Sustaining the Rebellion thru Abolitionist Organizing and Litigation
Whether it’s representing victims of Police Assaults in Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, representing prisoners at risk from COVID-19 in Allegheny County Jail, the family of a prisoner murdered by guards at SCI Mahanoy on the way to solitary confinement, or fighting to bring home the victims of the late Frank Rizzo, the Abolitionist Law Center is going to keep leading the fights in the streets and courts to bring about fundamental change to policing and prisons, and ultimately to abolish systems of white supremacy and state violence.
Support us in our fight to resist state violence and grow people power through radical movement lawyering, local and state-wide community organizing, judicial accountability, mutual aid, and more. With offices in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, ALC is primed to lead the fight for social justice and abolition in Pennsylvania. Now more than ever we need your support during this renewed season of struggle.
Alternatives to carceral logics are made possible by a diversity of tactics – and our projects at ALC are sustained by generous donors from all walks of life, across different movements and cities who believe in abolitionist world-building. DONATE to our efforts so we can build off our successes, win more cases, organize more advocates, train more leaders, empower more prisoners, and build more power for our communities.
Abolish the Police
The Abolitionist Law Center has extended our unqualified support to those in the struggle against police terror and state violence. We support the rights of our community members rising up in rebellion in the name of Black Liberation. At a time when the government cannot protect the health of the people in the US, when mass death is ravaging Black communities, while corporate and political elites seek an ever-larger sacrifice population to keep the profits flowing — we support revolt.
In addition to organizing community discussions about police abolition and directly confronting police unions, the Abolitionist Law Center and co-counsel have filed two lawsuits on behalf of protestors and other community members brutalized by police in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh during the George Floyd rebellion:
Police Terror in West Philadelphia
On May 31, 2020, the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) repeatedly attacked protestors of police brutality, residents, and bystanders who congregated in West Philadelphia’s 52nd Street, a predominately Black neighborhood. PPD officers used military-style weapons – including rubber bullets, tear gas, and pepper spray – against these individuals as they either peacefully protested against police abuse or simply engaged in daily activities in or near their homes.
In what many witnesses described as a war zone in an otherwise peaceful, residential community, police officers in tanks traveled away from West Philadelphia’s business corridor and down residential side streets for hours, chasing residents into their homes and indiscriminately firing canisters of tear gas at them — all under the guise of responding to incidents of looting. As a result, families, including those with small children, were injured while inside and outside of their homes and, in some cases, forced to temporarily evacuate their homes and seek treatment for tear gas exposure.
On July 14, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), the Abolitionist Law Center, and the law firm of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin LLP filed a lawsuit on behalf of residents in West Philadelphia, challenging the Philadelphia Police Department’s (PPD) excessive and unwarranted use of militaristic force during a peaceful protest.
Police Terror in Pittsburgh
On June 1, the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police (PBP) escalated a peaceful protest into a scene of pandemonium, panic, violence and bloodshed. The PBP deployed hundreds of officers to counter approximately 150 protesters. As the assembled protesters held their hands in the air and chanted, “This is not a riot,” and “Hands up – Don’t shoot,” PBP ordered its officers to attack them with explosives, chemical agents and ammunition which is known to seriously wound and sometimes kill its targets. PBP officers drove ambulances past injured protesters without stopping. After ordering peaceful protesters to leave the area, PBP officers blocked their escape with chemical gas, riot police and mounted patrols. The PBP ordered tactical officers dressed in paramilitary garb to patrol a residential neighborhood in armored vehicles and arbitrarily throw canisters of chemical gas at anyone they encountered. The PBP arrested twenty-two protestors for failing to disperse, subjecting them to confinement in the midst of a global COVID-19 pandemic. The Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office withdrew the charges for every person arrested due to a lack of sufficient evidence or allegations to support the criminal charges.
On June 29, the Abolitionist Law Center (with co-counsel from O’Brien Law, and Elzer Law Firm, LLC) filed a class action lawsuit in federal court on behalf of protesters against Pittsburgh Bureau of Police (PBP) officials, Mayor Bill Peduto, and the City of Pittsburgh for the violence unleashed on peaceful demonstrators.
