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The WikiLeaks Files

On August 25, The WikiLeaks Files: The World According to US Empire will be available for the first time in hardback form.  WikiLeaks came to prominence in 2010 with the release of 251,287 top-secret State Department cables, which revealed to the world what the US government really thinks about national leaders, friendly dictators, and supposed allies. It brought to the surface the dark truths of crimes committed in our name: human rights violations, covert operations, and cover-ups.

The WikiLeaks Files presents expert analysis on the most important cables and outlines their historical importance. In a series of chapters dedicated to the various regions of the world, the book explores the machinations of the United States as it imposes its agenda on other nations: a new form of imperialism founded on varied tactics from torture to military action, to trade deals and “soft power,” in the perpetual pursuit of expanding influence. It illustrates the close relationship between government and big business in promoting US trade.

For more updates regarding the book, check out its webpage at http://www.versobooks.com/books/1931-the-wikileaks-files. For more information on the reception, impact and history of WikiLeaks see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WikiLeaks. To visit WikiLeaks, go to https://wikileaks.org/index.fr.html. Occassionally the website is shut down by a government or independent hackers, in which case you can search for mirrors of the website. 

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Detroit Voices

In this podcast, listen to Ron Scott, spokesperson for the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality give a historical background of racial tensions in Detroit and speak about the challenge of police brutality in Detroit. You can listen to the podcast at https://soundcloud.com/ariasquinca/detroit-voices. For more information about the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality see their website at http://detroitcoalition.org. For more information on human rights abuses in policing see *insert Teaching Human Rights Link to Amnesty Internaional resources on Police Brutality*.

 

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#freeBree

"Well-behaved women seldom make history."

This morning, June 27th, Capitol police arrested and took into custody Bree Newsome for taking down the Confederate flag at South Carolina capitol. Bree climbed the flag pole to take it down. The confederate flag, once the flag of the Confederate States of the United States, symoblizes the union of states during mid-19th century that left the United States of America in devotion to maintaining slavery in face of a growing abolition movement. Bree was accompanied by fellow organizers in a multiracial group of Carolinians led by teachers and activists who believe that "It's time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality." This simple protest comes in the wake of the Charleston Massacre, where Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd (54), Susie Jackson (87), Ethel Lee Lance (70), Depayne Middleton (49), Clementa C. Pinckney (41), Tywanza Sanders (26), Daniel Simmons (74), Sharonda Coleman-Singleton (45), and Myra Thompson (59) were maliciously shot and killed during a bible study. "We could not sit by and watch the victims of the Charleston Massacre be laid to rest while the inspiration for their deaths continue to fly above their caskets," Bree says. While the flag is only symbolic, its power is not only evident through the demonstration but also through a white supremacist rally that followed at 11 A.M. as the flag was raised again.

She now faces charges of defacing a monument. Since this morning, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has issued as statement in support of Newsome's civil disobedience as well as calling upon state prosecutors to recognize the moral inspiration to climb a 30-foot flag pole and take down a flag early in the morning.

To see the flag being taken down. Watch: https://twitter.com/deray/status/614809495538003969

To sign the petition calling for the release of Bree Newsome, go here: http://act.colorofchange.org/sign/DropTheFlagDropTheCharges/

 

 

 

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San Quentin State Prison: Perspectives on Institutional Attitudes

Last week, as part of my Alternative Spring Break trip, I got to visit San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, California. Before this, I had no real contact or perspective on any incarcerated people, a problem in and of itself. My only other vague experience was as my parents drove me to school through the streets of Caracas, Venezuela as a child, and them vaguely mentioning we had just passed a prison.

In many ways, my visit to San Quentin was perspective shifting and extremely thought provoking, though there were several aspects of the visit I found really uncomfortable. Not by the inmates themselves, but really by the fact of me being there, in the strict conditions I was in, without being able to talk to inmates, passing through. I felt like I should not have agreed to visit the prison, as we waltzed through the facility in some almost perverse tour. Most of the time, I felt uncomfortable with the other adult members of the tour, there on some vague sounding, corporate “community engagement” opportunity, as they walked on by, joking with each other, making insensitive jokes about the inmates and in general seeming like they were on a tour of Disneyland instead of what I saw as a glimpse into a much-ignored, still raw and bleeding societal wound-an emblem of state violence, of wasted human potential, tucked away neatly out of sight. But that is not what I want to focus on for this post. I want to share my experiences in how I felt an atmosphere of warfare, dehumanization, and fear being created by the administration of San Quentin State Prison, a mentality that presumably extends to other prisons across the country. What do I mean with a mentality of warfare, dehumanization and fear?

