WE CAN’T BREATHE: ON THE LYNCHING OF GEORGE FLOYD (2020)
by Kevin “Rashid” Johnson
On May 24, 2020, a crowd of onlookers witnessed the slow death by asphyxiation of a handcuffed Black man in Minneapolis. This was a public lynching.
Only, unlike in times past, this crowd didn’t cheer, but instead pleaded over and over for the cop who murdered George Floyd, to let him breathe; to take his knee off his neck and let him up. Several times onlookers tried to physically intervene, only to be themselves threatened with pig violence.
Also, unlike days of old, this murder was filmed for the world to also witness. And Minneapolis exploded! Thousands poured into the streets in protest.
Until just a few years ago, the world and Amerika at large denied that Black and Brown people in Amerika were routinely murdered by the cops.
The advent of cellphone technology and social media enabled everyday people to force a world in denial to bear witness to the reality of our lives under racist imperialist occupation.
Proportionally, more of us are murdered today by cops than were killed by lynch mobs during the Jim Crow era. And just like during Jim Crow, our killers are protected by a system that closes ranks to villainize the victims and portray our abusers as well-intended arbiters of justice. They’ve even crafted language to recast these killings as benign and something other than murder. Instead of calling it what it is, they’ve coined the euphemism, “police involved shootings.”
What they are is a continuation of lynching. The cops have always participated in this sort of violence. They’ve never been a source of service or protection in our communities.
Black and Brown people have always been corralled into marginalized spaces of American society where we’ve lived a suffocated existence. We were suffocated to death by everyday Amerikans at the instigation and participation of their elites, political leaders and often the cops, when we were hung from trees.
The lynching by suffocation of George Floyd, like that of Eric Garner in 2014, as they protested over and over “I can’t breathe!”, is but a continuation of the same in a racist capitalist society that must be fundamentally overturned. We’ll never be able to breathe free until it is!
Dare to Struggle Dare to Win!
All Power to the People!
Dear Rep. England:
In 2000, the Alabama Legislature passed an amendment to the Habitual Felony Offender Act, which granted people serving time pursuant to this act potential sentencing relief, including people who were sentenced for a violent crime. This law ultimately became known as the Kirby law.
Pursuant to Kirby, any person who had been sentenced after March 1, 2001, as a habitual offender could file a motion seeking a sentence reduction, including people who had been convicted of a violent offense. The burden was on the convicted person to demonstrate that, even though they had been convicted of a violent offense, they were not a violent person, per se. Meaning, they didn’t have a history of prior violent felony convictions and they had demonstrated during their incarceration that they were not or no longer a violent threat to the community. The individual was also allowed to show rehabilitation.
After granting less than 700 such motions, the so-called Kirby law was repealed in 2014 by Senator Cam Ward’s SB84.
One does not need to rehash the issues that have been caused by overcrowding or over-sentencing in Alabama. Nor is it necessary to discuss the prominent role that the Habitual Felony Offender Act plays in all of this.
Here is the issue that we have with all of this and what we are requesting that you respond to and explain:
On February 26, 2020, after the conclusion of the Prison Reform Study Group, you co-sponsored a Bill, HB329, which you proposed as a solution to Alabama’s prison issues. However, your Bill offers less of a legal remedy to suffering families who have already gone decades without a loved one than the Kirby law that was repealed. The reason why Kirby was repealed was because it was no longer being used to grant relief to anyone, violent or non-violent.
The Bill you sponsored states that it applies only to people who have been convicted on a “non-violent” felony.
This means that a person whose current felony conviction is for a violent offense is not even eligible to apply for relief under your Bill.
In comparison, pursuant to the since repealed Kirby law, even a person whose current conviction was for a violent offense could apply for the relief because, as the Alabama Supreme Court stated in Kirby, many people whose sentences were enhanced by the HFOA were enhanced by all non-violent prior felonies.
One of the many questions we have for you is, why are you sponsoring a law for non-violent applicants only, when a more stronger law that included relief for violent and non-violent offenders has already been enacted and repealed?
Surely, you have to know that most non-violent offenders have already received the benefit of the Kirby law? This makes your legislation seem very suspect.
In addition, it appears that you didn’t learn much from your participation on the Prison Reform Study Group. Anyone who followed that process closely knows that Alabama has an aging prison population that is filled with appx. 6000 people who were sentenced as a habitual offender. Your Bill will help less than 600 of them.
Also, your Bill is discretionary. This means that the decision of whether to resentence someone or not would be left in the hands of the judges and prosecutors, some of whom already had discretion in the first place and used it to hand out the maximum punishment.
