Mumia Abu-Jamal and the Injustice Industrial Complex

As his 67th birthday nears, and Pennsylvania political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal faces challenging and potentially fatal health crises, his legal case is still slowly winding its way through the arduous appellate court system. — New court filings for Abu-Jamal’s appeal, Workers World, March 22.

chain stitch embroidery and graphite on khadi

Injustice is an industry in the United States of America, just like militarism and prisons. An inorganic perennial landscape irrigated by lies, silence, deception, fossil fuels, white-freedom-weapons and the victimization of black and brown people. A rhizomatous perpetual motion machine whose oozing pus fertilizes itself and keeps going.

This industry is undemocratic and bipartisan. It uses words like freedom and dreams and green to describe the journey. 

Don’t be fooled. There’s nothing free and dreamy and green about this journey. It is in fact shackled and nightmarish and grey, rooted in the oxymoronic and popular yet fantastical belief in infinite human potential on a finite planet. This potential, still needs a piece of the planet to thrive. And if we turn around to face the diabolically long and wide landscape, we might get a sense of the human miasma in this journey of injustice. We might see Mumia Abu-Jamal, somewhere in the distance, 39-40 years ago. Like a lotus blooming through the muck.

Conventional wisdom would have us believe that it is insane to resist this, the mightiest of empires, but what history really shows is that todays empire is tomorrows ashes; that nothing lasts forever, and that to not resist is to acquiesce in your own oppression. The greatest form of sanity that anyone can exercise is to resist that force that is trying to repress, oppress, and fight down the human spirit. — political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, Incarcerated at SCI Mahanoy, Pennsylvania; his twelfth book, “the sweeping historical polemic, Murder Incorporated: Empire, Genocide, and Manifest Destiny marks a historic pinnacle for Abu-Jamal as a writer and critic of the American Empire.”

We don’t need some unreal green message from the future where everyone is living off the fat of the land. Maybe we’re going about it all wrong and need to stop and look back instead of looking forward. Maybe the answer to the human miasma lies there? In a small piece of the planet-past. Maybe then it will hit us. That solutionism itself needs a piece of the earth, and the end result will be more violence, more displacement and death and devastation. Not less. 

Mumia and his story sits on one of those pieces of the planet-past. Forgotten and neglected in our liberal quest for quenching immediate injustices, and future ones. All Black Lives Matter. Not just those who the state and white supremacists kill instantly, but also those that the state kills slowly. Like Mumia. 

The state wants Mumia to die… Congestive heart failure…Covid-19 breathing difficulties…Organ failure of the skin… Unrelenting skin eruptions are causing damaged, ruptured, leathery, dry, exposed wounds. Not one spot on his body is free of dry cracked and bloody open wounds… The message from his personal physician, Dr. Ricardo Alvarez, could not be clearer, ‘Freedom is the only treatment.’Prison Radio, March 9.

What the system has done to Mumia’s life, his body, his mind, his words, to me encapsulates the dark nature of this miasmic journey: a microcosmic example of what we’re continuing to do to the earth, in a corner of which we planted a state that planted a system that planted an injustice industrial complex that planted the prison industrial complex that planted Pennsylvania prisons that planted Mumia, an innocent man inside it, “still writing by hand and on a plastic typewriter — no computers are allowed”…

…and that planted the trial judge Albert Sabo and the infamous six words that he was “going to help them fry the ‘n***r’.”

White supremacy is an ideology that gets its message across using very few words, and represents one of the darkest greys in the grey scale of the human miasma. But those six words of judge Sabo, for example, bring home the limits of the human potential. That the poison (if you’re a white supremacist) or elixir (if you’re a liberal human supremacist) is always going to be sought through violent means no matter how hard or how light your blow to the planet and the ecosphere: something always moving forward; something extractive; some more pieces of the planet; and the piece that still holds the forgotten freedom for Mumia.

