Archive for the 'Prisons' Category

Translation of “One comrade from Mérida sounds off: Oh I’ve got the desire” (Viento sin Fronteras, in EL LIBERTARIO)

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

Here is another translation from Venezuela, once again of a one-compa-sounds-off article, this time from Viento sin Fronteras (Wind without Borders) in a rural area of Mérida, a state in western Venezuela. The article was reprinted by the Venezuelan anarchist newspaper EL LIBERT@RIO. Inline links and editorial notes in footnotes are added by me. As always, the same caveats apply: I’m a nervous translator trying to keep up with a lot of regional references that I don’t always know, and moving through a lot of material coming out more quickly than I can translate it; this is a working draft; if you notice any mistakes or mangling please feel free to point them out in the comments, and I’ll attach a note or a correction to the text here. Again, there are lots of different Anarchists in Venezuela, and this is one compa’s view; there are many with different views about the attitude that Anarchists should take towards the protest. (See, for example, this previous translation of a commentary by Victor Camacho. Viento sin Fronteras is, let’s say, significantly more hands-on.)

A comrade from Mérida sounds off: Oh, I’ve got the desire

Viento sin Fronteras

This is a little chronicle many are certainly familiar with. Yesterday I got up at 6 a.m. so I could get ready to go to work. I arrived at work around 7:30 am and I spent the whole day over there. At 7pm I went back to my house. When I got home I had to go down to the nearest bodega (I live in a rural area) to buy stuff for making dinner or lunch in the coming days. Well O.K., so a purchase that consists of some three potatoes, two cans of sardines, three tomatoes, an onion, laundry soap,[1] a box of cigarettes and a few cookies, comes out to 170 bolivars [≈ US $27]. Up to this point everything seems normal but it isn’t. My daily salary is 200 bolivars [≈ US $32].

Clearly, they are 200 bolivars and this leaves me only just 30 bolivars [≈ US $5] to save for paying the rest of my expenses, like the rent for example. Or the fare for public transport, if I weren’t walking to work I’d have to take 10 bolivars off these 30 that are supposed to be left over for me.

Besides this, I remembered that the last time that I went without natural gas nearly a month passed before that commodity came back to my house. And I my house, of course, a little house of 38 square meters [≈ 409 sq. ft.] where the water shuts off every day for an hour or two, with a rent that’s equivalent to nearly half the minimum wage I work for. It brings to mind that house from the housing project[2] that that the showboat[3] of the Communal Council[4] built (great affiliate of PSUV[5] certainly and an ideological reference for many here) and which was empty until two weeks ago, which he managed to sell, for no less than the discreet sum of 700,000 bolivars [≈ US $ 111,250].

Something comes into my mind, and my nerves get hotter. I spent 10 years of my life in college. I have an undergraduate degree, a master’s, and I left my doctoral thesis half done when I lost interest. And O.K., it’s not that I believe that I deserve a Ministry salary, but for some reason, and this reason for some other reason always ends up being my fault; it has been impossible for me to find a job that, without being exactly the thing for which I supposedly studied at least would permit me (and that’s what college is supposedly about) to give back to society or to whoever, a little bit of that intellectual or technical material that I supposedly acquired in those years. At times, they then give me some moments of clarity and I say: clearly, it’s that to get hooked up you have to know whose balls to yank.[6] Or I think and I swear[7] about how to set up that writing project with the ever sacrosanct words: Eternal Commander, Fellow Comrade, the Little Bird, Our Process, the Economic War, the Eternal Giant, the Legacy.[8] All this without a doubt adds to the degree of a feeling of frustration that’s growing.

And with that, what comes into my head are the contracts for the Guasare coal, the Deltana Plate, the three billion dollars that Chevron loaned us, the concessions to Chinese timber companies in the high Caroní, the death of the Sabinos, the criminalization of the Wayuu, the Red Fascist wall shooting dissident unionists, the armed forces of the government holding old women with their pans at gunpoint, ordering them to be quiet, the dead of Uribana, the 400 dying every year in prison, the intellectual authors of the massacre of El Amparo placed in the government designing the anti-terrorism laws. And so on. And so I think that late or early, me, and many people who aren’t identified one bit with the spokespeople of the opposition parties, including folks who come from the Chavista movement, are getting out into the streets to protest. And I’ll be over there, if country life lets me, handing out pamphlets to anyone who has eyes to read them. Without falling into naivete, I know that there will be plenty of imbecile fanatics for Pérez Jiménez[9] or Leopoldo Lopez[10] there with their slogans and believe me that I’ll fight them right there. Right there I’ll show that they’re the same as the others.

Oh, I’ve got the desire[11] to go out hurling stones when the police car crosses my path. Because they are some thugs and some cheerleaders.[12] Oh, I’ve got the desire to take all the trash that they aren’t capable of managing and set it all on fire in the doorway of the Mérida state government. Oh, I’ve got the desire to smash the windows of the supermarket and leave all those products tossed on the floor that I have to wait in line for on my weekend days. Oh, I’ve got the desire to catch an ATM[13] alone and try once and for all to see how the fuck you can withdraw all the money with a sledgehammer.

I’ve got the desire to give thanks in person to the folks who set SEBIN’s trucks on fire[14] because they’re a murdering intelligence agency that tortures and persecutes political dissidents. I’ve got the desire to go up to that student leader, who’s really an ally of PJ,[15] and tell her to shut her mouth, that she’s a wanker,[16] that it’s her fault (and that of those mamelotracios[17] that she obeys) that the protest — which could have been a good way to lock up the pigs[18] and a place where we’d all recognize that all these demands are the vindication urgent for EVERYONE — was converted instead into a slogan, pretty much belonging to their own partisan interests.

The year is just beginning and it doesn’t promise to be a year for calm ones. Well, let the storm come.

