“The California prisoners’ hunger strike is a courageous call for the California prison system to come out of the shadows and join a world in which the rights and dignity of every person is respected.”
That’s the closer of an oped piece by Angela Davis, “professor emeritus of history of consciousness and feminist studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.” There’s a lot more to professor Davis, and her latest cause could also stand some scrutiny.
Peter Coyote, Susan Sarandon and other Hollywood celebrities have signed a letter of support for prisoners engaged in a hunger strike over conditions in the security housing unit at Pelican Bay State Prison. Professor Davis claims such solitary confinement constitutes “torture.” But according to the liberal editorial board of the Sacramento Bee, which has been critical of Pelican Bay in the past, the stars “ought to save their outrage.”
The inmates fomenting the hunger strike, who claim their human rights are being violated, “include killers and leaders of the most brutal gangs in the prison system. They are from the Aryan Brotherhood, Black Guerrilla Family, Mexican Mafia and Nuestra Familia.” Prison officials say the hunger strike “has nothing to do with conditions and everything to do with gang leaders wanting to get into the general population so they can more readily conduct their gang business.” The Bee agrees, and adds some detail.
The security housing units are stark, “but it’s not as if they are rat-infested, medieval holes. Many inmates have cellmates and can talk through the locked doors to their neighbors. Pelican Bay inmates have televisions, with 23 channels, including the four broadcast networks, PBS, BET and ESPN, plus educational and self-help channels and Bible channels in English and Spanish.” Inmates have to “work” to get in such units. That is, they commit acts of violence. “For the safety of other inmates,” the Bee said, “that’s where some of them should remain.”
These are “gang leaders who masquerade as human rights advocates” and the celebrities “diminish their credibility” by embracing their cause. As readers of this profile will understand, it’s a bit different for Angela Davis, who does have some knowledge of violent prisoners such as Black Panther George Jackson, responsible for killing a guard at Soledad Prison.
As this article described it, Davis brought the “arsenal of weapons” to spring Jackson. On August 7, 1970, “George Jackson’s 17-year-old brother, Jonathan, charged into a Marin County courtroom and took several people hostage, including Judge Harold Haley, the prosecuting assistant DA, and two jurors. The assailants taped a sawed-off shotgun (owned by Davis) to Haley’s chin. In the ensuing escape attempt, a shootout took place during which Haley’s head was blown off, and Jonathan Jackson was killed.”
Davis fled but was arrested in New York. At her 1972 trial more than 20 witnesses implicated her in the plot to free Jackson, but she was acquitted. That made her a national figure and helped launch her political career.
In 1979, she won the International Lenin Peace Prize, awarded by East Germany, a totalitarian state that shot people for the crime of attempting to leave the country, a practice Davis never criticized. The Lenin Peace Prize helped her rise in the Communist Party USA, a creation of the Soviet Union, whose vast Gulag prison system never bothered Angela Davis, a faithful soldier in totalitarianism’s alibi armory.
In 1980 and 1984 Davis was CPUSA vice-presidential candidate, on the bottom of the ticket under white Stalinist Gus Hall. She and Hall lost, but that defeat, her advocacy for totalitarian dictatorships, and her involvement in Soledad case, could not prevent Davis from becoming professor of history of consciousness and feminist studies at UC Santa Cruz. As such, Angela Davis is a highly paid and pensioned member of California’s ruling class. She is also, like the Pelican Bay hunger strikers, masquerading as human rights activist. But on another level, her activism makes perfect sense.
In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the question arises about the place in the revolution of wild, non-domesticated creatures. The revolutionary leaders decide that, yes, rats are comrades. Likewise, in the view from the Hollywood and academic Left, violent criminals like the Pelican Bay gang bosses are simply more victims of capitalist injustice. That’s why Hollywood stars and Angela Davis support them.
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