On April 5, K.L. McGuyer, Associate Warden of the Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit, mailed a letter to Kersplebedeb Publishing informing us that Defying the Tomb: Selected Prison Writings and Art of Kevin “Rashid” Johnson featuring Exchanges with an Outlaw, was now being deemed contraband at Pelican Bay.
The letter (which was mailed to the wrong address, and that we only received on May 27), explained that this was due to alleged promotion of “gang activities”.
According to CCR, Title 15, Section 3000, Definitions:
Gang means any ongoing formal or informal organization, association or group of three or more persons which has a common name or identifying sign or symbol whose members and/or associates, individually or collectively, engage or have engaged, on behalf of that organization, association or group, in two or more acts which include, planning, organizing, threatening, financing, soliciting, or committing unlawful acts or acts of misconduct classified as serious pursuant section 3315.
Having reviewed the aforementioned Section 3315, Kersplebedeb Publishing is challenging this ruling as is our right under CCR, Title 15, Section 3137. (For these and all other regulations referred to here, see California Code of Regulations Title 15. Crime Prevention and Corrections.)
The only “formal or informal organization, association or group of three or more persons” which Defying the Tomb might be said to promote is the New Afrikan Black Panther Party, and this organization has not engaged in “two or more acts which include, planning, organizing, threatening, financing, soliciting, or committing unlawful acts or acts of misconduct classified as serious pursuant section 3315.”
As such, the New Afrikan Black Panther Party does not meet the CDCR’s own definition of a gang. In order to appreciate the nature of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party, and the fact that it does not constitute a “gang” under the CDCR’s regulations, consider the following quote by the author of Defying the Tomb, Keven “Rashid” Johnson:
In 2005, I co-founded the New Afrikan Black Panther Party/White Panther Organization, a non-violent, legal and above-ground party whose focus is on promoting the interests and human rights, in strictly legal forms, of sectors of the U.S. population whose needs and interests are ignored, and who are not represented, by the ‘established’ political – economic system – especially poor, working class and imprisoned Blacks.
The NABPP/WPO specifically opposes criminal activities, ‘street gang’ mentalities and behaviors, violence (except in the extremes of self-defense), all forms of discrimination (racial, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, national, etc.) and all forms of oppression. We also promote the right to free, open and honest speech. Our orientation, ideologies, and views have been and are elaborated in our various periodicals and publications; many of them I authored.
The above quote is from Rashid’s essay “Racial and Political Persecution of Grassroots Black Political leaders and Activists”.
Accusing people of belonging to a “gang” has become a convenient way to deprive those people of the ability to communicate, to develop politically/intellectually/culturally, and to pursue what are supposed to be their rights under the system’s laws. Many people are understandably fearful of the violence and mayhem associated with many criminal organizations, and these fears are exploited by institutions such as the “California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation” (sic!) in order to justify clamping down on any collective activity, accusing those they don’t like of being members of “gangs” whether or not this is true. Perhaps not so coincidentally, this works to isolate these people from their communities, further eroding the ties of solidarity that exist between poor and oppressed people, leading to an increase in atomization and antisocial violence which in turn makes these communities all the more vulnerable to actual criminal organizations and oppressors operating on both sides of the law.
In other words, repression of “gangs” serves as a fig leaf for the repression of any collective action or organization by the oppressed that does not suit the plans of the oppressor. This dynamic exists in oppressed communities throughout the united states, but like most oppressive dynamics it appears in its most concentrated form within the prison system.
As even the system’s own Associate u.s. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black pointed out in Barenblatt v. U.S. (360 U.S. 109, ISO(1959) (dissenting opinion)):
History should teach us… that… minority parties and groups which advocate extremely unpopular social or governmental innovations will always be typed as criminal gangs and attempts will always be made to drive them out.
Indeed, the CDCR’s use of the “gang” label to censor political materials and repress political organizations directly contradicts one of their own rules, CCR, Title 15, Section 3004(c):
Inmates, parolees and employees will not subject other persons to any form of discrimination because of race, religion, nationality, sex, political belief, age, or physical or mental handicap.
Specifically, Pelican Bay’s use of the term “gang” to describe the New Afrikan Black Panther Party discriminates on the basis of political belief.
For this reason, we will be appealing Pelican Bay’s decision and requesting that the designation of Defying the Tomb as contraband be withdrawn, and that the implied designation of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party as a gang be similarly withdrawn. Failing that, we will be asking that Pelican Bay detail which “unlawful acts or acts of misconduct classified as serious pursuant section 3315” they are using to justify this designation.
This kerfuffle over a book that we published last year occurs just as prisoners at the Pelican Bay SHU are inspiring us all as they prepare to go on an historic hunger strike this July 1. Censorship of political materials is just one of so many ways in which the prison authorities attempt to isolate prisoners. We strongly urge people to learn more about this hunger strike, and if possible to organize solidarity actions in your area. For more information, see the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition’s blog at http://www.prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/ or contact them by telephone at 510-444-0484.
For more information about Kevin “Rashid” Johnson and the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (Prison Chapter) see: http://rashidmod.com/