In no way does your Bill propose to solve a problem. It does not speak with the decisive and mandatory language that is needed for this crisis. Instead, you seem to want to pass the matter of coming forward with a “solution” on to someone else, in their discretion. If that is so, then why should the People from your district continue to look to you for leadership and solutions to problems when it is clear from your actions that you are incapable of providing such results?
To say that the “war on drugs” and “tough on crime” legislation of the past has been a war on the Black community is an understatement. All you have to do is look at the prison population and the grave yard for that proof. Our Elders and Ancestors, and our allies fought for Representation is the government so that we could have people from our own communities in positions of power to stop the abuses that were being inflicted on us.
Knowing these things and viewing them in light of your legislation begs the question: how does your Bill push forward the process of remeding these problems?
Rep. England, we are asking that you withdraw your Bill and to resubmit a more robust Bill that will repeal the Habitual Felony Offender Act and make the current sentencing guidelines retroactive. In addition, we are asking that you craft legislation that will create a criteria for parole that will make parole mandatory for every person who completes their parole curriculum.
The Alabama Department of Corrections has a $620,000,000.00 million dollar budget. It is inconceivable that, if appx. $22,000.00 is spent each year per individual incarcerated, those $22,000 dollars can’t be invested in a way that rehabilitates over a specific period of time. Even our colleges and universities have a curriculum established that, upon completion, over a set course of time, renders one capable of graduation. Many of these degrees cost less than $22,000.00 dollars, total, let alone $22,000.00 per year.
Otherwise, we will ask the Black community to repeal you.
FREE ALABAMA MOVEMENT
I Don’t Want My Child Dead But What Do I Do ( Please Read This Now )
Many prison inmates extort families from behind bars. One mother says she occasionally gets phone calls from inmates where her child is serving time. The phone calls are simple: Send money, or your child could die.
She says she sent $300 last time. She’s sent larger sums over the years – $400, $500. The money is sent through, Pay Pal, Western Union, or Walmart cards. She reports the calls, she says, to the Department of Corrections and to federal authorities. Her story of extortion is similar to those found during an extensive two-and-a-half-year federal investigation of all prisons, released this month by the U.S. Department of Justice. “The inability to prevent and address the extortion of prisoners and prisoners’ family members leads to a substantial risk of serious harm,” the report stated.
The federal findings provided seven examples, along with screenshots of texts with threats, painting a picture of criminals behind bars able to extend influence on innocent relatives beyond the walls.
They say, don’t pay it,” she said. “I said, ‘I don’t want my child dead over money.’ I’ve spent nearly everything I’ve got trying to keep them alive, any time he’s out in the prison population.”
‘It’s horrible’ In addition to the extortion threats, she regularly pays money for debts her son may incur behind bars. But the extortion calls are the worst. They’ve been standing over my child, fixing to kill them, sometimes when they call,” she said. “It’s horrible. It’s because he’s on drugs. But it’s happened in different prisons. I never know who it is.” She says the calls began more than 15 years ago, at different prisons, but with the same threats of violence and death. This mother documents her child’s time in prison, writing letters on notebook paper to wardens, prison officials, and others advocating for her child. Her letters, in a flowing cursive script, turn bold when she repeats a familiar phrase: “He is in fear for his life.” It is that devotion that drives her to continue to pay the extortion money. But she knows this could actually turn around against her and kill her child instead. Another prisoner with her child because of their failure to pay, the victim was beaten and threatened with rape. Over the last few months, the department of corrections has initiated several high-profile contraband sweeps through its prisons. Last week, more than 300 law enforcement officers staged a predawn raid at William C. Holman Correctional Facility, beginning about 4:30 a.m. at the maximum-security Atmore lockup, which houses 870 inmates. Officers seized 356 makeshift weapons, 91 grams of meth, 98 grams of marijuana, cocaine, more than 400 assorted pills, and 16 cellphones. This needs to happen in our entire penal system in America and needs to happen now. If you think your child is either doing this crime themselves, or having it done to them and their families, report it right away to the Department of Justice, Attorney Generals Office, your local Congress, and local Senator. The more reports being reported the quicker the problem will be resolved before more prisoners and families are killed. Yes, I said families being killed because of their child’s choices, it happens every day.
Happy Mother’s Day to all of the Warrior Moms out there dealing with Mass Inc. and Prison Slavery. Whether you have a child inside or if you are a Mom on the inside, please know that you are a Blessing and Loved by many. Neither of you are alone.
