Academic journal article Wagadu: a Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies

Three: Angela Y Davis and Assata Shakur as Women Outlaws: Resisting U.S. State Violence 1

Academic journal article Wagadu: a Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies

Three: Angela Y Davis and Assata Shakur as Women Outlaws: Resisting U.S. State Violence 1

Article excerpt

Introduction

Nothing gives us x-ray vision to the ills of society like the daunting experience of incarceration, especially the horror of solitary and death row, as well as the intense stress of anticipating or being subjected to torture or extra-legal execution. During much of her pre-trial incarceration (of sixteen months) Angela Davis was kept in solitary confinement. The other activist woman featured in this essay, Assata Shakur, was broken out of prison precisely because she feared for her life-not by other prisoners, but by the state's agents. It would have been extremely difficult to receive justice after flawed trials that intended to show that she was guilty of murdering a white state trooper, even though there was no evidence that could corroborate such motive or deed. In fact, the post-Ferguson photo montages and demonstrations with protestors' hands raised symbolically and shouts of "hands up, don't shoot" could have easily been used as rallying cry to demand Shakur's acquittal. In all likelihood, she had her hands raised while being shot into her right hand, making it impossible for her to hold a gun, let alone to shoot what was not meant to be. At the height of a secret and illegal government program COINTELPRO, which the FBI mounted to destroy the Black Panther Party (with which both Davis and Shakur worked) and all other organizations which protested state terror and imperialist warfare, Shakur was found guilty by a white jury not of her peers (Shakur, 1987).

Prisons have always served the role of social control (Kurshan, 1996), but they are also tremendous sites of cultural, social and political activity, namely as diasporic sites (Nagel, 2008). Nobody has more acutely theorized about the function of imprisonment than political prisoners, thus they find themselves singled out for acute repression and women are equally targeted. Part of it may be the authorities' fear of such prison intellectuals' savvy critique of hegemonic ideologies and uncanny ability to see through the level of disinformation by elite corporate media. This ability often is borne inside the dungeon. For my purposes here, political prisoners include people convicted due to their resistance to repressive state policies and politics and those who become politicized while facing detention and/or long prison sentences. Many political prisoners such as Assata Shakur and Angela Davis have engaged in prisoners support work before they were incarcerated themselves. For opposing the state, they face further reprisals by the prison authorities. For instance, if a prisoner complaints "we are treated like slaves!" within earshot of guards, she may get time in the "hole"-weeks in solitary confinement, as if she had committed the act to call for a slave insurrection. Ironically, the complainant is simply stating the obvious: The U.S. Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which putatively abolished slavery, describes prisoners as legal slaves. Therefore, they do not enjoy freedom of speech or freedom to assemble peacefully within a total institution. However, the US government denies confining people for political convictions and that all socalled political prisoners are duly convicted of a (terrorist) crime. Yet, the US government's claim is hardly credible, in particular in light of CIA run prisons, which defied even U.S. Supreme Court rulings, notably Abu Ghraib in Iraq and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. In addition, the state routinely disappears prisoners who are not a security threat into supermax prisons, which contribute to (mental) health abuse and premature death (Amnesty International, 2014).

Much mainstream reporting or prison literature ignores the gendered nature of prisons (and ignores writings by revolutionary prison intellectuals altogether). For instance, the mass media did not focus on Iraqi women prisoners who had also been sexually abused, raped, humiliated and even disappeared, as the human rights groups International Women Count Network, Black Women's Rape Action Project, and Women against Rape have charged (Groves, 2004). …

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