Written by Angola 3 News
Tuesday, 01 June 2010
Jordan Flaherty is a journalist, an editor of Left Turn Magazine, and
a staffer with the Louisiana Justice Institute. He was the first
writer to bring the story of the Jena Six to a national audience and
audiences around the world have seen the television reports he's
produced for Al-Jazeera, TeleSur, GritTV, and Democracy Now.
Flaherty's most recent articles have tackled a variety of important
stories. His article, Jena Sheriff Seeks Revenge for Civil Rights
Protests, follows up on the Jena Six story and exposes a wave of
post-Jena 6 arrests directed at activists and the Black community in
general. New Complaints of Police Violence in New Orleans, reports
that "New Orleans' Black and transgender community members and
advocates complain of rampant and systemic harassment and
discrimination from the city's police force, including sexual
violence and arrest without cause," and then the article provides a
voice to the activists who are fighting back. Did a White Sheriff and
District Attorney Orchestrate a Race-Based Coup in a Northern
Louisiana Town? focuses on a town called Waterproof, where "the
African American mayor and police chief assert that they have been
forced from office and arrested as part of an illegal coup carried
out by an alliance of white politicians and their followers."
This summer, Haymarket Books will release his new book, FLOODLINES:
Stories of Community and Resistance from Katrina to the Jena Six, and
this fall he will be touring with the Community and Resistance Tour.
Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.orgThis email address is being
more information on the book and tour, please see floodlines.org.
Angola 3 News: Can you please tell us about your upcoming book?
Jordan Flaherty: Floodlines is a firsthand account of community,
culture, and resistance in New Orleans in the years before and after
Katrina. The book weaves the interconnected stories of prisoners at
Angola, Mardi Gras Indians, Arab and Latino immigrants, public
housing residents, gay rappers, spoken word poets, victims of police
brutality, out of town volunteers, and grassroots activists.
From post-Katrina evacuee camps to organizing with the family
members of the Jena Six, Floodlines is the real story behind the
headlines. The protagonists of this book are the people who have led
the fight to save New Orleans.
A3N: What will it show readers about New Orleans and LA that they
won't get from the corporate media?
JF: If this city is going to recover, the first step is getting out
the truth that New Orleans is not okay. Most of the country believes
either that New Orleans has been rebuilt, or that, if not, it's
because people here are lazy and/or corrupt and wasted the nation's
generous assistance. But New Orleans is still a city in crisis. The
oft-promised aid, whether from FEMA or various federal and private
agencies, has not arrived. We don't need charity, but we do need the
federal and corporate entities responsible for the devastation of New
Orleans to be held accountable for supporting its rebuilding. I want
the world to know that it's not too late to make a difference.
The other crucial element of this book is a tribute to grassroots
resistance and culture in New Orleans. People like Sunni Patterson,
Norris Henderson, Rosana Cruz, Sess 4-5, and the many other
organizers and culture workers who have cultivated this steadfast resistance.
A3N: What is one of your favorite stories from the book?
JF: A central story I focus on is the case of the Jena Six, and the
people's victory it represents. Our movements should be proud of what
happened in Jena. We should claim it as a success. Fifty thousand
people marched in Jena, in a mass movement led by the family members
of these six kids who were facing life in prison for a school fight.
These Jena families didn't have the corporate media behind them, they
didn't have money or mainstream civil rights organizations supporting
them. All of that came eventually. But for months, these families
were on their own, and they kept struggling and fighting for justice
against incredible odds.
The massive national support these courageous families brought
together helped the students. All of them remained in school rather
than going to prison – and they are all now either in college or on
their way. Without the world watching, the DA and judge could have
done whatever they wanted.
Jena was more than a historical moment. I think that the young people
from around the US – and especially the south – who traveled to Jena
for the mass protests, and who also organized in solidarity in their
own community, will continue to lead exciting struggles. I think we
will see a Jena Generation.
A3N: You have written several articles focusing on the Angola 3. How
do you think the story of the Angola 3 fits into the broader picture
of injustice in Louisiana?
JF: Every year, thousands of New Orleanians are shipped upstate (or
upriver) to prisons like Angola and Elayn Hunt. In telling the story
of New Orleans, it's important to tell the story of these institutions.
The United States has the largest incarcerated population of any
nation on earththe people imprisoned here represent 25 percent of
all prisoners around the world. Nationwide, more than seven million
people are in U.S. jails, on probation, or on parole, and African
Americans are incarcerated at nearly ten times the rate of whites.
Our criminal justice system has become an insatiable machineeven
when crime rates go down, the prison population keeps rising.
The state of Louisiana has the highest rate of incarceration in the
United States816 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 state residents. By
comparison, Texas places a distant second with 694 per 100,000.
African Americans make up 32 percent of Louisiana's population but
they constitute 72 percent of the state's prison population.
Prison makes us all less freeby breaking up families and
communities, by dehumanizing the imprisoned both during and after, by
perpetuating a cycle of poverty, and by making all citizens complicit
in the incarceration of their fellow human beings. Since so many New
Orleanians live in prisons around the state, the stories from these
prisons are also the stories of New Orleans itself. Louisiana State
Penitentiary at Angola, Orleans Parish Prison, and all the other
prisons of this state are central to the narrative of New Orleans's
poor and dispossessed.
