Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Group seeks to hold Maine to UN standard

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Next week Portland-based prison activists will be knocking on Munjoy Hill doors collecting signatures to oppose the “legalized abuse of prisoners” in Maine and throughout the country.

The Black Bird Collective was originally formed earlier this year to support Maine inmate Deane Brown, a key source for the Portland Phoenix’s series on conditions at the Maine State Prison, whom prison officials shipped out of state in retaliation for his protests. Their latest efforts will launch a statewide petition drive as part of what the group hopes will be a national effort to enact state and federal laws requiring that “all prisoners and detainees . . . be treated in accordance with the UN Convention Against Torture.” (The US has signed and ratified the convention, and participates in its international governing body.)

Such laws would ban, among other practices, the use of “electro-shock devices, ... restraint chairs, chemical sprays, and prolonged periods of isolation,” all of which are commonly used to discipline, punish, and control inmates in Maine’s correctional centers.

Black Bird organizer David Bidler says his group is “trying to show any potential legislative supporters that there is community support” for humane treatment of prisoners. “We’re looking for someone to step up” and lead the legislative fight, he says.

The call has been put out nationally by an organization calling itself the San Francisco Eight, made up of former members of the Black Panther Party (the militant black-power/community-action group from the 1960s and ’70s), who were arrested earlier this year on charges stemming from the 1971 killing of a San Francisco police officer. Some of the Eight had been similarly charged in the mid-1970s, but their cases were dismissed when a judge ruled that some of the suspects had been tortured during interrogation.

The Black Bird Collective will meet with supporters at the Home Grown Herb and Tea shop, 195 Congress St, at 5:30 pm on Monday, September 3, to talk about the campaign, distribute literature and petitions, and begin collecting signatures.

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