[Pnews] The Beating of Herman Bell

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Sep 15 10:48:17 EDT 2017


  The beating of Herman Bell


            *DEQUI KIONI-SADIKI* | 9/14/2017

On the morning of Sept. 5, 2017, Herman Bell, an elder incarcerated at 
Great Meadow Correctional Facility near the upstate community of 
Comstock, N.Y., was brutally assaulted by a vicious gang of prison guards.

Bell has been incarcerated for the past 44 years. He is a former member 
of the Black Panther Party, and is one many would say “knows how to do 
time.” In the aftermath of the vicious beating, Bell was charged with a 
Tier III ticket for allegedly assaulting one of the prison guards 
involved. Despite his serious injuries, he was quickly transferred to 
the punitive Five Points Correctional Facility and placed in the 
Solitary Housing Unit, where he is locked down 23 hours a day. If 
convicted of the ludicrous charge, he faces indefinite time in the SHU 
and the loss of privileges and “good time.” It is also possible that he 
could also lose the potential for parole in the years to come.

Bell said that it all began with a routine morning telephone call 
between him and Nancy, his wife of 27 years, but it ended horribly with 
him suffering multiple injuries that included several cracked ribs, 
bruises all over his body and a swollen and blackened right eye. His 
eye-glasses were shattered, and he lay in an isolation unit of the 
infirmary for hours without treatment, followed by a speedy transfer to 
another facility and placement in its SHU.

While Bell was on the phone, a fight broke out in the yard (where the 
telephones are located), and a prison guard ordered Bell to hang up. He 
says that he did so, but the guard ordered him to put his hands behind 
his back and escorted him back into the prison—not through the usual 
way, where the other men were being led back in, but through the Mess 
Hall and into an isolated area without cameras.

Reportedly, the guard struck the first blow, and then pushed Bell hard 
against the wall. Bell said he fell to the ground stunned as the guard 
continued pummeling him. More guards rushed to the scene and joined the 
assault, punching and kicking Bell everywhere on his body, spraying him 
at close range with Mace, seriously affecting his ability to breathe and 
causing injury to his left eye. The attackers tried to pull off his 
shoes, likely trying to break his legs, but could not get his 
state-issued boots off. Instead, one of the guards grabbed his head and 
slammed it into the concrete floor multiple times. Throughout the 
ordeal, Bell thought he was going to die.

Bell’s family and supporters say that the claim that he assaulted a 
prison guard is utterly unbelievable. Friends who visit him often 
overhear prison guards repeatedly refer to him as a “cop killer,” yet 
Bell maintains a professional and respectful attitude. He is known to 
all to be a kind, gentle, patient, thoughtful and purposeful man in both 
his words and deeds, someone who offers steady counsel, wisdom and 
mentoring to all those he encounters.

Bell has mentored thousands of younger prisoners throughout the state on 
the do’s and don’ts of surviving prison. Formerly incarcerated men who 
are now contributing to our communities report that he was key in 
helping them rebuild their lives, educate themselves and succeed on the 
outside. Bell has consistently corresponded with high school and college 
students across the country about history, the world they live in and 
how to make it better. Both inside and outside the prison walls, Bell is 
widely admired, loved and respected. Decades in prison have not lessened 
his concern for hungry children, which inspired his creation of the 
Victory Gardens project to provide locally grown fresh fruits and 
vegetables to poor and working-class families across the city’s five 

Bell has not had a serious disciplinary infraction in more than 30 years 
and no infraction at all in the past 20 years. He is up for parole in 
six months, and on the day after the assault by guards, he was to begin 
a family visit with his wife—his first weekend family visit in more than 
years. These facts, say his supporters, and his well-known character 
render the allegation that he would risk everything by assaulting a 
prison guard patently absurd.

On Sept. 9, four days after the assault, Bell was visited by his wife at 
the Five Points Correctional Facility. Nancy Bell described her husband 
as “chained and shackled behind glass and a screen, had a big black eye 
that was very runny and watery.”

She added, “He was in excruciating pain, with the only medicine provided 
being Tylenol, was experiencing great difficulty finding a comfortable 
position to sit or lay and was concerned that he may not regain vision 
in his eye due to the extreme amount of Mace he sustained.”

Unfortunately, an incident such as this one is far from an anomaly in 
the New York prison system, but rather the practice and pattern of 
oppression and repression of Black men in its custody. A series of 
articles in The New York Times last year traced a pattern of racist 
abuse by New York prison guards that has included cases similar to this 
one. The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision must 
address this problem, but clearly has not.

That said, the beating Bell endured must also be viewed in a historical 
context. From the crushing of the prisoner’s human rights movements of 
the 1960s to today, to hunger strikes, work stoppages, to Ku Klux Klan 
prison guards in facilities across the state, to the well-documented 
abuse of incarcerated people on Rikers Island, violence by prison 
guards, like police violence, is a sad fact of everyday life for poor 
and working-class Black/Brown people. Prison guards and police are given 
the “lawful” authority to inflict unfettered and institutionalized 
terror, violence and often murder on whomever they choose with impunity, 
especially when the victims are poor and working-class, Black/Brown or 
in prison.

As in Bell’s case, the abused is often charged with the violence. How 
many times are we told, “He had a gun,” only to learn that there was no 
gun at all? Who will take the word of a stereotyped Black/Brown man, 
woman or child over that of a police officer? Who will take the word of 
someone who has been convicted of a crime or is held in a detention 
center? Who is likely to listen to anyone whose version of an incident 
contradicts the “official” report made by a prison guard or a police 
officer? The predicament in which Bell finds himself is analogous to the 
predicaments of Abner Louima, Kalief Browder, Eleanor Bumpurs, Sandra 
Bland, Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, the Central Park 5 and many others have 
found themselves in. It is the modus operandi in which far too many 
prison guards and police officers lack the moral compass, public 
scrutiny and certainly concern over accountability or consequences for 
the violence they commit against Black/Brown people inside or outside 
the prison walls.

It is said that if you want to know how civilized a society is, just 
take a look into its prison. Bell is an elder who had to endure a mob 
beating by prison guards. Whether a targeted attack because they knew 
who he was—a widely loved and respected former Black Panther political 
prisoner—or unchecked rage at a Black man, their actions were 
unconscionable and unacceptable.

As we mark the 45th anniversary of the Attica rebellion and massacre, 
this act of state-sanctioned violence sends a chilling reminder that the 
more things change, the more they stay the same. The U.S. prison system 
has always been used as a tool of oppression to repress, control, 
demonize and dehumanize poor and working-class Black/Brown people, but 
this attack on Bell exemplifies the need for meaningful and structural 
change right now to hold prison guards and administrations accountable 
for the violence inflicted on people in their custody. That six grown 
men wearing steel-toe boots, could beat, punch and kick another human 
being—an elder especially—as he lay prostrate on the floor, demands 
swift and decisive action to hold those who participated accountable.

Bell’s supporters are asking people to make the call for justice in the 
name of Herman Bell, who Jan 14, 2018, will turn 70 years old. “Let us 
call on the attorney general to indict the prison guards involved in the 
vicious mob assault on Herman Bell,” his friends and family are 
demanding. “Let us call on the Department of Corrections and Community 
Supervision to fire the prison guards and drop the ludicrous charges 
against Herman.”

The paper did not get a response from the New York State Department of 
Corrections and Community Supervision by press time.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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