There is a common thread that connects human rights struggles today. Take a look around the world and what do you see? You see militarized police officers committing violence against the poor and oppressed, being given a pat on the back by the court system. Under tyranny, it is all too common that whenever an officer of the law commits unwarranted acts of violence against civilians, it seems the justice system covers up the officer’s criminal acts and even justifies those acts. In the streets of America, people who protest government corruption and police brutality are met with violence by pepper spray, baton beatings or false charges of riot and disorderly conduct. Behind the walls of prison cells, we are subject to the same network of tyranny, that whenever prisoners come together to protest official abuse, we are also met with the same violence and false charges by court officials. If you have the audacity to speak out against brutality, tyrants will do anything to silence you. – Carrington Keys (Dallas 6)
On April 29, 2010, six prisoners in solitary confinement at SCI Dallas in Dallas, Pennsylvania, decided that enough was enough. Collectively, they are known as the Dallas 6. One of them is my son.
The Dallas 6 are jailhouse lawyers who fight injustice within prison walls and share information with the outside. They came to be seen as political prisoners through their actions as jailhouse lawyers, activists and whistleblowers. This caused them to be held in solitary indefinitely, where they were starved, beaten and outright tortured. Between the six, they served from 10 to 20 years in solitary, and one of them is still in solitary.
After being subjected to starvation, brutal beatings, food tampering, witnessing beatings, the guard-assisted suicide of one prisoner and the torture of another, they covered their solitary cell windows and politely requested outside intervention. They wanted access to public officials and media. They wanted the public to know that human rights were being violated on a critical level. They wanted the public to know that their lives were in danger for being whistleblowers. I started advocating on behalf of my son but became more involved as I found that his abuse was not isolated. So many other prisoners in solitary were being abused.
These men submitted affidavits detailing abuses in the report “Institutionalized Cruelty” by the Human Rights Coalition and were featured in “Resistance and Retaliation.” When guards discovered the report, they carried out a weeklong rampage of brutality and promised the Dallas 6 they were next. Immediately after the incident, the men were separated and transferred. My son, Carrington Keys, filed a lawsuit in Luzerne County court against then-District Attorney Jackie Musto Carrol for ignoring the abuses happening at SCI Dallas. He had written her about them, and she neither responded nor investigated. The state police also were aware of complaints; they neither responded nor investigated.
Months later, in an effort to cover up officers’ crimes and in retaliation, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, Jackie Musto Carrol and the state police worked together to file riot charges against the Dallas 6. These charges were clearly bogus because it is impossible for men in solitary confinement to riot, given the legal definition of riot:
A person is guilty of riot, a felony of the third degree, if he participates with two or more others in a course of disorderly conduct:
(1) with intent to commit or facilitate the commission of a felony or misdemeanor;
(2) with intent to prevent or coerce official action; or
(3) when the actor or any other participant to the knowledge of the actor uses or plans to use a firearm or other deadly weapon.
The Dallas 6 are being charged with riot under subcategory 2 of the definition above. The charges were filed following a news article detailing the lawsuit against the district attorney.
It confuses many how peaceful men, in individual cells – unable to substantially interact with each other – can be charged with riot. There was no disorderly conduct, there was no violence and there was no assembling. Disorderly actions and violence were carried out by guards assembled in riot gear, who entered the cells of the six unarmed men one by one. They were brutally attacked with shock shields, batons, teargas and pepper spray. The case was pushed through the courts on the basis that covering up your cell windows coerces official action. Therefore, even though the guards were the perpetrators of violence, the state charges that the Dallas 6 brought about this official action of brutality themselves.
Sound familiar? It should. Police officers and corrections officers follow the same modus operandi in dealing with peaceful protests; the use of military equipment, teargas, pepper spray, tasers and other electroshock weapons. The courts aid and abet officers by allowing them to investigate themselves, instead of establishing external bodies for such investigations. The end result is almost always the same and should be rubber stamped: “We investigated ourselves, and we find ourselves innocent of any wrongdoing.” Officers are given carte blanche to abuse power, further perpetuating unaccountability.
In Ferguson, last year and this year, peaceful protests against brutality were met with brutality. It is incomprehensible, since it is a right of American citizens to peacefully protest. Within the prison walls and on the streets of America there is a fear of unity. Peaceful protests are met with excessive force, and people are charged with riot or disorderly conduct.
Are we truly free or are we only free to be silent?
The trial for three of the Dallas 6 begins Monday at Luzerne “Kids for Cash” county court.