Sunday, September 02, 2007

MECAWI Forum Exposed the Prison System From Many Angles

Prison system exposed from many angles

By Cheryl LaBash
Published Aug 30, 2007 12:27 AM

The hall for an Aug. 25 forum on “The Prison-Industrial Complex and Prisoners’ Rights” was packed, illustrating how deeply Detroiters feel about these issues, particularly the African-American community and other people of color. A panel of speakers and a film—“Torture: America’s Brutal Prisons”—documented that what has happened in Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay and Afghan detention centers is part and parcel of the U.S. government’s denial of fundamental human and civil rights of oppressed peoples here and around the world.

From different perspectives, speakers exposed a system that has resulted in more than 2 million people each year finding themselves in the clutches of the U.S. prison-industrial complex. The meeting was initiated and chaired by Kevin Carey of Workers World Party.

According to Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of Pan African Newswire and an activist with the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War and Injustice (MECAWI), the U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of those imprisoned, and is one of the few countries that still inflicts the death penalty.

Doreen Bey, a youth advocate, described the war on youth that ensnares 65,000 young people in Michigan each year, leading to prison terms for 4,000. Stuck with court-appointed attorneys, young people are often questioned without their parents or lawyers present. Strong-armed into plea bargaining, they are channeled into a system that collects $50,000 per child incarcerated. Bey stated that many youth sentenced to life imprisonment can’t comprehend what that means and still ask when they are going home.

Two speakers who have been struggling for a jury of peers for people of color now face serious retaliation for defending this basic democratic right. Judge Deborah Thomas can no longer hear pretrial motions and is facing action to remove her from the bench because she allegedly is anti-police and pro-defendant. Rev. Edward Pinkney spoke to the meeting via phone from house arrest in Benton Harbor. Pinkney was convicted by an all-white jury after an earlier, diverse jury could not reach a decision on politically motivated fraud charges.

Additional speakers included Kay Perry of MI-CURE, which monitors state legislation related to prison reform, and Andrea Egypt of MECAWI, who spoke on the plight of women in the prison system. An urgent appeal was made to stop the pending Texas execution of Kenneth Foster and a report was presented on new developments in the case of the Cuban Five, who are being held in U.S. prisons.

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