by Courtney Hanson and Willow Katz of Sin Barras, Santa Cruz
On Jan. 24, a warm and sunny Saturday, a mixed race crowd of over 200 elders, students and some children – women, men, and transgender; straight and LGBTIQ – gathered at the Clock Tower in downtown Santa Cruz for the Cages Kill-Freedom Rally. In addition to Santa Cruzans, people came from Monterey, Salinas and the SF Bay Area.
Participating organizations included ACLU, All of Us or None, Cabrillo College Justice League, Food Not Bombs, Freedom Archives, Global Women’s Strike, Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom (HUFF), Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, NAACP, Prison Activist Resource Center, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition, Project: Pollinate, Queer Strike, Sin Barras, Santa Cruz County Community Coalition to Overcome Racism (SCCCCOR), South Bay/Santa Cruz Facilitators group of the Pachamama Alliance, US PROStitutes Collective (US PROS), and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).
In April 2013, Sin Barras held a march and speak-out of over 200 people to protest five deaths in the Santa Cruz County Jail since August 2012 that happened under the watch of the Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Department and the giant private corporation, California Forensics Medical Group (CFMG). That demonstration catalyzed the Santa Cruz County Grand Jury to investigate the jail’s deadly conditions. In September 2014, the grand jury released its final report.
After a yearlong investigation of these five deaths, the Santa Cruz Grand Jury concluded that “CFMG staff failed to identify and treat symptoms of methadone overdose and had insufficient oversight and treatment facilities for people in the supposedly monitored units.” They made recommendations to improve physical and mental health services in the jail, but nearly all the research was met with utter denial from the Sheriff’s Department and CFMG, and they were not held accountable. A month after the Sheriff’s and CFMG’s denial of responsibility, another woman died.
Cages Kill-Freedom Rally
The Jan. 24 rally was co-sponsored by Sin Barras, Santa Cruz County Community Coalition to Overcome Racism (SCCCCOR), Project: Pollinate, and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), Santa Cruz branch. It was endorsed by a wide range of local, statewide, national, and international groups (see list of endorsers below), demonstrating that murder and torture is happening in jails and prisons everywhere, not just in Santa Cruz. The support, as stated by Payday Men’s Network, “speaks to the stake we all have in holding officials accountable for murder and torture.”
We started at the Clock Tower by the main post office, where Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs shared delicious, healthy food as people gathered. The public square was alive with recorded music, including the Coup, a political hip hop group based in Oakland, and was colorful with banners that read “Black Lives Matter, Brown Lives Matter, Incarcerated Lives Matter,” “End Long-term Solitary Confinement,” and “Medical Neglect is Murder.” Numerous signs read, “Cages Kill, Jaulas Matan,” “Abolish Solitary Confinement,” “Abolish the Torture Chair,” “Drop the Charges Against the Dallas 6,” “Invest in Caring Not in Caging and Killing,” “US has the highest incarceration rate in the world,” “Queer Girlz against the PIC” and many others.
Tash Nguyen and Courtney Hanson of Sin Barras introduced the rally and speakers. Manuel La Fontaine spoke at the Clock Tower about All of Us or None, an organization of formerly incarcerated and incarcerated persons, a project of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, and their natural solidarity with Sin Barras. He said we have a common enemy: police that stem from slavecatching, and what they protect: property relations, which have morphed into corporations and its tentacles: politicians, the economic systems and their media. He emphasized that we need to have a united message every time we speak in public to counteract their communication machines: CNN, Fox, BBC, MSNBC, CBS etc. He expressed appreciation that so many people traveled so far to support this struggle.
Dru Glover, Project: Pollinate, a young Black man, spoke out against police brutality and prison conditions affecting everyone low on the socioeconomic ladder, with people of color facing even more abuse. He said lack of access to jobs, healthcare, education and positive, constructive activities make people of color prime targets for police brutality, as they attempt to survive and/or to self-medicate to deal with the stress. He said one in four African American men go to prison in their lifetime, a higher chance of that than to get married or go to college. It is up to each one of us to stand up and speak out about these grave and incredibly damaging inequalities.
Keith McHenry, co-founder of Food Not Bombs, described being arrested and tortured for serving food. Guards in the San Francisco jail at 850 Bryant tore his ligaments and tendons and put him in a stress position cage, where he could not stretch out his legs for days, causing years of agonizing pain.
The public square was colorful with banners that read “Black Lives Matter, Brown Lives Matter, Incarcerated Lives Matter,” “End Long-term Solitary Confinement,” and “Medical Neglect is Murder.”
