20th Jan 2006 |
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RACIST TREATMENT OF BLACK PRISONERS
This article was sent
to SchNEWS by long term prisoner John Bowden. You can read
an interview with him in SchNEWS Issue 34.
His current prison address is John Bowden 6729, HMP Edinburgh, 33
Stenhouse Road, Edinburgh, EH11 3LN.
imprisoning of young black people has always been an inevitable
result of a criminal justice system inbuilt at every level with
racist attitudes and an antipathy towards the black working class
community. The facts speak for themselves; while black people make
up just 2 per cent of the total population in England and Wales,
the Home Offices own statistics for Feb 2003 showed that 16 per
cent of all male prisoners are black and 25 per cent of all female
prisoners were from the black population.
The reality of life inside
prison for black inmates is a continuation of the racist treatment
many of them have experienced at the hands of the police and courts,
although in the hidden world of prison that treatment often takes
on an especially vicious and brutal quality. While most black prisoners
experience some form of overt discrimination at the hands of an
overwhelmingly white prison staff, the very worst treatment is reserved
for those who possess the courage and determination to resist and
openly complain about the racist behavior of those managing and
running the prisons. The experience of those black prisoners labeled
difficult and subversive is truly horrendous
and filled with frequent physical brutality, long stays in solitary
confinement and endless transfers, usually to prisons geographically
remote and inaccessible to friends and family.
The predicament of Sean
Higgins, a young mixed race prisoner from Birmingham, is an
example of the sort of treatment dished out to prisoners perceived
by staff as uppity and unreasonably proud, as well as
the collusion of senior management necessary to allow such vicious
repression. In the Autumn of 2005 the anti-racist organization Black
Britain was contacted by a white ex-prisoner, John McGranagham,
who told them that Sean Higgins, then in the punishment block at
Frankland jail in Durham, was being brutalized by prison officers
and feared for his life. Mr McGranagham said he believed Seans
treatment was motivated by racism and asked Black Britain to begin
asking questions of the prison department on Seans behalf.
After contacting Seans lawyer, Vicky King, who confirmed that
Sean had been frequently assaulted and injured by prison staff,
Black Britain made contact with Sean himself who described a catalogue
of abuse and maltreatment at the hands of racist prison staff, all
of it is verified with medical reports and photographs and legal
Sean said that in 1999
while in Swaleside Prison in Kent, several officers entered his
cell, subjected him to racist verbal abuse and then physically attacked
him, during which they tried to tie a homemade noose around his
neck in a mock lynching fashion. He said I was beaten to such
an extent that the police, when they eventually came, refused to
accept custody of me, insisting I be taken to the hospital first.
The attack on him at Swaleside was one of many and always provoked
by his personal complaints of staff racism and refusal to be silent
and acquiescent in the face of it.
In the notorious Full
Sutton segregation unit, a place where violence against prisoners
has become an integral part of the regime, he was badly beaten after
complaining about racist abuse, and then charged with assaulting
prison staff, who required a justification for restraining
him so violently. He was subsequently acquitted at Hull Crown Court.
The jurys verdict in the case supported Seans defense
that he had been the victim of racist and physical abuse at Full
Sutton. They found that he had acted in lawful self-defence when
attacked by prison staff. When Sean again complained of racist abuse
whilst in the segregation unit at Frankland jail in September 2005,
he was systematically beaten up by staff, who then inevitably made
a counter allegation that he had attacked them without the slightest
provocation. Sean is now pursuing a civil action against the prison
department for damages. The treatment of Sean Higgins typifies the
reaction of the prison system to black prisoners who defiantly resist
racism behind bars and is indicative of a whole culture of racism
that permeates the prison system from the top to bottom.
Solicitor Dan Rubenstein,
whose firm specializes in prison litigation, has claimed that a
strong culture of racism exists not just amongst basic grade prison
officers but also within higher management of the prison dept. According
to Mr Rubenstein the prison dept is notoriously slow in responding
to letters detailing claims on behalf of prisoners. He says They
have never taken less than four months to respond. He describes
follow up action by the system into complaints of racial discrimination
as being very patchy indeed, and believed that higher
management have been directly involved in racially discriminatory
actions. He also claims that black prisoners who have made complaints
of racial discrimination were constantly transferred; he added:
instead of the grievance being dealt with there and then they
just pass the problem onto someone else.
Felix Martin, ex-prisoner
and chair of the Prisoners Race Discrimination Unit, told Black
Britain that although complaints of racist abuse in prison were
high they were probably the tip of an iceberg and unreflective of
the true number - A lot of black prisoners dont bother
to report it and just learn to live with it, he said. Mr Martin
said that racism in prisons takes many forms and vary from being
given small portions of food in the canteen to receiving a behavior
warning for pressing a cell buzzer to request a phone call. He said:
Some officers come out with racial insults and there are ones
who really bully and pick on certain inmates. When a black prisoner
decides to make a complaint thats when it turns into open
warfare and the victimization comes pouring in.
