When They See Us

Central Park Five Syllabus: A Supplementary Reading List 

As NYC-born and raised educators, organizers and activists who work on issues relating to race, class, criminalization and youth justice, we were deeply touched by the Netflix series When They See Us, directed by Ava DuVernay. Based on the case of the Central Park Five, a group of black and Latinx teenagers who were coerced into confession, wrongly convicted and harshly sentenced to prison for the alleged rape of a white woman, this series captures the socio-political and economic atmosphere of New York City in the eighties and nineties.
… The Netflix series touches on themes relating to race, class, gender, criminalization of youth and media moral panics, which we want to help students further unpack. The readings in this syllabus are meant to supplement the documentary series and allow students to engage critically with the historical and contemporary criminalization of working-class youth of color. We hope that youth educators will add to this syllabus and continue these important conversations inside and outside of the classroom. It is through expanding our knowledge about the past and present that we can organize against the criminalization and incarceration of our youth. Please use #exonerated5syllabus or #WhenTheySeeUsSyllabus to share.

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Abolitionist University Studies: An Invitation

We think it’s time to take up an abolitionist approach to the university. We can’t do it without you. But you’re anxious, as are we, when faced with the uncertainty of what that might entail. We’ve got that in common. Maybe you rather like universities and believe in their value. Or maybe you simply need to have a job, and yours happens to be there. Maybe you’ve been a prison abolitionist since long before everyone was calling themselves one, and you’re concerned about the drift of the signifier “abolitionist” from a specific set of collective struggles to an individual mode of self-branding. Or maybe you saw what the Right did (and continues to do) with calls for the abolition of whiteness from the journal Race Traitor in the late 1990s and early 2000s. And so maybe you’re concerned that bringing the word abolition into too intimate a proximity with the university might offer ammunition to Republicans eager to continue their assaults on higher education and to Democrats eager to distance themselves from the Left.

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Weaponizing the ‘New Antisemitism’

It was shocking to read on August 31, 2018 the following headline in the British tabloid, The Sun “Jeremy Corbyn paid tribute to a disgraced ex-UN official who ‘blamed Boston bombings on Israel.’” The “disgraced ex-UN official” referenced by The Sun is Professor Richard Falk1, a widely respected scholar of international law and a consistent advocate of human rights for all. The tabloid’s intent was to demonstrate that allegations of antisemitism directed at Corbyn were justified because he was praising a notorious ‘antisemite’.

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Precarious Performances: The Thirty Meter Telescope and Settler State Policing of Kānaka Maoli

by David Uahikeaikaleiʻohu Maile

Settler states criminalize protectors of Indigenous life, land, and water by labeling them ‘threats of violence.’ But, Indigenous protectors are exposing policing to be a precarious performance of settler sovereignty.

“The state reinforces a system that produces criminals out of those it has dispossessed.” –Macarena Gómez-Barris

The State of Hawaiʻi was founded on land stolen from Kānaka ‘Ōiwi. To be clear, it is a U.S. settler state. It formed initially in the wake of the illegal U.S. overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893. As the Republic of Hawaiʻi, it granted the unlawful annexation of the Hawaiian islands and transferal of the Hawaiian Kingdom’s national lands to the U.S. federal government in 1898. After being the Territory of Hawaiʻi, the U.S. federal government manufactured the “State of Hawai‘i” in 1959 and institutionalized it as the so-called fiftieth state, without consent from Kānaka Maoli. The legal, economic, political, and social processes for settlement of Hawaiʻi are ongoing to this very day. One pivotal way that settlement has continued is through the criminalization of Kānaka ‘Ōiwi. Particularly, the U.S. settler state in Hawai‘i turns Kānaka ‘Ōiwi into criminals to be detained, incarcerated, maimed, removed, murdered, and disappeared. The criminalization of Indigenous people—from Hawai‘i to the Americas, Palestine, and elsewhere—is an eliminatory technique for colonial dispossession. As Kānaka Maoli have been labeled threats of violence to be criminalized for defending our sacred mountain Mauna a Wākea from the Thirty Meter Telescope, water protectors of Mnisose, the Missouri River, have been also as a way to build the Dakota Access Pipeline. Accusations of violence were used to unleash dog attacks, strip search women, bag heads in hoods, rip flesh from bone with water cannons. The assault on Indigenous life, land, and water at Standing Rock clarifies how, as Chickasaw scholar Jodi A. Byrd laments, “in the United States, the Indian is the original enemy combatant.” For legal historian Lisa Ford, the criminalization of Indigenous populations, across Oceania and America, is an original feature of settler sovereignty. She writes, “The exercise of jurisdiction over indigenous crime performs the myth of settler sovereignty over and over.” What Ford refers to as legal myth literary critic Mark Rifkin calls the empty sign of settler sovereignty, which, performed obsessively over and over again, reveals a hollowness in settler state power to be targeted and antagonized.

