I began this blog in May 2009 following the death of Marcia Powell at Perryville State Prison in Goodyear, Arizona. It is not intended to prescribe the path that leads to freedom from the prison industrial complex.

Rather, these are just my observations in arguably the most racist, fascist, militaristic state in the nation at a critical time in history for a number of intersecting liberation movements. From Indigenous resistance to genocidal practices, to the fight over laws like SB1070 and the ban on Ethnic Studies, Arizona is at the center of many battles for human rights, and thus the struggle for prison abolition as well - for none are free until all are. I retired the blog in APRIL 2013.

Visit me now at Arizona Prison Watch or Survivors of Prison Violence-AZ

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Occupy ALEC in Scottsdale next week...

Rock on, Occupiers!!!

------------- from

Activists plan to disrupt the American Legislative Exchange Council summit
The Precarious
Tue, 11/22/2011 - 04:00

PHOENIX, AZ- The anti-corporate spirit that has occupied cities across the United States will take a new form in the streets of Phoenix and Scottsdale next week.

Protestors plan to disrupt the States and Nation Policy Summit for the American Legislative Exchange Council to expose the non-profit group’s ties between state legislators and the private sector.

“We intend to demonstrate the connections between colonization, the prison industrial complex, the criminalization of migrants and ALEC,” said Ari Marie, housing and logistics organizer for the protests. “It is the root of the marriage between capital and the state.”

ALEC brings together roughly 2000 conservative legislators from all 50 states and 300 corporate members to, according to their website, “promote free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty,” by drafting model bills for legislative members to sponsor in their home states. Of the nearly 1000 ALEC bills introduced annually, about 20 percent become law.

The organization meets three times a year, and drafts most of the model legislation at their Annual Meeting each summer. The meeting in Scottsdale will focus on educating newly elected legislators on issues that will be at the top of the agenda in the next year.

Despite nearing its fortieth birthday, ALEC remained virtually invisible to the public eye until recently when a number of reports came out about the group. An investigation published by National Public Radio citing ALEC for authoring Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, which created tight restrictions for undocumented immigrants and required police to ask for documents proving immigration status from anyone they suspect might be in the country illegally.

The bill was sponsored by Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce, an ALEC member who was recalled from public office during a special election Nov. 8.

ALEC faced resistance for the first time in its long history this spring in Cincinnati, when hundreds of people gathered outside of the Spring Task Force Meeting. In August, hundreds more protested ALEC’s Annual Meeting in New Orleans.

And the dissent will continue to grow in Phoenix.

Protestors plan to mobilize Nov. 30, which marks the 12-year anniversary of the protests that effectively disrupted the meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle. Organizers in Phoenix want to reclaim that spirit and attempt to shut down the meeting and expose ALEC.

“This is an issue that ties us all together. They (ALEC) are the epitome of all the really bad people we are fighting on so many fronts,” Marie said.

The loose coalition of several Phoenix and Tucson based groups, including Occupy Phoenix, are calling for a diversity of tactics in order to further expose ALEC and shut down the meeting.

Although ALEC has nine task forces that draft legislation concerning everything from energy policy to education to health and human services, a big concern for protestors in Arizona are ALEC’s ties to the private prison system. The two biggest private prison firms in the United States, Corrections Corporation of America and the Geo Group, are influential members and ALEC has been key in putting more people in prison and therefore leaving the prison industry with huge profits.

Geo Group President Wayne Calabrese identified immigrant detention as their next big market, according to the 2010 NPR report. Arizona SB 1070 and the 13 states that have since proposed copycat versions of the strict law put a lot more immigrants under lock and key in facilities that are increasingly privately owned.

ALEC also has been traced to the source of “three strikes” laws in California, “truth in sentencing” laws which aim to decrease the possibility for parole of incarcerated individuals and the Prison Industries Act, a 1995 law that opened up prison labor to the private sector in Texas and since has been replicated in 26 other states.

The City of Scottsdale Police Department has no public plans for security at the States and Nation Policy Summit, and said they did not know the event was happening.

“We don’t know anything about that,” said Sargent Mark Clark. If the organizers expected protests, they would request security from the department, but if the police were doing security, it would not be public information, he said.

Several protests are planned around the city during the meeting, which have been scheduled from Nov. 30 until Dec. 2. Although the protest plans have been in the works since before the start of the Occupy movement, the organizers hope to build off the energy around the occupations, which have seen thousands take to streets of cities across the United States and the world, decrying corporate greed and the growing division between rich and poor.

“The Occupy movement is convenient for us because everyone involved in ALEC is in the one percent,” Marie said. “It’s been a really great place for us to connect with a lot of people who feel the same way about corporations, the people who hold all the power and all these oppressive forces that affect all of our lives.”

The media office at ALEC ‘s Washington, D.C. headquarters could not be reached for comment.

--leila peachtree

leila peachtree is a reporter for The Precarious.

Sun sets on Chuck Ryan at ADC Legislative Review.

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Above is the recording of public speakers;

*** Here is the link from the full report and committee meeting ***

I made it to the early part of this meeting yesterday, which was a joint session of the Senate Committee on Public Safety and the House Judiciary Committee. The purpose of the meeting was to receive the Auditor General's Sunset Review of the Arizona Department of Corrections - a process which poses the question as to whether the institution is serving the public and rehabilitating offenders as it is intended to, or whether it is an ineffective waste and should be abolished.

"Established by Laws 1978, Chapter 210, Arizona’s sunset review process requires the Legislature to periodically review the purpose and functions of state agencies to determine whether continuation, revision, consolidation or termination is warranted. Sunset reviews are based on audits conducted by either the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) or a Committee of Reference (COR). Following the audit, a public hearing is held by the COR to discuss the audit and receive testimony from agency officials and the public."

I didn't expect the department to be abolished, of course, but felt it was important to be there anyway. Unfortunately, I learned of this last minute so did a poor job getting folks out for the public hearing section. I was able to log in some of my written comments, for the record, but had to leave before the floor was open to the rest of us to speak. Several folks remained long enough to raise the matter of medical neglect, at least, according to this Cronkite news report below. I don't know if anyone mentioned the high suicide and assault rates, or the fact that the ACLU National Prison Project is about to file a class action lawsuit seeking an injunction to immediately improve the level of medical and mental health care in AZ prisons. It was the matter of security at the private prisons that dominated, though, due to the Kingman escape last summer.

Listening to ADC Director Chuck Ryan give his spiel about how great a job they're doing and how noble his employees are made me more angry with the legislature for failing to do oversight than with him - I expect to hear that kind of propaganda from him. Had I been able to speak, I would have recited the names and stories of the prisoners who died unnecessarily in his custody...perhaps I'll have to save that for another time. I certainly didn't expect that anything I or others might say would result in the abolition of the AZ Department of Corrections.

July 2011 Artwalk: Phoenix, AZ

What was covered by the AG's report, at least, were recommendations for alternatives to adding more prison beds, support for a sentencing commission to review prison alternatives and sentencing reform, and a reassertion of the expectation that a complete cost-analysis is done on the pros and cons of contracting with private prisons before the state proceeds to do more (which the Quakers are having to sue to get compliance on).

But those are just recommendations - I believe it is up to the discretion of the ADC director as to how to proceed, and I haven't seen either of these committees show much leadership in making performance demands of Director Ryan - who not only runs his own ship, but steps in the way of efforts made by our good Rep. Cecil Ash to assemble a sentencing review commission by promoting propaganda designed to frighten ignorant politicians and the public into favoring mass incarceration. If Chuck Ryan and his cronies on the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission threw their support behind Rep. Ash's sentencing commission bill (HB 2664) last session, it would have easily passed the house and senate and been signed into law. Instead the judiciary committee wouldn't even bother to hear it.

As things stand at present, it's entirely up to the ADC Director to study and implement report recommendations for alternatives to incarceration, such as early release for low-risk prisoners, community-based programs for drug and alcohol offenders, build more capacity to have prisoners on home-arrest, and so on. Ryan, unfortunately, has consistently articulated and demonstrated his contempt for prisoners and their families through his policy changes, and that his philosophy for corrections is simply punishment by incarcerating as many people as possible for as long as possible, during which time they have scant opportunities to participate in substance abuse treatment, vocational rehabilitation, mental health, or educational programs (many were abruptly dismantled when he took over).

