Archive for prison industrial complex

“Real Life Superheroes”: Up with Costumes, Down with Crime on the Streets of Seattle

Posted in comics, humor, politics, racism, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 14, 2010 by Sunshine Superboy

the shins as superheroes

indie band, the Shins, spooning as super heroes

I just want to point out that in order to be a “super” hero, you need to have a “super power” (even if thats just being a frickin’ maniacal billionaire- see Bruce Wayne or Bill Gates). Otherwise, you’re just a “hero” which ain’t all that bad, so why try and front like you can cling to or walk through walls, or like you have bulletproof skin, clairvoyance, or the gift of flight.

From an actual story in the actual news:

SEATTLE, Cascadia
real life superhero
Green Reaper, Penelope, Thorn, Thunder 88, Buster Doe, No Name, Catastrophe, Gemini and Phoenix Jones the Guardian of Seattle. These are the names of the costumed superheros who are now patrolling our city, ensuring your safety… I know. We’re excited too.

The PI reports late on Thursday that a group of masked vigilantes calling themselves the Rain City Superhero Movement has been patrolling Seattle streets for a few weeks now. They wear costumes, they ride around in a Kia at night looking for trouble and occasionally, they get stabbed. Seattle Police think they’re silly at best, dangerous at worst. They cite cases where one darkly clad crusader was nearly shot when he came running out of a park in the middle of the night, or when a woman saw a bunch of costumed freaks pull up to a gas station and thought they were there to rob the place.

“Phoenix Jones the Guardian of Seattle” seems to be the one member that the cops and the media have the most info on–and still, it’s not much. We know he’s a 22-year-old man who met with police at the station last month in near full regalia: black cape, blue tights, black fedora, white belt and mask. He’d have brought the rest of his gear, he told them, but it was being repaired after he got stabbed trying to break up a drug buy. But don’t worry. Jones tells the PI that he and his squad are professionals.

“I don’t condone people walking around on the street with masks. Everyone on my team either has a military background or a mixed martial arts background, and we’re well aware of what its costs to do what we do.”

The crew appears to draw a lot of its marching orders from real life super heros dot org. That’s right, dot org. Also, another site noted by the police has an actual “manual” for becoming a super hero. It’s packed with info on picking out fly crime fighting “threads” and weapons, assembling a kick-ass utility belt, keeping your “hero health” in tip-top shape and finding pressure points on your enemies that will render them incapacitated.

Nowhere on the site are any tips for finding a girlfriend [or boyfriend?] or holding down a job.

It’s not clear how the Rain City Superhero Movement is alerted to crimes. They may have police scanners, they may have inside sources, or simply internet access to the Seattle Police Dpt blog. They don’t, at this point, have a skyward pointed spotlight of any kind or a direct line to Mayor McGinn.

But they do have our attention. And it’s likely that that’s all they wanted in the first place.


Okay, so at first glance… kinda bad-ass, if you can get past the LARP feeling of it (Life Action Role Play). But I have something to say here, and its a critique simultaneously of these Puget Sound vigilantes, and of Batman, the Justice League, and some of Marvel’s “crime fighters”. And thats this:

who the fuck decided that these things were “crimes”?

Minor drug possession? Vandalism? Petty drug deals? I’m sorry, but feeling some-kinda-way about the Prison Industrial Complex, I’m actually more invested in de-criminalizing this bullshit than reinforcing the cops, let alone beating people up, who 98% of the time are poor and brown and probably desperate.

If owning-class men with the means to buy utility belt gadgets felt like hunting down “criminals” outside of the system, why not pick up the slack of the police, and chase after white-collar criminals? Its pretty widely agreed (especially in the wake of ENRON, Bernie Madoff, toxic loans, and mortgage scams, though thats clearly the tip of a melty iceburg), that corporate crime is the most rampant and most severe crime and has the lowest rate of crime-busting! Go kick some ass, LARPers!

prison industrial complex

If you want to make me feel more safe, I’d love it if you could storm board meetings, planning commissions, law offices- hell the police department itself, and bring some real justice into the picture. In the mean time, how about everyday people take everyday steps to learn more about community accountability and transformative justice so we can more effectively end violent neighborhood drug circuits, intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and workplace harassment. These are things that we are more than capable of handling in-house (thank you very much, but you can be on your way officer), and even be stronger as a result of it.

