Hunger Strike: My Letter to the Editor

It is no secret that JJC was born and raised in sacratomato california. JJC hearts all things sacramento, from the state fair, to the diversity (most diverse city in the country) and the trees (city with the most trees in the world). In fact, I have been sporting a Sacramento sweatshirt for the last 12 years during which time I haven’t lived in Sacramento.

So, you can imagine my heartbreak and disappointment when a JJC reader tipped me off to this POS editorial in the Sacramento Bee. I’ll spare you the waste of time in reading it. The gist is that the prison hunger strikers are terrible gang members, celebrities are stupid for supporting the strike, and this gem: “Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard told The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board that the hunger strike has nothing to do with conditions and everything to do with gang leaders wanting to get into the general population so they can more readily conduct their gang business. We see no reason to gainsay his statement.”

This statement actually made my blood boil.  Literally. Sidebar, don’t you just love when people misuse the term literally? I find that really funny and intend to start doing it all the time.  Credit: the Soup for pointing this out:

Anyway, here is JJC’s letter to the editor in response to this editorial.  Now, obviously, I support the strikers. That the bee supports the torturers prison management is not my beef.  Here is my beef:


Dear Editor,

I was shocked, appalled, and outraged to read your editorial on the prison hunger strikes.  Those adjectives are an understatement.  Glaringly missing from your piece was a list of what the hunger strikers’ demands are and an analysis of why or how they are unreasonable.  Now, we can agree or disagree over the morality and necessity of solitary confinement.  What we cannot do, though, is meaningfully discuss whether a nonviolent social movement is justified when you do not even comment upon the demands of the movers.  Instead, your editorial focuses on sensationalistic tactics meant to illicit emotional responses from readers such as describing how evil those experiencing the conditions are.  Dear Sacramento Bee, some of your readers (at least one) are smarter than that.  The hunger strike is not about whether the inmates are the worst of the worst, whether they are in the worst most dangerous gangs of all time, or whether they have perpetrated the worst crimes of humanity ever to have occurred.  I’ll assume they are and they have for purposes of this letter.  What is at issue in the hunger strike is, notwithstanding all of those evils, should we, as a civilized society, incarcerate the worst of the worst under the conditions currently in place in the SHU.  The strikers ask only that Pelican Bay stop punishing individuals because of the acts of a group that they are associated with, stop conditioning release from severely detrimental conditions upon “debriefing” which would expose the person to serious safety risks while in the general population, start providing those in the SHU with adequate and nutritious food, and offer them with a chance for reform and rehabilitation.  Indeed, only one of the five demands of the strikers involves actual release from the SHU, and even then they do not demand that everyone in the SHU be released.  They simply ask for an end to incarceration in the SHU for decades on end.

What I found most disturbing about your editorial, and especially repugnant of a so-called newspaper whose function is to ask questions , was your statement that you “see no reason to gainsay” the Corrections Secretary’s statement regarding the political motivations of the strike.  Since when is a newspaper’s job to take the word of a completely biased party and tell its readers that you agree with it without question.  Such a statement is offensive not only to your readers but does a disservice to the public as a whole. If a newspaper simply takes the word of one side of a dispute as truth, without investigating its truth, without exploring the potential biases, and without evaluating its merits through questioning, then we really do not need a newspaper at all.  We can just rely simply on the press releases of those in power.

You should be ashamed of your editorial. Not because of the position you took, but because you failed to adequately provide your readers with a valid reason for taking it that is based on fact and investigative journalism as opposed to regurgitating sensationalist statements of those being challenged.

I cannot imagine reading a story about the BART strike without finding somewhere in the story the stated demands of the strikers. I think the hunger strike should be no different.

Published by Jenny Brandt

About Me: sociology, african american studies, chicano/a studies, critical race studies, and criminal law scholar. public school kid from kindergarten-J.D. Former public defender. I am a post-conviction guru. Appeals. Sentencing. Withdraw Pleas. Habeas. Published author in the Criminal Law Bulletin and California Defender. "I do it for the joy it brings, because I'm a joyful girl, because the world owes me nothing, and we owe each other the world." Why I started JJC: My PD buddy suggested it. What and who JJC is inspired by: public defenders I have worked for, with, and next to. my clients who have battled things no one should and are still here. innocence and guilt and everything in between. My coworkers, who fight just as hard as the PDs I love, for many of the same reasons. My husband who was once voted "most Christ like" (every Jewish girl's dream). My Corgi who loves everyone. The constitution. Tabloids. My mom, for giving me a voice. My dad, for teaching me what to say. My brother, for teaching me how to say it.

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