FAM loves our Moms because without them none of this would be possible. Our Moms come to visit, write letters, accept phone calls, call lawyers, bring the children for visits, know just what to say when we are down, fight the lawyers, send money, purchase incentive packages, etc.
They also edit stuff, attend press conferences and rallies. Lead protests, call legislatures, governors and Wardens. They are the best and they do their best to bring us home. Their Prayers and their kisses are irreplaceable. We loved our Moms.
Many people are tuned in to the most recent media coverage of events about the murder of an innocent and unarmed Black man in Georgia and another incident where a Black woman was body-slammed by an officer for not wearing a face covering in a public storefront. However, another attack by a peace officer against an unarmed Black man in Alabama, Mr. Andre McKinney, has not made its way into the news cycle. Why? Probably because Mr. McKinney is incarcerated, and these types of stories rarely ever make the news.
Nevertheless, there are certain facts about this incident aside from the fact that Mr. Kinney is a victim of unprovoked police brutality that are news worthy.
Many activist and others who are following the Alabama prison system know that late last year two men, Stephen Davis and Micheal Smith, were beaten to death by Alabama correctional Officers. No arrests have been made in either incident. Additionally, the officer involved in the Davis murder, Kendrick Gadson, has already returned to work and been promoted by Commissioner Dunn to the rank of Sergeant.
These were the second and third reported incidents of a person in custody of ADOC being beaten to death by correctional Officers. Rocrast Mack III was also beaten to death in 2010, and his attackers were convicted and sentenced to federal prison.
At the same time, the ADOC is currently being investigated by the United States Department of Justice for, among other things, violence levels in Alabama’s men prisons. Coincidentally, the ADOC stalled federal investigators for over one year, refusing to turn over internal documents and reports relating to use-of-force by correctional officers, which turns directly into this latest attack against Mr. McKinney.
Lt. Ronald Carter, the officer involved in the attack and beating of Mr. Kinney, is no stranger to such accusations.
In a class action lawsuit filed while Lt. Carter was a Sargeant at Donaldson Correctional Facility, Carter was accused of beating multiple individuals, all while in handcuffs. In addition, then-Sgt. Carter was once relieved of duty when other officers turned on him in a lawsuit after it was uncovered that Carter was running an illegal racketeering operation using cigarettes and coffee to extort incarcerated individuals, their families and to conduct other illegal activities.
Carter, however, is a second generation officer who was able to get rehired after resigning when his racketeering activities were uncovered. His mother, Mary Carter was a long-time ADOC correctional officer officer and served as a warden for many years during her tenure with ADOC. She is now retired.
By 2014, Carter had risen to the rank of Lieutenant, and his reputation for violence was well documented. At that time, he transferred to St. Clair prison from Donaldson prison, where he served under notorious warden Carter Davenport. As an enforcer for Davenport, Carter carried out a reign of terror that lasted for several years.
Three incidents bear mentioning here.
1. Jermaine Tillman.
Jermaine Tillman was beaten and asphyxiated by Lt. Carter while handcuffs. Mr. Tillman had to be resuscitated multiple times to survive. This incident resulted in a civil settlement of tens of thousands of dollars.
2. Ventura Harris.
One day Ventura Harris was called out of his assigned living area by two officers. When Mr. Harris stepped into the corridor, Lt. Carter was waiting. Lt. Carter had the two officers to place Mr. Harris against the wall and handcuff him to the rear. While Mr. Harris was handcuffed to the rear and defenseless, one of the officers took a set of handcuffs and delivered a blow to the back of Mr. Harris’s head. The blow was so violent that it busted his scalp all the way to the skull.
Harris also settled a civil rights lawsuits for tens of thousands of dollars.
3. Xavian Austin (April 17, 2014 PRESS STATEMENT https://freealabamamovement.wordpress.com/2015/05/01/press-release/)
Mr. Xavian Austin was apprehended for allegedly possessing a cellphone. The officers who apprehended Mr. Austin placed him in handcuffs to the rear and proceed to escort him out of the dorm. Once outside, Mr. Austin was roughed up and his head was ran into a concrete wall.
From there, Mr. Austin was taken to the shift officer, where Lt. Carter was waiting. Mr. Austin was summarily beaten by Lt. Carter and then taken to the infirmary. After being screened by medical staff, Mr. Austin was taken to a remote location where he was beaten again by Lt. Carter and his crew.
BUT . . .
Later this same morning after the Austin attacks, Lt. Carter himself would be stabbed multiple times, have his jaw broken, and suffer multiple other injuries. This incident set off a wave of violence in the ADOC that has not dissipated to this day.
