REFERENDUM OF SUPPORT FOR THE RELEASE OF BLACK PANTHER ACTIVIST ALBERT WOODFOX
The membership of the Association for Humanist Sociology, an organization dedicated to scholarship and action in the service of justice and peace, has voted to call for the immediate release of the last “Angola 3” prisoner, Albert Woodfox, from the Louisiana Department of Corrections where he has been held in solitary confinement for more than forty-two years for the murder of a prison guard in 1972, a deeply flawed conviction that has now been overturned three times.
No physical evidence linked Woodfox or his co-defendant, Herman Wallace, to the crime. A man claiming to be an eyewitness for the prosecution was released from a life sentence as a serial rapist in exchange for his testimony. And potentially exculpatory DNA evidence was lost under questionable circumstances. Today, the widow of the murdered guard has said that she believes the State failed in its mandate to bring her husband’s true murderer to justice.
In the years just previous to the guard’s murder, Woodfox and Wallace had organized the first prison chapter of the Black Panther Party, working to desegregate Angola State Penitentiary, end systematic rape and violence among the prisoners, stop routine corruption and brutality by the guards, and demand better living conditions in the institution. Even from solitary confinement, Woodfox has continued to win legal suits related to prison conditions and the treatment of prisoners, encourage and empower others, and affect change in the community in which he resides. Nevertheless, States Attorney Buddy Caldwell has called Woodfox “the most dangerous man in the world.” And Angola Warden Burl Cain has stated that until Woodfox disavows his Black Panther principles, he belongs in solitary confinement whether he did anything or not.
Herman Wallace died of cancer a few days after his release on habeus corpus in 2013. After Woodfox’ conviction was overturned by the courts for the third time that same year and the Appellate court upheld the 5th Circuit ruling in November of 2014, the State has continued its ongoing commitment to keep Woodfox incarcerated. Nevertheless, a petition with more than 25,000 signatures from around the world has been delivered to Governor Bobby Jindal, beseeching the State of Louisiana to release Albert Woodfox forthwith and without delay.
The Association for Humanist Sociology stands with Amnesty-International-USA, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (a coalition of 325 organizations committed to end torture and cruel, inhumane, degrading treatment), Juan Mendez (the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture), and Rep. John Conyers, in supporting the petition. 2 June 2020 Dear Colleagues: We are now in the seventh day of a nationwide uprising sparked by the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, and the disproportionate toll of the Novel Coronavirus on Black, Indigenous and Latinx people. Centuries of pent-up rage and unheard demands for racial justice have led the nation to a place where everyday people are marching in the streets night after night. Meanwhile the President of the United States threatens to use military might against the citizens of our nation practicing their constitutional right to protest. As sociologists, activists, and radicals we have probably spent more time than most studying the broad forms of state violence and systemic white racism affecting our people. For many of us in the Association for Humanist Sociology (AHS) this uprising is not surprising. In fact, it was inevitable. However, politicians, corporate media and its pundits feign they cannot understand why protesters are not just asking nicely—or worse yet, why they are openly pushing for conflict in order to drive up their viewer rates. They steadfastly refuse to acknowledge how neoliberal racial capitalism induces poverty, anguish, and the daily harassment and violence imposed on black people. Given that many of us are directly affected by the wealthy few’s callous disregard for our humanity, it is safe to say that the combined effects of the pandemic, ongoing racist harassment and abuses, and continuing police violence are taking a heavy toll on many members of our organization. Some members of our association have been re-traumatized by the media constant video looping of police violence. In figuring out what to do and how best to make sense of this moment, we as an organization want to create opportunities for the members and nonmembers to connect with one another to share resources and thoughts about organizing and surviving the current crisis, James Thomas (University of Mississippi), AHS program chair, is organizing a webinar to take place in July. The exact date and time of the session is forthcoming. As a humanist association, we reaffirm our commit to propelling social change through our research, teaching, and action. We seek to work in partnership with local social and economic justice organization. We also strive to help lead in helping higher education and the United States as a whole become social agents for people-centered structural, institutional, cultural, economic and political change. Prison and police abolition is crucial. Yet, we know that the change we seek is impossible as long as society and politicians promote massive structural inequalities and violence. Such conditions engender the kind of brutality and impunity we are witnessing and experiencing throughout the country and world. We are committed to eliminating these problems at their structural root. While doing this important work, I hope we all be able to lean on and support each other to the extent possible, and to keep in mind that perhaps what we are going through now is the birth of the beloved community that we have long strived to create. A luta continua, Johnny E. Williams President Association for Humanist Sociology