FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Oct 27, 2016
1134 Burke Ave, Bronx, NY. Oct. 27, 2016
Today is the six-month anniversary of the largest “gang” raid in NYPD history, in which 120 young men were kidnapped from their homes in the north Bronx on April 27. Disturbing information has come to light about the treatment of the Bronx 120, most of whom have been held in federal prison without bail awaiting trial, and the plea deals they’re being forced to take. Reflecting on today, a young man kidnapped from this raid stated, “I wake up every morning still in shock that I am being federally prosecuted.”
Many of the Bronx 120 have been severely mistreated during this pretrial period. Prisoners are getting tear gassed inside their cells, serving long stints in solitary confinement, getting shot with rubber bullets while inside their cells, being denied access to commissary and weekly visits from family for as long as a year, being forced to sleep on the floor without a mattress, denied proper physical and mental health care, and otherwise physically assaulted. These concerns are familiar to those of us who are keeping up with the ongoing national prison strike, around which imprisoned individuals are making human rights demands through non-violent direct action. One of the prisons where victims of the Bronx 120 raid are detained, Metropolitan Detention Center, has been compared to Guantanamo Bay by a federal judge who called the facility “unconscionable”. The fact that these young men are being treated so poorly is especially troubling given the questionable nature of the case and the fact that they have not even begun their trial, let alone been found guilty of anything. As one Bronx 120 raid victim notes, “The saying that states ‘you’re innocent until proven guilty’ doesn’t mean anything in the Federal Justice System.”
Victims of the Bronx 120 raid were arrested on federal RICO charges, some of them for simply knowing an alleged gang member. “Evidence” of these alleged relationships was derived partly from social media such as facebook, twitter and instagram. Family members and supporters of the Bronx 120 understand that RICO, in this case, has allowed the government to round up entire social groups with no physical evidence of any crimes being committed. Therefore, while awaiting trial, raid victims are forced to suffer a double injustice: not only are many of the imprisoned completely innocent of the crimes they’ve been charged with, but they must also face arbitrary violence and abuse from prison guards who operate with impunity.
Taken in its totality, the fate that awaits these men is horrific. According to one Bronx 120 raid victim, “People like me are forced to take a plea deal that will destroy all the accomplishments that were so hard to achieve being black from a poor neighborhood. Sometimes I wake up and wonder if I was a different race, then maybe I would get the benefit of the doubt.” The fact is, irrespective of guilt, these young men have federal prosecutors telling them that if they don’t take a plea deal, they’re “done”, constantly reminded that the federal government doesn’t lose at trial, their conviction rate exceeding 90%: “This system will destroy families, friendships and relationships. I would love the chance to discredit the lies that were told to put me here, but the intimidation factor of doing 20 years in jail for a crime that I didn’t commit is extreme.”
Through state terror, in the forms of physical and medical abuse of the Bronx 120, attempts to silence loved ones, and coercion to accept plea bargains, the state is attempting a new strategy to implement white supremacy and fuel the prison-industrial complex, deploying RICO charges exclusively in Black working-class communities, in the hopes that we will not recognize that RICO is merely the sublimation of the same strategy of COINTELPRO and the street sweep. But we do.
Mere words cannot encapsulate the trauma and suffering seared into the lives of the Bronx 120 and their families. Today is an emotional one. Six months of consistent dehumanization. Six months of being held hostage from parents, sisters, partners. Six months that have been an eternity for the Bronx 120 and their loved ones. We refuse to allow this attempt at wholesale injustice to proceed unchallenged. If approached as just another casualty of the mundane tragedy that is a u.s. ‘justice system’ rooted in prison slavery, the violations will only become more grievous. Join us in honoring an ideal of justice beyond the merely rhetorical by helping us continue to support the Bronx 120, as to ensure that the next six months are not marred by the same degree of inhumanity as the last.