Community members organize to free Russell 'Maroon' Shoatz

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Theresa Shoatz, daughter of political prisoner Russell “Maroon” Shoatz expresses her griefs of having her father imprissoned since 1983.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

Theresa Shoatz’s father has been in solitary confinement seven days a week, 23 hours a day, under continuous fluorescent light for 22 years. 

An incarcerated Black Panther from Philadelphia called a political prisoner by supporters, Russell “Maroon” Shoatz was incarcerated for life in 1973 after being convicted of an attack on a police station. The attack was allegedly a response to the killing of an unarmed black youth by the police, and Shoatz and five others were later arrested and charged with murder committed in the midst of the attack.

Theresa Shoatz spoke on the UT campus Tuesday night to a group of students and community members as part of a nationwide campaign urging for Russell Shoatz’s release. Theresa Shoatz said the modern prison system is equivalent to slavery and should be abolished.

“If we don’t stand behind someone fighting on the front lines of the war against the black community, what does that say about us?” Theresa Shoatz said. “What does it say when Obama signs a law when anyone can be detained indefinitely?” 

Since being incarcerated, Russell Shoatz has twice broken out of prison, which earned him the title “Maroon” by other inmates to honor communities of escaped slaves in North and South America. 

He was placed in solitary confinement after being elected the first black president of the Lifer’s Union of his prison, a sanctioned union for better prison conditions. Theresa Shoatz said the prison told her that her father was placed in solitary confinement for being “a dangerous leader,” despite no behavioral violations. 

Rene Valdez, organizer for the event, said Russell Shoatz’s case particularly resonates in Austin, where there have been numerous killings of young black men by the police.

According to the Austin Center for Peace and Justice, there have been 11 killings of unarmed African-Americans and Hispanics in Austin since 1980, most recently of Byron Carter in 2011. 

Joy James, department of African and African diaspora studies visiting professor, said coalitions against anti-black violence must be organized without conceding goals to other racial or sexual groups.

Russell Shoatz was recently transferred to a lower-security prison, but he is still in solitary confinement. Theresa Shoatz said this was a direct result of the campaign, which is asking supporters to flood the prison with calls of complaint.

“I got a phone call at 8 p.m., and I’m wondering ‘Who the hell is calling at night? I thought Daddy was dead,’” Theresa Shoatz said. “They call me asking to stop the campaign, saying they haven’t been able to get any work done. But now the movement has a life of its own. I told them I’ll stop when they stop.”