Jailing of a Generation

Part 1

By Michael Slate

Revolutionary Worker #1039, January 23, 2000

The Unbound Project is a new CD that will be released soon on the Realized label. A part of the money generated by this CD will be donated to Mumia Abu-Jamal's legal defense fund. And many of the cuts on the CD speak to Mumia's case. Overall, the project aims to focus attention on and raise awareness of the true nature of the criminal justice system in the U.S. and especially how this system impacts on the hip-hop generation. Many Spoken Word and hip-hop artists came together to make this CD the best project possible. The CD includes the Mumia 911 posse cut as well as new works and beats by Mike Ladd, MuMs, Ursula Rucker, Saul Williams, Jerry Quickley, Medina Green, Aceyalone, Blackalicious, J Rocc, Poor Righteous Teachers and others. This essay details some of the ways this system tries to grind up and destroy the young. It is my contribution to this project and will be included in the CD booklet. The producer of the CD welcomes the opportunity to bring this essay to the readers of the RW.

You can't talk about freedom in AmeriKKKa without knowing the facts. There is no freedom in this house. The rulers of the country have slashed the words "Assume the Position" across the gateway to the new millennium. They ring in the new century with the cold sound of prison doors and screams echoing off of concrete walls. Slavemasters used to steal young men from Africa, stack them up on ships and deliver them into slavery in the new world. Now their black-suited and jackbooted stormtroopers steal the young, the bold and the poor, especially Black and Brown, from the streets of ghettos and barrios. They stack them up in concrete ships that don't float. They deliver them to the terror of the New World Order. Same as the old world order.

"Every time you see the police you got to run. When they got you they throw you all over they car, they slam you on the ground and put they knee in your back. They know the hood to they car is hot--they been running it so long. They make you put your hands up on that hot hood and then sometimes they push your face down onto the hood. Sometimes they handcuff you and then when you got no way to protect yourself they go and slam your face down on the car.

"I was eight the first time they stopped me. I was with my daddy and we was driving and they stopped him and made him get down on the hood of the car. Then they made me put my hands on the hood. I been stopped about 65 times and I'm only 14 now. I got stopped the other day. I was coming home from school and they say I looked like a 211 suspect--a robbery suspect. They do whatever they want to us down here... And if you try to run they pull they gun out and yell `Don't move or I'll shoot your fucking ass."'

Gregory, 14 years old in the
Jordan Downs projects in Watts

This country eats the young. It brands an entire generation, especially Black and Brown, with prison numbers as soon as they can walk. In the projects kids know more about handcuffs than they do about superhero press-on tattoos. To go to school you pass through metal detector doorways under the close watch of armed cops. They got cops holding guns on the heads of elementary school children in Watts. In New York City the number of cops in schools has tripled under Mayor Giuliani. In Illinois a stupid fist-fight at a football game gets teenage students expelled from school and charged with a felony.

In 1995, for the first time, more money was spent building new prisons than building new University buildings. The Justice Policy Institute reports that between 1987 and 1995 the money spent on state prisons rose by 30 percent while the money spent on higher education dropped by 18 percent. Over the last 20 years, California built 21 new prisons. This was the largest prison construction effort in the world and it gave California the third largest prison system in the world--after the rest of the U.S. as a whole and China. During this same time, California built only one new college. Since 1990, California laid off 10,000 professors and other university employees and hired 10,000 prison guards.

New Laws and the Clampdown

There's a war going on. They call it a war on crime or a war on drugs. But be clear, it's a war against the people. All kinds of new laws and rulings designed to lock up a generation of youth have been passed by the federal and state governments.

In the late 1980s the federal government used the cover of a war on drugs to start spitting out laws like the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988. Among many other brutal new penalties and restrictions, this law created the federal death penalty for anyone who intentionally or unintentionally kills someone while involved in any drug-related felony or in what the government defines as a "continuing criminal enterprise." It also introduced a long list of vicious mandatory minimum sentences and established the "one strike" eviction law in federal housing projects. Under this law a resident of a housing project can be evicted if they, or anyone living in their unit, engage in criminal activities in or even near the projects.