In an escalation of the legal challenges to death-by-incarceration (DBI) sentences in Pennsylvania, commonly known as life-without-parole, the Abolitionist Law Center along with Amistad Law Project and the Center for Constitutional Rights have filed a landmark lawsuit seeking to end DBI sentences for the more than 1,100 in Pennsylvania convicted of second degree felony murder. The lawsuit, Marie Scott, et al. v. Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, was brought by six plaintiffs who have spent a combined 200 years in prison and who will be forced to die in prison even though they did not take a life or intend to take a life. The lawsuit seeks to remedy a human rights crisis that is all the more apparent in the time of COVID-19 and massive protests against pervasive racism.
While Black people make up approximately 13% of the state population, they make up 45.9% of the state prison population currently incarcerated in the DOC. Staggering as that is, it pales in comparison to the racial disparity in who is serving DBI sentences for second degree murder: 69.9% are black, almost a full 25% higher than the already incredible racial disparity in the prison population. This lawsuit is part of what ALC Board Member Kempis Ghani Songster refers to as a “pressure points” strategy, where the movement against DBI attacks the weakest links in DBI sentencing as part of a sustained, multi-strategy, long-term campaign to erode the legitimacy of the punishment and abolish it altogether.
Decarcerate the Jails and Prisons
Allegheny County Jail is the epicenter of state violence in southwest Pennsylvania. The destination for those targeted by apartheid policing, the jail is filled with members of our community who are most likely to have experienced poverty, racism, trauma, violence, and physical and psychiatric disability. More than 80% of those in the jail have not been convicted of a crime and are there on pretrial confinement or because of a probation detainer. While in the jail their rights will not be respected, because Warden Harper and his the officials of the Allegheny County Jail respect the rights of nobody held captive there. The Abolitionist Law Center is working to expose this and change it, decarcerate the jail and defend the rights and health of our community members who are trapped there.
In April we led campaigns to decarcerate the Allegheny County Jail during the COVID-19 outbreak, and then filed a class action lawsuit with the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project that forced the jail to adopt important health measures during the outbreak.
Five months later, we sued ACJ again – this time addressing the unlawful use of solitary confinement, brutal violence, and the abysmal medical and mental health care at ACJ experienced by our community members with psychiatric disabilities and serious mental health issues. At ACJ, people with psychiatric disabilities are tased, sprayed with OC, beaten, and placed in restraint chairs for several hours for minor infractions and for simply requesting mental health care. They are commonly placed in solitary confinement for weeks and months on end, often without having a hearing, in conditions universally acknowledged by correctional experts, courts and the United Nations as torture. We are proud to represent our clients who have bravely come forward to expose the realities of abuse and apartheid criminal punishment system overseen by Warden Orlando Harper and Deputy Warden Laura Williams.
Investigate the Courts
ALC Court Watch aims to put judges under the surveillance of the communities most impacted by their decisions. The courts represent the threshold between Allegheny County’s general population and the Jail. In addition to police officers who arrest and book individuals, it is Allegheny County’s lower magisterial courts and the Criminal Court of Common Pleas that feed and maintain the bloated jail population through the setting of high bails and the automatic issuance of probation detainers.
Court Watch has collected comprehensive information on the number of people being arrested, who’s arresting them, what their charges are, which judges rule on their cases, and whether bail was set and how much. This data includes information on the race of the defendants and the zipcodes they were arrested in. All of which illuminates the reality of an apartheid policing and judicial system preying on Black people and those in poverty.
In addition to observing and collecting information from the court ALC Court Watch engages in advocacy and acts as a conduit for demands for fair treatment of people cycling through the system. The information we share with the public helps to identify the practices (and the people practicing them) that lead to the racist outcomes in our criminal justice system, while situating our bodies in the courtroom is a kind of sit-in protest, confronting judges with the challenge of being watched.
