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, March 7, 2012

Limits on free speech at the AZ State Capitol...

Was down at the Capitol yesterday following the announcement that our prisoners and survivors have filed their class action lawsuit against the Department of Corrections; this was the day when I planned to finally lay down one of my murals on the plaza between the two legislatures. Dana Seawright's mother, Kini, joined us. I managed to get the main part of it down - sans the names - before the cops stopped to hassle me. 

Fortunately, there were a couple of cameras trained on me at the time Officer Anderson of the Capitol Police confronted me, and ultimately - after giving me the new list of protest rules- they backed down. While trying to dissuade me from finishing my project he fumbled over what law, exactly, I was breaking by chalking the walk, despite his repeated threats to arrest me if I didn't "take it out there" (gesturing to the city sidewalk out by 17th Ave. and Wes Bolin Plaza, where I usually chalk). My response to his directions was to maintain that the free exercise of political speech is meaningless if we are relegated to places where no one can hear us before we're allowed to speak - for which reason, I refused to take my protest elsewhere, and challenged him to ticket me, arrest me, or leave me alone to finish my task. 

Anderson made sure to let me think I'd been both warned and trespassed, telling me I'm not allowed to return to the Capitol grounds unless I have "legitimate business" to conduct there. I asked who made this decision to ban me, who I appeal to, and who, exactly, determines each time I come to the legislature whether or not my business is "legitimate". As far as I was concerned, what I was doing at that moment was a very legitimate effort to communicate information to my lawmakers and governor. All the information I could get out of Anderson, though, was the name "Joe" - that's apparently who's in charge of the Buildings and Grounds department. 

So, how is it that the guy in charge of lawn maintenance is also the one who determines whether or not my exercise of free speech is constitutionally protected? That doesn't seem like it would fly in court, so I plan to challenge it this spring - stay tuned for that one. Besides, it's hard to take cops seriously whenever they go the whole gamut from being Mr. Nice Guy doing me the favor of cutting me a break by letting me go if I stop chalking immediately, to aggressively posturing and threatening to arrest me if I don't comply, to backing off and saying things like "I'm not going to arrest you because you WANT me to arrest you - I'm not talking to you anymore. We're just going to wash this off as soon as you finish so no one that you want to see it will see it" (Anderson's final answer to me yesterday - after which I finished my mural in peace and took photographs so everyone can see). 

I've had way too many cops try to bullshit me into believing that whatever they say is law that I've learned to insist that they cite the law and apply to me it if they really think I'm breaking it - but to otherwise leave me alone. There's also a big difference between rules or codes of conduct and "laws", and cops like to act as if they can arrest me for the former when I haven't broken the latter. I guess I can be trespassed from a property for violating rules, but I don't think they can outright arrest me unless it's also a violation of law.

Anyway, here's the new list of rules for "ACTIVITY" (read: "Protest") at the Capitol. I think we should have a day this spring to do nothing up there but protest them for trying to silence their dissenters, breaking every rule in the book in the process. Until then, my friends, if you plan to protest at the Capitol, be sure to have someone backing you up with a camera rolling on the cops - and the Buildings and Grounds crew - when they come after you...

As far as I'm concerned, the importance of alerting  the right people to what's going on trumps the need for the Legislature to have an "orderly" sidewalk. As long as this Governor denies the severity of the crisis of violence and despair in the state prisons, I'll keep on trying to get the message across in as many ways as possible...

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