In 1994, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act was another landmark law adding to the growing clampdown. This law gave buckets of money to local law enforcement agencies--and to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)--to hire 100,000 new cops, buy new weapons and equipment and build new prisons. It also increased a lot of the mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug convictions and it ruled out the possibility of parole for anyone convicted of these crimes. It set up a federal version of the three-strikes law and added extra time to the sentences of federal defendants who are labeled gang members. The law also allowed for "special cases" where 13-year-old children could be put on trial as adults. And it increased the number of crimes covered by the federal death penalty to 16.

By 1997, the U.S. Congress passed another major law strengthening their war on the people and sharpening its focus against youth. One of the big features of this law allowed people 14 years and older to be tried as adults and locked up in federal adult prisons if they're charged with federal crimes. It required all defendants 15 and older to be tried as adults when they're charged with serious violent crimes. And it increased the sentences for repeat offenders on every type of crime, including vandalism. Under this law kids skipping school or doing things like violating probation can now be locked up in preventive detention for up to two weeks before they go on trial.

Zero tolerance laws in every corner of the country practically make it illegal to be young. More than 1,000 different towns and cities--including 160 of the 200 largest cities in the country--enforce some form of curfew laws against youth. In some cities people under 18 face both a nighttime curfew and a daytime curfew so they are actually only legally allowed to be on the streets for a handful of hours each day. Most states are moving in the direction of getting rid of juvenile courts and jails.

Since 1992, 48 state legislatures and the local government of Washington, DC made major changes in their laws to make it easier for kids to be tried as adults and locked up in adult prisons. Between 1984 and 1995 the number of people under 16 who were put on trial in adult courts doubled and the number of kids under 12 who were tried in adult courts increased by 32 percent between 1985 and 1994. In six states (Illinois, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina and Wyoming) 13-year-olds can be tried as adults. In three states (Missouri, Montana and Colorado) 12-year-olds can go on trial as adults. (Colorado has an age limit of 12 only because they failed to pass a law setting the minimum age at 10.) Twenty states have no minimum age limit for trying children as adults. As of 1999, 200,000 children go on trial in adult courts each year and 65,000 kids are locked up in adult prisons.

California, a state that every day seems to grow closer to some science fiction prison state, has been a leader in the clampdown. In the late 1980s and early 1990s California passed more than 1,000 new criminal justice statutes, including many dealing with increasing sentences for various crimes. The three strikes law has put 50,000 people into long-term prison sentences in its five years of existence. California Governor Gray Davis has basically done away with parole in the state prisons for anyone doing time under an indeterminate sentence for a serious felony--like 10 to life. Davis has reversed the State Parole Board every time it has recommended parole.

California has really stepped out as a leader in the war on youth. One of its most vicious contributions to this war effort has been developing and refining gang injunctions and other "anti gang laws." California's Gang Enhancement Statute makes gang membership a crime. Actually, the law says that any person active in any criminal street gang, defined as three or more people involved in criminal activity, can be punished with one year in jail--it doesn't matter whether that person commits a crime or not.

Gang member ID is put on anyone who fits three of the following (you can be listed as a gang associate if you meet two of these conditions): if you admit you're in a gang, if you hang out with gang members, if you wear baggy pants or other "gang style" clothes or jewelry, tattoos, throwing signs, writing "gang tags" and if you write to or get letters from a gang member or your name is mentioned in something written by a gang member. Another big factor that practically every Black and Brown youth in the country meets is that the cops identify you as a gang member.

Huge gang databases have been built in California and across the country. The federal government also runs its own database. And all it takes to be listed as a gang member is a routine "Probable Cause Stop"--pulled over, laid out, interviewed and listed just because you're young, Black, Latino or Asian. In 1993 the Denver police admitted that 80 percent of the youth listed in the gang database were oppressed nationalities and two-thirds of all the Black youth and young men between the ages of 12 and 24 are listed as gang suspects. The Cook County, Illinois, gang database is two-thirds Black. And although only one-half of the youth in Orange County, California are Black, Latino or Asian, they were 92 percent of the youth listed in the gang database in 1997. In 1992 L.A. County maintained a gang database that listed at least 150,000 youth.

Gang Injunctions and the Youth Crime Initiative

Once someone gets identified as a gang member, everything they do takes on extra meaning in the eyes of the law. It's not only easier to convict gang members these days but "sentence enhancement" laws mean gang members or associates get longer prison time. Gang injunctions make any young person an outlaw for getting out of bed and stepping out the door. These injunctions say they aim to create gang-free neighborhoods. And they do this by turning the hood into a virtual police state/occupied zone.

