By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
Georgia prison officials, who denied the existence of a hunger strike its first four weeks, finally acknowledged that some prisoners are on their 36th day without food. But they refused to meet with families and citizens who came to its Forsyth GA headquarters early this week. And despite the fact we have a black president and attorney general, and an open-and-shut case of conspiracy to violate civil rights, the feds seem not interested.
GA Prison Hunger Strike Continues, Families Protest, State Officials Stonewall, Feds Refuse to Intervene
By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
On Monday, July 16 about 70 people spent the afternoon in 97 degree heat outside the Forsyth GA headquarters of the state's Department of Corrections demanding to meet with its chief Brian Owens about his treatment of hunger striking prisoners at Jackson state prison.
“This is the thirty-sixth day of the hunger strike. Miguel Jackson and a number of other inmates including Shawn Whatley are starving for change. They have been beaten, they have been denied their visitation rights, they've been denied medical treatment....
“Those men in there are starving for change,” declared Rev. Kenneth Glasgow of The Ordinary Peoples Society. “When you have people who are willing to starve, something is definitely wrong. People just don't sacrifice their lives when nothing is wrong...”
Relatives of the striking prisoners, and others fingered by the state as leaders of the December 2010 prison strike were in the small crowd. Most had driven an hour south from Atlanta, and some had come from central Alabama.
“They have no rights to anything,” said the sister of Miguel Jackson. “We can't see them, we can't write to them, they are not allowed to brush their teeth or sleep on a bed... they need to be treated like human beings and not animals.... these prisoners have family out here who are willing to give them whatever they need... I don't know if they'll meet with us today, but we'll be back again and again as many times as it takes.“
“They don't have appointments,” said Tim Williams, who identified himself as supervisor of the “campus” upon which the Georgia Department of Corrections maintains its offices. “We do see citizens all the time, but they have appointments. We'll be glad to take Mr. Glasgow's name and information and get back to him, but we're busy. This is a busy place. We don't stop what we're doing to meet with anybody who comes here without an appointment.”
“We understand that their own policies say inmates who refuse food should be seen by a doctor after 9 days,” added Delma Jackson, the wife of Miguel Jackson. “Today is the 36th day and as far as we know these men have not seen a doctor yet. Their lives are in danger, and we are only asking that the state follow its own written procedures.”
Aside from sending out a few suits and officers, state corrections officials refused to acknowledge the presence of the families and their supporters, and did not meet with them.
The following day, Georgia corrections officials, who first denied there was a hunger strike, and later that the nonexistent had ended July 6, publicly acknowledged that inmates at the Jackson prison, where Georgia carries out executions, continued to refuse food.
"I think they're being deceptive," Delma Jackson said Monday of the Department of Corrections. "I think they're trying to get people thrown off track. They know it's in full force."
In a Wednesday morning story, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which refused to print anything about the hunger strike for the first four weeks, broadcast the claims of corrections officials that most inmates have quit the hunger strike. Whether this is true or not, the prisoners have made their point. They are men and human beings. They do indeed deserve the rights they demanded all of 18 months ago, including wages for work, education behind the prison walls, visitation and telephone policies that reinforce families rather than tear them further apart, Spanish language interpreters for those up on disciplinary proceedings, and that the department's disciplinary proceedings be fair and transparent to the public, and more.
The state responded to the December 2010 strike in up to a dozen prisons with a wave of savage illegal assaults by wardens and guards against prisoners in which at least one was beaten nearly to death. In the very few instances that were actually investigated, guards took prisoners in handcuffs to areas not covered by video surveillance before administering the beatings. Despite copious evidence pointing to high level conspiracy to commit crimes against inmates assembled in the only two investigations undertaken, local district attorneys refused to pursue indictments of correctional officials or guards.
Since the beginning of 2011, local activists have pleaded in vain for federal intervention and investigation into the apparent criminal conspiracy on the part of Georgia corrections officials. After much pressure and delay, the US district attorney for middle Georgia secured the conviction of a single prison guard, Willie Redden, whose sentencing date has not yet been set. There are hopeful rumors of Justice Department intervention, but even those who spread them say that this is probably won't happen until after Obama is re-elected.
Don't bet on it. There was a time when the federal executive and judicial branches would aggressively intervene to protect the human rights, at least of African Americans. Those days are long over. Today's federal courts are strongholds of the right, extremely unfriendly to claims of the poor in general, and prisoners in particular. The executive branch, even with a black president and attorney general, are not much better. .The black president already has the near-unanimous vote of black America in his pocket, so why extend himself now?. Even with nothing to lose, since Georgia is a Republican-run state Democrats are unlikely to win in November, the Obama administration will probably remain averse to interfering on the side of human rights.
The only help, the only pressure to respect the human rights of the imprisoned, has to come from a mass movement against the prison state, a movement outside prison walls which has yet to be built.
“We're asking the public to call the GA Department of Corrections, and demand that they meet with us, with the families, our attorneys, and with the good people from Project South who came down here with us today,” Rev. Glasgow told Black Agenda Report. “The number to call is 478-992-5258, and ask for Peggy Chapman, the assistant to commissioner Brian Owens, and 770-504-2000 for the warden at Jackson prison, to inquire about the welfare of the striking prisoners. “
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a state committee member of the Georgia Green Party. Contact him via this site's contact page, or at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.