The October 2021 Newsletter includes our flyer for the 3rd Annual "Human Rights at the Prison Door" Event. If you have not rsvp'd, please do so today. The newsletter includes an important news article on how police killings are under reported in the United States. This month's Letter from Prison is from Henry Goldberg who was recently released after serving nine years in federal prisons. Finally, we have posted a sermon Rabbi Feinberg gave recently in Richmond.
A makeshift headstone for George Floyd at the Say Their Names Cemetery installation in Minneapolis on May 25. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
October 1, 2021 at 12:13 a.m. EDT
More than half of police killings in the United States over the past 40 years have been mislabeled, according to a new study, leading to a stark undercount of deaths at the hands of officers and a lopsided perception of what experts say is a public health crisis.
Researchers from the University of Washington found that from 1980 to 2019, more than 55 percent of 31,000 deaths attributed to police violence were assigned other causes in official federal death data. Black men are killed by police at disproportionately high rates, and their deaths are mislabeled at higher rates than for any other race, according to the study, which was published Thursday in the Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal.
The study underscores a grim reality: Despite years of scrutiny, criticism, protests and calls for reform, no government agency tracks how often law enforcement officers in America kill people. Since 2015, The Washington Post has been counting how often on-duty police shoot and kill people. But there is no comprehensive federal attempt to keep track of these deaths or other uses of force by law enforcement, including chokeholds and nonfatal shootings. One of the study’s authors called the deaths poorly catalogued and preventable, and an expert said the lack of meaningful tracking of these deaths underscores the deep-rootedness of systemic racism.
High-profile police killings over the past several years, such as that of George Floyd in May 2020, have led to nationwide calls for police reform and an examination of why Black men are disproportionately killed during police encounters. But until now, this study’s authors say, the true scope of police killings has been largely unknown.
Police and a medical examiner initially attributed Floyd’s death to drug use and underlying conditions, despite bystander video showing former police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck and back for more than nine minutes. Chauvin was found guilty of murder and manslaughter in April.
The study compared decades of data from the National Vital Statistics System, which tracks births and deaths, to three databases that track police violence: Fatal Encounters, Mapping Police Violence and the Guardian’s The Counted. The databases sift through news reports and public records for instances of people killed during police encounters.
Click here to read the rest of the news article.
September 30, 2021
(editor’s note: After spending a little over nine years in federal prison, Henry A. Goldberg, is currently residing at the Volunteers of America halfway house in Baltimore MD. Mr. Goldberg has seen the injustice and fallacies of the prison system in America and wants to be a voice that leads to change. He feels very fortunate that the prison system was not ruinous for him, thanks to a very strong support system and his deep faith in God. While in prison, Mr. Goldberg took numerous paralegal correspondence courses, and left prison speaking almost four languages. He likes to study all types of history, learning new languages and cultures, and be an advocate for healthy living.)
My journey in federal prison journey began in 2013 and ended in 2021. That journey has taken me to South Carolina, New Jersey, and ending in North Carolina, with various stops in between. Though I have met people who have been to double or even triple the number of institutions I have been to, I can still paint a vivid picture of the inner workings of federal prison.
I will admit that I had a considerable number of prejudices of what I thought life in prison would be like. To my surprise federal prison was nothing like what television had portrayed it to be. It was not a colorless and abrasive environment in which it was killed or be killed; though I will say, United States Penitentiary prisons are exactly how they are or portrayed on television. Inmates generally view new inmates as a part of the collective struggle, so when you walk through the door, you are usually met with tons of support such as food, clothes, and hygiene. Though prison is extremely segregated, there is a strong sense of community from respective groups, or "cars" as they are known. These cars consist of geographical locations such as DC, Florida, and New York as well as gang, religious, and other affiliations. So, in a nutshell when you enter the prison system, you must tether to your respective group: DC with DC, gang with gang, and Muslim with Muslim, with various sub and splinter groups in between.