Injunctions are basically restraining orders enforced against the people listed on the injunction--or even against unnamed people who have never been convicted of anything in their life but who are "alleged gangsters." Police testimony is one of the major factors used to set up injunctions in specific neighborhoods and often times this is based on lies and criminal activity of the police themselves, as everybody has seen in recent LAPD scandals in L.A. They are generally so severe that people can't help violating them by simply going about their routine every day life.

One of the original gang injunctions was in San Jose, California, and under its terms the people listed could not sit, stand, walk, drive, gather or appear anywhere in public view with any "suspected gang member." The listed people were also forbidden to carry bottles, rocks, bricks, chains, tire irons, screwdrivers, hammers, crowbars, bumper jacks, razor blades or razors, slingshots, marbles or ball bearings. These same youth were not allowed to approach any vehicle at all or have any kind of conversation or other communication with somebody inside any vehicle. And they couldn't make, cause or encourage others to make a loud noise of any kind.

L.A. pioneered the use of gang injunctions and one of its first was the Blythe Street injunction which listed 500 mostly Latino youth and, along with all the standard restrictions, also made it a crime for more than two of these youth to gather in public at a time. These injunctions are becoming more and more frequent across the country and in many places youth targeted by the injunctions can't even have discussions inside cars, wait for buses or even climb trees. In one case hundreds of youth are forced to carry papers with them to prove that their everyday activities are necessary and legal. Anyone who violates these injunctions can be fined or sent to jail.

California authorities continue to search for bigger and harder hammers to bring down on young men and women in the state. The latest addition to the California arsenal is the Gang Violence and Juvenile Crime Prevention Act (the Youth Crime Initiative or YCI) scheduled to be voted on in the March 2000 election. This law takes the already vicious repression of youth to new levels. This law requires 14-year-olds to be tried in adult courts if they are arrested for any one of a long list of crimes. And prosecutors can file charges in adult court against any youth 16 and older who has a prior felony conviction, when the current felony charge involves something done against elderly, blind or disabled people, or is the result of a hate crime or a "gang" offense.

The YCI removes probation for youths convicted of a felony and requires that any youth 16 or older who is convicted in adult court get locked up by the California Department of Corrections instead of the California Youth Authority. The new law also sets up a preventive detention system by prohibiting pre-trial release for any youth accused of any one of 30 offenses. It also expands the list of 3 Strikes offenses for both adults and youth to include all forms of robbery and first degree burglary. And it adds conspiracy to commit any crime to the list of violent and serious offenses that bring a person under the gun of the three strikes law. This expanded list will be made retroactive so that if the crime you were convicted of years ago wasn't considered a violent or serious offense back then that could kick in the three strikes law, it will be now.

The YCI will also make it easier for the authorities to collect and make public juvenile records. The YCI goes after graffiti writers with a special vengeance by lowering the amount of money damage necessary to qualify vandalism as a felony from $50,000 to $400. And for misdemeanor vandalism--under $400--it increases jail time to one year instead of six months.

Gangs are a special target of the YCI. The law creates whole new crimes in this area, including conspiracy to commit a felony for actively participating in a "criminal street gang" and promoting, helping or benefiting from felony criminal activity by a gang. There will also be another new felony charge of recruiting for a gang. Any murder that happens in connection with gang activity could be punished by the death penalty. All prison sentences will be much longer for any and all offenses if they are gang connected. Under this law even misdemeanors will be bumped up to felony level sentences if there is a gang connection. The YCI will require all gang members convicted of any "gang-related" crime, or a crime the court says is "gang-related," to register with the police and will greatly expand the use of wiretaps against gang members. And, of course, the YCI greatly eases the legal requirements necessary to identify someone as a member of a gang.

Bullets, Clubs and Battering Rams

This is just a tip of what is coming down on the people today, and especially on Black, Latino, Asian--and even some white--youth. Laws and courtroom machinery grind people up every day, but this is just one aspect of things. Every word of every law is backed up by bullets, clubs and prisons.

Every society in history that has been built on the oppression of the vast majority of its citizens enforces its rule with armed power. AmeriKKKa has pushed this to new levels of brutality and savagery. Black and brown live with the red dot laser spot on their foreheads from cradle to grave.

