Category Archives: Asheville

Asheville’s Policing Crisis with Ursula Wren of Asheville Free Press

Asheville’s Policing Crisis with Ursula Wren of Asheville Free Press

"Defund APD" sticker on a water bottle, depicting an asheville police officer stabbing and crushing water bottles after raiding a medic table during George Floyd protests in 2020. Based on a photo by Angie Wilhelm
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The city of Asheville likes to make headlines. The Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, or TDA, has been working alongside other tourism industry groups, to make an impression in the minds of people worldwide and entice you to visit this little mountain city with it’s big fuck-off estate, the Biltmore, the beautiful mountains for hiking, waterfalls for swimming, artsy and craftsy culture for consuming and rivers of beers for tourists to tube down. But in the last year, Asheville has, once again, let its “crisis in policing” also reach national and international audiences with two New York Times stories (1, 2, which are pay-walled fyi), one reaching the front page, which spoke about a 34% attrition rate of the Asheville Police Department since the George Floyd Uprising and renewed, local efforts to defund or decrease the police in Asheville in favor of social and restorative infrastructure. The article spoke mostly from official viewpoints. According to the Asheville Citizen-Times, to deal with the bad press, the APD hired a public relations firm called ColePro Media for $5,000 a month to shift narratives and bring the veneer of progressive policing back to our fair, “land of the sky.”

This week, we spoke with local journalist, activist, abolitionist and anarchist, Ursula Wren of the AvlFree.Press about Asheville’s “crisis in policing”, a brief blooper roll of Asheville police foibles over the last decade, homeless camp evictions, prior and current efforts to restructure public safety, the reactionary business effort to bolster the police with blue ribbons of support, housing issues and other fare.

Here are a few links to sites and events mentioned:

To hear our conversations on struggle against the opioid crisis and overdoses in Western NC, check out our interviews with members of the Steady Collective (2018 & 2020)

You can find a transcription of this interview as well as an imposed pamphlet for easy printing in about a week on the blog post for this chat or alongside many of our past episodes at the link TFSR.WTF/zines . You can find ways to stream the lengthier podcast of this and all of our episodes or follow us on social media by visiting TFSR.WTF/links.

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Transcription

TFSR: So could you introduce yourself for the audience with any name, pronouns, location or other info that could be useful to the listeners?

Ursula Wren: Yeah, so my name is Ursula Wren. I live in Asheville, North Carolina. I use she and her or they and them pronouns, I kind of alternate between the two. I’m a police and prison abolitionist. I consider myself an anarchist. I’m a writer. I do web programming work, I design. I try to be creative in service of liberation, like a lot of people that you have on this podcast, and I’m really excited to be here.

TFSR: Yeah, thanks so much for being here. We don’t talk about Asheville very much here, but I think that a lot of the discussions and a lot of the work that people are doing around here is interestingmaybe not more interesting and stuff that’s happening elsewhere — but I’m glad this is gonna air on national FM at some point. So random listeners get to hear it.

UW: Very cool.

TFSR: So Asheville has been in the media spotlight for a bit in the past year or so because of the crisis in policing. The uprising from last year seemed to be a major shifting and breaking point for policing here in Asheville, despite obviously, years of the police being a problem, including the reemergence of widespread discussion of the APD murder of Jai Jerry Williams, and the beating of Johnnie Rush a few years back. I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about if you see that being a major focal pointlike definitely there was a lot more discussion about police abolition coming about and defunding the police — but if you could sort of like set the stage with what you’re aware of, of what’s been happening in the last year to year and a half around policing here.

UW: Yeah, so it definitely seems like Asheville has been in the spotlight quite a bit. You know, we had that front page New York Times article about us, about a month or two months back, something like that. I see that as mostly a reactionary effort, that has been sort of a concerted effort to try to undermine some of the gains that have been made last year, I’m not the only person to make this observation. There’s been a media blitz of pro-police propaganda, and almost exactly one year after the largest civil rights uprising in recorded history, as far as I’m aware. And you know, it’s hard to ignore the implications of that happening almost on a year to date.

I would want to say one thing that comes to mind is sort of why this has been happening, not just Asheville, but everywhere, is that the FBI puts out a quarterly crime reportI think it’s called like the Uniform Crime reporting, UCR, something like that — and in the wake of that report, there’s just been a ton of crime wave propaganda, based on misinterpretation of the data. I mean, even on the FBI website, if you go look at that data, they recommend not trying to look at trends and stuff it, because the way the reporting works changes and all that other stuff.

So I would love to just sort of give a little bit of a brief history timeline of some of the things that have happened with Asheville police in particular, and why we might be more of a hot spot than other places. We’re a bit of a microcosm because we’ve lost something like 30% of our police through resignation and retirement. And just to put that in context, for people who are not around here, Asheville is about a sixth of the size of Portland, about a fifth of the size of Atlanta in terms of population in the city proper. That’s not even including their metro areas, which are way, way larger. So it’s only been about 80 cops who’ve left our force, but that is about 30% of our force. And as you sort of mentioned, the crisis in policing isn’t new here. We’ve actually had five new police chiefs since 2005 and several of them have resigned amid controversy of various kinds. One of the earlier ones was named Bill Hogan, and he actually resigned amid some controversy about missing evidence, including drugs and money that they couldn’t account for. And then you mentioned Johnnie Rush, and Tammy Hooper was the police chief during that incident, it actually came out that the police department was conducting surveillance on several racial justice organizing groups here in Asheville, and she lied about it publicly and then had to backtrack.

TFSR: That was during the Jerry Williams incidents right. Or, or was that Johnnie Rush?

UW: You know, both of them were pretty close together. I actually have a breakdown timeline here we can go through.

TFSR: Cool.

UW:
So yeah, I’ll just start with that. So there were three Black men killed in one week in 2016, and that’s where I’ll start. Jerry Williams was killed on July 2, 2016. He was shot seven times by a cop who’s still in the forest named Tyler Radford. Alton Sterling was killed on July 5, so three days later, by the Baton Rouge police, Louisiana. And Philando Castile was killed July 6, so the very next day, near Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed in 2020.

So I’d say that the 2020 organizing efforts were an outgrowth of the organizing to happen here in Asheville, back then. In 2016, there were marches, there was even a group that like occupied the police station for something like 36 hours. I don’t know if you remember that. They had some demands, one of the bigger demands that they put forth was something called “Million Dollars for the People, which sort of like, is echoed in defunding the police. But basically, the actual police were expected to get a million dollar increase to their budget. And there was a community effort basically in response to these killings, that demanded that that money be put towards community stuff, community programs for safety. Like I said, very echoed in the defund the police movement several years later. Ultimately, unfortunately, that failed. Then the million dollars went to the police sort of as a nod to racial justice organizers. The city implemented this thing called the equity department, and they put body cams on the cops.

So February 2017, was sort of the crescendo of the Million Dollars for the People thing. In August 2017 Johnnie Rush was beaten and tasered for jaywalking. And for folks who aren’t familiar with that story, I’d recommend looking into it, there’s a lot of details. But basically, it was at night, there was no traffic or anything. This Black man named Johnnie Rush was trying to cross the street and a cop, I mean, just kind of wailed on him and beat him within inches of his life. And this is all caught on body cam. But that didn’t come out until way late. So that happened in August of 2017. It didn’t come out until March of 2018. Tammy Hooper had a meeting with the public. And during that meeting, because of the Johnnie Rush situation, she was accused of surveillance and she denied it publicly. So that was in March and then in May, it actually came out that she was lying, and that she had been surveilling a couple of groups, one group called Showing Up for Racial Justice, and the local BLM group.

So then she has announced to resign in 2018, but she doesn’t actually, it’s not effective until 2019. Then we had another chief for 45 dayswhich is wild to mewho quit for personal reasons. And then in March 2020, we got our current chief. So May 31 of 2020, our brand new chief was giving orders to tear gas children and babies and people in Asheville for demonstrating in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. So that sort of brings us up to the Defund movement.

TFSR: The funny thing about chief Hogan, to break down the evidence from scandal: so at the time, the Asheville 11 conspiracy case was going on people who were arrested, accused to be an anarchist riot, on May Day of 2010the lawyer for a couple of the defendants asked to see evidence in their case. And the evidence room was unable to come up with this bag of broken glass, this broken phone and a hammer that were allegedly in there, tied to the case. And so the lawyers called for a survey of the evidence room and came back with of the 10% of the evidence room that they had surveyed to see what was there something like 20% of it was missing, including 1000s of dollars in money, a whole bunch of weapons, a whole bunch of guns, apparently tools like hammers and stuff. And the civilian who is in charge of the evidence room resigned to just sort of like skip town. We lost the chief and I think there was another cop that quit over that. And I think with that 45daycop, I may be wrong, but it seems like if he came from Greensboro that he was the one whose son had gotten a DUI hitting a pole on Merriman Avenue. And when the cops showed up, they found an unregistered gun in the car. But the charges just sort of seemed to go away for the son of the chief. And so there was sort of a question about them covering up investigations internally.

So we’ve got a great history of good-old-person policing in North Carolina. But yeah, thanks for that breakdown. That’s really… that’s memory lane for me *laughs*. So can you talk a little more about the more recent iteration of the movement to call and pressure the city to defund the Asheville police department? As you said, there were echoes between what happened in 2016 with the Millions for the People and what happened in 2020, and what’s continuing I guess. What sort of tensions exist between like the city’s politicians, the bureaucrats and the police department, and what’s the deal with the monuments and the manure coffin that I keep hearing about?

UW: The manure coffin. Okay, yeah. So had or has depending some aspects of it have died downbut there were a few aspects to it. It was people calling into City Council, like every single meeting and demanding the defunding of the police. There’s some problems with this strategy, namely that the City Council they own that process and they moved very quickly to sort of shut downI mean they were being barraged with calls, every single meeting — so they put in a bunch of restrictive stuff to just tamp that down. And it has largely worked.

TFSR: Which is basically shutting down public comment on a public meeting, right?

UW: Yeah.

TFSR: So the public good and make comments on a lot of different stuff.

UW: Right. And just to be clear, legally speaking, they didn’t shut anything down. They just added a whole bunch of new hoops, you had to jump through, like you had to register in this like, you know, certain window of time, you had to provide personal details about where you live, and your name and your phone number. And basically, they were asking you to give all of the information necessary for them to make a list of dissenters, which is maybe not what they would have done, but it certainly doesn’t feel good to activists to give them that information and so readily. And yeah, they had like names and phone numbers attached to the calls that they were playing publicly. So yeah, unfortunately, that was pretty effective.

There were some other aspects of the defund movement. There were some really good, like militant street actions and shutting down streets and highways that went on for a couple of months, you know. Like, every couple of weeks, there would be a big street action, and I mean, they would do a pretty good job of totally shutting down streets, which was great. There were some theatrical aspects. Like at one point, there was a giant check floating around. Like people had made a giant check for 50% of the police budget. And they taped it to the library door or something like that, to sort of demonstrate where that money could go, I guess.

There was this one demonstration where people made pink slips for the cops, like firing slips, and were handing them out to cops on the street. And like repossession tickets, and putting them on cop cars. Asheville has a bit of a reputation for being like an artsy city or whatever. And I thought that was an interesting waythat stuff got on the news, more, you know, made its way through the public conscious through social media and stuff more than the more militant actions did. So I thought that it was a good way to lift up the rhetoric.

So yeah, there was a decentralized day of action, which was where this like anonymous activist group put out a call for people to go do things like that. And folks, you know, did some, some tagging of buildings and did, like a, there was a bigI’m not sure what the word is, but it was made of cloth — not really a banner because it was attached to the wall of art that you see all over the internet, of a cop under a Klansmen robe, like with the Marilyn Monroe picture with the skirt blowing up. I don’t know if that makes any sense at all *laughs*.

TFSR: Yeah, yeah.

UW:
So things like that, you know. But I would say that overall, the defund movement was largely rhetorical. It was effective in terms of shifting narratives. And if the cops are to be believed, then the shifting narrative has a lot to do with why we lost 30% of our cops. So I chalked that up as a win even if we didn’t get abolition, we managed to get 30% of the cops to quit just by being mean to them. Which I think is a win.

So yeah, that’s sort of the defund movement. I would say the only material gain that we got was council agreeing to remove some monuments. Like you mentioned, they have not really followed through super well. So they removed one monument that was to a Confederate general or somethingI’m not even actually sure what it was for — but it was definitely Confederacy related near the courthouse. They removed that sort of quietly one night without much fanfare. But there is a giant, I mean, I don’t know…do you know how tall the Vance monument is?

TFSR: No idea.

UW:
It’s huge.

TFSR: It’s not very tall right now, which is great.

UW: Yeah, it’s it’s significantly shorter, but it was, you know, like super tall obelisk in downtown, dedicated to this man whose last name is Vance. And he was a slave owner.

TFSR: And a governor. And in the Confederate military, too.

UW: Yeah. All around racist guy. For sure. Yeah, giant obelisk downtown, the community had been trying to get that removed for years and Asheville, after a lot of kicking and screaming, did decide to take it down. It has not come all the way down yet, because it keeps getting ensnared in legal battles with these, like Confederate, you know, historical society groups.

TFSR: Yeah, I think the upkeep was the Sons of Confederate Veterans, like they were the ones who would remove paint and who were, quote unquote, responsible for the upkeep, which sounds like an ability to funnel money to this group of good old boys. But as I understand, like the latestthere was a question along the way in the past when it had been discussed of who had the authority to remove the monuments and this is not dissimilar to the silent Sam question at UNC Chapel Hill, where the University would say we have authority, the county would say we have authority or we don’t have, everyone would say we don’t have authority. The state would be a part of it. And in this case, as I understand the state has put an injunction on removing the base of the monument saying that the city doesn’t have the jurisdiction to remove it under some historical monuments laws on the books. I don’t know if that’s is that sound about right?

UW: That’s not what I have heard. But, you know, I, to be honest I gloss over when I start trying to read about legal proceedings

TFSR: Yeah.

UW:
so I’m not sure exactly who it is I thought that it was a confederate preservationist group that was suing them, but definitely somebody is suing them right now.

TFSR: That could just be the state of North Carolina.

UW: *laughs* I mean, they are kind of a confederate preservationist group. So yeah, somebody’s suing the city right now to get them to stop removing it. Unfortunately, for those folks, they have already removed almost all of the obelisk, all that’s left is the base that says ”Vance. So that’s sort of dragging out. I, you know, I read an article about it every, like couple of weeks where they’re like “oh, and here’s some more nothing that happened in court, and nothing has moved forward with this.

So yeah, in addition to those things, folks asked for them to change the names of a bunch of streets, because we have a ton of streets that are named after slave owners as well. It seems like, at present, they’re not going to proceed with that, because business owners don’t want to change their marketing materials. Just such a perfect demonstration of capitalism and white supremacy coming together against community demands, because it’s just a street name, but people don’t want to change what’s they’d rather have the name of a slave owner on their window than pay somebody to come change the vinyl.

So last thing from what you just said, was the manure coffin, which I’m excited to talk about. It wasn’t really theatrical. It wasn’t meant to be fun. The coffin was part of a protest that happened on the day that some Kentucky grand jury released indictment information in the case of Briana Taylor. And from what I can tell, from what I saw, it was mostly younger Black folks trying to demonstrate their grief and their, you know, they wanted to symbolically bury some of the folks who have been killed by police. So what they did is they took a coffin that appeared to be constructed out of something like plywood, and they dropped it at the front door of APD’s headquarters, and they poured dirt over it.

The cops took that gesture, despite the fact that these folks were standing outside chanting “Say her name, Breonna Taylor!. I mean, the flyer that went out in preparation of this event had Breonna Taylor’s name really big on it, despite all of that the cops turned it into a victim narrative for themselves. And they said that it was a threat against their lives. And they also made the false claim that it was full of manure, which is just such a wild thing to lie about. Because it was, yeah, it was a closed coffin that they poured mostly what looks like regular dirt, and maybe a little bit of potting soil, over the top off. I would say this type of we’re actually the victim here, twist is a big part of their overall media strategy and narratives that they’ve been putting out over the past year. But yeah, it definitely wasn’t not a threat to them at all.

TFSR: Yeah, and there’s like, it’s a pretty terrible PR move also to try to symbolically shift the significance of the soil inside of the box to being animal feces, when it’s about laying to rest people that were victims of state violence or like anyone, but yeah. It’s a grasping at straws type thing.

But to just sort of step back — and thank you, thank you for that breakdown — to sort of step back to the question of because I packed that, that with a lot of different elementsthere is a tension that that has sort of come to the fore visibly between city politicians. Like the pressure, according to City Council, activists had left signs requesting that City Council members vote to decrease police funding at the residences of some of the City Council members, and that was considered to be a threat by the city council members, or was presented as such during one of the one of the meetings that happens every other week.

But during the pressure campaign that folks were trying to call in and apply pressure, it wasn’t just that people were calling into City Council — obviously, this is during COVID and so people couldn’t show up and stand at a podium and talk because these events were close to the public, which creates a huge amount of obscurity to the process and difficulty to like participating in this quote unquote, representative democracy system we have. But also, I think it came to light at some point to a lot of people that actually City Council isn’t directly responsible for the hiring, directly responsible for the budgeting choices for the police, that it comes down to the bureaucratically appointed city manager. Which kind of while people were attempting toI don’t fault people at all for taking the approach of attempting to use the rules in place to shift agency and apply pressure and make the changes happen that they want to see happen — but it seems like the power, the existing power structure for the city already had the barricade set up and ready for people to come up against. Can you talk a little bit about those tensions between the elected city officials who maybe did want to make changes, maybe didn’t, and the police department and the city bureaucracy?