Lt. Carter was absent from the ADOC for over two years, before finally resurfacing at Childerburg Work Camp. Apparently, Commissioner Jefferson Dunn has positions for violent officers like Lt. Ronald Carter.
Lt. Carter seems to have learned a few things after watching how the Stephen Davis murder played out. Recall that the officers who beat Mr. Davis to death claim that Mr. Davis attacked them with two knives in hand. Mr. Davis was beaten beyond recognition, forcing his mother to hold a closed casket funeral.
In the disciplinary report filed in the McKinney assault, Lt. Carter claims that Mr. McKinney took a 1×4 and struck himself in the head while “handcuff[ed] to the front.”
The Alabama Prison System under the leadership of Commissioner Jefferson Dunn is a bottomless pit of moral decay and hell-on-earth that knows no sin or evil too great. It is time to STOP making demands for change to Commissioner Dunn and start making the DEMAND that #DunnMustGo!!
Please follow us for details of actions being planned to demand Justice for Mr. McKinney.
On April 9, 2020, FREE ALABAMA MOVEMENT released a Press Statement calling for the release of all children being held in Alabama’s Juvenile Detention Facilities.
F.A.M. issued this demand in wake of the COVID 19 pandemic and in light of the fact that there was no public discourse concerning the fate of these children or details about their safety.
In response to our efforts, the executive director of the Alabama Department of Youth Services, Steven P. Lafreniere, issued a public letter four days later on April 13, 2020, detailing a few details of ADYS’s COVID 19 plan of action.
Noticably missing from this public letter by Mr. Lafreniere is any plan on the part of ADYS to release any of these children from custody. In addition, this letter fails to identify how ADYS plans to deal with children who are especially vulnerable to COVID 19 due to pre-existing mental and/or physical condition.
In response to one of the many questions that we posed in our Press Statement (please review these questions in our Press Statement), Mr. Lafreniere states the number of phone calls allowed to each child will increase, but he falls to state how many calls are currently allowed, or what that amount will be increased to? Furthermore, Mr. Lafreniere states that “all staff wear a mask and practice social distancing from youth to the degree practical”, but he Mr. Lefreniere doesn’t mention what efforts are currently in place to provide our children with PPEs or whether their environment will allow them to practice government mandated social distancing. The letter from Mr. Lefreniere does not allay any of our concerns about our children in custody and does nothing to assure us of their safety.
Also, since FREE ALABAMA MOVEMENT released our Press Statement, other organizations have joined this important conversation. “The Youth Advocacy” Programs, Inc. has issued a letter to Governor Ivey, and FAMs Queen Team has initiated a Call campaign to demand that these children be released.
At this time of uncertainty, we can only expect this situation to get worse and more dangerous for children in juvenile detention facilities, which is why the only remedy is their release. The State of Florida recently reported 4 cases of children testing positive for COVID 19. The plan outlined by Director Lafreniere mentions that “screening” is being done on personnel daily, but fails to state what type of screening is being done, or whether any staff member has been tested or quarantined. As we have learned, COVID 19 is asymptomatic in some carriers, so testing – not screening- is critical.
F. A. M. also wants to remind everyone that these children are not criminals and they do not have criminal convictions. When Director Lafreniere says that regular cleaning and sanitizing will be done, we have to wonder who will be responsible for this vital labor because uncompensated child labor is illegal. In the immigration detention facilities, multiple class action lawsuits are pending because the people in those facilities, none of whom had felony convictions, were performing labor without compensation. Juvenile facilities are no different. Children are required to work in the kitchen, lawn care, trash details and other functions without being paid. This definitely will not continue to be allowed on our watch.
The focus amid this crisis has to remain on the preservation of the lives of our children, not preservation of children in detention facilities for deliquent acts. The public letter from Mr. Lafreniere does not indicate that the lives of our children detained in ADYS custody are being prioritized over continued detention. As such, FREE ALABAMA MOVEMENT will intensify our demand for release as we continue to seek answers and transparency during this crisis. This response from ADYS needs to be independently verified and, since these children are no longer allowed visitation with their families, volunteers and attorneys needs to be allowed in to speak privately with these children without fear of retaliation. We will update this post and we look forward to hearing from you about your efforts in this matter.
FREE ALABAMA MOVEMENT
Please contact Director Steven P. Lafreniere @ 334-215-3800 to convey your concerns.
Alesia Allen, Executive Assistant to Director, 334-215-3836 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.