The Commission For Racial
Equalitys (CRE) 2003 report stated that: Some prison
staff discourage or prevent prisoners from making race complaints
and those who plucked up the courage to speak out against discrimination
were punished or victimized for making the complaint.
However, while many welcomed
the Commissions investigation there remains widespread criticism
of the governments reluctance to instigate prosecutions against
prison staff identified as perpetrators of racist behavior. Following
the publication of the of the CREs report, instead of seeking
justice for ill-treated black and ethnic minority prisoners, the
CRE joined forces with the government to implement an action
plan for reform, that includes a proposal to appoint prison
officers as mediators of racial conflict in prison!
Felix Martin said This is a perfect way of ensuring that everything
stays inside and nothing gets out. This proposal if implemented,
will set the prison system back twenty years. Instead he recommends
that prisons be purged of racism by legally empowering
prisoners and making the system far more accountable. Another important
way of challenging racism in prisons is to highlight and support
the struggle of prisoners like Sean Higgins, who has remained isolated
for years and able to call only on his own courage and endurance
in his struggle against racist and violent prison officers tacitly
backed up by the whole power structure of the prison system.
It took an ex-prisoner,
John McGranagham, a man who spent over a decade in prison for crimes
he did not commit*, to highlight the treatment of Sean Higgins and
encourage others to get involved in supporting Sean. It is a political
and personal duty of all genuine anti-racists to support those on
the inside who are engaged in what is often a life and death struggle
against vicious state racism of the worst kind.
* Mr McGranaghams
life sentence conviction was quashed at the Court Of Appeal in October
1991 and is an accepted miscarriage of justice.
* Contact Black Britain
c/o The Colorful Network, Culvert House, Culvet Road, London
SW11 5AP, England. Tel: 020 7498 4020 or Helper@colourfulnetwork.net
* Next Saturday (28th)
theres a Prison Abolition Seminar. Resisting prison
construction, radical alternatives to prison and abolitionist theory
past and present. Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, Holborn, London
At 4:30am on Monday 16th
January, eviction of protest sites in Dalkeith Country Park began.
Police bailiffs have raided one of the sites, establishing a security
cordon around the area but protesters are determined to resist the
eviction. The first site was set up in October last year following
the announcement that trees would be felled in the area to make
way for the A68 bypass - and there were four camps, two have been
evicted. The eviction is anticipated to last about two weeks and
cost £1.4m. (For more about Dalkeith Park, and other current
road protests see SchNEWS
As SchNEWS goes to print,
a 40-strong specialized eviction team have cleared out about half
of the tree defences in a slow but so far peaceful process. Roads
have been blocked to prevent supporters reaching the beleagured
site, but as anyone whos been to Glastonbury should know,
People are urged to
come down and help out. Phone 077532 80009 or go to www.save-dalkeith-park.org.uk
ON YOU CRAZY DIAMOND
Apparently David Blunkett
was decidedly mellow when it came to Incapacity Benefits cuts, at
least he was compared to new Work & Pensions secretary John
Hutton (weekly salary: £2,600). This week Hutton outlined
his plans to introduce a range of penalties for claimants (weekly
income: £58 a week) who show unwillingness to take part in
work focussed activities. Its a something
for something approach he told a Work Foundation conference,
help will be matched by increased responsibility on the part
of claimants. Its a pity John doesnt believe the
rich as well as the poor should have share that responsibility.
If he did he wouldnt have to be so worried about nicking money
from poor people; hed just make sure that UK plc paid its
The cost of the Incapacity
Benefit is £12bn a year. Thats quite a bit less than
the £20bn of tax which should have been paid by the UKs
top 50 companies. Mind the Tax Gap, a study backed by
the Tax Justice Network, found that companies were doing their very
best to avoid nuisances like Corporation Tax and VAT, preferring
to line shareholders pockets instead. A range of legal blags are
available to companies with good lawyers to avoid paying tax, all
of which are far too boring to print here.
Nevertheless, the missing
tax would be enough to bung every household in the UK £1,000.
John Hutton, meanwhile, is far too stingy to actually pay proper
money to run his harebrained scheme. Instead the voluntary and charity
sector will pick up the work because, in work minister Margaret
Hodges words, Going to talk to a voluntary organisation
is not the same as walking into a Jobcentre Plus office! Of
course not its cheaper and Neo Labour and its corporate sponsors
must make sure that the money keeps flowing it the right direction
- i.e. into their coffers.
AROUND THE DOCK
This week there were
violent clashes between 6000 Dockers and police during demonstrations
at the EU parliament in Strasbourg, over the EUs Directive
on Market Access to Port Services proposal to liberalise
ports, allowing private contractors to use casualised labour, which
will mean job and pay losses, and lower safety to dock workers across
Europe. Putting cheap labour without sufficient training and experience
in charge of dangerous dockside crane equipment is a recipe for
disaster - see the story of Simon Jones killed at Shoreham docks
in 1998 (See SchNEWS 333).
Dockers from 16 EU countries, and elsewhere, descended on Strasbourg
for the demonstration where police sprayed tear gas and water cannons,
as the dockers used firecrackers and stones to give the EU buildings
glass facades a make over with 13 arrests, and 12 police
injuries. Elsewhere some 50,000 port workers across Europe were
on strike with the ports at Rotterdam, Antwerp and Le Havre closed
down. The European parliament rejected this proposal three years
ago, and when it went to a vote on Wednesday, it was thrown out
532 votes to 120.
* For more see www.labournet.net
In another financial
blow for besieged vivisectors Huntingdon Life Sciences, US
company American Century have sold their 90,000 shares in the laboratory.
HLS have taken potentially illegal measures to prop up their share
price. Huntingdon have pulled this stunt several times recently
when a shareholders have offloaded their stock and the company panicked
about a potential share price crash. SHAC said What a sure
sign that we are on track and just what a mess Huntingdon are in
financially. Three major customers and over 100 suppliers
were dissuaded from dealing with HLS in 2005.
* For more see www.shac.net
- National Demonstration
calling for Justice for British residents in Guantanamo Bay. Saturday
21st Assemble 12 noon Tothill St nearest tube St James Park.
- Bolivarian Revolution, Coal Mining and Indigenous Resistance.
Report back and film night next Tuesday (24th) 6pm @ The Cowley
Club, 12 London Road, Brighton 01273 696104 www.cowleyclub.org.uk
- Social centres
and autonomous spaces in the UK: where next after Gleneagles?
Meeting next Sunday (29th) at the Common Place social centre,
23-25 Wharf Street, Leeds www.thecommonplace.org.uk
- Shut Them
Down!: The G8, Gleneagles 2005 and the Movement of Movements
is out now! For details of how to get copies www.dissent.org.uk
- Bury my Heart in
Palestine & SchMOVIES 2005 will be showing at the Duke
of Yorks Picture House on 1st February at 6.30pm
- SchNEWS invites
all readers to send in yer stories of events, protests, local
struggles, community events etc etc - and feedback or updates
about anything SchNEWS has covered is always welcome. 01273 685913
Six years ago the
Bolivian city of Cochabamba erupted in riots against Bechtel (see
SchNEWS 339), the California-based
multinational that had bought up their water and was selling it
back at extortionate rates, often more than half of peoples
monthly incomes. The water privatization was forced on Bolivia by
the World Bank as a loan condition back in 1997. After riots left
more than a hundred wounded and a 17-year-old boy dead, Bechtel
legged it but together with their Spanish partners, Abengoa, sued
the country for £23m in lost profits. This week
representatives of the Bechtel Corporation and its co-investor,
Abengoa of Spain were in Santa Cruz to sign an agreement which will
lead to them dropping the case for a token payment of 2 bolivianos
(50p). As people win the fight against corporate power, attention
has now turned to the victory of the indigenous Evo Morales who
won last Decembers Presidential elections. Morales has been
promising to nationalise energy supplies. Whether he keeps his promise
is another question, but investors in Washington are naturally concerned
and that more or less guarantees future battles to come.
* See http://bolivia.indymedia.org
for more info.
Broadcast last Tuesday
on Al-Jazeera, Osama Bin Ladens latest release On your
knees infidel, before the wrath of the mujahadeen has been
slammed by industry critics as disappointingly samey
and having a derivative feel. Although eagerly awaited
for over a year it has already been compared unfavourably to earlier
undeniable classics such as Hostility toward America is a
religious duty and seminal sleeper hit America, the
power of Allah will turn your Empire to dust. One jihadist
pop picker told SchNews It only seems like yesterday that
Osamas call for the faithful to rise up and obliterate the
Great Satan was just so fresh and edgy but what started
in a blaze of originality in the early 90s has just spawned a host
of imitators and now it seems as if everyone with a camcorder and
an RPG launcher is in on the act. Perhaps like Bowie in the Tin
Machine years hes become stuck in an artistic rut or maybe
its just that difficult third fatwa but I personally preferred
his earlier stuff while he was still political. Osamas
agent said he was disappointed by the projects reception
and was working at an undisclosed location on a forthcoming greatest
hits compilation which he hopes will crack the all important
SchNEWS warns all readers that appearing on reality TV shows
will get you no respect... Honest!
from his success on Celebrity Big Brother publicity
hungry George Galloway has hit on another surefire
winner for reaching out to the unpoliticised masses -
the member for Bethnal Green is releasing a triple X-rated
mail-order only DVD...
the use of black market blue movies for pinko propaganda
a red-faced George Go-all-the-way told SchNEWS: I
want to attempt to connect with the politically untouched,
the millions of people most of them young people who
are completely turned-off by conventional approaches.
Its the Generation X-Factor. We need to use new
and innovative methods to put across our arguments. Im
determined that there are no no-go areas for us and I
believe knocking out porn will be hugely successful for
our ideals. Highlights include a scene where on
his knees, he licks oil from the Syrian presidents
hands. Muslim leaders in his constituency are said to
be cautious about the project.
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