In December, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an amnesty for some 20,000 prisoners — including the Greenpeace protesters, the Pussy Riot punk band, who are considered dissidents, and his billionaire political opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Putin’s political enemies quickly denounced this amnesty as a cynical political maneuver, a comment repeated widely in the imperialist media.
Khodorkovsky is a favorite of the U.S. ruling class because he’s a newly superrich robber baron. No one, to our knowledge, refused the amnesty, regardless of what they called it.
We have a suggestion for President Barack Obama: Outdo Putin.
Obama has barely used his power of pardon. Even George W. Bush outpardoned him. A blanket amnesty could quickly reverse this.
U.S. imperialism is the world’s No. 1 jailer, with more than 2 million prisoners. With 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. locks up 25 percent of the world’s prison population. More than 3,000 prisoners still face execution.
Not only are 70 percent of prisoners people of color, but 90 percent are from families that cannot afford the high cost of legal representation. Many have been in prison 30 years or more. Many others got 15-year-minimum sentences for “crimes” like selling marijuana.
Some prisoners are known far and wide for the political nature of their incarceration and are the center of campaigns for their release. These international heroes and heroines should top the pardon list:
Mumia Abu-Jamal, in prison 32 years, 30 on death row.
Leonard Peltier, 36 years.
Oscar López Rivera, 33 years.
Lynne Stewart, a people’s attorney diagnosed with terminal breast cancer.
Four of the Cuban 5, still in prison after 15 years.
Maybe not as well known but equally facing unjust and/or frame-up sentences are:
The surviving eight of the Move 9 prisoners — Charles, Debbie, Delbert, Edward, Janet, Janine, Michael and William, all with the surname Africa — 34 years.
Sundiata Acoli, 40 years.
Ruchell Magee, 44 years.
Imam Jamil (formerly H. Rap Brown), 10 years.
Albert Woodfox, the last of the Angola 3, 30 years. Robert King was finally released after 29 years in solitary confinement and Herman Wallace died three days after he was released last October from the infamous Louisiana prison plantation after more than 41 years in solitary.
And there’s Assata Shakur, who has spent 40 years in prison or exile and has a $2 million bounty on her head. She escaped U.S. racist injustice for asylum in Cuba.
At the website of the Jericho Movement, you can see a list of more political prisoners, who belonged to organizations like the Black Panther Party, La Raza Unida, FALN, Los Macheteros, the North American Anti-Imperialist Movement, May 19th, AIM, the Black Liberation Army, etc. They are in prison because of their political beliefs and acts in support of and/or in defense of freedom for their people from imperialist rule.
There are the mostly Muslim prisoners framed up in the post-9/11 frenzy. There are the prisoners still held at Guantánamo. And there are undoubtedly others who missed making any lists.
A revolutionary workers’ movement in the U.S. should want to “tear down the walls” of the penitentiaries. In the meantime, we challenge Obama to pardon even a small part of the prison population, the hundreds who are heroes for their people and the hundreds of thousands who are only behind bars because of racist injustice and class exploitation.