Fighting The Oppressor

By Kevin Cooper

This essay speaks to one of the many forms of oppression.
As an African American who is committed to fighting, and ending oppression, no matter where it happens, or who it happens to, I have to speak the truth. And my truth is what I have witnessed and personally experienced here in San Quentin Prison on Death Row since 1985.

I find myself in a real life-and-death situation here on Death Row, where hate, and for certain people, self-hatred, is an ongoing situation. Of course, this is not true concerning all the death row inmates, and I would be lying if I said that it was.

But what I am writing about happens enough to deserves attention.
Here, in this institution, as well as in all other modern day plantations there are only two types of people. They are the Oppressors and Oppressed! I am an oppressed person, and in truth, all the other inmates within these walls are Oppressed, even if some of them don’t think that they are, or aren’t  aware that they are.

There are certain inmates, who instead of uniting as one strong oppressed people in order to make all of our lives more peaceful and better, would rather (and in fact do) raise their fists in violence than raise their voice. They speak words of disrespect towards other oppressed inmates for whatever reason, (even if that reason is a made-up one), in order to hate and start trouble and keep madness going among us. Yet, these very same inmates refuse to raise their voice to the oppressor. They refuse to even raise an ink pen to write about the oppressor and this oppressive system of death that has us all imprisoned, and is trying to execute us—this system that is made to destroy us mentally, emotionally, psychologically, and every other type of way that it can before it murders us physically.

Whether these inmates do this consciously or unconsciously isn’t known by me or other inmates who also see this and shake their heads in disbelief like I do. What we do know however is this truth: The oppressor and his supporters love for this to happen, and they love to see it happen. They want and need to keep us oppressed people fighting each other. The good old game of divide and conquer is one of their most effective tools. These so called Brothers who are doing the oppressors’ work for them claim to know all about this game of divide and conquer, yet they still keep participating in this game to the detriment of we who are oppressed!

In 1964, the late Malcolm X stated to a crowd of people in Harlem that, “If you aren’ t careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing”! He further stated, “The Oppressor is fighting you in the morning, fighting you at  noon, fighting you at night, and fighting you all in between, and you still think it’s wrong to fight them back! Why?”
This is exactly what is going on within this and other modern day plantations to one degree or another. I must also ask “Why?” As I and other inmates continue to do our part in this historical struggle for our collective human rights we do so consciously, and we refuse to do the oppressors’ work for him!

Though I and others are forced to live in such a place against our will doesn’t mean that we have given up or given in. It doesn’t mean that we will let the oppressor make us turn on each other in a negative way. We will continue to work to end all of our collective oppression as best we can.

Those inmates who choose to work against us and for the oppressor either don’t know, or don’t care that they are being misused by the oppressor. As the late Bantu Steven Biko, who is the father of Black Consciousness in South Africa, once said: “The most powerful weapon of the oppressor is the minds of the oppressed!”

Many of us on these modern day plantations refuse to give our minds or our spirits to these wholesale oppressors.  Those that do, “That’s their bad.” Only in acknowledging what is going on, can some of us avoid this trap that is easy to fall into here behind enemy lines.
In Struggle and Solidarity from Death Row at San Quentin Prison, 
Kevin Cooper  

February, 2014

The Vote

The Vote
By Kevin Cooper
Not too long ago, I wrote an essay called “No Thank You.” It was concerning my thoughts on the S.A.F.E. California Act, which is on the ballot in November 2012 to end the death penalty in this state.
When I wrote my essay on this ballot measure, I was then, and I am now, speaking only for myself! I was then, as I am now, voicing my personal opinion on the subject matter.
At no time was I speaking for anyone else, nor was I telling or suggesting to anyone how to vote on this ballot initiative.
I wasn’t doing so then, and I am not doing so now!
As a person who reads and studies African American history, and understands the historical fight of my people for the right to vote, as well as freely vote for what we want; as well as understands the price in blood, broken bones, and death that we had to pay for this right to vote, I could never tell anyone not to vote or not to vote for whatever they wanted to.
The same can be said for women and others who in the tortured history of this country were at one time or another denied the right to vote, and in this denial, they fought for and paid the heavy price in blood that my ancestors paid.
So, concerning the S.A.F.E. California Act, vote what is within your heart and your conscience. After all, you have to live with yourself, and your vote.
In struggle, from Death Row at San Quentin Prison,
Kevin Cooper

Oakland rallies in solidarity with historic Georgia prisoners’ strike

Ride it ‘til the wheels fall off …
SF Bay View, December 21, 2010

by Malaika Kambon

In solidarity with the Georgia prison strikers, student-led protesters in Oakland braved cold, driving, drenching rain to march from North County Jail to City Hall on Friday, Dec. 17. –
Photo: Malaika Kambon, People’s Eye Photography.

