If for no other reason than the passionate remarks by Congressman Hansen Clarke (D-MI) at a House hearing on June 15th, an outsider can see that there is a strong will in Detroit that is rebuilding a city. Clarke was infuriated by the accusations and denigration put on all the Muslim prisoners throughout America, the vast majority of whom are Black Americans who convert to Islam in the process of their development and renewal behind bars.
Clarke knows why people go to prison in massive numbers. Clarke has the personal experience as a kid from Detroit who can reflect on so many friends and neighbors becoming trapped by the prison industrial complex. Furthermore, Representative Clarke benefits from the knowledge of people like Yusef Shakur, a formerly incarcerated man, a Muslim, who also works to revitalize Detroit. Shakur’s book, Window to My Soul: My Transformation From A Zone 8 Thug to a Father & Freedom Fighter, comes with a curriculum guide. Although the average prisoner usually say they have a “colleague” doing things to liberate and empower people in places like Detroit… not many people in Congress can say the same.
This week in Detroit marks the annual Allied Media Conference. People across the nation will gather to share and learn skills around independent media, whether it is old school printmaking or building wireless mesh networks. The program is separated into “tracks,” with several of them overlapping in scope. I will be busy with the prison-centric track:
This track will build off the foundation laid by the Communication Strategies to End the Prison Industrial Complex track at AMC2010. The twenty grassroots organizations who participated in that track have spent the past year building partnerships and launching campaigns, including a state-wide effort to challenge the no-parole law in Virginia, the launch of a national grassroots prison radio project and many others. This year’s track will continue to build and advance media strategies for those working to dismantle the prison industrial complex in all of its forms, including: immigration detention centers, isolated prisons, prisoner renting, human rights violations, ICE raids, militarized police occupation of neighborhoods and the separation of families. Bringing together urban and rural community media organizations we will develop powerful of narrative campaigns—combining different forms of media (flip video, radio, print, web, phone, and viral communication) to organize resistance to policing, surveillance, and imprisonment.
Saturday (4-5:30pm) I will be part of “We Must Live As If We Will Never Die: Prison Writing & Liberation.” Like Yusef Shakur, I found that creative expression, particular that which reinterpreted the world in a way people could learn and develop themselves, was my path to sanity and purpose. The panelists involved with this workshop are pure fire.
Sunday (2-3:30) I am excited to combine with Paul Wright, founder and editor of Prison Legal News, to present “Frame the Debate: Strategic Messaging for Social Justice Campaigns.” Paul and I have both been part of many layers and avenues of fighting an issue, from lawsuits to constitutional amendments, and building knowledge about tactics is crucial. It isn’t enough to know something is wrong; we need to learn how to effectively describe the problem, and effectively promote the solution.
While in Detroit I aim to get together with Yusef Shakur, a fellow National Steering Committee member of the Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People’s Movement, and see if I can be helpful. His backpack giveaway campaign is in full swing, and is a perfect opportunity to bring people together (parents, children, teachers, etc.) and discuss how people within the struggling communities will need to revitalize the social structure.
For decades the federal and state governments have chosen to make police and prisons the number one priority in certain communities. Whether we call them “Urban,” “Communities of Color,” or whatever the tagline of the month is, it is all the same across America. For 40 years the Drug War has raged on, creating intergenerational poverty and intergenerational soldiers. Representative Hansen Clarke gets it. Once you make something intergenerational, once it is cemented into a culture, so-called “choice” becomes clouded in social norms and expectations.
While the distance between rich and poor in America continues to widen, scapegoats and distractions continue to be targeted, like Muslim prisoners, but as noted at the hearing:
“Sociologist Charles Kurzman has identified 178 Muslim-Americans who, since 9/11, have committed acts of terrorism-related violence or were prosecuted for terrorism- related offenses,” Useem said. This is 17 cases per year in a nation of 300 million people, that arrests thousands of people every hour. ”For twelve of those cases, there is some evidence for radicalization behind bars. There have been zero suicide (or attempted suicide) attacks undertaken by former prison inmates. Putting these data points together, Muslim-American terrorists are not especially likely to emerge from our prisons.”
In my neighborhood, 20 million dollars is spent on police and prisons while roughly 10 million is spent on education. Clarke needs to stay pissed off. For the sake of us all: stay pissed off.