If there’s one take-home lesson from these bold (if politically uncritical) costumed warriors, its that we don’t need to sit around waiting for the state (in the form of courts, cops, jails, and inadequate public defenders), to make our communities safer. We can step up and do that ourselves by practicing restorative justice and even transformative justice. Indeed, community responses that sideline punitive/ retributive measures are quite possibly the only thing that will make our neighborhoods into better places.

Up up and Away,
Sunshine Superboy

oh, also (PS) the superhero manual has a page about women’s self defense including eye gouge techniques and stuff. Guess what? Anyone of any gender can read it (if they can read english)!


White Privilege part II

Posted in racism with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 20, 2009 by Sunshine Superboy


remember when I broached the subject a few months ago

white privilege doesn’t have to= white guilt. Owning up to your privilege (of any kind) is not an admission of being an evil judgmental oppressor. Check that BS at the door and lets get down to business, deal?

true story:
a friend of mine came to one of the United States from her native South Africa. She came for the purpose of studying here, ostensibly with people who were not idiots- her pursuit being a PhD in Anthropology. Somebody should have told her how unexpectedly idiotic and uninformed North Americans can be. Being a bright scholar, though, she figured this out very quickly and almost entirely on her own. I’m sure she anticipated that the privileges afforded legal citizens of Northern countries would come along with a certain ignorance, white-privilegebut surely political-economic legacies of institutionalized racism should be widely understood (at least among those who are privileged enough to embark on a graduate level social-science education)?! Even the white ones,… right???

So my friend, the South African scholar, she shows up in a mid-western United State and meets a white woman, a North American, and this north american women hones in on my friend and starts spouting some nonsense (leaning in to ensure that her heartfelt comments are really connecting), about how it “must have been really hard for [my friend] to get to the United States” and that her family “must be so proud and must have had to sacrifice a lot for [my friend] to be here”. Okay, so my friend is a white South African. Did I mention that?

So now my friend stares back at this quixotic North American and she’s all “actually, its not a big deal; you do get that I’m a white South African, right? Like there’s all this institutionalized privileged and wealth that was built up for white South Africans throughout most of the 20th century under apartheid.”

[blank stare] “but like, you’re from ‘Africa,’ and its like such a great privilege to have someone from your country study in the United States. Like I bet that doesn’t happen- like barely at all…”

Basically my friend walked away from the conversation after seeing that this American was not going to get it. Prolly something along the lines of “whatever, this person is an idiot.” My friend recounted this story to me, exasperated, like it was some anthropological testament to how totally oblivs someone could be.

And neither of us knew who should be more embarrassed? Me, her North American friend whose American citizenship and the inane cultural acceptability of national ignorance to global history and political economy was implicated? Or she, whose whiteness, like some sort of emperor’s clothes, could exist in the world as simultaneously so embarrassing, so arrogant, and such an impervious forcefield of power to shield, to wield, and to exert.

We shared a poignant silence realizing the fairly cast associations and how stupidities reflected on our own privileges. But also shared a motionless wink, with the trust we had in each other and solidarity that we shared, that we were who we were because we “owned” our privileges and worked to understand them. mirebiwhiteTo see the windmills and distinguish them from the real threats of institutionalized racism. To open our eyes and see that the Emperor struts, naked, vainglorious, exposed. And the roles that both nation (imperialism) and race (white supremacy) play in misrecognition and failure to identify.

My friend turned to this white gringo (she tells me), locks onto her gaze and explains quite matter of factly: “you get that being white in apartheid, and even post apartheid South Africa means that I very well may have been afforded more privileges than you (leading to my being here)?!!”

