We’re hiring a Full-Time Pittsburgh-Based Administrative Manager!

This listing is also posted in our ‘Employment with ALC’ page.


Administrative Manager

Posted: 09/16/21

Priority Application Consideration: 10/01/21

Position Overview

The Abolitionist Law Center (ALC) is a nonprofit law firm fighting to defend prisoners and abolitionists, and a community organizing project aiming to build a world without police and prisons. Our work is currently based in Pennsylvania, where we have sued the Department of Corrections, local jails, and the Commonwealth to defend prisoners from abuse and to win release for as many people as possible. Our organizing work is statewide and focused on abolishing the use of solitary confinement and ending life without parole sentences (aka death by incarceration), among other things.

We’re now hiring an Administrative Manager for our Pittsburgh office. The Administrative Manager position will be responsible for bookkeeping, vendor management, basic HR management, payment processing, etc. to keep the organization running smoothly so staff members can concentrate on building the movement to abolish police and prisons.

Location

This position is based in Pittsburgh and will require working on site at our office, though remote work is possible when the nature of the tasks allow for it.   

Responsibilities

  • Bookkeeping
  • Managing employee benefits
  • Payment processing
  • Payroll
  • Records management
  • Office management
  • Supporting the Director of Operations in the overall management of the organization

Requirements

  • You must be proficient in the above tasks with a demonstrated history of having done similar work. For example:
    • You must be familiar with Quickbooks and understand how bookkeeping for a nonprofit organization is done.
    • You must have experience collecting and organizing records. Experience developing or improving systems for organizing records would be highly valued.
    • You must have experience processing payments, reviewing and organizing related records, ensuring that vendors/contractors are paid and staff members are reimbursed.
    • You must know how to use Microsoft Office software, especially Excel. Proficiency with GSuites and EveryAction (or other CRM) would be very welcome.
    • Experience advocating for justice and human rights would weigh in your favor, though it is not strictly required for this position.

Salary and Benefits

The Administrative Manager is a full-time, salaried position. This position has a six-month introductory period. The salary for this position starts at $50,000 annually, and is negotiable depending on experience. The position comes with a health insurance benefit of up to $400/month and 35 days (280hrs) of paid time off annually.

Reports to: Director of Operations

Application Process

Please email your resume, two professional references, and a cover letter explaining your interest in the position to info@alcenter.org. Applications will be accepted and reviewed on a rolling basis, but candidates are encouraged to apply by October 1, 2021 to receive priority consideration. This position is open until filled.

Abolitionist Law Center is an equal opportunity employer. People of color, women, indigenous people, LGBTQI-GNC people, and formerly incarcerated people are encouraged to apply.


To learn more about our staff and board members, click here.

Family of Tyrone Briggs, killed at the age of 29 by SCI-Mahanoy staff, reach historic settlement with Pennsylvania Department of Corrections

The monetary settlement is the largest reported award in any Pennsylvania case involving the death of a person in custody and brings about policy changes for staff training, medical care, and OC-spray use on incarcerated persons with respiratory illnesses and disabilities.


September 8, 2021

Contact: wjlukas@alcenter.org  William Lukas, Director of Communications • Abolitionist Law Center  

PHILADELPHIA – The family of Tyrone Briggs, a 29-year-old Black man with asthma who was killed by staff at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Mahanoy in 2019, have reached a settlement with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC). The settlement amounts to a total $8,500,000 and ushers in policy changes and medical care protocols related to the use of oleoresin capsicum (OC) spray on incarcerated persons living with respiratory illnesses and disabilities.

The settlement comes six months after Tyrone’s mother, Shaleda Busbee, represented by the Abolitionist Law Center and Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin LLP, filed suit against the DOC’s prison administration and SCI-Mahanoy staff to hold them accountable for Tyrone’s tragic and preventable death.

“This historic settlement recognizes both the extraordinary misconduct of prison employees who caused Tyrone Briggs’ death and the extraordinary trauma caused to Tyrone’s family,” said Jonathan H. Feinberg, an attorney with the Kairys, Rudovsky firm. “It stands as a message to jail and prison staff everywhere: when you violate the law, you will be held accountable.”

On November 11, 2019, Tyrone was brutalized with multiple cans of OC spray, unloaded by prison guards who proceeded to restrain him during an altercation with another incarcerated person in the yard. After being tackled and handcuffed by the guards, he repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe,” as he attempted to walk to the prison infirmary for treatment. Instead of being treated for an asthma attack that was impairing his breathing, Tyrone’s requests for medical care were ignored as staff moved him from the yard to the infirmary to the solitary confinement unit in less than 20 minutes. Despite his inability to breathe and his losing consciousness prior to arrival in the solitary unit, Tyrone was placed in an empty cell without medical attention while he continued to asphyxiate due to the OC-triggered asthma attack. Although he was under observation, DOC staff did not intervene until well after he had become fully unresponsive. By the time medical staff came to assess him, he had already died.

In the days that followed Tyrone’s death, the DOC suspended more than a dozen medical staff and correctional officers, while parents Shaleda and Montrell ceased their homecoming plans for Tyrone: his death came soon before he was eligible for parole after serving 13 years in prison since the age of 15. 