Anticipating continuing criticisms about deaths in his custody this time, Director Ryan did proudly announce that in the course of two months the department has trained over 8,000 employees in suicide prevention...but that just leaves me wondering how good such mass training in such a short a period of time can possibly be. They train them all in first aid every year, but corrections officers have repeatedly failed to use those skills to prevent the loss of life - as in Tony Lester's and Dana Seawright's cases, when guards just stood passively around watching those young men choke on blood as they were dying. The closest they seem to come to touching a suicide or homicide victim is practicing their CPR on prisoners who are already dead or very near death.

Still grossly lacking from the AZ legislature is a commitment to provide meaningful, ongoing oversight of the Department of Corrections. They seem to be in denial of (or ignorant of) the impending class action suit against them, and of the real shortcomings of leadership that have resulted in arguably thew most horrendous prison conditions in Arizona in the past three decades. They are oblivious or indifferent, it appears, that by failing to keep on top of matters in their own house, they have forced prisoners, their families and advocates to seek help from outside entities - from the ACLU and Amnesty International to the media to the FBI - to investigate their poor conditions and high rates of violence and suicide.

If the state legislature had been conducting oversight all along, lives like Tony Lester's and Dana Seawright's may have been saved despite the incompetence of this administration. Unfortunately, nothing that comes out of this hearing yesterday is likely to stop the prisoner body count from continuing to grow. The rising tide of violence under Chuck Ryan's administration will similarly take a greater toll on ADC employees, who voices are also silenced here. At least two ADC employees have already taken their lives on prison grounds under his administration - one at Perryville, soon after the death of Marcia Powell, and one at Yuma this summer. God knows how many more have died more quietly that way, or have been seriously injured from assaults already as well.

The following are the legislators on the respective committees that heard the auditors' Sunset Review; though not all were present yesterday, all are nevertheless responsible. These are the legislators we should be addressing further concerns about the prisons to, and holding accountable for the consequences of failing to form a sub-committee which would take testimony from prisoners, families and advocates, recommend and empower the department to make reforms, and provide closer legislative oversight of the ADC. Instead of orchestrating meaningful prison reform from within, the state has now set up a situation where changes will have to be ordered by the federal court system - sadly, that is only likely to make a difference after more prisoners and staff lose their lives...

House of Representatives Standing Committee


Cecil P. Ash

Tom Chabin

Eddie Farnsworth

Doris Goodale

Albert Hale
Jack W. Harper
David Burnell Smith
Anna Tovar
Ted Vogt

Public Safety and Human Services

Senate Standing Committee

Nancy Barto
Rich Crandall
Linda Gray
Leah Landrum Taylor
Linda Lopez
Rick Murphy

Monday, November 21, 2011

AZ Department of Corrections' Auditor General Sunset Review

Some of the women prisoners who have died from suicide and/or gross neglect
under the current administration, since January 2009.

Memorial at appx. 1017 N. 1st Street, Phoenix AZ
(November 18, 2011)

On Tuesday, November 22, in Senate Hearing Room 1 there will be a hearing on the Sunset Review conducted by the
Arizona Auditor General on the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC). This is the third in a three part series of reports on the ADC. The links to the reports are below:

Department of Corrections—Sunset Factors (September 2011, Report No. 11-08)

Department of Corrections—Oversight of Security Operations (September 2011, Report No. 11-07)

Department of Corrections—Prison Population Growth (September 2010, Report No. 10-08)

The most recent report covering sunset factors addresses whether or not the ADC is meeting the needs of the public or should be dissolved. Of course, the department is not about to be dissolved. The report contains some fascinating information about how different departments are staffed and what mandates the ADC is expected to follow on everything from assuring fair pricing schedules for prisoners purchasing from prison stores/concessions to the recommendation that the ADC assures that the privatization of services yields a cost-benefit to the state without compromising on public safety, as noted here on page 21:

"Going forward, potential privatization areas should be carefully evaluated to ensure the benefits of contracting outweigh the costs. Information from the other states auditors interviewed point to the importance of evaluating the costeffectiveness of privatizing a service or function versus performing the service or function in house. For example, a North Carolina official indicated that the state no longer contracts for prison maintenance or private prison beds largely because it cost more to contract for these services than for its corrections department to perform them. Security issues were also a factor in eliminating North Carolina’s contract for private prison beds. Similarly, the September 2010 Office of the Auditor General report on prison population growth recommended that the Legislature consider directing the Department to further study and analyze the costs for the State to build and operate prisons compared to contracting with private prisons to determine which option would be more cost-effective while still ensuring public safety (see Report No 10-08)."

Presently, the ADC is being sued (see statement from the ASPC-Tucson on this matter) to assure it completes an investigation and report demonstrating that the proposals to privatize 5,000 new prison beds would in fact save the state money before awarding those contracts - though they have delayed the decision to award private prison contracts until at least December 22, 2011.

Prior ADC studies comparing the cost of state-run vs privately run prisons show that private prisons actually cost more to operate - and that's not even considering the cost of the security lapses that allowed three prisoners to escape from ASP-Kingman in August 2010. The cost of that private prison failure included an extensive, nationwide manhunt and the lives of an elderly couple. Unbelievably, despite the escape, Arizona was expected to pay MTC, the prison operator, for it's empty beds in the aftermath.

Also of interest in the report is the re-assertion of the mission of the AZ Department of Corrections:

"The Department’s statutory purpose is to serve as the correctional program for the State and to provide staff and administration relating to the institutionalization, rehabilitation, and community supervision functions of all adult offenders. Consistent with its statutory purpose, the Department’s mission is “to serve and protect the people of Arizona by securely incarcerating convicted felons, by providing structured programming designed to support inmate accountability and successful community reintegration, and by providing effective supervision for those offenders conditionally released from prison.”"

The Department has five goals in carrying out this mission:

•" To maintain effective custody and control over inmates in an environment that is safe, secure, and humane.
• To require inmate participation in self-improvement programming opportunities and services, including work, education, substance abuse treatment, sex offender treatment, and spiritual access designed to prepare inmates to be responsible citizens upon release.
• To provide cost-effective constitutionally mandated correctional healthcare.
• To maintain effective community supervision of offenders, facilitate their successful transition from prison to the community, and return offenders when necessary to prison to protect the public.
• To provide leadership direction, resource management, and support for department employees to enable the Department to serve and protect the people of the State of Arizona and to provide comprehensive victim services and victim–focused restorative justice programs that hold offenders accountable."

I do not see that the Auditor General has evaluated how "safe" or "humane" the environment is in which prisoners are kept, or how well the department's medical care meets constitutional guidelines. In fact, the suicide rate under the current administration has doubled, and assaults and homicides have skyrocketed - suggesting that the most fortified and well-funded law enforcement agency in this state can't keep their own prisoners safe. The ACLU National Prison Project and the Prison Law Office have been investigating the ADC and are also poised to sue the state over serious deficiencies in the ADC's medical and mental health care, which fails to meet constitutional standards of care.

Furthermore, when Ryan took over, many of the prisoner's rehabilitative programs were eliminated - including one that trained prisoners to be suicide prevention aides. A number of those that were eliminated were prisoner-run and low-cost. Nothing suggests that the ADC's remaining programs and policies are currently modeled to be consistent with evidence-based practice in the field of corrections - which would yield far better outcomes in re: both staff and prisoner safety, the culture of the prisons, and actual rehabilitation and recidivism rates.

Rather, major decisions appear to be made based on the director's personal biases (which are hostile to prisoners, their families, and prisoner-run programs as evidenced by new fees for medical care and visitation approval, gouging of families for phone calls, resistance to early-release programs or sentencing reform, and elimination of effective and empowering rehabilitative programming). Director Ryan justifies his actions by perpetuating propaganda and public myths such as
privatization saves money, that early release would compromise public safety because the vast majority of AZ prisoners are repeat and violent offenders (even though over 15,000 prisoners are so "safe" that they're rated as minimum security), that the ADC provides meaningful rehabilitation programs, and that lower crime rates depend on maintaining high incarceration rates (which they do not).

