Another Montgomery is needed

March 14, 2012

Mark Clements will be known to readers of as a victim of police torture in Chicago who spent 28 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit before finally being freed in 2009. After leaving prison, Mark joined the staff of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and has worked tirelessly, attending countless protests, forums and other events.

Earlier this year, Mark was arrested on a misdemeanor charge--and because he is still on parole, he was incarcerated in the state prison system. He faces a prison review hearing in early April that will determine whether he must finish out his parole behind bars, or be released.

Mark was moved to a prison five hours away from Chicago and has been kept in conditions that are unusually harsh--for example, he cannot listen to a radio or watch TV. He says that he is grateful for any word from the outside--he can be written at: Mark Clements #N23123, Lawrence Correctional Center, 10930 Lawrence Rd., Sumner, IL 62466.

Mark sent these comments after reading a recent SW article.

I READ the insightful article at titled "My feet are tired, but my soul is rested" (February 9, 2012).

It was truly amazing to read about the 50,000 people who boycotted the buses in the Jim Crow city of Montgomery Alabama in 1955-56, and who won desegregation of the buses. And this action was just the tip of something bigger to come. It was touching to read about what can be accomplished when people are fed up and they stick together.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott is something that helped to encourage the then-26-year-old Dr. Martin Luther King to fight twice as hard for the advancement of African Americans in the South.

Such a movement is needed again today for African American people to advance their rights and to end discrimination.

Today, we must focus our challenge around the "New Jim Crow": the racist criminal justice system and American apartheid practices that intentionally and deliberately isolate poor people--predominantly African American people--in prison. There is an intention behind these policies. They are designed to break people's spirits and to make them think they can't do anything except mobilize to vote for politicians to be their voice.

Boycotters walk along the side of a Montgomery street
Boycotters walk along the side of a Montgomery street

I totally disagree. I think the oppressed and exploited should look at the Occupy movements that can into being with small numbers of people in the beginning almost everywhere, and that have mobilized many thousands. I believe that to stop any injustice, it will take the people who grow frustrated and who finally say, "No more."

As Marlene Martin pointed out in her article, the people of Montgomery said "No more" and marched forth toward action. This summer, I want us, the people, to come together and build rally cries against the harsh Montgomery-like practices of Jim Crow inside our prison system nationwide. I say "no" to retaliation behind prison bars and "yes" to rehabilitation.

We can all overcome. The victory is in us.

Mark Clements
Campaign To End the Death Penalty

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