UW: Yeah. So you know, you said something earlier about how they were basically trying to pass the buck on the monuments, right? There’s always mechanisms in place with these systems where everybody can just shrug and say, oh, not my department, you know, it’s sort of they like, they diffuse responsibility in such a way that there are these failure points that are designed to I mean, City Council’s job is basically to be yelled at, and not do anything about it, right? They can pass things…but for the most part, when it comes to actual change, the mayor loves talking about the weak mayor system we have here in North Carolina. I’m not clear on all the details but basically what it boils down to is what you just said, which is: the mayor is an elected person who doesn’t actually have the power to do all the things that she claimed she wants to do, and has to instead defer to the city manager, which is an unelected position, appointed position, and the city manager is actually the person who, in this case, is responsible for the police department for all of city staff.

So a big rhetorical strategy that you see out of city council is basically being like, oh, we’d love to help you with this stuff, but you see, city staff has told us we can’t, and we don’t have the power to override them. So I mean, I’m a cynic. So of course, I see this as a ploy. If they really wanted to, they could find some way…they find ways to make things happen that they want to make happen. In my experience. This sort of diffusion of responsibility is just, is very clever. And there have been a couple of folks, never at the same time, on City Council who we had a council member who did actually support, vocally supported cutting the police budget in half. Which was the demand by a group called Black AVL Demands, which was like a multi generational Black organizing group. And their number one demand was cut the police force budget in half. And we had one council member named Brian Haynes, who actually was in support of that. He’s no longer on Council, we actually had an election in the middle of all of this. So, you know, we lost a potential ally in Brian Haynes during all that. He was planning to retire anyway.

And now we have a new, more progressive council member named Kim Roney, who has not been vocally in support of defunding the police, but has sort of always voted no on anything that gives them more resources or money, things like that. But again, the power is diffused in such a way that she doesn’t really have any power as far as I can tell. It’s more of a symbolic thing, that there’s always one “noon the record.

I’d say there was some other sort of tensions, especially among the leadership because of Chief Zack being brand new, having just started in March of 2020, which is basically right before COVID kicked off here. And I mean, obviously, COVID was already happening across in other places in the world, but typical American fashion, we weren’t really concerned about it until it started affecting us. And that’s started happening in April, late March, early April, so Chief Zack had not been in place very long. And then, of course, the George Floyd Uprising started happening in early summer.

TFSR: So you had mentioned a little while ago about the attrition rate of the police department and the city losing about a third of its police force due to retirements or cops quitting. Can you talk about why this is a crisis? It’s not like the police actually get trained for a long period of time before coming on to the job, right? It’s not like they have to go through a four year degree program or something like that. Why are they so concerned? How abnormal is this? Like, how long does it take for a city to replace a cop? Where are they going and what what are they doing as far as we know,

UW: According to the police department, it’ll take a long time, several years at least, to get the police numbers back to where they were from this attrition. They say it takes as much as a year to get someone from the point of I want to be a cop to actually being able to do that job on a daily basis without being at a training capacity. And this could have something to do with the fact that Asheville is a nominally progressive city and we put our police through more training than the average police does. I’m not actually sure. But I know we do like Verbal Judo training and things like that.

So I know in 2020, for example, they graduated six cadets, and five of them have already quit. So the point in that that I’m making is that they put quite a bit of money, time and resources into training these cops and it does not guarantee the cops will actually stay cops. According to the chief, a lot of the people who are quitting are younger, newer recruits, who basically just feel hated immediately upon becoming cops and decide to change career paths. According to the chief it’s about a 50/50 split between people who are like, Wow, I didn’t realize that I would be this hated, I’m gonna go do something else. Like, I’m gonna go be a refrigerator repairman or something like that.

TFSR: Awesome.

UW:
Yeah, which is great. And people who just moved to Asheville is considered, you know, a blue dot in a red sea because we’re in North Carolina — so a lot of the cops just move to the county or move to a surrounding city where it’s more friendly to police and they continue being. But I think a 50/50 split is pretty good. If we can get 50% of people who quit to stop being cops altogether. That seems like a good number to me.

TFSR: There’s a billboard in the city on Patton Avenue that’s, you know, pretty prominent as you’re driving from West Asheville down towards downtown that’s just like four, I think, four very diverse ethnically and gender police officers in uniform and then an empty spot in the middle with like a frame and it says “This could be you! or whatever. It’s like an advertising campaign from the Greensboro [correction, Winston-Salem -Editor] police department, which like for folks who don’t know, is a much larger city. It’s what? Like two and a half hours to the east of here. And they’re, I guess they’re, they’re being like, “Nobody likes you in Asheville? Come on down to Greensboro. We love cops, we’ll hire you. But I was surprised to hear that that wasn’t where, that wasn’t necessarily what was happening with the police that were leaving, they were probably just like, well, if they’ve already got the training, and that’s paid for, we can just scoop them up.

UW: Right. Yeah, I mean, and again, like I said, we have to trust what the chief is saying. And he has political reasons why he would fudge these numbers. But according to the chief, it’s been about half and half in terms of people who have just totally quit the job, and who have moved to other departments. They also tend to cite low pay, which, without getting too much into the weeds on this, Asheville in general is an extremely expensive place to live, pretty much everybody here is underpaid. It’s the tourists with money who come and drive up costs.

So yeah, the police force despite claiming that they’re underpaid, they start higher than the median salary here in Asheville. Maybe some of them are going to get better pay elsewhere, maybe some of them are going to find a more friendly area to police. And apparently half of them are quitting altogether.

TFSR: Because of paywall *laughs* I didn’t actually read the New York Times article that came out, but I do know, I’m familiar enough with one of the cops that featured prominently in there, is a white officer, is queerLindsay Rose is the name that I saw in the New York Times — it sounded like they had said that they had quit because they had felt people were being mean to them. But I had also heard that they had been rehired. So maybe some of that saved budget from the cop attrition has gone towards upping their pay. I don’t know if you have anything to say about that.

UW: I actually do know for a fact that just a couple of weeks ago, City Council voted for a budget that does increase police pay, they’re all getting raises. And they are actively using the attrition. So they fully funded the police force again, despite this attrition. So they gave them the same amount of funding as they had before with the larger number of cops. And they’re using that extra money to try to refill those positions, but they realize they know that they can’t do all of that in one year. So the extra money is going towards giving all of the cops a raise and more training and technology, of course. So I have more to say about Lindsay Rose, about the media angle, but we can come back to that when you get to that question.

TFSR: Can you talk about what sort of material changes have happened with police in town in terms of patrol areas and frequency of patrols and response times? And has that affected crime rates? Like one thing I’ve seen [that] is good [is] the cops saying that they are not wanting to show up to certain kinds of calls or I guess be doing the foot patrols that they were doing before? Is that, do you have any insights on that?

UW: Yeah, I’ve said it a few times, but just to reiterate: it’s been about 35% attrition, they have refilled some of those roles, but not nearly all of them. So there are substantially less cops. That’s definitely the biggest material impact of the last year. As a result of that they have, as you said, they released a statement saying that they would not always respond to certain kinds of infractions crimes. To me it read as a piece of political theater, because the things that they list are things like a simple assault that is reported after it occurred, or a theft under $1,000 when there’s no suspect, which like, I don’t know, I’ve never been one to call the cops much, but from what I understand, they don’t really help or do anything about in those situations anyway. Like, what? What is the cop going to do if they show up after an assault has occurred, a simple assault has occurred. Which, simple assault, just to be clear to anybody who might not know is something like being punched. It’s not, you know, it’s nothing super violent. It’ssimple.

So yeah, to me, it read as political theater. Of course, the chief has come out and publicly sort of lambasted anybody who says that it’s political theater, but I remained steadfast in my conviction that it is political theater. There have been a few more, in terms of crime rates, as I mentioned, at the top, there was this FBI Uniform Crime reporting standard, they released these reports every quarter. Notably, the reports don’t include a lot of, like, major cities and things like thatI think it’s something like 3040% of police forces around the country are actually involved in this most recent report. And that’s been used to sort of foster this narrative of a crime wave. In terms of our local crime statistics that I’ve looked at, there has been a few more gun related crimes, and things of that nature. It’s also worth mentioning that gun sales skyrocketed in 2020. I don’t know the exact numbers, but it was huge. Like a huge increase in the amount of guns that were sold. And I’m not anti-gun or anything, I just, I think it’s important to point out that if there are more guns, it follows that there would be more crimes committed with guns, because there are more guns.

So in terms of our local crime statistics, it looks, to me, mostly like everything is remaining flat overall. The overall crime rates are people will say this all the time — are way down from like, the 90s. And there are a multitude of reasons that I don’t want to super speculate on as to why that is. But this fear mongering about there being this big spike in crime just doesn’t bear out in the data that we have. And the data is notoriously manipulative, and things of that nature. But you know, if you accept their framing of looking at the numbers, even that doesn’t bear out. The increase in gun crime is offset by decreases in other types of violent crime. So even violent crime rates are not trending upwards right now. They’re pretty much flat.

TFSR: Yeah and I guess a pointa point of mostly white supremacists fear mongering around violent crime and the othering of folks and just, whether it be racially or poor folks or whatever, will tend to focus on gun crime, rhetorically as a thing that is coming from those populations — but so this is-this is like a third hand thing. I was at the grocery store, I was listening to two people talk about a shooting recently that happened at a bar in West Asheville, where somebody drove up and like shot into the place. Which is scary. It’s definitely scary. Yeah, the cops are not going to stop that. Well, super gun advocates say the cops are not going to stop that and that’s why people need more guns. Which is not, I‘m not making the argument that people need to bring guns into bars. But that’s the argument finally that law enforcement makes is we will track down and trace the person that was in traffic that got out and shot into the bar”. Which, possibly from security cameras they might be able to do that sort of thing. But like honestly, it’s pretty, it’s pretty unlikely. And more cops in this situation does not mean less of this sort of incidents. Like there’s a lot of things that can sort of like lead into that situation, including the fact that we’re in the middle of a year and a half long pandemic. There’s relatively high unemployment. People are on the verge to eviction. People are continuing to try not to get sick or care for people that might get sick from this increasingly dangerous pandemic but

UW: — largest wealth transfer in, I mean, I don’t want to, I don’t want to make a false statement, but from what I understand, one of the largest wealth transfers ever occurred during this pandemic. The poor got significantly poorer. And the rich got significantly richer throughout this global crisis. And that has to do with the crime data, stuff too. Like what you just said, speaks to something about the crime data. Which is, there’s so many levels on which we have to sort of combat their narratives, while also combating their framing, right? You have to either accept some of their framing stuff, like that the gun crime thing that you brought up. It’s like, why are we even discussing that in relation to their being police attrition? Because they don’t really have anything to do with one another? More cops does not make there be less gun crime. There’s conflicting evidence on whether or not that is even the case.

TFSR: Yeah. So thanks for running down that engine with me. So can we talk a little bit about what you’ve learned about the media angles on this? Like, whatwhat is mainstream media saying about this? And what is the APDPublic Relations connection? When did that start, and do you have any details on that?

UW: Yeah. So and this goes back to officer Rose, you mentioned earlier. She’s an interesting character in this aspect, in particular. During the protests last summer, to sort of take it back, there was, after the first few days of tear gassing and stuff like that, the community support kind of swelled. One of the ways in which this manifested was people started showing up to protests prepared to take care of folks who were tear gassed. And they actually set up a medical it had medical stuff and snacks and water and things of that nature in an alleyway near where the protests sort of coalesce downtown. Right after, I think it was actually like five minutes before curfewbecause you know, last summer, all these cities were putting out these curfews which drew ACLU ire — but right near the curfew, the cops, according to the folks who work there, without warning, sort of stormed this medical tent. And not only did they like, you know, throw the folks who were working the table to the wall and stuff like that. They started actually destroying the medical supplies. So there’s this photo, that goes around that’s been going around by a local reporter named Angie Wilhelm, of a APD officer stabbing a water bottle. So they were stomping and stabbing water bottles

TFSR: — in full riot gear.

UW: In full riot gear, yeah. And that photo went national, right? It got a lot of attention and went viral on Twitter. Folks who are listening to this might have even seen it, maybe not realized it was Asheville. So that was obviously a horrible PR moment for Asheville, which is a tourist town that tries to market itself as progressive and liberal and stuff like that. Directly after that incident the Asheville Police Department hired this company called Cole Pro Media, which is a PR firm. Interestingly, the PR firm, if you go to their website right now, it’ll have a bunch of talk about how they never spin anything or anything like that. They’re just trying to help police be more transparent and accountable, is their line. But the local paper, Citizen-Times, did a little bit more investigating and found an earlier iteration of Cole Pro Media’s web presence in which they advertised that they would help cops outsmart journalists. Like openly stated that that was one of their goals.

So this transparency and accountability language reappears in that New York Times article. The New York Times sent this guy here to interview the chief of police, the mayor, of a handful of locals and they ran it on the front page. And one of the cops that they interviewed was officer Rose, who you mentioned earlier. Officer Rose quit the force pretty spectacularly. Because as a queer person, they didn’t feel like the queer community was being accepting of them being a cop. And according to the New York Times article they went back to retrieve their badge to give it to their mother or something like that, and

TFSR: *mockingly* Awww.

UW: Right, so sweet. And Chief Zack talked them into rejoining the force as a, I can’t remember the exact term, like community liaison or something like that, right? And in the New York Times article, it’s notable that they use the same language, accountability and transparency”, like it’s almost word for word for their justifications that they gave for hiring this PR firm. Was we want to be more accountable and transparent. So then, you see that she came back to do that job and then is on the front page of the New York Times, like posed up in this very dramatic photograph of her, like, looking sad out a window. And it’s hard not to tie all that together in my mind: the water bottle incident, the PR company, the victim narrative of the coffin and all of the stuff that’s been happening very recently with the, you know, we’re losing cops and we can’t keep up”, the accountability and transparency language, officer Rose going into the New York Times, they started a community engagement division of the police force, which officer Rose is also on whose job is again, using that accountability and transparency language.

TFSR: What do cops in Asheville actually do? It seems like the evictions of houseless folks that happened over the summer this year from public parks put a lot of stress on the APD’s morale. Can you talk about that, and what you see is the relationship between homelessness, nonprofits or what some might call poverty pimpsand harm reduction efforts with the police in Asheville?

UW: You can’t really understand the function of Asheville Police Department without understanding that we are primarily a resort town. We make the majority… I say “we, the people who actually have money and capital in the city… make the majority of their money from tourism. We’re known as beer city, we have a ton of breweries and bars. In fact, it’s been suggested to me very recently that we might have one of the highest numbers of breweries and bars per capita from just about any city nearby or anything like that. We have a ton of breweries, and the craft beer scene is really big, the music scene. We’re also nestled in southern Appalachia, it’s a very lovely environment. All of that to say that those are used as justifications for why we need to focus the lion’s share of our resources, as both a city and a county, on appeasing tourists.

So one function of that, one aspect of that, is that we have the most bloated police force per capita of any North Carolina city. To my knowledge. And the reason for that is because police in the city function to use their fascistic language, in my opinion, keep the streets clean, right? And what they mean by that, of course, is not, you know, like public service of picking up trash. They mean by keeping the streets clean that they want to keep folks who tourists might not like to see, such as unhoused folks, out of line of sight.

So to me, that’s just so remarkably fascistic, the idea that human beings are trash to be cleaned up. But that is one of the major functions of the police. And there are several, you know, reactionary, right wing business groups who are super focused on that tourist money who make this argument themselves all the time. I don’t have to put words in their mouth at all, they will straight up say, why can’t we use more tourist money to keep the streets clean of unhoused individuals? I mean, they’ll call them homeless folks.

So it’s really important to understand that’s one of the major functions of Asheville police, is keeping the town free of things that might remind folks who are coming here to have a cozy vacation. They don’t want anything reminding them of capitalism, the failures of capitalism. You know, as I mentioned earlier, a lot of the folks who work in Asheville can’t actually afford to live here. I think it’s the most expensive city in North Carolina, from what I understand, to live in. So keeping unhoused individuals out of sight is one of the biggest functions of the police. We’ve long had an affordable housing crisis in the city. And it’s just getting worse recently with all of the recent buyouts and stuff that these investment firms are making.

TFSR: And Airbnb’s.

UW:
Oh, yeah, Airbnb, that’s a big one, huge one. A lot of them are not even, like, legally allowed to exist. But of course they do because folks can just list their house on a website. That’s about to get a whole lot worse, because, I mean, we’re recording this today on Saturday [August] the 31st and as of today, the eviction moratorium, federal eviction moratorium has expired. There might be something in place at the state level, but in any case, that’s signaling the end of protections for renters, who are behind due to the pandemic. So that’s sort of a high level. What the police do in Asheville has a lot to do with basically keeping it a comfortable place for rich tourists.

In terms of the like, day to day what they actually do— somebody put out a really cool zine last summer, that’s sort of where they like, actually sat and listened to police calls, or on the scanner or something like that — I’m not actually sure how they did their researchbut documented a lot of calls. There’s also this group called AVL Watchdog that got ahold of call center data and like actually broke it all down. So basically mostly what Asheville actually does, according to this, is traffic stuff. Assist motorists, deal with improper parking and things like that. That’s 23% of their time. According to this. To be more clear, it’s 23% of the calls that they get. How they actually spend their time can look a lot different from the percentage of calls that they get for sure.

What’s notable on this is that when you’re talking about things that a lot of people consider harmful, such as theft or violent crime or anything like that, you’re down in the like, I mean 5% were reports of theft, including shoplifting. 3% of their calls had something to do with mental health, people having issues publicly. So the point being that it’s such a small amount of what they actually do on a day to day basis, they mostly just exist to keep unhoused individuals out of sight. And one part of that is, they have been evicting folks from these public parks. There was a big one, there were two that really drew a lot of attention very recently. One was on literally the coldest day of the year of 2021, so far. And the police decided to evict a camp of folks who were camping under a bridge. And the reason that they did this is notable, it’s because they got a report from this thing called the Asheville App, which is tourists using it as a direct line of communication with police and city council and stuff. And you know, the officials of various capacities. So there was a report made, and then within a few hours, they went out there and evicted this camp that was under a bridge.