Shaleda filed suit against the DOC in federal court on December 22, 2020, and, in her complaint alleged that the defendants engaged in excessive force, an unconstitutional denial of medical care, and a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), all of which led to Tyrone’s death.

Memorial montage of Tyrone with friends and family.

As part of the settlement, in addition to the payment of monetary damages, the DOC agreed to institute critical changes to prison staff training on OC spray and medical care protocols concerning the use of OC spray against individuals incarcerated in DOC facilities. Under the agreement, training on the heightened risk that OC spray poses to incarcerated asthmatics is now mandated for all correctional staff new hires, as is annual training for all medical staff who oversee the care of incarcerated persons living with respiratory illnesses and disabilities. The settlement also calls for increased medical examinations, observations, and contact with on-call medical providers when an incarcerated person living with respiratory illnesses and disabilities comes into contact with OC spray.

“This historic settlement not only reflects the enduring strength of the Busbees, but also reflects the strength of organized resistance to the brutality and inhumanity meted out by the prison system. Tyrone’s life was treated as if he was disposable,” said Robert Saleem Holbook, Executive Director of the Abolitionist Law Center. “Disposable is how so many incarcerated people, especially people living with disabilities and chronic illnesses, are deemed by the prison guards and administration. This case underscores the power of litigation and advocacy centered by victims of the carceral state. It is a reminder that people in prison are not disposable and that we will bring serious consequences if they are treated as such.”

Shaleda Busbee, the Administrator of the Estate of Tyrone Briggs, was the plaintiff in the lawsuit. The DOC, Superintendent DelBalso, Deputy Superintendent Stetler, and 11 John Does were the defendants. The case was filed in the federal court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on December 22, 2020.

Click here to view the settlement agreement and release of claims.

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PRESS

“Pa. prisons pledge reform and pay $8.5 million after Philly man died from pepper spray” by Samantha Melamed for The Philadelphia Inquirer (09/08/2021)

ALC Promises to Sue Allegheny County Over Jail’s Militaristic Use of Force Contracts

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: William Lukas, Director of Communications: wjlukas@alcenter.org

PITTSBURGH – On Tuesday, August 24, 2021, the Abolitionist Law Center, a nonprofit prisoners’ rights law firm, sent a letter to the Allegheny County Solicitor stating it will sue the County, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, and Warden Orlando Harper for entering into contracts with Corrections Special Application Unit (“CSAU”), headed by Joseph Garcia, to train Allegheny County Jail corrections officers unless that contract is cancelled. Another letter was sent to Lightfield Less Lethal Research, a company with which the County contracted to equip staff at the jail with dangerous new weapons, informing the company that ALC will sue them if their products injure anybody at ACJ. ALC claims the enforcement of these contracts violate the federal and Constitutional rights of people incarcerated at ACJ.

ACJ has historically had the most uses of force out of all 67 jails in Pennsylvania. Unconstitutional force is routinely meted out on 64% of the incarcerated population who suffer from a serious mental illness, which has resulted in several individual lawsuits and a class action case pending against ACJ and its officers for using excessive force. The contracts were entered into for the express purpose of responding to the will of the County voters, who in May, passed a referendum to ban the use of specific weapons at the jail and deter uses of force. ACJ and Warden Harper responded by buying new weapons and contracting with a company renowned for its brutality.

ALC’s letters says that “Garcia’s trainings, taught by CSAU, and other training companies he has overseen or directed, violate correctional standards and federal laws, are the subject of civil litigation and criminal inquiries, and have resulted in serious injuries and the death of incarcerated people.” Garcia’s training regimen “prefers and encourages the use of force over de-escalation and harm avoidance techniques.”

ALC also sent a letter to the legal counsel of Lightfield, notifying them of their liability “for selling/furnishing weapons and ammunition to ACJ for use by corrections officers, who are, given the historical record, clearly expected to use them in a negligent, reckless, and perhaps criminal manner on people incarcerated at the jail.” ALC states that “Lightfield appears to be readily aware of Garcia and CSAU’s training tactics, which have resulted in multiple lawsuits and criminal inquiries but your client nevertheless relies on the militaristic training program because it uses Lightfield’s weapons and munitions.”

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Copies of the letters are available for download below:


More on Garcia, CSAU and Lightfield:

https://www.coloradopolitics.com/news/cu-student-sues-weld-county-over-concussion-explosives-in-jail/article_06a2453a-7828-11ea-870a-93e143810276.html

https://nypost.com/2016/09/19/rikers-island-vendor-under-fire-has-gone-mia/

https://www.ydr.com/story/news/local/2021/08/12/york-county-prison-takes-step-toward-extending-contract-with-controversial-contractor-c-sau/8094981002/

After 51 Years in Prison, Arthur ‘Cetewayo’ Johnson is Released

Cetewayo walks free with family members Julie Burnett and Sandris Windly beside him, just moments after his release on the evening of August 11, 2021.

August 11, 2021

After fifty-one years in prison on a wrongful conviction we are pleased that our client, friend and mentor Arthur ‘Cetewayo’ Johnson is being released today. His release is the result of an agreement with the Philadelphia District Attorney Office, in which Mr. Johnson, age 69, pled to a lesser offense allowing him to be released to his family and friends. 

ALC Legal Director, Bret Grote, said, “We are grateful to the Conviction Integrity Unit that Mr. Johnson is finally able to return home to his family. When I first met Mr. Johnson I promised we wouldn’t stop fighting until we brought him home. Today we fulfilled that promise.”