These affiliations do not imply formal acceptance by these groups; in most cases you have to provide your paperwork, meaning your case information, to verify that you did not cooperate with law enforcement and/or are not a sex offender. Either one those labels will cause you to request protective custody or at worst be violently attacked and at best to become a social leper. Unlike United States Penitentiaries, in some medium and a lot of low security facility prisons these are non-issues.
When I first became incarcerated in a federal prison, I thought that prisoners run the show on the ground level and every cell, seating, and dining hall arrangements were made the inmate population. I came to this conclusion, because people on the inside advised where to sit during meals, or who I should associate with or even live with.
I was very naïve to believe this for many years. I found out after 4 years of incarceration that the prison security and investigation staff or SIS were behind the scenes pulling the strings and perpetuating segregation between groups in the prison system. It was an illusion of control; the inmates actually thought they ran the prison but that could not be further from the truth. When I arrived at Low Security Correctional Institution (LSCI) Butner, showing paperwork, cell arrangements and segregated dining hall seating were prohibited. Things happen or don’t happen according to how the prison staff see fit. That was just the surface of the federal prison illusion.
Click here to read the rest of Henry’s essay.
On Tuesday, October 26 at 12 noon, Rabbi Feinberg will interview via zoom Natasha White, Coordinator of the Virginia Coalition on Solitary Confinement. RSVP by clicking here to receive the zoom link.
Natasha White is a formerly incarcerated survivor of solitary confinement. A New York native affected by the prison system at an early age losing her father when he was sentenced to 22 years in the federal penitentiary. Ms. White began having issues with the juvenile justice system as a teenager, eventually landing her in prison for 15 years due to domestic abuse, drug addiction and chronic homelessness.
While incarcerated Natasha spent four years in solitary confinement. Dedicating herself to justice reform upon release, she quickly joined Just Leadership and became a leader in the Close Rikers campaign.
While living in a reentry shelter during the height of COVID-19, Natasha completed 3 community organizer trainings and graduated from College and Community Fellowships WISH (Women Influencing Systems and History). In January of 2021, Natasha became a community organizer for the Halt Solitary campaign changing history in New York when legislation banning solitary confinement passed in March of 2021.
In June, Natasha relocated to Virginia and joined the Virginia Coalition on Solitary Confinement as their Coordinator/Manager. Since joining the Coalition Natasha has taken in directly impacted community members by storm and advocated for their loved ones who are currently incarcerated and suffering at the hands of the Virginia Department of Corrections.
Rabbi Charles Feinberg
(editor's note: This is a sermon Rabbi Feinberg gave via zoom at Temple Beth El in Richmond, VA on October 2, 2021)
IAHR is an interfaith group whose values are rooted in this week’s Parasha. The Torah opens with a dramatic statement that every human being is created in the image of God. One implication of this suggestive teaching is that everyone—no matter what he or she has done—should be treated with respect. We all bear God’s image and therefore abusing a person is an offense against God.
The other value that our group embraces is stated explicitly in chapter 2: it is not good for a human being to be alone. “Lo Tov heyot Adam l’vado; ehehseh lo ezer k’negdo.” We human beings are social animals. We thrive we have connections and relationships with other human beings. We wither, become depressed, and physically ill when we are deprived of connections.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture defined one kind of torture as isolating a person for 22 or 23 hours a day for more than 15 consecutive days. Prisons throughout the United States routinely isolate people for more than consecutive days for 22 to 23 hours a day. For many days, especially on weekends, people in isolated confinement don’t have any time out of their cell. Since covid hit, prisons have routinely isolated people for very long times.
The State of Virginia says it doesn’t practice solitary confinement or prolonged isolation anymore. Indeed, the State of VA says that it everyone in a VA state prison has at least 4 hours a day of out of cell time. Yet we have received many personal testimonies from many incarcerated people saying that this isn’t true. That sadly, isolated confinement continues throughout the state prison system.
Click here to read the rest of the sermon