We want justice: Free all political prisoners!

Gloria Verdieu

Presentation by the Socialist Unity Party and the Prisoners Solidarity Committee to the Anti-Imperialist Symposium in Paris April 2-4, an annual event sponsored by the Anti-Imperialist Front. For a complete description of the event go to Anti-ImperialistFront.org.

‘We want justice’

Freeing all political prisoners, prisoners of conscience and prisoners of war is on the top of the list in the struggle for social justice, because the capitalist state continues to use the criminal justice system to lock up those who sacrifice their livelihood for freedom and justice for the masses.

We join the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, the Campaign to Release Aging People in Prison, Mobilization 4 Mumia, International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal and many others calling for the U.S. government to take immediate steps to depopulate jails, prisons, immigrant detention centers and juvenile facilities that are genocidal hotbeds for COVID-19 infections and death camps for millions.

It is an honor to speak to you so close to the 67th birthday of Mumia Abu-Jamal on April 24, 2021.

Internationally-known U.S. political prisoner Abu-Jamal is an award-winning journalist and author of ten books and over 2,500 written essays and audio commentaries from prison. His writings are uncompromising, factual and searing indictments of racism and political bias in the U.S. judicial system. His call for justice and defiance has not dimmed, despite decades of being shackled and caged. He is one of our most courageous revolutionary intellectuals, who says what is on his mind without fear of consequences. His book “Live from Death Row” has been translated into seven languages.

It is clear to the movement that he remains in prison for telling the truth about capitalism, imperialism, the prison-industrial complex, and the entire U.S. criminal justice system.

Mumia Abu-Jamal was on Pennsylvania’s death row for 30 years. His death warrant was signed twice by the state. He came dangerously close to execution on August 17, 1995, and again on December 2, 1999. It was the mobilization of a mass international movement that saved his life.

In 2011, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

After Abu-Jamal was taken off death row, prison officials tried to kill him through medical neglect — by denying him treatment for hepatitis C. Eventually he received treatment, because of a lawsuit; but since treatment was delayed, he developed cirrhosis of the liver.

The U.S. government claims there are no political prisoners in the United States. When, in fact, political prisoners make up the majority of the over 2.3 million people locked up in prisons, jails and ICE detention centers throughout the United States, because prisons are concentration camps for the poor.

Abu-Jamal is over 50 years old, has recently tested positive for COVID-19, has congestive heart failure and other pre-existing medical conditions that place him at a high risk of dying from this deadly disease.

Over 20% of U.S. prison inmates are over 50 years old and a large percentage of those have pre-existing medical conditions. It was reported in December 2020 that one in five prisoners (20%) in the U.S. have had COVID-19, and 1,700 have died.

This is a vast undercount, because there are many prisons where, when people get sick, they do not get tested or receive the needed care, so they get much sicker than need be. Today, there is no sign that the spread of the virus is slowing.

This is a crisis for all prisoners, but especially for our elders who are behind bars because of their involvement in political activity. They are not going to be considered for prison releases recommended by public health experts to scale back prison populations.

Prisoners such as 66-year-old Mumia Abu-Jamal.

84-year-old Sundiata Acoli, 50 years incarcerated, has tested positive for COVID-19.

82-year-old Ruchell Magee, 57 years incarcerated.

77-year-old Native American Leonard Peltier, 43 years incarcerated.

77-year-old Russell Maroon Shoatz, 48 years incarcerated, has tested positive for COVID-19 and has pre-existing medical conditions.

77-year-old Ed Poindexter, 48 years incarcerated.

77-year-old Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (H. Rap Brown), 19 years incarcerated.

71-year-old Mutulu Shakur, 33 years incarcerated.

These are just a few. There are hundreds more.

The collective call is to release all prisoners, especially those over 50 years old, who have tested positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed to COVID-19, and with pre-existing medical conditions that place them at high risk of dying if infected.

This message was echoed by Abu-Jamal’s medical consultant, Dr. Ricardo Alvarez.

‘The only treatment is freedom!’

Before preparing this talk, I read about the mother of political prisoner Helin Bölek in Turkey, who stood by her daughter, held her up and supported her in her fight for justice and freedom. Helin Bölek and three others (Ebru Timtik, Mustafa Koçak and Ibrahim Gökçek) sacrificed their lives in the worldwide struggle for justice, demanding a fair trial, to be judged justly, and to stop the state terror against the musical band Grup Yorum.

Bolek was on a hunger strike for 288 days under the care of her mother and supporters, who loved her, nurtured her and provided her the strength to sustain. She was kidnaped by the state and forced into a stressful situation where she did not have the care and nurturing that she needed.

It does not surprise any of us that our struggles are connected. We are fighting the same enemy.

Grup Yorum was targeted because they played revolutionary, uplifting music, provided free music lessons and free concerts, and were embraced by the community.

The Black Panther Party was targeted because they were revolutionary, provided free breakfast for children, free medical clinics, free schooling and many programs that the community embraced.

The families and friends of incarcerated freedom fighters do not want any of them to die locked down in prisons, jails and detention centers.

They want them to be home where they can be properly taken care of, loved, touched and nurtured with human kindness.

We want them to be energized and ready to continue the song, the dance, the struggle, the fight for justice and freedom. We want them out here fighting with us.

This is why the only treatment is freedom.

So, please, everyone who hears these words: do something, but quickly.

Release all prisoners now! Because it is the right thing to do.

In closing, we must acknowledge that prisons are concentration camps for the poor.

The only way we are going to end mass incarceration and abolish the prison-industrial complex is through revolution — a worldwide socialist revolution.

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