And I try to explain to white Northamericans all the time, the ways in which the overt machine of apartheid era racism, so shamelessly codified in law as recently as 15-20 years ago, is the same core of white supremacy that affords americans of european descent the hidden, invisible, or un-uttered advantages that keep the “good schools” white, the acceptible standards “anglo-american”, and the safe/innocent neighborhoods the palest in complexion.

I mean, duh. Who was locked up on Robben Island under apartheid? How many white folks (and institutions) talk about the two million black people (especially men) incarcerated in U.S. prisons– all for doing the a lot of the same shit that white folks do, in greater numbers, every day in this country??

As I said in my last post on white privilege. Shits just the tip of the iceberg.

Chimurenga! Chimurenga!
Sunshine Superboy

“psssst, dude, you sound like a racist”:

Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Loot for Food

Posted in maps & mapping, politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 17, 2009 by Sunshine Superboy

Yesterday was awful. Lets not really talk about it. On a positive note, some of you devoted fans of blackmaps have begun submitting maps, links, and geeky news items for me to share with the blackmap-o-sphere, and that my friends, is totally awesome!

This one is from my good long-distance-friend,Lydia in NOLA, and it partially inspired the theme of today’s post.

keeping in the spirit of sharing and circulating awesome things that are already out there in the blogosphere, I’m reposting this interview badass radical geographer, Prof Ruth Gilmore about prisons.

Interview by Andalusia Knoll

From Sept. 26th to 28th, nearly 3,500 people from across the U.S. gathered in Oakland California for the CR10 Conference and Strategy Session. Organized by the national Grassroots Prison Abolition group Critical Resistance, conference attendees strategized and shared stories of their work to end societies use of prisons and policing as an answer to social problems. At CR10 Andalusia Knoll along with The Thousand Kites Project interviewed conference attendees and attempted to capture the stories of those organizing against the prison industrial complex.

In the following interview Andalusia Knoll speaks with professor, author and founding member of the Critical Resistance collective Ruth Gilmore.

AK: You have spoken about how the concept of Prison Abolition has become more accepted over the past ten years, since the founding of Critical Resistance. Now that more people have an understanding of what you mean when you speak about abolishing Prisons, how do do you think we should move forward?

RG: One thing that has been happening a lot that is really encouraging to me is that people work on all different kinds of issues that are across the landscape of social justice, economic justice and racial justice and gender justice activism are starting to see that every issue connects in really profound ways and one place that they all connect is around and in the prison industrial complex. ruthgilmoreThe abandonment of schools and the growth of prisons go together; enforced gender normality and the growth of prisons go together, white supremacy and the growth of prisons goes together. So now people are persuaded of the connections; practically speaking how do we craft campaigns that will move us forward? I had the good fortune yesterday to facilitate a workshop of people who worked on three different campaigns to stop jail expansion; one in New Orleans, one in Monroe County, Indiana , where the second Klan was born in the 1920’s and the third in the South Bronx. They talked about their strategies, what worked, their campaigns at different levels of development. It was exciting and inspiring to have people share their best strategies, and figure out their failures. Also, it was really obvious that the kinds of people who are drawn to the work are much more diverse in every imaginable way than people who I encountered ten years ago.

That example that you gave is definitely an inspiring one, of people who organize against the construction of new jails. That fits into the prison abolition framework, but what about many people who are more engaged in more reformist activities. In Pennsylvania there is a group called Fight for Lifers; comprised of prisoners serving life without parole and their loved ones who together are fighting for people to be able to be sentenced to life with parole, as opposed to life without parole. What advice do you have for people doing this work that is clearly necessary and how they can incorporate an overarching abolitionist thought into their work?

One of the simple rules of thumb, for me is to ask does the work that I or anybody else is doing in any way extend the scope or the life of the prison industrial complex. If people are fighting on behalf of people who are lifers to get the possibility of parole for them, what they are doing is shortening the life and scope of the prison industrial complex, by trying to figure out how, even if it is one person at a time, they can get them out. That is what abolition work is, even if it doesn’t feel like abolition work and that’s what abolition work its that kind of detail, painstaking, troubling work and that’s different than saying: That’s different from saying “We are against the death penalty. Let’s have life without parole.” That’s not abolition work even though abolishing the death penalty is a good thing.

