All Power to the People,
The constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment within the Eighth Amendment derives its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a somewhat maturing society. The prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment is not an invention of the United States constitution, but rather a concept of punishment that can be traced back to Hammurabi’s code in the 1700 B.C. calling for “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. In other words, the punishment should be of an equal weight to the crime committed.
In one sense, punishment is less cruel today than it was in the eighteenth century. Society no longer takes public delight in the suffering of prisoners. Crowds no longer gather to watch executions, floggings, castigation, or the pillory. The process of prisoner punishment has become less openly condemnatory, and more bureaucratic, scientistic and private.
But, in another sense, punishment is crueler today than it was in the eighteenth century. Prison sentences are often longer, prisoners are subjected to decades of solitary confinement, and there’s the inadequate medical care and mental health care. In short, prisoners are suffering more pain, although this is difficult to determine because the pain prisoners suffer usually occurs out of the public eye.
In short, when it comes to the cruelty of punishment, we live in ambiguous times. If “cruel” refers to the punisher’s intent – delight in, or conscious indifference to, the pain of others, the current punishment system could be favorably compared to the punishment systems of the past. Could be. But if “cruel” refers to the effect of the punishment, not the intent that motivates it, you may not compare as favorably to the past as you may like to think. Indeed, one prominent modern punishment practice is medical negligence.
Murdering Komrade Rashid with Medical Negligence
By now, the reader is aware of the ongoing denial of cancer treatment for Komrade Kevin Rashid Johnson. Made aware of Rashid’s prostate cancer by blood tests that were taken over a year ago, it’s evident that Virginia prison officials’ intentions are to murder Rashid by way of medical negligence. From delayed medical treatment, to mysteriously rescheduled outside medical appointments with radiologists, the intent is to murder Rashid.
Prostate cancer is a form of cancer that can be cured if discovered and treated before it metastasizes beyond the prostate. But if not discovered and treated before it metastasizes, the results are deadly. This isn’t unbeknown to prison officials.
While incarcerated, prisoners rely solely on prison officials for food, clothing, and every other basic need. This complete reliance creates a duty for the state, and consequently, prison officials, to provide for the basic needs of those incarcerated. This duty on prison officials is not simply a suggestion or theory from prisoners’ rights activists. The Eighth Amendment itself imposes a duty on prison officials to provide for the basic needs of prisoners. Stated explicitly by Justice Rehnquist, “when the state takes a person into its custody and holds him there against his will, the constitution imposes upon it a corresponding duty to assume some responsibility for his safety and general well-being.”
Prisoners are completely reliant on the prison for medical treatment. As noted by Thurgood Marshall, “[a]n inmate must rely on prison authorities to treat his medical needs, if the authorities fail to do so, those needs will not be met.”
Incarceration places individuals in an extremely vulnerable position, and it is the duty of the prison to provide for those in its custody. Because the state has made the decision “to incarcerate people convicted of crimes”, it has “committed itself to providing for their basic needs as long as they are in custody.” When a system limits individuals’ ability to care for themselves through imprisonment, it takes on the responsibility to provide care. Rashid is suffering from prostate cancer and is completely at the mercy of prison officials, who want him dead. Prison officials who prefer to risk the anger over his death, rather than allow him to live and deal them mortal blows from his prison cell.
Why would they want to murder Rashid?
As Jonathan Jackson, Jr, recognized, “nothing is more dangerous to a system that depends on misinformation than a voice that obeys its own dictates and has the courage to speak out.”
Virginia’s prison system has claimed over three decades of Rashid’s life. The years have not been kind or gentle to the komrade. Subjected to decades of solitary confinement, interstate compact transfers as far as Oregon and Texas, racially & politically intolerant attacks, and many other oppressive reprisals and conditions. But yet he has remained unbroken and a sharp thorn in the side of his overseers.
Rashid’s relentless involvement in various efforts to expose and resist the conditions of racism and brutality that prisoners nationwide are subjected to has placed him in the crosshairs of this evil system.
Virginia’s prison officials have unsuccessfully attempted to have Rashid murdered several times over the years. After exposing the brutality and racism inflicted by guards against prisoners at two of Amerika’s most brutally racist penitentiaries – Red Onion and Wallens Ridge State Prisons, located in Virginia – Rashid was transferred in 2012 from Virginia to the Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC).
ODOC wasn’t a random selection. ODOC has a majority white and very small Black prison population; where white supremacist groups and culture predominate and are openly flaunted. By falsely planting in Rashid’s prison file that he was a Black separatist, Virginia’s prison officials intended to create a racial conflict between Rashid and the white supremacist gangs, with hopes that he would be murdered.
To their disappointment, the impossible happened. Inspired by the example set by Komrade Fred Hampton, Sr, the founder of the original and real “rainbow coalition”, Rashid was able to organize and unite with the most diehard white supremacists around the illegal things prison officials were doing to them.
Rashid had been in exile form 2012 up until last year; during this time, he was transferred to and from Amerika’s most brutal penitentiaries (e.g. Texas, Florida, Indiana, Ohio) – each one attempted to break him.
Just as prison officials set Komrade George Jackson up to be murdered because his political offensive against the system was succeeding, prison officials want Rashid dead for the same reason.
They know Rashid’s death would serve a damaging blow to the overall prison movement. Yeah, there are other protagonists of the prison movement (e.g. Shaka Shakur, Kwame Shakur, Kiyana Tashani Askar, Jason Renard Walker, etc); however, Komrade Rashid is a modern day George Jackson. The enemy knows Rashid’s death would fracture the foundation of the Revolutionary Intercommunal Black Panther Party (RIBPP) and the overall liberation movement for that matter.
What must be done
As Komrade George Jackson pointed out, “the idea is to isolate, eliminate, liquidate the dynamic sections of the overall prison movement, the protagonists of the movement. What we’ve got to do is prove this won’t work. We’ve got to organize our resistance, give them no peace.”
We musn’t appeal to the sympathy of Rashid’s situation, we must raise the political cost so high that prison officials have no choice but to provide him with the medical treatment needed.
There is a lack of leaders in this struggle. We must protect the ones we do have at all costs, anything less is unacceptable.
Dare to struggle, dare to win,
Joseph “Shine White” Stewart
Joseph Stewart #0802041
Granville Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 247
Phoenix, MD 21131
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