And then there were folks camping at a couple of different parks, public parks. Which as I understand it was where they were told to move, to the public parks from more public spaces where they had been under bridges and things like that. I’m not sure of the details of that, but from what I understand they were directed to go there [by the city]. And somewhat recently, they decided that they weren’t allowed to be there either, and sent out notices that everybody had to get out. And they gave them like a week or something like that to get out. Most of the folks not really wanting more trouble for themselves and more legal trouble, did decide to just move on, find somewhere else to be. One camp in particular had some folks who were like, no, we’re not going to move. And they ended up sending out something like 30 cops, which of our police force again, just a reminder, we lost 35%. That’s a big proportion of our police, 30 cops is a lot of our police.

So yeah, they sent out a huge proportion of our police to evict this camp, they made several arrests of folks that they claim are activists. But again, there’sit’s not like those are two distinct categories of unhoused folks and activists. So yeah, that’s what police do in Asheville. They function as an apparatus to basically hide the effects of the policies that they want to uphold, the policies of never ending growth and tourism.

TFSR: So I did kind of bring up harm reduction efforts in that question, and maybe that wasn’t the best place to bring it up. But this next one, I think is. So there was recently a push by a small section of right leaning business owners in the city to put up a very ugly-ass, boot-licky billboard in support of the police, and to get local businesses that specifically support the police to put little blue ribbons in their windows. You know, because the FOP [Fraternal Order of Police] stickers that a bunch of diners have in their windows aren’t enough, or whatever. But I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the billboard effort and any of the characters or group names that are affiliated with the push against public visibility of homelessness, or of safer alternative harm reduction opportunities for intravenous needle users or other folks that are using illegal or concentrated substances in our community. Like I know Steady Collective and Firestorm and we talked about this a couple of years agowe’re getting a lot of pressure from the West Asheville Neighborhood Alliance. Which sounds like a very legit group but in fact is is spearheaded by some some people that are pretty far to the right and involved in some of the counter-protests to BLM stuff last year. Yeah, wondering if there’s anything you can say about WANA or the billboard or the blue ribbons or that sort of thing?

UW: Yes. So I have not gone down the West Asheville Neighborhood rabbit hole just yet. I only know what I’ve heard from other folks. And like you said, you guys probably have some great information in your archive about the situation with Firestorm collective, which is a local bookstore and coffee shop run by anarchists and in a collective fashion, and the Steady Collective, which is a harm reduction program here in Asheville. Not necessarily run by anarchists from what I understand, but just yeah, harm reduction, syringe exchange program and outreach program that works with drug users to mitigate some of the effects that they face, not only as a result of using drugs, but uhhh being in a society that criminalizes people for things that other folks can do in their homes without facing persecution to the same extent, at least.

I can say that the billboard is part of a very concerted effort for this group that’s calling themselves AVL Business Owners. They actually had a private meeting with the mayor about a month ago. I say private, it was at a place called the ISIS Music Hall, which is a concert venue in West Asheville. And they only invited business owners, that’s why I say it was private. They sent it out via email to local business owners and invited them to come. And we’re very upfront about the fact that they were not going to talk about defunding the police or anything like that. They asked for people to submit questions in advance. And then they were going to have a moderator who basically spoke on behalf of all these folks.

So over the course of this meeting, they brought up a lot of issues, mostly anecdotal issues around folks using drugs and sleeping and sort of just existing in their line of sight. And their solution to that is to crack down on them, to have more police and more punishment for these folks who are already being displaced by the systems by these very business owners and their insistence on profits, through the means of tourism. So, that business owners group is called Asheville Business Owners and they are responsible for both of things that you mentioned. The big ugly billboardthat’s, I think, at the intersection of patented Haywood, in West Ashevilleit just says, Thank you, Asheville police department. We support you or something like that, and has their email address avlbusinessowners@gmail.com, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind if folks drop them a quick line to let them know how much they appreciate that billboard.

That same group is also responsible for the Blue Ribbon campaignwhich is kicking off on August 1, which is tomorrow as of the recordingwhere folks are going to be putting blue ribbons up on their business fronts to signal their support for police. So these folks are all very concerned about unhoused individuals in particular. In the invitation email, to their meeting, they were very much like we are not going to be discussing homelessness, the majority of the meeting was about homelessness. Without even meaning to they make these connections for us. At one point, one of the folks who were in the meeting asked why can’t we use the money that’s generated from tourism to do something like build a facility to send homeless folks to? So yeah, the connections between drug users and unhoused folks, and these right wing businesses is super thick, there’s a lot of stuff there. To bring the harm reduction efforts into it, they are all of course, very against harm reduction, because they see it as you know, through that sort of outdated lens of enabling, as opposed to you know, helping people stay alive. And they want instead there to be further criminalization, further punishment of these folks.

TFSR: I know, it’s it’s impossible to speak on everyone’s behalf, but if you could talk a little bit about some of the alternatives that people are proposing to police here in Asheville or have been or were last summer. If your impression is that people from overpoliced communities are participating in creating those demands, or if it’s like… I know sometimes it gets proposed that it’s a bunch of white middle class activists that are presenting these things when really they don’t have a sense of the problem. Outside agitators, I think they call them.

UW: So yeah, I’ll start off by saying that I think that the idea of alternatives is sometimes the wrong framing for what a lot of folks actually say in this space. From what I understand from reading abolitionists like Mariame Kaba and folks like that, in many cases, they say the best alternative to the things that police do is simply nothing at all. And that sometimes trips up well meaning progressive liberals who do think we need to one to one alternatives. But in reality, the alternatives I hear from a lot of abolitionists are focused on background needs, and giving resources to people in ways that don’t have a one to one relationship with crime” but instead, they’re more focused on building healthy communities.

And again, I don’t want to speak for anyone, but I can tell you that, from what I’ve observed, there was a group that formed very early on last summer during the protest movement called Black AVL Demands. It was, according to them, a multi-generational Black organizing group. They put forward the demand that sort of overtook the public discourse locally of defunding the police by 50%. To my knowledge, they didn’t really put forward any direct alternatives.

There is another group, totally anonymous group, that has identified themselves as multiracial, including Black folks, just to be clear, and they’re called the Defund AVL PD Instagram account. They actually put forward some more concrete ideas. I actually have a little list of those here. They suggested that the police funding could go towards jobs programs, restorative justice programs, affordable housingwhich as we’ve talked about is a huge issue in Ashevillepublic education, mental health service, evidence based substance use treatment and harm reduction services, rent subsidies and eviction diversion, and free public transportation, which we do not have here.

In addition to the Defund AVL PD group, there’s another group called the Racial Justice Coalition. They have a community liaison named Rob Thomas, who is a Black man who is from Asheville, has a deep ties to the community here, the Black community and has some personal experience with the justice system in particular. I just want to quote him, because I think it’s really important that we hear from somebody who’s not me, who’s not a white person on this issue. So this is Rob Thomas talking about defunding the police:

I want to be totally transparent about my stance on defunding the police departments. I don’t think that the call to defund the police is going to solve all of the issues within law enforcement. What it does do is free up funding so that we can start up alternatives while keeping law enforcement active. We can create structures that can replace some of their duties as has been has been shown in other cities. The culture of policing is directly reflective of the culture of America. Structural and institutional racism is embedded in the DNA of America. And the only way to change disparities in policing, disparities in school systems, disparities in government, and disparities in the criminal justice system, is to completely dismantle the systems as they currently stand and restructure them completely. This may sound drastic, but if you look at where we are now in racial equity, and where we were 100 years ago, you will see that many systems have been completely overhauled. I’m looking at where we need to be measuring against where we are right now.

So that’s to offer some outside perspectives. You know, folks have offered everything from we need these specific things that will help folks have the resources that they need to prevent crimes in general. And then we have, yeah, spoke to people saying we need to completely tear down the system and then restructure it from the ground up. There’s also been talk of Reparations in Asheville. The City Council passed a resolution for reparations. And for folks who aren’t familiar with some of the sort of city government jargon, a resolution is really just them all agreeing to read something out loud that they agree with. It’s not really an actionable plan. So they basically apologized for racism and said that they would do better. Part of that was they’ve been attempting to institute a reparations program, which does not provide any cash payments, it sort of uses market mechanisms and city contracts to attempt to transfer some wealth towards Black folks. But even that program has not been going well.

TFSR: Yeah, for folks in town, there’s actually a really nice mural about reparations and the demand for the city to actually cut a check on it on the side of the El Dorado building on Haywood Road in West Asheville by the artist Destro. Shout out to Destro.

UW: I mentioned way earlier that they created the Office of Equity in response to some of the protests a few years back. That office is currently sitting with zero, not a single person who is a full time employee of that office. They had an interim director that they just appointed, like the day before yesterday, after two directors have quit. The first director who quit very publicly said that they were not getting support from the city, from the city manager in particular and that’s why they were quitting. And there is no other staff in that department at all. So they had made a promise to have this Reparation, I’m not sure the exact word, but this “Reparations Coalition or something like that, up and running one year from the day that they declared it. And that deadline passed kind of without fanfare, I think like a week or so ago.

So yeah, the only material thing that I’ve seen and heard in terms of alternatives to policing is: there is talks the city is looking into a CAHOOTS model crisis intervention team. Which, again, for folks who aren’t super familiar with that, CAHOOTS is a program that I believe was started in Oregon… Eugene! Yeah, there we go. And the point of that group is basically if someone’s having a mental health crisis or something like that, you can call these folks and they’ll come and they’re not police. And they will help defuse the situation and de-escalate and that sort of thing without getting cops involved. So that’s the only like, straight up alternative that I’ve heard really being floated.

TFSR: I understand that you did not just do all this preparation for this conversation. I’m wondering if you could talk about projects that you’re involved in, any sort of support that they need, or how people could learn more?

UW: Yeah, so I try to do as much as I can in service to liberation. I do design work and things like that, for anybody who needs it. One of the things that I like to do, or spend a lot of time doing at least, is researching the police and the media narratives, as I mentioned earlier. One of the group projects that I’m working on as an outgrowth of that is we’re trying to launch a new locally focused news blog. We’re calling it the Asheville Free Press. By the time this airs, it will have launched if everything goes according to plan. So if folks want to find me on Twitter, it’s just my name, Ursula Wren and the Asheville Free Press is just going to be a website http://avlfree.press. And yeah, we’re gonna do, we actually have a couple of pieces lined up about things that we’ve talked about in this this interview. I have a more in depth reporting of what all was said at that Asheville Business Owners meeting with the mayor, and a more thorough debunking of the manure coffin victimization narrative that cops have talked about. Both of those should be out by the time that this airs. So yeah, that’s, that’s what I’ve been working on. Asheville is home to lots of great media projects and my goal is to just sort of do what I can to help contribute to that in any way I can. I’m so glad that I got to be on here and talk to you about this. That’s definitely part of that for me.

TFSR: Aww, that’s, it’s my pleasure. I’m glad to have you on.

UW: In addition to the media project that I just mentioned, I am 1/4 of a screen printing collective called Syndicate Press. We do, like, live events where we print propaganda t-shirts, for lack of a better term. There’s a shirt that you’ll see all around Asheville that says “Fund communities, not cops, and that was something that we put together. So, those are the projects that I’m involved in.

TFSR: Well, Ursula, thank you so much for taking the time to have this chat and all the work that you do. *trying to keep a straight face* We’ll see you at the barricades, comrade.

UW:
*laughs* Alright. Thank you so much Bursts.

Queer Activist Perspectives from Southern Appalachia

Queer Activist Perspectives from Southern Appalachia

QTBIPOC flag with text from panel, "Fittin In, Sticking Out: Queer (In)Visibilities and the Perils of Inclusino
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This week on the show, we bring you the audio of an activist panel from the recent Queer Conference held online by University of North Carolina, Asheville, in March of 2021.

The conference was titled Fitting In and Sticking Out – Queer [In]Visibilities and the Perils of Inclusion. From the panel’s description for the conference:

This panel brings together 4 local (Asheville, NC) and regional groups working at different intersections of queer community support. We will learn about the work these groups do, the particular issues that affect southern queers, the changes in visibility and inclusion for queer community, and the building of larger coalitions of liberation. Representatives from four organizations will be part of the panel:

  • Youth OUTright (YO) is the only nonprofit whose mission is to support LGBTQIA+ youth from ages 11-20 in western North Carolina. Learn more about their work on their website, and support them financially here.
  • Southerners on New Ground (SONG) is a nonprofit aimed at working towards LGBTQ liberation in the south. Find out more about their work on their website, and support them financially here.
  • Tranzmission Prison Project (TPP) is a prison abolition grassroots organization that provides literature and resources to incarcerated members of the LGBTQ community. Learn more about their work on their website and donate here.
  • Pansy Collective is a decentralized, DIY, queer, music and arts collective that created Pansy Fest, an annual queer music festival showcasing LGBTQ musicians from the south and rural areas, prioritizing reparations for QTBIPOC artists and community members, and community education and organizing around the principles of autonomy, mutual aid, antifascism, love, and liberation for all. Learn more about their work on their website, or donate here

Announcements:

Phone Zap for Florida Prisoners in Mandatory Toxic Evacuation Site

From Florida Prisoner Solidarity on Twitter and Instagram:

Over 2,000 prisoners in Florida are trapped inside an evacuation zone less than a mile from a retention pond that is in imminent danger of failing, sending 800 million gallons of acidic radioactive waste water flooding over the local area. According to Deputies, the local jail has no plans or intentions to evacuate prisoners.

Please CALL AND SHARE NOW demanding the safe evacuation of all prisoners at the Manatee County Jail.

Sheriff Rick Wells
941-747-3011 ext. 2222
rick.wells@manateesheriff.com
Twitter- @ManateeSheriff

Central jail information
941-723-3011 Ext. 2915

County Commission
941-745-3700
EMAIL FOR ENTIRE COMMISSION: tinyurl.com/EmailAllCommissioners

Emergency Management
941-749-3500
emergency.management@mymanatee.org
Twitter- @MCGPublicSafety

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Featured tracks:

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Transcription

Scott: Okay, so welcome everyone. This is our the final event of the first day of the 2021 Queer Studies conference. So happy to see you all here, we made it through the day. This is a really special panel because we’ve invited representatives of local organizations and groups that do work in the community in the region to help queer community – and we’ll hear more about the work that they do specifically – but this is in the spirit of the conference, which is going back to its founding, conceived as a way of like having academics and organizers and activists meet to talk about queer issues. So this is special to highlight the work that queer folks are doing on the ground. So I’m gonna be moderating, my name is Scott. And I’m going to now turn it over to each of our panelists to introduce themselves, the group that they represent, and give a brief overview of the work that the group does in the community and beyond, and then we’ll get into more involved discussion from there. I can name y’all, or if someone just wants to go, go ahead. If the spirit is calling you…

Leroy: Alright, I will jump in here so that then I can sit back and listen to all the rest of you. Hello, I’m glad y’all are all here. My name is Leroy Kite, I use they/them pronouns. I’m here with Tranzmission Prison Project, we are a queer and trans powered abolitionist books -to-prisoners group that serves the entire country…with a few exceptions of states that have banned us. And we are a sister organization, a sibling organization with Asheville Prison Books, which just serves general population prisoners in North Carolina and South Carolina. For those of you that are Asheville specific, we are located out of the back of Downtown Books and News, you can drop by and see us.

And, yeah, we’ve been around for like a little over 20 years somehow? So a very long time. It’s kind of a mystery to me, how that has really sustained this long. I’ve been involved for about seven years, and there is some historical memory losses, there’s just been a lot of turnover over those two decades. Basically, we are still in the process of reconnecting with the origins of how this group began and trying to call up those long lost elders of this project so that we can kind of seam some of the pieces together of what has changed from then and now.

But that pretty much gets up to date. The arc of our work is we receive requests from prisoners around the country, across the LGBTQIA and two spirit spectrum, and mail them back books that they are asking for whether that is romance, thriller, sci-fi, erotica. You know, we try to highlight getting people materials that a lot of other organizations are either unwilling or under-equipped to send to those populations, particularly when it comes to things that regard people’s sexual and gender autonomy. That’s a area that it can be very, very hard to find free resources from organizations that are willing to send that to people. So that’s kind of one gap that we see ourselves filling that’s kind of unique. And with that, I’ll pass it off to whoever wants it. Thanks.

Adrian: I can pop in. So my name is Adrian, I use they/she and he pronouns. I’m the executive director of Youth OUTright WNC. We are a support and advocacy organization for LGBTQIA young folks between the ages of 11 and 20, which kind of led up to 24 during COVID. Thanks for dropping our link, Shawn. So our programs focus in on racial justice, gender justice, and sex and relationship education. So right now we’re running programs Tuesday through Thursday, we have chat rooms on Tuesday and Thursdays that are held on Discord. And we have a video call on Wednesdays that run 6 to 8pm. And that’s those programs are run by Brian Thompson, our youth programs manager, and they’ve been doing a great job there.

We also do some work supporting the GSA clubs across the state of North Carolina. If you’re not familiar with GSA’s, those are “Gender and Sexuality Alliances”, formerly known as “Gay Straight Alliances”, and those clubs really vary between social support and activist groups. But we support them wherever they’re at and with whatever they have self determined to be their goals, right? So if they’re focused on building community with each other, that’s awesome, we’ll talk to them about that if they’re looking at changing policy at their school, also awesome. And we’ll talk about that we try to meet them with wherever they’re at and with what their goals are.