Late night and pre-dawn raids on inner-city neighborhoods happen all over the country. They bring hundreds of cops and other troops in with battering rams, armored personnel carriers, stun grenades, gas and automatic rifles. Most major police forces regularly get free military weapons and equipment directly from the military. And since the middle of the 1980s all these raids carry military-style names. There was Operation Hammer in L.A. (14,000 mainly young Black men arrested and booked), Operation Pressure Point in NYC (large-scale raids on so-called drug neighborhoods), Operation Sting in Miami and Operation Clean Sweep in DC (28,000 people arrested, including 1400 mainly Black youth).

Operation Sunrise in Los Angeles on April 1, 1995 was the largest of these raids in Southern California history up until that time. It started at 4 a.m. when 800 cops of different kinds sealed off the streets and smashed down doors as they raided 135 homes. An entire neighborhood, a 30-block area centered around the intersection of Florence and Normandie, was terrorized until late afternoon. Twelve hours after the raid began 60 people had been arrested, many for outstanding traffic warrants, possession of beepers and cloned cell phones, and just plain "suspicion." This corner of Florence and Normandie is where the L.A. Rebellion kicked off in 1992.

All kinds of police agencies and other armed forces come together to carry out these raids. And they cover up their ghetto rampages as crime-fighting. In California, these raids bring together the local cops with the FBI, Probation and Parole Departments, Sheriffs, Marshalls, U.S. Attorney's Office, local District Attorneys, Drug Enforcement Agency, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and a super secret Special Services Unit that is headquartered in the California Corrections Department but operates inside and outside the prisons.

The INS--La Migra--is hooked deep into this too. In some parts of the country the Border Patrol raids high schools and Migra agents are stationed in many prisons so they can catch prisoners who can be deported once they finish their jail time. The INS operates a special Violent Gang Task Force in 16 of the largest cities in the country, and this group regularly takes part in the gestapo neighborhood raids. In Los Angeles the INS Task Force works side by side with LAPD anti-gang units--the same ones who have recently been exposed as murderers, liars, drug dealers and thieves--supporting one another in the streets and sharing intelligence info with each other. The basic plan here is if the cops can't kill or jail someone then the INS may be able to deport them.

And then there are the death squads. In Haiti there was the Ton Ton Macoutes. In El Salvador there were the death squads. In Nazi Germany there was the Gestapo. In AmeriKKKa there are special "Anti-Gang" or "Anti-Violent Crime" Task Forces. Every major city has them.

In L.A. brothers and sisters in Watts and South Central talk about the "kill squads," groups of plainclothes cops who travel around in unmarked cars hunting people, shooting at them as they stand in burger joints or on a corner somewhere. And over the last few months of 1999, stories from busted cops have helped everyone in L.A. and across the country see LAPD's anti-gang CRASH unit as an official death squad.

The police have already admitted to at least two "bad killings" by CRASH cops and many more "bad shootings" and frame-ups. Latest news reports on this indicate that at least 3,000 people may have been framed and sent to prison by these lying cops. In NYC there's the Street Crimes unit that pumped 41 bullets in Amadou Diallo while he stood in the foyer of his apartment building and has been responsible for killing and maiming many others. Do a quick page-through of the Stolen Lives Book--a listing of more than 2,000 people killed by the various police agencies around the country since 1990 and published by The Stolen Lives Project. The vast majority of people listed in that book are young, Black or Latino men. This is only a partial list and it continues to grow every day.

In the movie Light It Up, when Rodney, the gangster youth in the film, talks about his future, he says he's "a chalk mark waiting to happen." That's what this society holds out as the future for millions of young people from oppressed nationalities. The police are the street executioners, but at the same time the system has been expanding its use of the death penalty against youth. The United States is one of six countries in the world that executes minors. The U.S. has executed 300 people under 18 throughout its history and 125 of them were under 17. There were 14 children executed in the world between 1979 and 1995 and nine of them were executed by the U.S.A. By 1998 there were 63 juveniles sitting on death row across the country and many of them were mentally ill.

Former California Governor Pete Wilson called for the execution of 14-year-olds. Other California politicians have called for executing 13-year-olds. Former Speaker of the California State Assembly Cruz Bustamente argued for executing 7th graders. One state official in Texas actually argued for including a clause allowing the death penalty for 11-year-old children as part of a get tough on crime bill. The U.S. Supreme Court has said straight up that it's constitutional to execute people 16 years old and four of these so-called Justices argued that it should be cool for states to give the death penalty to children who are 15 and younger.

To be continued

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