The AZ Auditor General's office appears to give the ADC a passing grade, nonetheless, and - not surprisingly - doesn't call for the department's dissolution. In light of the horrendous lack of medical and psychiatric care for prisoners, and in the wake of highly preventable suicides, grisly homicides, and escalating overall violence under his watch, however, there remains a huge call in the community for Director Chuck Ryan to be removed from his post or step down... and those particular calls are coming from people who have worked for him.

Anyone wishing to echo a demand for Ryan's resignation or to submit complaints about the way our billion dollars are being spent by the AZ Department of Corrections should contact Governor Brewer's office here or by snail mail here:

The Honorable Janice K. Brewer, Arizona Governor / Executive Tower / 1700 West Washington Street / Phoenix, AZ 85007

Please cc all copies of correspondence on the matter to myself , Peggy Plews (, or to AZ Republic reporter Bob Ortega by email at: He can also be reached via snail mail at:

The Arizona Republic Newsroom/ 200 E. Van Buren St. / Mail Code NM19/ Phoenix, AZ 85004.


Citizens may order full printed copies of the 2011 Auditor General's Reports on the Department of Corrections from:

Report Orders
Arizona Auditor General
2910 N. 44th Street, Ste. 410
Phoenix, AZ 85018

Please include your complete return address as well as the report name and number you are requesting.

You may also fax this information to 602-553-0051.

All reports are also available from the Arizona Department of Library, Archives and Public Records.

If you need help, please call 602-553-0333 or e-mail the Webmaster.

To the 99%: Wake Up! Corporate Welfare reigns in Arizona...

While the rest of us are now taxed for food to fund our schools and pay our firemen, and hundreds of thousands of Arizonans have been cut off of AHCCCS, these jokers slide right on by....So whose interest is our legislature and governor acting in, if not ours?

-----------------from the Arizona Republic-------------

Arizona tax cuts greatly benefit corporations

Every year, about two of every three Arizona corporations pay almost no state income tax.

But that hasn't deterred the state from cutting business taxes for two decades and now embarking on more generous tax breaks in coming years.

The tax cuts reflect a strategy by lawmakers to lure other businesses to Arizona, especially high-tech ones, by lowering the costs of doing business here to better compete with other states.

graphic Interactive graphic: Shrinking tax bill | Tax quiz

But the corporate gains may come at a price. Unless enough new businesses arrive, the declining share of corporate taxes could require individual taxpayers to pay more or the state to slow its spending amid persistent population growth.

The Arizona Republic examined 15 years of state corporate income tax data, legislative tax records, tax court cases, committee reports and figures on state business tax credits. Among the key findings:

Each year, anywhere from just under two-thirds to nearly three-fourths of Arizona businesses that file state income tax returns pay only a token amount, the $50 minimum. Those include successful firms that use deductions and credits to entirely erase their profits, giving them no taxable income. Many others are small companies that just lose money. This trend has held true each year through good times and bad, from at least 1994 through 2008.

Arizona's corporate income tax rate is set to fall by 30 percent from 2014 to 2017 and could end up one of the lowest in the nation. The decrease will save businesses an estimated $270 million in taxes over the four years. That's greater than the amount cut by lawmakers from K-12 education and Arizona State University in this year's budget.

The state gives national companies one of the nation's most generous methods for calculating how much income is subject to state income tax. Changes to that formula were made in 2005 at the urging of Intel Corp. and other companies and business groups. The changes have already sliced state revenue by more than $86 million. New changes to the formula could cost the state another $84 million by 2018.

Use of corporate tax credits in Arizona has soared since 1994. The state now offers more than two dozen credits aimed at growing or attracting certain industries. More than half the $80 million in annual credits goes to businesses that make large profits, nearly all based outside the state. The state has approved new business credits worth about $55 million.

The issue of who pays taxes, and how much, has sparked a heated debate across the country as states and the federal government struggle with cutbacks in services, joblessness and mounting debt. In Washington, there have been calls to hike taxes and eliminate subsidies for certain industries, countered by warnings that any tax increases will hurt the economy.

Later this week, a 12-member congressional "super-committee" must submit its plan to save at least $1.2 trillion in the federal budget over the next decade. The prospects for a deal continue to dim as both sides refuse to budge on whether to raise taxes.

In Arizona, lawmakers have acted. During the downturn, they approved more tax cuts for corporations and grudgingly sent to voters a proposal to temporarily raise the sales tax, paid mostly by consumers. Voters overwhelmingly approved it. Most of the business tax cuts take effect after the tax hike expires, raising concerns that the state could face a new round of budget cuts at that time.

The state also has cut individual income taxes over two decades, which benefits not only consumers but thousands of business owners who pay their corporate taxes through their individual tax returns.

Tax cuts, however, can create a dilemma for the state when economic and population growth stagnate.

"Any (state) tax cut has to be paid for at the state level," said Matthew Gardner, executive director of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a Washington, D.C., think tank that advocates for tax fairness. "States don't have the luxury of running up deficits over time as the feds have done consistently. You have to think of the economic impact of the spending cuts, if that's what you're going to do, or the other tax hikes that are going to be required."

Why tax businesses?

The federal government and most states tax businesses because, like individuals, companies use public services.

They depend on schools for an educated workforce. They receive law enforcement protection. Roads and bridges, airports and water systems enable commerce. Businesses depend on courts to enforce contracts and resolve disputes.

But the share of taxes that businesses pay is lower than it was decades ago. The nation competes in a tougher global economy and states compete with each other. The most profitable corporations pay a 35 percent federal tax rate, lower than in the mid-1980s but still one of the highest among industrialized nations.

Many companies avoid paying the top rates by using deductions, credits and various loopholes to whittle away tax bills. In some years, major companies pay little or no federal income taxes. Because most state tax forms derive from the federal one, that often means they pay little in state tax as well. A recent study by an advocacy group found that 30 corporations paid no federal taxes from 2008 to 2010. Among them were General Electric, Honeywell International, Boeing, Verizon Communications and Wells Fargo. The companies denied paying no taxes and said the study ignored deferred taxes.

At the state level, some watchdog groups warn of a "race to the bottom." States keep cutting corporate tax rates in an effort to leapfrog each other and attract or keep new or growing businesses. States have heaped tax credits and other breaks into the mix as well.

Arizona has been doing this for two decades.

Its corporate income tax rate used to be graduated, so the more profits a company made, the higher the rate it paid. The top rate peaked at 10.5 percent in 1974. In 1990, Arizona changed to a flat tax of 9.3 percent, and the rate has been declining since. It stands at just under 7 percent and, under legislation approved this year, will fall to 4.9 percent by 2017.

Arizona is generally regarded as friendly for commerce, according to many measures. Citing everything from low unemployment insurance to the lack of franchise and inventory taxes, Arizona touts itself as a low-cost place to do business.

Last year the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan research group that generally supports low taxes, ranked Arizona 22nd best for all corporate taxes and sixth for all property taxes. One exception is the business property tax rate, which is considered relatively high but now is set to drop in coming years. Chief Executive magazine ranks the state 13th best for business, citing its favorable taxation and regulation climate.

Will cuts yield jobs?

With falling tax rates, Arizona has aggressively pitched itself as a low-cost place to do business.

Some lawmakers and experts say the new tax breaks strengthen that message.

Kevin McCarthy, president of the Arizona Tax Research Association, a nonprofit group that promotes government efficiency, said cutting corporate taxes enhances the state's appeal at a time when a weak economy pushes states to compete more to attract businesses.

The cost of corporate tax cuts to the state will be less than estimated, McCarthy said, because they will cause new businesses to spring up and others to locate here. He noted those benefits are hard to quantify.

"Those (revenue losses) are going to be offset at some level. How much? Who knows?" McCarthy said.

He also believes Arizona shouldn't levy any corporate income tax at all because the tax "is extraordinarily volatile and becoming more and more problematic." The corporate taxes collected each year can swing widely, making it hard to project budgets. One reason for this is the fact that while there are about 50,000 corporate filers annually, more than half the state's revenue from this group comes from about 100 businesses.