Self determination is really important to our work. Over the past few years, we’ve been really incorporating youth leadership, all the way up through the board level. And so that’s been really important to us as we progress. We like to create professional opportunities for young people as well. We had some part time staff positions last year as educators and facilitators, there’ll be more opportunities for that later this year. And we’ve provided stipends for peer education around sex ed, or mental health, different things like that. In 2019, we held a GSA summit, we hope to do that again. We were a little shaken by the by the pandemic, as most folks were, so we’ve had to postpone that but we’re looking at a virtual version soon. Keep an eye out for that.

And beyond the direct Youth Services, the GSA work, we also do advocacy around policy. So we’ve been working with Campaign for Southern Equality around the Department of Public Instruction’s name policy within the virtual learning system. We were seeing last year that a lot of trans young people were being outed just by the virtual learning system, and so we now do have a preferred name field that will be integrated into Buncombe County and implementation is happening now.

We work with Equality North Carolina on things like non-discrimination ordinances here in Asheville and surrounding counties. And we’re also working right now to put together a storytelling campaign around the anti-trans sports bill that just hit earlier this week. So we’re working with some trans athletes at a couple different high schools to uplift their stories, and really raise awareness to that.

One last little plug I’ll make is for our racial justice and gender justice panels, which happened once a month on our Instagram Live, and that Space A Digital Place to Talk About Race, and TYME (Trans Youth Movement and Education). Those panels are led by young college and high school trans folks digging in deeper to racial and gender justice. And I’ll stop taking up space.

Monse: I’m happy to go next. Hi, everyone, my name is Monse, I use they or she pronouns, and I’m here at repping SONG, or Southerners On New Ground. We are a 28 year old LGBTQ base-building membership organization. We are definitely unapologetically abolitionists, Black and Brown, and all things queer and magic. So we have chapters all across the Southeast. We have chapters in Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, in Louisiana. We currently don’t have an Asheville chapter but we have lots of Asheville members who, in the past couple of years, have been engaged in our bailout action that we have done for Mother’s Day where we have raised money to pay the bails of Black mothers and caregivers who are in jail due to bail. And this was definitely to bring awareness to the issue of money bail used as a racist, classist practice in not only Buncombe County, but all across the south, where folks are held pretrial. So before their conviction, and if they don’t have the money to pay to get out, they have to stay in jail and await their court date when people who do have access to wealth or money can wait for their court date from the comfort of their own home. So further criminalizing folks who are already targets of the state.

So SONG was founded in 1993 by three Black lesbians and three white lesbians, and was definitely founded as a way to kind of infiltrate into the queer and gay movement in the moment, and really saying that money bail, that criminalization, that all these things are people facing oppression, like, is the gay issue. So we definitely wanted to make space for folks who are Black and Brown, who are facing oppression and criminalization every day, to be able to be in these spaces and organize and bring their full selves and not having to be closeted.

So SONG is an LGBTQ feminist organization, with core Black leadership. And we believe that until all of us are free, none of us are free. So that’s why we’re really wanting to move this work. Currently, we have campaigns to end money bail, so really connecting to our direct action to bail Black mamas and caregivers out of jail, and bring more awareness to the issue to end money bail and pretrial detention.

We also have been doing research around campaigns to end the collaboration with local law enforcement and ICE – so Immigration and Customs Enforcement – because we know that police and ICE are the same beast under the prison industrial complex. But we do a lot of training, a lot of just skilling-up and building community across the South because we know that the South is where all the shit goes down, and where all our people are. Where we have roots, where we have community, and we want to be able to grow and build and organize in the South. So that’s a little bit about SONG. And hopefully, you’ll get to hear more about the work that we do. But thank you all so much for having us.

Beck: Thanks Monse. I’m Beck, I used they/them pronouns and I’m here as the representative of Pansy Collective. And so Pansy Collective is a DIY decentralized queer LGBTQIA arts and music collective. Our biggest thing that we do is Pansy Fest, and it kind of started out as like, a queer visibility type of thing. Like the punk scene in the South and in neighboring regions around Asheville has been pretty bro heavy, pretty homophobic, racist, and we’re trying to make space that was an anti-racist, anti-homophobic space in the punk community. And then from that, it kind of started to build into more like Southern and rural coalition building and then specifically around moving from like, visibility to BIPOC reparations. So the first fest we actually worked with SONG’s Black Mama Bailout, and that was like the first beneficiary we had, and TPP was another one! But it’s like, it’s so cool that we’re all here right now.

But yeah, it was kind of a way to engage like queer folks into to put a public space that wasn’t some liberal kind of, I don’t know, upitty Asheville…you know? [laughs] People who are living here, you know. But yeah, so it was it was cool to like, create a space where we felt okay around each other, where we can have hard conversations. And also like, where we could bring some of the anarchist principles and things like that, in kind of a more tangible way into the punk scene. It’s like, “Okay, we’ve got all these lyrics that are like, ‘fuck this, like, hate cops’”, follow that. But also, do you know about prison books? Do you want to sign up? You know about Black Mama Bailout? So you know, having people tabeling there at all of our shows and events was really big. Making sure we have Narcan, you know, bringing in harm reduction into the scene…just kind of trying to, like, the spaces that we have idealistically in our head as like “a queer scene”, just trying to make it happen to the best of our ability.

And so we’ve been around since 2016? 2017! And it was such a bummer last year: we were like getting ready for a really cool event with HOT BITS. It was going to be like a really cool coalition building, with sex workers rights, and having a really cool, I don’t know, sex positive space, which was like something new for Pansy. And it kind of went all down because of COVID, of course. But we’re still meeting together! We’re still organizing, we, you know, try to coalition build where we can. It’s not looking like events around music and art right now. It’s more like, “Okay, let’s do a noise demo at the jail with Charlotte Uprising.” How can we be outside and distance and really do the work that we believe in, which is like mutual aid, it’s love, it’s like anti-prison, you know, it’s not queer assimilationist, right? So it hasn’t been so much “festy”, like punk stuff going on, but we’re still here doing it. And yeah, super stoked to be here. Thanks for having us.

Scott: Thanks, everyone, for introducing yourselves and the groups and giving an overview. It’s really interesting too, to see where these local regional groups have intersected and work together. My first question beyond the introduction is specifically linking to Asheville, Western North Carolina, a larger region, the South, what do you think Southern queers need? And how does your work try to meet those needs? And you can, you know, get as specific to our town as you want, or think more regionally.

Beck: I’ll go ahead. I think one of the things pre-pandemic, when events were happening, was just having a queer focused event that you didn’t have to pay for. That it was like, sliding scale and all of the money, it wasn’t, you know, going to this model of building up, it was just going to go into the hands of folks who need it. The fact that you didn’t have to show up and pay. I feel like everything else in this area in those spaces, too, it’s like “pay to play” situation. And it’s not really inviting, you know, from a class perspective, but also just like…those spaces aren’t necessarily where, like, I want to be anyways, right? Like I want to be in a space where it doesn’t matter how I’m dressed, how I look, if I can afford it. So just creating those spaces, I think.

And something that I just think of, like, resources and education and coalition building is something…there’s like, there’s a lot going on in the South, trying to make it happen, but it’s much more of an uphill battle, I think, compared to West Coast, East Coast, right? And so, you know, tabling events and stuff like that, but also like teachings, where we learn how to do jail support, or, you know, like fun stuff too! Like, do you wanna learn how to screenprint? Just having this open space, you don’t have to pay to get in. And you don’t have to know everybody, you can just come in, and people are gonna be like, “Hey, what’s up? Welcome to the teach-in.” And you’re like, already welcome at the door. And a place where people can share ideas, and it’s not coming from this hierarchical like, “I’m going to educate everybody in this space.” It’s “everybody has something they can bring to it.” So I think that’s one part that Pansy Collective comes from, for sure.

Scott: Adrian, that made me think, like, what Beck was saying about kind of the educational aspect and like, maybe that fits in the mission of Youth OUTright, connecting to young people?

Adrian: Yeah, a couple of things were coming up for me when Beck was sharing. The first thing that came up for me around education and teach-ins’s is: I feel like young people really need us adults to step up and educate ourselves. Frankly. You know, I think that our young people are often in the position either at school or with their families, where they have to educate adults around them about sex and gender, or racial justice, or any number of social movements that are happening in our intersectional community, right? And so something that breaks my heart, but also makes me really proud is watching these young people really articulately say what they need to say, to these adults, right? It’s impressive, it’s great. And also, come on adults, what are we doing? And so you know, where that brings in Youth OUTright is we’re in the process of developing relationships with Buncombe County schools to provide training to all of their counselors and social workers, right? From the adults, providing them training about how to support young people, and we may compensate young people to record their experiences or, you know, provide some amount of input in there. But we don’t want them to have to expend that emotional labor and potentially re-traumatize themselves in entering a space where they have to teach their teacher, right?

And so I think that there’s a big need for adult allies to step up into this place of peer educator for, you know, the people in their community and having these conversations. Of the folks who do want to engage in those conversations, we’re hosting every third Monday, a space called Continuum, which is an intergenerational conversation for supporting specifically gender and sexual minority young people. And so that’s a space where people can engage in conversation with the community there. But you know, we obviously have a little bit more of a focus on young people, right?

So part of our work last summer, we did a direct action training at Carrier Park. And so we brought together a small cohort of young people. And we were socially distanced and talked about what power mapping looks like, talked about some of the changes they want to see in the community, and they identified the Trans Panic Defense, right? They said “the Trans Panic Defense is something that we think is abhorrent and needs to go away”. And that’s super valid. They also picked a hard one. But you know, I think that having spaces like that, centering the young people’s vision, is really what they’re asking for. And again, I’ll go back to self determination, right? And I think that when we allow young people to set the waypoint, we realize that a lot more as possible, right? As adults, I think we get a little bit salty, we get a little bit jaded and cynical, “we’ll never get there”, right? So I think young people need us to tap into that imagination, and tap into that vision and support that, right? As well as stepping up to educate ourselves and understand that like, I’m still learning new pronouns, y’all! Like I’m still…there’s a lot going on, and culture is always changing. So I think they need humility from us, right? They need us to recognize that, to disrupt that adultism in ourselves, right? There’s always this dominant cultural belief that adults know what’s best for young people. They might know what’s best for us! Let’s look at our planet and what the young environmental activists are saying, right? There’s so many ways to look at this and where young people really have the answers. So I think we need to take a seat and listen, and then start making some moves from there.

Scott: Thinking of like, you know, identify problems that they want to attack made me think also about the kind of particular terrain that we have in the South. Given the kind of like, Republican legislative power and the way that they can kind of steamroll anti-trans, anti-gay policies, and I don’t know if maybe that’s something that Monse, you could talk about, in terms of the work that SONG is doing? Because it’s like SONG is as a Southern thing and there’s like, simultaneously kind of invisiblization of queerness in the South, but also this huge social war being waged by the state against queer people in the South. So yeah, that was a way to start to throw it to you. If you have some ideas.

Monse: For sure, I can definitely speak on that a little bit. Yeah, and I would say, like, the South is a region of both great despair and historical trauma, but also great organized resistance and resilience and magic. Like, we really organized in this region because we want to build up. And because we are a part of a long legacy of organizers and cultural workers, freedom fighters who have been committed to the South, and this is a place where folks live, where folks build their lives, where they love, where they organize, and continue to build their families, regardless of all the things and history that has. And I really would want to highlight that resistance piece, because there has been so much resistance that has happened in the South. And I think that’s the beauty of it. I think that folks, we’re naming, like, we organize in the South, and we have that kind of like a southern hospitality where we can find our people, where we can create the potlucks and invite folks in and like, making sure that our neighbors have what they need, that our community is good. And we are doing mutual aid, and we are doing those things. And there’s also like all those things against us, too.

But I think that organizing in the South, to me, is about kind of like that resilience that you’re like, “I’m not leaving this place, because this is where my legacy is, my history is.” And a lot of the times that negative and racist rhetoric is highlighted in the South, but I think, like, right alongside with it is where we grow, like where we are making everything out of nothing. And we are doing that pushback, and we are seeing some wins. And I think we have been able to see some wins, like even specifically throughout this year. Like folks organizing and doing the uprisings. Like we saw so many wins from that, like, where folks, like we are literally, everyone was talking about “what does it mean to defund the police? Like, what does it mean to believe in a world where we don’t have policing, where we don’t have jails and prisons?” And I think that that is because of years and years worth of organizing. It didn’t happen just out of nothing, and like folks rioted and stood up for what they believed in, just like, overnight. I think it has been years of oppression and resilience that ignited folks to continue that conversation. I think that the work is not by any means done yet. But definitely we’re making, we’re seeing the fruits of those commitments and those sacrifices happen. I think it’s up to us here in the South to continue to say like, “Fuck that” – [smiles] I’m gunna cuss on here – but like, “Fuck that, like, we’re gonna keep fighting and we’re gonna keep doing what our ancestors wanted us to do and what rightfully we have to do”.

So yeah, and I think in Asheville there are so many nonprofits, and like so many folks already organizing, and there is a great need for folks to organize. And we definitely saw that even locally in Asheville, when, like, we need to hold local and county government accountable. Like we saw that in the summer, we saw demands of Black and Brown organizers being ignored. We saw that there is a big need, like, we can’t, in Asheville at least, we can’t hide behind liberal organizing and expect things to to move. I think that we have to continue to push and continue to make space for Black and Brown organizers and for demands to to move, so that we can organize and build the world we want to live in, even here, on a local level. And I think that what SONG has to offer, at least here in Asheville, is like training, skill-up opportunities. Like, this 28 year old legacy of folks who have been fighting and organizing in the South because the South is their home, and definitely connection to those folks all across the south, and years of like trans and queer abolitionist organizing. So that’s what I have to say,

Scott: Thanks. And then, you know, building on that idea of like, how the queer communities in the South can get invisiblized in the racist and bigoted ideas of the South, I was gonna use that to sort of transition to the work that you’re doing Leroy with Tranzmission Prison Project, because also a community that gets invisiblized, is the people who are incarcerated, and specifically people like trans and queer people who are incarcerated. And I don’t know if you have something to say about that in terms of like, the way that you’re working with them to get their voices out or get their needs met. Because that’s also a site of like, tremendous resistance, building off what Monse was saying.

Leroy: Yeah, I think that there’s both so much potential here, and in full transparency, so much room for TPP to continue growing in ways that move beyond where the reality of, you know, most of our work to date has, even as an abolitionist group, typically shown up as service provision. Where we’re not as involved on the policy end of things, or able to keep up with all of the specifics of what is happening in this state in the South that specifically targeting these queer and trans prisoners. We, you know, have occasionally popped in to, like, offer a statement here or there about things that have happened on the federal level. Like in 2018 there was this change to the Transgender Offender Manual from the Bureau of Prisons, that really fucked over, altered, the safety of trans folks in prison across the country.

But as far as specific to the South, I personally don’t feel like I am informed enough to be able to say where, you know, we have as a project not yet had the capacity to orient towards how can we show up more and do more coalition building and outreach beyond our little silo of what this project has been maintaining over the years. But I think that that’s the real growth edge for us right now. And where the conversation has really been building over the last several years as we’ve gone from, basically like myself, and like one other person, when I first joined this organization, we sort of went through a period of so much burnout, and turnover seven years ago that the last seven years have been really just building back up our own base and trying to just keep up with the mail. We have, like, 100 to 150 pieces of mail on average that we get a month.

And so we’ve sort of been stretching to make space to have conversations within our group that are more than just “how do we sustain our own morale in this work?” And how do we actually network with some of these bigger, juicy or more challenging questions of “what does it mean to be abolitionists doing books to prisoners work”, and I think that networking with other folks in the south like SONG, like Pansy Collective, like Youth OUTright, is really where the work is headed for us. So that we can kind of use the best of what everyone else is already tapped into, on sometimes more of the policy end of things, sometimes more the grassroots end of things, but just where people have their ear to the ground in places that we don’t always.

I will say, as I kind of alluded to, I think in my first answer – and maybe this is foreshadowing for like another question that I don’t know, it still coming up – about like challenges of working in the South. But I think that the irony is that for longer than I have been involved with this project, North Carolina specifically has been one of the states that has banned us, Tranzmission Prison Project specifically, from sending mail in. And we have – for the cop who may be sitting in this room right now, this is the time where I’m gonna say “Fuck you, and you can leave this call” – but, you know, we we have done what we’ve needed to do to get folks books that they’ve requested. Like, we still get requests all the time from prisoners in North Carolina, and we’ve basically just found some ways to fly a little lower on the radar when mailing those books back to people. But things like we can’t use our letterhead, we don’t use our mailing address when we return those. And so there’s room for us to potentially challenge that.

I mean, in the last seven years, again, as a group we have not had the capacity to necessarily even investigate, like, is this really still a thing? Like, could we run a campaign to get this overturned? And so that’s where having a real upsurge of interest in prison abolition in the last year has been starting to put some more wheels under what feels possible for us, in terms of maybe doing some bigger work, then has really just been on the table for us. Just trying to like keep up with the need that has been there, you know, not not to fall into like, capitalist supply demand lingo, but I mean the reality is like, the prison system is a part of capitalism and we are often in our own constraints that are placed upon us by it by the nature of the prison industrial complex.

So there’s this real tension between like, “how do we ensure that our baseline commitment to just getting people the books that they are asking for is being met”, while also being like “is that in and of itself, abolitionist”. We really situate what we’re doing as centering people’s humanity, and really just restoring that sense of dignity and autonomy to people, that having information is something that we believe everyone should have. Having access to pleasure is something that everyone should have a way to expand their own minds beyond, you know, what’s often a cell smaller than a lot of people’s bathrooms. How do we, again, just connect the dots of the bigger constellation of “how do we keep these prisons from becoming kinder and friendlier to trans people” – whether that’s in the South or around the whole rest of the country – towards “how do we really shrink the system into nonexistence”?

