Friday, February 24, 2012

Urgent Letter: Raising the Fight to Stop Mass Incarceration to a New Level

Dear Friends,

It is urgently necessary to build powerful resistance to the horrific injustice of mass incarceration.  I gave a talk at Riverside Church in Harlem on Feb 18th under the theme:  “MASS INCARCERATION + SILENCE = GENOCIDE.  (Go here to view the video: } This theme struck a deep chord with the audience of 250 people.  In that talk I said:
“The exposure that has been done on mass incarceration by Michelle Alexander and others together with the resistance built so far amounts to a good beginning, and all this has to be taken to a whole other level, now. The presidential elections are heating up, and none of the candidates are saying anything about mass incarceration or the hell this system brings down on people in the inner cities, except to call for increasing the clamp down.  We need to puncture this silence with dramatic resistance.

“We need a day of bold activity a day when college and high school students hold rallies and teach ins on their campuses, when religious institutions open their doors and invite their congregants and others to speak bitterness about abusive policing, when youth take to the streets determined to no longer accept being criminalized in silence and others from many different walks of life join them.  A day when people in the prisons find ways to be part of the resistance, when cultural events targeting mass incarceration are held and statements saying no to this genocide signed by a broad array of prominent people are published as ads in newspapers.  All of this involving all kinds of people, from different walks of life and points of view, all saying NO to Mass Incarceration.  And thru this beginning to change the way people in society look at mass incarceration and winning many of them to stand against it.”

A Call for a day of this kind of activity has been issued, and I am writing you to urge you to join the effort to make it happen as powerfully as possible.  (The text of the Call is below.)  This Call has been issued by: Nellie Bailey, Solomon Comissiong, Carl Dix, Cornel West and Clyde Young.  Add your name to the issuers of this Call, circulate it to those you know and become part of the process of working out the ways to bring the vision of this day in the paragraph above to life.  I propose that the date for this day be April 19th 

We have to spread this day of resistance to as many cities and as many campuses as we can.
The authorities show no inclination to let up in warehousing people in prison, in enforcing the racial profiling that functions as a pipeline to racially targeted mass incarceration or in subjecting the formerly incarcerated to the worst kind of discrimination after they have already been punished.  It would be deadly if we responded to all this with silence.  Instead we must respond by taking our resistance to a higher and more determined level.

Carl Dix

* * *

April 19th National Day of Resistance to Mass Incarceration
The past months have seen important advances to develop resistance to mass incarceration.  There has been further work done to expose the horrific injustice that mass incarceration inflicts on so many in society.  Organizations fighting this battle have come into existence and some of those that already existed have grown and developed.  It is important to note the activity that has developed among students around mass incarceration.  And there have been important examples of determined mass resistance to this problem.  Especially important have been the several hunger strikes by prisoners in California’s Special Housing Units (and the statements of support for the strikers issued by prominent voices of conscious) and the civil disobedience campaign in New York aimed at stopping “stop & frisk.”
But much more needs to be done.  When it comes to mass incarceration, the reality in US society is remains horrific:
  • More than 2.4 million people, most of them Black or Latino, remain warehoused in prisons across the country;       
  • Black and Latino youth are treated like criminals by the police and the criminal justice system, guilty until proven innocent, if they can survive their encounters with police to prove their innocence;
  • Former prisoners wear badges of shame and dishonor even after they serve their sentences—discriminated against when applying for jobs, denied access to government assistance, not allowed in public housing, denied the right to vote.
On top of this is the plain fact that many people in the country still don’t know about this ugly reality and most of those who do know about it feel it is the result of criminal activity by those in prison and that it helps to keep them safe from crime.
There is great urgency to do this.  As the presidential election approaches and the terms of debate around what issues are to be discussed in determining the future direction of the country get set, mass incarceration isn’t being mentioned as a problem by any of the major candidate—not by Obama and not by any of the Republicans vying to challenge him. On the contrary, we are getting the kind of ugly racism that goes with and reinforces the whole program of mass incarceration... and conciliation with that racism.  This must be transformed.  Mass incarceration, what leads to it and its consequences have to become something that people across the country are aware of and feel compelled to take a stand against.  And many more of them need to join the resistance to it.  Only our efforts can make that happen!
To advance our efforts to do just this, I propose:
1)               A day of national action in April.  On this day, demonstrations, rallies, teach ins, and other actions would be held focusing on bringing out the reality of mass incarceration and calling on people to join the resistance to it would beheld in cities across the US.  These actions need to draw in many different institutions – especially schools and churches – and different sections of people in society.  A special focus of this activity should be college campuses and high schools.
2)                     A national conference drawing together the forces working to build resistance to mass incarceration.  Such a conference could bring together organizations and individuals working on different fronts of this battle; discuss and debate the cause of and solution to this outrage; develop a comprehensive approach to this battle and a plan of action going into the fall. THIS CONFERENCE SHOULD AIM AT NOTHING LESS THAN RADICALLY CHANGING THE NATIONAL TERMS OF DISCUSSION ON THIS.
3)               A statement of conscience that sharply and concisely lays out the harsh and unjust reality that mass incarceration inflicts on millions.  This statement would be circulated for signature among prominent voices of conscience, published in various significant publications and publicized nationwide
4)               A major concert or other cultural event opposing mass incarceration, featuring a broad spectrum of artists.
I urge people to respond to this proposal, including with additional ideas for how to advance this fight in this critical time period.
Signers in formation: 
Gbenga Akinnagbe, Actor
Rafael Angulo, Professor of Social Work, USC
Nellie Bailey, Occupy Harlem
Kendra Castaneda, Prisoner Human Rights Activist with a family member in CA State Prison Segregation Unit
Solomon Comissiong, Executive Director, Your World News Media Collective (
Carl Dix, Revolutionary Communist, co-initiator of Campaign to Stop “Stop and Frisk”
Kelley Lytle Hernandez, Professor of History, UCLA
Robin DG Kelley, Distinguished Professor of History, UCLA
Wayne Kramer, Jail Guitar Doors USA, Co-Founder
Sarah Kuntsler, National Lawyers Guild NYC*
Rev. Janet Gollery McKeithen (Unity Methodist Clergy), President, Methodist Federation for Social Action, Cal-Pac
Cornel West, author and educator, co-initiator of Campaign to Stop “Stop and Frisk”
Clyde Young, Revolutionary Communist, and former prisoner
March 9, 2012
*For Identification Purposes Only.