For decades, some economists have asserted that business tax cuts free up money that companies then use to create jobs and invest in operations. The benefits to businesses trickle down to all residents, the theory says. States also seek trickle-down effects by offering tax and other incentives for companies to locate here.

But the evidence for the payoffs is mixed.

In Arizona, proponents can point to the fact that as taxes were being cut over the last two decades, Arizona consistently outpaced the nation in job growth. That was especially true in the 1990s, when the national economy was booming.

Between 1990 and 2000, Arizona's workforce grew by 53 percent, compared with 21 percent nationally. Between 2000 and 2011, the nation's workforce shrank by nearly 2 percent, while Arizona added a net 6 percent.

On the other hand, tax cuts didn't prevent Arizona's economy from being among the hardest hit in the Great Recession.

When the recession began in December 2007, Arizona's unemployment rate stood at 4.1 percent and the nation's at 5 percent. Recent figures show Arizona's jobless rate is 9.1 percent and the nation's is 9.0 percent.

Tax cuts also didn't prevent the state's median household income from falling faster than the country's during the downturn, U.S. Census figures indicate.

Nationally, median income dropped 6.2 percent from the 2007 peak to 2010, the latest period available. In Arizona, it fell 10.7 percent. The state's median income also remains below the national average, as it has since at least 1969. In 2010, Arizona's was $46,789, compared with $50,046 for the nation.

Impact on services

Many business leaders who favor tax cuts say the state's competitiveness hinges on more than low taxes.

Skilled workers, good schools, quality roads and the like are critical.

Business and civic leaders often wring their hands over K-12 education, an area where Arizona's reputation lags.

On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or the "Nation's Report Card," the state's 4th and 8th graders score below the national average overall in math, reading and science. Four out of five high-school graduates here do not have a college degree six years after leaving high school, a study released last year by the Arizona Board of Regents found.

Such measures suggest the state faces tough choices when weighing tax cuts against the need to improve government-paid services.

Margaret Mullen, chief operating officer for Science Foundation Arizona, said her organization favored the state's reductions in business taxes this year because the cuts will help attract high-tech jobs. But a larger concern is the state's commitment to a high-quality education system, she said. She did not take a position on whether spending on education should be increased.

Mullen said Arizona loses more business activity because of its below-average education system than its tax rates.

"The single largest industry in Arizona is aerospace and defense," Mullen said. "If we lose one of these bases because we don't have the educated workforce, a lot of these companies that we're depending on - Raytheon, Boeing and others - could go with them."

Karen McLaughlin, of the Children's Action Alliance, which advocates for improved health and education for children, said tax cuts have an easier path in the Legislature than tax hikes because they require a majority vote. A tax increase requires a two-thirds majority. The one tax that passed was the voter-approved sales-tax hike, which she said disproportionately hits lower-income families.

"We have a whole host of problems (in the state)," she said. "We keep cutting, cutting, cutting, but we don't do anything to add back in. The only ones who added anything are the voters."

Friday, November 18, 2011

3 California hunger strikers commit suicide.

The following press release was posted yesterday at prisoner hunger strike solidarity: go to the site and show them some support.

Condolences to these men's loved ones.


Three Prisoners Die in Hunger Strike Related Incidents: CDCR Withholds Information from Family Members, Fails to Report Deaths

November 17, 2011
Press Contact: Isaac Ontiveros Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity

Oakland – In the month since the second phase of a massive prisoner hunger strike in California ended on September 22nd, three prisoners who had been on strike have committed suicide. Johnny Owens Vick and another prisoner were both confined in the Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit and Hozel Alanzo Blanchard was confined in the Calipatria Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU).

According to reports from prisoners who were housed in surrounding cells and who witnessed the deaths, guards did not come to the assistance of one of the prisoners at Pelican Bay or to Blanchard, and in the case of the Pelican Bay prisoner (whose name is being withheld for the moment) apparently guards deliberately ignored his cries for help for several hours before finally going to his cell, at which point he was already dead. “It is completely despicable that prison officials would willfully allow someone to take their own life,” said Dorsey Nunn, Executive Director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, “These guys were calling for help, their fellow prisoners were calling for help, and guards literally stood by and watched it happen.”

Family members of the deceased as well as advocates are having difficult time getting information about the three men and the circumstances of their deaths. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is required to do an autopsy is the cases of suspicious deaths and according to the Plata case, is required to do an annual report on every death in the system. Family members have said that their loved ones, as well as many other prisoners who participated in the hunger strike, were being severely retaliated against with disciplinary actions and threats. Blanchard’s family has said that he felt that his life was threatened and had two emergency appeals pending with the California Supreme Court at the time of his death.

“It is a testament to the dire conditions under which prisoners live in solitary confinement that three people would commit suicide in the last month,” said Laura Magnani, Regional Director of the American Friends Service Committee, “It also points to the severe toll that the hunger strike has taken on these men, despite some apparent victories.” Prisoners in California’s SHUs and other forms of solitary confinement have a much higher rate of suicide than those in general population.

The hunger strike, which at one time involved the participation of at least 12,000 prisoners in 13 state prisons was organized around five core demands relating to ending the practices of group punishment, long-term solitarily confinement, and gang validation and debriefing. The CDCR has promised changes to the gang validation as soon as early next year and were due to have a draft of the new for review this November, although it’s not known whether that process is on schedule. “If the public and legislators don’t continue to push CDCR, they could easily sweep all of this under the rug,” said Emily Harris, statewide coordinator Californians United for a Responsible Budget, “These deaths are evidence that the idea of accountability is completely lost on California’s prison officials.”

Thursday, November 17, 2011

ALEC Exposed: Democracy Now!!!

Excellent overview of corporate lobbying organization ALEC's (American Legislative Exchange Council) insidious influence on legislation across the country over the past 40 years. They are meeting at Kierland Commons in Scottsdale from November 29-December 3: a national call-out to resist them has been issued - tune into for information on protests and demonstrations.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Criminalization of Phoenix's Homeless continues...

Thanks to Len at Occupy Phoenix for spotting this article and calling it what it is: well-timed propaganda. The title and subheader say it all: on the surface the Phoenix Police are "helping the homeless", but their real duty is to keep the park - and all public areas in town - clear of the very poor, lest they mess up our landscape. That means they pack them into our jails if they won't go to designated shelters or be kept in corrals (like the lot used for shelter "overflow" at CASS). Try being homeless for a week or two, and see how quickly you rack up criminal charges if you don't stay in those out-of-sight, out-of-mind often-abusive places we've designated for the homeless to legally exist. You, too, will be referred to Parascandola's office for special prosecution for "non-compliance"...beginning to sound like 1984?

This article comes, not surprisingly, as Occupy Phoenix challenges the Phoenix Camping Ordinance, enacted to give cops more tools to hassle and control the movements of people without homes.
Some citizen groups in the community (like Require the Prior) have been actively working to make violations of statutes like this affecting homeless people and families into felonies so these dangerous "career criminals" who brazenly sleep in public can be given even more serious penalties. Please check out their website for their full agenda - they purport to be defending the homeless from the "cultural crime" that the REAL bad guys perpetrate against them by posing as homeless people and giving them all a bad name. These are the folks that joined the Phoenix PD in their dog and pony show this summer arguing against the budget cuts recommended by the Berkshire report. The PPD meetings I attended about those proposed cuts were packed with the same pro-police advocates from Require the Prior representing themselves as THE "grassroots" community response urging that regardless of whether crime is up or down in Phoenix, we need more police - especially the ones who are serving, in essence, as social workers (the people we should really be employing to "help" the poor and homeless, not cops).

