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Prisoners' strike becoming movement for justice

By Charlene Muhammad -National Correspondent- | Last updated: Dec 30, 2010 - 12:38:19 PM

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Bryan Pfieffer, Kenny Snodgrass, Kwasi Akwamu, Yusef Shakukr, Raphael Johnson and an unidentified supporter demand justice for Georgia prisoners in front of Detroit's Mound Road Prison Dec. 14. Photo: Diane Bukowski

(FinalCall.com) - A coalition of civil and human rights activists held a press conference on Dec. 17 to give a report on its meeting with the Georgia Department of Corrections and how it plans to address the demands of prisoners who staged an eight-day peaceful work strike for better treatment and paid labor.

According to Edward DuBose, president of the NAACP Georgia State Conference and a member of the Concerned Coalition to Respect Prisoners' Rights, the delegation delivered a letter to Department of Corrections officials, which cited the prisoners' demands.

Immediately after the meeting and press conference, Mr. DuBose told The Final Call that the Coalition was satisfied, particularly because the Department of Corrections granted their first demand.

“We have received a green light and they will go with our first and main demand to go into the prisons and we will be going in Monday morning,” Mr. DuBose said. He said the department tried to narrow their visit to Macon, but the coalition will choose the prison. The delegation was headed to the prison Dec. 20 at Final Call press time.

As announced by the inmates on their Dec. 9 launch, those demands include proper food, access to loved ones, to be paid for their labor, and several new ones: An end to any excessive force being used on inmates in general, for any reason; that prison guards do not retaliate against inmates who are practicing non-violent, peaceful demonstrations; that the department allows a fact-finding mission comprised of the coalition to interview inmates at random; and a follow-up meeting with Gov. Sonny Perdue.

“I think these will be granted, either now or as the coalition grows and we begin to take on the inmates' issues more aggressively, perhaps through direct action, but I hope it doesn't get that that far. Keep in mind, we're talking about a lot of human rights issues, like access to health care and end to cruel punishment, like turning off heat to below freezing,” Mr. DuBose said.

According to Elaine Brown, a spokesperson for the prisoners who has spearheaded the support campaign and coalition, fallout and retaliation against the men, particularly those considered leaders, from the Department of Corrections' wardens, administrators, and Tactical Squads continued, despite the inmates bringing the protest to a peaceful conclusion.

“Many prisoners have been transferred to unknown facilities in overnight transports, most reportedly to an abandoned building at Georgia State Prison in Reidsville to be isolated in strip cells,” read a press release distributed by Ms. Brown.“Other prisoners are still suffering from beatings, tear-gassing and other documented violent tactics employed to break the strike and force the men back to work without pay.”

When asked if she could tell whether Department of Corrections would be working to address the inmates' concerns and respond to reports that several were retaliated against and beaten during the ordeal, corrections department public information officer Kristen Stancil told The Final Call in a phone interview that the only information coming out was posted on the department website in a Dec. 15 press release.

That was noon on the day before four locked down prisons—Hays, Macon, Telfair, and Smith—were returning to operation and inmates went back to working in kitchens and laundry areas.Inmate movement was restricted and required escorts outside of living units, but inside, they could use the telephones, showers, and watch TV, the corrections department release stated.

“But I don't want people to misinterpret that. The inmates are going back to work largely because they know the coalition is carrying their concerns to the commissioner. I want to be clear that these prisoners did not go to work because they gave up!” said Mr. DuBose.

“They went to work because they believe now that this coalition is prepared to address their concerns. And the whole reason they went on strike in the first place was to get attention on the inhumane treatment in the prisons and I believe they achieved that in part,” he added.

According to Mr. DuBose, the coalition has grown and currently includes the NAACP, the Nation of Islam, Black Agenda Report, the Green Party of Georgia, the ACLU, Amnesty International, the Southern Center for Human Rights, the Coalition for the People's Agenda, and others.

Gabriel Gemma, an organizer with the International Action Center, said her organization is also part of the coalition. At press time, she told The Final Call that the International Action Center was poised to hold an emergency demonstration to support the prisoners' strike.

“First of all, we don't have a confirmation that the strike is not still happening because the prison authorities have taken away all of the prisoners' cell phones, so they're not able to communicate.We're veryconcerned about reprisals so there still needs to be a lot of public attention and support for prisoners in Georgia,” Ms. Gemma said.

Her group planned to demonstrate outside CNN headquarters in Atlanta to demand the cable news giant and other media to cease censorship of “the largest, most historic prisoners' strike in history.” The group particularly singled out CNN because it is headquartered in Georgia, and is one of the largest media outlets in the world.

The group is also circulating an online petition calling on President Obama, elected officials, CNN and other media to support the prisoners' demands, and end violence and reprisals against the inmates.

In terms of support from the Congressional Black Caucus, particularly those who represent Georgia, Mr. DuBose said that the coalition has not officially reached out in writing and asked for their intervention or investigation, but plans to include the CBC at some stage. He said he hopes CBC members would step in on their own because many of the inmates are their constituents.

During one of the NAACP's internal organization calls, he added, Roberta Abdul-Salaam, a Georgia State Representative, provided insight about asking the House Judiciary Committee to intervene.

“What will continue to be impressive about this strike is they (prisons) always would try to target one race or gang against the other, but this peaceful protest encompasses everyone from the most violent to the least violent—different gangs, different prisons.

“When you can get gangs who usually fight each other to lay down their differences and join together for a common human rights cause.Black and White, I mean, some of these prisoners on both sides wear deeply branded racial symbols on their bodies, but even these groups have come together to say, ‘listen, this is a cause that we all can come together on.' I think that's why people are paying attention.This has all makings of a movement that people should really pay attention to,” Mr. DuBose said.

Expressions of support have come from as far away as Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom while protests on behalf of prisoners have occurred in Michigan, California and other places.

Related news:

'Lockdown for liberty!' exposes prison conditions (FCN, 12-14-2010)

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