Bruce Norris died of COVID-19 waiting for Governor Tom Wolf to approve his release. Norris spent 45 long years imprisoned and had a devoted family waiting to share life with him when he got home. Negligence by Governor Wolf created further devastation for Norris’ loved ones by unnecessarily extending his suffering and cutting his life short. The Governor was tasked with approving sentence commutations from the Pennsylvania Parole Board for people serving life sentences. Prisoners who are awaiting clemency should be receiving an expedited process, as the rate of infection for COVID-19 is three times higher in prisons than in the general population — instead, the Governor took his time. Prisoners are extremely vulnerable to infectious diseases and made to wait notoriously long periods for medical assistance, and the pandemic has only worsened these cruel realities. Both inside and outside of prison, from infection rates to healthcare access, Black and brown communities have been hit the hardest by COVID-19. If you’re Black or brown, you’re more likely to have your neighborhood patrolled, more likely to be arrested, and more likely to be thrown in jail. Once in jail, regard for prisoner’s lives is abysmal, and the waiting period for the amnesty and early release of political prisoners is too long. We must demand a shorter waiting period for amnesty at the bare minimum.
Mumia Abu-Jamal is currently battling COVID-19 and was infected in State Prison Mahanoy in Frackville, PA. Due to the dire situation of the coronavirus and his recently diagnosed congestive heart disease, supporters have been demanding that he be released immediately to avoid a de facto execution. Mumia has been imprisoned 39 years, 30 of which were spent in isolation on Death Row. A world-renowned author, journalist, and lifelong activist, Mumia is a political prisoner who was framed by the Philadelphia Police Department in an attempt to suppress his revolutionary efforts. Protestors of his wrongful conviction and imprisonment have been working nonstop for his immediate release. The Free Mumia movement is worldwide. Protestors insist that Mumia and all elder prisoners be released at once; it is unclear when all inmates will be vaccinated, and those who are medically vulnerable are at constant and extreme risk. Inhumane conditions are grotesque and typical in the American prison complex, which imprisons mostly Black, brown, working class, and poor people.
The capitalist United States has a long history of punishing revolutionaries with arrests based on fabricated evidence, leading to excessive and cruel sentences. Working class political prisoners are given little to no support and treated with flagrant discrimination and a lack of compassion. The prison system, on behalf of the capitalist state, intimidates and punishes revolutionaries with tortuous abuse tactics, sharpening the contradictions between working class people and the armed police. History is full of examples: Mutulu Shakur, Leonard Peltier, Fred Hampton, Veronza Bowers, and Russell Maroon Shoatz are all either currently political prisoners or were held as political prisoners. The decision to keep Mumia incarcerated up until now has been made without regard for his life. It is absurd that elderly political prisoners—and any political prisoner—is held in jail during COVID-19 in the supposedly freest country in the world. In a speech before his murder at the hands of the Chicago Police Dept and FBI, Black Panther Party member Fred Hampton said, “You can jail a revolutionary, but you can’t jail the revolution” — we will continue to fight the brutal nature of the capitalist state.