Mr. Johnson was convicted in the 1970 murder of Jerome Wakefield based solely on a signed statement that Mr. Johnson testified at trial he could not read. Mr. Johnson was arrested a mere two months after his Eighteenth birthday. He had only completed the fourth grade and did not begin to learn to read until he was incarcerated on this case. 

Evidence from the police file turned over to Mr. Johnson’s lawyers from the Abolitionist Law Center by the Conviction Integrity Unit in 2019 revealed that police had only obtained a statement implicating Mr. Johnson from a 15-year-old child that they had interrogated for 21 hours in a 30 hour period, including the last 15 hours consecutively. Not until more than 11 hours into that last interrogation did the child give a statement implicating himself and others, including Mr. Johnson.

Mr. Johnson testified at trial that he was physically struck by police officers during his interrogation, matching the testimony of Gary Brame, who was also charged and tried separately for the murder. Mr. Brame said Philadelphia police beat him until he signed a confession. He was sentenced to 7 ½ to 15. In 2020, Mr. Brame signed a statement admitting to the murder and disavowing that Mr. Johnson had anything to do with the crime.

The Philadelphia District Attorney Office offered to resolve this case on the basis of suppressed evidence of police misconduct if Mr. Johnson pled to a lesser offense. 

The Abolitionist Law Center fought diligently the past five years to bring Mr. Johnson home from an unjust sentence and conviction, however no one fought harder than Mr. Johnson and his family during the past fifty-one years. While we believe Mr. Johnson to be innocent of the charges he was convicted of, Mr. Johnson made the decision that was in the best interests of his family and decided to plead guilty to a lesser offense to be reunited with his family after decades of incarceration.

Our Executive Director Robert Saleem Holbrook, who during his twenty-seven years of incarceration was mentored by Mr. Johnson offers the following statement: “Arthur Cetewayo Johnson was a beacon of strength and hope to younger prisoners like myself who entered the prison system lost souls. Mr. Johnson was a mentor to so many of us who found ourselves struggling to survive the daily grind of prison life. I don’t believe we found justice in this case however we found freedom for Mr. Johnson, after fifty-one years of incarceration.”


MORE ABOUT ARTHUR ‘CETEWAYO’ JOHNSON:

Ceteywayo spent 37 years in solitary confinement. The Abolitionist Law Center represented him in a lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections for violations of his 8th Amendment rights. He was released from solitary confinement in the fall 0f 2017 after we won the case.

Throughout his incarceration, Cetewayo was consistently a target of state repression and human rights abuses, for his relationship to the Black Liberation Movement.

Cetewayo currently serves on the Prison Advisory Board of Let’s Get Free: Women and Trans Prisoner Defense Committee.

PRESS


After 50 years in prison — 37 in solitary confinement — Philly man’s conviction is vacated‘ by Samantha Melamed for The Philadelphia Inquirer (08/11/21)

‘Arthur “Cetewayo” Johnson Ordered Released After 51 Years in Prison’ by Chris Schiano for Unicorn Riot (08/11/21)

ALC August 2021 Newsletter


ALC Court Watch Director, Autumn Redcross, and ALC Executive Director Robert Saleem Holbrook at Free Mumia Weekend in Philadelphia, April 2021.

Reflections from Our Executive Director

As Black August unfolds, we at the Abolitionist Law Center celebrate, grieve, and recommit ourselves to the struggle for liberation of all community members from the carceral state and racial capitalism. We draw from the lessons of George Jackson and the prison struggles before us to guide our world-building in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and across state lines: the project of abolition knows no borders.

2020 was a year of tremendous struggle and growth. We’re still in the midst of a global pandemic that has left our community members vulnerable in their homes and within the walls of the punishment system. And we continue to see the responses to a national Black Uprising against policing and state violence: counter-insurgency, co-optation, and fearmongering mythologies of “a crime wave.” 

Last year, perhaps more than any time in our lifetimes, we were exposed to the fact that we live in a failed state. However, in 2020 we also saw the incredible strength and power of oppressed and colonized peoples. We are proud to fight alongside Black and brown communities in the struggle against white supremacy and state violence.

ALC has expanded our litigation to include lawsuits against police abuses in the wake of last summer’s racial uprisings. We’ve focused on developing a powerhouse legal arm in Philadelphia to mirror our base of strength in Pittsburgh. The scope and reach of what our Court Watch program has achieved has smashed our expectations. We’ve enhanced our organizing, communications, and fundraising capacities. We launched Straight Ahead, our 501 (c)(4) legislative wing to bring this fight to the PA state capitol in Harrisburg. And to make all of this – and more – possible, we’ve made powerful additions to our hardworking staff and board.

Midway through 2021, and as I mark my first year as ACL’s Executive Director, what I’m most excited about is that we have developed and embraced our true identity as an abolitionist law project focused on dismantling state violence in all of its forms. We’re confident that we will continue to grow stronger. Ultimately, we will win.                                                                                                            

– Robert Saleem Holbrook

ALC Executive Director

                        


Updates from ALC Court Watch with Josh Palmer

In early 2020, ALC launched our Court Watch program. This new initiative led by volunteers focuses on observing and documenting the courtroom proceedings of local judges in the Pittsburgh, PA region and analyzing racialized trends in arrests and bail decisions that impact community members across Allegheny County. In the 18 months since its launch, over 80 trained Court Watch volunteers have observed hundreds of remote virtual hearings, analyzed thousands of court dockets, and published two groundbreaking reports that illuminate how the anti-Black systems of policing and judicial discretion in the county constitute “racial apartheid” as defined by international human rights law standards.