At the Occupy Phoenix HQ in Cesar Chavez Plaza these past few weeks the cops have been targeting the most vulnerable guests and members of OP for citation and arrest - most often those who have no place else to sleep all day, and seek refuge when exhausted where they may be least likely to be assaulted or robbed when they lay down their heads.
They are least able to afford the cost of tickets and most likely to pay with their time if they can't produce satisfactory Arizona state identification (the Phoenix PD wrings their hands and claim that without in-state ID they HAVE to book violators into jail instead of issue citations so they can be properly identified - which means EVERYONE in Arizona should be subject to the violence of arrest over minor infractions if we don't carry our papers at all times - not just the homeless and suspected undocumented immigrants who the public doesn't care about inconveniencing). Is this the kind of policing this town needs so much that we have to tax food purchases? Is this what is supposed to keep our city "safe"?

I've been supporting activists with Phoenix Homeless Rising (go read their report) in their efforts to abolish the camping ordinance for the past year, but it wasn't until I saw 4 Phoenix Police actually take a homeless woman to jail this weekend for peacefully sleeping that it really sunk in how cruel and absurd it is to make sleeping a crime deserving of arrest and incarceration. It reflects extremely poorly on the inhumanity and pettiness of the police, the city government, and the business community in Phoenix - as well as Require the Prior type groups who claim to represent the interests of the more deserving citizenry in our town. The shelters and "overflow" lots are full and dangerous, leaving thousands of people vulnerable to the elements, violence and arrest every night for simply existing. I believe it's time for Occupy Phoenix to begin to occupy vacant buildings - as other Occupies have done - and demand meaningful, safe options for our homeless brothers and sisters.
..jail is not it.


Phoenix police precincts work together to help homeless

Police precinct teams with community to keep park clear

When boundary lines for Phoenix Police Department precincts shifted last year, Mountain View Precinct inherited a problem.
Homeless people were crowding Margaret T. Hance Park -- previously part of the Central City Precinct -- and residents of nearby neighborhoods felt unsafe.
"Things just really got out of control," said park manager Brian Flanigan. The park, at Central Avenue and Culver Street, "almost looked like a campground at times," he said. "You'd be stepping over bodies."
The situation worsened when the parks department lost employees because of budget cuts, leaving parks such as Hance with minimal security, Flanigan said. And initial attempts by police at quick fixes, such as arrest sweeps, proved temporary. "Every now and then, we'll try a zero-tolerance approach, which will occasionally displace the problem," said Mountain View Commander Glen Gardner. "But one of the things we've recognized as a department is that you can't arrest your way out of most problems. A lot of these issues have deep-rooted social causes, and that's where it becomes really important to ... come up with a solution that's long-term."
About two months ago, precinct officials decided to try a more individualized approach. The effort, part of Phoenix's Street Crime Reduction Program, focuses arrests on career criminals and repeat offenders while connecting others who are simply down on their luck to appropriate local resources.
Mountain View Officer Rusty Stuart, who has studied Phoenix homeless populations for years and successfully implemented a similar effort at Steele Indian School Park, was a natural fit to head the Hance Park initiative, Gardner said. Area volunteers and employees from city departments such as parks, law and human services also have pledged their support.
The situation at Hance is unique not only because of the sheer number of homeless people who gather there, but also because of the diversity of the park's homeless population, according to Stuart and other city officials.
"Every now and then, we'll have an individual who is a real bad guy, and we're able to put together a case to show he has no intention of changing his lifestyle," Gardner said. "But other people are out there just because of mental illnesses or economic circumstances."
Human-services caseworker Jessica Miley is the primary contact for the second group of people, many of whom have initially been hesitant to trust her, she said.
"Some of these people have been lost in the system and have been on the streets 10, 20 years," Miley said. "They're like 'Oh, I've been told that before. I've been promised that before. Everybody keeps telling me and nobody does anything.' "
Since getting involved at Hance, Miley has referred more than 20 people to temporary housing and other resources, working as a go-between for homeless people, their former and potential employers, housing officials and others.
"I set aside time for initial meetings, and I also take them to a Social Security appointment, a doctor's appointment, that sort of thing," she said. "I'll start with getting them documentation that's going to be required to apply for things or benefits and move from there. I'll go through all the necessary channels to get to our clients off the street."
Stuart and Miley often turn to local church groups and other faith-based volunteers for temporary assistance -- a significant departure from officers' relationship with such volunteers in the past.
"I reached out to the church groups that were coming here instead of doing what we'd traditionally have to do -- kick them out of the park," Stuart said. "We've put together this whole coalition of churches that are very involved. Bible Baptist Church is kind of heading it up. They have a kitchen, showers, a huge gymnasium, a living space for temporary housing. We're looking at expanding that, doing the work that needs to be done to get the space up to code."
And for those homeless people "who just won't stop, won't listen, won't take the services offered and continue to break the law," community prosecutor Barbara Parascandola is standing by.
Parascandola, with the city prosecutor's office, has been assigned to handle issues with repeat offenders, defined as people with five related arrests in the last year.
So far, only one person has been referred to Parascandola.
Though development of the effort at Hance Park is still in progress, Mountain View is already looking at using a similar approach at other parks.
Stuart was recently assigned a partner, and together they are designing a training program so police officers can implement the approach in other parts of town.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Occupy Oakland: "They have come for the city I love..."

Resistance Alley, Phoenix
June 2011

Blessings to our brothers and sisters in Oakland this morning, bracing for another police raid. This stunning poem was written there; I discovered it this weekend in the Nov 2 Occupy Phoenix zine "Phoenix Fire".


by Shailja Patel

(Un)occupy Oakland: An Open Source Love Poem


They have come for the city I love

city of taco trucks, wetlands reclaimed
water fowl with attitude, gutted
neighborhoods, city of toxic
waste dumps and the oldest wildlife refuge
in North America.
City owned by spirits
of Ohlone, home
to the international treaty
council, inter-tribal friendship house

in which I love and work, make art,
dance, share food, cycle dark streets at 2am
wind in my face, ecstasy
pumping my pedals.

City where women make family
with women
men with men
picnic in parks with their children
walk strollers through streets.

City that birthed the Black Panthers
who took on the state
with the deadliest of arsenals:
free breakfast for children, free clinics,
grocery giveaways, shoemaking
senior transport, bussing to prisons
legal aid.

City where homicide rate for black men
rivals that of US soldiers in combat.

City where I have walked precincts
rung doorbells, learned that real
is street by street, house by house
get the money out and
get the people in.

City of struggling libraries
50-year old indie bookshops
temples to Oshun, Kali-Ma, Kwan Yin.

City where Marx, Boal,
Bhaktin, Freire are taught
next to tattoo shops
bike collectives rub shoulders
with sex shops, marijuana
dispensaries snuggle banks

City of pho, kimchee, platanos, nopales
of injera, tom kha gai, braised goat,
nabeyaki udon, houmous and chaat,
of dim sum and wheatgrass and chicken-n-waffles.

City of capoiera and belly-dance,
martial arts, punk rock, hip-hop,
salsa, bachata, tango
city of funk and blues and jazz.

City that shut down for 52 hours
in 1946, dragged jukeboxes
into the streets, jammed
to “Pistol-Packin’ Mama” for the rights
of 400 female store clerks
to fair wages and unions.

City of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union,
who refused for a record 10 days
in 1984 to unload a ship from South Africa
in the world’s 4th largest port
faced down million dollar fines.

City of nail parlours, hair brokers, tarot dens
nano-tech, biotech, startups
women-owned auto shops
gondolas on a lake fruity
with sewage, magical
with lights.

City of one-hundred-twenty-five
freaking languages
the most ethnically diverse
in the USA.

Here on the shores of a lake
where all the waters, fresh and salt
of history and revolution mingle
they have come for the city I love.


They have come for the people I love
butch dykes and tranny boys
trans men and drag queens
the two-spirit, gender-queer
dreadlocked and pierced
dancers and drummers
unionists stevedores
copwatchers carpenters
labor historians bodyworkers
scholars shamans jugglers
welders mechanics plumbers
painters truckdrivers fruitpickers
immigrant activists hemp weavers
raw-fooders rollerbladers
bikers builders engineers
wheelchair warriors war resisters
musicians journalists co-op creators
bakers of bread, growers of food
reclaimers of contaminated soil
cleaners of polluted waterways
teachers nurses healers
layers of pipe and cable, strippers of asbestos
urban farmers scientists union organizers
radical lawyers artists

the ones who know that making a movement
is a life’s work; know
how to go limp when arrested; how
to eat from the land, make
cities beautiful, livable; heal
without surgery, drugs; raise
a child without violence.