Mumia’s freedom isn’t the freedom you and I are used to and that we take for granted. It’s the real thing: something that has to be unjustly snatched away from you first and then never granted if the system continues to have its way. Our freedom is part of the miasma. An illusion. It’s meaningless if we don’t use it to fight for someone else’s. 

But yes, freedom is the only treatment. Freedom for Mumia by other fellow humans. And freedom for the earth, from human superiority. 

It’s time to let go of the idea of infinite human potential and let the planet breathe. Let Mumia breathe. That’s one of the few things that we can do that’s within our modest human potential. Our mobilization for freedom of political prisoners like Mumia will actually plant something beautiful and non-violent on this planet without taking a piece of it away.

Your support, from Philadelphia to France, from points across the nation and literally around the globe, has pulled me from a prison cell and placed me in a hospital room to be treated for a condition I didn’t know I had. In the age of pandemic… as of January 2021, over 300,000 prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19. Imagine that… Imagine an elder man, or a woman, or even a young person, because yes, we are also in an age of mass incarceration which day by day increases its infliction upon the elderly, struggling unsuccessfully, to breathe. To walk. To be. I thank you all for reaching out, and I urge you all, let our mission be abolition. — ‘A Letter of Thanks’ by Mumia Abu-Jamal, Prison Radio, March 19.

Resources, updates and calls to action:

Watch the March 18 forum sponsored by the Prisoners Solidarity Committee of Workers World Party titled Mumia Abu-Jamal: The Only Treatment is His Freedom!

Prison Radio

International Concerned Friends and Family of Mumia Abu-Jamal

Campaign to bring Mumia home

The fact that this case is old, 39 years old, and that an innocent man with severe health concerns, is languishing in prison makes it even more critical that you do everything in your power to make sure that justice is not delayed. — What Krasner Needs to Do!, March 18

Write to Mumia: Smart Communications/PADOC, Mumia Abu-Jamal AM 8335, SCI Mahanoy, PO Box 33028, St Petersburg, FL 33733.

“Yes I believe that prisoners deserve a voice!” Please consider making a donation to Prison Radio.

Free Sanaa Seif !

It is outrageous from the beginning that she was arrested and prosecuted instead of investigating the physical assault against her… The sentence shows the status of the Egyptian judiciary today, which is largely in the service of the political interests of the government, rather than assisting in delivering justice.” — Amr Magdi, Egypt researcher at Human Rights Watch, Middle East Eye, March 17.  

An Egyptian court has convicted the 26-year-old film editor, writer and activist Sanaa Seif on charges of spreading false news, misusing social media and insulting a police officer on duty, sentencing her to 18 months in prison. Sanaa’s sister, Mona Seif, confirmed the March 17 conviction in a tweet stating that her sister has been charged with “spreading false news related to the Covid 19 pandemic,” and “using a Facebook account to terrorize people.” This is nothing less than a travesty of justice. 

Sanaa’s brother, revolutionary activist and blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah has been held in administrative detention at Cairo’s Tara prison since September 2019. In March of the same year, he had finished serving a five year prison sentence for something he never did: organize a protest.

On June 21, 2020, Sanaa was sleeping on the pavement outside Tara prison along with her mother and sister, peacefully demonstrating their right to receive a letter from Alaa that the prison authorities were holding from them. The following morning “a group of female beltagiya (thugs) attacked” them, beating them severely and stealing most of their belongings.

On June 23 when she went to the Public Prosecutor’s Office to file a report of the incident, some plainclothes policemen grabbed and shoved her into a white minivan, abducting her. According to the site, Sanaa was taken to “Egypt’s Supreme State Security Prosecution, which is notorious for detaining political opponents and critics in prolonged pre-trial detention over unfounded ‘terrorism’ charges.”

Since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came to power following the 2013 coup, Sanaa had been detained twice before. She is one of many thousands who have been unjustly imprisoned by the Sisi regime. 