ALC Court Watch Volunteer Coordinator, Josh Palmer, writes, “In addition to the docket reports, we led the movement calling for the resignation of racist judge Mark Tranquili. Facing six counts of judicial misconduct, he resigned before his misconduct hearing after mounting public pressure. We’ve worked with the courts to build out a virtual court watching infrastructure during the pandemic and placed significant pressure on the local punishment system to end cash bail and grow calls for pre-trial freedom. This happens by showing up to court and letting the judges know that we’re keeping tabs on them.”

As physical courtrooms re-open for public observation, ALC Court Watch continues to expand their volunteer base. ALC Court Watch made headlines in March, when they sued Judge Anthony Mariani for his chambers repeatedly denying Court Watch volunteers access to his virtual hearings, and then again in May, when a volunteer witnessed a defendant endure brutal harassment and detainment by his arresting officer during a preliminary court hearing. That defendant, Alex Horrel, lost one of his eyes from a rubber bullet fired by Pittsburgh police on May 31, 2020 during a Black Lives Matter protest. Our movements to protect community members in the streets, in the halls of prison – and in the courtrooms – continues.

Visit mobilize.us/alccourtwatch/ to attend an ALC Court Watch training and tune in to our calls to action on Twitter and Facebook.


From Our Client, Friend, and Mentor, Avis Lee

Avis Lee in February 2021, exploring the city for the first time since her release. Photo via @womeninprison.

Avis Lee was released from prison on February 12th, 2021 after serving over 41 years of a death by incarceration sentence. We started working with Avis in 2016 as her attorneys, calling attention to the unconstitutional conditions of Pennsylvania’s “felony-murder” mandatory sentencing scheme, and the cruel and unusual punishment of young community members in the face of Miller v. Alabama and Montgomery v. Louisiana (Avis was 18 years old at the time of the crime for which she was convicted). Unfazed, unrelenting, Avis believed in her own freedom; she is her own liberator.

Avis in March 2021, on her first day of work for Let’s Get Free. Photo via @womeninprison.

We caught up with Avis to see what she’s been up to: “I want to thank all of my supporters for believing in a brighter day for me. I’ve been working for Let’s Get Free (LGF), as the reentry coordinator for five and a half months now and am finding a lot of valuable resources for returning citizens. One thing I am noticing, surprisingly, is that there are a lot more resources available for women and/or women with children than there are for men – even though there are a lot more men in prisons, and therefore, a lot more men reentering the community.”

Avis attended Let’s Get Free’s Annual Retreat a few weeks ago and is looking forward to being able to attend LGF’s Annual Art Show “in person” and “on the outside, for the first time this November.” She started taking driving lessons and will be moving into a 2-bedroom apartment this month.

“As you can see I like to keep busy and try new things.” She has a new favorite spot for Caribbean cuisine on the outskirts of town. “I usually get my food to-go and take it to the park to eat while overlooking the city of Pittsburgh.”

ALC is proud to have played a role in supporting Avis’ quest for freedom. Our communities on the outside continue to be enriched by her presence.


Full Throttle: Major Gains in The Struggle to End Solitary Confinement

ALC’s Racial Justice Organizer, Saudia Durrant, with members of the Human Rights Coalition, protest outside SCI-Phoenix on July 6, uplifting demands of hunger strikers in solitary confinement. Photo by Joe Piette.

Over the last three months, our communities made momentous strides in the movement to abolish solitary confinement once and for all.

In May, our friends at the Alliance for Police Accountability celebrated a historic victory as Allegheny County voters passed the grassroots org’s referendum to ban solitary confinement at the local jail.

In June, the Solidarity Not Solitary (SNS) coalition launched their mutual aid fund, providing commissary support to community members in solitary confinement. SNS also held a joint press conference with state reps at Philly’s Eastern State Penitentiary: the birthplace of solitary confinement and the blueprint for modern prisons. The group announced Pennsylvania House Bill 1037, which would cap the maximum number of days in solitary confinement at 15, and prevent pregnant and LGBTQ+ people, and anyone over the age of 70 and under the age 21 from being held in solitary confinement in state prisons. The passage of HB1037 would mark a huge legislative win for community members across the Tri-State Area: New Jersey passed a bill limiting solitary confinement in the state prisons in 2019; New York ended solitary confinement for more than 15 days in state prisons and jails this past April.

In July, we worked with the Human Rights Coalition (HRC) to amplify the demands of a successful 10-day hunger strike led by the Vaughn 17 and other prisoners held in solitary confinement at SCI-Phoenix. After months of broken promises by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC), strikers were finally granted a handbook for the “Intensive Management Unit” (IMU) step-down program, that would finally create a pathway off of the “Restricted Release List” (solitary confinement) and back to general population. The PADOC’s decision to finally develop an IMU handbook and begin moving some members of the Vaughn17 off the Restricted Release List came about because of powerful inside-out coordination between the strikers and their supporters who made calls, sent emails, worked with local media to expose the failures of the PADOC’s IMU program, and the protested outside SCI-Phoenix on July 6th.