They have come for my people
with military helicopters, armored
vehicles, with rubber bullets, teargas
with flash-bang grenades and gratuitous
destruction, police bussed in
from 17 departments outside Oakland
with pepper spray and sticks
with 40mm canisters aimed
to fracture skulls, they have come
for the people I love.


They have come for the dream that we dreamed
a city of parks and libraries
Jingletown Art Murmur
First Fridays Sistahs
Steppin’ In Pride
Bay Area Solidarity Summer
Women’s Cancer Resource Center
Pueblo Community Health
Destiny Arts, Food Justice
a city of Refuge, a city
of safe streets, where migrants
walk unafraid, vibrant schools
food co-ops in every ‘hood

for the people, yoga
for the people, power
to the people, books
not bars, living wage green
jobs not jails
clean air and water
public healthcare, public transport
urban farms on every block
children making art and science and music
adults making home, community.

Tonight, last night, the night before
the helicopters roared
at 4am, a pack
of jackals in the sky, snarled
contempt at all that lives and grows
desecrated sunrise.


A thousand candles. Look
she who was thrown out
of her wheelchair by the police,
illuminated. See
the ones with the wrist casts, dressings
on wounds, eyes rinsed of teargas
with camomile tea, watch
the street medics check their supplies
mediators earth the rage, watch
how we labor
at strategy, technique, dialogue
at race, class, gender, disability
at coalition-building, at complexity
conversation by careful
conversation. Watch us

See us
fifty, sixty-thousand strong
wave on wave
rolled two miles back
from Port of Oakland, carnival
of joyous justice ¿De
quién son las calles? ¡Son nuestras
las calles!

there under the jeer
of the low-circling ‘copter, three
generations of hijabi women
do yoga asanas
on the straw floor
of Frank Ogawa - Oscar Grant plaza.

They have come
for the city I love
for the people I love
and the people I love
and the city I love

by Shailja Patel

Friday, November 11, 2011

Starhawk et al: Occupy organizing and nonviolence

Brief but decent discussion of nonviolence and "Occupy" organizing, as posted to the Alternet Blogs and Tikkun Daily. It's a little curt and dismissive re: "diversity of tactics" - I'll post something on that another time, though. I went to a condensed workshop on Kingian nonviolence yesterday at Occupy Phoenix. The following seems to articulate how I've consistently heard most Occupy members say they want to be organizing together...useful to keep in mind for the N30 ALEC Conference as well.

---------from Alternet-----------


Crossposted on Tikkun Daily.

by Starhawk, Lisa Fithian, and Lauren Ross (from the Alliance of Community Trainers)

Long Island Rose / Creative Commons

The Occupy movement has had enormous successes in the short time since September when activists took over a square near Wall Street. It has attracted hundreds of thousands of active participants, spawned occupations in cities and towns all over North America, changed the national dialogue and garnered enormous public support. It’s even, on occasion, gotten good press!

Now we are wrestling with the question that arises again and again in movements for social justice – how to struggle. Do we embrace nonviolence, or a ‘diversity of tactics?’ If we are a nonviolent movement, how do we define nonviolence? Is breaking a window violent?

We write as a trainers’ collective with decades of experience, from the anti-Vietnam protests of the sixties through the strictly nonviolent antinuclear blockades of the seventies, in feminist, environmental and anti-intervention movements and the global justice mobilizations of the late ’90s and early ’00s. We embrace many labels, including feminist, anti-racist, eco-feminist and anarchist. We have many times stood shoulder to shoulder with black blocs in the face of the riot cops, and we’ve been tear-gassed, stun-gunned, pepper sprayed, clubbed, and arrested.

While we’ve participated in many actions organized with a diversity of tactics, we do not believe that framework is workable for the Occupy Movement. Setting aside questions of morality or definitions of ‘violence’ and ‘nonviolence’ – for no two people define ‘violence’ in the same way – we ask the question:

What framework can we organize in that will build on our strengths, allow us to grow, embrace a wide diversity of participants, and make a powerful impact on the world?

‘Diversity of tactics’ becomes an easy way to avoid wrestling with questions of strategy and accountability. It lets us off the hook from doing the hard work of debating our positions and coming to agreements about how we want to act together. It becomes a code for ‘anything goes,’ and makes it impossible for our movements to hold anyone accountable for their actions.

The Occupy movement includes people from a broad diversity of backgrounds, life experiences and political philosophies. Some of us want to reform the system and some of us want to tear it down and replace it with something better. Our one great point of agreement is our call for transparency and accountability. We stand against the corrupt institutions that broker power behind closed doors. We call to account the financial manipulators that have bilked billions out of the poor and the middle classes.

Just as we call for accountability and transparency, we ourselves must be accountable and transparent. Some tactics are incompatible with those goals, even if in other situations they might be useful, honorable or appropriate. We can’t be transparent behind masks. We can’t be accountable for actions we run away from. We can’t maintain the security culture necessary for planning and carrying out attacks on property and also maintain the openness that can continue to invite in a true diversity of new people. We can’t make alliances with groups from impacted communities, such as immigrants, if we can’t make agreements about what tactics we will employ in any given action.

The framework that might best serve the Occupy movement is one of strategic nonviolent direct action. Within that framework, Occupy groups would make clear agreements about which tactics to use for a given action. This frame is strategic – it makes no moral judgments about whether or not violence is ever appropriate, it does not demand we commit ourselves to a lifetime of Gandhian pacifism, but it says, ‘This is how we agree to act together at this time.’ It is active, not passive. It seeks to create a dilemma for the opposition, and to dramatize the difference between our values and theirs.

Strategic nonviolent direct action has powerful advantages:

We make agreements about what types of action we will take, and hold one another accountable for keeping them. Making agreements is empowering. If I know what to expect in an action, I can make a choice about whether or not to participate. While we can never know nor control how the police will react, we can make choices about what types of action we stand behind personally and are willing to answer for. We don’t place unwilling people in the position of being held responsible for acts they did not commit and do not support.

In the process of coming to agreements, we listen to each other’s differing viewpoints. We don’t avoid disagreements within our group, but learn to debate freely, passionately, and respectfully.

We organize openly, without fear, because we stand behind our actions. We may break laws in service to the higher laws of conscience. We don’t seek punishment nor admit the right of the system to punish us, but we face the potential consequences for our actions with courage and pride.

Because we organize openly, we can invite new people into our movement and it can continue to grow. As soon as we institute a security culture in the midst of a mass movement, the movement begins to close in upon itself and to shrink.

Holding to a framework of nonviolent direct action does not make us ’safe.’ We can’t control what the police do and they need no direct provocation to attack us. But it does let us make clear decisions about what kinds of actions we put ourselves at risk for.

Nonviolent direct action creates dilemmas for the opposition, and clearly dramatizes the difference between the corrupt values of the system and the values we stand for. Their institutions enshrine greed while we give away food, offer shelter, treat each person with generosity. They silence dissent while we value every voice. They employ violence to maintain their system while we counter it with the sheer courage of our presence.

Lack of agreements privileges the young over the old, the loud voices over the soft, the fast over the slow, the able-bodied over those with disabilities, the citizen over the immigrant, white folks over people of color, those who can do damage and flee the scene over those who are left to face the consequences.

Lack of agreements and lack of accountability leaves us wide open to provocateurs and agents. Not everyone who wears a mask or breaks a window is a provocateur. Many people clearly believe that property damage is a strong way to challenge the system. And masks have an honorable history from the anti-fascist movement in Germany and the Zapatista movement in Mexico, who said “We wear our masks to be seen.”

But a mask and a lack of clear expectations create a perfect opening for those who do not have the best interests of the movement at heart, for agents and provocateurs who can never be held to account. As well, the fear of provocateurs itself sows suspicion and undercuts our ability to openly organize and grow.

A framework of strategic nonviolent direct action makes it easy to reject provocation. We know what we’ve agreed to – and anyone urging other courses of action can be reminded of those agreements or rejected.

