From inside Wabash Valley Correctional, Kevin Rashid Johnson discusses the racist and capitalist connections between brutality that prisoners experience daily at the hands of guards and the police repression we are seeing in the streets against protestors. And what it’s gonna take to combat it.
“Okay…overall, there is an organic connection between the oppression that we see being imposed against people in this society at this point where people are resisting the more overt and the more generalized recognition of police violence, racism, abuse of people who are trying to voice to protest of political abuse, police abuse, police racism, that sort of thing. And the conditions of the oppression that exist inside of the prisons.
What many people don’t know is that a lot of the repressive measures that are being taken against people of society now have been developing, evolving, and being refined by the use against prisoners. The forms of gas they are using out in society, those forms were being benignly called OC gas, tear gas, have been evolving in their use against prisoners. And their more lethal forms of gas, they’re more pain inducing, they’re using more unknown chemical agents and the composition of these gases to inflict the highest or greatest amount of pain to make them harder to clean from your skin, to flush the gas from your skin and eyes. And they no longer qualify under the name of what they call OC gas, or pepper spray, etc. These are actually potentially highly lethal weapons, weapons that they have recognized from repeated exposure cause people blindness, cause the development or the transportation of the mucus membrane on the surface of the eyes, they cause burning–genuine chemical burns to the skin, they cause all sorts of side effects, and they are in fact potentially lethal, the danger of causing people to suffer asphyxiation. They have been for decades refining and revising the chemicals that they use to make these chemicals more painful, to last longer, to make more difficult to flush from the skin. So the chemicals being used now, you know against people protesting, which are largely peaceful protests that the police have been shown to have been trying to incite into disruptive, destructive protests, so that they can then speciously justify using violence against protestors. The weapons that they’ve used and the weapons that they’ve refined in the use against prisoners in general.
There have been reports that they have used riot police, or riot guards, riot teams from the prisons, against protests in the streets. So again, there’s an organic connection between the measures they are taking to repress people actually exercising their constitutionally protected rights to assemble and protest against you know government excesses and abuses, and the measures that they have developed inside the prisons, and brutalize in prisons in the environment where you know people are absolutely voiceless, powerless, and guards just, it’s part of the brutality, the general inhumanity of american prisons. It’s just abuse people, it’s just a day-to-day, every day, you know, condition. Now, I think people now are starting to see that police have never been, and are not a force for resolving contradictions and conflicts in society. Their role is not one to serve and protect the community, they’re there to preserve the property interests of the wealthy and to keep people in line.
To control people and to keep people silent, conforming to the status quo and when people have recognized that the status quo is not just, is not fair, is not acceptable, that they have come to see, particularly the mainstream, to see racist oppression, racial profiling, the racially motivated targeting of marginalized groups of people. And they have come out to protest and they have started to see that they have suffered the same abuses at the hands of the police that are just the day to day experiences of people of color in marginalized urban areas of you know american society, the poor people of color, by and large
And this is the same experience that prisoners have, who are disproportionately people of color, disproportionately taken from the ranks of the poor.
And the COVID 19 pandemic I think has exacerbated the situation. I think it gave a powerful impetus to the masses to come out in physical resistance, to pour out into the streets, particularly when they witnessed the smug murder of George Floyd. And how this pig…as if he was just entitled to do what he was doing. No force could move him, coerce him, convince him that what he was doing anything wrong. This is the general attitude that police have towards people of color in this country. And a lot of the more mainstream layers of society don’t witness this because they have a whole different relationship with the police. But now that they’ve come out in protest against the police you’ve seen old people knocked down and brutalized by the police. you see police going around destroying property to instigate you know looting and property destruction. You see police randomly ride by people who are protesting and spray them with gas. You see the cops shoot little kids, 3 year olds, 5 year olds, in the face with oc gas and tear gas and people demonstrating. You see beating people, shooting people, brutalizing people, running people over with cars. You’ve seen the true face of the police. What we experience every day, inside the prisons, inside the urban areas, inside communities of color.
