FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Limits to State Power

by ANN GARRISON

The California prison hunger strike against inhumane prison conditions has passed its 50th day and Governor Brown has to decide.  WIll he negotiate about their basic demands, and if not, will he allow them to die protesting? At least 45 hunger strikers have ingested nothing but water, vitamins, and electrolytes since the 8th of July and must therefore be risking blindness, hearing loss, kidney failure, heart attack, coma, and death.  In May 1981, 10 Irish Hunger Strikers died after refusing food for periods between 44 and 73 days. Bobby Sands somehow arranged to spend the last days of his life lying on a water bed to protect his fragile bones.

Ghandi’s longest fast was 21 days.

Last week Judge Thelton Henderson gave medical officers the authority to force feed prisoners, even if they have signed “do-not-resuscitate” forms. In an irresolute moment, chief medical officer Steven Tharratt then stated that they will probably do no more than administer intravenous nutrient streams to prisoners who lapse into coma, or become otherwise incapable of deciding to live or die.

Some prison advocates say that there are hundreds of strikers still risking death. We have little way of knowing the truth about that or anything else behind the state’s prison walls. On Friday, August 23rd, Democracy Now aired a recording made by a lawyer talking to one of the hunger strikers on a prison phone, from the other side of a glass separation wall at Pelican Bay Prison.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) responded to the prisoners demand that a member of the press be present at any hunger strike negotiations with a statement that, “While CDCR is committed to transparency and is willing to engage in discussions with various stakeholders, it is not efficient to have a member of the press present at every discussion.”

It’s no surprise that a cult of secrecy and totalitarian rule resembling the Stasi’s have emerged in California prisons, which were crowded to twice their capacity by 2009 and are still way overcrowded. And Governor Jerry Brown surely realizes that this is largely the consequence of mandatory minimum sentencing established during his first two terms as California’s governor, between 1975 and 1983.

One of the few things we do know, from the hunger striking prisoners advocates, is that they are willing to negotiate, but Governor Brown is not, not even regarding demands for adequate food, a weekly phone call, an annual photograph, access to radio, and correspondence courses that require proctored exams.

Brown appeared to be counting on popular dehumanization of prisoners when his top prison official Jeffrey Beard penned an LA Times Op-Ed claiming that the hunger strike is just a gang power play. But where’s the gang power to be gained by eating adequate food, listening to the radio, or completing a correspondence course?

Tom Hayden has argued that negotiation on these “supplemental demands” could end the strike with dignity on both sides. The core demands, including the end of indefinite solitary confinement, must then be litigated, he said, because neither Governor Brown nor the prisoners are negotiable about them.

I don’t need an expert to convince me that indefinite solitary confinement is torture, in some cases 10, 20, 30, 40 and more years of it. Nor do I need an expert to convince me that it has crippling psychic consequence. This hunger strike did inform me that many California prisoners are confined in solitary after being identified as gang members simply because, for example, they have tattoos, possess Aztec drawings or books by George Jackson, or use an African or Native American language – not because of anything they did inside or outside prison walls. Or, because another prisoner seeking to escape further punishment, identified them as gang members.

California prisoners are human beings and they did not surrender their 8th Amendment right to be protected from cruel and unusual punishment upon sentencing. The limits to sentencing are like the limits to surveillance also promised in the Bill of Rights. They are limits to what the state has the right to do to us. Any of us.

Ann Garrison is an independent journalist who contributes to the San Francisco Bay View, Global Research, and the Black Star News, and produces radio for KPFA-Berkeley and WBAI-New York City.

Ann Garrison is an independent journalist who also contributes to the San Francisco Bay View, Global Research, the Black Agenda Report and the Black Star News, and produces radio for KPFA-Berkeley and WBAI-New York City.  In 2014, she was awarded the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize by the Womens International Network for Democracy and Peace.  She can be reached at ann@afrobeatradio.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

August 25, 2016
Mike Whitney
The Broken Chessboard: Brzezinski Gives Up on Empire
Paul Cox – Stan Cox
The Louisiana Catastrophe Proves the Need for Universal, Single-Payer Disaster Insurance
John W. Whitehead
Another Brick in the Wall: Children of the American Police State
Lewis Evans
Genocide in Plain Sight: Shooting Bushmen From Helicopters in Botswana
Daniel Kovalik
Colombia: Peace in the Shadow of the Death Squads
Sam Husseini
How the Washington Post Sells the Politics of Fear
Ramzy Baroud
Punishing the Messenger: Israel’s War on NGOs Takes a Worrying Turn
Norman Pollack
Troglodyte Vs. Goebbelean Fascism: The 2016 Presidential Race
Simon Wood
Where are the Child Victims of the West?
Roseangela Hartford
The Hidden Homeless Population
Mark Weisbrot
Obama’s Campaign for TPP Could Drag Down the Democrats
Rick Sterling
Clintonites Prepare for War on Syria
Yves Engler
The Anti-Semitism Smear Against Canadian Greens
August 24, 2016
John Pilger
Provoking Nuclear War by Media
Jonathan Cook
The Birth of Agro-Resistance in Palestine
Eric Draitser
Ajamu Baraka, “Uncle Tom,” and the Pathology of White Liberal Racism
Jack Rasmus
Greek Debt and the New Financial Imperialism
Robert Fisk
The Sultan’s Hit List Grows, as Turkey Prepares to Enter Syria
Abubakar N. Kasim
What Did the Olympics Really Do for Humanity?
Renee Parsons
Obamacare Supporters Oppose ColoradoCare
Alycee Lane
The Trump Campaign: a White Revolt Against ‘Neoliberal Multiculturalism’
Edward Hunt
Maintaining U.S. Dominance in the Pacific
George Wuerthner
The Big Fish Kill on the Yellowstone
Jesse Jackson
Democrats Shouldn’t Get a Blank Check From Black Voters
Kent Paterson
Saving Southern New Mexico from the Next Big Flood
Arnold August
RIP Jean-Guy Allard: A Model for Progressive Journalists Working in the Capitalist System
August 23, 2016
Diana Johnstone
Hillary and the Glass Ceilings Illusion
Bill Quigley
Race and Class Gap Widening: Katrina Pain Index 2016 by the Numbers
Ted Rall
Trump vs. Clinton: It’s All About the Debates
Eoin Higgins
Will Progressive Democrats Ever Support a Third Party Candidate?
Kenneth J. Saltman
Wall Street’s Latest Public Sector Rip-Off: Five Myths About Pay for Success
Binoy Kampmark
Labouring Hours: Sweden’s Six-Hour Working Day
John Feffer
The Globalization of Trump
Gwendolyn Mink – Felicia Kornbluh
Time to End “Welfare as We Know It”
Medea Benjamin
Congress Must Take Action to Block Weapon Sales to Saudi Arabia
Halyna Mokrushyna
Political Writer, Daughter of Ukrainian Dissident, Detained and Charged in Ukraine
Manuel E. Yepe
Tourism and Religion Go Hand-in-Hand in the Caribbean
ED ADELMAN
Belted by Trump
Thomas Knapp
War: The Islamic State and Western Politicians Against the Rest of Us
Nauman Sadiq
Shifting Alliances: Turkey, Russia and the Kurds
Rivera Sun
Active Peace: Restoring Relationships While Making Change
August 22, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary Clinton: The Anti-Woman ‘Feminist’
Robert Hunziker
Arctic Death Rattle
Norman Solomon
Clinton’s Transition Team: a Corporate Presidency Foretold
Ralph Nader
Hillary’s Hubris: Only Tell the Rich for $5000 a Minute!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail