The United States of America has become increasingly recognized as the Incarceration Nation, leading all major industrialized countries in the number of citizens and residents locked up in jails and prisons, serving probation, parole or under criminal supervision.
The vast majority of these formerly convicted, incarcerated and current prisoners are poor, working class and urban dwellers. They are also disproportionately Black and Latino.
On Nov. 2, over three-hundred people from around the United States gathered in Los Angeles, to express not just their outrage over these obviously systemic and structural injustices, but to publicly articulate and ratify a new set of proposals for addressing them. They came from more than 20 states and the District of Columbia.
Men, women, juveniles, youth and elders: Jews, Christians, Muslims, indigenous spiritualists, atheists: Native Peoples, Latinos, Whites, Blacks, Asians: straight, gay, LGBTQ: veteran community activists and those newly impassioned with the spirit of social change. All had been formerly incarcerated and/or convicted. Also, in attendance were family members and advocates for those currently incarcerated. The common denominator is that all have been impacted by the U.S. criminal justice system.
A justice system profoundly shaped by the historical narrative of White-supremacy, economic exploitation, poverty, structural inequality, xenophobia and racism.
Over the last 40 years, the United States Counter Intelligence Program/COINTELPRO and the WAR ON DRUGS have provided the fuel for the engineering of MASS INCARCERATION. The impact has been devastating.
Family fragmentation, the increase of single parent homes, criminalization of neighborhoods and communities: gang and youth violence: drug use, sales and distribution: political disfranchisement and disempowerment: employment discrimination and discrimination in housing and educational grants. This has been the shameful legacy of this period in U.S. history.
Those gathered at the Watts Labor Action Center put forth a bold new vision for how America should look.
They call for an end to mass incarceration, ending employment discrimination through initiatives such as BAN THE BOX: restoration of voting rights, ending racial profiling, dismantling the PRISION INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX and making community development a priority over prison development.
They want relief for juveniles serving life without parole. Children who were tried as adults, some who have now been incarcerated for more than 20-40 years. Pennsylvania has the largest number of juvenile lifers without parole (JLWP) in the country.
They call for an end to the beating and torture of prisoners at the hands of prison officials and personnel, such as the recent allegations involving correctional officers at the State Correctional Institution in Pittsburgh.
This is the beginning of a movement. Join it and get involved. End mass incarceration! Check out the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted Peoples Movement/FICPM on Facebook or at http://www.ficpmovemet.wordpress.com
Justice in Our Lifetime,
(Khalid Raheem serves as president & CEO of the National Council for Urban Peace and Justice [www.ncupj.net] He can be contacted at email@example.com or www.urban-activist.com.)