Sparks of Solidarity: Aug. 25
By Mattie Stardust
Racist monuments vandalized
After white supremacists and neo-Nazis attacked anti-racist demonstrators Aug. 12, leaving one dead and dozens injured, anti-racist forces have gone on the offensive. Statues memorializing racist symbols, including the Confederacy and Jim Crow, have been toppled, spray-painted and vandalized across the country. Here are a few notable highlights from the cultural war against white supremacy.
A statue depicting Christopher Columbus, whose 1493 arrival to the area now called the Americas signaled the start of a campaign of genocide against indigenous peoples, was splattered with red paint in Houston, Texas. The seven-foot-tall statue, which stands in Houston’s Montrose area, was cleaned up by morning. According to one of the workers hired by the city to remove the red paint, “We typically see things like this once or twice a year, but I’m expecting we’re going to see this happen a lot more often in the next couple of weeks.” (chron.com, Aug. 18)
A stone plaque commemorating Confederate president Jefferson Davis in Gold Canyon, Arizona, was found tarred and feathered Aug. 17. Tarring and feathering is a form of public torture and humiliation dating back as far as the Medieval period. No arrests have been made. (syracuse.com, Aug. 18)
In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, racist former mayor and police commissioner Frank Rizzo’s statue received a welcome makeover when a demonstrator spray painted the words “BLACK POWER MATTERS” across the front of the monument. A separate memorial to Rizzo, in the form of a mural in South Philly, was also vandalized with white paint splattered over Rizzo’s face. “Kill killer cops” was also scrawled on the mural with white paint.
As Philadelphia Police Commissioner in 1970, Rizzo ordered over a dozen Black Panther members arrested and publicly strip searched at dawn. One suspect has been charged with criminal mischief, institutional vandalism and desecrating objects for the statue makeover, and another suspect was arrested in connection with the mural vandalism. (fox29.com, Aug. 17, usnews.com, Aug. 19) Donations for legal support can be submitted here for the person(s) charged in the statue defacement, and here for the person charged in the mural defacement.
Seattle concrete workers win wage and benefit increases
A strike by concrete truck drivers in King County, Washington ended in victory for the workers Aug. 18, with a contract including “record-setting” pay increases and improved benefits. Some 300 concrete truck drivers for CalPortland had walked off the job after contract negotiations broke down Aug, 11. The drivers are represented by the Teamsters union local 174.
According to CalPortland, the drivers’ week-long strike, timed by the union to coincide with Seattle’s current construction boom, put “dozens of projects in jeopardy,” and caused “untold financial damages throughout the City of Seattle and the surrounding area.” The damage, and ultimately lost profits, caused by the drivers’ strike, as well as the threat of more drivers joining the picket lines, forced CalPortland to begin bargaining in good faith with the workers. Approximately 92 percent of workers voted to ratify the new contract proposal. (seattletimes.com, Aug. 18)
Refugee crisis causes tension in Italy
A struggle broke out in Rome, Italy, on Aug. 10 when police attempted to evict some 80 families who had been squatting in an abandoned building in the city’s Cinecitta neighborhood. Residents were captured on video throwing stones at police and firefighters, who had arrived on scene to remove the families from their homes. The residents included both Italian-born families, as well as immigrants from North Africa and South America. (telegraph.co.uk, Aug. 11)
Italy has received an unprecedented number of refugees, many traveling across the Mediterranean from war-torn Libya — well over the 200,000 the government says it’s equipped to accommodate. Without additional funding and support from the European Union, the Italian government has threatened to close its ports to foreign-flagged ships seeking asylum. (independent.co.uk, Jul. 29)
For refugees who do manage to arrive safely in Italy, job shortages and unaffordable housing force many into illegal activities such as squatting, prostitution and drug trade just to survive. Elias Abraham, an Eritrean-born man who sought asylum in Italy eleven years ago, explained, “In Italy, if you go straight, you die. You have to go crooked and weave like a snake to survive.” (dw.com)
Georgia prisoner battles extreme medical neglect
Dr. Chiquita Fye, medical director for Georgia’s Macon State Prison, may find herself on the other side of the bars as allegations of gross medical neglect of prisoners under her watch have come to light. According to a lawsuit filed by Michael Tarver, an inmate serving a life sentence at Macon, what started as a minor cut on his knee was allowed to progress into an infection so severe that Tarver’s leg had to be amputated. Tarver filed the 26-page handwritten lawsuit himself, without the representation of a lawyer. His suit will go to trial in September.
Since Michael Tarver stepped forward, additional allegations against Fye have come to light. In 2013, prisoner William Stoner was locked in solitary confinement while he was forced to detox cold turkey from Xanax. In his first night under Dr. Fye’s care, Stoner suffered a seizure and was discovered unconscious on the floor the next morning. Another prisoner was left in agony and unable to walk, having been denied the medication he needed for severe genital herpes.
Even members of the prison medical staff have stepped forward to substantiate inmates’ allegations against Dr. Fye and the Department of Corrections. To date, five of Fye’s former employees have submitted depositions in support of Michael Tarver’s claims. (myajc.com, Aug. 18)
Certainly locking up Dr. Fye for extreme medical neglect would be a step in the right direction. However, lasting relief will only come in the form of the total abolition of the entire prison industrial complex.