09:00 AM Queens County Criminal Court 125-01 Queens Blvd, Kew Gardens 11415
Prosecuting Rikers Protesters Is a Crime on Top of a Crime
Rally to the Defense of Clark Kissinger and Miles Solay!
July 4, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
On October 23, 2015, a defiant, determined protest—including nonviolent civil disobedience—took place at the entrance to Rikers Island jail in New York City. The demand: that Rikers be SHUT DOWN! The action was part of three days of national protest—Rise Up October, Stop Police Terror, Which Side Are You On? It posed a moral and political challenge to all of society—and demanded an end to police terror and mass incarceration.
Clark Kissinger is part of the management of Revolution Books in New York City, has been a prominent figure of opposition to U.S. capitalism-imperialism beginning in the 1960s, heading Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and became a supporter of the Revolutionary Communist Party. Miles Solay is the founder of the revolutionary rock band Outernational, which has toured Europe, Latin America, and the U.S.
In the many months since their arrest, the prosecution has been adamant in refusing to drop or reduce these charges. Clark Kissinger and Miles Solay face up to a year in jail, and are scheduled for trial on July 12.
Now the question is posed again: Which side are you on?
Rikers Island prison is a crime. Persecuting Clark Kissinger and Miles Solay for demanding it be shut down is a crime on top of a crime. These charges are a direct challenge to anyone who refuses to accept a society defined in real ways by the crimes at Rikers.
Rikers Island Prison IS a Crime—Drop the Charges against Clark Kissinger and Miles Solay
The horrors inflicted on the eight to ten thousand people locked down in Rikers every night are almost always kept hidden. But over the past year or two, more and more of the crimes behind those walls have come to light.
In June, a high-ranking supervisor in the so-called “violence-reduction task force” at Rikers—Eliseo Perez—and seven guards were convicted of viciously beating 28-year-old Jahmal Lightfoot nearly to death in 2012. Perez told a prison guard captain: “This guy thinks he’s tough,” and then ordered subordinates to attack Lightfoot—who weighed 150 pounds. The beating fractured his eye sockets and broke his nose. Jahmal was given no medical treatment and was thrown into a cell nearly dead. Only when his family received an anonymous call from someone in the prison describing what happened was Lightfoot taken to a hospital for surgery.
Such crimes by authorities at Rikers are almost never prosecuted, or even exposed to the public.
The depraved beating of Jahmal Lightfoot was not an isolated incident. Over and over, those who know have exposed how violence against inmates is as much a part of Rikers as the bars and walls.
One 2012 study revealed that 43.7 percent of 16-, 17-, and 18-year-olds in Rikers had been subjected to violence by the authorities.
It is obscene, outrageous, and ILLEGITIMATE that Clark Kissinger and Miles Solay face a year in prison—possibly in Rikers—for demanding an end to these crimes!
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In October 2014, Jennifer Gonnerman’s piece in The New Yorker brought to light the case of Kalief Browder, who was repeatedly subjected to solitary confinement at Rikers. He was arrested at the age of 16, falsely accused of stealing a backpack. When he would not plead guilty to something he didn’t do, he was held for two years because he could not make $3,000 bail. He came out so traumatized that he took his own life. A 2013 survey revealed that 80 percent of people arrested in New York who had bail set at $500 or less could not make bail and were sent to Rikers.
In late 2015, Mary Buser’s book, Lockdown on Rikers: Shocking Stories of Abuse and Injustice at New York’s Notorious Jail, exposed systematic “barbaric” and “horrific” conditions in solitary confinement units, based on her (former) career as a social worker at Rikers.
The extended solitary confinement that prisoners at Rikers are subjected to is criminal torture by any objective definition, and defined as such by international law.
Clark Kissinger and Miles Solay are heroes for putting their bodies on the line to STOP these crimes. Bringing criminal charges against them is intolerable!
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In June of this year, barbaric and depraved rape of women prisoners by guards at Rikers came to light through lawsuits by two women victims of these attacks. In one case, a guard refused to wear a condom while he repeatedly raped a developmentally disabled woman, and then visited her family’s home to terrorize her, and them, to remain silent. The same month, a leaked internal report from Rikers authorities revealed that inmate complaints against rapist guards are routinely covered up even when there is video evidence of the assaults.
In response to this and other exposures of rape at Rikers, Gerard Bryant, who sits on the commission appointed to “oversee the Department of Correction and advance reforms to improve the quality of life for inmates and employees,” said: “As long as we are going to have prisons we are going to have sexual abuse in prisons.” And: “That’s the reality. That’s what happens.” There have been cries of outrage in some media coverage, but still no moves by the authorities to remove this apologist for rape of prisoners from overseeing “reforms” at Rikers.
NO CRIMINAL CHARGES have been brought against these rapist Rikers guards or the administrators and authorities who justify and oversee these crimes.
INSTEAD the system is targeting Clark Kissinger and Miles Solay, and through them, sending a message to anyone who would protest these crimes that the system will come down hard on you. THAT cannot go down.
Clark Kissinger told Revolution: “We are facing up to a year in Rikers Island for protesting the crimes being conducted at Rikers Island! So you have these guards being convicted for brutality against inmates. And now the system wants to turn around and go after the very people who are putting the spotlight on this situation—they want to put us away.”
