Prisoners in California have entered their 10th day of a statewide hunger strike to fight back against what they call inhumane conditions. The prisoners’ demands include a call for adequate and nutritious food, an end to group punishment, and stopping long-term solitary confinement in high-security "special housing units" where more than 3,000 prisoners are held in the isolation units with no human contact and no windows — some of them for more than a decade. We speak with Dolores Canales, a founder of California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement and mother of John Martinez, who has been been held in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay for more than 12 years. We are also joined by Jules Lobel, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights and lead attorney representing Pelican Bay prisoners in a lawsuit challenging long-term solitary confinement in California prisons. "About 80,000 people in the United States are put into solitary," Lobel explains. "It’s an inhumane practice, but in California they go to an extreme by placing people without any windows, without any phone calls, trying to totally isolate them." We also hear from a spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
"Justice for Trayvon" protests are planned in more than 100 cities this weekend as activists seek federal charges against George Zimmerman and the repeal of "Stand Your Ground" laws in Florida and dozens of other states. We speak with Michelle Alexander, a law professor at Ohio State University and author of the best-selling book, "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness." Alexander says the biases that led to Martin’s death and let his killer go free are deeply embedded in U.S. society and in the criminal justice system itself: "The [Zimmerman mindset] that views black men and boys as a perpetual problem to be dealt with has infected our criminal justice system, infected our schools, has infected our politics in ways that have had disastrous consequences, birthing a prison system unprecedented in world history, and stripping millions of people of basic civil and human rights once they have been branded criminals and felons. It’s this mindset that some of us defined largely by race and class are unworthy of our basic care and concern and to be dealt with harshly, written off with impunity."
According to a recent study, the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his killer is not unique. In "Operation Ghetto Storm," the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) found at least 136 unarmed African Americans were killed by police, security guards and self-appointed vigilantes in 2012. Overall, one black person was killed in an extrajudicial shooting every 28 hours. We speak with Kali Akuno, a long-time MXGM organizer and author of "Let Your Motto Be Resistance: A Handbook on Organizing New Afrikan and Oppressed Communities." "This speaks to the mindset of criminalizing blackness," Akuno says. "We see it systematically throughout this country and really we have to get at the heart of it and have a much deeper conversation. I think the mass movement which is taking place in response [to the Trayvon Martin case] is an opening shot to have that conversation."