Scott: Yeah, so jumping off of the obstacle point, that was a question that I had prepared. And I’m thinking also of just specifying a little bit because it’s come up – and this is the place we’re in, like, you know, post or not post pandemic, but in the middle of the pandemic – the pandemic hit, right, and like changed the terrain for organizing for everyone. So that, obviously, is an obstacle. I’d be interested to hear how a little more about how have you dealt with that. And also, potentially, on the plus side, the way the uprisings, rebellions last year affected the kind of energy and work that you’re doing, because that’s also something you’ve all been mentioning, in terms of the hearing more about abolition. So obstacles and but also like the recent sort of things that have occurred that have changed the nature of organizing.

Monse: I’m happy to kick it off. I think that yeah, definitely, what has been shared is definitely what we’ve been experiencing too, within SONG. I think even the election was a huge obstacle. I think that that brought up so, so many conversations, but also like, we were able to run a Free the Vote program within SONG in particular parts of the South, where we were doing voter registration and in the jails, for folks who are incarcerated, trying to get absentee ballots. And then we also face that same like, trying to mail stuff in trying to get to talk to people, it was those same things. So I definitely resonate with that, like trying to navigate and even just reach our people who are inside, making sure that they know that we’re out here and just trying to communicate with them has been a barrier put up by the state. And I think it’s very intentional, you know, they don’t want us to talk to them, they don’t want them to talk to us. So I would say I definitely resonated with that.

And I think even, yeah COVID in itself changed so many of the conditions which our folks were living in, and organizing in too. And we as SONG were definitely trying to figure out like, “is this the moment like to free them all? Like, are we trying to push for that, like, get everyone out of jail?” Like, of course they’re not following the CDC guidelines. Of course, they don’t care about the people who are in there. And really trying to see like, what ways that we could turn up on the state, and also keep our people safe from from COVID. We definitely started to do car caravan actions, like honk-ins at the jails all across the South, making sure like, hey, like we haven’t forgotten about y’all out here. And trying to do that. Folks in Atlanta and the Atlanta chapter were definitely turning up and putting pressure so folks could be released. Like, if they didn’t have to be there – of course, nobody has to be there – but like, if they were their pretrial, that they should be free.

So definitely trying to push on the campaign’s that we were already moving, in relationships to like, we need everyone out of that jail because it’s just COVID in there. So yeah, I think that even our tactics of organizing changed so much, and finding our people, and being able to do direct actions…we were thinking, a lot of like, “what does it mean to continue to turn up on the state and keep our people safe from getting sick?” Because we know that historically, our people don’t have access to health care, like our people don’t trust the health care systems, at all, and in fact, have been victims of violence by the healthcare system. So all the things, all the things. And I think, even just locally, some obstacles that have been coming up is also the fast-paced gentrification here in Asheville. Black and Brown folks, especially queer trans folks, are being pushed out of Asheville, so, so quickly, so so rapidly. And I think that that’s also something that my brain goes to is like, how are we like turning up against all these developers who are trying to take our towns, trying to take our people’s homes? And how are we creating space for folks to continue to live here, and work here and organize here in Asheville? It’s something that I would love to get into with any of y’all. But yeah, some of the obstacles.

Adrian: Thanks for sharing all of that Monse, a lot of that really resonates. And I think that, you know, with what’s coming up for me and the young folks that I work with, is I think that we’ve really shifted into more of a survival mode, right? You know, sex ed, and sexual violence prevention work was really integral to our programs before the pandemic, like every single meeting we’d talk about consent. Once we hit quarantine the kids were like, “We just need to hang out with each other, like, we need a little bit less educational stuff.” And we stepped back a little bit because they didn’t have the capacity to keep learning and keep learning. And they were also doing virtual school, right? I think the capacity for everybody, not just young people, just really got lowered.

And, you know, I have been fielding a lot more crisis calls over the past year. We have young people who are stuck at home in transphobic families, right, abusive families. And so, you know, we move from potentially thinking about targeting a trans inclusive policy at school to, oh, I might get kicked out of my home, right? And so I think that’s one of the challenges for us, is that while we try to build power within the youth community, so many of our young folks are just dealing with a different level of marginalization, by the pandemic, right?

One thing I’d point to is our GSA clubs, right? Like we before the pandemic, there were upwards of 35 clubs across North Carolina. Now we’re under 25. And a lot of those 25 are folks who have registered, but like, their club isn’t really meeting right now, or maybe they don’t have the tools to meet digitally, or, you know, they’re running their meeting but they’re only getting 5 of the 20 and 30 people that used to be coming to their meeting, right? So there’s this really big challenge in reconnecting with all of our young folks that have been a part of this network, and making sure they’re alright.

We launched a mutual aid fund over the past year, to support young folks 24 and under who were economically impacted by the pandemic, and we’ve distributed about $14,000 now, mostly to young folks who are housing insecure, and a good number of them are already homeless. And so, you know, in my conversations with the McKinney Vento liaisons who work within the Buncombe County school district and support the homeless youth there, they told me that they expected to see the homeless youth population balloon, maybe even double, over the course of the pandemic due to just the economic impacts, right. And the family impacts again, putting, you know, trans people back at home in spaces that aren’t safe for them.

So, all of those things are hard, but I do want to add a silver lining that has come out of some of these pivots. You know, we moved to digital programming pretty much within a week, right? It was pretty quick. But what was really awesome about it was a lot of our young people took a lot of initiative, right? They’re like, “Oh, discord, yeah, I can make a server, I can make you a robot. I can make you all these things.” And It was incredible and inspiring to see these young people step up to the plate…wow, a sports metaphor, how butch? Okay, that was weird. That doesn’t happen a lot. So, you know, these young people really stepped up to support each other and advocate for themselves, right? That’s been really incredible. And the other thing that comes from that, in the beginning of the pandemic our groups were smaller, but they were rural people, they were POC folks, and so we were actually getting to these young people who really need our services a little bit more. Not to say that young folks don’t need our services – we’re here for them as well – but there tend to be more GSAs within Buncombe County, there tend to be more supportive adults within Buncombe County. And so to see young people from Candler, Lake Lure, Cherokee, these other places, checking into our call, that’s a huge impact for me and for I think the folks in the community.

I think that moving out of the pandemic, as we slowly start to, we’re going to be keeping a lot of these digital organizing strategies that we’ve developed, and need to find this balance between, “okay, we’ve created access to our world programs, and there’s this thing that’s lacking from our in person programs that we need to bring back”. But I tell you, I’m not going to remove all the digital programs, because I’m like having those rural kids around.

Leroy: I can jump back in. Yeah, I’m really feeling the themes of COVID challenges plus, like weird COVID boons that no one necessarily saw coming. Yeah, at the very start of the pandemic, we definitely went into rapid response mode in a way that like, isn’t very typical for us. And again, wasn’t necessarily sustainable for us, but I think, as Monse already touched on – everyone’s familiar with this, I think, on the global level, but for those of us, especially with our finger on the pulse of what life inside of prisons is like, it was just like watching the storm rolling in times 1000 – it was just like the contagion of this is going to kill so many people so rapidly. And there was also this potential, like no one had really ever seen before, for these mass releases.

And so again, even though that’s not something that we, as a group, necessarily had a lot of power to help push for – I mean, I think individuals within our group are kind of like tapped into other campaigns outside of the work of TPP – but what we did do was reformatted a pamphlet that was a collaboration between Blue Ridge Anarchist Black Cross and Asheville Prison Books, which was basically just an informational two to four pager about what is COVID, and how can you keep yourself safe? And obviously, there were ways we were like ”We don’t know if people are going to be able to apply this.” I mean, obviously, there’s no PPE, there certainly was no PPE inside of prisons at the beginning of the pandemic, we were worried if people were even going to have soap. Hand sanitizer was like, not allowed for a lot of folks because of alcohol. But we were like, “We don’t even know what people are being told at this point, so it seems like the least we could do to just share what we were hearing, as we were hearing it on the outside, with those that we love on the inside,” to just say like, “this is what we know so far about this virus. And this is what we are hearing about what you can do to keep yourself safe as much as possible. And we realized that a lot of this may not be possible for y’all.”

The flip side of what those pamphlets offered was a sliver of hope, for those that were able to receive them, about some of what was happening in terms of folks being released in the South, actually, as well as around the country. And while that did not happen, I think as much as a lot of us in the abolition movement hoped that it could have gone further, there were also some prison breaks. And they were also just stories of people freeing themselves from the cages that they were in. And so there were some little blurbs about that. We also had some of those pamphlets bounce back, and we assumed that that was for that reason. There was like one or two that came back to us that something on the return to sender said something along the lines of like “this is a threat to our security and that’s why this wasn’t let in.” And so you know, it’s not really surprising because we know that knowledge is a threat and prisons don’t want prisoners to even think about the fact that they might one day have the power to liberate themselves, let alone be granted clemency. So, you know, the vast majority of them we think reached the folks that we intended them to get.

But we also weren’t sure for a while when we were going to have access to our office because as the original shutdowns were going on – like I said, we’re out of the back of Downtown Books and News – we lost access to our space for the first like, three, four months that things were going on. So part of those pamphlets, too, was this very kind of frightening disclosure that we were like, “Hey, we don’t know when we are going to be able to send you books, because there’s just a freeze on our ability to maintain this right now, but we want you to know that you are in our hearts and we are thinking of you.” And even just being able to send that little bit of personal love to folks, that in and of itself, I think, was where we were able to put our hearts forward at the start of this pandemic and let people know, like Monse, you were saying, again, like, “you are not forgotten even in this, and we’ll be back with you as soon as we can be”. And so yeah, it took some time for everybody to kind of get their feet back under them again, but by the summer last year we were starting to socially distance gather ourselves in the park to just like, reorganize our core group.

And then as we started to launch our packaging parties back up, which is how we kind of make room for more community engagement than just our regular core folks who come and pick out the books – in the pre-pandemic times used to do this out of Firestorm Books and Coffee, where we would take the books that were ready to be wrapped up and we would just do like a big almost holiday style wrapping where we just brown paper bag everything and address stuff and tape it up, and then it’s ready to go to the post office – we started to do that outside, also in Carrier Park, so that we could continue to do the work. And really, I think this is where this work gets really intersectional. I think that with everything that happened, with the uprisings of the summer and abolition starting to be talked about more and more, we started to see more people show up at those outdoor packaging parties than we had ever seen before. And we have been continuing to get new interests through our Instagram, through our email inbox. And yeah, I think that that’s where the last year has presented some really unusual, but exciting opportunities for where we’re now positioned, just with more folks plugging in all the time than we previously had. So that’s the upside of things. Beck, you want to get in on this?

Beck: Sure. Yeah, I mean, it’s pretty quick and easy. COVID really threw a wrench in like everything we do. [starts laughing] We created physical spaces for queer community to come together and learn in sheer joy and you know, art, music. So, yeah, we really were at a loss for how to adapt, and none of us were in a place where we were like, willing to switch to digital. So we’re like, “Okay, what can we do right now”, we had applied for a mini grant from the Trans Justice Project. And we got it! And we’re like,” oh, dope, but there’s not a fest going on. So what are we going to do?” And so we decided to do a kind of like reparations drive project, community reach, outreach type thing, where we used all those funds from that grant, to BIPOC artists who are now like, without work. So focusing on Black and Indigenous queer and trans artists, and making sure they’re getting their needs, uplifting the work that they’re doing, you know, from a distance, and also just like, literally just fundraising for them and having our own reparations pool every month. So that kind of shifted that way.

I think a lot of it though, like Pansy Collective as individuals, was just like showing up in the summer, showing up in the street, showing up for aftercare type stuff, showing up where we could, as individuals, for our friends in our community. And so yeah, I think, you know, as things start kind of shifting and maybe outdoor meetups and stuff is possible, it’ll kind of start to go back to what Pansy is used to doing. But really, it’s just been, I mean, as a collective, just kind of being there for each other, and for the folks in town, showing up just as people has been the work, just giving love in a really isolated time.

Scott: Thanks everyone for going into that. I want to ask maybe a final question that would have two parts and then leave room for anyone here who wants to directly ask you individually or collectively questions, but so I’m going to put a couple of things together and hopefully this will work. So on the one hand we see queerness kind of getting more visibility and inclusion and representation, and I’m wondering – because all the work that y’all are doing is still on the terrain that is disruptive for, you know, systems of power, state control – so I’m sort of just interested in what you think queerness still holds that’s disruptive or liberatory, and then kind of putting that into like, what sort of coalitional projects you envision your groups doing in the future?

Adrian: Right now the one sentence that’s coming to my head is like “pink capitalism sucks” right? And I don’t have a whole lot more beyond that right now, in this moment. No, I think that, you know, the sort of acceptability politics that’s happening in like the big LGB sometimes T circles is rather sex negative. So I think there’s growth we could do there together in coalition building. You know, I think that this is probably because of the particular lens that I approach this work, but I see a lot of ageism and adultism generationally, right? I see a lot of skepticism from my elders on the vision that my young folks have, and sometimes I look to my elders to say, like, “Look, I don’t quite see how all the dots connect, but can you help me connect the dots for these young people?” And I need that support from our trancestors. And so I think that’s part of the coalition building that can happen. You know, I think that also we see a lot of white LGBTQ representation, right? So I think there’s a lot of work that we can do around, you know, centering BIPOC experience and what they need, right? So I would really love to see more inter-generational coalition’s between the different LGBT and racial justice serving organizations, I think that could be really, really fruitful. And I’m just kind of curious what other folks are thinking to?

Monse: Yeah, I think you hit it spot on for me Adrian. And yeah, I think that there are a lot of visible spaces and like, spaces made for queer and trans folks here in Asheville at least, but they’re mostly white spaces. And I think that just making spaces for Black and Brown folks to lead the work, for Black and Brown folks to just even come together and organize is necessary. And I would love to collaborate with folks, and just like creating those spaces, like finding the folks that are looking for the spaces and being able to support and find joy to bring our beautiful queer selves and organize together. So I think that that’s where we have a lot of room to grow, where I could see SONG collaborating with folks.

And I think even just like, also language, I’m very passionate about language justice, and that we need to be organizing not only in English because queer and trans folks aren’t only white, don’t only speak English. And I think that these identities can be very intersectional and like, folks are trying to do all the things. And yeah, so I think creating more spaces that are language accessible, that are culturally accessible, and that folks want to come to, because I think that there are so many white, queer, trans spaces in Asheville that a lot of times my folks don’t want to be in, that I don’t want to be in. And I think that there’s a lot of room to grow and a lot of space for collaboration, where we can make these spaces together.

Beck: I’ll go ahead. Yeah, thank you Monse, Adrian. I think all of y’alls responses…what I’m thinking of, how Asheville in particular, and a lot of liberal Southern cities, loves to show it’s pride in like, “we just hired a lesbian cop! Look at this girl boss who just joined the local government!”. When we look at our roots, when we look at queer oppression as a timeline, we have all of the same evils, all of the same oppressive entities are still the same, and no matter how pink or queer, whatever we make them appear, they’re still creating the same evils and the same oppressions.

There was a TikTok of a local lesbian police officer that got really big, and I was just like, “I know her. I’ve seen you arrest some queer folks before. And your TikTok famous, cute.” So yeah, just when we really look at all of these intersections, we can’t be pro gay cops, while gay cops are arresting Black queer people, Brown queer people, are incarcerating and deporting Brown queer people, Black people, Indigenous queer people, all of these evils are still there. If we put queer in front of it, it does not change that. And that’s the same for pink capitalism, like you talked about Adrian. Like, sure, I can go to Target in July and expect to find some rainbow t-shirts, right? But they’re still made in fucking sweatshops. Just because we put a coat of pink on it doesn’t change the system of oppression and the same status quo that we’re really trying to fight against.

And when we think of like, STAR, Street Transvestite Action Revolution, and like that awesome organizing that was happening, it was focusing on people who were incarcerated, was focusing on trans Black and Brown people, it was led by trans Black and Brown people, like that is what, to me, that is where revolution is heading and has always been from. It’s not going to be from the lesbian white cop on TikTok who Asheville loves and had a meet and greet with a rainbow flag behind her, you know? Like, no, that’s not going to be it.

And thinking of, yeah, like Monse, you talked about earlier, there’s a gentrification that’s rapidly pushing Black and Brown folks out of Asheville. Like, that’s another thread that I don’t see a lot of queer organizing, like, really looking at, is that class piece, that racism and class piece, right? Yeah, like there’s a Save Charlotte Street going on in town – which is like important, right? This is a whole community – but it’s white folks that are affluent. And there’s a lot of build up and organizing around that, and like, what about all the Brown folks that were pushed out? What about all the Black folks that were pushed out during the 90’s?

So starting to bring all of that in together and look at that same root that is there, instead of just trying to, like, paint it pink and call it cute. Yeah, that’s the direction I would love for us to be heading in.

Leroy: [sighs exasperatedly] Yeah, “paint it pink and call it cute”, there is slogan to be dissected. Yeah, I feel like that was kind of where my brain was going as far as “where’s the liberatory potential of queerness still?” Is that actually still a thing, or is social capital and social hierarchy kind of just subverting this work into something really superficial? And where I see popularity as the potential thing that’s like drawing people into this, and social cred, more than what this work is actually about? I think that’s something that has been a really disturbing trend to try and assess.

Where it’s like, we have a very trendy logo, some might say, that was designed for us in the last few years, and to see our social media suddenly popping off has been really exciting. And it’s like, at the same time that we want people to come towards us and enter into this work, in the time that I have been involved with TPP, this has been primarily white led organization, and it has primarily been white folks involved. We have not had a lot of people of color come to us and say that they want to be involved in our work. And that isn’t to say, none, but I think that there are uncomfortable questions that I’m okay with being uncomfortable about that, for me, when I think about these things, I’m like, I just continue to sit with more questions than I have answers for. What does it mean for us to just continue to listen to other folks in the community, to continue to show up for other POC and Black led organizations in Asheville, so that we’re not just perpetuating part of the problem?