— Ganas no me faltan (21 Feb. 2014). Very imperfectly translated by Charles W. Johnson

  1. [1] Lit. jabón azul, a specialized kind of soap used especially for laundry (although it can also be used for household cleaning or for personal hygiene).
  2. [2] misión vivienda, a huge public housing construction project launched as part of the Bolivarian Missions sponsored by the government, and administered through government-approved community councils.
  3. [3] Cantamañanas, more accurately, someone who promises to do something and never does it.
  4. [4] Orig. Spanish: CC, i.e., Consejo Comunal, a local council which, among other things, administers government funds granted under the Bolivarian Mission programs.
  5. [5] United Socialist Party of Venezuela, the current ruling political party.
  6. [6] Venezuelan slang, jalar bolas, lit. to pull balls, fig. to flatter or sweet talk with an ulterior motive.
  7. [7] Ambiguous: reniego, meaning either potentially reneging, cursing, detesting, renouncing a religion, or, significantly given the context, uttering blasphemy.
  8. [8] comandante eterno, compañero camarada, el arañero, nuestro proceso, la guerra económica, el gigante eterno, el legado, all nicknames or honorary phrases associated with the Bolivarian Socialist government and especially with the cult of personality around Hugo Chávez.
  9. [9] Presumably Marcos Pérez Jiménez (1914-2001), right-wing military dictator of Venezuela 1952-1958. A few of the more right-wing opposition groups explicitly identify their goals with perezjimenismo.
  10. [10] Leopoldo López Mendoza, leader in the right-wing political opposition party Voluntad Popular, arrested earlier this month and imprisoned on terrorism charges after the outbreak of street protests in Venezuela.
  11. [11] Ganas no me faltan, common phrase, meaning I don’t lack the desire or I don’t lack the urge.
  12. [12] Matraqueros, lit. those who use matracas, a kind of spinning noise-maker popular with diehard Latin American sports fans.
  13. [13] Cajero del banco, which can refer either to an ATM or to a human teller. From the reference to smashing with sledgehammers, I assume (hope?) from context that this is referring to smashing up a machine to get at the cash inside of it.
  14. [14] Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional, the main national intelligence agency and political police force in Venezuela.
  15. [15] Primero Justicia, a center-right party in the political opposition, run by Henrique Capriles, a right-wing opposition leader who has condemned the street protests.
  16. [16] Pajua, from paja, lit. masturbation or fig. wankery, in the sense of talking bullshit.
  17. [17] Original Spanish, untranslated. I don’t have a good idea of what this means, even after consulting with native speakers from South America. (It’s not in any slang dictionaries I have access to, either.) Our best guess is that it’s probably a portmanteau profanity of some kind and that it’s probably intended to suggest something like cocksuckers.
  18. [18] I am not at all sure that this is a correct translation. Orig. Spanish: que podría haber sido una buena tranca de cochina. Tranca is a lock or a door-bolt, cochina literally means sow, but cochino/a are also used as the masculine and feminine forms of an insult meaning nasty or dirty. This phrase, taken as a whole, doesn’t seem to be an idiomatic expression, or at least, does not seem to occur anywhere else on the Internet.

Are Private Prisons OK with Libertarians?

Sunday, July 14th, 2013

A few weeks ago Carlos Miller of Photography Is Not A Crime posted the following:

carlosmiller-georgedonnelly-prison-libertarian-copblockThe next day George Donnelly, of Arm Your Mind for Liberty, responded:

My friend Carlos Miller asked a great question on Facebook last week. Are libertarians OK with moving prisons to private, non-governmental control? Won’t that lead to greater abuse? Or perhaps the same abuse but with less control? Watch the video to hear my answer to this difficult question.




Are Private Prisons OK with Libertarians? is a post from Cop Block - Badges Don't Grant Extra Rights

The Police State & Warfare State: Both Couched On a Bad Idea

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

Tonight, when hanging out at the Keene Activity Center, my bud Darryl Perry told me that New Hampshire – where I now live – has a drone base.

A quick Google search by Garret Ean found the write-up below by David Brooks, which was published in The Nashua Telegraph on June 15th, 2012.

In the interest of being unbiased, it’s worth mentioning – as you’ll see if you read the article – it’s claimed that the drones housed in NH are tiny and not militarized.

Is that slight delineation of fact really a big deal (assuming of course, it was true and is still true)?

Anyone thinking can see where the trajectory is heading. Assuming the Statist Quo continues.

How did we reach this point? Where it’s plausible that weaponized aerial tech controlled by some indoctrinated person* sitting in a shipping container out in the southwest desert might push a button and end the life of someone just up the road?

And why is this topic being discussed on Cop Block, which gives as its mission police accountability? Because I don’t believe most folks are happy with the paramilitary nature of policing today**, and because the same perverse incentives are inherent in the warfare state as in the police state.
Much of the growth has happened since 9/11. And now local police departments are getting their own drones.

Let’s apply this to an issue many seem focused on: firearms.

Some people clamor that a big “gun grab” is near. But that wouldn’t be even a consideration if those same folks weren’t first given the authority to regulate guns.

At its root, the real issue is: Why does any uninvolved third party have anything to say about your property?

People boast about having a permit or license to carry concealed, but doesn’t that action – requesting permission to act – denote just who is the slave and who is the master?

When you allow for even a kernel of a double-standard to exist, it will always increase. When you allow a person to steal from you to “protect” you, how do you expect things to go?

That’s why, throughout history, it’s always been the “authorities” responsible for the most death. The most famine, property destruction and environmental degradation. There is simply no accountability. It’s the reason internal investigations can never “fix” the issue police brutality.

The allowance for double-standards – or democide, as coined by R.J. Rummel – brought-about over 250,000,000 deaths last century. Such genocide has occurred due largely to the belief in a bad idea. The police state is based on the same bad idea***.

The proliferation of drones, Bearcats, and prisons is the natural consequence that occurs when a person is granted extra rights.

Do you believe someone, based on their place of occupation or costume worn, has extra rights? I sure don’t. If you don’t, I encourage you to have a conversation about that with those in your sphere.

Ideas have consequences. Think for yourself and encourage others to do the same.

There’s clearly a reality being crafted that many who advocate for peaceful interactions, or just a ‘live and let live’ mindset, aren’t fans of.

Fortunately, the future is not set, and many good folks are working to bring-about one better.

BTW – Essam, the artist who made the NYPD drone image at the top of this post, was kidnapped by men with badges. Is the “free” society you want to perpetuate?

* with the glaring exception of Brandon Bryant
** fortunately more current police employees are thinking for themselves
*** watch my recent video, Want to End Police Brutality? Focus on the Institution

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Military says drone aircraft are based at or near Mount Washington
by David Brooks, The Nashua Telegraph June 15, 2012

FRIDAY MORNING UPDATE: Special Operations Command spokesman Ken McGraw says that group “does not have a UAS/UAV base in New Hampshire.” He says Wasp and Raven drones are “Army pieces of equipment,” issued to Army special operations units.

Unmanned drone aircraft have been based on or around Mount Washington by the military, according to presentations given by the Department of Defense and Air Force in 2010 and 2011, but it’s not clear when or why.

“Mt. Washington” is listed as the location for the basing of small unmanned drones in both an April 2010 presentation given by Dyke Weatherington, deputy director of the unmanned warfare section of the Department of Defense, and a June 2011 presentation by Lt. Col. Maggie Howard of the U.S. Air Force Safety Branch.

Both presentations, which are available online, indicate the Mount Washington operation is overseen by Special Operations Command, which oversees worldwide use of special operations elements of the Army, Navy and Air Force.

Mount Washington is the only location in New England where drones were listed as being based.

