“I’d like to thank Food for Thought Books which is probably one of the only places with the gumption to host an event like this.” Dr. Emahunn Campbell started off the Artists for Ayyub fundraiser/art show with gratitude for the community space that allows us still to publicly gather, share our stories, and organize for Justice.
Since 1996 October 22nd has been set aside as National Day Against Police Brutality. Started by Pam Africa and other organizers concerned with the condition of Mumia Abu Jamal and other political prisoners who were targeted and incarcerated, they set aside the day to organize around stopping police brutality and working to raise awareness about the prison industrial complex with the ultimate goal of setting free prisoners and stopping police brutality from continuing to divide our families and communities.
The night was organized by Justice for Ayyub, a group that has been working to set free Springfield, MA business owner Ayyub Abdul Alim who has been in prison for the last two years.
In his own words, Ayyub shares what happened to him:
“In December of 2011, I was targeted and arrested on a fabricated weapons charge less than five minutes after closing my store, “Natures Garden,” by the Springfield Police Department in collaboration with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). I have been incarcerated against my will at the Hampden House of Corrections for approximately two years pending trial – despite the fact that I have police recordings revealing I was searched and cleared of any weapons and then forcibly strip searched and probed sexually in view of the public. Most importantly, I have been offered exoneration of the aforementioned fabricated charges, prior to being arraigned in Springfield Court, at the Springfield police station (by the FBI and Springfield police) – only if I agreed to become an informant against my will to spy on the Muslim community.”
Since 9/11 the targeting of Muslim men (also Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern and various brown people) has become an all too common practice of the United States Government. From spying in mosques and universities, stop and frisk policies and inserting informants in every level of the Muslim community to falsely entrap these men, the government has shown that there are no extents it won’t go to to reassure that this Muslims are regarded as the new bad guy in America.
Unfortunately this is nothing new.
Since it’s inception, the United States Government has pointed a finger at various communities, deciding they were the current black sheep who would be held accountable for all of society’s ails (recall First Nations people, African Americans, Communists, the Japanese, Chinese, Irish, Romani, Gay, now Muslim).
After 9/11 however, aside from suffering terrorism at the hands of ignorant community members, people practicing the Muslim faith have had to deal with constant harassment and the fear of being imprisoned. As time goes by more stories come out of how much people have had to suffer in the last decade from harassment at airports to being denied job opportunities and even entry into businesses. It’s the new era of American Imperialism, and it’s found a new group to target.
Justice for Ayyub is a group that has been meeting for several months to work around the case of Ayyub to get his local community and neighboring communities to come out in a call for justice and his release. The 22nd was an opportunity for people to come and hear his story and support the community work, but also to learn more and arm themselves with knowledge of how to fight white supremacy and learn the truth about police brutality.
After an opening prayer by Brother Ali the event started with poet Olivia who is the leader of the student group against mass incarceration at Mount Holyoke. Next up organizer Vira Cage and members of Justice for Ayyub gathered to speak on organizing efforts and upcoming court dates for Ayyub.
Several friends of Ayyub got up to speak next. Brother Ali got up again to speak on his personal friendship with Ayyub and his own experience with police brutality and racism. Julia who is like a younger sister to Ayyub got up to speak on living with him in foster homes in Springfield and recalled his teachings on Islam and how it is overall a religion of peace. She spoke of the stark differences between Ayyub’s words and behavior and the image of Muslims portrayed on the TV, “It subhumanizes them,” she said, “And calls them terrorists, well who are the real terrorists?”
Ayyub was set to call in for 8:30 and while the crowd waited to hear his words, Emahunn opened up the floor for people to share any thoughts or words.
Louis Aarons of the real cost of prisons project got up to speak about something the group is fiercly determined to stop, the addition of police dogs into waiting rooms in prison in Massachusetts. Aside from terrorizing family members, the elderly and children, this will no doubt serve to discourage people from visiting those currently locked up. “It’s ridiculous,” she said, “They say this will stop contraband from coming into the prisons when we all know that most of the contraband is carried in by the guards.”
Next Lorenzo took the floor, a man who was, until April 5th, in prison with Ayyub. He shared his excitement that a group was coming together to support Ayyub who he described as “smart” and “a good person” and spoke of the terrible conditions at the Ludlow prison; prisoners with hepatitis c, and tuberculosis who were contagious and near other prisoners, inadequate rec time and not being allowed to eat and socialize with others, instead usually forced to eat in your prison cell in extremely small quarters right next to your toilet. He spoke of the psychological element of eating next to your toilet and the fact that many people develop mental illness when in prison, those already suffering from mental health problems are usually seriously exacerbated. Random checks, 24 hour lights, officers constantly checking in – all part of a system that is designed to mentally break you down.
Hip hop journalist and regular speaker on TRGGR Radio, organizer with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and 2008 Greens Party VP candidate and keynote speaker for the evening Rosa Clemente took the stand.
She shared her experiences of organizing and working around issues of police brutality and brought up Amadou Diallo who was shot 41 times while trying to enter his NYC apartment by plainclothes cops in 1999. “A regrouping has to happen.” She spoke on the complication of having a black president who is still pushing forward white supremacist ideas, and how for young organizers it can be complicated to determine who is authentic, “When people who look like me are the ones giving the orders to kill people who look like me.” She said the new wave of people in prisons is going to be women of color organizers, and immigrants. Aside from building new prisons, the newest addition to the prison industrial complex is immigration detention centers.
“We do need to know who our allies are, and why are we not talking about white supremacy every day? Our dialogue needs to change.” She read passages from the curriculum, We Charge Genocide Again and shared the crazy statistic we are now at:
Every 28 hours an african american is killed by cops, security, or vigilantes.
“The more we win the more they oppress,” she said. “Freedom is not a trend. It is not a rap song, or a fashion statement or whatever you can spit out – it’s a lifelong struggle, it’s how you live your every day life”.
Organizer Lynne Jackson got up to share the work of Project Salam and how the US uses charges of “material support for terrorism” to charge Muslim men. She shared the truth about CMU’s – Communication Management Units that are sometimes nicknamed, “little guantanamo” and were created specifically for Muslims. These prisons are often not staffed by regular cops, but by FBI agents with much more lax prison rules. These agents often interrogate the men and men are often not able to have familial visits. If they are, they are almost never face to face. She spoke of the ADX prison in Colorado with a 23 hour solitary confinement for all prisoners, and she told the story of Yassin Aref and Mohamed Hossain who have been in jail now for over 7 years.
The night ended with new music by hip hop artist and organizer Sheldon
The prison industrial complex is huge and scary and divides families and communities. Sometimes it’s hard to organize knowing the risks involved. It’s always important to recognize the community who is organizing with you, and remember that there are groups and individuals across the globe who are struggling and working as hard for equality and justice.
Lorenzo said it best, “Keep up the fight and free Ayyub!”