This cannot go down without everyone with a conscience taking a stand!
A Critical Battle in the Fight to STOP Mass Incarceration
Rikers is typical of city and county jails across the United States—from those holding thousands every night in Los Angeles, Chicago, or Houston, to small-town lockups like the one in Texas where a Black woman driver, stopped for an alleged traffic infraction—Sandra Bland—was found dead in her cell last year.
At the same time, Rikers Island is a focal point in the battle to stop mass incarceration. Rikers is smack in the middle of New York City. It has been the object of important and searing exposure by activists, journalists, and others who have given voice to those behind the walls.
Millions of eyes have been opened to crimes being committed against prisoners in Rikers. Exposure of the horrors going on in Rikers has the potential to call into question for many—and not just those most directly targeted by mass incarceration and police terror—the legitimacy of the whole system.
And this is taking place in a country with more than two million people in jails and prisons—vastly disproportionately Black, Latino, and Native American. Over the past 30 years, the number of people in U.S. prisons increased by 500 percent. Mass incarceration, mainly of Black and Latino people, flows from the system of capitalism-imperialism in the United States. The oppression of Black people is interwoven in the history of this country, the fabric of this society, and the workings of this system. Getting beyond this will take an actual revolution, overthrowing this system and bringing about a radically different and far better economy and political and social system. We encourage everyone to dig deeply into works on revcom.us that go into this, especially the work of Bob Avakian.
Given the crimes of Rikers, and its exposure in the public eye, and for a whole range of reasons, the system is scrambling to cobble together commissions, reports, and minor reforms to blunt outrage. And there is conflict within the ruling class over how to deal with Rikers. As one expression of this, Norman Seabrook, the powerful head of the union of prison guards at Rikers, who for years has been a cheerleader for unrestrained and unapologetic brutality against prisoners, and who has been a significant player in the halls of power in New York City, was arrested on corruption charges last month.
This is the context in which Rise Up October organized the Shut Down Rikers protest, in which Miles Solay and Clark Kissinger participated. This is the context in which they were and are being singled out and subjected to prosecution which—if it succeeds—can result in harsh punishment that could potentially put them in the very hellhole they were protesting. The fact is that, at that moment, there were a lot more people outraged than were willing to take the stand that Miles Solay and Clark Kissinger took. That stand needed to be taken. In going after them, in singling out Clark Kissinger and Miles Solay for heavy criminal charges, in threatening them with a year in jail, the system is most fundamentally making a statement that it will not tolerate that.
And yet what these two did stands as a challenge not only to the authorities. It posed a challenge then, and it poses it again, now—a challenge people need to act on: Which side are you on?
The Stakes—And What Is Needed Now
The reality—right now—is that whether or not people rally behind them will have a great deal to do with whether or not Clark Kissinger and Miles Solay are convicted. The system’s prosecutors have made their determination clear to continue pursuing serious charges. The stakes include whether the system will deliver a message that people will pay a high price if they go beyond the bounds of what the system allows by way of protest.
Clark (left) and Miles (right) with Attorney Kenneth Gilbert.
Right now, everyone who refuses to turn aside from the crimes against humanity that is Rikers Island jail needs to stand with Clark Kissinger and Miles Solay.
First, if people DO rally behind them, if people DO fight this outrage on top of an outrage, then there is a chance to defeat this attack. And if people do rally behind Clark Kissinger and Miles Solay, that will amplify and make more powerful the challenge posed on October 23 last year. And it will strengthen the power and determination of people to STOP Genocidal Persecution, Mass Incarceration, Police Brutality, and Murder of Black and Brown People!
Second, there is the further dimension that Clark Kissinger and Miles Solay pose of fully confronting the implications of what one has come to understand, and acting on that—to STOP these crimes as part of bringing in a whole new world without these horrors. Speaking of the protest on October 23 last year, Miles Solay told Revolution: “We were not like [New York governor Andrew] Cuomo saying let’s find a more efficient, more economical and less embarrassing way to criminalize people and lock people up. No, we were saying Rikers should be shut down! And the people’s struggle to shut Rikers down is important not just in its own right, but also by getting connected to a movement transforming people’s thinking for revolution.”
There are great stakes here for the most fundamental need to get to a world without exploitation and oppression of any kind. The system is striking back. That system is at the root not only of mass incarceration, but of wars and environmental devastation, of the oppression of Black people, of immigrants, of women. The system is striking back with continuing determination to prosecute Clark Kissinger and Miles Solay. And people need to rally to their defense, to push back and fight back, as part of making revolution.
Again, if people DO rally behind them, if people DO fight this outrage on top of an outrage, then the illegitimacy of this very system that is behind the horror that is Rikers—and its prosecution of those protesting it—is further revealed, and further exposed. It gives backing to those who put themselves on the line to righteously fight the power, and not be confined and constrained by the boundaries on what the system has deemed acceptable and desirable opposition.
There are great stakes here for anyone of conscience.
Are you going to stand with these resisters, or are you going to be silent and let them be potentially sent to what all agree is a torture chamber?
Which side are you on? The question continues to be posed.