It’s really sad that the price we had to pay for a letter from our brother who shouldn’t even be in prison, was Sanaa being beaten and arrested. So the price we had to pay for that letter was another one of our family in prison… What Sanaa would want is that we don’t loose sight of the bigger picture. To talk about all political prisoners and what the state is doing to deny them their rights and put their lives in danger. — Mona Seif, Free Sanaa, August 3, 2020.

Free Sanaa! Free Alaa!

JatiIndia Flag of Atrocities Caste, Present and Future: Thangjam Manorama

On this International Women’s Day let’s take a moment to remember one of JatiIndia’s victims, 32-year-old Thangjam Manorama from Manipur, India who was hauled out of her home at night, brutally tortured, raped and then shot dead by Indian paramilitary forces — the 17th Assam Rifles — on July 11, 2004. There were bullet wounds found in her vagina and thighs. According to The Polis Project, “Manorama’s murder was the turning point in the fight against extrajudicial encounters in Manipur, where the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) has been in effect since 1980… Since AFSPA was introduced in Naga Hills and later in Manipur and then in Jammu and Kashmir in 1990, there have been a large number of civilian deaths and human rights violations including enforced disappearances, torture in custody and extrajudicial executions.”

Part of a continuing series, each of these flags of JatiIndia (my name for this country of jatis/castes) features a face of resistance to upper-caste violence and injustice. The color orange symbolizes Hindutva politics; blue—a color historically adopted by the Dalit movement—here represents the country’s Dalits, Adivasis, Kashmiris, people of the Northeast like Thangham, and other minorities; and the bottom green bar embodies the regions ecological foundations endangered by the ideology of extractive capitalism. The circular image, replacing the Dharma Chakra (Wheel of Law), signifies the view through the crosshairs of a saffron (Hindu nationalist) gunsight.

JatiIndia Flag of Atrocities Caste, Present and Future: The Farmer We See and the Farmer We Don’t

The new farm laws will make it more difficult for farmers to earn an income, said R.S. Amaresh, a 65-year-old farmer from Renukapura village in Challakere taluk of Chitradurga district. ‘It is very difficult to survive as a farmer. There is no value for our crop. We have given up hope on agriculture. If it continues like this, a day will come when there will be no farmer.’ —  A day will come when there will be no farmer, People’s Archive of Rural India [PARI], January 27.

Whether you’re a Kashmiri or a kisan (farmer) in India growing sugarcane, wheat, rice, bajra (pearl millet), urad (black gram), toor (pigeon pea), rice, ragi (finger millet), jowar (sorghum), maize, mustard, banana, vegetables… in the fantastical eyes of the current BJP government or the private market, or Ambani or Adani or any extractive and exploitative corporation, your life and livelihood are a disposable commodity. Maximum-for-us-few and nothing for you is the maxim of the day, and those with all of their stinking power and money will deploy every violent tactic in their playbook to keep it that way. 

Security forces, road blockades, barbed wires, tear gas, water cannons, police lathis (batons), 10-feet trenches, water and electricity cut offs, that were in PARI’s words, “making it almost impossible for journalists to reach the protesting farmers, punishing a group that has already seen perhaps 200 of its own die, many from hypothermia, in the past two months,” paramilitary forces in full riot-gear with AK-47s, restrictive internet services, surveillance drones, and of course their predictably favorite one: labeling kisans who grow our food as anti-nationals — This is the violence you and me are witness to in the immediate scheme of things. But just like in every other sector, this latest assault by the Indian government and the establishment on the country’s poorest is not new. India’s agrarian crisis was set in motion a few decades ago. These new laws are just the latest pattern in a long chain of atrocious patterns.

On September 27, 2020, the central government of India passed three ag laws without any consultation with the kisans themselves. These laws would give superpowers to corporations and, kisans rightly see these laws as sabotaging an already wobbly support structure that includes the minimum support price (MSP) and the agricultural produce marketing committees (APMCs) — the system of mandis — that assures farmers procurement of their food grains; while at the same time paralyzing “the right to legal recourse of all citizens, undermining Article 32 of the Constitution of India.” 