I’ve sat with this question of “if at some point this work needed to completely dissolve in order for something new to take form that was not the folks who have been leading this project for the time that I’ve been here to occur”…I think that’s part of what change is. It’s like death and rebirth and not being so attached to what we have carved out, what we have created, that we can’t still be humble and know that we, again, don’t have all the answers. So I’m excited for where we continue to get to connect, as you know, these four groups that are in this panel.

I’ll say as far as networking goes, TPP actually just got an email from Georgia chapter of SONG like last night about them wanting to start some books to prisoners work for LGBTQ folks in Georgia. And so we basically just send them like everything that we know about how to do this work, cause that was what they were asking us. And we are really like, “Yes, please. There need to be more groups that are specifically serving LGBTQIA folks that are incarcerated”. Because, again, whether it’s in the South or anywhere in the country that remains one of the most marginalized groups in prison, and we know that so many of those folks are Black and Brown and Indigenous.

And yeah, I think that more and more youth are starting to come to us. We have our first ever high school intern right now and she’s getting ready to plug us to the Racial Justice Coalition at her high school. So I feel like a lot of what’s being names as far as intersectionality in this conversation is really like coming to the surface. And it’s an exciting time for, you know what’s possible right now.

But there is a lot of cooptation at the same time. And so yeah, I really hesitate to say with great confidence like…yeah, there is some, I don’t know…the language might have to change. And I think that that’s actually the place where I want to insert this quote that I pulled from – for the old heads who still know who Critical Resistance is – this anthology Abolition Now from 2008, which at the time was the 10 year anniversary of Critical Resistance, a national abolitionist organizing group. I mean, at this point, it’s been more than 10 years since this book came out, but this is a quote from Alexander Lee, the founder and director of the Transgender, Gender Variant and Intersex Justice Project, or TGI Justice Project, of California. Alexander Lee says:

“As we go forward, we should expect to be forced to discard language that limits this movements to prison and the prison industrial complex, in favor of descriptors that foster prickly coalitions with others who don’t see themselves as anti-prison, but who do believe in the sacred nature of human dignity, however imperfectly expressed in practice. The prison abolition movement must expand its arms to envelop the same people who fight for housing but demonized prisoners, who protest war but love to watch CSI, people who marched for civil rights but yell trans slur at trans women, and queers who demand the death penalty when yet another one of us is murdered. We should move into these other sectors and act as the lodestar, pulling everyone towards the ultimate goal of building a world where liberation is the status quo. When we achieve these goals, the abolition of prisons will just be the icing on the cake.”

Scott: Thanks for sharing that. Powerful words. And yeah, I guess maybe if we can just transition. I mean, I’m really grateful for all of you kind of speaking out of your experience and knowledge of doing this movement work. That’s so important. All right well thank you everyone.

Justice4Jerry2020, Confederate Monuments + Repression During The Movement for Black Lives

Justice4Jerry2020, Confederate Monuments + Repression During The Movement for Black Lives

Aerial of "Defund The Police" painted on street by Asheville Police Dept in June, 2020
photo by Ben Harper
Download This Episode

This episode has three portions following a segment by anarchist prisoner, Sean Swain, about confederate monuments.

[00:02:31 – 00:09:32]

This episode warrants a general content warning for the mentioning of the murder by shooting of a Black man at the hands of the police.

Justice4Jerry 2020

[00:09:32 – 00:29:36]

First up we got the chance to sit down with Najiyyah Avery Williams, who is a community member, organizer, and mother of Jai Lateef Solveig Williams, also known as Lil Jerry. Jerry, who was a children’s book author, artist, musician, and a 35 year old father was brutally killed by the Asheville Police Department on July 2nd 2016 by Sgt Tyler Radford.

This interview happened outdoors in front of the courthouse and police station in downtown Asheville, where the city was powerwashing a DEFUND THE POLICE street mural which was done autonomously the previous day to honor the life of Jerry Williams, and to call attention to the culture of violence and silence that the police hide behind when they murder Black people. Visit our social media for pictures of this mural before it was taken down!

In this segment we talk about Lil Jerry’s life, his work, the circumstances surrounding his passing, racist violence and harrassment his family has received in the aftermath, and projects his mother is working on and would like to see for the future.

An article by Socialist Worker detailing the initial murder and how contradictions were evidenced at the get go.

To help support Justice for Jerry, which is trying to get his unfinished books published and will go to supporting his family, you can venmo to the handle @J4J2020, or follow them on social media platforms by searching Justice 4 Jerry 2020.

Rural Protest Against Racist Legacy

[00:29:36 – 00:39:10]

After Najiah, we’re happy to share a voice message we received from Gabriel from Tyrrell County, North Carolina, about a protest that happened on the 26th in Columbia, the county seat. Gabriel shares his experience of the protest in this tiny town, giving an insight into some rural experience of confronting confederate monuments and their legacy.

Michael Loadenthal on Repression During 2020 Uprising

[00:39:11 – 02:10:16]

In the third portion of this episode, you’ll hear Michael Loadenthal of The Prosecution Project, which maps how politics impacts the weight of criminal charges attached in the U.S. Michael talks about the scale of repression brought by local, state and federal law enforcement and ideas of resisting it during the uprising against police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, the destruction of racist statues known variously as the rebirth of the Movement for Black Lives, or the #ACABSpring. For a great article on the subject, check out Mapping the State’s Strategy of Repression Against the Rebellion on IGD. Michael talks about the construction of federal felony charges for what would normally be smaller local charges, the use of grand juries to map social networks. He also shares thoughts about safer practices with social media, shifting dialogue around the role of police in society, the role of open source intelligence as well as surveillance technologies like drones and facial recognition.

Some points to follow up on from Michael’s chat:

 

Harm Reduction in Pandemic and Jason Renard Walker

Harm Reduction in Pandemic and Jason Renard Walker

Steady Collective ambulance in West Asheville
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This week we feature two segments, first up we got to chat with Hill Brown about Asheville’s response to the pandemic in terms of public health, drug use and the houseless communities. Then, Jason Renard Walker talks about his journalism, activism and troubles in the Texas prison system.

Harm Reduction in Asheville during Pandemic

First we got to sit down with Hill Brown who works with Asheville’s Steady Collective doing harm reduction outreach to people experiencing homelessness and addiction. We talk about a lot of topics, including how the current health crisis has affected Steady’s operation, how the city of Asheville is mishandling its resources right now, and how folks can plug in and have solidarity with this work.

If you are concerned about hotel access for oppressed populations, you can call:

  • The Tourism Development Authority (TDA) at 828-258-6111,
  • The County Commissioners at 828-250-4066 and leave a message,
  • and the City of Asheville, who funds the TDA, at 828-251-1122

You can also find ways to support the Steady Collective by visiting their website TheSteadyCollective.org. Visit our blog or show notes to see an interview Bursts did with Hill back in 2018 which was done at a time when the city was threatening to close Steady’s operations.

Incarcerated Journalist and Organizer, Jason Renard Walker

Then we’ll be hearing from Jason Renard Walker, an incarcerated journalist and activist at the Clemens Unit near Amarillo, Texas. Jason is the Minister of Labor for the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (Prison Chapter) and his writing is frequently featured in the SF Bay View National Black Newspaper. Mr. Walker’s answers will be read by his girlfriend, Noelle. You can find more of Jasons writings at his blog, JasonsPrisonJournal.com, including a link to his recently published e-book “Reports from Within The Belly Of The Beast: Torture and Injustice Inside Texas Department of Criminal Justice” available from Amazon.com and hopefully soon in paperback. He also just published this piece on his blog about the coverup around covid-19.

Jason Renard Walker #1532092
Clements Unit
9601 Spur 591
Amarillo, TX 79107

You can hear our chat from 2018 with Kevin Rashid Johnson (co-founder of the NABPP and Minister of Defense for the Prison Chapter) which is also transcribed in that post, or printable as a zine here.

Jason Renard Walker also mentions Julio Alex Zunigo, aka Comrade Z, who is rustling up resistance in Darington Unit. Comrade Z was interviewed by ItsGoingDown and we will be airing a recording of an interview with him coming up this week.

Comrade Malik’s Covid-19 Update Update

The elder, politicized prisoner that Comrade Malik references in Texas as Alvaro Luna Hernandez also goes by the name Xinachtli, which you can use in personal communication. You can hear a recording of Xinachtli telling his story in his own words here. For the envelope or dealing with administration you can write to him at:

Alvaro Luna Hernández #255735
James V Allred Unit
2101 FM 369
NorthIowa Park, TX 76367 USA

. … . ..

Tracks heard in this episode:

AwareNess (from calm.) – No Regrets

Wu-Tang Clan – It’s Yourz (instrumental)

. … . ..

Jason Renard Walker interview

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself for the audience? Feel free to include any details about your background, political affiliation or current circumstances you think will give a good context for the conversation.

Jason Renard Walker: My name is Jason Renard Walker, Minister of Labor for the New Afrikan Black Panther Party, Prison Chapter. I consider my political stance as a reflection of our party’s rules of discipline, principals, adherence to our ten point program and platform and our goals for the future.

For clarity, please feel free to learn about what I mean by reviewing the United Panther Movement section of my website at www.JasonsPrisonJournal.com . Just for the record, I don’t see myself as Democrat, Republican, Anarchist, Communist, or Socialist. I know this seems contradictory to the circumstances, but I’m all about positive change for society and the future of those to come. The New Afrikan Black Panther Party’s effort to carry on the legacy and goals fo the original Black Panther Party is my higher calling. And regardless of not holding an official political stance, my ability to execute my duties and help build the party would be the same if I did have a political stance. Though I’m certainly anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist.

TFSR: Would you mind telling us about your past, the case you caught and an overview of the conditions of your incarceration in Texas?

JRW: Just like a majority of our comrades and party members, I am a product of my environment. The streets of Est Oakland, wehre I grew up, is riddled with drugs, street gangs, violence, prostitution and so on.

If members in my family weren’t drug dealers, addicts, pimps, cons, prostitutes and so on. They held impractical religious views, empty of practical solution, coupled with the preachings of prayer and blief under the banner that this alone would make me a successful member of society.

The latter did little to persuade me from following the footsteps of people I admired; which were drug dealers and crooks that had more than their fair share of wealth and stability. While the so-called true believers toted the transit bus to spend their welfare checks and food stamps. Not only did I witness these contradictions within my neighborhood. I witnessed them within my own family.

By the age of 14 in 1994 I had dropped out of school, became a full time criminal and began experiencing the consequences of my actions. After spending two years in detention centers and a group home in Gilroy, CA called Advent group ministries. I moved to Garland, Texas with my grandma to stay with my aunt and cousin in 1998.

This was supposed to be my transformation from a criminal to a productive member of society… All this did was transfer a career criminal from committing crimes against the poor to committing crimes against the unwitting rich… There was no plan to rid me of my thoughts and behavior so I brought them with me to places no one knew such incivility existed, making these people easier and more fruitful targets of burglary, scams, drug sales and armed robbery.

I received an 18 year sentence in 2008 for robbery and have done 12 years on it so far, since then my outlook on life has changed. From my own experience and from what I read, conditions in Texas prisons are far worse here than most prison systems in the U.S. What gives Texas the edge is that it’s an overtly for-profit-only system. Prisoners undergo unpaid forced labor, grow, harvest and tend to the food we eat, and work and operate everything short of running the cell blocks.

I give a vivid account of the conditions on my kindle ebook on amazon.com called “Reports From Within The Beast: Torture and Justice Inside Texas Department of Criminal Justice”. I recommend that all your listeners get a copy. The writings span the years 2010-2019, including some of my work during my seven year stay in solitary confinement.

TFSR: We’ve seen your journalism featured in the SFBay View National Black Newspaper. Can you talk about your publishing, feedback you’ve gotten and repression you’ve faced for your expression?

JRW: The San Franscisco Bay View National Black Newspaper has been a big supporter of my writings. If they weren’t publishing journalism by me they published journalism about things concerning me and the bad conditions prisoners are facing in Texas. This includes our organizing and supporting the 2016 and 2018 National Prisoner Work Stoppage. And the reprisals we faced for doing so.

Not only have my journalism in the Bay View drawn the hatred of some guards, it has drawn negative feed back from white supremacist groups that conspire with these same guards to smuggle illicit drugs into the prison namely the deadly drug, k-2.

In the October 2018 issue of the Bay View I wrote an article called “Prison Assisted Drug Overdoses”. This forced Texas officials into giving guards more scrutinized searches before entering the prison, including the use of drug sniffing dogs. Guards have used my article as a manipulation tactic to raise smuggling fees by suggesting that my article in particular has made smuggling riskier. In turn I’ve been confronted by random individuals and groups about the article. These same individuals admit not having read the article so they are ignorant to the message I deliver. I’ve even tried suggesting they read the article to no avail. It only exposes ignored prisoner overdosing.

They are completely reactionary and tend to gravitate towards what guards tell them. Like I’ve been confronted about being a child molester, racist, terrorist, CIA operative and instigator with evidence supposedly the information. Combating this has been quite easy.

I’ve also gotten a lot of positive feedback from other journalists and Bay View readers in the U.S. and Europe who have become supporters of my work and who have chosen to investigate the conditions I describe in my articles.

TFSR: You recently published a book entitled ‘Reports from Within the Belly of the Beast: Torture and Injustice Inside Texas Department of Criminal Justice’ that, among other things, compiles some of your writings you previously published. Can you talk about your method of organizing your writing, who your audience is and what you hope the book achieves?

JRW: I really don’t have a method of organizing my writings. I tend to first document times and dates on things I see or learn of. I seek witnesses and victims, who are always willing to let me write about them. Sometimes I’ll ask a guard about something. Most of the instigators and abusers will openly brag about what they did. At the time they aren’t aware that an article will be written and who I am. After the hammer comes crashing down, they face me with looks of betrayal as if I’m not supposd to expose them because they may have given me extra food or recreation time in the past. Guard Darius Reed stole a Bay View, it mentioned him.

I have a large audience that includes Bay View readers, the Houston Chronicle, the Texas Tribune, SolitaryWatch.Org, the Anarchist Black Cross group, Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) and hundreds of people who have never written me but have sent me books and magazines like Sheri Black and Sam Rosen in Great Britain. Or those who send words of courage but fail to provide a reply address.

The message in the book speaks for itself. I hope and wish that it sets in the hands of as many readers as possible. I haven’t found a book by a Texas prisoner of this magnitude like it. It also includes unpublished articles, a forward by Maggie Ray Anderson, a 2011 Central Washington University graduate who got a B.A. in law and justice and a B.S. in social services and Kevin Rashid Johnson.

TFSR: Do you have any plans to publish your book in physical form so it can be available to people in prison?

JRW: Actually we are in the process of publishing 500 copies of the paperback version, specifically so that prisoner supporters can have a copy sent to an incarcerated loved one or friend. These copies will be available on amazon.com as well only costing $5 per copy. Before the paperback version is released we will have it available for pre-release ordering so we’ll know if more copies and how many more will need to be printed. The ebook and the paperback version have come to fruition by the funds and work of me and my girlfriend. But we could use the help of an underwriter or independent publisher.

TFSR: A year and a half ago we had the pleasure to speak with Kevin Rashid Johnson of the NABPP about the organizing he was doing, about the prison strikes, organizing on the outside and his organization. Would you talk about how you came to join the NABPP, what your position in it is, and how organizing in Texas has been as a member of that group?

JRW: Given the circumstances, it would be difficult for me to answer this question without this entire questionaire being banned by the mailroom. Not because of the content but to delay the radio interview entirely under the false pretext that it containes security threat group information. Some insight can be caught by viewing www.RashidMod.com.

TFSR: Are there any other groups you have organized with that you’d care to mention? For instance, you received punishment in the aftermath of the Nationwide Prisoner Strikes in 2016 and 2018.

JRW: Yes, during the 2016 and 2018 National Prison Work stoppage I had the joy to work with the IWOC, different branches of the ABC, the Free Alabama Movement (FAM) and a group in Colorado that published The Fire Inside Zine, which I wrote a piece for. The Fire Inside related to the 2016 work stoppage.

TFSR: A common concern raised around incarceration in the US is a lack of medical treatment, the high cost and low quality when it is available, overcrowding and under-staffing leading to medical and health emergencies. I’ve noted on the outside that the conversation is raised more frequently recently during ecological disasters like hurricanes or when people protest the use of solitary confinement in lieu of mental health resources. Now, with the panic and obvious lack of preparedness around Covid-19 (novel caronavirus), can you talk about health and preparedness in terms of incarceration in the US and what the public on the outside can be doing to support the folks in cages?

JRW: I’m glad you brought up the coronavirus. I just recently wrote a short piece on the lack of care we are provided in the midst of this and the prisoners failure to receive care to avoid paying $13.55 medical co-pay fees.

Since I wrote that piece five prisoners were moved to this prison with Corona Virus. They received it form a sick guard during transportation. Now guards at this prison have been confirmed to have it. It is spreading. My request to be tested, because I’m showing signs of illness, have been ignored. I submitted my request four days ago. Today is April 5th. Nurse Ms. Spencer came to see me. I was told I didn’t have a fever so no further care was necessary.

There is no obvious plan in place to prevent further spreading. Guards are wearing masks and there are notes posted about staying six feet away from others. Thus we are confined to our cells with another prisoner and have no way to read any postings that are located places beyond sight-and-walking authority.

I’ve learned that taking vitamin c supplements and driving citns flavored electrolite drinks slow down the manifestation of the germ, along with limited physical activity, lots of sleep and staying warm.