But how does the state materially reinforce a system that produces criminals out of those it has dispossessed? In this essay, I suggest it is through the management of threats of violence. To support this argument, I explore settler state policing from the vantage of Kanaka Maoli opposition to the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), a development project for the astronomy industry at our sacred mountain Mauna a Wākea on Hawai‘i island. Analyzing three material objects—an emergency rule, bullet hole, and knee—I track how symbolic threats of violence are manufactured to obscure and exact concrete violences. But, what can an administrative law, image of a hole in a door, and body part of a police officer tell us about threats of violence? Indeed, these legal, visual, and fleshy objects are quite revealing. Interrogating discourses mingling through and amongst them, I argue ‘threats of violence’ is a discursive formation produced by the settler state and dispersed through its institutions of media and police. Weaving together scholarship from Critical Police, Hawaiian, and Indigenous Studies, I demonstrate ‘threats of violence’ maintains a dual function. First, suggesting that Kānaka Maoli who defend Mauna a Wākea from the TMT threaten acts of violence, and are violent threats themselves, rationalizes police intervention by the U.S. settler state. In other words, figurative threats of alleged violence from kia‘i, the guardians and protectors of our mountain, condone material violence against them by police. Second, ‘threats of violence’ defers and tries to erase not only the colonial violence animating the U.S. settler state in Hawai‘i, and its deployment of police and their militarized interventions, but also the diversity of violence that TMT does. In what follows, I mine three material objects, offer two interventions, and conclude with one mo‘olelo—a story that lays bare how settler state policing of Kānaka Maoli is a performance of precarity.

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Black August Resistance poster, by Kevin 'Rashid' Johnson, via Black Opinion, August 26, 2016

Black August and Its Global Importance

by The Bucharest Anti-Racist Collective, Bucharest, Romania

Why is the US national prison strike important not for just for the Americas but also for global attempts to fight racialized capitalism?

This time of year, dubbed Black August, is the time when a prisoner-led movement should be at the forefront of our attention. This is probably the biggest prison strike in US history. Although not always visible, comrades in prison are “boycotting commissaries,” “engaging in hunger strikes which can take days for the state to acknowledge,” and “will be engaging in sit-ins and work strikes which are not always reported to the outside.” Yet, other frames which count as political protest and contestation fight for visibility in the global media. Tropes such as “the corruption of politicians” and “the urban carnival of political protest” work to highlight these politics branded as “resistance to power.”

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Like a Game of Chess: The Prison Strike and Abolitionist Strategy

by Alejo Stark

The 2016 prison strike was the most widespread coordinated action undertaken by prison rebels in the history of the United States. Today, we are in the midst of a second wave of such extraordinary actions. But what is the prison strike, the specter that haunts the racial capitalist state in an “age of riots”? To begin to answer this question, this essay thinks the relation between the prison strike and the recurrent crises of state and capital, showing that the terrain of struggle of the recent waves of prison strikes is partially produced by state budget cuts in the wake of the 2008-10 “financial” crisis. I then proceed to defend an abolitionist strategy of “disruption” of the reproduction of the carceral state apparatus. Lastly, I provide one possible framework that might help us think the relation between the prison strike and other contemporary flashpoints of Black struggle, such as the 2014 Ferguson rebellion.

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Rethinking American Prisons

This essay is adapted from Dan Berger and Toussaint Losier’s 2017 Rethinking the American Prison Movement (Routledge Press), a book that examines how incarcerated people have challenged prison conditions and other forms of inequality through strikes, uprisings, and other creative tactics, and in doing so have waged transformational struggles against America’s prison system. We republish it here on occasion of the nationwide prison strike, in the hopes that it will provide useful perspective on the ongoing struggles of our incarcerated comrades. To the end of prisons.

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Every Crook Can Govern

George Ciccariello-Maher and Jeff St. Andrews   (Re-published on occasion of the prison strike, August 21st to September 9th, 2018. Originally published in Counterpunch. Download the pamphlet version here.)   Note: We wrote this piece seven years ago, but for white supremacy, the past is never truly past, and nor is resistance to it. We […]

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