Prisoners in at least six Georgia prisons went on strike Dec. 9, issuing these demands:

A living wage for work: In violation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude, the DOC demands prisoners work for free.

Educational opportunities: For the great majority of prisoners, the DOC denies all opportunities for education beyond the GED, despite the benefit to both prisoners and society.
Decent health care: In violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, the DOC denies adequate medical care to prisoners, charges excessive fees for the most minimal care and is responsible for extraordinary pain and suffering.
An end to cruel and unusual punishment: In further violation of the Eighth Amendment, the DOC is responsible for cruel prisoner punishments for minor infractions of rules.
Decent living conditions: Georgia prisoners are confined in overcrowded, substandard conditions, with little heat in winter and oppressive heat in summer.
Nutritional meals: Vegetables and fruit are in short supply in DOC facilities while starches and fatty foods are plentiful.
Vocational and self-improvement opportunities: The DOC has stripped its facilities of all opportunities for skills training, self-improvement and proper exercise.
Access to families: The DOC has disconnected thousands of prisoners from their families by imposing excessive telephone charges and innumerable barriers to visitation.
Just parole decisions: The Parole Board capriciously and regularly denies parole to the majority of prisoners despite evidence of eligibility.

Will we insist our tax dollars go for schools, not jails, in time to save this beautiful child from the cradle-to-prison pipeline that snares a third of Black men? – Photo: Malaika Kambon, People’s Eye

On Friday, Dec. 17, a strong, positive, fiercely determined and highly spirited march and two rallies took place in downtown Oakland in support of those prisoners, whose strike has become the largest in U.S. history – their fight against inhumane conditions and demands for their human rights truly historic. Rising like a phoenix from the examples of struggle and resistance in the ‘60s and ‘70s, about 50-75 people held a rally and march despite the driving rain in support of prisoner demands and to protest the vicious retaliation being used by the state of Georgia in an effort to break the unity which has been forged by the striking prisoners, who – in their own words – intend to “ride it until the wheels fall off,” until they get their human rights.

The fiercely determined group of resisters to police and prison industrial complex brutality were Afrikan, Asian, Latin@, white and more – retired workers, students, labor union organizers, small children, prison organizers and just folks stopping briefly at the end of the day to see what was going down.
Cars honked in support. We stopped traffic on the way.

There was no visible police presence; i.e., we did not get brutalized or beaten to death as we made our way from North County Jailto the steps of Oakland’s City Hall, where more demonstrators awaited the march.
There were solidarity messages from San Quentin and other prisons.

There were speakers with solidarity messages, from Martina Correia, sister of Troy Anthony Davis, an innocent Afrikan man who currently sits on Georgia’s Death Row. The state of Georgia has attempted to execute him three times.

There were speakers representing Kevin Cooper, another innocent Afrikan man, currently on California’s Death Row.


Veteran activists joined college students and Oaklanders of all stripes to speak out in solidarity with courageous organizers behind enemy lines in Georgia prisons striking to end prison slavery – they are forced to work without any pay whatsoever – and other atrocities that violate the Constitution and their human rights. This rally was held at the North County Jail before the march to City Hall. – Photo: Malaika Kambon, People’s Eye Photography

Kevin Cooper’s solidarity statement reads:

“On Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010, the inmates in the state of Georgia sat down in unity and peace in order to stand up for their human rights. African American, White and Latino inmates put aside their differences, if they had any, and came together as a ‘People’ fighting for their humanity in a system that dehumanizes all of them. For this they have my utmost respect and appreciation and support. I am in true solidarity with them all!”
There were speakers there who made the vital connections between the liberation struggles in the Sudan, Haiti, Palestine, the Congo and more; who made the connections between struggles in ecology, labor, education, economics and housing; who fight against poverty with the same determination as they fight against police brutality, the prison industrial complex, and the wanton killing of our sons, daughters, elders and peers; who fight against racial injustices as well as divisions of caste and class.

All in all, the message was clear: We stand in solidarity with Georgia’s striking prisoners.
We vow to continue to organize, because we need more people. Inclement weather cannot and did not stop us.