There is tremendous momentum for abolishing solitary confinement and growing public support for victims and survivors of the archaic practice like we’ve never seen before. We look forward to taking the lessons learned from this summer’s organizing to build a campaign against solitary confinement in Philadelphia jails and continuing to urge elected officials to follow through with meaningful abolitionist legislation against the torture known as solitary confinement.

ALC Executive Director, Robert Saleem Holbrook speaking at the June 2nd press conference in front of Philly’s Eastern State Penitentiary – the birthplace of solitary confinement and the blueprint for modern prisons. Photo by Joe Piette.

SAVE THE DATE: AUGUST 10

You can support the movement to end solitary confinement in PA by joining ALC and HRC next Tuesday August 10th at 10am on the steps of Chester City Hall (1 E 4th Street Chester, PA 19013) for the Stop Solitary Rally and Policy Hearing. Listen to survivors, advocates and family members and demand meaningful legislation from the Pennsylvania Senate in accordance with the Mandela Rules: Facebook event and registration.


Help ALC sustain our abolitionist organizing and litigation this fall!

When you support ALC with a tax-deductible contribution, you’re playing an active role in resisting state violence and smashing the racist, classist systems of policing and mass incarceration. Your gift fuels this collective work towards liberation, and powers the transformative change we’re fighting for in the courts and in the streets, behind bars and on the outside.

We need your active partnership to keep the pressure on, and we appreciate your contribution of any amount. There’s so much more to do in this struggle. Join us by making a gift in solidarity today!

ALC and Survivor of Solitary Confinement Release Video of Brutal Assault by ACJ Sergeant and Officers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – July 23, 2021

Contact: William Lukas, ALC Director of Communications, wjlukas@alcenter.org


PITTSBURGH – The Abolitionist Law Center (ALC) and client Kim Andrews have released a video of a 2019 attack on Andrews by Sergeant Alyssia Tucker that took place at Allegheny County Jail (ACJ) on May 31st of that year. The video was released exclusively to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review for public viewing and has been sent to the United States Attorney for the Wester District of Pennsylvania for investigation. The surveillance footage was obtained during discovery as part of a 2019 emergency petition filed by ALC against ACJ to remove Andrews from solitary confinement. She was forced to spend more than 150 days between 2019 and 2020 in the jail’s “restrictive housing unit”.

Kim Andrews, a 22-year-old survivor of ACJ’s ongoing abuse and torture of community members, is calling for federal intervention at the jail. In a letter sent to United States Attorney Stephen Kaufman on Monday, ALC requested an investigation to not only hold Sgt. Tucker accountable for the attack, but also to investigate the widespread systemic practices of excessive force authorized by Jail Warden Orlando Harper.

The letter, available for viewing here, references a legal deposition of Warden Harper: when asked if staff may use force for “any violation of policy”, he responds, “Absolutely.” 

Last year, Warden Harper was named as a defendant in lawsuits against ACJ that allege constitutional violations for the jail’s failure to provide adequate mental health care to inmates and for brutal assaults on people living with psychiatric disabilities and serious mental illnesses. Under Harper, incarcerated community members are regularly attacked with blunt force, pepper spray, tasers, and placed in restraint chairs for hours without access to food, water, and medicine.

Responding to the video release, Andrews shares, “This is not just about me – it’s about everyone else. The jail cannot be trusted to reform itself. People need to know what’s really happening on the inside. Sharing this video is part of exposing the truth and growing the public outrage that is necessary to transform ACJ.”

In the surveillance footage, a handcuffed Andrews is shown returning from the hospital after her second suicide attempt during the 150 days Andrews was forced into solitary confinement at the jail in 2019-2020. While Andrews is escorted through intake to the elevator, Sgt. Tucker shoves Andrews from behind. The impact forces Andrews to fly forward and hit her head at the other end of the elevator and Sgt. Tucker immediately discharges her taser into Andrews’s back.

“That’s the worst feeling, when somebody has a weapon behind your back. That is torture.” says Andrews.

Following this assault, Andrews lays prone on the floor, showing no physical resistance. Sgt. Tucker and other officers then pounce on Andrews with Sgt. Tucker tazing her a second time. Andrews lost consciousness during the assault, eventually waking up strapped to a restraint chair.

In a February 2021 Public Source profile on the restraint chair, Andrews said that she has been forced into the restraint chair “at least half a dozen times between 2018 and 2020” at ACJ. Andrews’ experiences have also been highlighted in The Appeal. Last May, she detailed the first time she was placed in solitary confinement at age 18, “I was about to go to the hole because I wanted to see medical care. Because I said I couldn’t breathe, because I was having a panic attack. And I just couldn’t believe that.” Andrews was instrumental in giving voice to the 2020 solitary confinement ban referendum led by the Alliance for Police Accountability and has empowered other victims and survivors of abuse at ACJ to come forward and share their stories.

The release this video is made public just weeks after a community member living with psychiatric disaiblities named Martin Bucek was found dead inside the jail’s suicide watch pod. Andrews attended Bucek’s vigil at ACJ last Tuesday. The event highlighted survivor stories and the conditions of the jail, reminding attendees that ACJ has one of the highest suicide rates in the country – over 70 community members have committed suicide there since the year 2000. 