When you enter San Quentin State Prison through the main entrance, having passed through a main office and metal detector you step into what is called the Plaza. A simple clearing which on its left holds the Adjustment Center, the solitary confinement module. On its right are chapels of various religious faiths. In the middle of this clearing, is an American flag, flown eternally at half mast, giving the whole Plaza a somber tone. Several stones and plaques encircle the flag pole in memorial.

The lieutenant in charge of showing us around quickly called our attention to the flag flown at half mast, explaining, "The Flag always flies at half-mast here at San Quentin." He then recounts the San Quentin Six incident of 1971 and begins to build the mythology of San Quentin, the stories San Quentin as an institution tells about itself. The incident, in which an inmate managed to procure a handgun from his attorney, ended with him killing several guards and other inmates in the process of an escape attempt. This was that stood out to me about San Quentin: at the forefront of the prison consciousness we find a war memorial, a daily reminder of the ongoing war between the inmates and the guards, eternal like the half-mast flag.

This war mentality, in my mind, kept building as he began sharing with us his own war stories as a security guard at the Adjustment Center. Of escalation: how inmates, as a form of protest of being subjected to solitary confinement, used jars to keep their feces and urine until the guards would come and check on them, throwing it at them as makeshift non-lethal weapons. The guards responded, an eye-for-an-eye, by cracking down, performing more intense strip searches, wearing riot gear and face masks. Inmates responded by waiting for guards hunched over right in front of their cell doors, so they could aim the jars upwards and overcome the face masks. The guards responded to that by taking the jars away, but these jars were one of the only way for inmates to keep water during the day, apart from when they received their meals.

While the lieutenant was describing I could not help but think of the constant fear and resentment both the guards and inmates must feel for each other, and the psychological impact that must have on both, how that changes how they see themselves and how they treat each other. Later, as we toured the rest of the facilities and came upon some painted murals in a lower security level facility, some guards showed us their resentment, they told us how they see the men they guard, in a place that should supposedly work to reform them: "They will corrupt anything you give them, we had to stop the murals because they were corrupting the paint we gave them for other purposes", and  "You can’t change them, they’re just corrupt, we can't give them anything". I couldn’t get over these statements. I know I have no idea what it is like to be a prison guard, but from talking to a few of them, I did notice many had military pasts, where they also must have, for their survival, a need to view “the enemy”, as inherently separate from them.

I couldn’t stop thinking about this as we continued to ‘tour’ the prison and how different it was to a prison in Norway I read about pretty recently here, titled: ‘Norwegian inmates treated like people’.  Now, I don't necessarily think that San Quentin should immediately adopt that model, or that even any other American detainment facility do so. I understand that the issue of prison reform, if not eventual abolition, is complex and multi-faceted. I also know that the job of being a guard in many American prisons is potentially fraught with danger. But I kept comparing the differences in the mentality behind these prisons. If that article claimed these Norwegians prisoners are treated like people, then it stands to reason that U.S. prisoners are not, and I think, in having lost sight of the humanity of such a large percentage of our population, we have a glaring human rights problem, neatly tucked and out of sight. And that simply cannot continue.

 

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MLK's use of Violent Protest

In a recent conversation about people's first amendment right to freedom of speech, a topic that often came up is what we determine as violent speech and what we see as imminent threat. On the one hand, things like Westboro Baptist Church protesting at a funeral was considered constitutional in that they were not posing a physical or imminent threat, however in the discussion it was also acknowledged that theie very presence and use of signs were offensive, damaging and violent dispite their lack of physical threats etc. What does it mean for people to verbally perpetuate power structures that hurt people every day and all day? What seperates emotional, mental, and psychological violence from physical violence? These are questions that I thought about for a while.

Then I came to the conclusion that perhaps there is no difference but we have acknowledged that we are okay with certain levels of violence. That is because I cannot call Westboro Baptist Church's actions as non-violent at all, and I am sure many would agree that to some extent their actions were violent. This takes me back to some recent articles in a local newspaper about protests that happened on the San Mateo Bridge.

Those articles detailed at length how the Stanford 68 were tarnishing MLK's use of non-violent legacy. To make a comparison, with respect to people's response to MLK's actions and with his assassination, I can say with confidence that some people found MLK as a violent figure. On another dimension, all of what MLK did was to disrupt the status quo that was quickly serving up injustice black and brown bodies. Equally, Stanford 68 can be seen as performing a similarly disruptive action.

We could debate the lawfulness of tactics but I would much rather like to bring into the debate a more critical understanding of what it means to be violent. If violence is only physically defined then perhaps there is no room to discuss why Westboro was morally and ethically at fault. However, if we accept a more broad definition of violence, we must recognize that MLK was both respectable and violent and we must consider what that means for our assessment of his tactics.

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