Jessica Espinoza told the story of her uncle, pro surfer Arthur Anthony Deans, who had a seizure in SCCJ. They waited four weeks to send him to Dominican Hospital. A surgeon removed most of a brain tumor and said if he had come two weeks before, they could have gotten it all. Deans died two years later.
A statement was read from the “Human Rights Coalition (based in Pennsylvania), who are fighting for prisoner human and civil rights, the Abolitionist Law Center, who are taking it into the courts, and the Dallas 6 prisoners who are on the front line in the war against injustice, corruption and brutality.” They called for prisoners’ rights “to be in a safe and healthy environment and to not be subjected to any form of torture or abuse” and said, “Our leaders must recognize that prison is not the answer to poverty and that there are viable alternatives.”
In 2010, guards retaliated against two men in solitary confinement in SCI-Dallas, a prison in Pennsylvania, who had participated in an investigative report by the HRC on prison conditions, entitled “Institutionalized Cruelty.” One man was denied food. Isaac Sanchez complained, and he was beaten, pepper sprayed, tasered and strapped in a torture chair for at least 16 hours. Per manufacturer instructions, the chair is not to be used over two hours or to punish.
The Dallas 6, six young Black men, peacefully protested the torture in solitary. Guards wearing “black body armor and helmets – what prisoners call Star Wars garb,” according to Mumia Abu-Jamal, handcuffed and shackled them, cut off their clothes, pepper sprayed and tasered them, and beat and kicked the men bloody throughout the night. Months later, the state filed riot charges against the prisoners.
Attorneys have filed a motion to dismiss charges based on prosecutorial misconduct, scheduled to be heard on Feb. 4. If charges are dismissed, civil suit will be activated on behalf of the prisoners. If charges are not dismissed, the trial of four of the Dallas 6 will resume on Feb. 17. (See http://scidallas6.blogspot.com/p/about.html or Facebook: http://on.fb.me/1tDWCYi.)
The torture chair used in SCI-Dallas is used here in Santa Cruz, where a Black man was recently held in the chair for five hours and reported the incident to Santa Cruz County Community Coalition to Overcome Racism (SCCCCOR). In Santa Cruz, Black people are 1.8 percent of the total population but 9 percent of the jail population.
He was put in the “cold room,” a cell in the back of the jail with no toilet, sink, phone or blanket, with the air conditioner turned up. He requested an alcohol test because the police claimed they arrested him for “drunk in public,” and they entered his cell in riot gear.
Officers threatened to pepper spray him and forced him into the chair, which caused excruciating pain. The tight straps cut off circulation and caused him to yell and scream to guards “this is really hurting,” but they told him it was supposed to be that way. During his time in the chair, he was refused water and not allowed to use the toilet. After this incident, he was released without any charges.
“Our leaders must recognize that prison is not the answer to poverty and that there are viable alternatives.”
The crowd then took over Pacific Avenue, the main street downtown, chanting about jail and prison deaths, abuse and torture and speaking to locals and tourists. We took over a main intersection in front of a Santa Cruz surf shop, appropriate since Arthur Anthony Deans, who had died due to jail medical neglect, had been a pro surfer.
Fox Sloan exposed the jail abuse and neglect of her daughter, Amanda Sloan, which allowed her to commit suicide in the SCCJ in July of 2013. Fox expressed her determination to get back Amanda’s daughter, who was put into fast track adoption by Child Protective Services (CPS), which Fox calls the Children Procurement Syndicate. The family is part Indigenous, but because the girl appeared white, she was considered a “prize” for adoption. Fox ended with the traditional “Mitakuye Oyasin Tunkasila” (All My Relations, We are All Related in the Great Spirit).”
Paul Spector, former CDCR nurse fired and harassed for exposing CDCR medical torture, described the use of chains, “phone booth” cages, clubs, hooks in the wall, massive amounts of drugs, people kept naked in isolation cells, sexual abuse and psychological and physical torture. He expressed his determination to mobilize medical professionals to stop participating in torture and to report patient abuse.
Bato Talamantez of the San Quentin 6, described his first incarceration at age 12, his many years in prison and solitary confinement, and the criminalization of youth, particularly the mass incarceration of Latinos, for profit. He talked about how moved and inspired he was listening to people’s testimonies about torture in jails and prisons.
