As California prisoners’ massive hunger strike against long-term solitary confinement, group punishment, and other cruel and inhuman policies of the CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) enters its second week,Governor Jerry Brown is on a two-week vacation to Germany and Ireland. To add insult to injury, it includes a visit to the Dachau concentration camp.
It is shocking for the Governor to have chosen this time to go on vacation while the CDCR refuses to meet the hunger strikers’ five just demands that would end the torture of prisoners in the state he is supposed to be responsible for governing. The International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network is outraged that Brown dares to exploit the Nazi genocide to distract from his complicity in the repression and racism against prisoners, disproportionately people of color and low income people, women and transgender people, in order to make money for the lucrative prison industry in California.
The racism that allows Brown to be silent about a massive hunger strike is the same racism that allows for the massive and disproportionate incarceration of Black and Brown people in California and nationwide. “No other country in the world imprisons so many of its racial or ethnic minorities. The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its Black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.” To bring these statistics closer to home, “In Washington, D.C. … it is estimated that three out of four young black men (and nearly all those in the poorest neighborhoods) can expect to serve time in prison.”
This same racism allows for the extrajudicial killing of Black people with impunity, of whom 17-year-old Trayvon Marton is just one. Last week his killer literally got away with murder as a jury found Zimmerman “not guilty” based on a Florida law that gives (white) people the right to use deadly force to defend themselves, their homes and their vehicles. As documented in a report by Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, every 28 hours in 2012 someone employed or protected by the US government killed a Black man, woman, or child. A total of 313 Black people were killed by police, security guards and vigilantes.
Over the past two years, hunger strikers in California and Palestine have shared a struggle against inhumane treatment. Today, Palestinian prisoners strike against isolation and the use of “administrative detention” – the indefinite and arbitrary detention of Palestinian people, including children, by Israeli occupying forces without charge,evidence, or trial. Sheikh Khader Adnan, a former Palestinian Political Prisoner, whose 66-day hunger strike in protest at being detained without charge attracted worldwide attention, wrote in support of the California hunger strike:
The policy of isolation is a cheap weapon in the hands of those who hold power. The policy of isolation is used against American citizens who are victims of the political, economic and social order/system that thrives on greed, discrimination and the deprived, including the African-Americans and Palestinian resistors such as Sameeh Hamoudeh and Sami Al-Aryan…Hunger strikes are a courageous step and a real tool for all those who are deprived of their rights to lift the existing oppression, and I hope that these prisoners will gain their rights and their demands. Today, the hunger strikes of the Palestinian prisoners inspire those who are detained to engage in hunger strikes to guarantee that they are treated humanely and with respect and dignity.
It is therefore a grotesque charade that Israel would offer the United States ethical tips on how its doctors can force-feed Guantanamo prisoners on hunger strike. The United States and Israel face prisoners on hunger strike due to similar repression and inhumane treatment of those they have imprisoned. In both countries, prisons are used to repress political dissent, to target those whose daily survival challenges a system designed to suppress and/or eliminate them, and to create an underclass whose lives are valued at nothing, who are deemed unworthy of protection, whose very existence is criminalized.
For Governor Brown to commemorate the horrors of Dachau while allowing the horrors of solitary confinement for years and decades is hypocrisy and brutality. While a death camp is different from a prison, the underlying logic of the racism and repression of the Nazi genocide resounds: that certain groups of people can be isolated, tortured and killed because of who they are and/or what they believe in.
As Jews in solidarity with prisoners organizing from Pelican Bay to Palestine to Guantanamo, we say Never Again for Anyone and demand that Governor Brown insist that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation meet the dignified demands of the brave and brilliantly organized hunger strikers for humane treatment.
Please take a moment to sign the Pledge of Resistance to stand with California prisoners on hunger strike!