The presentation indicates that the Mount Washington operation involved small drones, models known as Wasp and Raven.

A Wasp drone can weigh less than a pound, so small they can be launched by a slingshot, while the Raven usually weighs around 4-6 pounds and can be launched by hand.

Both are powered by electric motors and according to publicly released information are used for reconnaissance, carrying cameras or other recording gear. The Raven in particular has had extensive use in Iraq and Afghanistan wars, since it can fly as high as 15,000 feet above sea level at speeds of 30-60 mph.

Neither presentation gives any specifics about the Mount Washington listing, such as location or purpose or how often the drones fly.

The next closest operation is in New Jersey, although several locations in upstate New York were listed in both presentations as future sites for drones.

Calls to the Department of Defense, Air Force and the Special Operations Command were made by The Telegraph, but no more information was available Thursday.

The listings were first made available Wednesday by the group Public Intelligence, a 3-year-old international nonprofit that provides documents, analysis and “open-source intelligence products from the private and public sector,” arguing that it can help “engender a more informed and proactive populace.”

When contacted by The Telegraph, the group said it had no more information about the Mount Washington listing.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or Also, follow Brooks’ blog on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).

The Police State & Warfare State: Both Couched On a Bad Idea is a post from Cop Block - Badges Don't Grant Extra Rights

Prisons: Abolish, Don’t Privatize

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

Screen shot 2012 10 02 at 3.13.12 PM 300x192 Prisons: Abolish, Don’t PrivatizeThis article was written by Brad Spangler at back on July 13th, 2011.

One of the more difficult challenges the libertarian faces when advocating privatization is the case of prisons. There is good reason for this. The sincere libertarian, whether an anarchist or a misguided reformer, wants to do two things:

1) Remove from the state’s monopoly purview all functions the state merely monopolizes which are not inherently criminal in and of themselves.

2) Abolish those state functions which are inherently criminal violations of the libertarian non-aggression principle.

Perhaps no other thing the state does offers so much potential for privatization nightmare stories as prisons do. There’s a reason for this. Prisons themselves, as we understand the term today, are inherently abusive and criminal enterprises — whether managed directly by a state or a state-affiliated monopoly contractor.

Does that mean there will be nothing like prisons in a market anarchist society? Yes and no. Context matters. We’re really talking about two different things — “privatization” under statism is not the same thing as what will likely result in the marketplace if we were to abolish the state and make “law” a free market for consensual dispute resolution with justice understood as restitution rather than punishment.

Under corporate statism, a “private” prison is some company paid with stolen money BY THE STATE (in an environment in which big business is legally privileged anyway, through all sorts of political favoritism). The customer pays and it’s the customers interests that are served. When the customer is legally privileged in the way that the state (and its affiliated corporations) is to do things TO people without their consent, of course monstrous results should be expected. It’s all a matter of economic incentives.

Market anarchists want to turn the incentive issues around by making the “prisoner” the customer. Seriously. We’d really be abolishing prisons AS THEY ARE UNDERSTOOD TODAY (and more or less in line with classical anarchist thought on the topic).

To whatever extent there might be something we can compare to prisons, such would actually be high security hotels that cater to people trying to work off their restitution debts.

That is, the residents would seek to go there as a refuge because that’s the best deal they can get — because nobody else wants them around.

You know how some car dealerships offer “second chance” financing for people with bad credit ratings? Okay, now imagine “second chance” special residencies for people with bad “law ratings”.

The “prisoner” (resident, actually) would be free to leave at any time. They would be customers. Accommodations likely wouldn’t be luxurious, but most people wouldn’t want to endure inhumane treatment. In a freed market for such services, these private “prisons” would compete with each other to persuade “inmates” to move in. If some place starts getting abusive, people will move out for a better deal elsewhere.

For more, check out the video below, US Prison Population: The Largest in the World by featuring Dan D’Amico:

Prisons: Abolish, Don’t Privatize is a post from Cop Block - Badges Don't Grant Extra Rights

Thursday Morning News Clippings

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

To-day’s clipped stories, from the Opelika Auburn News (September 20, 2012).

  • Front Page. Nothing to clip here, actually. The biggest real estate is occupied by a story about how some super-millionaire said something in private that turned out to be aired in public that may or may not hurt his chances on the margin in his attempt to go from being one of the most massively privileged people in the entire world to the single most massively privileged person in the entire world. This may or may not help out the chances of his super-millionaire opponent to remain the most massively privileged person in the entire world, if it convinces more people that the super-millionaire challenger cares less about ordinary folks than the incumbent super-millionaire does. Somebody is supposed to care about this. I don’t: it couldn’t possibly matter less how much the most massively privileged person in the entire world cares, or who he or she cares about, because the existence of such massive, ruinous and lethal structures of social and economic privilege is exactly the problem, and it is the one problem which such debates over the less-worse of a pair of party-backed super-millionaires will never raise.

  • 2A. Donathan Prater, Bo’s nose: Auburn police get new K-9 tracker. A fairly typical police puff piece to announce that the police force occupying Auburn, Alabama has a new dog that they are going to use to hound people who are trying to get away from them, and to get or fabricate probable cause for harassing people suspected of nonviolent drug offenses.

    Bo has a nose for finding trouble. But in his line of work, that’s a good thing.[1]

    The Auburn Police Division welcomed Bo, an 11-month-old Belgian Malinois, to the force on Wednesday.

    Trained in both narcotics detection and human tracking, Bo was officially introduced to members of the media at Auburn Technology Park North.

    For years, we have called on (Lee County) Sheriff Jay Jones and (Opelika Police) Chief Thomas Mangham for use of their tracking K-9s, for which we’re thankful, but we felt like it was time for us to have our own, Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawson. We’re very excited about putting this dog to work.

    … Dawson said Bo was purchased last month from the Alabama Canine Law Enforcement Officers Training Center in Northport with approximately $10,000 in seized assets from drug arrests.

    … The acquisition of Bo puts the APD’s number of K-9 officers at four, said Dawson, a former K-9 handler.

    — Donathan Prater, Bo’s nose: Auburn police get new K-9 tracker. Opelika-Auburn News, September 20, 2012. A2.

    Well, that’s a damn shame. The primary purpose that they will use Bo for, as they use all police dogs, will be to provide pretexts to justify what are essentially random sweeps, searches and seizures; to harass, intimidate and coerce innocent people on easily fabricated, often mistaken and incredibly thin probable cause, with the minutest of ritual gestures at a sort of farce on due process, in order to prosecute a Drug War that doesn’t need to be prosecuted and to imprison, disenfranchise, and ruin the lives of people who have done nothing at all that merits being imprisoned, disenfranchised, or having their lives ruined by tyrannical drug laws. It’s not the dog’s fault, of course; he looks like a perfectly nice dog. But the people who bought him (with the proceeds from their own search-n-seizure racket), and who are using him, are putting him to a violent and degrading use, and they ought to be ashamed of themselves.

