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Amnesty for Prisoners of Katrina

By Jesse Muhammad
Staff Writer | Last updated: Jan 12, 2007 - 4:14:00 PM

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A Weekend of Reconciliation and Respect for Human Rights

"The walls, the bars, the guns and the guards can never encircle or hold down the idea of the people. And the people must always carry forward the idea which is the4ir dignity and their beatuty.”
--Huey P. Newton

Photo caption: (L-R) Rev. Torin Sanders (Orleans School Board Member), Bro. Saboor (Safe Streets), Rev. Tom Watson (Watson Memorial), and Angela Davis (Activist) participate in the Amnesty for Prisoners of Katrina Rally.
Photo: Critical Resistance

NEW ORLEANS ( - One of the least talked about topics in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is how it impacted those who were incarcerated before and after the greatest natural disaster to ever hit the United States. Months after the storm, jailed defendants have been lost in the system due to records being destroyed and more than a thousand defendants have had no access to lawyers due to the public defender system being short of money and staffing, having to work without a computer system, files or even a list of clients.

To call attention to this violation of human rights, the New Orleans’ Chapter of Critical Resistance (CR), a national grassroots group that fights to end the prison industrial complex, held a Human Rights Teach-In. The local branch of Critical Resistance has also begun a campaign to seek amnesty for those who were arrested for trying to take care of themselves and families during the storm, people kept in custody after their release date, and people whose right to due process was violated due to lost or damaged evidence.

Our mission is to build an international movement to end the Prison Industrial Complex by challenging the belief that caging and controlling people makes us safe,” stated Robert “Kool Black” Horton to the Final Call. He serves as the Chapters’ Campaign and Projects Director for Critical Resistance. “We believe that the basic necessities such as food, clothing, shelter and freedom are what really make our communities secure.”

Critical Resistance is a national grassroots group founded by former Black Panther Party member Angela Davis that fights to end the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) by challenging the belief that policing, surveillance, imprisonment and similar forms of control make our communities safer. As pointed out by Kool Black, they believe, by contrast, that basic necessities of life create the conditions for more genuine forms of security. For that reason, their work involves both relieving the burden of the PIC on the lives of people across the country and empowering those communities that are most directly affected by its intrusions.

The Teach-In was a two day event scheduled December 9th-10th. One day, those in attendance participated in workshops, a roundtable discussion and listened to a keynote address delivered by Dr. Davis, who was also the keynote speaker in Houston earlier that day at the Southern Human Rights Organizers Conference. On Sunday, a worship service and an interfaith pray-in was held at Watson Memorial Teaching Ministries.

In addition to bringing attention to the human rights violations the Teach-In also called together a wide variety of speakers, community activists, clergy and everyday citizens to discuss strategies about how to challenge the imprisonment and persecution of people whose cases are impacted by Hurricane Katrina and the treatment of those incarcerated during and in the wake of the storm.

More than 6,000 people who were incarcerated during the storm were seriously endangered in the Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) when Katrina hit and flooding began. “We were treated worse than animals. There was five feet of water up to my neck while in the cell. We went four days and three nights with no food and water. All I could hear was the screams of other inmates and gunshots. Smell of waste from sewerage,” stated Tom Harris who was held in the Orleans Parish Prison when Katrina struck.

The horror further increases when the experiences of Melinda Beane and Parra-Sanchez are heard. Ms. Beane languished in Angola, the Louisiana State Penitentiary, 48 days after she should have been released. She was held on a warrant that was ultimately dismissed, but had no access to courts. Pedro Parra-Sanchez was “lost for 13 months” after a post-Katrina arrest. Mr. Sanchez was not arraigned or tried. He did not see an attorney or the inside of a courtroom until he was finally released in November 2006.

The point I wanted to get across is that we have had a lot of sit-ins, teach-ins, marches over the years. Many of us just cheer and applaud others, but do not have the desire to work,” Bro. Joshua X, who was one of the panelists during the Teach-In, told the Final Call.

Bro. Joshua served 10 years in the Louisiana Department of Correction Facility before being released six months ago. He noted that it was the reading of the Final Call newspaper inside the prison that changed his and others’ lives while serving time. “We have to start holding people and organizations accountable for the plans they present to us and make them prove that their plans can solve the problems of our people. We need a Millions More Movement.”

Other panelists and presenters were Rev. Daniel Buford, Chaplain of the Hamilton Country Juvenile Detention Center in Cincinnati, Masi Ehehosi, of Prison Watch Project and the International Committee In Support of Imam Jamil Al-Amin, Tom Harris of New Orleans, Mwalimu Johnson, the Executive Secretary of the Capital Post Conviction Project of Louisiana, Mayaba Liebenthal, of Women of Color Against Violence, Bill Quigley, Professor at Loyola University of New Orleans, Malcolm Suber of the People Hurricane Relief Fund, Linda Thurston of Amnesty International, Viola Washington, the Executive Director of the Welfare Rights Organization and Pastor Tom Watson of Watson Memorial.

CR has nine additional chapters located in Oakland, New York City, Atlanta, Chicago, New Haven, Baltimore, Gainesville, Washington and Los Angeles. The Critical Resistance New York City (CRNYC) was formed in 2001 and is focused on working with women from the La Casita program in the South Bronx, a residential substance abuse treatment facility for mothers with children and mothers to be.

Since 2002, CRNYC has been conducting workshops and support groups at La Casita. Women from La Casita who are able to travel outside the facility have come to CRNYC events and meetings, and several have held internships and fellowships, working from the CRNYC office on a range of CRNYC projects and campaigns. Presently the chapter is protesting and speaking out against the proposed development of a new prison in the Bronx.

Critical Resistance Oakland has been fighting California’s plan to build its 23rd new prison in the last 20 years. It is a proposed $595 million, 5160 bed prison to be developed in the Delano II Prison in Delano, California. In response to these developments, CR-Oakland helped to create a broad coalition called CURB (Californians United for a Responsible Budget).

Since its inception in 2004, CURB has been pushing state government to reduce the prison population by 15,000 inmates and to close certain prisons they believe should be shut down first. The chapter has also joined forces with KPFA’s HardKnock Radio to bring up-to-date news, personal stories and cultural highlights about the Prison Industrial Complex to the free speech airwaves of California, reaching inside a majority of California’s prisons while bringing the voices of prisoners and prisoners’ families outside the prison walls.

(For more information on Critical Resistance log on to their website at