Incarceration Nation

Racism and Murder Against Black Lives

We charge the Pennsylvania courts, Department of Corrections and Parole Board
with racism and murder against Black lives

By Shakaboona

Before we proceed, lets first get the meaning of racism correct. When we’re discussing racism, we’re discussing Caucasians’ fanatical xenophobic idea of race based on white skin being superior and dark skin being inferior, a system of white supremacy where Caucasians collectively uphold the racial status quo, and a Caucasian culture that expresses itself in terms of building whiteness and destroying Blackness. Racism is white supremacy—a Caucasian mindset, culture, and system of white people’s dominance and rule over all non-white peoples. Racism is anti-Blackness.

This anti-Black racism has its full expression in the government institution of policing in America, that spawned from America’s “Slave Patrols” during this country’s unflattering history of enslaving African people as chattel property. This is not about “individual” racism, it’s about racism as a “system” of government institutions and as a “lived reality” for African Americans under that system of racism. So, just like the police murder of George Floyd was not only about an individual racist murderous cop but rather about the institutional racism of police departments that foster racism and cultivate cops to carry out racial oppression against Black and Brown communities and about the everyday lived reality of Black people in the U.S. (and the world) under the government’s institutional racism. Likewise, the District Attorney office, Courts, Department of Corrections, and the Parole Board are institutionally racist government agencies that operate as purveyors of racism, legalized high tech lynchings, state violence, murder, and destabilization against Black and Brown people and communities in Pennsylvania (PA).

The Police, Prosecutors, Courts, Prisons, and Parole Boards, which make up the so-called criminal justice system, has a sordid history of both overt and covert racism against African Americans. The police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have simply placed the U.S. government’s institutional and structural racism against Black people back on center stage and underneath the national and international spotlight. So, what does that spotlight expose when placed on Pennsylvania’s D.A. Offices, Courts, Department of Corrections, and Parole Board?

The Department of Justice has investigated dozens of major police departments throughout the country for civil rights violations against African Americans in cities like Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Chicago, and have found all practiced a system of institutional racism and the police departments agreed to implement remedial measures. The police departments are routinely exposed for having unleashed hell on the communities of Black and Latinx people—consisting of abuse, terror, drug dealing, extortion, prostitution, criminal frame ups, and murder. Why? Because police forces have their origins in slavery and racism, and in similar vein to America’s culture of racism and racist beliefs, Black lives never mattered to them. The mission of the police is to protect the one percent wealthy and social control the 99 percent rest of us through race, class, religion, and state violence by their right-wing militarized occupying police forces in America.

Collective harm

D.A. Offices’ institutional racism is daily perpetrated against Black people with racially unjust and oppressive policies and practices that cause collective harm to Black communities, like the mass certification of Black children as adult offenders, disproportionately seeking the Death Penalty and death by incarceration—Life Without Parole (LWOP)—sentences against Black people, overcharging of criminal offenses against Black people, and a laundry list of other racial discriminatory policies and practices against Black people.

Philadelphia and Pittsburgh Court system’s institutional racism operates by systematically mass incarcerating Black children through the certification-as-adult offender process under the Juvenile Act law, by sentencing Black children to serve long prison terms as adult offenders in adult prison, and by disproportionately sentencing Black men, women, and juveniles to the Death Penalty, LWOP, and extremely long prison terms more than any nation in the world. In a recently released report of the First Judicial District—from a year ago—that it attempted to hide away, Philadelphia’s court system actually acknowledged its institutional racism against Black people, as reported in the July 10 issue of The Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper.

The PA Department of Corrections is rotten to the core with racism. For instance, from 1994-2001, top officials at PADOC Headquarters in Harrisburg, PA “ordered” prison officials and guards at the then newly opened SCI-Greene supermax prison in Greene County, PA, to abuse, torture, and terrorize Black and Latino incarcerated men just because of the color of their skin. At State Correctional Institution (SCI)-Greene (and nearly all other SCIs within the PADOC), 99 percent of the prison staff were/are Caucasian males and females, there were four African American prison guards at SCI-Greene, and two of the four Black prison staff were complicit actors in carrying out racial abuse and terror against incarcerated Black and Latino men.