  • Op-Ed Page, 4A. Muslim religion should be feared in US. Rudy Tidwell, of Valley, a God-and-Country fixture on the Op-Ed page, decides that he doesn’t like Church-State integrationists when they aren’t part of his favorite church. Then, by means of an insanely ambitious collectivism, he assimilates the actions of his least favorite hypercollectivists to the thoughts and feelings of literally all 1,600,000,000 (he rounds up to 2 billion) Muslims in the world.

    The phrase Arab Spring has become a catchphrase for the media and other liberals to minimize the real dangers of the actual enemy of America.[2] The so-called Arab Spring is actually a Muslim Spring, meaning that the growing takeovers we see in various Middle Eastern countries[3] are Muslims rising up worldwide.

    Why is this aspect of the Middle East unrest not recognized for what it is? The euphemism[4] made between so-called radical Muslims and peaceful Muslims. Islam is a dangerous body of more than 2 billion people who are determined to convert or kill, and there is no compromise to be made?

    It’s not just a few radical Muslims who make terrorist attacks. How then do you account for the fact that when the attacks on 9/11 occurred, Muslims around the world rejoiced and danced in the streets?

    More recent events in Libya and Egypt have been recognized as and declared to be planned attacks, not benign protests. Were all the people burning the embassies and tearing down and burning the American flags peace-loving Muslims?

    We have a growing number of Muslims in the United States. There are enclaves of Muslims who rule with rigid and brutal Shariah law. Dearborn, Mich, is perhaps the most notable. Muslims are entering the U.S. in numbers that would shock us if we knew the full extent.

    I encourage you to get a copy of the Quran and read it. It is a frightening book that demands faithfulness to its teachings to the point of death. It is the guide book for a worldwide takeover, not by reason and diplomacy as Communism said it would do over time,[5] but by conversion or death.

    Rudy Tidwell

    Well, then. 2,000,000,000? Really? Did they all do the converting and killing and rejoicing and dancing all at once, or do they maybe take it in turns? Well I suppose the gigantic hive mind that they all link up to when they join that dangerous body no doubt ensures that such problems of coordination don’t really arise.

  • Op-Ed Page, 4A. Today in History.

    On Sept. 20, 1962, James Meredith, a black student, was blocked from enrolling at the University of Mississippi by Democratic Gov. Ross R. Barnett. (Meredith was later admitted.)

    . . .

    In 1884, the National Equal Rights Party was formed during a convention of suffragists in San Francisco.

    In 1958, Martin Luther King Jr. was seriously wounded during a book signing at a New York City department store when Izola Curry stabbed him in the chest. (Curry was later found mentally incompetent.)

    In 1973, in their so-called battle of the sexes, tennis star Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, at the Houston Astrodome.

    In 1996, President Bill Clinton announced that he was signing the Defense of Marriage Act, a bill outlawing same-sex marriages, but said it should not be used as an excuse for discrimination,[6] violence or intimidation against gays and lesbians.

    In 2011, repeal of the U.S. military’s 18-year-old don’t ask, don’t tell compromise took effect, allowing gay and lesbian service[7] members to serve[8] openly.

Section A contains no international news at all today, unless you count the collecto-eliminationist letter from Rudy Tidwell on the Op-Ed page.

  1. [1] [For whom? —R.G.]
  2. [2] [Sic. Of course what he means, as he makes clear, is the enemy of the United States government. Which is not true either, but in any case obviously not the same thing. —RG.]
  3. [3] [Sic. Of course all governments are usurpers, and thus are ongoing takeovers by nature. That includes transitional and revolutionary states; on the other hand it also obviously includes the hyperauthoritarian regimes recently challenged or thrown out. What the hell was the Mubarak regime, say, if not a constantly repeated, jackbooted takeover of innocent people’s lives? —RG.]
  4. [4] [Sic. What he describes is not a euphemism, but rather a distinction that he regards as being misapplied. —RG.]
  5. [5] [Rudy Tidwell is speaking outside of his area of expertise. —RG.]
  6. [6] [. . . —R.G.]
  7. [7] [Sic. —RG.]
  8. [8] [Sic. —RG.]

Hunger strike at Pelican Bay State Prison

Monday, June 20th, 2011

Received this morning in my inbox from a friend involved with Nevada Prison Watch. The solidarity e-mail campaign is from; the notice about the hunger strike comes from California Prison Focus, a member of Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity.

From: A. Parker
Subject: Please sign the petition to support the demands of the prison hunger strikers in Pelican Bay State Prison, California

Please sign the petition to support the demands of the prison hunger strikers in Pelican Bay State Prison, California, who will start an indefinite hungerstrike on July 1st.

Prisoners in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison (California) are going on an indefinite hunger strike as of July 1, 2011 to protest the cruel and inhumane conditions of their imprisonment. The hunger strike was organized by prisoners in an unusual show of racial unity. The hunger strikers developed five core demands. Briefly they are:

  1. Eliminate group punishments. Instead, practice individual accountability. When an individual prisoner breaks a rule, the prison often punishes a whole group of prisoners of the same race. This policy has been applied to keep prisoners in the SHU indefinitely and to make conditions increasingly harsh.

  2. Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria. Prisoners are accused of being active or inactive participants of prison gangs using false or highly dubious evidence, and are then sent to longterm isolation (SHU). They can escape these tortuous conditions only if they “debrief,” that is, provide information on gang activity. Debriefing produces false information (wrongly landing other prisoners in SHU, in an endless cycle) and can endanger the lives of debriefing prisoners and their families.

  3. Comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to longterm solitary confinement. This bipartisan commission specifically recommended to make segregation a last resort and end conditions of isolation. Yet as of May 18, 2011, California kept 3,259 prisoners in SHUs and hundreds more in Administrative Segregation waiting for a SHU cell to open up. Some prisoners have been kept in isolation for more than thirty years.

  4. Provide adequate food. Prisoners report unsanitary conditions and small quantities of food that do not conform to prison regulations. There is no accountability or independent quality control of meals.

  5. Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates. The hunger strikers are pressing for opportunities to engage in self-help treatment, education, religious and other productive activities…. Currently these opportunities are routinely denied, even if the prisoners want to pay for correspondence courses themselves.

    Examples of privileges the prisoners want are: one phone call per week, and permission to have sweatsuits and watch caps. (Often warm clothing is denied, though the cells and exercise cage can be bitterly cold.) All of the privileges mentioned in the demands are already allowed at other SuperMax prisons (in the federal prison system and other states).

