RNA Citizens and Friends,
The following articles illustrate why it is important to know and understand our human rights (international law) as well as our civil rights (U.S. domestic law).
It's 2012 and the term "New Afrikan" is still viewed as threatening within the United States penal system. Those who claim New Afrikan national identity are routinely singled out, punished and prevented from exercising the basic rights that belong to human beings everywhere (even in prison). Such violations usually go unnoticed by --- and unreported to --- an unconcerned public. Every now and then, however, victims of the system take a principled stand for their rights regardless of the consequences.
Let us recall what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
New Afrikans outside of prison walls must be just as vigilant because we may be subjected to similar denials of our human rights.
Let us continue to learn the lessons of history.
Your brother and servant,Ukali Mwendo
Minister of the Interior
Provisional Government - Republic of New Afrika
When maximum-security inmate James Crawford tried to mail a letter to a San Francisco newspaper in which he described himself as a "New Afrikan Nationalist Revolutionary Man," a prison officer confiscated it, saying it threatened prison security and probably contained coded gang messages.
But the officer failed to identify the code, specify the security threat or respect the constitutional rights of the inmate, a state appeals court ruled Monday in ordering the letter delivered - more than two years after it was written.
"Prisoners retain their right to the freedom of speech unless the warden can prove that exercising that right would constitute a threat to prison security," said the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco.
"Even prisoners who are gang members retain rights of expression and those rights cannot be taken away by a governmental agency simply speculating" about security risks, said Justice James Lambden in the 3-0 ruling.
Crawford was convicted of robbery and auto theft in Los Angeles County, according to state records. Described by prison officials as a member of the Black Guerrilla Family prison gang, he is in the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay State Prison in Del Norte County.
The prison seized his letter, addressed to the San Francisco Bay View newspaper, from its mail system in April 2010. The letter disputed the newspaper's tally of political prisoners in California and said there were many inmates, like Crawford, held in solitary confinement "because of political beliefs in a New Afrikan Nationalist Revolutionary Man."
A prison guard who monitors the gang's mail said "New Afrikan" was a reference to the Black Guerrilla Family's ideology. Gang members use that ideology, the guard said, in "sophisticated codes" to promote gang activity, both in the prisons and on the streets.
Crawford denied any such intention and said his message was entirely political. Stanford history Professor James Campbell submitted a declaration in his behalf, saying "New Afrikan" was a phrase from a self-determination movement in the 1960s and 1970s that was unrelated to prison gangs.
Crawford's lawyer, Donald Specter, said Monday's ruling was important for prisoners who have "very limited access to the outside world."
"To have the prison censor them is to deprive them of what little freedom they have left," he said.
Bob Egelko is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article appeared on page C - 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle
Prison is hardly supposed to be pleasant. Inmates are deprived of their freedom because they did terrible things. James Crawford, for example, was convicted of robbery and auto theft, and is reportedly a member of the Black Guerrilla Family, a notorious and violent prison gang.
That’s why Mr. Crawford has been incarcerated in Pelican Bay, the toughest and most secure prison facility in California.
But even the most dangerous inmates deserve certain rights. One of these is the right to communicate with the outside world. Two years ago, officials with the Department of Corrections tried to deny him that right. They were wrong to try, and state appellate Justice James Lambden was right last week when he ordered prison officials to lift what amounted to an arbitrary gag order.
In April 2010, Crawford wrote a letter to the editor of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper in which he addressed a recent article about political prisoners in the United States.
Crawford claimed the newspaper seriously undercounted the number of political prisoners, and that inmates such as himself were being held in solitary confinement because of their “political beliefs in a New Afrikan Nationalist Revolutionary Man.”
Prison officials opened and read the letter, as is customary. But this reference to a “New Afrikan,” they decided, was part of a sophisticated code to promote the Black Guerrilla Family’s criminal agenda out on the mean streets of California. They refused to allow Crawford to mail it.
Crawford sued, with the help of attorney Donald Spector. He and Spector produced James Campbell, a Stanford historian who testified that the phrase “New Afrikan” has a long legacy in the history of black nationalism and is hardly unique to the Black Guerrilla Family.
As for the Pelican Bay officials, they never bothered to elaborate on what sort of code Crawford was allegedly using. They simply said so, denied his rights and went to court.
On June 4, Lambden wrote for a unanimous three-person appellate court committee when he declared that Pelican Bay officials had gratuitously denied Crawford’s fundamental right to communicate with others and didn’t even bother to explain why. Crawford’s rights, he concluded, “cannot be taken away by a government agency simply speculating.”
As a result, Crawford’s letter will now be sent to the Bay View — two years later. That prison officials can simply refuse to allow something as basic as the right to communicate with the outside world, and force inmates to spend two years in court, is more than a little galling.
But at least the 1st District Court of Appeal has ruled against them and stood up for the First Amendment.
California’s prisons have been plagued by numerous scandals, from allegations of brutality to widespread failures in medical care for inmates. Inmates must be allowed to speak to the rest of us, and not have their rights be subject to the whims of prison censors.
Otherwise, we may never learn what next scandal is brewing inside the system. We hope that Pelican Bay officials learn from this case and never try to suppress the rights of inmates again.