by Abaki Beck
Sunday Suggestions & Connections is a weekly feature pairing recent news stories with related social justice readings or resources and ideas to take action.
This week, we look at two stories of different yet interrelated (because white supremacy) kinds of racialized violence: the criminalization of black men in the U.S., and the murder of indigenous women in Canada.
Albert Woodfox was freed this week, after spending nearly 43 years in solitary confinement, a horrifying and violent practice that some say is a form of torture. Woodfox was the last member of the Angola 3 to be freed. For a history recap: the Angola 3 were a group of prisoners in the infamous Angola Prison in Louisiana who protested the abusive, dehumanizing conditions they saw through hunger and work strikes. (Oh, and did we mention that the prison was located on an old slave plantation? White supremacy can be so ironic sometimes). Soon, they were accused of murdering a white prison guard. Many people argue that they were set up because of their activism, and Woodfox has long maintained his innocence. In fact, his conviction was overturned three times, most recently in 2013 as it was found racial discrimination occurred in selecting his grand jury. Despite this, he has spent the majority of his life in solitary confinement. Yet another young black man whose life was robbed because of white supremacy, white fear, and the prison industrial complex.
It is terrifying that these kinds of violences are not unusual - the imprisonment of people for political gains, confining human beings to incredibly small cells and robbing them of the ability to interact with others or the outside world, and on top of that, recognizing that racial discrimination had repeatedly impacted Woodfox’s case yet doing little to ameliorate this. Until criminal justice reform occurs, these kinds of extreme violences against communities of color - particularly against men of color - will continue to be common place. While Woodfox’s case is certainly unique, he is not alone in his cry for justice. We hope he gets all the help, love, and support he needs as he transitions to his new life.
To learn more about the prison industrial complex, here are some readings:
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. The New Press (January 16, 2012) Pdf of introduction available here.
Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Y. Davis (full book)
Want to take action? Here are some abolition resources by Black and Pink. For those interested in antiprison work and advocacy, Black and Pink is an amazing website. Check out their Introduction to Prison Advocacy to get started.
The Canadian government wrapped up a country wide tour this week interviewing family members of missing and murdered indigenous women. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, elected in November, pledged to start a national inquiry on murdered and missing indigenous women in Canada, a subject which former Prime Minister Steven Harper notably avoided. These interviews will shape what the inquiry will look like. Reports from the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) say that just over 1,200 indigenous women were murdered since 1980, but many activists say that number may be up to 4,000. This number may also be in doubt, but Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett says that, based on the interviews, the number is “way, way higher” than the RCMP report.
Violence against women of color occurs at a unique intersection of identities and oppressions, as Kimberle Crenshaw argues in Mapping the Margins. Another layer of complexity is added when that woman is indigenous in a settler-colonial nation. Indigenous women face violence at 3.5 times the rate of non-indigenous women in Canada. Similar statistics exist in the U.S. According to the Indian Law Resource Center, 1 in 3 indigenous women will be raped in her lifetime, and they are murdered at 10 times the national rate. This is due to a variety of reasons - racial discrimination, lack of support services for survivors of sexual or domestic violence in reserve or reservation communities, and the inability of tribal governments (in the U.S.) to prosecute non-Natives who commit violence against tribal members.
Here are some more resources to learn about violence against indigenous women:
Ending Violence Against Native Women (Indian Law Resource Center)
Missing and Murdered: Unsolved cases of indigenous women and girls - online database and stories compiled by CBC, a Canadian news source
No More Silence - Community run support group for families of murdered and missing indigenous women
Tribal Law and Order Act at Five Years (Indian Law Resource Center)
In addition to reading, you can volunteer at a domestic violence shelter, advocate for strengthened tribal jurisdiction to protect indigenous women, attend or host an awareness raising event or vigil, or donate to an organization that works against violence against Native women.
Want to catch up on the news? Here are a few more stories on our radar this week:
Thanks for reading! Have a happy and empowering weekend.