For more information and continuing updates, visit


Grant the 5 Core Demands of the Pelican Bay SHU Hunger Strikers

Dear Warden Lewis, Secretary Cate, and Governor Brown:

We support the prisoners on hunger strike in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) of Pelican Bay State Prison and those in other units joining them. We strongly urge you to grant their five core demands as soon as possible.

[Your name]

Unpaid vacation

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Fool's Gold. Daily Brickbats (2010-05-20):

The Nashville Metro City Council agreed to pay $95,000 to Anthony McCoy, who had four of his teeth broken by Lt. Tanya Mayhew. McCoy was being booked into the Metro jail for failure to pay child support when Mayhew asked him to remove his grill. He told her he couldn't...

In which Lieutenant Tanya Mayhew decides to torture a nonviolent prisoner, Anthony McCoy, by ripping his grill off of his teeth. (It was bonded to the teeth and McCoy bled out of his mouth after she ripped the enamel off his teeth.) His jailers then denied the victim medical care for 10 days. Since the torturer was a cop, when the news came out about what she had done, she was given a 5 day vacation from her government job for this sadistic assault. Meanwhile, the Nashville Metro City Council has agreed to insulate Lieutenant Tanya Mayhew from any personal accountability for her actions, and so are paying out $95,000 to her victim. Of course, they will send the bill along to a bunch of innocent taxpayers who never had anything to do with the assault on Anthony McCoy.

Seven and a half things you can do to resist mass incarceration

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Here’s a good article from a while back in The Nation (which I’m mentioning now because I just recently saw it, thanks to the November Coalition listserv). In these days, I’m not surprised to see that it was written,[1] but I am (pleasantly) surprised to see that it got published in a prominent place in an organ of the official Left. In any case, it’s right-on, and well worth reading.

Well, in the parts I haven’t crossed out, anyway. The article was originally called Ten Things You Can Do To Reduce Incarceration, but, well, we’ll see what becomes of that.

The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Criminologists have found that when too many people are incarcerated the crime rate actually increases. Imagine if we spent some of the $60 billion a year prisons cost on education, job training and healthcare. (0) Paul Butler, a law professor, former federal prosecutor and author of Let’s Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice suggests ways to undo the damage caused by overincarceration. If you have state specific resources send them to

1 Do your jury duty. If you are a juror in a non-violent drug case, vote not guilty. Jury nullification—an acquittal based on principle—is perfectly legal. The framers intended jurors to be a check on unjust prosecutions and bad laws. Click here for more information. (1)

2 Pay a kid to graduate. A report by the RAND Corporation found that paying students to finish high school prevented more crime than the toughest sentencing laws. Dropping out of school creates a high risk of ending up in jail. Work with your community group or place of worship to create a program to pay at-risk students to graduate from high school.

3 Come out of the closet about your drug use. War on drugs propaganda says users are bad people. Let your fellow citizens know the real face of the American drug user. Don’t be scared. Barack Obama admitted he used marijuana and cocaine during his youth, and he got elected president!

4 Hire a formerly incarcerated person. Every year about 600,000 people get out of jail. The odds are against their landing a job, which is a huge factor in why more than half will be re-arrested within a year. Go to Hired Network. Go here if you are formerly incarcerated or visit Reentry Policy.

5 Vote for politicians who are smart on crime. (5) Tougher sentences aren’t the answer. In the US criminal sentences are twice as long as those in England, three times those in Canada and five to ten times those in France. And yet crime rates in US cities are higher than in those nations.

6 Just say no to the police. When cops request your consent to pat you down, peek inside your backpack or purse or search your car, you have the right to decline. When they have a warrant or other legal cause to search, like at an airport, they don’t have to ask. Too many Americans—especially in communities of color—are scared to death of the police. Go to ACLU “Know Your Rights” or the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement to learn your rights if stopped by the police.

7 Don’t be a professional snitch. If you have information about a violent or property crime, call the police. Witnessing is fine. But snitches get paid either in cash or a break in their own prosecution for tattling. They make untrustworthy witnesses. Snitches are responsible for almost half the wrongful convictions of people who were later found to be innocent.

8 Talk up the trades. Retail drug selling pays about as much as working at McDonald’s. As the book Freakonomics pointed out, that’s why most drug dealers live with their moms. Many dealers would prefer a more lucrative—and safer—line of work. People who don’t see themselves as “college material” and might otherwise end up on the street should be encouraged to get training for a blue collar trade. Click here for more information.

9 Let accused people discover the evidence against them. There are very few discovery requirements in criminal law. Many defendants in criminal cases don’t learn who the witnesses are—or even get copies of police reports—until the day of the trial. “Open discovery” laws like one Ohio recently introduced will enable criminal defendants to see the state’s evidence against them before trial. (9)

10 Listen to hip-hop. No other aspect of pop culture has considered as carefully, and as personally, the costs and benefits of the American punishment regime. Members of the hip-hop nation often come fr om the most dangerous communities and have a vested interest in safety . They help us understand that treating people who have messed up with love and dignity is, for law-abiding citizens, an act of self-interest and community safety. Visit or Hip Hop Caucus to learn the political side of hip-hop.

Here’s the quibbles from along the way.

(0) Well. If we were free to spend some of that $60,000,000 robbed out of our pockets on education, job training, healthcare, or any of the other infinite needs of civilized beings, that would indeed be something to imagine. Unfortunately, I expect that the other means the special kind of “we” here (the kind that means they, a political bureaucracy that ordinary people like you and me have no effective control over). If they spend the money on government education, government job training, and government healthcare, I expect that it will work out as well as anything else government does at propping up big corporations, corralling kids against their will, and otherwise maintaining business-as-usual and the social and economic status quo. Oh well.

(1) This really is an awesome idea, as far as it goes: if you have the opportunity to free an innocent drug-user or drug-dealer through jury nullification, of course I think you ought to take the opportunity. But how often are you likely to get the chance? Given how narrow the context is, this is really important for the individual life you can save, but it’s only going to be something that reduces incarceration in aggregate if it becomes part of a large-scale culture of non-cooperation with the state. In which case (1) really just depends on the kind of cultural change discussed in the other points. Anyway, call it half a thing you can do.

(5) Oh, come on. Really? Of course, I agree that the government’s crime policies are foolish and destructive. But that’s only a reason to go around voting for smarter politicians if voting for smarter politicians changed anything about crime policies or the War on Drugs. Call me back when that starts working for you.

(9) There’s nothing wrong with this proposal, as a procedural reform. But it’s not something you can do to reduce incarceration — changing government laws is something government could do. But if you somehow managed to accumulate the political connections to make the government do what you want it to do, you probably aren’t the kind of person who cares about this sort of thing; and for the rest of us, the you here is really just they, filtered through the illusion of democratic control. In which case, this is something that they could do to reduce incarceration. But of course there’s no reason to expect that they will.