Two months later farmers began gathering on the borders of Delhi and other parts of the country, in the streets and maidans (public spaces) to protest these new laws and make other demands including stability from fluctuating crop prices, “a dignified pension for elderly [women] farmers and farm workers… free treatment at good government hospitals… recognition of women’s labour in agriculture by giving them the status of farmers… strengthening the PDS (public distribution system) for rations,” (according to PARI), reforming APMC instead of  gutting it, long overdue land titles for Adivasi (indigenous) farmers, debt waiver, adequate storage facilities of their winter crops, freedom from agents who buy at a lower rate than the MSP because you’re at their mercy and so on and so on.

Like Ojha, many farmers in Bihar have been struggling to get better prices for their crops, especially after the state repealed the Bihar Agriculture Produce Market Act, 1960, in 2006. With that, the agricultural produce market committee (APMC) mandi system was abolished in the state. This points to what farmers in the rest of India might face with three new farm laws that were passed in September 2020. — My Troubles Begin After I Get a Good Harvest, PARI, February 20.

Part of a continuing series, each of these flags of JatiIndia (my name for this country of jatis/castes) features a face of resistance to upper-caste violence and injustice. The color orange symbolizes Hindutva politics; blue—a color historically adopted by the Dalit movement—here represents the country’s Dalits, Kashmiris, Adivasis and other minorities; and the bottom green bar embodies the regions ecological foundations endangered by the ideology of extractive capitalism. The circular image, replacing the Dharma Chakra (Wheel of Law), signifies the view through the crosshairs of a saffron (Hindu nationalist) gunsight. 

The blue strip is done in chain-stitch embroidery, illustrating the long chain of atrocities that have been carried out by JatiIndia over the years on its own people, and the people of occupied Kashmir. Each blue chain-stitch, of which there are more than twenty thousand, represents a face of resistance.

The JatiIndia flags featured here are portraits of a man farmer and a woman farmer surrounded by their crops and maati (soil) and water. That’s the front of the embroidery, representing a romanticized version of India, easy on the eye, where the ecosystem might seem a little disturbed but not threatened to the point of annihilation. And that’s why I’ve also included the back of the embroidery which I hope might communicate that which we don’t see and that which has been happening for decades in rural India — the systemic and institutional structure of violent government policies that have left us processing statements like that of R.S. Amaresh: “If it continues like this, a day will come when there will be no farmer.”  

This matrix stitches together a simultaneous kaleidoscopic pattern — one carefully crafted and intentional and the other its opposite. It’s of course impossible for us to see both, the easy front and the hard back at the same time. And we never will. Not unless we are willing to give up our lifestyles that rest on the backs of farmers like Amaresh and Ojha. They are what we eat. 

Why did [migrants] leave their villages in the first place to come [to the city]? And that was something called the agrarian crisis, which the media chooses to underplay, ignore, until it cannot…[and] what is rural distress? Rural distress is not just about agriculture… The handlooms plus handicrafts sector is the biggest employer in your country [after agriculture]… You know, if you look at the farm suicides, youll find, in many parts of this country, farmer suicides were preceded by weaver suicides… Why? When the farmers went bankrupt, the weavers lost their [first] market… These are allied professions… Your carpenters, weavers, potters, honey-hunters, fisherman – all those people are in your agrarian economy… So, if the economy of agriculture tanks, they are finished… When the lockdown came, people were making their way back to the villages, looking for those livelihoods which India had spent the last 25 years killing… What did COVID-19 do for you? It did a complete and thorough 100% autopsy on the society you are, on neoliberalism, on capitalist development under neoliberal capitalism; every nerve, sinew, bone, artery, vein is on display where its very ugly, including the maggots… Thats why Ive said often, the UPA [past government] was the gang that couldnt shoot straight. The NDA[current administration] is the gang that cant stop shooting. Every direction, everywhere, anything it can hit. — Farm Bills Will Create a Vacuum That May Result in Utter Chaos: P. Sainath, The Wire, September 23, 2020.