro’s case, visit www.freealvaro.net. Max can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|The GA Voice
March 18, 2011 00:00
|by Dyana Bagby|
For the first time in the history of the Atlanta Police Department, the nearly 2,000 officers and civilian employees are undergoing training on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues as part of a mandatory course announced by Chief George Turner.
Turner and the entire command staff of approximately 30 people underwent the one-hour classroom training in December, taught by LGBT liaison Officer Brian Sharp. Now Sharp and Senior Patrol Officer Patricia Powell, the other LGBT liaison for the department, are teaching the class to everyone else employed by the department; the trainings will continue through May.
Recruits will also receive the training and the class will be taught once a year to all employees as a way for the department to garner better understanding and build a relationship with Atlanta’s LGBT residents.
“I think the training is a great first step,” said Glen Paul Freedman, chair of the APD’s LGBT advisory group. “Before, this was not mandatory other than a class taught only to recruits about the LGBT liaison’s role.”
Officer Sharp, in past meetings with the LGBT advisory group, said the trainings are going well with APD employees.
“I’m glad it was received the way it was. The chief has been supportive and wanted the training,” Sharp told LGBT advisory group members at their Jan. 31 meeting.
“This is where the rubber meets the road,” Sharp said of training the department on LGBT issues.
Training gives ‘better understanding’
The GA Voice requested and received a copy of the Power Point presentation and the lesson plan being taught to the officers and employees.
The lesson plan includes this opening statement:
“As a member of the Atlanta police we work in a large metropolitan city with an estimated population of over 5 million people. Our police force is made up of over 1,800 diverse men and woman from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds. In addition the city of Atlanta has one of the largest gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender populations in the United States.
“That being said it is inevitable that at some point in your career as a police officer you will be called upon to deal with one of these individuals in the course of your duties. It may be a citizen in the community or it could possibly be a coworker. The purpose of the block of instruction is to outline departmental policy and procedures that must be followed in these encounters as well as give you a better understanding of the GLBT community and the citizens who make up this community.
“It is vital that every officer conduct themselves in manner that protects the rights of all individual as well as preserves the safety of the community in which we serve. An officer who is knowledgeable and confident in their abilities can demonstrate professionalism and earn the respect of both the citizens as well as coworkers.”
The training includes a brief history of Stonewall, the 1969 riot that is marked as the beginning of the modern day gay civil rights movement, and also gives explanations of why LGBT people often don’t trust the police:
• GLBT individuals were often victims of harassment from local law enforcement agencies.
• GLBT individuals were often denied jobs and often fired from jobs because they were suspected homosexuals.
• GLBT individuals often had their names placed on lists of suspected homosexuals and in some cases monitored by the FBI and US Post Office.
• GLBT individuals were often labeled as having a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association.
Offensive word ‘transvestite’ included
The training also includes definitions of words such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and also intersex. Included in these definitions is the outdated word “transvestite” as:
Transvestite has been deemed offensive by many LGBT organizations, including the Gay & Lesbian Association Against Defamation.
Carlos Campos, spokesperson for the APD, said in an email that the word “transvestite” was included in the training to teach officers a word not to be used.
However, there is no indication in the materials that the word is off limits.
Freedman said the training materials continue to be revised to add new information and take out old information, including the word “transvestite.”
“The APD is learning about LGBT issues … our history, correct terms. As a first step, this training is an ever-living document and always changing,” he said. “And now there is training on words that shouldn’t be used.”
As for the word “transvestite,” Freedman said he doesn’t fault the APD and that this example provides an opportunity to update the materials for officers.
“We’re helping educate each other on the use of terms people feel more comfortable with and no one is offended by, especially within the transgender community,” Freedman said. “I think gender identity will become a lot more of the training.”
But Freedman said a misstep should not cancel out the good the training is providing.
“To go from nothing before to having this is a big step forward.”