Today after I presented a workshop about the Prison Poster Project this woman came up to me and asked “Okay I get it you don’t want people to be in prison.” But what do we want? What are these alternatives? I told her personally that I was opposed to the capitalist system at large, but to me abolition work includes a whole restructuring of society. Do you believe that prison abolition has to include this kind of restructuring and if so and how so?

The two biggest reasons that people are in prison are issues around income and issues around illness. That’s the reason most people in prison are in prison. These are things we can address without putting people in cages and employing other people to watch the people in cages. So yes, we are talking about a wholesale restructuring of society. Now some people say to me, and I’m getting old I’m in my late 50’s, “this will take forever.” That may be true, but anyone who has been paying the least attention to the news in the U.S. in the last week and a half, sees that things that take forever can happen overnight. The U.S. nationalized two major mortgage banks and the biggest insurance company in the world and in some way shape or form put up 700 billion dollars to bail out investment banks and Wall Street. If that can be done overnight, then a lot of things that we are talking about can also happen overnight if we had the political will. It takes clout

Andy Smith, (a founding member of INCITE! Women Of Color Against Violence) during her open plenary said there is some way in which we start to get a little worried that we cant get everything we want, so instead, we say lets make what is just a little bit better: better prisons, cleaner prisons, more spacious prisons, better education in prisons.. That’s not it. Political will is what we need to change things overnight There are more of us than there are them. All this money they have been talking about [with the bailout] is actually us. Abolition is taking control of all that social income for ourselves. Its kind of straightforward, we made it, it’s ours.

I’ve seen CR shirts that say something like “One day there was a world without prisons, that day will come again.” Can you speak to that, I think its become so much a part of the American mindset, that there are prisons and they have always existed.

Well a lot of people think “gosh, there have always been prisons.” But really what they are imagining are dungeons. Prisons and dungeons while they seem similar are not the same thing. Large scale individualized but impersonal cage systems are very modern. They are about the same age as the United States of America, they weren’t invented here but they were launched large scale in the early nineteenth century here and perfected here. They are currently being exported to a lot of the world. Before that, what happened? All kinds of things happened, some good, some not so good, but a lot of the sorts of problems of today that are dealt with conviction, criminalization, punishment and imprisonment are things that once upon a time were not crimes or were dealt with in sort of customary ways. Through making restitution or whatever it would take to make both the person who did the harming and the person who was harmed whole, which is to say able to get on with their lives. The intervention of cages has completely disrupted that, and it gets worse and worse and worse, as prisons become a normal part of everyday life.

Here we are at cr10, how do you envision the next 10 years?

I feel very strongly and have written about this some, what’s important in social movements is to keep the movements going, and sometimes the organizations don’t last. It doesn’t make that much difference, even though organizations are necessary to make movements happen, I imagine [Critical Resistance] will be around for ten years, if not it’s not a bad thing because other things will come into play. What my hope is, is that the kinds of things that we have learned over the past ten years and the connections we have made will make us a whole lot more successful than we were in the past ten years. The fact is that there are a million more people in prison in the U.S. than there were ten years ago, during the first conference. Some people say: “Well then ya’ll failed, didn’t you?” Well maybe, but maybe there would be 2 million more if we hadn’t been doing what we had been doing. Knowing that our small, medium and every so often large successes are I actually think there would be way more people in prison. But there are also way too many people. My hope is we are going to start seeing reduction and see this group more and more, and I hope people [reading] will make the connection between the 700 billion bailout, offered to Wall Street and the U.S. Congress and the fact that 1 out of every 100 adults eligible to go to prison based on age is in prison.

Ruth Gilmore is an Associate Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity and Geography at the University of Southern California. She is a member of the founding collective of Critical Resistance and author of Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California

Andalusia Knoll is a Station Organizer with the Prometheus Radio Project in Philadelphia and a reporter for Free Speech Radio News. She is also a member of the Prison Poster Project collective working to create a visual education tool that will challenge current reliance on prisons as a solution to social problems.