As we continue the struggle to challenge and topple the prison industrial complex, it is important we take pause to celebrate our successes and learn from our losses. In many ways, 2018 marked a year in which legislation undoing the dark legacies of mass incarceration gained momentum. Led by the inspiring work of our POC-led partners, last year grassroots movements generated enough pressure to pass five vital pieces of criminal justice reform. Together, our actions were part of a targeted and coordinated legislative strategy that elevated the voices of the most impacted, amplified the power of our organizing, and led to some significant legislative victories in California.
This year, as part of our commitment to confronting white supremacy’s role in creating violence against trans women of color, SURJ Bay Area has continued partnering with the Transgender, Gender-Variant, and Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP). SURJ supports TGIJP in its mission to support transgender, gender variant and intersex people inside and outside of prisons, jails and detention centers. TGIJP is a Black trans woman led organization fighting for self determination, freedom of expression, and gender justice.
We have become all too familiar with hearing the reports of police brutality against people of color, the statistics of prisons disproportionately crowded with Black and Brown individuals, and the stories of families torn apart by extreme sentencing policies. Our nation’s history of racism is inextricably linked to our prison system and it is critical that we take real steps nowto dismantle this system and reallocate resources to our communities.
Stripping communities of their voting rights is a centuries-long tool used to silence and disenfranchise people of color — and it must stop now.
The passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 was a major victory of the civil rights era. But in the decades since, attacks on voting rights have been relentless. In California, 162,000 citizens — mostly people of color — can’t vote today, simply because they are in state prison or on parole.
Essie Justice Group is an organization led by and for cisgender women, trans women, and gender non-conforming folks with incarcerated loved ones, working to transform the criminal justice system and combat mass incarceration. They bring together their members, including Black and Latinx women, formerly and currently incarcerated women, trans women and gender non-conforming folks, to heal, build power, and create structural change rooted in race and gender justice.
Essie Justice Group’s Healing to Advocacy Program unites women with incarcerated loved ones to do this work together. Each cohort is led by previous program graduates, and cohort members are nominated by their own incarcerated loved ones, one another, or themselves. This past fall they graduated their 17th cohort. Essie members facilitated cohorts in Inglewood, Los Angeles, Vacaville, San Francisco, San Jose, West Oakland, and Fruitvale.
“It is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. So we don’t. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color ‘criminals’ and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind.” — Michelle Alexander, lawyer, writer, civil rights advocate, professor
According to the Sentencing Project’s special report to the United Nations, our criminal justice system is in fact, two systems — one benefiting wealthy white folks, and one deeply disadvantaging black, brown, and poor folks. People of color are disproportionately arrested, tried, and sentenced. This results in the loss of the ability to vote, secure housing, and find a job, among other human and civil rights.
What’s one of the most effective ways to dismantle white supremacy?
Our SURJ Bay Area Youth and Families (Y&F) Committee starts at the roots by educating and mobilizing youth, parents, youth workers and educators, as well as partnering with local organizations with a child- and family-centered lens toward racial justice.
One of our major partners is Abundant Beginnings, a local community-based organization founded and run by Black queer freedom fighters. Abundant Beginnings uses a kid-friendly vocabulary — defining solidarity, for instance, as “the act of supporting other people (especially those who are not being treated fairly).” We are proud to stand in solidarity with Abundant Beginnings as we work toward a world in which children can grow up free from the injustices of white supremacy.
In 1969 Fred Hampton Sr, the 21-year-old charismatic chairman of the Chicago Black Panther Party, was targeted and killed by the FBI in a raid organized by the Cook County State Attorney. Law enforcement carried out the raid and murders after several months of media coverage blasting the the Black Panther Party as “Wild Beasts”, and the FBI issuance of internal memos deeming them a “major threat” to the country. The FBI was committed to dismantling the Black Panther Party “by any means necessary.”
We look back at that time and those events in disgust and awe. However, we know that targeted repression of Black resistance is unquestionably NOT a thing of the past. We need only look at a 2017 FBI internal report entitled “Black Identity Extremists Likely Motivated to Target Law Enforcement Officers” which seems to have been used to justify surveilling and jailing a black activist — severely disrupting his life — based solely on his Facebook posts calling out police brutality.
SURJ Bay Area is committed to standing with our Arab neighbors and community members as they face renewed persecution and Islamophobia! Arab and Middle Eastern communities in the United States have been targeted with a renewed ferocity under the Trump Administration. Policies that for years had been couched in code of “combating terrorism” and “defending national security” are now explicitly framed in Islamophobic terms. It is telling that one of the Trump Administration’s first acts was to ban travel from predominantly Muslim countries, a cruel policy that separated Muslim-Americans from their families, and, as one circuit-court judge wrote, “drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination” (p. 12). The current administration is working tirelessly to institutionalize Islamophobia in this country.
The rapid displacement of Black, Brown, and poor community members has subtly altered the role of police in the Bay Area. Until the 1960s, many Bay Area cities had “Sundown” laws, which allowed police to arrest any person of color after dusk. While these laws are no longer on the books, the Oakland-based Anti Police-Terror Project (APTP) notes that related tactics are still in place. In the current era, police continue to selectively patrol upscale and “up and coming” neighborhoods, and over-patrol poor neighborhoods. In this way, Bay Area police violently reinforce the status quo of white supremacy in our communities. The recent Oakland Police pay raise without public input and the stalling of California’s Police Use of Deadly Force (AB 931) bill are further evidence that police unions hold undue sway in the democratic process, often sidelining the voices and needs of communities of color to make way for increased police power and influence.