And this is the only time that you’re really going to see this face, you know, exposed to mainstream layers of society. When they come out in protest and they recognize the evils of the status quo or the system as it exists and they give voice to those protests. You see this back in the 60s and 70s, when similar circumstances arose. Where a lot of middle class intellectuals and people on college campuses people started to rise up in protest against, you know, America’s Imperialism abroad. The occupations, the invalid attacks against Vietnam and Southeast Asia, you know the brutality taking place against everyday people. When, you know, more whites came out in protests against these conditions they faced the same sort of brutality and abuse by the police that people of color, blacks and browns had been complaining about and protesting for decades. And a lot of them were shocked as a lot of people are shocked now by the reactions and the response of the police. When they had the national democratic conference in the 60s, when the cops hit the riot, they rioted at the democratic national convention. You know people were shocked to see these behaviors by the police because they had this propagandized, indoctrinated view of the police that is portrayed in the media and the entertainment industry that the cops are really just there to serve the interests of protecting the community, serving the good people of society. That’s not their function.
As I said, you’re now seeing a more open demonstration of the same thing that we live with everyday inside of the prisons and inside urban communities. Now what I feel needs to be done, there needs to be developed an inside-outside support network between the people on the streets and the people incarcerated. Particularly those who are inside and can give voice to and can help draw attention to the abuses that goes on inside the prison. Because unlike in society we don’t have the resources to publicize what goes on in here. It’s a much more intense, much more generalized abuse that goes on inside the prisons, that even is going on in society now at the height of various protests taking place. Prisoners are murdered every day by guards who just outright manufacture situations where they act out vendettas. They will murder prisoners, starve prisoners, beat prisoners and, you know, situations where they just will invent situations and you know act out their bruatality and abuse against prisoners because they know we have no voice. They know we don’t have the resources such as people in society with, you know, the cell phones where they can video tape. And that’s what brought the horror of the murder of George Floyd to the attention of the world. It was through personal cell phone technology, and it’s not generally available inside the prisons. So society doesn’t see a lot of the abuses that are much more extreme than what you witnessed happen to George Floyd, happens every day inside prisons, every minute inside of these prisons in America.
So we need to develop an inside to outside support network and I think we should have.. It should be coordinated at a national level, it should be linked up state by state, there should be local branches of this network where prisoners are connected to people on the outside. You have people who are involved in what are known as activist groups or activist circles, and activist collectives, they need to become more engaged with prisoners’ families, who are not so experienced in raising their voice against the abuse that goes on inside of the prisons. They are the loved ones of the victims of these abuses, but they do not have the, in some cases, the will, in some cases, the understanding of how to direct protests against abuses. Many of them fear the establishment or are so indoctrinated into believing that anything the establishment says, or anything anybody in uniform says happened, that’s what happened. Or anything they did to their loved one is justified, and somehow their loved one was in the wrong because they’ve been so indoctrinated into fearing and just accepting that what somebody in an apparent position of authority says, is true. So they are largely not inclined to trust or believe reports that come to them from their isolated loved ones.
So we need to develop a network so that they can see that the abuses that go on inside of these prisons are systemic. And when their loved ones report to them abuse, they will know that, OK, this isn’t something that my loved one did wrong and this isn’t something that these institutions did right. This is a pattern of systemic abuse that we need to organize and we need to develop a system of being able to leverage some level of power to change the balance of power in our favor as opposed to these officials being able to monopolize the narrative. To sweep under the rug or to misrepresent the abuses that go on and the specific abuse that may have been carried out against a loved one or a particular family or particular group of people. So we need to, I feel, engage in developing this sort of network and I think this is an opportune time, especially with people being sheltered in their homes now where it’s a lot of free time on people’s hands, as opposed to when people were leaving home and going to the workplace every day. People can spend time with their computers. They can develop networks. They can interact with people on social media, They can develop the sort of connections that can be an effective tool of modern technology that will develop a huge network of people that can communicate in real time, who can share reports of abuse. Share, you know, plan protests, call-in campaigns to officials to respond to reports of abuse, that sort of thing. So I think under the circumstances where the public is becoming more aware of the systemic abuse and is particularly active in responding to them we can develop a network that can help bring more attention and support to prisoners who have been facing these sorts of abuses that, you know, in general that people are not really aware of.”[end]