The key thing people on the outside can do for us is to constantly contact the prisons warden about the number of confirmed cases, requesting our medical records, as to monitor their response time to our sick call requests, our diagnosis and the tpe of treatment we are receiving. Sending us updates on how it’s spreading in our particular area and any info they have that can help prevent spreading and exposure. Hair scanning is the only prevention plan being implemented here (whatever that is).

We are being given false info on self diagnosis and testing. One thing that has to be a public conern is how nurses use our blood pressure results to determine if we are sick, hurting, having a stroke and whether we have a common cold or the common flu. I actually describe one instance in my book concerning a stroke victim who was denied hospitalization for over twelve hours based on his blood pressure results. He is now paralyzed and had to undergo brain surgery because of the long delay. No staff were held liable, they actually brought him back from the infirmary on a gurney and laid him on his cell floor, where he remained until we convinced the next shift that he was dying. This incident occurred here at the Clemens Unit. My advice to prisoners is to take matters into your own hands. If you feel you are sick and in need of medical care, keep trying to get it. Don’t let nursing staff suggest your blood pressure is the factor whether you are sick or not. Don’t let medical copay fees factor in either…

TFSR: Are there organizing efforts in Texas around prisoner issues that you would like to highlight or needs that need to be addressed that are particular to the TDCJ or any of the units you’ve been kept in?Where do you see the efforts in the US around prisoner issues? Similar to the prior questions, do you have any inspirations or challenges you’d like to pose to either those on the outside or the inside?

JRW: The only organizing efforts I’m aware of are the ones involving the NABPP, the IWOC and scattered anarchist prisoners in Texas. Since I’ve been in close custody (two man solitary) I haven’t had the chance to use the phone, limiting my access to information.

In fact, incarcerated anarchist Julio A Zuniga (aka Alex) is at the Darrington Unit in Rosharon, Texas organizing. His focus seems to be on conditions, medical care, filth, the treatment of the mentally ill and gladiator fights.

Final Straw listener, Matt Brodnax, did an interview with Alex that is published online. But there are many organizing efforts by unknown Texas prisoners who too face unwarranted acts of repression, including the destruction of ongoing / incoming mail and personal property. I’ve met several during my stay at the Ellis Unit, Michael Unit and Allred Unit. Their lack of firmness in the face of reprisals have kept their efforts to organizing limited to filing grievances and complaining amongst each other. In these circles I’m viewed as radical and going too far. Though they wonder why they can’t win false disciplinary cases.

We need more isolated and groups of prisoners to take their organizing to the next level. If using un-radical forms of organizing was effective, not one prisoner would need to take things to the next level. These groups must form bonds of unity as well. For example, a lot of prisoners chose filing civil suits challenging the 13th Amendments clause on legal slave labor. This was in response and following the 2016 work stoppage. Their focus was on losing commissary privileges, dayroom time and whatnot. So to circumvent foreseeable retaliation and applying some serious action, they used the governments recommended channel, getting each of their claims claims dismissed as frivolous, wasting both time and their own resources.

In a few instances some prisoners did file civil suits and participate in the work stoppage. But even the civil suit filers learned a valuable lesson, I hope they are building on.

TFSR: Where do you see the efforts in the US around prisoner issues? Similar to the prior questions, do you have any inspirations or challenges you’d like to pose to either those on the outside or the inside?

JRW: Efforts to organize in the U.S. around prisoner issues are scattered, contradicting and often misunderstood. You have some prisoner writers out there labeled activists, though their writings and disinterest in foot work reveals their Black Capitalist / White Capitalist / Brown Capitalist interest and agenda. You have others still engaged in the sale of drugs that hold a street mentality called revolutionary but gangsta. Allowing them to engage in some activism while holding the same criminal mentality and world view their activism supposedly opposes. It’s the do as I say not as I do thing.

The challenge to prison activists inside and on the outside is to stay firm at what you do. Continue learning how to strengthen your organization and or support circle, educate those around you about your program and be a positive representative in your community upon release.

For instance the NABPP has transitioned to the outside. Comrade, Chairman Shaka Zulu and others have created our outside headquarters in Newark, New Jersey. Giving us the opportunity to create and expand our community service programs. This includes our Black August BB9, No Prison Fridays protest, and Free Food breakfast and lunch program that occurs Saturdays between 10am and 4pm. These programs are sponsored by Panthers and service community volunteers. Shaka Zulu helped bring this to life upon his release from prison.

As it shows, the NABPP is among the most firm in regards to In-Prison activism, organizing and carry this on in the oppressed and impoverished communities. The role of the NABPP is not to pose as a rescuer of the people but to uplift, inspire and teach them. Through their own cooperation and collective power, they can solve their own problems, meet their own needs and free themselves from this racist, exploitative and oppressed society.

TFSR: Are there any subjects that I failed to ask about that you’d like to speak to?

JRW: No, there isn’t. But I’d like to take time to thank everyone that has helped me with my progress, education, development and needed support. Too many to name here. And a $1 donation will be given to the San Francisco Bay View for every paperback issue of my book sold!

Jason Renard Walker #1532092
Clements Unit
9601 Spur 591
Amarillo, TX 79107

Release Ramsey Orta! / Housing Struggle in Asheville

Release Ramsey Orta! / Housing Struggle in Asheville

Sean Swain’s segment on Bernie Sanders withdrawal the Democrat candidacy.

[00:03:20-00:12:27]

Release Ramsey Orta!

[00:12:27-00:38:00]

UHOHavl Flyer & Ramsey Orta looking out the window of prison
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This week, we hear from Deja, the fiance of incarcerated cop watcher Ramsey Orta. Ramsey has been in prison since 2016 and during his short time inside has he’s been transferred around a lot and spent over a year in isolation. Ramsey’s name may be familiar as the police accountability activist who recorded the killing by police of the unarmed community member and grandfather, Eric Garner, in New York in 2014. Ramsey Orta’s video went viral and drew NYPD harassment and attention to him and his family and since his incarceration led to many threats by cop-sympathizing CO’s. Orta is currently about 90 days from his release date for his non-violent conviction and falls within the categories of prisoners that NY is considering releasing before the pandemic is in full swing. If you can help lean on the powerful in NY to get Ramsey Orta released, you can email officialramseyorta@gmail.com or wecopwatch@gmail.com. You can learn more about Ramsey’s case at RamseyOrta.com, or the SupportRamseyOrta fedbook page, as well as WeCopWatch.org or that groups fedbook page.

News just came out that Midstate Correctional, where Ramsey is currently being held, has shown its first infections of covid-19, so this issue of securing Ramsey Orta’s release is dire. He is being denied showers, soap, tissue, enough food. Ramsey is also not being giving cleaning supplies for his cell. A source of his mistreatment is Sgt Mayo at Midstate. Supporters suggest phones contact the following officials and share freedom for Ramsey. Ramsey’s prison number is 16A4200.

Office of Special Investigations (OSI) – DOCCS
OSIComplaint@doccs.ny.gov
844 674 4697

William Burns / Deputy Superintendent for Security
315-768-8581 ext 5000
William.burns@doccs.ny.gov

William D. Fennessy / Superintendent
315 768 8581 ext 2000
william.Fennessy@doccs.ny.gov

Housing Struggle in Asheville

[00:40:14-01:28:52]

Then we hear from two activists from Unemployed Humans Organzing Help, or UHOH Asheville, talking about tenant organizing for a rent freeze and pushing the government and hoteliers to open up those empty rooms to houseless folks in Asheville. More at their fedbook page, or by emailing uhohavl@riseup.net. Apologies for the sound in this second portion.

. … . ..

Featured tracks:

Pete Rock – Return Of The Mecca (instrumental)

Lee ReedThe Sixth Massive

Move 9 Speak, Yellow Finch Tree Sitters, and Pansy Fest//ACAB 2019

Download Episode Here

This week we feature three segments. As it is literally packed with jam, we suggest you check out our podcast for free online at our website or any number of streaming sites for longer, more detailed conversations on the topics plus, again, Sean Swain’s segment for this week.

Move call for support for Delbert Orr Africa

First we have a couple of shorter segments. Respectively, you hear the voices of Janine Phillips Africa, Janet Holloway Africa and Eddie Goodman Africa of the Move 9, a political and religious group that follows the teachings of John Africa and have faced heavy repression from the state of Pennsylvania over the last 50 years, who are recently released after 40 years in prison on some bull charges. The three are requesting peoples support calling in to the prison administration in Pennsylvania and to two hospitals to get contact with their fellow Move 9 prisoner, Delbert Orr Africa. Delbert has a parole hearing in September and has suddenly been heard to be suffering from swelling and possible prostate cancer. His blood daughter, his lawyer and his family members in the Move organization are concerned that so-called authorities aren’t letting Delbert communicate with them. As they say, two other members of the Move 9, Phil and Merle, died under mysterious circumstances in the dungeons of the PA prison system that has sought to bury Move and it’s supporters like Mumia Abu-Jamal, with an announcement of sickness that quickly turned to the death of their family members. It’s also good to note that Chuck Africa of the Move 9, while support in this moment is not being directed at him, is also still incarcerated after more than 40 years. More info at OnAMove.Org, OnAMove.com, Move9Parole.blogspot.com or the fedbook page, “Justice For The Move 9

There’s a statement from Move in our show notes, near the bottom of the post for this episode with more details. Those notes don’t include the number for Wilkesbury Hospital at 5708298111

Yellow Finch Tree Sit Against MVP

Then, we’ll hear from an anonymous tree-sitter and Dusty who are both in trees blocking the path of the Mountain Valley Pipeline cutting through Appalachia and threatening the immediate health of the forests, waterways and communities it passes by as well as the the wider future of life on earth as a project to pull fossil fuels for burning out of the soil for the profit of a few hucksters. More information on the Yellow Finch Tree Sit at AppalachiansAgainstPipelines on fedbook, InstaGram and Twitter or send them some money at bit.ly/SupportMVPResistance.

As a quick update, the efforts by EQT’s attempt at extending an injunction around the Eminent Domain for the Mountain Valley Pipeline to also criminalize tree-sitters, their supporters and lawyers have failed and the federal judge, Elizabeth Dillon, meaning that the construction will have to move from Cove Hollow around to the other side of Poor Mountain, ostensibly increasing the cost of building the pipeline by hundreds of thousands of dollars. Consider visiting them and congratulating the tree-sitters

. … . ..

Pansy Fest and Another Carolina Anarchist Bookfair 2019

Third up, we got to talk with members of the fast approaching Pansy Fest and Asheville Anarchist Bookfair, which is an exciting collaboration happening over the weekend of August 23-25. We got to talk here about this colab and many more things, if you are listening to the radio version and want more content that will be up at our blog thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org.

To get in touch with these projects, for logistics and information, you can go to pansycollective.org and email them at pansyfestavl@gmail.com.

To donate to Pansy Fest, you can Venmo @cecilia-martuscelli

Instagram: @pansyfest

fedbook: facebook.com/pansyfestavl/

For the bookfair, their website is acab2019.noblogs.org, email acab2019@riseup.net

To see those shirts and totes, go here!

Instagram: @acab.2019

Facebook: facebook.com/AshevilleACAB2019

For housing inquiries for both events email housing.avl2019@gmail.com !

Announcements

Sean Swain Address

We want to share that the wrong address for writing to Sean was up at his support site and announced in his segments. You can actually write to him at:

Sean Swain #2015638
Buckingham Correctional
PO Box 430
Dillwyn, VA 23936/

Tom Manning

This week saw the passing of long-time political prisoner, alleged member of the Jonathan Jackson Unit and the United Freedom Front and revolutionary, Tom Manning. Tom’s death came after literally years of medical mistreatment and neglect at the hands of Federal Bureau of Prisons, ending at USP-Hazelton in West Virginia. The system had it in for Tom, that he would die inside, for even though he only had about a year left in the Federal System, he was bound upon release for the NJ state prison system, a system renown for it’s vendetta against prisoners accused of killing cops. We’ll link in our show notes to a recent writeup by Ray Luc Levasseur on It’sGoingDown.org. If you want to hear our interview with Ray Luc which touched on his relationship with Tom and Tom’s treatment by prison officials, we’ll link that in the show notes, too.

Jason Renard Walker on Kite Line

So, you heard the Kite Line jingle today. Due to this episode being a behemoth already, we’d like to direct you to hear the voice of prison organizer and Deputy Minister of Labor for the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (Prison Chapter), Jason Renard Walker on the August 2nd episode of Kite Line. In the future we may feature some of Mr. Walker’s audio essays to get them on the airwaves further. You can also find his articles, for which he’s been punished by the Texas prisoncrats, at the SF Bay View Newspaper.

Delbert Orr Africa

ONA MOVE

The MOVE Organization would like to bring to people’s attention a very dangerous situation that is currently occurring with our Brother Delbert Africa . For the past two weeks Delbert has been suffering from severe swelling from the bottom of his waist all the way down to his toes . For the past two weeks prison officials at SCI Dallas has ignored Delbert’s request for medical until this past week when several calls were made to his counselor . A medical visit was finally scheduled for this past Wednesday 7/31/2019 where it was explained to Delbert that he has a fluid build up which required to be drained Delbert was immediately taken to an outside hospital, where as of today 8/3/2019 we still do not know where Delbert is .

For several days now Delbert has been kept incommunicado from calling his MOVE Family , His Blood Daughter, and even his lawyer . Prison officials and also hospital officials will not give any one information pertaining to where Delbert is at . Something very suspicious is happening here and it appears the same pattern that occurred with Phil Africa in 2015 where a simple stomach virus turned to A weeklong trip to the outside hospital held incommunicado from family and friends to return back to the prison and be placed in hospice care and to only die a day later. In 1998 Merle Africa who had a stomach virus was forced in her cell and told she was dying only to die a couple of hours later .

This system has no issue with murdering MOVE people and that’s what they are trying to do with Delbert now . They have already given ground by letting innocent MOVE people out on parole and they do not want to do this with Delbert . As we said before this system has always saw Delbert as the leader and isolated him and this latest tactic is no different . Delbert is set to go before the board this September after winning his appeal now this happens . As of now we have heard from Delbert’s attorney where he has stated based on the medical report given from Outside medical they are stating that Delbert has Anemia , High Potassium , High Psa’s , Acute malignancy of lower intestines , Kidney Trouble , and Suspicion of prostate cancer . The only thing that Delbert has agreed to with any treatment or exams is the submission of a catheter to be used Delbert has requested a phone call to his MOVE Family which the prison and Also Hospital will not allow . We are highly suspicious that this prison has done something to Delbert to bring on these symptoms on so quick . They could not kill Delbert August 8th after the brutal beating they gave him and now they want to finish the job before he can come home on parole .
These officials are so arrogant this is the same way they murdered Phil Africa and Merle Africa .

As we have stated before they have isolated our Brother So they can kill him. They won’t let know one speak to him and this is very Dangerous we need people now to call

SCI Dallas Superintendent Kevin Ransom 570 675- 1101

Geisenger Hospital 570 808-7300

We want people to demand that Delbert Orr Africa Am4895 be allowed to call his MOVE Family and let them know what’s going . Even Though it’s the weekend we are still asking people to call and Monday we are going full blast .

The MOVE Organization

People can reach
Sue Africa 215 387-4107
Carlos Africa 215 385-2772
Janine Africa 610 704 4524

. … . ..

This episode, we feature WIMP from Boston, MA, with the track AlwaysForwardNeverStraight. WIMP will be performing at PansyFest 2019 in Asheville.

Playlist

Anti-Repression in SC and Trans Resiliency in Appalachia

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This week, we’ll be featuring two segments, one on state repression against anti-racist organizers in rural Upstate South Carolina [10min 21sec] and on an upcoming documentary series on access/non access to mental health infrastructure for transgender people living in Appalachia [41min 39sec]. Plus, words from Sean Swain [3min 22sec]!

Facing Down FBI & Nazi Pressure in SC

First, Bursts shares a conversation with activists from the Scuffletown Anti-Repression Committee and the Michigan Anti-Repression Committee, left legal defense groups from vastly geographically distant areas of the so-called U.S. They are talking about the case of repression in what’s called the Upstate, or northern part of the state of South Carolina in the south eastern U.S., where anti-racist and anti-fascist activists have been surveilled, intimidated, harassed, detained while naked at home and arrested by local and Federal Law Enforcement, including the FBI, apparently on behalf of the local white supremacists. The agent having made such disclosures is named FBI Special Agent Tanya Evanina. You can learn more, keep up on the situation and donate to their legal support at norepressionsc.home.blog. A longer version of this chat will appear in the podcast edition, alongside Sean’s segment for this week, cut due to time concerns from the broadcast, alongside a couple of announcements.

Resources pointed to by the guests include BARC and the EFF.

Just a heads up that when the activist from STARC references A12, it’s short hand for the fight against white supremacists in the streets of Charlottesville, VA, on August 12th, 2017.

Trans Resiliency and Mental Healthcare access in Appalachia

For the second segment, I (William) had the chance to talk with Basil Soper, who is a writer, filmmaker, and a man of trans experience from the Appalachian region. He is the founder of the education and advocacy group Transilient (@wearetransilient on Instagram), which seeks to uplift trans voices and trans experiences, and to also connect folks with resources from a place of relative safety and understanding. This group is seeking to undertake a documentary series focusing on mental health resource access for trans people in Appalachia. They are in their very last push of fundraising currently, and if you would like to see more about this project and get in touch with them, you can go to wearetransilient.com , and you can also email them at wearetransilient@gmail.com. You can also go right to their Kickstarter for the best way to donate! The deadline is June 23rd, so smoke em if you got em. Also stay tuned for less money oriented ways to support this project!

