Oak Park Fights

From The Blast 3

A series of fights between African-American and white prisoners lead to a lockdown in a Minnesota state penitentiary on June 26th and charges that authorities instigated or manipulated the conflict. Officials appeared to single out for discipline one prisoner, framed in the 1992 shooting death of a police officer, and may have encouraged white supremacist prisoners to attack him.

Shannon Bowles, one of the Minnesota Eight, eight African-American men wrongly convicted for the unsolved killing of a white cop, told supporters he was only slightly hurt in what he described as a race riot at Oak Park Heights, a maximum-security prison 25 miles east of the Twin Cities.

Shannon also reported being put in a recreation yard with a white prisoner who had the word “Hitler” tattooed on his chest. Shannon said the nazi attacked him, and he fought back.

Shannon appears to be the single most heavily-charged prisoner in the first fight, and only one of two to be charged in the second. He faces 270 days in segregation, under the charge of “inciting a riot.” The lesser charge of fighting carries only 15-45 days. 

Several Black prisoners reported that white skinhead prisoners were not disciplined for fighting.

Further, one of Shannon’s most consistent visitors, Connie, a member of the Committee Seeking Equal Justice for the Minnesota 8, was refused her weekly visit three days after the first fight, and barred from the prison for 3 months.

The lockdown ended July 6th.

Shannon had been released from segregation, or the “hole,” only nineteen days before the fight, after 120 days in isolation following a January disturbance. That time, the prison’s riot squad thumped Shannon, fellow Minnesota 8 prisoner A.C. Ford, and 11 others for refusing to take their recreation outdoors, in sub-freezing weather.

A third Minnesota 8 prisoner, Larry Flournoy, is also at Oak Park Heights.

Outside Support

In response to the lockdown, the Committee Seeking Equal Justice for the Minnesota 8 issued a flyer and secured accurate coverage in two local alternative weeklies. Minneapolis Anarchist Black Cross mailed copies of the Committee’s leaflet to prisoner support groups in the U.S.

Committee members and activists in the group’s periphery also pressured Oak Park administrators by telephone to end the lockdown and rein in white supremacist prisoners.

The crisis was the first test of the Equal Justice Committee’s ability to react swiftly since it’s June strategy-planning retreat. While on retreat, members decided to spend the summer assisting prisoners with their appeals, organizing an “extravaganza” forum about the frame-ups, and launching a campaign against random police stops of motorists. While the decision was unanimous, some members worried the group might be too busy with these ambitions to respond to a sudden threat to the prisoner’s safety.

Indeed, Shannon remains in the hole and nazis continue to strut openly. But the Committee, a small group working on hostile terrain, was nevertheless able to act fast, even with several members out of town in June and July.