In 2019, the year of Andrews’ assault by Sgt. Tucker occurred, ACJ used the restraint chair 339 times (more than twice that of the county with the second highest number of instances), while ACJ correctional officers used tasers 146 times (a full 50% of all uses of tasers in Pennsylvania in 2019). Andrews lives with bipolar disorder and PTSD and has spoken out about correctional officers’ responses to those experiencing mental health crises in jail, “You are punished for asking for help. Punishment is not mental health care or rehabilitation.” Andrews attempted suicide six times while incarcerated at ACJ from 2019 to 2020.

Andrews hopes the release of the video will end the impunity of the jail administration, “They want you to be afraid and they want you to feel that fear, and that’s what I felt. There is a prevailing culture inside the jail that the people who ‘watch over you’ can simply commit crimes against inmates with no consequences.”

Community members can directly support Kim Andrews by donating to her CashApp: $pytkimmie.

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Welcome ALC’s New Philly Staff Attorneys, Nia and Rupalee!

Nia Holston (left) and Rupalee Rashatwar (right)

NIA HOLSTON was born and raised in and around Philly, she is a licensed attorney in Pennsylvania. She graduated from New York University School of Law, where she was a Root-Tilden-Kern public interest scholar, participated in civil rights and youth justice defender clinics, led an organization that trains law school students to represent children at their school suspension hearings, and organized around racial justice issues on campus.  Prior to joining ALC, she worked as a public defender at the Defender Association of Philadelphia.  Before law school, she worked as a paralegal at the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama.

RUPALEE RASHATWAR is an ALC Staff Attorney barred in Florida. Rupalee received her J.D. from American University Washington College of Law in 2018, where she was a Public Interest/ Public Service (PIPS) Scholar. Prior to joining ALC, Rupalee was a public defender at the Office of the Miami Dade Public Defender where she represented clients facing misdemeanors, felonies, and juvenile charges. In law school, Rupalee interned with Community Legal Services in Philadelphia where she worked on mortgage and foreclosure issues and with the Capital Habeas Corpus Unit at The Federal Defender for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania where she worked on post conviction death penalty litigation.

ALC Court Watch Releases Docket Report #02

ALC’s Court Watch Program has released their second docket report, illuminating the maintenance of racial apartheid thru arrest and cash bail in Allegheny County. The group demands the end of police sovereignty and pushes for pre-trial freedom and open courts.

Contact: William Lukas, Communications Director wjlukas@alcenter.org


PITTSBURGH – The Abolitionist Law Center’s Court Watch program has published its second docket report. The report expands on the data collection and analysis of municipal court docket information following its inaugural report in December 2020 and is based on the arrest and arraignment data from 5,950 individual docket sheets compiled over the course of 140 days. The report examines two key actors in the development and maintenance of racial apartheid in the Pittsburgh region: police and judges.

According to the report, 1,658 police officers working for 126 different police agencies made 5,664 arrests that led to preliminary arraignments in Allegheny County between August 14 and December 31, 2020. Just 71 officers (4% of the total) made 20% of all arrests, and 30% of all drug arrests. In a county that is less than 13% Black, 56% of all arrests in the report period were of Black residents.

The report asks, “Is there anywhere in Allegheny County where African-Americans can escape the overwhelmingly greater risk of getting arrested?” ALC Court Watch says, “No.” Seventy percent of all Pittsburgh arrests and 47% of all arrests outside Pittsburgh in Allegheny county were of Black community members, despite Black people only making up 23% of the Pittsburgh population – and only 9% of the county population outside Pittsburgh. The report also illustrates how Black men, who make up less than 7% of the county population, were subjected to 33% of all misdemeanor arrests.

The report examines data on arresting officers and affiliated departments. Top arresting officers (officers who made the most arrests) include Larry Butler of North Braddock, a sergeant who made 30 arrests and is the subject of a 2019 federal lawsuit for the Fourth Amendment rights violation of a Black woman who filmed him during a traffic stop. The report’s top arresting officer is Eric Cersosimo of McKees Rocks, who made 52 arrests. Cersosimo was solely responsible for more than a quarter (29%) of all arrests in McKees Rocks between August 14th and December 31st, 2020.

The report also points to the jurisdictions of West Mifflin, Brentwood, Frazer Township and Pittsburgh as case studies for contextualizing racialized arrest data and police terror in the region. Several officers in the docket report were members of the racist and transphobic Facebook group, “Pittsburgh Area Police Breakroom”; had brutalized a young Black girl on a bus in 2020; and in the case of Pittsburgh, had salaries of more than $140,000 in 2019.

Just as Black community members are more likely to face the violences of arrest and detainment by local police, they are also more likely to face the financial violences of cash bail imposed by local judges. According to the report, Black defendants are 26.5% more likely to be subjected to secured monetary bail than non-Black community members, meaning they must pay their bail amount in full – typically thru a professional bail bondsman – or else be forced into confinement at Allegheny County Jail. A total of $23,450,587 in bail was imposed on 1,643 defendants, an average of $14,273 per defendant, from August 14 to December 31, 2020 by magisterial district judges.

