Peralta Community College District's Only Student-Run Publication
Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Students discuss their work in class at the MESA center at American River College on April 25, 2024. (Photo: Cristian Gonzalez/CalMatters)
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    Black History Month brings in big names

    Liberation after incarceration: Angela Davis on Mumia Abu-Jamal, the future of the prison industrial complex


    Angela Davis drew a standing room only crowd last Thursday, Feb. 18 at the First Congregational Church of Oakland, where she called for the abolition of the prison industrial complex.

    The occasion was the publication of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s new book, Writing on the Wall, as well as the fiftieth anniversary of the Black Panther Party.

    Johanna Fernandez, who edited this collection of Mumia’s essays, opened the night by calling for revolution. “As recent right-wing reactions to Beyonce’s Superbowl performance suggest,” she noted, “memory of the Black Power movement is dangerous to those in power.

    “No amount of representation in high places is going to change that; only revolution will.” Shouts, cheers, and prolonged applause followed.

    She spoke of what she termed “the move to hyper-incarcerate,” a series of laws passed in the 1980’s leading to “the largest incarceration project in history, [imprisoning] the descendants of slaves for having dared to assert their place in American society.”

    “Today corrections is the third largest employer in the nation (following Walmart) with a monthly payroll of 2.4 billion dollars. Of the 2.4 million in prison today, half were unemployed before they were arrested, and the rest had incomes of under $10,000.”

    In Writing on the Wall Mumia calls prisons “steel and brick slave ships.”

    Looking comfortable in granny glasses and a gray Afro, Davis was by turns joking and serious. She counted out the many new black liberation movements and marveled that last year at the University of Missouri even the football team joined the protesters.

    She drew laughter and cheers from the crowd when she evoked Kendrick Lamar. “On television! That is where we can go from here.”

    She mused that at previous conferences they had always been able to include Mumia by phone from his prison. “But — here on the West coast it’s after 11:30, and he’s not allowed to make calls after 9:00.”

    On a more somber note she called for an end to the remnants of slavery. “This country was founded on the deterritorialization of First Nations people and the enslavement of African people. This is the time to …complete the process of abolishing slavery.”

    She read from one of Mumia’s essays entitled “Haiti 1802,“ about the slave revolt that overthrew the French.

    “The most powerful army on earth had strung up a few of the French officers. Then Africans by the tens of thousands broke out of their chains to fight for freedom against the defenders of slavery. …They did what no slave army had ever done in history, they defeated an empire.”

    Turning to the plight of those now in prison, and to Mumia, the world’s most famous political prisoner, she read from his first entry, “Christmas in a cage” noting that none of the press accounts indicated that he was shot.

    (Mumia suffered multiple gunshot wounds that punctured his diaphragm and kidney, broke a rib and caused extensive blood loss.)

    “But he doesn’t end with these vivid descriptions of the violence inflicted on his body. He recalls the case of Pedro Cerano, who was beaten to death in the same prison” and it was called a suicide.

    “There are echoes of the case of Sandra Bland here,” Davis added. (Sandra Bland was a twenty-eight year old black woman who allegedly hanged herself in her prison cell, where she wound up after a traffic stop earlier that same day. This happened last year in Waller County, Texas.)

    During the discussion Johanna Fernandez announced that Mumia has hepatitis C now with extensive liver damage and a severe secondary skin condition.

    “There are 10,000 prisoners with hepatitis C in Pennsylvania and all across the US,” she said, adding that although there is an effective drug treatment for hepatitis C prisoners are not being treated because of the expense.

    “In India,” she said, “the medicine [Harvoni] costs $4 a pill and in the US it costs $1000 a pill and a whole course of treatment costs $94,000. That’s what health care for profit looks like.”

    Professor Davis added, “First we have to abolish the prison industrial complex. 
    And our immediate demand should be the release of all aging prisoners and the release of people that are so ill that remaining in prison will cut years off their lives.”

    “There are those …who believe that the system can be fixed,” she cautioned. “It would work better if there is less incarceration…but that we will have the flow of carcerality out into the community, with many wearing electronic ankle bracelets.”

    “We have to say that the system cannot be fixed. We need something else.”

    Fernandez then spoke of Palestine. “People are dispossessed from their lands. This is a population that is criminalized for existing. One in five Palestinians has done time in prison.”

    Davis took the microphone and added, “In a sense we can say that Palestine is our South Africa.” This brought murmurs of agreement and calls to “bring it home, teach!”

    “And of course all over the world people have come to identify with what is happening in this country. Ferguson, that small municipality — we could never have imagined that the name of that municipality would reverberate all over the world..

    “When in the United States of America people of African descent begin to surge forward that is a signal to the entire world.”

    Responding to a question about Flint, Davis exclaimed, “They’re only asking for clean water! That’s all they’re asking for!”

    “What we’re confronting now is structural racism,” she added, “and Flint represents the bottom line. It’s not the [individual] racism that the powers that be want us to imagine.”

    Fernandez took the microphone then and spoke of the need to form a movement not based on dramatic violence but on more subtle threats to life.

    “Water is the essence of life. Black people, people of color, we need to build a movement around the environment.” This last remark drew sustained applause.

    Mumia Abu-Jamal

    Mumia is a radio journalist and former Black Panther currently serving a life sentence for the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981. Mumia spoke out in support of MOVE, an armed group who clashed with the Philadelphia police. It is widely believed that he was framed. He has spent the last 35 years in prison, most of that time on Death Row. Mumia continues to write and speak from prison.

    About the Contributor
    In the fall of 2019, The Laney Tower rebranded as The Citizen and launched a new website. These stories were ported over from the old Laney Tower website, but byline metadata was lost in the port. However, many of these stories credit the authors in the text of the story. Some articles may also suffer from formatting issues. Future archival efforts may fix these issues.  
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