Homeland Theater

Police try to block annual SOA vigil

The US advocacy group SOA Watch reported on July 22 that the police in Columbus, Georgia, are trying to impose unacceptable restrictions on the annual vigil the group has held there every November since 1990 to protest the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly the US Army School of the Americas (SOA). According to SOA Watch, Columbus police chief Ricky Boren wants to limit the vigil to 200 people on sidewalks outside the US Army's Fort Benning, where WHINSEC is based. In previous years thousands of people have demonstrated at a gate leading to the base. Boren is also seeking to deny a permit for the group to post its stage and sound system at the usual spot.

HRW: FBI stings pushed people to terrorism

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have targeted American Muslims in abusive sting operations based on ethnic and religious identity, pushing people into terrorism, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Columbia Law School's Human Rights Institute jiontly reported July 21. The report examines 27 cases, following them from investigation through trial. "In some cases," according to HRW, "the FBI may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by suggesting the idea of taking terrorist action or encouraging the target to act." Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director at HRW and one of the report's authors, stated that although Americans have been told that their government is keeping them safe by preventing and prosecuting terrorism inside the US, the reality is that many defendants would not have committed terrorist acts without encouragement, pressure or, at times, even payment from law enforcement to do so. In many cases people with intellectual disabilities were targeted. According to some members of Muslim communities, fears of government surveillance and informants now force them to watch what they say, who they say it to and how often they attend services. US Attorney General Eric Holder has defended the undercover operations, calling them "essential in fighting terrorism."

Russell 'Maroon' Shoatz released from solitary

Veteran Black Panther Russell "Maroon" Shoatz was released from solitary confinement into the general prison population at Pennsylvania's State Correctional Institution (SCI) Graterford Feb. 20, ending more than 22 consecutive years in solitary confinement. The news was confirmed by Maroon during a legal call with an attorney from the Abolitionist Law Center. Maroon’s son, Russell Shoatz III, said, "We are very excited that this day has finally come. My father being released from solitary confinement is proof of the power of people organizing against injustice, and the importance of building strong coalitions."

IRS targets Cuba solidarity group

The New York-based nonprofit Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO) announced on Jan. 6 that the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has recommended ending the group’s 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. Founded in 1967 by the late Rev. Lucius Walker, IFCO is the first national foundation in the US controlled by people of color. It is probably best known as the sponsor of Pastors for Peace, which for the past 22 years has organized the US-Cuba Friendshipment Caravan, an annual shipment of humanitarian aid to Cuba; Pastors for Peace has also provided such aid for Nicaragua, Haiti and other countries.

US: annual SOA protest smaller but 'energizing'

Some 2,000 activists traveled to Columbus, Georgia, for the 23rd annual vigil outside Fort Benning to protest the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly the US Army School of the Americas (SOA). The activities, held this year from Nov. 22 to 24, were sponsored by SOA Watch, which opposes the US Army's training of Latin American soldiers, charging that SOA graduates have been among the region's most notorious human rights violators. Previous years were marked by trespass arrests as protesters tried to enter Fort Benning; nearly 300 activists have served prison sentences of up to two years for acts of civil disobedience since the vigils began. This year no protesters entered the base. One activist chained himself to the base's fence on Nov. 23 but eventually unlocked himself after local police agents refused to arrest him.

Urban Shield police confab protested in Oakland

Hundreds of police officers, sheriffs' deputies and military servicemen from across the country—many donning battle fatigues—converged on downtown Oakland's Marriott Hotel Oct. 25 for the opening of the Urban Shield security confab and weapons show. National and international law enforcement agencies joined with defense industry contractors to attend seminars and display wares for three days. Outside the Marriott, scores of community activists protested the event. United under the name Facing Urban Shield, the coalition said the militarist tone of the event highlighted the worsening human rights records of police forces around the US, and the waste of billions of tax-dollars on prisons. They also charged that the showcasing of arms dealers undercut crime-plagued Oakland's efforts to stem gun violence.

Lakota stand up to neo-Nazis

On Sept. 22, more than 300 Lakota, Dakota, Anishinabe and Apache activists and local white anti-racists organized by UnityND converged on Leith, North Dakota, to rally against Craig Cobb and members of his National Socialist Movement who settled in the village with the stated intention of taking over the local government and declaring a white separatist homeland. But Cobb and his followers did not offer resistance as Native American activists tore down and burned the neo-Nazi flags they had raised around their properties—adorned with swastikas, skulls, iron crosses and SS symbols. A large contingent of riot police were on hand, but did not interfere. The next day, the state health department announced it would shut down Cobb's home, which has no indoor plubling, for violating sanitary codes. (ICTMN, Sept. 26; Political Blind Spot, Sept. 23; ICTMNPolitical Blind Spot, Sept. 22)

California threatens prisoners over hunger strike

California authorities are threatening disciplinary measures as more than 12,000 inmates in the state's prisons have missed nine consecutive meals over three days in a hunger strike against solitary confinement. The nine-meal point is considered a critical benchmark that requires officials to recognize the action as a hunger strike. About 30,000 prisoners across the state began refusing meals on July 8 in support of supposedly "gang-affiliated" inmates being held in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison. Some prisoners are also refusing to work and to attend classes. "Participating in a mass disturbance and refusing to participate in a work assignment are violations of state law, and any participating inmates will receive disciplinary action," California prison officials said in a statement. A total of 4,527 inmates at four state prisons are now in solitary confinement.

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