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Burning Spear News

African and Mexican prisoners sentenced to death behind bars in California

May 26, 2020
Bakari Olatunji, Western Regional Representative, APSP-USA

Prisoners at the George F. Bailey Detention Facility in San Diego hoisted this message in light of the death sentence that COVID-19 imposes on them. Those involved in making this banner were subsequently placed into isolation as punishment by the sheriff.


COVID-19 news stories dominate headlines around the world, including its deadly impact on prisoners on lockdown in California. Headlines read, “California prisons report 194 coronavirus cases, plans to bunk inmates in groups of eight” or “70 percent of inmates tested have COVID-19: Bureau of Prisons.” 70 percent of the state prison population is African and Mexican.

In the early 1980s, I was a medical worker employed at San Quentin Prison. I witnessed the horrid conditions behind bars. 

The brutality of the State was not on video for the world to see. I saw young Africans from Oakland across the bay, doing 25 years to life on bogus charges.  

Gladiator fights between African and Mexican prisoners were almost a daily occurrence with death or injury as the outcome. Armed guards would shoot to kill those involved in the fights.  

The fights were arranged by the State in the prison by staff and by the lawmakers in the State capital. They all had blood dripping from their hands. 

A 1986 LA Times article entitled “Tales of Brutality Behind Bars” shed some light on the fights. The corruption stretched from lily white Marin county where San Quentin is located to Sacramento, where the draconian laws are legislated and passed affecting the lives of millions of colonized workers.

California has the 5th largest economy in the world, with a prison budget of 15.8 billion dollars and more than 117,000 prisoners scattered through more than 34 prisons. Annually, it spends an average of 81 thousand dollars to incarcerate one prisoner. 

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has reported that of the 194 cases of COVID-19, most were in two prisons located in Southern California, with 99 in Chino and 87 in Lancaster. 

Imported from outside of prison walls, COVID-19 has exacerbated the already overcrowded and dehumanizing conditions found inside prison. With the introduction of COVID-19 into the State prison system, prisoners are defenseless against the deadly virus and are practically awaiting a State sanctioned execution. 

California’s prison system is not unlike other prison systems throughout the U.S. California’s prison system ballooned to almost a nine hundred percent increase after the passing of senate bill 42, Uniform Determinate Sentencing Act of 1976. 

In 1994, Proposition 184, the Three Strikes Law, passed. This and other laws provided huge revenue streams from labor behind bars to benefit the colonizer or white society at the expense of colonized men and women from African and Mexican communities. 

COVID-19 or the Coronavirus is being used as the latest act of colonial aggression against unorganized colonized workers correctly termed the colonialvirus by the African People’s Socialist Party. 

The Africa People’s Socialist Party addresses the question of prisons in point six of our working platform: 

“We want the immediate and unconditional release of all black people who are presently locked down in U.S. prisons. We believe that all the African men and women who are locked down in the U.S. concentration camps commonly known as prisons are there due to decisions, laws, and circumstances which were created by aliens and foreigners for their own benefit and as a means of genocidal colonialist control.  We believe that these decisions, laws, and circumstances were created and are enforced without our consent and are therefore illegitimate. We believe that the African men and women who are locked down in these concentration camps are victims of U.S. colonialist ruling class justice which maintains our enslavement and terrorizes our people, and that they should therefore be released immediately to the just representatives of our struggle for liberation, independence, and socialist democracy.”

I recall my first encounter with The Burning Spear newspaper. I was passing medication to inmates in cell blocks when asked to deliver a clipping from The Burning Spear to another section of the prison. I recall that the cover of The Spear was so graphic; it illustrated a large black finger thumping a small fat white man, symbolizing the end of white power in Occupied Azania or South Africa. 

One of the things important about The Burning Spear newspaper is that it gives voice to the African Revolution behind bars—a revolution that must be won with African workers on both sides of the wall. African Internationalism, the theory of the African working class, must be unleashed among the population to seize and hold territory robbed from us by colonialism. 

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