Top photo: Atlanta Police LGBT Liaison Officers Brian Sharp and Patricia Powell teach the new class on LGBT issues that is mandatory for all police employees. (by Bo Shell)
The private prisons’ involvement in passing SB1070 illuminates an aspect of the anti-immigrant tendency that complicates things and is often overlooked. Often the finger is pointed at racism as the cause of atrocities like SB1070, without looking at the bigger picture. This is not to say that racism plays no part, even as a basis on which the prison industrial complex functions, but the prejudicial views of Russell Pearce or the minutemen for example are not necessarily the main guiding force here. This is particularly interesting when we consider the potential of white people to reject racism and see it as manufactured rather than intrinsic.
I’m glad that news is being spread of the role of the private prison industry in the passing of SB1070. A few months back, Governor Brewer’s connections with the Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison company in the US were exposed, although of course they denied any underhandedness. Now more information is coming out about the influence of private prisons in the new Arizona law, as NPR’s new report details. While I don’t think there should be prisons in the first place, private prisons are particularly alarming in that this is the kind of thing that can happen when someone stands to profit (of course let’s not lose sight of the ways the government profits from repression in different ways).
The private prison industry has profited greatly in the past few years despite the economic downturn. The Detention Watch Network says that “The U.S. government detained approximately 380,000 people in immigration custody in 2009 in… about 350 facilities at an annual cost of more than $1.7 billion.” And the racists say that immigrants are a burden on the economy- how about the border enforcement? Keep in mind here that this discussion is only on the detention centers- not on the border security technology and the wall, and other aspects of security which are all making people lots of money, including companies that have already made a shitload of money off the war.
An article that came out a few months ago (Wall Street and the Criminalization of Immigrants)
discussed the lobbying efforts of CCA and the GEO group and how it paid off through more attacks on immigrants, who now fill the private detention centers.
The lobbying paid off for both companies, in huge revenue increases from government contracts to incarcerate immigrants. From 2005 through 2009, for every dollar that GEO spent lobbying the government, the company received a $662 return in taxpayer-funded contracts, for a total of $996.7 million. CCA received a $34 return in taxpayer-funded contracts for every dollar spent on lobbying the federal government, for a total of $330.4 million… One problem for major investors seeking huge gains from the for-profit prison business was that revenue rates couldn’t keep rising because federal agencies didn’t have enough personnel to arrest and process more immigrants than the expanded number they were now handling. It became apparent that the only way to significantly raise revenue through increasing the numbers of people picked up, detained and incarcerated was to hire more law enforcement personnel.
The private prison industry now needed a new source of low-cost licensed law enforcement personnel. CCA and GEO then turned to state governments as the focus of business expansion. Both companies stepped up efforts to acquire contracts with state and local governments that were entering into lucrative agreements with the Department of Homeland Security to detain immigrants in state and local detention and correctional facilities.
The result of this shift in business focus is exemplified by CCA’s role in Arizona’s SB 1070 and both CCA’s and GEO’s roles in other legislative efforts aimed at dramatically increased numbers arrests of undocumented immigrants in over 20 states. Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer, who received substantial campaign financing from top CCA executives in Tennessee and employs two former CCA lobbyists Chuck Coughlin and Paul Sensman, as top aides, signed SB 1070 into law on April 23.
On Friday, July 30, 2010 the Republican Governors Association, which so far this year has received over $160,000 in contributions from CCA and GEO, and their respective lobbyists, sent out a nationwide solicitation written by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer requesting contributions to fund an appeal of the partial injunction issued by a judge against SB 1070. (Read on).
The NPR report that just came out explains that CCA (and GEO group) also has some of their people in an organization called American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that Russell Pearce is also part of (described as a conservative, free-market orientated, limited-government group), and that this group developed SB1070 (limited government, my ass). What is confusing is where Kris Kobach, the lawyer who works for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) comes into it, since he is said elsewhere to have authored the bill, although I know i’m not the only one wondering this. I imagine FAIR has connections to private prisons, although I am not doubting FAIR’s genuine (not profit-driven) white supremacist views, even if many of their participants and funders are driven by profit and desire for law and order.
Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce says the bill was his idea. He says it’s not about prisons. It’s about what’s best for the country…
But instead of taking his idea to the Arizona statehouse floor, Pearce first took it to a hotel conference room.
It was last December at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C. Inside, there was a meeting of a secretive group called the American Legislative Exchange Council. Insiders call it ALEC…
It goes on,
Thirty of the 36 co-sponsors received donations over the next six months, from prison lobbyists or prison companies — Corrections Corporation of America, Management and Training Corporation and The Geo Group.
By April, the bill was on Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk.
In some ways, personal racism is convenient for exploitation for more profit: scare people into thinking immigrants are a threat (is Lou Dobbs and Fox news paid by CCA?), put them in private prisons, thereby creating profits for the private prison industry. Yet, this implies that white supremacy existed before profit motives, which isn’t quite accurate. Although colonialism and accompanying attitudes about non-Europeans existed, these prejudices and such weren’t so hardened along these imaginary race lines (just look at how the Irish were treated before being gradually included as white). The concept of race was created on top of existing hierarchies, in the interest of maintaining order and capitalism. Since i’m not feeling very articulate right now, I will leave you with a long quote from a friend’s blog giving more insight into how white supremacy developed (see below). This was written in response to the National Socialist Movement’s efforts last year to organize here, and incidentally they will be back in a couple weeks to rally. While I believe there should be visible opposition, I don’t believe that it is any more important to protest the nazis than it is to protest the police, or the prison industrial complex. Like Peggy wrote, “The NAZIS putting all my people in prison are the ones I want to run out of town.” I think most people who show up to these protests, at least the anarchists, tend to agree, although in practice it may not appear so. Groups like Anti-Racist Action (ARA) have been long criticized nationally for focusing on white supremacists while institutional racism is the larger threat. In fact if you think about it, if everyone is focusing on the 20-30 neo-nazis or the occasional hate crimes happening more and more across the country, we’re not focusing on the state-sanctioned murders that happen everyday (and what if we include the deaths caused by border security as well?)
In this description of the origins of white supremacy, you can see that the private prison industry is a prime example of the ways that white supremacy benefits capitalism.
The system of white supremacy is a cross-class alliance between rich whites and working class whites, the objective of which is the maintenance of the exploitative system of capitalism. White supremacy, by providing some meaningful, but in the grand scheme of things, petty privileges to whites, seeks to undermine class unity. These privileges are petty not because they aren’t real and sometimes meaningful, but because those that accrue to the white working class are much closer to the ones that non-white people get than they are to the ones that adhere to rich whites. That is, Bill Gates gets to exercise way more benefits of whiteness than the lowliest Nazi scumbag.
In exchange for accepting these privileges, however, whites agree to police the rest of the non-white population. That’s the reason white supremacy was created. Originating as an English imperial ideology for the conquest of Ireland and the rest of what we now call Britain, it moved to North America after the rich English elites had trouble with what we would now call a tri-racial alliance against them. Natives, English indentured servants (most of them transported here for petty crimes against the emerging capitalist system in England) and African slaves had a tendency to realize quite quickly in the so-called “New World” that they had much more in common with each other than with the pale-skinned, blue-blooded ruling class that lorded over them. So, they kept getting together and trying to overthrow those titled bastards. Again and again.
This was naturally a problem for the elite, so a hierarchical racialized system was created to divide this class, and to empower the wealthy. It was encoded in law. Whites were given several important privileges. Firstly, they were entitled to a limit on their servitude, while that of Africans was made permanent. Likewise, whites were given access to cleared Indian lands. The new role for whites demanded they act as police and, in relation to the native population, as soldiers. Therefore, a white man was obligated to serve in slave patrols and had the right to demand papers from any Black person he encountered. Likewise, no Native had any rights a white person was required to respect. Here in Arizona, Mexicans were repeatedly disenfranchised and expropriated of their land by white militias, vigilantes, soldiers and early police formations (Arizona Rangers were notorious). All this was backed up by the rich white elite who wanted to exploit Arizona’s resources. (Source).
See also this older article: How the Jailing of Migrants Drives Prison Profits.