Calls to action

Kansas Mutual Aid hosts benefit to aid New Orleans prisoners, environmental activists

If you happen to obstruct the flight path of a pigeon, you better hope you're not in the view of a New Orleans cop.

New Orleans resident Mayaba Liebenthal has seen her friends arrested for such offenses. She's also seen them arrested for riding a bike with one hand or "loitering" at a bus stop (a.k.a. waiting for a bus).

"Here in New Orleans, people are well aware that this is exactly what happens," says Liebenthal, a prison-rights activist with the New Orleans-based Critical Resistance office.

"That's how they make money," Liebenthal adds. "It's common knowledge among a certain demographic which was 70 percent of the city - black people and poor whites."

Liebenthal's team - located across the street from the Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) in the city's recovering Third Ward - will be the beneficiary of an upcoming Kansas Mutual Aid benefit show at The Granada. The Lawrence-based group hosts fundraisers to aid local and national activist causes.

"We want to yield to local folks who are in the situation and know more about what's going on," says event coordinator Dave Strano. "It's hard being so far away and not knowing exactly what we can do about it."

Past Event

Benefit show for the Kansas Mutual Aid Legal Defense Fund

  • Wednesday, June 7, 2006, 7 p.m.
  • Granada, 1020 Mass., Lawrence
  • All ages / $5

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That situation - prison rights in the wake of Hurricane Katrina - is Critical Resistance's primary focus. The group is working with the American Civil Liberties Union to shut down the OPP, which they claim has detained prisoners long past their trial dates and used them to clean up the flood-devastated prison.

"There are really abhorrent human rights violations that are happening in that place right now," Liebenthal says. "The court system is utterly broken. It would be a lot better to just shut the prison down and let people out."

photo

Dave Strano, Kansas Mutual Aid volunteer

According to ACLU reports, prisoners in the OPP were abandoned in the wake of the hurricane and left in flooded cells without food, water or sanitation. The organization has collected more than 1,000 testimonies and is currently evaluating litigation and policy options for redressing these injuries.

According to Strano, one of the most frustrating aspects of the crisis is that many New Orleans residents arrested prior to Hurricane Katrina have yet to see a judge and are being incarcerated without guilty verdicts.

"Of course things are chaotic down there, so we can understand why the system is a bit of a mess," Strano says. "But six or seven months later for mothers or fathers to be separated from their children even though they posted bail - that's kind of ridiculous."

Kansas Mutual Aid will begin the evening by screening a 30-minute documentary about the prison crisis titled "I'm Not Going to Die on that Levee and You Ain't Going to Break My Back." The film was produced by Critical Resistance and is partially available on the organization's website.

The other half of the proceeds from the benefit will go towards the legal defense funds of alleged "eco-terrorists" from the Earth and Animal Liberation Fronts. More than a dozen ELF/ALF activists were arrested in 2005 on property destruction charges. Many are still in still in jail and scheduled to begin trial in October.

Strano says that Kansas Mutual Aid does not take a direct stance on the property destruction techniques of the ELF and ALF. More importantly, he says, Kansas Mutual Aid is concerned with the possibility of life sentences resulting from post-Sept. 11 "eco-terrorism" laws.

"We think it's a dangerous precedent that is being set," Strano says. "Even if they were guilty, to be involved in a crime that didn't hurt any living beings doesn't deserve life imprisonment : On a regular criminal docket, they would be charged with arson."

Previously, Kansas Mutual Aid has raised money to support lawsuits opposing police brutality and anti-free speech ordinances. The group also helped bail out a number of local activists who were arrested during the July 2003 Dole Center protests (all were eventually acquitted).

Kansas Mutual Aid hosts open meetings every Sunday night at 7pm at the Solidarity! Revolutionary Center and Radical Library at 1109 Massachusetts St.

"We're trying to get more organized," Strano says. "It seems like this year more than ever we're getting a lot of requests for legal funds from across the country from different activists."

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