WIN Letter

Fall 2009

Resisting Fear,
Resisting State Violence

On October 5, members of the War Resisters League and other organizations and communities participated in a direct action at the White House to oppose the war in Afghanistan. Sixty-one protesters were arrested, and one group attempted to deliver a letter to President Barack Obama demanding an end to occupation and military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Many WIN readers have probably been involved in a similar demonstration or know someone who has. Encounters with the law are sometimes part of a strategy to bring attention to an issue or demand. Sometimes they are an unfortunate result of an attempt to exercise the right to free speech or assembly.

Late in September, police attacked protesters at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh with brand-new “non-lethal” technology: the long-range acoustic device (LRAD), which emits sound at an incapacitating volume and frequency, and the vehicle-mounted active denial system (V-MAD), which sends an electromagnetic beam of heat to stop its target in his or her tracks. The same technology has also been deployed in Iraq against “insurgents” and in Honduras outside the Brazilian Embassy. This crossover between police and military use of high-tech weapons is worrisome because it further blurs the line between “law and order” and an all-out police state.

A video emerged from those demonstrations in which riot police posed for a photo, amid much cheering, with a “trophy” prisoner—on his knees, hands behind his back—eerily reminiscent of photos coming out of U.S. prisons in which abuse and humiliation were prevalent.

Why were there 200 arrests at the G20 and none at the “tea party” protests two weeks before? Policing has historically targeted people of color, poor people, and young people. This is the system that ultimately determines who ends up behind bars. A look at U.S. military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan shows a similar trend: civilian targets in small villages with an Arab population.

This time out, WIN asks its readers to look at law enforcement in the United States and the military abroad as two sides of the same coin—coin being the operative word. In this issue, renowned journalist and political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal exposes the military- and prison-industrial complexes as necessitated by a global economy in which crime and terror are the excuses for spending billions of tax dollars repressing dissidents. In a similar vein, Lorenzo Jones illustrates how capitalism and the prison-industrial complex (PIC) are locked in a cycle of dependence, the PIC creating jobs in every major industry while sucking down tax dollars like a bank bailout.

Bonnie Kerness provides a glimpse into management control units, supermaximum facilities that use isolation and torture techniques not implemented in the general population, and Rights for Imprisoned People with Psychiatric Disabilities (RIPPD) speaks to the use of solitary confinement as a means of dealing with people with mental illness, who are often criminalized instead of being offered treatment. RIPPD’s campaign against jail expansion is exemplary, however, of grassroots social justice at work.

Also looking toward alternatives, Victoria Law shares some of her extensive research into women prisoners’ resistance movements and calls on those on the outside to support the struggles that are resulting in real change. And Terry Kayser talks about the Alternatives to Violence Project, which developed a workshop based on prisoner experiences and facilitated by volunteers who guide participants through communication exercises and teach nonviolent techniques.

This expanded issue also contains an interview with WRL’s Linda Thurston, a review of an autobiography by the only freed member of the Angola 3,’s Liliana Segura on organizing around the death penalty under the Obama administration, and much more. As with most issues, there was more to say than these pages could hold. We hope you will look for Jamie Bissonett’s When Prisoners Ran Walpole at your local bookstore; download resources from prison justice websites like,, and; and start up a dialogue with someone on the inside.