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."
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.
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.
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.
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; ICTMN, Political Blind Spot, Sept. 22)
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.
US District Judge Murray Snow ruled May 24 that the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office illegally engaged in racial profiling, and prohibited deputies from using race as a factor in law-enforcement decisions, from detaining people solely for suspected immigration violations, and from contacting federal immigration authorities to arrest suspected undocumented immigrants who are not accused of committing state crimes. Critics of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's controversial immigration enforcement efforts said they felt vindicated by the ruling. "In my mind, people have been very abused in our communities," said Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox. "We knew racial profiling was taking place and it was very hard to prove it."
Why now? On May 2—the 40th anniversary of the New Jersey Turnpike gun-fight that landed her in prison—the FBI made veteran Black Panther Assata Shakur the first woman on its "Most Wanted Terrorists" list, doubling the reward for her capture to $2 million. Shakur is in exile in Cuba, and Cuba's own right-wing exiles in Miami have campaigned for her extradition. But it's the NJ State Police that seem to have brought the pressure, with Trenton putting up the extra million dollars. "She continues to flaunt her freedom in the face of this horrific crime," State Police superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes said at a press conference, calling the case "an open wound" for troopers in New Jersey and around the country.