Angola or another "lifers' prison" is frequently the final stop on an
unjust journey that begins with children born into substandard health
care and housing; then shuttled into a school system that treats them
like criminals from a young age; then left with few job options in a
tourism-based economy in which corporations such as those that own
the city's hotels profit while the residents are left out; and
finally entangled in a criminal justice system that treats them as
guilty until proven innocent. This is the "cradle-to-prison
pipeline," and nowhere is it more entrenched than here in New Orleans.
Perhaps the most dramatic example of the injustice perpetrated by
this system is the case the Angola Three, locked in solitary
confinement because of their political beliefs.
Statements by Angola warden Burl Cain have made clear that Woodfox
and Wallace are being punished for their political views. At a 2009
deposition, attorneys for Woodfox asked Cain, "Let's just for the
sake of argument assume, if you can, that he is not guilty of the
murder of Brent Miller." Cain responded, "Okay. I would still keep
him in [solitary]…I still know that he is still trying to practice
Black Pantherism, and I still would not want him walking around my
prison because he would organize the young new inmates. I would have
me all kind of problems, more than I could stand, and I would have
the Blacks chasing after them....He has to stay in a cell while he's
Louisiana attorney general James "Buddy" Caldwell has said the case
against the Angola Three is "personal" to him. These statements by
Caldwell and Cain indicate that this kind of vigilante attitude not
only pervades the DOC, but that the mindset, in fact, comes from the very top.
The problem is not limited to Louisiana State Penitentiary at
Angolasimilar stories can be found in prisons across the country.
American Friends Service Committee reported that on any given day in
the United States, up to two hundred thousand men and women are held
in solitary confinement. The director of the ACLU's National Prisoner
Project, Elizabeth Alexander, told reporters, "If you look at the
iconic pictures from Abu Ghraib, you can match up these photos with
the same abuses at American prisons, each one of them."
A 2008 legal petition filed by Herman Wallace echoed Alexander's
words. "If Guantanamo Bay has been a national embarrassment and
symbol of the US government's relation to charges, trials and
torture, then what is being done to the Angola Three… is what we are
to expect if we fail to act quickly….The government tries out its
torture techniques on prisoners in the USjust far enough to see how
society will react. It doesn't take long before they unleash their
techniques on society as a whole." If we don't stand up against this
abuse now, it will only spread, he argued. The vigilante violence
enacted on the streets of New Orleans after Katrinacondoned and
carried out in part by the policeis one example of the truth of
The case of the Angola Three is truly an international issue, and
Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox and Robert King are an important part
of the city's civil rights history. Among those who know this
history, the Angola Three are an urgent and ongoing concern.
A3N: Any closing thoughts?
JF: Those who have not experienced New Orleans have missed an
incredible, glorious, vital citya place with an energy unlike
anywhere else in the world, a majority–African American city where
resistance to white supremacy has cultivated and supported a
generous, subversive, and unique culture of vivid beauty. From jazz,
blues, and hip-hop to secondlines, Mardi Gras Indians, and jazz
funerals, New Orleans is a place of art and music and food and liberation.
New Orleans is a city of slave revolts and uprisings. In 1811, the
largest slave uprising in U.S. history was launched just upriver, as
more than five hundred armed formerly enslaved fighters marched
toward New Orleans, partially inspired by the Haitian revolution. As
one historian described, "The leaders [of the revolt] were intent on
creating an [enslaved persons] army, capturing the city of New
Orleans, and seizing state power throughout the area." Although the
revolt was defeated, it inspired more over the following years.
In 1892, Homer Plessy and the Citizens Committee planned the direct
action that brought the first (unsuccessful) legal challenge to the
doctrine of "separate but equal"the challenge that became the
Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson. Plessy, part of a community
of Creole Black intellectuals and community leaders, boarded an
all-white railcar after notifying the railroad company and law
enforcement in advance. While the action was ultimately unsuccessful,
it was an important turning point in this long history of locally led
resistance to racist laws.
You could say the spirit of the Panthers was born in Louisiana. The
Deacons for Defense, an armed self-defense group formed in rural
central Louisiana in 1964, inspired the Panthers and other radical
groups. The Deacons went on to form twenty-one chapters in rural
Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, continuing a legacy of defiance
that inspired future generations. Several civil rights workers and
future revolutionaries were born in this state, including Black
Panther leader Geronimo Ji-Jaga, born in Morgan City, and founder
Huey P. Newton, born in Monroe. Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, also known as
H. Rap Brown, former chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating
Committee (SNCC) and later the justice minister of the Black Panther
Party, was from Baton Rouge. Chicago Black Panther Fred Hampton's
parents were also from Louisiana.
So there is an intense and terrible history of racism and white
supremacy in New Orleans, but also an incredible history of
resistance, and that is what I am trying to pay tribute to in Floodlines.
Angola 3 News is a new project of the International Coalition to Free
the Angola 3. Our website is www.angola3news.com where we provide the
latest news about the Angola 3. We are also creating our own media
projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the
Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary
confinement as torture, and more.