That done, with those items crossed out, this is a really solid list, and does a great job of stressing the importance of moving beyond stupid, stupidifying political reform campaigns, and encourages you to make a real difference for your own life and your neighbors’ lives, by practicing solidarity on the ground, engaging positively with criminalized cultures and criminalized communities, refusing to collaborate with government cops and prosecutors, coming out of the closet, standing up for yourself and your neighbors, and generally working to shift the terms of the debate, to change the culture that fosters sado-statist mass incarceration, and the creation of positive alternatives that change the material condition faced by criminalized people, primarily by means of practical solidarity and person-to-person grassroots mutual aid.

Call it a solid seven and a half. That’s pretty awesome.

[1] Conventional libertarians who don’t know anything in particular about the Left or how it works are rarely aware of how radically anti-state many people of color on the Left really are. There’s a huge practical divide within the Left, roughly between the liberal politicos and white Progressives, on the one hand, and black, Latin@, and other people of color on the other, with the latter putting out all kinds of really amazing, often deeply radical critiques of government policing, surveillance, prisons, drug laws, border laws, papers-please police statism, etc. The white professional-class Progressives and the liberal politicos typically react to this stuff with some nominal agreement, an ill-conceived weak-tea reformist scheme for monitoring the racial demographics of traffic stops or something, without actually reducing any police powers, and then try to move the conversation along to something they really care about, like electing more Democrats or forcing everybody to buy corporate health insurance. But for many Leftist people of color, especially those who identify culturally and politically with Hip Hop, opposition to this kind of racist, classist, law-n-orderist state violence is their primary political concern and their main motivating reason for identifying with the Left. Anyway, if you think that there’s just not any prominent faction on the state Left that you can make any real headway with using libertarian arguments, or if you’re surprised to see articles coming from activistas who identify with Hip-Hop culture calling out mass imprisonment, and calling for jury nullifcation and concerted efforts to refuse cooperation with the police as a solution, you probably haven’t been paying as much attention as you should have.

Over My Shoulder #45: How Empire comes home in sado-statism and police brutality. From Fred Woodworth, “Evil Empire Notes,” in The Match! # 107 (Summer, 2009)

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

Here’s the new rules:

  1. At the top of the post, make a list of the books you’ve read all or part of, in print, over the course of the past week, at least as far as you can remember them. (These should be books that you’ve actually read as a part of your normal life, and not just something that you picked up to read a page of just in order to be able to post your favorite quote.)

  2. Pick one of those books from the list, and pick out a quote of one or more paragraphs, to post underneath the list.

  3. Avoid commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, which should be more a matter of context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than they are a matter of discussing the material.

  4. Quoting a passage absolutely does not entail endorsement of what’s said in it. You may agree or you may not. Whether you do isn’t really the point of the exercise anyway.

Here’s the books:

  • Sonia Johnson (1989). Wildfire: Igniting the She/Volution. (Albuquerque: Wildfire Books. I picked it up some time ago through BookMooch.)
  • Richard Gombin (1975), The Origins of Modern Leftism. Translated from the French by Michael K. Perl. (Baltimore: Penguin. Picked up this very week for 49¢ from the Shaman Drum used books sale rack!)
  • Fred Woodworth, The Match! Issue No. 107 (Summer, 2009). (Tucson: Fred Woodworth. PO Box 3012, Tucson, Arizona 85702. I picked my copy up last week from May Day Books in Minneapolis.)

And here’s the quote. This is taken from Fred Woodworth’s Evil Empire Notes, Issue No. 107 of The Match! (Summer 2009; also, incidentally, the 40th anniversary issue of The Match!). This was airplane reading, taken in somewhere in the sky between Minneapolis and Las Vegas.

GIVEN all the millions of horrifying stories in the naked country, now and then it’s good to pluck out one to hear an authentic voice rather than a statistic. Amnesty International printed up this one, by Donald Boyd of Chicago:

I have been a victim of racial profiling since I was 17 years old. Once when I was walking to the cleaners, I stopped to talk with some young men…. When I walked away, the police just automatically accused me of purchasing drugs. Two officers jumped out of a car and kept asking What did they sell you? I repeatedly replied no one sold me anything. … They cuffed me and drove me to a police substation.

… The next morning they loaded 45 people into a van made for 32. The men were almost all black and Latino. When we arrived at the jail, sheriff’s deputies, dressed in riot gear, met us. They shouted obscenities and threats. The deputies assaulted several people, including me, for supposedly not complying with their every word.

At each step in the process—arrest, detention and bond hearing—we were lined up, and numbers were scribbled on our arms with black marking pens…. In court, you appear before a judge, but via a television screen. You don’t get to speak, and the judge never even looks you in the face…. They treat our communities with disdain and contempt. I had to hire a lawyer and spend thousands of dollars to get the charges dismissed….

AS Law becomes increasingly complex, with hundreds of thousands and even millions of laws stacked on top of each other, almost no one can confront officialdom in any way without a lawyer. But what happens when your lawyer takes your money and does no work, don’t file basic motions or writs, and essentially shafts you? Not much. Bar associations have a cap of compensatory payments they sometimes make to incompetent or dishonest lawyers’ clients, but the amouts are often based on century-old, or even older, stated maximums. And it’s next to impossible to go after such a lawyer legally, because to do so you need… another lawyer.


EIGHT COPS raided a home in Minneapolis in ‘08. They shot up the place, accidentally not killing anyone. Well, it was the wrong house (there is no right house for something like this). This is completely comparable to a surgeon amputating the wrong leg, but if the doctor who did this to you then got a commendation from the medical association, wouldn’t you feel absolutely floored? So did the family whose home was raided and shot up. All eight cops received medals.

Undoubtedly this sounds like hyperbole or mere rhetoric, but the simple fact is that there is no conceivable way anyone can interpret this but as an official statement of Good Work, Men to stupid, negligent, incompetent thugs for terrorizing and injuring innocent people.

NOT SURPRISINGLY, when humanitarian spirit is dead in officialdom it’s not partly alive; it really is extinct and defunct. Also in Minnesota, a poor wild bear somehow got a plstic jar or bucket stuck on its head. Official solution: shoot the bear. No sympathy for an unfortunate creature; no imaginative or bold remedy. Just kill.

AS REPORTED by the Washington Post, prison guards at Prince George’s County Jail in Maryland are apt to be the kind of guys the average person expects to hear of as BEHIND bars. An investigation by the paper found guards who’ve been charged with assault, theft, beating and threatening their wives with death, having sex with prisoners, robbery at gunpoint, and other crimes.

Among the nine officers was Mark R. Bradley, whose then-wife asked for a protective order in 1998, claiming he had threatened, taunted, punched and slapped her… When she reached for the phone, Bradley who had been on the force for almost four years, yanked it away… His wife recalled him saying: Call the police… Make me lose my job. I’ll kill you. Almost a decade later, he was still on the payroll at the jail, despite three protective orders issued against him in the late 1990s. In 2004, he pleaded guilty to assaulting another woman, whose rib was broken. The woman, who had been pregnant with his child, told police that after a beating days earlier, she had a miscarriage. A judge put Bradley on probation and ordered him to take an anger management class.

AIRPORT FASCISM is being extended to railroads. Amtrak, the railroad passenger company, has brought in a SWAT-style phalanx of agents in full combat gear to sweep through train stations, randomly screening and searching passengers. The randomly chosen passengers will have to place their bags on a platform and be swabbed with chemicals that are claimed to react to traces of explosives. You can also be ratted out by dogs.

ONE OF THE factors that propelled the United States as far along into the police state that it now is, was the Vietnam War. There’s plenty of evidence that soldiers in ALL wars become brutalized, but something extraordinary seems to have taken place in Vietnam. Whatever it was, American men who went there (and survived) tended to come back in a vicious state of mind. Ordinary people were their enemy. They made up stories (essentially none has ever been verified) of people spitting on them when they arrived at stateside airports; and they formed cliques of us-versus-them. Looking for work, a high proportion of them went into law enforcement, and there they reinforced and amplified the already-existing us versus them mentality, ratcheting the propensity toward police brutality to amazing heights.

Now the same thing is happening with Iraq. Our guess is that the psychological corruption happens when soldiers fight amid a culture and a language that has few points of contact with the west and with Indo-European languages. It is one thing to fight, say, Germans or Italians, whose general culture is largely familiar (same religions, for instance) and whose languages have a large percentage of words that are the same or nearly enough so to be comprehensible even to the monolingual standard American youth. But in Vietnam—and now in Iraq—these military people are surrounded by words and behaviors utterly alien to them. Our own idle theory, therefore, is that this operate on their minds in such a way that the enemy becomes completely dehumanized. This creates the us-versus-them, and when they return to the USA, they still have it.

Then they go into law enforcement.

Already we are beginning to read about cases in which police—now Iraq war veterans—are opening fire on people merely running away from them. And already, too, the convoluted excuses are starting to evolve: Re-experiencing a war zone is one of several classic signs of combat stress reaction, says the Department of Veterans Affairs. If persistent and untreated, the Department goes on, this can result in post traumatic stress disorder.

Whatever verbal gimmickery you haul out to gloss over the facts, the truth is that these men (generally they are men) have been ruined, corrupted fatally and irretrievably, by being sent out to murder masses of people for no good reason in a country where they ought never to have gone. Mostly it’s their own fault, too, since ultimately it was their own volition that was compliant in their going there.

The bottom line is that Bush’s freudian effort to surpass his father’s Panama coup by similarly taking Saddam Hussein, unresisted by the press and the American people at the outset, is now going to result in thirty or forty more years of ever-worsening police violence against the public here. With this on top of everything else—the overpopulation, insanely burgeoning law-pollution, disastrous shift to digital culture, etc.—America is rapidly turning into an unliveable hell. Then add global warming.

IMMIGRATION PRISONS, where you’re sent for not having adequate proof of being a so-called citizen, are the new concentration camps of the Evil Empire. There are now a whole class of persons of various ethnicities who are afraid to travel outside of the towns or cities where they live, because of the possibility of being stopped by some profiling trick excused as a broken taillight, and then being sent sprawling into a cell at an immigration prison.

A recent well-publicized case in some of the larger newspapers (and excluded from the local dailies) concerned one Hiu Lui Ng, who’d come to the US from Hong Kong. Making the mistake of going to immigraiton headquarters in New York City to get a green card (legal authorization to live and work in this country), he was grabbed and put behind bars. There he developed cancer, was in severe pain, laughed at by the medical matrons, and eventually died from the rampaging and untreated disease.

[…] They denied him a wheelchair and refused pleas for an independent medical evaluation. Instead, … guards at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, Rhode Island, dragged him from his bed on July 30, craried him in shackles to a car, bruising his arms and legs, and drove him two hours to a federal lock-up in Hartford, where an immigration officer pressured him to withdraw all pending appeals of his case. (New York Times.)

One out of hundreds of thousands.

—Fred Woodworth, Evil Empire Notes, in The Match! Issue No. 107 (Summer, 2009). 19–21.

See also:

In counting there is strength.

Friday, April 24th, 2009

A few days ago there was some back-and-forth over at Ken MacLeod’s blog, and then also at Roderick’s blog, over the the relationship between large, centralized states and peace. MacLeod originally argued:

The panel convened by Farah Mendlesohn on Pacifism and Non-Violence in SF benefited from being on a subject on which there is a manageably small amount of source material. The discussion led me to make one of my very few comments from the floor. A more articulate and argued version of that comment would be this:

We already know how to have peace over large areas of the Earth, and that is by having large states covering those areas. (The combat death rate for men of military age in typical stateless societies far exceeds that in inter-state wars, including world wars.) SF has in its default assumptions a way to get to peace without pacifism, and that is the World State. Even Starship Troopers gives this answer, just as much as Star Trek or anything by H. G. Wells, Isaac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke. Heinlein’s Federation is a World State, and (consequently) there is peace within the human species. It just has wars with aliens.

But there are no aliens. So we could have peace.

Ken MacLeod, The Early Days of a Better Nation (2009-04-17): Existence Proof of Von Neumann Machine, Placing Imaginary Bets, and other Cultural Learnings

There are several problems with this line of argument. There’s a lot of good back-and-forth at MacLeod’s about the empirical basis of MacLeod’s factoid about combat death rates, and about the underlying sources (it mainly comes from Lawrence Keeley’s War Before Civilization). Roderick has a very interesting response, from another angle, in the comments there that he repeats in his own post, in which he argues that if there is a general correlation between peace and state coverage, it’s because states (as parasites on social production) can only function in societies where there is an certain underlying level of peaceful cooperation; there is a level of widespread ultraviolence at which at a state can no longer steal the material resources it needs to cover the costs of full-time cops, soldiers, and the rest of its repressive apparatus. Hence the correlation between production and the State is like the correlation between human civilization and cockroaches; cockroaches thrive in civilized societies much more than they do in the wilderness, but not because cockroaches somehow produce civilization.

All of which is good, and important, and well-worth reading. What I’d like to add to the discussion is a good, hard look at the notion that what a strong state produces within its own territory can even realistically be called peace.

