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April 19, 2012

Forty years in solitary confinement: the story of the Angola 3

They were bank robbers in the 1960s who were disgusted by Angola prison and formed a chapter of the Black Panthers behind bars. Then a prison guard was found murdered and they were railroaded without any physical evidence and put in permanent solitary. They maintain that the prison pinned the crime on them because of their political activity. A new documentary tries to get to the bottom of it. Forty years in solitary: two men mark sombre anniversary in Louisiana prison | World news | guardian.co.uk
"I can make about four steps forward before I touch the door," Herman Wallace says as he describes the cell in which he has lived for the past 40 years. "If I turn an about-face, I'm going to bump into something. I'm used to it, and that's one of the bad things about it." On Tuesday, Wallace and his friend Albert Woodfox will mark one of the more unusual, and shameful, anniversaries in American penal history. Forty years ago to the day, they were put into solitary confinement in Louisiana's notorious Angola jail. They have been there ever since. They have spent 23 hours of every one of the past 14,610 days locked in their single-occupancy 9ft-by-6ft cells. Each cell, Amnesty International records, has a toilet, a mattress, sheets, a blanket, pillow and a small bench attached to the wall. Their contact with the world outside the windowless room is limited to the occasional visit and telephone call, "exercise" three times a week in a caged concrete yard, and letters that are opened and read by prison guards. A new documentary film takes us into that cell, providing rare insight into the personal psychological impact of such prolonged isolation. Herman's House tracks the experiences and thoughts of Wallace as he reflects on four decades banged away in a box. . . .

April 18, 2012

Sometimes, When "All the Facts are In," It's Worse: The UC-Davis Pepper-Spray Report

The Infamous Brad - Sometimes, When "All the Facts are In," It's Worse: The UC-Davis Pepper-Spray Report
You probably weren't aware that the protesters warned the university that they were going to be protesting two weeks in advance, were you? The campus, and campus police, had two weeks' notice to plan for this, and yes, on day one, one question they addressed was, "What if the protesters set up an Occupy encampment?" Two weeks in advance they planned, well, if they do that, then we'll send in police to remove the tents, and to arrest anybody who tries to stop them. Now, under California law, when planning an operation like this, there's a checklist they're supposed to follow when writing the operational plan, specifically to make sure that they don't forget something important. Had they done so? They would have avoided all four of the important steps they screwed up. When asked about it? Nobody involved was even aware that that checklist existed. The most important thing that the checklist would have warned them about was do not screw up the chain of command. Let me make clear who was in the chain of command. Under normal circumstances, it runs from university Chancellor Katehi, to campus police Chief Spicuzza, to campus police Lieutenant Davis, to his officers, including one I'll call Officer Nameless. (The report refers to him by a code letter.) Once the cops arrive on the scene, there's supposed to be one and only one person in a position to give orders to the other officers on the scene, including any higher-ups who are there (if any). Officer Nameless, who wrote the plan, was put in charge of the scene by Lt. Pike. By law, the officer in charge of the scene is not supposed to get directly involved. He or she (in this case, he) is supposed to stand back where he can see the whole scene, and concentrate on giving orders, and everybody else is supposed to refrain from giving orders. Officer Nameless instead ignored his responsibilities, and waded in, and so did Lt. Pike; Chief Spicuzza sat in her car half a block away, communicating with the radio dispatcher by cell phone, and at one time or another, all three of them, Officer Nameless and Lieutenant Pike and Chief Spicuzza were yelling out contradictory orders. But before it even came to that point, the student protesters had, with the help of Legal Services, gone over all the relevant state laws, city ordinances, campus ordinances, and campus regulations and concluded that no matter what the Chancellor thought, it was entirely legal for them to set up that camp. When the university's legal department found out that Chancellor Katehi was going to order the camp removed, they thought they made it clear to her that the students were right. I kept having to stop and slap my forehead over that one repeated phrase in the report: (this person or that) was under the impression she had made it clear that (some order was given), but nobody else present had that impression. Anybody who is "under the impression that they made it clear" that some order was given who who didn't put it in writing and who hasn't had that order paraphrased back to them? Should be slapped. Or at the very least demoted. Unless you actually said it, you didn't "make it clear."