Remember Attica! Fight for Haiti! Pamojas Tutashinda! ‘Til the wheels fall off, and beyond!

Malaika H. Kambon is a freelance photojournalist, owner of People’s Eye Photography and an MA candidate in Interdisciplinary Studies at San Francisco State University. She can be reached at…/ 

Please sign the Statement of Solidarity with the GA Prisoner Strike!

To: General Public.
A Moment for Movement-Building: Statement of Solidarity with Georgia Prisoner Strike.

Please sign the statement here:

California may be about to execute an innocent man: the view of five federal judges

From Op-ed in the New York Times
Framed for murder?
By Nicholas D. Kristof
Published: December 8, 2010

“California may be about to execute an innocent man.”
That’s the view of five federal judges in a case involving Kevin Cooper, a black man in California who faces lethal injection next year for supposedly murdering a white family. The judges argue compellingly that he was framed by police.
Mr. Cooper’s impending execution is so outrageous that it has produced a mutiny among these federal circuit court judges, distinguished jurists just one notch below the United States Supreme Court. But the judicial process has run out for Mr. Cooper. Now it’s up to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to decide whether to commute Mr. Cooper’s sentence before leaving office.
This case, an illuminating window into the pitfalls of capital punishment, dates to a horrific quadruple-murder in June 1983. Doug and Peggy Ryen were stabbed to death in their house, along with their 10-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old houseguest. The Ryens’ 8-year-old son, Josh, was left for dead but survived. They were all white.
Josh initially told investigators that the crime had been committed by three people, all white, although by the trial he suggested that he had seen just one person with an Afro. The first version made sense because the weapons included a hatchet, an ice pick and one or two knives. Could one intruder juggling several weapons overpower five victims, including a 200-pound former Marine like Doug Ryen, who also had a loaded rifle nearby?
But the police learned that Mr. Cooper had walked away from the minimum security prison where he was serving a burglary sentence and had hidden in an empty home 125 yards away from the crime scene. The police decided that he had committed the crime alone.
William A. Fletcher, a federal circuit judge, explained his view of what happens in such cases in a law school lecture at Gonzaga University, in which he added that Mr. Cooper is “probably” innocent: “The police are under heavy pressure to solve a high-profile crime. They know, or think they know, who did the crime. And they plant evidence to help their case along.”
Judge Fletcher wrote an extraordinary judicial opinion — more than 100 pages when it was released — dissenting from the refusal of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to rehear the case. The opinion is a 21st-century version of Émile Zola’s famous “J’Accuse.”
Mr. Fletcher, a well-respected judge and former law professor, was joined in his “J’Accuse” by four other circuit judges. Six more wrote their own dissents calling for the full Ninth Circuit to rehear the case. But they fell just short of the votes needed for rehearing.
Judge Fletcher laid out countless anomalies in the case. Mr. Cooper’s blood showed up on a beige T-shirt apparently left by a murderer near the scene, but that blood turned out to have a preservative in it — the kind of preservative used by police when they keep blood in test tubes.
Then a forensic scientist found that a sample from the test tube of Mr. Cooper’s blood held by police actually contained blood from more than one person. That leads Mr. Cooper’s defense team and Judge Fletcher to believe that someone removed blood and then filled the tube back to the top with someone else’s blood.
The police also ignored other suspects. A woman and her sister told police that a housemate, a convicted murderer who had completed his sentence, had shown up with several other people late on the night of the murders, wearing blood-spattered overalls and driving a station wagon similar to the one stolen from the murdered family.
They said that the man was no longer wearing the beige T-shirt he had on earlier in the evening — the same kind as the one found near the scene. And his hatchet, which resembled the one found near the bodies, was missing from his tool area. The account was supported by a prison confession and by witnesses who said they saw a similar group in blood-spattered clothes in a nearby bar that night. The women gave the bloody overalls to the police for testing, but the police, by now focused on Mr. Cooper, threw the overalls in the trash.
This case is a travesty. It underscores the central pitfall of capital punishment: no system is fail-safe. How can we be about to execute a man when even some of America’s leading judges believe he has been framed?
Lanny Davis, who was the White House counsel for President Bill Clinton, is representing Mr. Cooper pro bono. He laments: “The media and the bar have gone deaf and silent on Kevin Cooper. My simple theory: heinous brutal murder of white family and black convict. Simple as that.”
That’s a disgrace that threatens not only the life of one man, but the honor of our judicial system. Governor Schwarzenegger, are you listening?