Brutality by prison guards

During that period, Black and Latino prisoners were routinely brutally beaten, abused, and tortured while in solitary confinement. One incarcerated man was beaten bloody in his prison cell by racist guards, who then wrote KKK on the wall in his blood. Another incarcerated man was viciously beaten and sodomized with a police baton stick by a gang of guards like what the cops did to Abner Louima in New York in 1997. Guards also murdered at least two incarcerated men by lynching them in their cells and falsely calling them suicides, though incarcerated men witnessed the murders. Criminal investigations by the State Attorney General Office, Greene County D.A. Office, and a phony PADOC internal investigation ensued, and over 40 prison officials/guards were lightly penalized, and no criminal charges were filed. The matter was swept under the rug by the State Attorney General and local District Attorney, and the PADOC sealed their internal investigation files as “Highly Confidential” to avoid public disclosure of those records from the Right-to-Know Act law. Recall that SCI-Greene was Abu Gharib prison in PA, before there was a U.S. operated Abu Gharib prison during America’s war in Iraq.

The PA Parole Board is another thoroughly racist institution whose policies and practices adversely affect Black and Latinx communities throughout PA. Black and Brown people are subjected to racist parole policies that add more time to what they were legally sentenced to by not crediting their county time to their state time, by forfeiture of street time done on parole while free in society whenever they’re returned to prison, by technical parole infraction violations like mega-superstar rapper Meek Mill popping a wheely on a dirt bike in the city, and by unconstitutional parole reviews that disproportionately deny parole to incarcerated Black and Brown people.

The aforementioned examples of Police, D.A. Office, Courts, Prisons, and Parole Board’s institutional racism is not exhaustive, and are really just the tip of the iceberg. What is most profound is that those government agencies are not only bastions of institutional racism but the Police, D.A. Office, Courts, Prisons, and Parole Board are interconnected, working together as a superstructure, and bearing down on Black people’s lives like the weight of the earth—six-sextillion-tons (a unit followed by 21 zeros.) This interconnection of institutional racism is referred to as “structural racism.”

Therefore, if anyone wants to talk about racism, Black Lives Matter, and ending police murder of Black people or challenging the government’s racism, violence, and oppression against poor Black and Brown peoples, then people should begin with challenging the institutional and structural racism of the criminal justice system. Since historically the criminal justice system has been and continues to be the bane of African American people, as it is the primary governmental instrument used as a weapon to perpetually keep Black people in their social place in the racial hierarchal structure of white supremacy by criminalizing Black bodies and nearly every aspect of Black life—including criminalizing the constitutional right of freedom to seek racial justice through peaceful protests and by mass incarcerating peaceful Black and multi-ethnic protestors, then it is paramount that people challenge the criminal justice system for its institutional/structural racism, state-sanctioned violence, and human rights violations.

The criminal justice system’s record

For wasn’t it the criminal justice system that was used to end the Reconstruction period and re-enslave Black people into penal slavery to rebuild the American south after the Northern Union Whites betrayed freed Black people after the Civil War in the great 1876 Tilden-Hayes Betrayal? Wasn’t it the criminal justice system that was used to destroy the Black Freedom Movement from 1955-75, that sent many Black civil rights and Black liberation leaders to prison on false charges and whom many still languish in prison today? Say their names—Jalil Muntaqim, Russell “Maroon” Shoatz, and Sundiata Acoli. And wasn’t it the criminal justice system that was unleashed against Black and Brown communities with Nixon/Reagan/Clinton’s fake War On Drugs to neutralize African Americans’ growing political power and social advancement. Now, today, isn’t it the criminal justice system that is attempting to crush the mostly peaceful Black/multi-ethnic nationwide protests in response to the police murders of George Floyd/Breonna Taylor and challenging the racial status quo over their pig police’s institutional racism?

Just as the racist police murders of Black people in police custody like George Floyd must stop, likewise the racist D.A. practice of charging Black children as adults and mass incarcerating them in adult prisons must stop. The racist courts death penalty and Death By Incarceration (DBI) sentences of LWOP against Black peoples must stop, the racist guard murders of incarcerated Black people in prison custody must stop, the racist parole policies fueling mass incarceration of Black people through parole recidivism must stop. And the brutal acts of state violence inflicted against Black people must be condemned and stopped.

As Abolitionists in the 1800s took their great leap forward and abolished chattel slavery in America, today, let us also take that great leap forward with the Human Rights Coalition (HRC) in Philadelphia to hold accountable and forever abolish the racist police, prosecutors, prisons, and Parole Boards in Pennsylvania.

—THE MOVEMENT magazine, July 2020

Write to Shakaboona:

Smart Communications/PA DOC

Kerry Shakaboona Marshall #BE7826

SCI Rockview

P.O. Box 33028

St. Petersburg, FL 33733