In this interview, we got to talk about many different things, about the social construct of Appalachia and where that might have originated, the people who actually live here, mental health concerns that trans people can face, plus many other topics. This interview was a really nice experience for me because I got to talk with another trans person from a working class, rural background about things we both personally understand.

So I had some technical difficulties which I was unaware of in the moment, the result of which some of my audio sounds a bit static-y. This is something I’m working on correcting for future episodes, thanks for your patience!

Announcements

ICE Activity in WNC

If you’re in the Asheville area, be aware that Immigration officers were responsible for kidnapping four individuals in Henderson County to our south last week. They are changing their tactics to blend in better, sometimes using vehicles that look like work trucks with ladders on top or mimicking the appearance of anti-ice activists at times. If you’d like to get involved and join community resistance to ICE tearing apart our families and communities, consider checking our show notes for a link to get involved or reach out to CIMA via their website and click the “get involved” tab.

Donations

If you care to kick some dollars to our podcast, check out our donate/merch page which also features t-shirts and other items up for sale to support the show.

 

 

Surviving and Re-thinking Our World Without the Government; Comunidad Colectiva on ICE in NC

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This week we had the chance to interview Lelia, who is a community activist and a part of the group Comunidad Colectiva, an immigrant rights group based in Charlotte NC. We got to talk about a lot of things in this interview, the work that they and other groups do with immigrant and undocumented communities, about the February ICE raids that got national attention, what effective rapid response can look like, and the challenging tension associated with both being anti state and being in the position of having to negotiate with police and sheriffs for safety reasons, plus many more topics.

We wanted to mention something called 287(g) and give a bit of information for listeners who may not have heard of this before. 287(g) was a contract between local officials and ICE which essentially made police forces extensions of ICE, and also instituted deportation proceedings as part of run of the mill arrests. More is explained about this contract later on in the interview, but it gets mentioned fairly heavily before that time.

You can keep updated on this group’s work by hitting them up on Facebook and if you have a few dollars you’d like to throw them to recoup the costs associated with their rapid response network, their Venmo is @comunidad-colectiva.

Next week on The Final Straw, stay tuned for an interview with a member of the Montreal based group Ni Frontiers Ni Prison (which is No Borders, No Prison) about fighting a proposed new migrant prison, decolonization, the rise of far right sentiment in so called Canada, and many associated topics, plus a possible other interview.

Update on Kinetic Justice

In a brief update to last week’s interview on the hunger strike by Kinetic Justice of the Free Alabama Movement, we’d like to share the following news. On March 20th, Kinetic Justice Amun (aka Robert Earl Council) resumed his hunger strike as he was transferred briefly to segregation housing at Limestone prison, but ended his hunger strike within a few days and was transferred to general population at that prison. He can be written at the following address:

Robert Earl Council #181418

28779 Nick Davis Rd
Harvest, AL 35749

Consequently, 8 of the prisoners transferred with Kinetic in the middle of the night, began engaging in a hunger strike in response to their own incarceration in solitary. In response to the hunger strike, administration cut off water to the cells they were held in, giving them bottled water.

The 8 prisoners ended their hunger strike on March 22nd, and administration claims they’ll be transferred to general population in the Alabama prison system as they’re not under investigation currently.

Their names are as follows:

Kotoni Tellis (#223155)

Marcus Lee (#175056)

Mario Avila (#259514)

Corey Burroughs (#207639)

Earl Taylor 3rd (#168616)

Tyree Cochroan (#172306)

Earl Manassa (#175099)

Antonio Jackson (#246560)

and they can be written at:

Holman “Correctional” Facitily

1240 Ross Rd.
Atmore, AL 36502

. … . ..

Playlist here.

Rural Organizing In Appalachia

Rural Organizing And Resilience (ROAR)

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This week on The Final Straw Radio, we’re sharing an interview with two members of Rural Organizing And Resilience, or ROAR, an anti-racist and mutual aid organization that’s based in Madison County, North Carolina. Madison County is just north of Asheville and VERY Appalachian, with a small population that’s sparsely populated in remote hollers and small towns. For the hour, Matt & Janet talk about anti-racist organizing, community efforts, misconceptions about rural people and Appalachians in particular, radical history, harm reduction and material outreach efforts ongoing in Western North Carolina. You can find out more about their project and contact them via their website, https://ruralorganizing.wordpress.com

Announcements

Blue Ridge ABC

BRABC will have it’s monthly prisoner letter writing tonight, Sunday 12/2, at 5pm after the show. Come down to Firestorm to join in, materials and addresses provided.

Also, BRABC’s monthly showing of the Trouble mini-doc continues this Friday 12/7 with an episode on radical approaches to mental wellness. This’ll also happen at Firestorm books and Coffee, 610 Haywood Rd. You can check out all of the Troubles up at https://sub.media. This is the last episode of the season and they put out a special request for support, so check out the other stuff on their site while you’re there.

Asheville Service Workers Assembly Night Out

9pm, Monday, December 17 at the Crow and Quill bar, the Asheville Service Workers Assembly will host a Service Worker’s Night w/ The Carolina Catskins!
Come on out and meet your fellow service workers!

They’re hoping to create a space where folks can hangout and discuss shared struggle in a service work dependent economy, in a town that exploits us.

Charlottesville, VA: The Trial of James Alex Fields

James Alex Fields, the neo-nazi who drove into a crowd, injuring many and killing Heather Heyer on August 12th, 2017 in Charlottesville, VA, is currently facing trial.  If you’re in the area, show up and offer support to the survivors of his attack. Also, you can keep up on the trial by following @socialistdogmom on twitter or listen to their very compact podcast on the subject.

Jeremy Hammond Needs Support

Jeremy Hammond, anarchist hacker behind bars for the Stratfor Hack has been placed in solitary confinement and is facing transfer for a supposed altercation with a guard.  Now he’s missing his college classes inside, classes that would allow him to be housed at a lower security level, and is facing a possible punitive transfer which would further disconnect him from that college degree he’s working towards. His supporters are asking folks to write him letters and cards to check in with him, not to send in magazines or books and not to write to the Warden.

You can write Jeremy at

Jeremy Hammond, #18729-424
FCI Milan
P.O. Box 1000
Milan, MI 48160

Jason Renard Walker Beaten For His Writing

Jason Renard Walker, has continued to face harassment by prison guards at the Ellis Unit in response to an article he penned about harassment he was facing from guards at the Ellis Unit for the November issue of the SF Bay View Newspaper.  He was beaten by one guard as others stood by and watched. He’s been facing repression since at least 2016 when he voiced support for the Nationwide Prison Strike and has vocally resisted repressive measures by his captors in Texas. He’s seeking attention and legal support from the outside.  We’re linking to his writeup of his experience published on the SF Bay View website.

Direct attention to authorities at Ellis Unit:

Ellis Unit warden Kelly Strong:
936-295-5756 (**010) or kelly.strong@tdcj.texas.gov
Regional Director Wayne Brewer:
Ombudsman:

ombudsman@tdcj.texas.gov and 936-437-4927

A suggested script is posted in our notes:

“Hello,
I am contacting you as I have seen reports that inmate Jason Renard Walker, #1532092, has been attacked by staff at the Ellis Unit, and that he is now being threatened with a false disciplinary charge to try and distort the facts of the issue. I demand that there is a full independent review of all relevant surveillance footage, including any CCTV recordings from the cafeteria on the morning of November 23rd 2018 and the portable camera that was used to record Mr. Walker being escorted to his cell following the incident. Mr. Walker and all the members of staff involved, especially officers Pollock and Williford, should be given polygraph tests to determine whose version of events is more truthful, and all relevant witnesses should be interviewed. Mr. Walker reports that an inmate known as Fishtrap, along with another inmate who lives in B4, witnessed the entire scene.
Please be aware that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice may be held legally responsible for any harm that comes to Mr. Walker while he is in TDCJ’s custody.
Yours,”

 

Write to Jason at:

Jason Renard Walker
#1532092
Ellis Unit
1697 FM 980
Huntsville, TX, 77343

TFSR Webstore Open

Finally, we just wanted to mention that The Final Straw has opened a webstore for our merch. So, if you don’t feel like sustaining us on a regular via our patreon but want to grab up some of our stickers, buttons, tshirts and more from us, check out https://thefinalstrawradio.bigcartel.com

We are also in the midst of an effort to pick up more radio stations that’ll air us, slogging through contacts state by state and reaching out to as many community radios as we can to offer our show for free and reach more remote areas with the voices we share on these broadcasts. If you have a suggestion, reach out to us via social media or find our contact at our website. The best method is for community radio stations to hear from a community member that we are wanted on their airwaves, so consider reaching out to your local station and passing on our broadcasting link, with all of the pertinent information for how to get ahold of our weekly, anarchist radio show!

Actually Finally Finally

We’d like to point listeners to an awesome piece of swag.  With all of this craze around a certain NHL mascot and all of the deep critiques swirling upon their meaning and who owns them, some friends have designed a pretty sweet Gritty antifascist shirt.  We usually wouldn’t shill anarcho-consumerism so hard, but it really is the season, no?

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Playlist

An Indigenous Activist on Post Hurricane Relief in Eastern NC

Mutual Aid in Post-Hurricane-Florence Lumberton, NC

Download Episode Here

This week we had the opportunity to connect with Vanessa Bolin, who is an indigenous artist, community organizer, and activist who has been helping with flood rescue and rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Florence in Lumberton, NC, which is in Robeson County. In this interview we talk about what still needs to be done in this area, how to help out, some important parallels between post hurricane relief and anti pipeline organizing, and the importance of foregrounding marginalized voices in mutual aid efforts.

Our guest mentioned the Interfaith Alliance for Climate Justice (IACJ), which has a fundraiser right now that is benefiting the indigenous communities of Robeson County. Here is the donation link via Facebook, or you can go to their website to donate that way.

Mutual Aid Disaster Relief is also coordinating a bunch of efforts, you can learn more about this group at mutualaiddisasterrelief.org or look them up on any social media platform. If you have 4-14 days spare and want to get down to Robeson County to help out, especially if you have proficiency in Spanish and skills in logistical coordination, you can send them an email to get networked in at WeKeepUsSafeVC@protonmail.com.

There is also a GoFundMe for mutual aid efforts in Asheville, benefitting affected areas in Robeson County.

Links to some things our guest mentioned:

To learn more about the Indigenous Wisdom Permaculture Model and convergence, just follow the link for information and future convergence dates.

To see the Water Protector Arts Facebook page, you can just go to Facebook and search the name of the page.

You can follow this link to reach directly out to the Lumbee Tribe if you are intending to do direct support work.

To connect with EcoRobeson, the group which is doing anti pipeline work in Robeson County that is mainly affecting already disenfranchised people, you can follow this link.

Somethings we’d like to mention:

When Vanessa talks about the struggles of the Dine people (who are sometimes known as Navajo) where she mentions uranium mining, this is a huge issue that spans many generations. You can visit Black Mesa Rezistance, which is an organized effort in Black Mountain and Big Mesa (also known as Arizona) on the part of the Dine and Hopi people to defend themselves and their existences. You can learn more about this effort at https://blackmesa.rezist.org/ and follow the links for further material to learn about the history and present day projects and struggles.

And finally, for a look into some of the truly amazing legacy of the Lumbee Tribe in so called NC, we at The Final Straw recommend the book To Die Game by William McKee Evans. This book details a resistance movement at a time when Lumbee youth were being targeted for conscription into the Confederate army, and how they along with a diverse coalition of other resistors, eluded capture in the swamps of eastern NC for over 5 years. You can also read about this in the book Dixie Be Damned, along with many other lesser reported moments of resistance in the American Southeast.

Announcements for Prisoner Support

Jalil Muntaqim

Jalil Muntaqim, former member of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army is facing the parole board in November as his August visit was postponed due to clerical issues. He’s going to be getting a lot of pushback from the Policeman’s Benevolent Association, Fraternal Order of Police, Corrections Guards associations and the rest of the gallery of reactionary so-called unions for cops. Those groups are on alert, as we’ve seen with the tug of war around the release of Herman Bell, any time an aging political prisoner, especially one accused of involvement in the killing of a cop, comes up for parole. The parole boards are often made up of former judges, D.A.’s, Prosecutors and law enforcement, forming an added blue wall for prisoners facing parole boards. So, Jalil needs us to write letters of support for his release. Although some of the links are dead from the earlier parole push, you can check this IGD link (see our shownotes at thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org for the link) for a list of achievements Jalil has since his incarceration.

Also, Jalil’s birthday is October 18th, so feel free to send him a separate birthday greeting!

Also, also, check out our website to hear past episodes featuring interviews with Jalil conducted by buddies at Prison Radio on CKUT in Montreal.

To support Jalil, follow these instructions passed on from National Jericho NY:

Write a letter in you own words in support of parole for Jalil, address to:

Senior Offender Rehabilitation Coordinator
Sullivan Correctional Facility
325 Riverside Drive
Fallsburg, New York 12733

BUT SEND TO:

Nora Carroll
The Parole Preparation Project
168 Canal Street, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10013

The subject line should be “Anthony Bottom 77-A-4283”

We are making an effort to include letters of support for Jalil that are personalized and from people who are familiar with him and his work. If you want further instructions for how to write a strong, personalized letter of support, please email carroll.nora@gmail.com.

Also, please send a copy of your letter to Jalil for his files:

Anthony Bottom #77A4283,

Sullivan Correctional Facility,

P.O. Box 116, Fallsburg,

NY 12733-0116

More on Jalil can be found at http://freejalil.com

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Casey Brezik

Casey is an anarchist political prisoner who also has a parole hearing coming up, his one and only for his 12 year stint for the stabbing of the president of a university in Missouri. Casey recently got married to a woman being held in another Missouri prison. He’s studying calculus so he can go to school to be an aerospace engineer once he’s released. He goes before the parole board November 2018. He’s unsure of exactly when he gets out, but knows he isn’t eligible until November 2020. He’s currently saving his money (and asking for help) to afford a cheap vehicle when he gets out in order to transport himself to work and school. His intentions are to parole out to the St. Louis area and attending a community college until he gets his basic credits and can transfer to a university. His eyes are set on the Missouri University of Science and Technology.

Casey suffers from depression and has a history of schizophrenia. he describes himself as socially awkward and says he often feels misunderstood. He has a kind heart and he looks forward to getting out relatively soon and getting to see all of those who have shown him support over the years. He thanks you all.

Casey was recently transferred to the Farmington Correctional Center in Farmington, Missouri. In November, he will go before the parole board for the first and ONLY TIME and he needs your help!

Thoughtful and professional letters to the parole board by people who care about Casey and are willing to offer support to him during his transition back to life outside of prison can make it more likely that Casey will be released.

*Even though the letter should be addressed to the parole board, all letters should be sent directly to Casey and he will deliver them to the parole board:

Casey Brezik #1154765
Farmington Correctional Center
1012 West Columbia Street
Farmington, MO 63640

More on Casey at https://supportcasey.org/

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Sean Swain

Anarchist prisoner Sean Swain is still being silenced by the state of Ohio and could use your letters. He’s potentially in the process of being transferred in an inter-state deal which will make his life way harder. Sean has communicated that he was at one point on hunger strike and is extremely isolated. You can write to Sean at :

Sean Swain #243-205
Warren CI
P.O. Box 120
Lebanon, Ohio 45036

It’s suggested that concerned listeners call

ODRC Director Stuart Hudson (614) 387-0588
Governor’s Counsel Kevin O’Donell Stanek (614) 466-3555
Callers should voice concern over Sean’s health, access to communication and the blocking of counsel from his recent RIB hearing that threatens to transfer him out of Ohio.

More info on his case can be found at seanswain.noblogs.org

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NC Prisoners repressed from #PrisonStrike

On IGD you can read the list of demands specific to NC prisoners that Joseph Stewart wrote back in July. He was transferred after the outside published his statement in support of the strike and has intermittently been left off of prisoner support call-ups so he can surely use some supporting letters at Polk CI where he is currently housed. You can write Joseph at :

Joseph D. Stewart

#0802041

Polk CI

Box 2500
Butner, NC 27509

Three other prisoners in NC, are held within the Hyde Correctional Institution, a facility in Fairfield, NC, are being threatened with retaliation for their active support and organizing in solidarity with the national #PrisonStrike. They’re facing threats of administrative repression, as are any other fellow prisoners connected to the national strike. More info in our show notes

Please write letters of support to:

Randy Watterson #427985
Hyde Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 278
Swan Quarter, NC 27885

Todd Martin #1071227
Hyde Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 278
Swan Quarter, NC 27885

Jace Buras #1522417
Hyde Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 278
Swan Quarter, NC 27885

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The Vaughn17

From a statement by the Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement (RAM) and Vaughn17 Support in Philly:

On Feb. 1, 2017, after a series of peaceful protests yielded no results, incarcerated comrades took over a building at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Delaware to demand slight improvements in their treatment. After a 20-hour stand-off, the prison’s response was to literally bulldoze their barricades and figuratively bulldoze their demands, retaliating with constant beatings, destruction of prisoner property, and denial of food and medical care.

Furthermore, the state has accused 17 of the incarcerated with egregious offenses even though these charges have no basis in reality. The state’s response shows once again that any prisoners standing up for themselves, to regain dignity and achieve decent treatment, is a threat. And the state will collectively punish everyone and anyone to hide its barbarism. The only role of prison guards, wardens and the Department of Corrections (DOC) is the perpetuation of slavery and subjugation.

There is a call for court support for the 17, who will be attending trail in small groups, at New Castle County Courthouse, 500 N. King St., Wilmington, DE 19801. The first trial starts on Monday, October 8th and the last is slated for February 11th, 2019. People in the area interested in helping volunteer for court support can learn more by reading this IGD article.

A pdf of a poster with addresses, pictures and info on the 17 prisoners pulled into this case can be found here

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Show playlist here.