Op/Ed: Black August events focus on freeing Indiana political prisoners, the Pendleton 2

Ending racist violence and protecting basic human rights in this country require constant vigilance. We urge readers to support the campaign to free John Cole and Christopher Trotter, the “Pendleton 2,” who have been imprisoned in Indiana for 35 years in retaliation for standing up to violent white supremacists.

On Feb. 1, 1985 at the Indiana State Reformatory (ISR, now Pendleton Correctional Facility), where Cole and Trotter were incarcerated, a group of prison guards savagely beat a man in handcuffs named Lincoln Love, with the intention of killing him. Initially, Cole and Trotter went to inquire about Love’s condition, after other prisoners told them of the beating, but when guards turned them away a fight broke out, and they were forced to take hostages to save themselves, triggering a 16-hour standoff. Guard Michael Richardson, on duty that day, testified that the attack on Love was the work of the “Sons of Light,” a KKK “splinter group” created by ISR guards to systematically brutalize Black prisoners. The Sons of Light regularly beat Black prisoners severely and without justification. Richardson’s testimony was suppressed in Cole and Trotter’s 1987 trial, and they were sentenced to 84 years and 142 years, respectively. They have been illegally held in solitary confinement for 33 and 20 years (also respectively) as retaliatory extra punishment; the Sons of Light’s cause remains potent within Indiana’s Department of Correction.

A look at the outside of Pendleton Correctional Facility in Pendleton, Ind., on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020.
A look at the outside of Pendleton Correctional Facility in Pendleton, Ind., on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020.


The Sons of Light’s existence and their role in causing the rebellion in ‘85 wasn’t revealed to the public until this year, when the local prison watchdog group IDOC Watch obtained documents containing Richardson’s suppressed deposition from 1987.  In the deposition, Richardson testified that the Sons of Light was “a group of Lieutenants, Captains, Sergeants ... that use the KKK literature and the same type of rituals.” He stated that “they hate n*****s, they hate Jews, and they hate Catholics,” when asked about their purpose. Richardson said that “any beating [he’d] ever seen on any inmate in there has been totally uncalled for. There has never been a weapon.” He testified to having witnessed 15 such beatings. In fact, the situation produced by the officially sanctioned racist brutality at the prison was so dangerous that Richardson had requested investigations by the IDOC state authorities, the FBI, and the Justice Department by 1983, and after the rebellion he sued IDOC for negligence.

Trotter and Cole are now both elders with serious medical issues. Cole recently suffered multiple seizures and had emergency brain surgery to remove a tumor. Shortly thereafter he caught COVID-19. These men pose no threat to public safety. Their continued incarceration is irrational, cruel and racist. Yet every attempt they have made to gain release or even a sentence modification through the courts has failed. Recently, Trotter’s Clemency petition to Gov. Holcomb was denied, on the basis of the “nature and circumstance of [his] crime.”

A look at the outside of Pendleton Correctional Facility in Pendleton, Ind., on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020.
A look at the outside of Pendleton Correctional Facility in Pendleton, Ind., on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020.

IDOC Watch, the Black Myths Podcast, and other local activists have joined Cole’s and Trotter’s  friends and family to form the Defense Committee to Free the Pendleton 2. This week, the Defense Committee has organized three events in Indianapolis to raise awareness about Cole and Trotter and push for their release. The events are in the spirit of Black August, a month dedicated to honoring Black political prisoners, the history of Black resistance and prisoner resistance.

The first event, “Sick of Injustice: Medical Neglect in Indiana’s Prisons and the Need for Compassionate Release,” will be 6 p.m. today at North United Methodist Church, 3808 N. Meridian St. Medical doctors, formerly incarcerated people and people with incarcerated loved ones will speak about the cruel medical neglect that is rampant in Indiana’s prisons and the need for compassionate release for elderly and medically vulnerable people.

More:‘Left to die’: Indiana’s county jails are home to a hidden epidemic that’s growing worse

The second event, “Black August: Lecture & Discussion,” featuring former Indiana political prisoner and current community activist Baye Sylvester, will address the history of political prisoners and prisoner resistance here in Indiana and throughout the United States. This event will be 6 p.m. Thursday in the Center for Black Literature and Culture at Indianapolis Public Library Central Branch, 40 E. St. Clair St.

The final event is a premiere of the new documentary, “They Stood Up,” about the 1985 rebellion, the Sons of Light, and Cole’s and Trotter’s cases, created by Jauson Huerta, a member of the Defense Committee to Free the Pendleton 2. The premiere will be followed by a panel discussion with Huerta and family of the Pendleton 2. This event will be 5 p.m. Saturday at Brookside Community Church, 1035 N. Olney St.

We urge readers to attend the events this week, to call for Cole’s and Trotter’s immediate release and for the investigation of white supremacist organizing among Indiana prison guards. Here’s where to help: linktr.ee/freedomcampaign.

Elizabeth Nelson, Ph.D., and Nicholas Greven are part of the Defense Committee to Free the Pendleton 2.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Freeing Pendleton 2 is focus of Black August events in Indianapolis