Free All Political Prisoners
As part of the movement for prison abolition and criminal justice reform the Abolitionist Law Center rejects the idea, whether strategic or tactical, that political prisoners are radioactive to the fight for social justice. We are committed to supporting and helping to lead the fight for the release of Pennsylvania’s political prisoners through whatever legal means available and necessary, be it compassionate release, clemency, or pardons.
In Pennsylvania, Russell Maroon Shoatz, Fred Muhammad Burton, Joseph JoJo Bowen and Mumia Abu-Jamal have languished in prisons for decades. They are now seniors and in poor health. Nationally, Ruchell Cinque Magee, Romaine “Chip” Fitzgerald, Sundiata Acoli, Dr. Mutulu Shakur, Jalil Muntaqim, Ed Poindexter, Kamau Sadiki, Kojo Bomani Sababu, Leonard Peltier, Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, Veronza Bowers, and Rev. Joy Powell are among the longest interned human political prisoners in the world. These are our Nelson Mandelas. They are all not just our elders, but now our elderly. They resist the passage of time, and the effects of long term solitary confinement, unconscionable abuses, and prison machinations, that have led to terminal illness in many of them. Not just every day that they make it through, but every breath that they take, is an act of defiance and preservation of dignity.
Our position is that our political prisoners have served enough time and it is time to bring them home. They have served over 40 years and are in their 70’s and 80’s. Statistically, they are in the age group that poses no threat to the community or society at large. In fact, their continued incarceration serves absolutely no purpose other than endless retribution. We believe that with over 40 years served we can firmly say retribution has run its course.
Nurture Mutual Aid
In the wake of COVID-19, incarcerated people and many of their family members – who are already repeatedly harmed and robbed by the state thru debt economies – continue to be excluded from and made ineligible for private aid and “stimulus” payments orchestrated by the political elite. While people on the outside struggle to pay their bills, make rent, purchase food and medication and find available social services, people on the inside struggle to have enough money for commissary, medical co-pays, phone calls and more. Because of this vacancy – a byproduct of decades of neoliberal laissez-faire economics and dismantling of the welfare state – “mutual aid” becomes survival support.
Inspired by the radical legacies of Black mutual aid societies and driven to support those most affected by the structural violence of the pandemic, the Human Rights Coalition and the Abolitionist Law Center created the Emergency Prisoner and Family Relief Fund. From April to July, the Relief Fund raised and redistributed $20,000 to over 180 people currently and formerly held captive in Pennsylvania state prisons, along with their family members.
Several of the incarcerated awardees are recovering from COVID-19, and some of the formerly incarcerated awardees are homeless. Many of the family members who have received awards have been laid off and are recovering from surgery, illness, or are disabled. Recipients of the Emergency Prisoner and Family Relief Fund have asked us to share their deepest gratitudes with you – “overjoyed for the support” now able to talk to their loved ones on the phone, and purchase medication, food, hygiene supplies and more. The reach and impact of the Relief Fund is a testament to the legacy of Black mutual aid societies – and our potential to visibilize radical resource distribution, even in the face lockdown and isolation.
Grow Community Power
ALC is part of an evolving and expanding abolitionist constellation that transcends one-off protests, single-issue politics, and physical space – we are everywhere. Our formations are comprised of survivors of state violence and their family members. Volunteers who keep local courts accountable. Volunteers who raise and redistribute funds in the spirit of mutual aid. Jailhouse lawyers. Movement lawyers. Political Prisoners. Pizza-makers and print-makers. Radical zine-makers and podcast hosts. Public school teachers. Cyclists. Healers. Donors from all around the world. People fighting for their lives inside and outside Pennsylvania prisons.
Unlikely accompliceships are formed at the foothold of crisis. ALC is here to stay. ALC is here to scale – and deepen – our relationships with you and all those who acknowledge: the script has been flipped by COVID-19 and the Uprising.
“Business as usual” is dead and we’re not going back. Abolition is our shared horizon.
Your support makes it possible for us to wage and win these fights. DONATE today and together we can keep building the movement to abolish policing and mass incarceration. Take it one step further and consider making a reoccurring monthly donation.