News and Reports
August 3, 2001 | Page 14
Live from Death Row
by LUCY HERSCHEL
NEW YORK--Some 50 people gathered at Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network headquarters August 3 to hear an Illinois death row prisoner speak out at a Live from Death Row forum.
Sharpton was unable to attend the event, which was sponsored by the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, because he was finishing out a 90-day jail sentence for standing up against U.S. Navy bombing on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. NAN National Field Director Dedrick Muhammad was on hand to welcome the crowd.
When Andrew Maxwell--a member of the Death Row 10, a group of Illinois prisoners who were tortured by Chicago police--called in via speakerphone, a hush fell over the crowd. Andrew told how former Chicago Commander Jon Burge oversaw a group of cops who tortured him. He also told the crowd that state officials--under pressure from activism by death penalty opponents--have offered him a plea bargain to get off death row.
"Don't hate me for considering these offers," Maxwell told the crowd. "When my mom comes to visit, I don't have to be all shackled down...and I can put my arms around her." The audience enthusiastically showed their support for Andrew.
Other speakers included Lawrence Hayes, a former Black Panther, Campaign member and former death row prisoner in New York; as well as a representative of the International Socialist Organization.
by SARAH WOLF
CHICAGO--About 200 people from across the country came together on August 2-5 at Loyola University to discuss the fight for workers' rights at the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) annual conference.
Many students shared their successes, having forced their university administrations to sign on to the Worker Rights Consortium and pledge not to use clothing manufactured in sweatshops. This year, attendees--many of them new to USAS--also reflected broader struggles for workers' justice, including living-wage and other solidarity campaigns for campus workers.
And activists concerned about the fight for global justice came to the conference to share ideas about mobilizing against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund meetings this fall in Washington, D.C.
On the first day of the conference, USAS members marched on a picket line with immigrant workers who are on strike at V&V Supremo Foods. Meeting topics included the World Bank and IMF, the war in Columbia, diversifying the movement and organizing along the Tijuana-San Diego border.
At an evening plenary, UNITE President Bruce Raynor criticized the Democrats for failing to support working people. Raynor said that international solidarity is, in today's world, not such an abstract ideal after all, telling the story of Liz Claiborne workers in the South who protested the treatment of sweatshop workers overseas.
The USAS gathering provided a great opportunity for new and experienced activists to share experiences, debate ideas and prepare for a fall full of struggle.
by BRIDGET BRODERICK
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico--University of Puerto Rico student Pedro Colón will face federal judge Héctor Laffitte in court on August 28 on charges of allegedly assaulting an ROTC officer.
Colón, an activist in the Union of Socialist Youth (UJS), participated in a protest on April 30 in front of the ROTC gates. The demonstration demanded that ROTC be thrown off the campus altogether, and coincided with protests taking place on Vieques to remove the U.S. Navy from the island.
The Navy continues military operations on Vieques despite the fact that more than 1,200 people have been arrested for protesting its unwanted presence there. A campaign is being organized to support Colón, who faces a possible jail sentence of five years.
The charges against him are part of a larger campaign by the PNP (New Progressive Party--the conservative statehood party) and the media to discredit and intimidate protesters around the issue of Vieques and the U.S. military's presence. Similar campaigns against independentistas and socialists were used in 1960s with some success, but today most Puerto Ricans and Vieques residents aren't buying the smear campaign.
The U.S. Navy recently resumed military exercises--including bombing with dummy bombs--despite the fact that 68 percent of residents voted on July 29 to immediately end Navy operations on the island.
Vieques residents are well aware that it's the U.S. Navy that's responsible for criminally assaulting Vieques' residents' health, environment and economy. Activists in the U.S. must support the Vieques referendum and protesters like Pedro Colón in their call for "¡Ni una bomba más!" ("Not one bomb more!")
by CRYSTAL BYBEE
OAKLAND, Calif.--About 50 residents and activists blocked the entrance to a medical waste incinerator in East Oakland on August 7.
Three were arrested at the action against Integrated Environmental Systems (IES). After months of protest, the Coalition for Healthy Communities and Environmental Justice decided to physically stop trucks from entering the facility.
The incinerator spews cancer-causing dioxins, mercury and other toxic pollutants into the air of the low-income, minority community. Residents--many of whom can't afford to leave but fear for their health and safety--are getting involved.
There are other ways to deal with medical waste, such as microwaving and steam sterilization, but IES wants the highest profits, so it burns the waste, despite serious effects on community health.
Activists have tried negotiations and phase-out plans, as well as trying to get the government to stop the incineration, but IES remains a health hazard.
A popular chant is, "If the government won't, the people will!"
WASHINGTON--Two of the most violent neo-Nazi groups in the country rallied at the German Embassy in late July to protest German anti-Nazi laws and to call for the release of Nazi murderer Hendrick Möbus.
The nationwide mobilization by the National Alliance and the World Church of the Creator drew about 40 Nazi scum. They were met by a hastily organized counterprotest of more than 80 people, who endured a downpour to speak out against racism.
Dressed to look respectable, the neo-Nazis tried to raise chants like "Too many survivors," referring to Jews who escaped death camps during the Second World War. But they were drowned out by antiracists.
Secret Service cops arrested two counterprotesters--including one of the few Black demonstrators.
A member of the World Church went on a two-state shooting spree in 1999 that claimed the lives of two people and injured nine others. Antiracists need to stand up to these thugs wherever they show themselves.
by BRUCE COOLEY
PHILADELPHIA--Hundreds of activists gathered here in August to build the fight against the for-profit prison industry and the racist injustice system.
Protesters gathered for a counter-conference called to coincide with a convention of the American Correctional Association (ACA), a trade association of corporations that have grown rich off the fourfold increase in the U.S. prison population in the last 20 years. Activists were preparing for a week of protests during the ACA meeting as Socialist Worker went to press.
The counter-conference was called by activists from across the East Coast and featured ex-prisoners, prisoners' family members and activists. "Because of my experience, I realize that the system has failed many people," said William Nieves, an exonerated Pennsylvania death row inmate. "I can see their faces on death row, and many shouldn't be there. And that's what this fight is about."
The ACA's corporate honchos see each prisoner as a potential source of profits. Some member corporations are prison labor contractors--whose workers get as little as 19 cents an hour behind bars.
Other companies were selling prison equipment--for example, a super-high voltage "death fence" that company representatives say will cut staff costs at prisons by replacing perimeter guards with fencing that will kill whoever touches it.
The ACA also influences how prisoners are treated through an "accreditation" process. Under the group's accreditation standards, the minimum cell size for each prisoner has been nearly cut in half over the last 15 years.
The ACA also backs "Supermax" treatment, in which prisoners are locked down 23 hour a day, with no access to natural light in cells, two cold meals a day and no way of contacting guards in cases of emergency.
A 1994 Amnesty International report on the ACA included an account by an inmate who watched his cellmate die of a heart attack, unable to contact the guards for help.