The report shows how bail setting practices of local magistrates vary wildly and are arbitrarily set, revealing there is no real standard for how cash bail is imposed in Allegheny County. In their data analysis, Court Watch volunteers controlled for two different groups of judges and 20 different offense variables, finding that a defendant’s risk of having secured monetary bail imposed was nearly 5 times greater if they were assigned to one group of judges rather than another. In other words, whether or not defendants will have to pay for their pre-trial freedom is merely based on who their judge is. But volunteers found that across the board, for every judge and for every alleged offense scenario, Black community members are still more likely to face secured monetary bail than white community members. The report states that District Court Judges Regis Welsh and Robert Ford were among the top judges to impose secured monetary bail most frequently.

Director of ALC Court Watch, Autumn Redcross notes, “This report only quantifies on paper the lived experiences of actual folks represented in the stats. The truth is, for myself, my family and those who look like me, we move throughout our lives and in this city differently because of the apartheid conditions that determine and limit our liberty.” 

The report concludes with the three key demands. The first demand calls for the end of police sovereignty by explicitly defunding the police and investing in community programs. This includes separating traffic enforcement from police departments and ending automatic detainment for misdemeanor charges. The second demand is pre-trial freedom for community members, urging magistrates to end the imposition of cash bail and probation detainers, and cease alternatives such as racialized “risk assessments”. The final demand vies for continued open court access, stating transparent courtrooms is “what moves us closer to a participatory justice system that is satisfying to the people whom it purports to serve”.

This report and an edited plain-text version including the mentioned regression analysis of judge tabulations are available below:

No Police. Statement from ALC, 04-22-2021

This verdict is not about “justice.” This verdict is not about “accountability.”

This verdict is a testament to the political force of the masses, of colonized peoples, in the face of state-sanctioned terror.

It’s about making it known to all cops trembling in their boots, “You are not welcome here.”

But our challenge is not to pursue the conviction of one racist cop. Our challenge is to carry out the total dissolution of police and racial capitalism — to manifest the unfinished project of absolute freedom, to sustain and live out Abolition.

As you read this, the National Guard has set up checkpoints across US cities. State legislation has been proposed around the country — and signed into law in the case of Florida — to criminalize Black grief, Black Power, and allyship; to make it legal for white supremacists to use their vehicles as weapons to run over and kill protesters; to make it illegal for local governments to defund their police departments; to ultimately make Black protest a felony and deprive bail to those charged.

In the same week that Daunte Wright was murdered by officer Potter, in the same week the Chicago Police released body cam footage of the killing of 7th-grader Adam Toledo, the Biden-Harris Administration chose to abandon their campaign pledge to create a police oversight commission.

In Brooklyn Center, MN, hundreds of community members have been rounded up by the police and detained for days without charges, without ability to post bail, without access to lawyers. Journalists have been corralled, lined up, photographed, and driven miles from protests, unable to document the scenes of resistance to ongoing police terror.

This is not hyperbolic, this is America.

Moments before the jury declared Chauvin guilty of all charges for the murder of George Floyd, Columbus, OH police lynched 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant. Her death, and the deaths of so many others, are a brutal reminder that our current system will never deliver us justice, and that anything resembling such is a mere scrap intended only for extending the life span of our apartheid policing system.

We are reminded that police will continue to occupy the entrance to the prison-industrial complex. They will continue to serve white supremacy and capitalism. We have no tears for Chauvin and other agents of the State who are fearful of conviction. They should be.

Politicians and police apologists of the professional managerial class will continue to co-opt righteous Black Rebellion and capitalize on Black death, neutralizing the struggle for self-determination. They will call for “peace,” “calm,” and “independent investigations” — and funnel millions of dollars into task forces, trainings, superficial restructuring, and PR stunts. Just as they did in 2020, they are working to humanize a racist, fascist system and those who wear its shiny badge and thin blue line.

Almost one year since the George Floyd Rebellion, we maintain our position: abolition is our only way out. Abolish the police.

We do not seek a more “diverse” and “inclusive” technopolice state that will continue to openly hunt and slaughter Black, Brown, and Indigenous people, maim and kidnap protestors, medics, and journalists, and surveil and brutalize sex workers, immigrants, and community members who are disabled, queer, trans, or houseless. We do not want nicer slave patrols.

We seek the demise of police in their entirety. We know that “justice” will never be fully realized from the colonizer’s courtroom, that the verdicts from every previous trial have not stopped cops from killing with impunity. Our governments encourage them to do so.

Would Chauvin’s guilty verdict have been possible, without the threat of another rebellion hanging over the proceedings? Would the prosecutor have put on the same kind of case? Would the chief of police’s testimony have been completely different — would he even have testified at all?

These questions undoubtedly suggest that Black Rebellion and year-long, sustained organizing by Black and brown militants and allies forced the State to make a concession.

But at what cost?

Our friends and family members, and thousands of people were brutalized by the State during last summer’s rebellions and protests. They have been surveilled and kidnapped by the FBI, they have been placed on house arrest or are in prison, they are facing charges and living with permanent brain injuries, maimed bodies, and PTSD. Several community members have been killed by white supremacist vigilantes who openly coordinate with police.

People who have led the fight for Black Liberation during its sharpest inflections, have sustained incredible harms in doing so. It is our duty as abolitionists to support them, learn from them, and build with them. They are not forgotten.