We hold one another accountable not by force or control, ours or the systems, but by the power of our united opinion and our willingness to stand behind, speak for, and act to defend our agreements.

A framework of strategic nonviolent direct action agreements allows us to continue to invite in new people, and to let them make clear choices about what kinds of tactics and actions they are asked to support.

There’s plenty of room in this struggle for a diversity of movements and a diversity of organizing and actions. Some may choose strict Gandhian nonviolence, others may choose fight-back resistance. But for the Occupy movement, strategic nonviolent direct action is a framework that will allow us to grow in diversity and power.

Heitzeg On State Violence, White Male Privilege, and “Occupy”

Great post addressing some of what I've been observing of late in the Occupy Phoenix movement. The author is Nancy A. Heitzeg, professor of sociology and race/ethnicity, posting at Critical Mass Progress. Tune in every Wednesday for their outstanding Criminal Injustice series.


CI: On State Violence, White Male Privilege, and “Occupy”
November 9, 2011

by Nancy A. Heitzeg

“I ain’t about to go get arrested with some muhfuhkuhs who just figured out yesterday that this shit ain’t right.”

quoted by Greg Tate in The Village Voice

Much has been written of late as to the “white maleness” of the “Occupy” Movement. The demographics of the participants, which varies from city to city, but which is consistently seen as predominately young white and male, not fully reflective of the “99%”. The language of “occupy” itself – this is the rhetoric of colonialism, conquest, imperialism, militarism, and well, “white” males. The class-based framing and the lack of intersectional analysis – it is difficult to undo “the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” by over-looking the centrality of white supremacy and patriarchy. The amorphous lack of specific demands, save that of attention – trust me, if my multi-race, multi-gendered, multi-sexuality crew and I are camping out in protest, in a public space at that, we know exactly what we are gonna ask for.

While the Occupy Movement may evolve and expand in new directions, form new coalitions, as of now, it is a movement dominated by “white” male privilege. And no where is this more telling than in the response to State violence against protesters, and in the absence of a critique of the political economy of the prison industrial complex.

In the aftermath of police actions in NYC, Oakland and elsewhere, some justifiable outrage and even more hyperbole abounded. Scott Olsen, the injured Iraq War veteran who galvanized Occupy Oakland critiques of police action, was described in various blog posts as “the Crispus Attucks of the movement”. Never mind that he is white. Or alive. A recent NYPD action that moved protesters off a public side – walk and resulted in 20 arrests was described by an observer as “the most egregious violation of Constitutional rights I have ever seen.”


Rodney King?? Oscar Grant?? Amadou Diallo?? Sean Bell?? Abner Louima?? Troy Davis??

How many millions more??

And where you been??

Perspectives on Police

“Those of us who do not have white skin are the most policed people on the planet. Oakland Police Department shoots unarmed black men, and takes white men who engage police in shootouts into custody alive.” Rich Ejire

A substantial literature documents the vast gulf in public perceptions of police between whites and communities of color. While whites often view the police as there to “protect and serve”, communities of color have long been clear that the police were there to in fact, police them. As Laurence Bobo observed in the midst of the Henry Louis Gates Jr affair:

For most blacks, this police-black citizen interaction is an acutely sensitive terrain. For many African Americans, it is a space marked by live wounds, personal and familial memories of injury and insult, and the heavy weight of group experience of injustice. For most whites, however, there is nothing so close, so profoundly emotion-laced or so fundamentally defined by an ascriptive feature such as one’s perceived racial background. It is, in short, a place where the Venn diagrams of white America and black America generally do not overlap…… It is that point of everyday interaction where race plays out in a face-to-face encounter. In particular, it involves the type of encounter involving respect for police authority on the one hand and, on the other hand, respect for the rights of citizens who happen to be African Americans.

Communities of color come to expect police encounters, and expect them on a daily basis, not just under protest or “crowd control” situations. Driving/walking/standing while Black or Brown and endless subjugation to “stop and frisk” policies are routine.

Encounters with police that involve excessive and/or deadly force are also routine for communities of color. The incidents tracked by Injustice Everywhere: The National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project and illustrated below also disproportionately impact people of color.

Perhaps most disturbing is the rate at which deadly force impacts communities of color. While local state and Federal law enforcement agencies keep absolutely accurate records of the number of police officers killed or assaulted in the line of duty (typically less than 60 killed per year), there is no comparable systematic accounting of the number of citizens killed by police each year.

This data is not nationally gathered or reported, The task is left to individual researchers to cobble together local and state – level data (much of which has removed racial identifiers) and report what police only seem to be concerned about in light of potential litigation,

Anywhere from 350 to 400 civilians are killed by police each year — an average of one per day. This number is certainly an under-count since it is based on police shootings and does not include deaths by choke-holds, hog-ties, tasers, reactions to chemical sprays or injuries sustained in beatings.

Those killed by police are disproportionately black and brown. A variety of studies have found consistent racial disparities in police shootings –

Since the 1970s, sociologists and political scientists have consistently found that minority suspects in the United States face lethal force from police officers at a disproportionate rate. According to 2001 figures from the Department of Justice, black suspects were five times more likely to be shot and killed by officers than white suspects.

A 2007 study conducted by ColorLines and The Chicago Reporter examined police shootings in the 10 largest U.S cities. The findings were sadly predictable..

African Americans were overrepresented among police shooting victims in every city the publications investigated.The contrast was particularly noticeable in New York, San Diego and Las Vegas. In each of these cities, the percentage of black people killed by police was at least double that of their share of the city’s total population….

A second significant point: Latinos are a rising number of fatal police shooting victims.Starting in 2001, the number of incidents in which Latinos were killed by police in cities with more than 250,000 people rose four consecutive years, from 19 in 2001 to 26 in 2005. The problem was exceptionally acute in Phoenix, which had the highest number of Latinos killed in the country.

Until the Occupy Movement offers a systemic critique of routine police practices that target communities of color and not just those mostly white male occupados, then it will be difficult to imagine sustainable coalitions or a centering of non-white and non-male voices.

Perspectives on the Prison Industrial Complex

There are currently 12,000 prisoners on a hunger strike in California. This is major. We need to surround the prison grounds and give more power and love and solidarity to those in the racist/classist labor camps inside. We need to surround federal courthouses around abolishing the death penalty.” Rich Ejire

A dramatic escalation of the U.S. prison population has occurred in the past 40 years, a ten-fold increase since 1970. Between 1987 and 2007 alone the prison population nearly tripled. The rate of incarceration for women escalated at an even more dramatic pace.The United States, which has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, has 25% of its prisoners. This is the highest incarceration rate in the world. Over 2.4 million persons are in state or federal prisons and jails – a rate of 751 out of every 100,000. Another 5 million are under some sort of correctional supervision such as probation or parole.The US remains the last of the post-industrial so-called First World nations that still retains the death penalty, and we use it often. Nearly 3300 inmates await execution in 35 states and at the federal level, and it was not until the early 21st century that the US abolished capital punishment for juveniles and those with IQs below 70.

This increased rate of incarceration can be traced almost exclusively to the War on Drugs and the rise of lengthy mandatory minimum prison sentences for drug crimes and other non violent felonies.These harsh policies have not proliferated in response to crime rates nor any empirical data that indicates their effectiveness. This vast machinery, with its deep connection to profiteering, has come to be termed the prison industrial complex.

“The prison industrial complex is a self-perpetuating machine where the vast profits (e.g. cheap labor, private and public supply and construction contracts, job creation, continued media profits from exaggerated crime reporting and crime/punishment as entertainment) and perceived political benefits (e.g. reduced unemployment rates, “get tough on crime” and public safety rhetoric, funding increases for police, and criminal justice system agencies and professionals) lead to policies that are additionally designed to insure an endless supply of “clients” for the criminal justice system (e.g. enhanced police presence in poor neighborhoods and communities of color; racial profiling; decreased funding for public education combined with zero-tolerance policies and increased rates of expulsion for students of color; increased rates of adult certification for juvenile offenders; mandatory minimum and “three-strikes” sentencing; draconian conditions of incarceration and a reduction of prison services that contribute to the likelihood of “recidivism”; “collateral consequences”-such as felony disenfranchisement, prohibitions on welfare receipt, public housing, gun ownership, voting and political participation, employment- that nearly guarantee continued participation in “crime” and return to the prison industrial complex following initial release.) ( Brewer and Heitzeg 2008)

And unsurprisingly, mandatory minimums for drug violations, “three strikes”, increased use of imprisonment as a sentencing option, lengthy prison terms, adult certification for juveniles and the expanded use of the death penalty — all disproportionately affect the poor and people of color. Indeed this has been the history of the U.S. criminal justice system from the outset; the poor and especially people of color have been disproportionately policed, prosecuted, convicted, disenfranchised, imprisoned, and executed. The current explosion in mass incarceration simply exacerbates this historical trend.