He talked about the state making trophies of political prisoners, to make examples out of them to repress resistance. He mentioned the victory after the Prisoner hunger strikes of the release of Hugo “Yogi Bear” Pinell, another one of the San Quentin 6, and other prisoners from the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison. For the first time in decades, Yogi has had contact visits with his mother and others. In solitary for 43 years, prison 50 years, it’s time to free him.
Frank Alvarado Sr., father, Angélica Garza, sister, and Natalie Mendoza, niece, spoke out against the racist police murder of Frank Alvarado Jr., member of Sin Barras, killed by Salinas police on July 10, 2014. He was the fourth of five unarmed Latino men killed by white Salinas police since May 2014. Frank Sr. talked about how police operate with absolutely no accountability, get the badge and the gun and forget about their role of supposedly protecting and serving the community.
He talked about the corruption in the police force, the need for the community to mobilize to demand justice, and his commitment to carrying on Frank Jr.’s work with Sin Barras for prisoners’ and formerly incarcerated persons’ rights and against jail and prison expansion. Angélica spoke of her great love for her brother and how she wished they had known of his activism while he was alive.
She said, “Had we known, we would have joined him. But we’re with you now.” Angélica also spoke to police brutality, asking, “Why do cops have to shoot multiple times? It’s excessive use of force.”
Natalie, Frank’s 15-year-old niece, spoke powerfully about her shock at the murder of her uncle, the fight for justice in Ferguson and the need to fight for justice for the Latinos killed in Salinas. She said: “Latinos must become united, for there is power in numbers! We have to get up and get out to make a change! Police departments should not be investigating themselves.” She added: “Let’s face it, the police are nothing but civilians who believe that their badge grants them supreme power over the entire community. They are not protecting the community.”
“Latinos must become united, for there is power in numbers! We have to get up and get out to make a change! Police departments should not be investigating themselves.”
Speakers talked about many layers of jail, prison and law enforcement abuse and torture, medical neglect, coerced suicide, solitary confinement, the use of the torture chair and stress position cage, and police brutality and murders. They talked about the California prisoner hunger and work strike started with over 30,000 prisoners in 2013, the largest hunger strike in U.S. and world history. It lasted 60 days.
They spoke of the historic 2012 prisoners’ Agreement to End Hostilities. The prisoners unified across race lines inside the prisons, and California Families Against Solitary Confinement put it into practice in the communities.
Payday Men’s Network wrote: “Our experience is that the women family members are the mainstay of campaigns for justice the world over. We also take our lead from the great California Prisoners’ hunger strike and its deeply anti-racist Agreement to End Hostilities, which made the strike possible and which is a challenge to us on the outside to cross the divides among us as effectively as the prisoners have. The Cages Kill-Freedom Rally has taken this to heart and deserves our every support.”
The march continued through downtown, getting public attention with banners, signs and chants, and made its way to the jail. We held a speak-out in front, while people went in and out to visit family and friends. Numerous people spoke spontaneously about their horrible experiences inside the SCCJ, including the torture/restraint chair, solitary confinement, medical abuse and neglect, police brutality, racial profiling, and the way jails and prisons destroy individuals and families.
Rachel West, US PROStitutes Collective (US PROS), expressed outrage, compassion for the family members and others who’ve lost loved ones, support for the demands and concern with the deaths silencing prisoners, including Phil Africa of MOVE, who died under suspicious circumstances on Jan. 10, 2015, in SCI-Dallas, Penn.
She spoke about “family members, mainly women, who do the justice work of fighting for our loved ones when they are locked up”; the “police racism, harassment, brutality … and criminalization” of sex workers, “many are formerly incarcerated people”; and “the torture of losing our children to fast track adoption.”
She said: “Women, mainly Black and Brown mothers, are going to jail for ‘crimes of poverty’ like prostitution, homelessness, shoplifting, selling drugs etc. – the criminalization of survival. Increased benefits like welfare and food stamps and other social services would mean less poverty and less women going to jail. US PROS campaigns for the decriminalization of prostitution and for higher benefits and wages so that no one is forced into prostitution through poverty and violence.” She expressed the solidarity of the Global Women’s Strike network, including GWS, Women of Color in GWS, Payday Men’s Network, Queer Strike and USPROS, who say “Invest in caring, not killing.”
“Women, mainly Black and Brown mothers, are going to jail for ‘crimes of poverty’ like prostitution, homelessness, shoplifting, selling drugs etc. – the criminalization of survival.”