Let’s grant, for the sake of argument, that Keeley (thus MacLeod) is right about combat deaths for military-age males — that the rates are much, much higher in primitive stateless societies than they are in modern state societies. As Roderick points out, part of the problem here is that that data set, by itself, tells us little or nothing about whether it’s the primitiveness or the statelessness that’s doing the damage. There are other problems, too — for example, comparing percentages is a tricky game when you compare populations of radically different sizes; if a band of 50 !Kung San gets in a fight, and one whole member of their band is killed, then just running the percentages would have us believe that this is like 6,000,000 out of 300,000,00 Americans getting murdered — life for the !Kung San is apparently so savage that every single murder is another Holocaust. Or maybe there is a problem with a standard of comparison which would require 0.000000167 of a !Kung San man or woman to be killed in order to find an equivalent to a single murder in America.

But the problem that I want to focus on is that it looks to me like we are doing some very selective counting here. The selective counting consists in what is counted as violence, and as breaches of peace, and what is not. We are informed that having large states covering a part of the world’s landed surface is a good way to bring about peace. The evidence for this is the drop-off in combat deaths. But combat deaths are not the only sort of violence that people can suffer, and especially not combat-deaths-among-military-aged-males. Keeping that in mind, let us recall some facts about the most powerful, and one of the largest states in the world today — the United States of America — and what goes on in the territory that its government claims to rule.

Under the United States of America, over 2,000,000 people are currently forced into jails and prisons by state, local, and federal governments. Over 7,000,000 people are facing some form of ongoing constraint from the government’s corrections system — either through imprisonment, or through supervised parole, or through probation.

Under the United States of America, the government maintains a force of over 1,100,000 police officers — armed professionals whose job it is to use force against the 7,000,000, so as to get them under the control of the government prison system and its annexes. The government also maintains a force of about 765,000 corrections officers, who are armed and trained to use force against the 2,000,000 while they are confined within the walls of the government’s prisons.

The government’s internal armed forces of over 1,865,000 are currently engaged in a number of large-scale projects to use intense force in the prosecution of campaigns that they describe as wars. There is, for example, the War on Drugs; the War on Terrorism; inner-city surges against gangs, and so on. For the prosecution of these wars, the 1,865,000 put on constant street patrols; they arm themselves with semiautomatic and fully-automatic rifles; they kick in doors and storm houses and businesses; in some neighborhoods they engage in saturation patrols, the explicit purpose of which is to instill a sense of fear and thus make their designated enemies (gangs, mostly) afraid to use public spaces. In some cities they have adopted tactics explicitly modeled on the government military’s surge counter-insurgency tactics in Iraq. In other cities they have established checkpoints on the roads and cordoned off entire neighborhoods. They have recently taken to investing heavily in training and equipping paramilitary defensive lines (riot cops) and paramilitary assault squads (SWAT), and have stocked up on armored vehicles for mechanized warfare and even military helicopters.

When the government’s 1,865,000 go out into the streets or into the jails and prisons, they use force to confront and control the 7,000,000, and also to confront and control uncounted millions more, who are confronted by law enforcement and corrections officers without ending up in jail, in prison, on parole, or on probation. These confrontations produce conflicts, and the conflicts often escalate into violence; under the United States of America, those fights result in cops killing somewhere above 500 people each year[1] and about 50 cops getting killed each year along the way. Upwards of 550 deaths a year, out of 300,000,000 people, may not seem like all that much; but it’s worth remembering that there is a body count here, and, what’s more important, that the body count is not the only form of violence that there is to talk about. Besides the people who end up dead, there is a far greater level of non-lethal but nevertheless violent force, which hasn’t got much of a counterpart in the kind of kill-or-be-killed struggles that the body-counters count as breaches of peace: there is the heavy and repeated use of physical coercion, assaults, beatings, restraints, chemical and electrical torture (pain compliance), that the cops and their antagonists each employ (mostly, it’s the cops who use it) to try to get their way. This violence is constant, pervasive, and intense, and all of these especially in those neighborhoods that are singled out, for demographic reasons, as deserving the special attention of police street patrols and police crackdowns. In neighborhoods like that, the cumulative result is often experienced as being far more like a military occupation than like life in a peaceful society. And this kind of constant, pervasive, intense violence is completely unknown in even the most primitive or ultraviolent stateless societies.

This constant government-declared domestic warfare — most of which is directed against people for offenses that violate nobody’s person or property, such as the use of drugs or the crossing of borders without government permission slips — is dignified as peace by those who claim that covering a territory with a single state eliminates war within that territory. In fact it is nothing of the sort, if peace has any meaning for people’s real lives and not merely for the purposes of politico-legal accounting. It is a form of violence which affects military age males but also a lot of other people besides, and which often has far more profound effects on daily life than the bloody but infrequent violence of communal blood feuds or open war between political entities. And in many cases outside of the United States, it is a form of violence which has proved far more intense and far more lethal than it happens to be here — because, as R.J. Rummel never tires of pointing out, over the past couple centuries, governments have been far more lethal in democidal attacks on their own populations — through the use of government executions, government policing (especially government policing of the use of food stocks), government prison camps, and so on — than they were in inter-governmental warfare. The greatest war of the modern era has never been the kind of warfare that governments wage one against the other — as terrible as those wars have been. It is the war that each and every government is constantly waging within its own territory, against its own subjects — the kind of war that is passed off as peace, and which is more or less never counted in attempts to tally up the balance of peace over violence in modern state-occupied societies.

1 The somewhere above is important, because there are actually no systematic efforts to compile statistics on all homicides by law enforcement in the U.S.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics recently released a report on Arrest-Related Deaths in the United States, 2003-2005 which is based on data from two main sources, the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Deaths in Custody Reporting Program, and the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports. There are several problems with using these reports to get comprehensive statistics: neither source provides information about the number of people killed by *federal* law enforcement agencies like the FBI, BATF, and ICE. Not all states currently report figures to either program. The SHR reports only report law-enforcement homicides separately when a government agency rules the use of force justifiable; otherwise they are lumped in with other criminal homicides. It’s clear that some states do not report all of the cases where people are killed by cops to the DCRP: California, for example, reported 354 law-enforcement homicides to the SHR program, but only 160 to the DCRP, even though the deaths reported to the DCRP should properly be a superset of the deaths reported to the SHR.

If you use take the maximum of the DCRP figure and the SHR figure for each state that reported at least one of the two, then you get a total of at least 1,489 people killed by police over the three-year period from 2003–2005. Divide that by 3 (because neither the DCRP nor the SHR indicated any big leap in the number from one year to the next), and you get at least 496 people killed by cops each year during the 3 year period.

I do not know of any good statistical source to get a count of how many people were killed by federal law enforcement, or how many cases there were in which a law enforcement homicide reported to the SHR was filed as unjustifiable rather than justifiable in states like California which underreported to the DCRP. Hence, the figure of about 500 people killed a year should be treated not even as a lowball estimate, but simply as a minimum, for the real numbers.

See also: