Pressure for justice mounts in California in the wake of a racist, violent, life-endangering raid against Black prisoners at Soledad State Prison. Racist prison guards brutalized more than 200 Black prisoners at Soledad in a violent 3 a.m. raid on July 20, forcing prisoners to sit shoulder-to-shoulder, with no masks. Guards in riot gear hurled racial slurs at the Black men who were targeted.
A protest has been called on Aug 22 outside of the prison against this racist guard terrorism, as part of a series of three statewide actions organized by We Bring Change, including an Aug 29 protest at the warden’s house who was reported to have high-fived the guards during the racist attacks.
Formally known as Correctional Training Facility, the prison reported its first cases of COVID-19 two weeks after the assault. Soledad prison is currently at 136 percent capacity according to the California Department of Corrections, meaning any outbreak has a high possibility of affecting the vast majority of those incarcerated.
Tasha Williams, whose husband was one of the inmates attacked, described how prisoners were torn from their beds as they slept, slammed to the ground, then “zip-tied and led in the dark to the chow hall. The men were barefoot, wearing only what they’d fallen asleep in. They weren’t even allowed to grab their masks.”
Letters from an anonymous group from inside the prison known as PHERM were sent to Tasha Williams and published in the San Francisco Bay View Newspaper about the guards assault, and how the guards pressed their knees on some prisoners’ necks in the same manner that George Floyd was brutally murdered.
Guards forced the 200 Black men to sit together in a room with no masks “as a tower sniper was called, just in case one or some of the cuffed men needed to be executed on the spot.” (SF Bayview) All the while the guards, many of whom were not wearing facemasks and who covered their name badges, hurled racial epithets at the prisoners and yelled “Black lives don’t matter.” PHERM reported: “The pigs also told multiple victims, ‘By the time this is over, you n*****rs will have COVID-19!’”
Meanwhile, prison guards ransacked every cell, stealing “every book, piece of mail, note and phone book that they could find.” (SF Bayview)
This deliberate targeting was done with the full support of Warden C. Koenig, who was “observed high-fiving the pigs, yelling, ‘Good strike!’”
The prisoners explained:
“We believe prison guards are making every attempt to agitate and provoke violent responses from the prisoners. Violent responses will contribute to their narrative that all prisoners are violent and undeserving of early release or rehabilitation.
“We believe prison guards are making deliberate attempts to infect the prisoner population with COVID-19. An infected prisoner eliminates his chances of early parole due to COVID-19 prevention. We also believe the motivating factor behind the wannabe commandos’ use of excessive and unnecessary force on unarmed sleeping Black prisoners is racism.”
Fifty years ago, Soledad Prison was the scene of another racist terror attack.
“Black August” is honored every year to commemorate the fallen freedom fighters of the Black Liberation Movement, to call for the release of political prisoners in the United States, to condemn the oppressive conditions of U.S. prisons, and to emphasize the continued importance of the Black Liberation struggle.
George Jackson was an outstanding revolutionary leader. At age 19 in 1961, Jackson was convicted of a $70 gas station armed robbery and sentenced an indeterminate term of one year to life in prison, with the actual length of term to be determined by the state authorities. Jackson would never be released.
Jackson was first exposed to radical politics by fellow inmate W.L. Nolen, a Black Panther, and quickly dedicated himself to raising political consciousness among the prisoners and to organizing their peers in the California prison system. Nolen and Jackson were transferred to Soledad prison. In 1970, Nolen, who was planning to file a lawsuit against the prison’s superintendent, was assassinated.
Days later, George Jackson and fellow radical prisoners Fleeta Drumgo and John Clutchette were accused of killing a prison guard, allegedly in retaliation for Nolen’s death. They became known as the Soledad Brothers. Drumgo and Clutchette would later be acquitted.
Jackson was transferred to San Quentin Prison, where he was designated Field Marshall by the national leadership of the Black Panther Party. On August 21, 1971, he was assassinated by a guard in the midst of a prison rebellion, a month shy of his 30th birthday.
The San Quentin uprising, the execution of George Jackson, and the Attica Rebellion a few weeks later were among the primary catalysts for what came to be commemorated as Black August.
Jackson’s brilliant analysis of prisons and police, national oppression, class struggle, revolutionary internationalism and more, were captured in his books, “Soledad Brother” and “Blood in My Eye,” and many articles and letters.
In describing the real role of the police in a letter to attorney Fay Stender, he wrote: “You’ve heard the patronizing shit about the thin blue line that protects property and the owners of property. The pigs are not protecting you, your home, and its contents. Recall they never found the TV set you lost in that burglary. They’re protecting the unnatural right of a few men to own the means of all of our subsistence.”
Today mere possession of George Jackson’s writings – whether his books or even just a quote – could send a prisoner to indefinite solitary confinement within California’s prisons. Even in death his words kindle revolutionary fire in face of oppression.