We are living in the outgrowths of chattel slavery, in apartheid cities — but state terror and racial capitalism is not our fate. Our mentors and ancestors have reminded us of this time and time again: from the burning of the plantations to the hunger strikes of the prison cells, from the Amistad mutiny and swamps of the Maroons, from the armed cop watches and unconditional sharing of food, medicine, shelter, knowledge, love, and power that have defined abolitionist projects since the beginning…we have been here before.

And we have kept our promise to fight for the safety and freedom of victims and survivors of police terror. We have kept our promise to meaningfully advance the movements to defund and abolish the police. We are committed to everlasting solidarity.

Since the George Floyd Rebellion, we have fought for protesters and bystanders in East Liberty, Pittsburgh, and for Black activists and residents of West Philadelphia. We have revealed the development and maintenance of racial apartheid in Allegheny County, PA analyzing arrests by police and the use of cash bail by judges. We have organized with community groups, seeking the urgent release of all Black Political Prisoners, the abolition of the FOP, and permanent removal of all statues and symbols of state violence. We have published a report on the war on Black Pittsburgh, financed by bloated police budgets and normalized through excessive force, traumatization, and incarceration of Black residents — especially Black children. We’ve been part of countless panels and community forums and have offered alternatives to policing and punishment. We have hosted transformative justice workshops and teach-ins, and issued recommendations to lawmakers that seek unconditional pre-trial freedom for our community members who have endured the violence of arrest and detainment. We are building out the visions of collective care, safety, and harm reduction with our partners at the Alliance for Police Accountability and 1Hood.

We are actualizing abolition in real-time — with you — our friends and family members, our community members, those on the inside and the outside. We do this, when so much seems so impossible. In the words of Mariame Kaba, “We do this ’til we free us.”

ABOLITIONIST LAW CENTER

04/22/2021

ALC Releases Report on PA Office of the Victim Advocate, Highlighting Office’s Pro-Retribution History, Calls for New OVA Appointee to be Advocate for All Victims

February 15, 2021

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:

William Lukas, Abolitionist Law Center, wjlukas@alcenter.org

Dolly Prabhu, Abolitionist Law Center, dprabhu@alcenter.org

PITTSBURGH – The Abolitionist Law Center has published a report on Pennsylvania’s Office of the Victim Advocate. The report illuminates how the agency under former Commonwealth Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm has functioned as a pro-retribution lobbying arm funded by taxpayers, rather than a department that provides meaningful programming to survivors of violence and impacted communities. The report examines how throughout Storm’s seven-year tenure, the OVA advanced a reactionary anti-criminal justice reform agenda by advocating for harsh punitive legislation and increased criminalization, and opposing rehabilitation and decarceration.

According to the report, the OVA had a budget of $2.65 million in 2019 and provides next to nothing by way of programming or substantive direct services for crime victims. Since the OVA is only obligated to represent registered “direct victims” whose harm resulted in an arrest and criminal trial, the report acknowledges, “this legal definition likely excludes most survivors of violence in Pennsylvania” – including thousands of victims of unsolved rape cases and thousands of victims’ families of unsolved murders.

According to the report the OVA has 103,893 registered “direct victims,” yet data on race and ethnicity accounts for only 18.2% of these victims (18,887), while only 40% (41,816) have a known gender identity: 68% women and 32% men. The report compares data on the percent of registered victims versus the percent of victims of violent crime in 2018, illustrating how white residents are overrepresented among registered victims, while Black residents are vastly underrepresented, despite enduring higher rates of violent crime. In Allegheny County, 70.74% of registered victims are white and 27.31% are Black, yet the demographics of victims of violent crime are 49.62% white and 49.26% Black. 

Several OVA programs that are available to the registered direct victims are coded as “Restorative Justice”, which the report notes is “ultimately a cooptation that does not offer a pathway to repairing relationships” since the OVA has never offered nor advocated for alternatives to carceral punishment, but conversely has called for increased sentence time, increased surveillance, and increased fees and fines of incarcerated and paroled individuals. The report shares that in emails obtained in a Right to Know request, Storm even opposed the mere use of humanizing language of incarcerated community members, condemning the DOC’s decision to abandon terms like “offender” and “felon.”

The report highlights other contradictions between the OVA’s alleged mission of supporting victims versus how the Office conducts itself in practice. For instance, Storm’s OVA often advocated against sexual violence against children and rape culture at large, yet her Office remained consistently silent on the incredible prevelance sexual assaults and state violence that are endured by incarcerated youth in jails and prisons.

The report concludes by acknowledging that the data and legislative records left in the wake of Storm’s January resignation shows that the OVA only spoke for victims when there was an opportunity for punishment and that the agency failed to recognize victims of police brutality, carceral violence, and poverty – who are disproportionately Black – along with crime victims who advocate for healing justice over retribution. The report ends by remarking that the harm inflicted by the OVA can only begin to be undone when the Commonwealth appoints a Victim Advocate who “acknowledges the relationship between criminal justice reform and public safety, and acts as an advocate for all victims.”

To view the report, The Pennsylvania OVA: Criminalization, Punishment, And Retribution Under Jennifer Storm, click the download button or use the embedded PDF viewer below.

File name : OVA-REPORT-FINAL-02-05-21-1.pdf