Revolution #248, October 23, 2011
Support the California Prisoners’ Demands!
On July 1 of this year, prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison and other prisons in California began a just, courageous, and unprecedented hunger strike against the criminal conditions they face, especially in the “security housing units,” or SHUs. More than 6,500 prisoners joined this hunger strike, which lasted until July 20. They demanded: 1) An end to group punishment and administrative abuse; 2) Abolish the debriefing policy, and modify active/inactive gang status criteria; 3) an end to long‑term solitary confinement (which constitutes torture); 4) adequate and nutritious food; and 5) constructive programming and privileges for indefinite SHU status prisoners.
On September 26, nearly 12,000 prisoners, perhaps many more, resumed their hunger strike because the CDCR had not lived up to its promises. Instead the CDCR, with Governor Jerry Brown’s full backing, retaliated against nonviolent hunger strikers risking their lives for their basic rights and humanity. This retaliation included: disciplinary warnings; denial of family and legal visits; taking away medications and canteen items; trying to freeze prisoners out; removing prisoners to Administrative Segregation, while steadily insulting and dehumanizing prisoners as “shot callers” and “gang generals.”
On October 13, the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity website reported that prisoners at Pelican Bay had decided to stop their hunger strike after nearly three weeks. It said that the prisoners cited a memo from the CDCR detailing a comprehensive review of every SHU prisoner in California whose SHU sentence is related to gang validation (see prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com). At this point it is unclear whether or not the hunger strike is continuing at any other prisons. But what is clear is that support on the outside for these prisoners must continue and be stepped up.
The last round of the prisoner hunger strike in July also ended after three weeks—when the CDCR met with representatives of the strikers and said they would review their demands. The CDCR is now, once again, promising to review the prisoners’ five core demands.
The prisoners resumed the hunger strike on September 26 because the CDCR had not taken any serious steps toward addressing the prisoners’ core demands.
Instead prison officials launched a campaign of vicious disciplinary retaliation against and vilification of the hunger strikers. For example, they blocked family visits for hunger strikers, banned the key outside mediators from the prisons, and refused to allow human rights groups or journalists into the prisons to directly investigate conditions and interview the hunger strikers. For all these reasons, it is impossible to fully know the situation the hunger strikers have been and are facing—and under what conditions the strike at Pelican Bay was ended again. After three weeks, hunger strikers most certainly were getting very sick—in conditions in which they are systematically denied medial care and are kept very isolated, with little or no contact with each other as well as with their loved ones and supporters on the outside. At least one prison hunger striker wrote about how he was denied his medication and violently extracted from his cell. Prisoners have also reported that the CDCR has done things like turning up the air conditioners, subjecting the weakening prisoners to 50 degree temperatures. The hunger strike ended in the face of the most draconian conditions of continuing torture. And this may be especially true with regard to prisoners who have been the main organizers of the strike as they have been targeted by prison officials for punishment.
Support for Prisoners’ Demands Must Continue
These prisoners continue to face the most brutal, inhumane conditions of torture. And in the face of this, they are waging a tremendously heroic struggle to let the world know about the barbaric U.S. prisons and pressing forward with their demands to be treated like human beings. The support for these prisoners MUST continue, and get even stronger, broader, and more determined.
This is a question of our moral responsibility: We on the outside must—and will—continue to wholeheartedly support all those prisoners. We must stand with the prisoners and let the world know about the outrageous, criminal conditions they face and the struggle they are waging! We must continue to wage a real struggle on the outside, to force the CDCR to meet the demands of the prisoners. And we must demand an immediate halt to the vicious retaliation and punishment prison officials are bringing down on the prisoner hunger strikers.
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