Despite no statistical differences in rates of offending, the poor, the under-educated, and people of color, particularly African Americans, are over-represented in these statistics at every phase of the criminal justice system. While 1 in 31 adults is under correctional supervision and 1 in every 100 adults is in prison, 1 in every 100 black women, 1 in every 36 Latino adults , one in every 15 black men, and 1 in 9 black men ages 20 to 34 are incarcerated. Approximately 50% of all prisoners are black, 30% are white and 1/6 Latino. Race of victim race of offender and social class remain the best predictors of who will receive the death penalty. A brief glimpse into the statistics — courtesy of NewsOne Prisons and Projects Series immediately reveals both the magnitude of these policy changes as well as their inequitable dynamic.

One of the most insidious aspects of this project in mass incarceration is its’ connection to the profit motive. Once solely a burden on tax payers, the so-called “prison –industrial complex” is now a source of corporate profit, governmental agency funding, cheap neo-slave labor, and employment for economically depressed regions. This complex now includes over 3,300 jails, over 1,500 state prisons, and 100 Federal prisons in the US. Over 30 of these institutions are super-maximum facilities, not including the super-maximum units located in most other prisons. Nearly 300 of these are private for-profit prisons, and privatization of prison services is an increasing trend that magnifies corporate profits.

Certainly any critique of late capitalism in the 21st Century USA must address the on-going connections between corporate profit and the mass incarceration/neo-enslavement of millions of mostly Black and Brown citizens. Right??

So far the response of the Occupy Movement has been “crickets. Yes, there have been moments of solidarity for Troy Davis and in opposition to NYC Stop and Frisk. These efforts are laudable, but Occupy has offered no deep critique of the PIC and the connections between classism, racism and mass incarceration. As Greg Tate observes (the bold is mine):

The predominant age range of OWS’s paler male participants is roughly 18-29. This age group among African American cats accounts for 40 percent of the country’s prison population—a national crisis which predates the bailout by several decades. This disgraceful disparity could likely continue after every OWS-er has been gainfully reabsorbed into the American workforce. Although Wall Street profits from our brothers’ massive enslavement by incarceration, so does Main Street. Perhaps OWS should ponder putting prison abolition on their unformulated list of demands. Until then, some black progressives, though duly sympathetic, might not hear a roar coming from Zuccotti but simply crickets.

Here’s the truth: much of the “white” “progressive” “left” stood idly by throughout the incarceration explosion – their interest sparked only occasionally by calls to legalize marijuana or Free White Men such as Bradley Manning from “tortuous” conditions of solidarity confinement that frankly, however onerous, are routine for the “typical” inmate, who is typically often Black or Latino. If they were paying attention at all, much of the “white” “progressive” “left” knew implicitly or otherwise that the PIC was never primarily intended for them anyway; it was and is a contemporary extension of both slavery and convict lease, and serves as the major mechanism in the Post Civil Rights Era for controlling communities of color.

For the “white” “progressive” “left” to now decry State Violence as applied to them is, well, too little too late. Until Occupy addresses this key capitalist growth “industry” and major drain on governmental resources as well as the deep connections to both racism and gendered racism, then the economic analysis and the opportunity for meaningful coalition remains shallow indeed.

Beyond “Occupy”

“This is not the only revolution. This is a movement around class and economic oppression..The environmental justice movement is feeling left out of the living documents… What about queer rights? Native sovereignty? Abolishing the death penalty? Dismantling the prison industrial complex? Disarming BART police?” Rich Ejire

“Occupy ” has had great success in drawing world-wide attention to the economic exploitation of capitalism, and the strangle-hold the 1% have on resources that rightly belong to the 99%. Certainly communities of color and women, via the feminization of poverty, have suffered disproportionately from this greed. Variations from city to city reveal different degrees of success in attempting to address issues of inclusion. Off-shoots like Occupy The Hood are attempting to bridge that gap.

But as Bill Fletcher Jr notes:

The Occupy Wall Street movement is a fabulous display of antipathy to economic injustice and the elites who feel that they can ignore the growing misery suffered by the U.S. public. It is an audacious stand against a class that has acted in vampire-like fashion to drain the blood from the rest of the country.

Yet it is a movement that must at some point confront the question: “Where to from here?’

That remains to be seen. The full potential of Occupy can only be realized with a true commitment to intersectionality and multi-level social activism that includes both protests and participation in electoral politics. Quoting Audre Lorde, Angela Davis recently asked at OWS Washington Square :

“How can we come together in a unity that is complex and emancipatory? Differences must not be merely tolerated but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which poles creativity can spark like the dialectic.”

The diversity of the 99% must fully be represented — not just at the margins, but at the center of discourse and agenda setting. True commitment to intersectionality requires much more than an “add and stir” approach, which ultimately often tokenizes the handful of people of color and women brought in as cover for a white male agenda. Attempts to address class disparities without attention to the role of racism sexism and heterosexism, ultimately is, again in the words of Audre Lorde, attempting to use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house. It will never happen.

The future of the 99% — of people of color women queers — must not be jeopardized further by a subset of white males whose privilege blinds them to the dangers of flirtations of “outreach” to the tea party right, or to alliances with Ron Paul libertarians whose disregard for the historical and contemporary significance of the !4th Amendment is stunning. The future of the 99% must not be jeopardized by a subset of white males whose privilege blinds them to the history of hard fought struggles for the Right To Vote, whose willingness to stay home on Election Day, imagine primary efforts against the First Black POTUS or third party fashion statements belies that very privilege. The rest of us can ill afford another Republican in the White House or a SCOTUS that moves even further to the right, undoing for generations the thin but hard won legal protections for people of color and women. That result means simply that the “occupation” remains that of women’s bodies and of black/brown people in still more jail cells.

In her remarks at Washington Square, Angela Davis made a call for intersectionality:

“We say no to big banks. We say no to corporate executives making millions of dollars a year. We say no to student debt, we say no to evictions. We say no to global capitalism. We say no to the prison industrial complex. We say no to racism, we say no to class exploitation, we say no to homophobia, we say no to transphobia, we say no to ableism. We say no to military occupation. We say no to war.”

I stand with her and the communities that have long said No! to all the oppressions, not just to classism alone.

And until “Occupy” demonstrates their opposition to all of it, it will remain a “white male movement”, one manufactured by some ad-busting Canadian culture-jammers whose regard for interests of all of the 99% is suspect at best.

So I will end as I began with a slightly more polite paraphrase of the opening quote —

I am not about to trust a “movement” who offers no critique of the role of State violence in upholding capitalist economic interests. I am not about to support a “movement” that simplistically centers class to the exclusion of racism sexism heterosexism. And No, I am not about to get arrested with some “white” guys whose interests are just their own, who only noticed injustice when they were the ones who got laid off, arrested, beat down or tased .

Instead, I will continue, as always, to Occupy Classrooms, Occupy Academic Journals and Conferences, Occupy Blogspots, Occupy Grassroots Community Groups, Occupy Political Organizing/GOTV efforts and Yes – Occupy Voting Booths.

Again, Bill Fletcher Jr

When we counter-pose street-based activism to electoral activism we ultimately stall. Protest alone is not enough. It simply says what we do not like. Today, we have to fight to put people power in the hands of those who are being crushed by the economic juggernaut. The 99 percent should be in the streets and in Congress.

Our lives – quite literally – depend on it.