In early August Kemba Smith and Dorothy Gaines came to the San Francisco Bay Area. In December 2000, Clinton reduced the sentences of both of these Black women who were imprisoned on drug convictions.
Several events were held, including a gathering of several hundred in San Francisco on Aug. 4th and another in Oakland on Aug. 7th.
Speaking to an overflowing audience of about 200 mostly Black Oakland residents, Dorsey Nunn introduced the speakers by reminding us that 2.8 million African Americans are under some sort of supervision of the justice system. There are 20 states whose total population does not reach 2.8 million. Dorsey Nunn wanted this meeting to start a different kind of conversation about the criminal justice system. He said they are not building the prison-industrial complex for a few brothers in baggy pants, it is capitalism itself at work.
Kemba Smith was convicted on the basis that her boyfriend was caught with drugs. She knew nothing, thus she could not snitch on anybody and got an outrageous sentence. She stated that although her situation is individual, it is not unique. She has a purpose now: she cant just sit back and enjoy her freedom until the drug laws and policies are changed. She spoke of other women inside like a mother, who did nothing wrong, but was sent to prison because she wouldnt snitch on her son. She spent 8 and 1/2 years in prison and died there of liver disease because of the prisons medical neglect. What Kemba Smith regrets the most is that she did not know her own history. If I knew our history maybe I wouldnt have done some things, maybe the person I was involved with wouldnt have been selling drugs. Solidarity is important and concrete to her because her own pardon was the result of the many letters written, many grass-roots organizations coming together.
Dorothy Gaines was sentenced to 20 years in prison without any evidence. The father of her child testified against her in an attempt to stay out of prison himself. That is how the snitch laws work. She urged everyone to become a voice, to join or start their own organizations. There are a lot of good people still in prison. We must not give up on them!
The meeting was closed by youth from Castlemont High School, who informed us that Oakland just passed an ordinance putting Oakland police onto school campuses. It was Columbine, a primarily white school where students were killed, but it is Oakland schools, with mostly students of color who are not shooting each other, whose campuses are being militarized.
The new conversation for which Dorsey Nunn was asking makes it clear that African Americans opposition to criminal (in)justice, police abuses, etc., is a form of their opposition to capitalism itself. The stories at the meeting also pointed the way out: through solidarity, breaking down the barriers between inside and outside.
As an outgrowth of these events CCWP & Legal Services for Prisoners with Children are trying to start a grassroots coalition which would bring together the many different groups of people who are impacted by the drug war both in this country and in other parts of the world. Our ability to really confront the racist and militarist government drug policies depends on linking the issues of unjustly incarcerated drug war prisoners with such issues as the one-strike eviction of families from public housing for having any association with people who use drugs. It also depends on connecting the deportation of immigrants for drug offenses with the U.S. military aggression in Colombia which attacks social justice movements in the name of fighting drugs. If you are interested in becoming involved in this new coalition effort call CCWP at 415-255-7036 ext. 4.