Open letter to Chronicle writer Jason Fagone
by Chandra Hauptman
Dear Mr. Fagone:
On Sunday, Aug. 16, you published an excellent article in the tHROUGHLINE section of the SF Chronicle titled “Overcrowded and Lethal Prisons.” I really like your article; however, you made one glaring error. On page G7, second paragraph, you state: “The man was connected to a prison gang known as the Black Guerilla Family.”
This misclassification of the Black Guerilla Family as a gang, instead of their correct identification as an educational organization, has been used by the California Department of Corrections (CDCR) for decades as a means to target its members – all Black – for punitive action to repress their efforts to organize and to educate.
The Black Guerilla Family was organized as an educational organization by its founder, George Jackson, a former Black Panther. Mr. Jackson was a brilliant educator and writer who encouraged Black men and women to take pride in themselves as African Americans and to fight oppression on all fronts. He was a mentor to many.
. . . as part of a court settlement in 2015, CDCR was ordered to no longer identify members of the Black Guerilla Family as being “gang affiliated.”
Mr. Jackson was executed by prison guards at San Quentin Prison during an uprising in 1971. But his followers continue to share his teachings among inmates throughout the prison system, especially targeting young members with known gang affiliations.
Since the 1970s, classification of members of the Black Guerilla Family as a “gang” has been used as an excuse to target several thousand inmates for negative write-ups called Section 115s, which are then placed in their permanent records and affect the time they remain in prison when they appear before the Parole Board.
The gang label was also used as a reason to lock many of these prisoners up in Security Housing Units, knowns as SHUs, some for more than 40 years! The United Nations Commission on Torture states unequivocally that more than two weeks in solitary housing is considered to be a form of torture.
Identification of members of the Black Guerilla Family as “gang affiliated” continues to this day, despite the fact that, as part of a court settlement in 2015, CDCR was ordered to no longer identify members of the Black Guerilla Family as being “gang affiliated.”
Chandra Hauptman, member, PHSS (Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition)
Chandra Hauptman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.