Black Inmates Begin 2021 with Uprising In Saint Louis Justice Center, Two Staff Allegedly Held Hostage In Struggle for Humane COVID-19 Response

The Saint Louis City Justice Center, located at 200 S. Tucker Boulevard.

By: Huey Dessalines

For prisoners, there is no alcohol nor flowers,
But the night is so lovely, how can we celebrate it?
I go to the air-hole and stare up at the moon,
And through the air-hole the moon smiles at the poet – Ho Chi Minh, “Moonlight”

SAINT LOUIS: It is a custom in the City of Saint Louis and other predominantly New Afrikan cities to welcome a new year by firing into the air. The coming of the New Year 2021 saw the most oppressed of our people improve on this popular custom by initiating a struggle against atrocious conditions at the Saint Louis “Justice” Center. This justice center downtown is directly across from the hideous faux-gothic, soot stained monstrosity of City Hall, and it is not lost on many who enter the doors of either building that one feeds the other. The City needs Black people incarcerated because, as Huey P. Newton and other revolutionary theoreticians pointed out, New Afrikan people after slavery technically ended became a surplus population. We, Black people, were expressly transported to this country as property, to be and provide free labor to support and build what we know as White America. This free labor process continues in this country’s prisons and jails. When we shake our chains, white America trembles in fear. This happened today, January 2.

Inmates at the Justice Center have waged a quiet (to the outside world, up to now) struggle against the ravages of COVID-19. Anyone who has been in this hole knows that it is extremely filthy and crowded, making social distancing and other COVID precautionary measures impossible under the current order and regime of things. Jails and prisons under capitalism are meant to be warehouses for those that bourgeois society has cast off, and the fate of those inside is meant to be an afterthought. So today they rebelled. One detainee explained: “Seems like they wanted people to get sick. There was only about 8 sick people in my pod and they just started bringing in more people without testing them first. Next thing you know, everybody was sick. We weren’t rioting, we were protesting because they weren’t protecting us from COVID, the food is really bad, we didn’t have cleaning supplies and the guards treat us like animals.” Allegedly two staff members were taken hostage until demands were met. Incarcerated people at the Workhouse told street news organ “Real STL News” yesterday that last week there were 50 people brought from the Justice Center due to rebellion over the fact that COVID positive prisoners are made to be in the same areas as non positive prisoners. One incarcerated person said: “Everybody in our pod was positive for COVID and they maced us. We were already struggling to breathe and they maced us anyways.” We should call this what it is, a direct attempt to make incarcerated people ill or cause them to rightfully fear being made ill to either make them easier to control and exploit, or directly to kill them. The United States government of all levels is guilty of genocide against oppressed nationally people, and this is just the latest crime. The father of a detainee who was transferred to the Workhouse exposes this further: “My son was part of the group that got moved. He was not COVID positive, but was part of the ward where many people were COVID-positive. They noticed at CJC that all the people who were positive were getting moved into this ward. They did COVID tests, but are not giving the results. My son was in the CJC, getting mixed with COVID positive people. The workhouse is being used as a dumping ground and is going to mix positive and non positive people, making my son sick in the meantime”. There also appears to be a news blackout, with bourgeois outlet Fox2News abdicating their supposed journalistic duty and failing to interview or investigate, simply echoing the City’s claim that there was no riot and the situation is “sensitive”.

This good news comes on the heels of a prison uprising led by the indigenous people of New Zealand, correctly called by the original people of that land Aotearoa, criticizing through action the medieval conditions such as brown water, forced wearing of dirty clothes, and other atrocities committed by the settler colonial government against the Maori people who, like Black people, are forced into prisons for being who they are, destroyed mentally and physically by European introduced drugs and alcohol, and brutalized in their neighborhoods and in the streets. The flag is different, the scenery is different, yet the struggle and the enemy remains the same, the settler-colonial infrastructure must be destroyed so that we, whether Black, Puerto Rican, or Maori, can live. There has been a 5 day standoff and a prison building was burned to the ground – this is a qualitative development in the people’s revolutionary struggle and we must study and learn from our comrades overseas, just as they learn from us.

It is important for Communists to take active concern for the well being and organization of incarcerated people not just when rebellions occur and masses of demonstrators are forced into them, but all the time. Particularly if mass links and roots among working class Black people are desired, which they should be. Many Communists dogmatically reduce prisoners to “lumpen” status and relate to the supplementally and as an afterthought, echoing the respectability politics of bourgeois society and the petit-bourgeois academies from which many of us come. We fetishize and consistently look for workers from the pages of some Soviet or Chinese propaganda tract and chase the mythical “class struggle” with subsequent moralistic overtones verging on puritanism and disconnected from the day to day reality of the proletarian, those who have nothing to lose. It is imperative that Communists reach out to current and recently released prisoners and jail inmates and cultivate contacts for organizing and propaganda in these facilities.