Lori Nairne spoke for Queer Strike, a grassroots, multi-racial, lesbian, bi, trans, queer women’s group campaigning for economic, legal and human rights and to free Chelsea Manning, whistleblower against U.S. war crimes, sentenced in 2013 to 35 years’ imprisonment. Sin Barras read the statement from Payday Men’s Network, an international and multiracial network of men working with the Global Women’s Strike, quoted above. They also spoke of their work to support the Dallas 6; “Kevan Thakrar, a wrongly convicted immigrant prisoner held for years in solitary confinement” in the U.K.; Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange and other whistleblowers, military refusers and prisoners.
We then went to the back of the jail, where we held a Noise/Solidarity Demonstration Outside of Santa Cruz Jail so the women inside could hear us. The voice of young Black spoken word artist Lyrical I penetrated the jail with passionate struggle against the cruelty of incarceration and with love and support for the women. “Our voices will ring off these jails and set us all free.” We chanted and played loud music for the women to hear. Women banged on the windows and yelled out to let us know they heard and felt our support.
We read Haiti Action Committee’s statement that talked about “the terrible conditions faced by prisoners in Haiti … and … in Northern California. Solitary confinement, medical abuse of prisoners, targeting of the most oppressed has to end – from Haiti to the Bay Area. In Haiti, the grassroots movement is now in the streets, facing live ammunition from police at nearly every demonstration as they denounce the Martelly dictatorship. It’s the same struggle, the same fight.”
After the rally Donna Wallach, host of Free Our Minds on Free Radio Santa Cruz, interviewed Sin Barras and Paul Spector, RN. Once ready, we will put a link to the show on the Sin Barras website. On Saturday, Jan. 31, we release “A Moment of Silence,” the second edition of our zine.
Now it’s time to mount a determined campaign until the Board of Supervisors, Sheriff’s Department and Santa Cruz County Jail meet our demands.
In coordination with local, national, and international organizations, Sin Barras is demanding that:
- The Board of Supervisors cancel its contract with California Forensic Medical Group.
- The Sheriff’s Department and CFMG accept responsibility for the unnatural deaths and implement the Grand Jury recommendations to expand Crisis Intervention Team mental health services.
- Abolish solitary confinement, administrative segregation and other forms of torture, such as the restraint/torture chair.
- Santa Cruz County cancel the $24.6 million planned expansion of Rountree Detention Center and invest in community-based social services.
Co-sponsored by Sin Barras, Santa Cruz County Community Coalition to Overcome Racism (SCCCCOR), Project Pollinate and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) Santa Cruz.
Endorsed by Abolitionist Law Center, Pittsburgh, Penn.; All of Us or None; Bettina Aptheker, UCSC (organizations shown for identification only); Cabrillo College Justice League; California Coalition for Women Prisoners; California Families Against Solitary Confinement; Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB); Direct Action Monterey Network; Family of Frank Alvarado Jr.; Food Not Bombs; Freedom Archives; Global Women’s Strike and Women of Color in the Global Women’s Strike; Haiti Action Committee; Human Rights Coalition (HRC)-Fed Up!, Pittsburgh, Penn.; International Concerned Friends and Family of Mumia Abu-Jamal (ICFFMAJ); Justice for the Dallas 6 Support Campaign, Pittsburgh, Penn.; Justice for Palestinians; Legal Services for Prisoners with Children; George Lippman, Vice-Chair, Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission; the MOVE Organization and Ramona Africa; National Boricua Human Rights Network; Dylcia Pagán, former Puerto Rican political prisoner; Payday Men’s Network; Peak Women; Prison Activist Resource Center (PARC); Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSSC); Rabbi Borukh Goldberg; San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper; South Bay/Santa Cruz Facilitators group of the Pachamama Alliance; Queer Strike; Suppressed Histories Archives (Max Dashu); Bato Talamantez; US PROStitutes Collective; Darlene Wallach; Donna Wallach.
Stop the abuse and torture in the Santa Cruz County Jail and jails and prisons everywhere!
“Solitary confinement, medical abuse of prisoners, targeting of the most oppressed has to end – from Haiti to the Bay Area.” – Haiti Action Committee
Courtney Hanson is a founding member of Sin Barras (Without Prison Bars), a prison abolitionist and prisoners’ rights organization in Santa Cruz, part of Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB). Willow Katz has worked to free political prisoners for over 40 years and is a long term prisoners’ rights, women’s, LGBTIQ and social justice activist. She is a member of Sin Barras, Global Women’s Strike, Haiti Action Committee, and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Courtney and Willow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, see the Cages Kill-Freedom Rally event page.