News update: Shortly after going to press June 9, the Militant was informed by Indiana prison authorities that the ban on issues of the paper withheld from subscriber Kevin “Rashid” Johnson had been overturned.
“I agree with you that censoring’ images of guns’ is too broad in the context of safety and security of our IDOC facilities,” Anna Levitt, senior attorney of operations for the Indiana Department of Correction, wrote to Militant attorney David Goldstein. “I believe there is historical significance to the images your newspaper contains, and I will be instructing Wabash Valley Correctional Facility to release the censored newspaper.”
This victory comes on the heels of the Militant’s victory against banning the paper in Florida prisons. There will be a full report on the victory in the Militant printed June 16.
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Militant attorney David Goldstein filed an appeal June 3 urging the Indiana Department of Correction to overturn the impoundment of two issues of the paper held from subscriber Kevin “Rashid” Johnson at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Carlisle.
The Militant received a notice from prison officials there May 7 that issue no. 18 was banned because “images of guns not allowed.”
The “image” they’re referring to is a well-known historical photo of Cuban militia members celebrating after the defeat of the U.S.-organized mercenary Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961. It was one of the photographs accompanying a feature article in Spanish on key turning points in Cuba’s socialist revolution and the example it sets for working people in the U.S. and worldwide.
The same article and photo appeared the previous week in English. An associate of Johnson’s informed the Militant that this issue had also been impounded, although prison authorities never informed the Militant.
“Wabash’s decision to withhold these issues of the Militant violates the First Amendment” of the U.S. Constitution, wrote Goldstein. “The U.S. Supreme Court has explicitly held that the rights of prisoners to receive publications extend to the rights of publishers to reach willing subscribers” and to “disseminate political views.”
Nothing in the Indiana Department of Correction’s regulations “prohibits inmates from receiving publications containing ‘images of guns,’” Goldstein points out. Otherwise, “it would be virtually impossible for any newspaper to be admitted to Indiana prisons.”
To emphasize this point, several photos from the June 3 Indianapolis Star were filed along with the appeal, showing cops with guns confronting protesters and firing tear gas at them.
Goldstein also noted that Johnson has informed the Militant that prison authorities at Wabash regularly show and rent movies and television programs to inmates that feature guns and gun violence, including recently “The Courier” and “Monster Hunter.”
Johnson is a leader of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party. The Militant fought successfully to reverse impoundments of his subscription last year and the year before.
“If you ban newspapers because they show pictures of political developments that include images of guns, then are pictures from the American Revolution, Civil War, U.S. wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan also to be banned?” Militant editor John Studer asked. “The authorities at Wabash Valley are clearly trying to suppress the political views of the Militant. This is a clear violation of freedom of speech and of the press, and the right of workers behind bars to read and think for themselves. And to form their own opinions on what road forward to deal with the deepening capitalist economic and social crisis working people face today.”
Letters are starting to be sent to prison officials protesting the ban. “Mr. Johnson must have access to literature that serves his interests and that informs him of the events happening in the world,” wrote Michael Zimmerman, a retired combat veteran and Militant subscriber in an email sent from Indiana June 1. “The paper’s contributors do not incite violence or in any other way promote messages that would threaten the safety of himself or correctional facility staff.”
“I am writing to protest the censorship and banning of issues of the Militant newspaper to prisoner Kevin Johnson,” wrote James Horn, a retired factory worker from Sellersburg, Indiana. “This is a violation of the constitutional rights of the Militant under the First Amendment. I urge you to correct this violation immediately.”
Join the fight! Send letters urging Indiana prison officials reverse the ban on the Militant. Write to Anna Levitt, Senior Attorney of Operations, Indiana Department of Correction, 302 W. Washington St., Room W341, Indianapolis, IN 46204, or email email@example.com. Please send a copy to firstname.lastname@example.org.