https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhObhSenc5s Angela Davis and Michelle Alexander take part in a panel discussion on the issue of mass incarceration at Riverside Church in New York City on September 14, 2012. They answer the questions: what is the problem of mass incarceration and what does it say about the United States society?
The terror that any family member – especially a member of a Black family – endures when discovering their loved one has been captured by an unjust criminal legal system is horrifying. My turn came when I discovered that my baby brother – my beautiful, incredible, sweet, smart, loving, brilliant baby brother, Akinola Gonzalez – had been arrested on his campus at Hinds Community College where he is studying engineering in Raymond, Mississippi. I called my mother immediately. Her voice sounded so worried, at times so powerless, so frantic … so exhausted. Our worst nightmare, being forced to face our inability to protect him and keep him safe, was happening. Our illusion of successfully getting him to “safety” via a college campus rapidly dissipated.
Last week, the city of Chicago made history when the City Council unanimously voted to pass a reparations package for Chicago Police torture survivors, specifically a group of African American men who were tortured by former Commander Jon Burge and detectives under his command. The culmination of decades of struggle against Burge torture and a more recent #RahmRepNow campaign led by Chicago Torture Justice Memorials (CTJM), Amnesty International, Project NIA, and We Charge Genocide, this marks the first time in the United States that a municipality will provide reparations to African Americans in response to police violence.
The package was based on the Reparations Ordinance introduced to the City Council in October 2013 by Aldermen Joe Moreno and Howard Brookins. One year before this, the ordinance had made its first public appearance on the walls of an exhibit called “Opening the Black Box: The Charge is Torture.” Curated by CTJM, a collective of artists, educators, activists and attorneys, this exhibit illustrated the power of art as a call to action.
“Artists are here to disturb the peace,” James Baldwin said. And that was the intent of our collective. Preceding the exhibit, we put out a call for proposals asking justice seekers to unleash their radical imaginations and create speculative monuments that memorialized the brutal history of Burge torture and the struggle against it. Our call for proposals was not a juried contest, instead we promised to showcase all proposals received in an art exhibit or a dedicated website. Over 70 artists from around the world responded with submissions, and one year after we put out our call for proposals, we produced the “Opening the Black Box” exhibit at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Sullivan Gallery.
By Darrell Cannon
Editor’s note: Darrell Cannon was tortured by Chicago police detectives under the command of former Police Commander Jon Burge. He was a leading voice in the struggle for reparations and continues to be an advocate for justice. He and I spoke with students in Lisa Brock’s class on Ferguson at the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College the week after Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that he had agreed to a reparations package for Burge torture survivors. Darrell’s story is one of horror and hope, and he never minces words when he speaks. In detail, he describes his harrowing experience of torture, the uphill legal battle he faced to win his freedom, and the recent fight for reparations. Here is an excerpt from the story Darrell shared that day. ~ Alice Kim
During that particular day on November 2nd, 1983, during the entire time that these white detectives tortured me, my name was never Darrell Cannon, my name was always “nigger” this, “nigger” that. And when they took me to the torture site [an abandoned parking lot] to torture me, one detective, the most sadistic detective one out of all of them was named Peter Dignan. He was so racist that he the one that took the shotgun. For any of you that know anything about weapons, if I say he played Russian Roulette with me with a shotgun, if you know anything about a shot gun you’d say how can he do that when there’s no chamber to spin around. Okay, I’m going to explain to you how they did it.
By Alice Kim, Editor
“Prison is built on a logic of isolation and disconnection,” Maya Schenwar writes in her new book Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better. Deftly weaving her own personal experiences with her sister’s incarceration alongside the stories of prisoners who she has been writing to over the last eight years, Schenwar illustrates the devastating effects of prisons on those who are incarcerated, their families, and our communities. With her book, she not only offers a searing analysis of the prison industrial complex but also possibilities for creating alternatives to mass incarceration.
I asked the author about her own transformation as a journalist, activist and sister and what it means to be a prison abolitionist.
In the beginning of your book, you describe how you felt when your sister had been arrested for the seventh time in six years: “Sort of hoping she’ll stay there,” you wrote. You say that you questioned how you could reconcile your staunch opposition to the prison-industrial complex with your desire to see your own sister locked up, a desire that was born out of desperation. Can you talk more about this contradiction and how these tensions manifested in your activist work, your family, and your relationship with your sister?
One of the things I discovered when this all came up with my sister was that there’s a trap set for anyone who has an addiction and doesn’t necessarily want to get better right away.