Opinion: The Government Is Allowing Covid-19 To Ethnically Cleanse Prison Systems

Opinion: The Government Is Allowing Covid-19 To Ethnically Cleanse Prison Systems

Opinion: The government is allowing covid-19 to ethnically cleanse prison systems, where Black prisoners are infected and dying at disproportionate rates. Image: MMG

Is the U.S. government using the covid-19 pandemic to help ethnically cleanse the prison systems?

The evidence points to this, according to the supporters of political prisoners Ruchell Magee, Romaine “Chip” Fitzgerald, Imam Jamil Al-Amin, Dr. Mutulu Shakur, and Mumia Abu Jamal.

“More and more people are coming to the belief that the federal and state governments are allowing for the covid-19 virus to ethnically cleanse prison systems nationally,” wrote JR Valrey, a journalist, author, and filmmaker in The San Francisco Bay View. “Look at the numbers of Black prisoners who are being infected and dying in an environment where social distancing is impossible.”

The coronavirus is spreading rapidly and seemingly unchecked in the country’s prisons, which are disproportionately filled with Black inmates. 

African Americans are incarcerated at five times the rate of white people, according to the NAACP. In 2014, African Americans constituted 2.3 million, or 34 percent, of the total 6.8 million correctional population.

There are 1,747 federal inmates who tested positive for covid-19 nationwide and 64 federal inmate deaths attributed to the virus, according the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). That’s out of 136,610 federal inmates in BOP-managed institutions and 12,229 in community-based facilities.  

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“American prisons are death traps,” said Johanna Fernandez, a longtime Mumia Abu Jamal supporter and associate history professor at Baruch College, CUNY. “They are the places with the highest rate of coronavirus infection in the world. Incarceration in the time of covid skirts the genocidal cruelty of death by disease of the Nazis. If the state cannot protect the lives of prisoners, it must let them go.”

Black political prisoners are at the top of the government’s list for “biological execution,” according to Valrey, who goes by “The People’s Minister of Information.”

Magee is the longest-held political prisoner in the U.S.. He’s been locked up since 1963 after participating in the Marin County Courthouse Rebellion — the attempted liberation of a political prisoner named George Jackson. Harold Haley was taken hostage, shot and allegedly killed by Magee. Magee pled guilty to aggravated kidnapping for his part in the assault. In return for his plea, the Attorney General asked the court to dismiss the charge of murder. Magee was sentenced in 1975 to life in prison, Prison Solitary reported. Magee had tried, unsuccessfully, to withdraw his plea.

Former Black Panther Fitzgerald has served 50 years in the California State Department of Corrections. He is the longest-incarcerated Black Panther in U.S. history, People’s World reported.

“To risk them dying from (the covid-19) virus is cruel and unusual, given that they are old men who are not a threat to anyone,” said Arthur League, a former Black Panther political prisoner himself and head of the Romaine “Chip” Fitzgerald and Ruchell Magee Freedom Campaign. “They should be freed to live out the rest of their lives with whatever family they have still living. This is something being done around this country right now for people with connections.”

Political prisoners are being targeted, Valrey concludes, because they are the most feared. 

“We are told to distance ourselves from each other by 6 feet. How do these old men distance themselves by 6 feet in a 6-foot-by-9-foot cell? Should they sleep standing up all night?” League said.

Mumia Abu-Jamal is a journalist and political activist who was sentenced to death and then to life in prison for the 1981 murder of a police officer in Philadelphia, Encyclopedia Britannica reported. Abu-Jamal has always maintained he was wrongfully convicted.

“Mumia is concerned for himself and others across the country. He is concerned that the state will use covid-19 to deepen repression and control in the prisons,” said Fernandez, author of the new book “The Young Lords” and host of “It’s a Good Day” morning show on New York’s WBAI radio station. 

“In Mahanoy (correctional facility in Pennsylvania) where Mumia is imprisoned, the men have been on lockdown for over two months,” Fernandez said. “The men are allowed outside their cells on their blocks – seven to 14 men at a time – for 45 minutes a day. During this time, they are expected to bathe, use the phone and clean their cells. Mumia reports that prisoners were given four masks each at the time of the lockdown and that prisoners have been cleaning the units at the end of every 45-minute interval.”

Since Mumia suffers from diabetes and hepatitis, he has pre-existing conditions that make it easier for him to contract covid-19. 

Like Mumia, activist Mutulu Shakur has a pre-existing condition —  bone marrow cancer. Shakur is a former member of the Black Liberation Army. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison for his involvement in a 1981 robbery of a Brinks armored truck in which a guard and two police officers were murdered.

Talib Shakur, one of the sons of Dr. Mutulu Shakur, is an active leader in his father’s freedom campaign. Underlying health issues are not the only reason Dr. Mutulu Shakur should be released. “Our father would be a supporting factor in helping to heal people through his many forms of healing techniques,” Talib Shakur said.

Talib Shakur explained, “Dr. Mutulu Shakur qualifies for compassionate release due to his health issues, and the fact that he should have been released years ago. He is battling bone marrow cancer, diabetes, as well as a few other health issues. The family and friends (now) have to worry if Dr. Shakur is going to be infected with the coronavirus. The virus has (already) been brought into the facility through outside sources.”

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Corrections spending is now the third-largest category of spending in most states, behind education and health care, according to a 2014 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The U.S. government is ruthless and has organized the country’s economy around incarceration, Fernandez said.

Al-Amin, formerly known as H. Rap Brown, is in his 20th year of captivity on the trumped-up charge of killing a police officer in Georgia in 2000, even though another man, Otis Jackson, admitted to the shooting. Al-Amin was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s, and then became a member of the Black Panther Party. He is serving a life sentence.

“Because he is Imam Jamil-H. Rap Brown, the only option for release for him is us making the kind of noise necessary for change – and directing it to people capable of affecting the change we seek,” said Kairi Al-Amin, the son and lawyer on his father’s defense team

According to The San Francisco Bay View, all stories written about COVID-19 were partially made possible by the Akonadi Fund #SoLoveCanWin. The Akonadi Fund was launched in 2000 and has supported over 1,800 organizations that have centered power-building and organizing to fuel a racial justice movement in Oakland.