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Critical Resistance Addresses Prison Issues

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This weekend, a conference is taking place at the University of California, Berkeley called Critical Resistance. Prison activist and former Black Panther Angela Davis is among the chief organizers. Davis served a prison term during the 1970s. Several months ago, a similar conference was held in Boulder, Colorado. While hundreds were expected, 2,000 people came.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: There’s going to be a large conference at the University of California, Berkeley this weekend, beginning tonight. It’s called Critical Resistance: Beyond the Prison-Industrial Complex. A few months ago, there was a similar conference in Boulder, Colorado. The organizers expected hundreds of people; more than 2,000 people came. It is a growing movement.

We’re joined right now by Angela Davis, who is one of the organizers of this weekend’s conference, Angela Davis, well known as a former Black Panther, now a professor at the University of California. I spoke to her yesterday — she was recuperating after breaking her leg about a month ago — and asked her to talk about the purpose of this weekend’s conference.

ANGELA DAVIS: Well, we are hoping that this conference will not simply be a three-day event. We’re hoping to launch a major campaign against the proliferation of prisons and the increasingly powerful connection between corporations and punishment. We are hoping that we will be able to establish national networks around a whole number of themes that are going to structure the campaign in the weeks and months and years to come. The first action of the campaign actually will occur during the week following the conference, when high school students throughout the Bay Area will walk out around the theme education versus incarceration.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, this conference comes at a very significant time. This week, a report has come out from the Justice Policy Institute with some astounding figures, saying that in California, young men of color pay the heaviest price for Governor Wilson’s policies. That probably doesn’t surprise a lot of people. But it says that, in California, five Black males are in prison for every Black male in a state university. Incredible.

ANGELA DAVIS: Yes. And what is even worse is the fact that this percentage has increased so rapidly, I think, over the last two years. Two years ago, I think it was four. And Vincent Schiraldi, who released the report, is going to be participating in the conference. We have a major panel on the tradeoffs between education and incarceration, and particularly the way in which these tradeoffs are affecting young people of color, and, of course, particularly young Black men. It seems that there is affirmative action as far as the punishment industry is concerned for young people of color, at the same time that affirmative action has been abolished in the institutions of higher learning.

AMY GOODMAN: And we talked about Black males. In the case of Latinos, according to the Justice Policy Institute report, three Latino males added to the prison population for every one added to California’s four-year public universities.

ANGELA DAVIS: Yes, yes, absolutely. And I think it’s also important to point out that Native Americans are in prison in numbers that reflect the highest rate per capita of any in the country. And, of course, we don’t often talk about the way in which the prison system affects Native people in this country. That’s going to be one of the themes that we focus on in the weekend to come.

AMY GOODMAN: What are the forces behind this exploding prison population at the same time that we’re hearing mayors and governors around the country boast about the decrease in crime?

ANGELA DAVIS: Well, of course, crime — crime, the kind of crime that is usually referred to when the politicians and the dominant media refer to crime, that crime has been on the decline for some time now, for two decades, as a matter of fact. The prison boom has nothing to do with the declining crime rate.

As a matter of fact, the stakes in the increasing expansion of the prison system are stakes that the corporations have in the kind of profit that can be gleaned from providing goods and services to prisons and prisoners and the workforce there, the profits that are to be gleaned from using prison labor. And, of course, we see the trend toward increasing privatization of the punishment industry. The Corrections Corporation of America is the largest private prison company, that has about over 55,000 beds in 68 facilities in the U.S. and in other parts of the world, the United Kingdom, Australia. So there is a connection between this burgeoning punishment industry and the movement of global capital.

There is a connection between the criminalization of communities of color and the criminalization of immigrants. One of the themes that we will be exploring over the weekend and during the campaign that follows is the connection between the increasing incarceration of people of color in this country and the criminalization of immigrants, the detention through the INS of increasing numbers of people from Central America, from Asia. So we’re building bridges across movements. Antiracist movements really need to examine the importance of challenging the prison-industrial complex, which is one of the main structural manifestations of racism today.

AMY GOODMAN: Angela Davis, how do you connect your earlier work, your work and activism as a Black Panther, with this movement that you’re a part of building around prisons in this country, around the whole prison-industrial complex?

ANGELA DAVIS: Well, I guess I would say that this work around prisons and prison issues and prisoners’ rights is — or, has become my life’s work. I began doing this work in the late ’60s, when campaigns around political prisoners began to take shape, political prisoners, say, from the Black Panther Party. There was the Soledad Brothers case, Los Siete de la Raza. These were some of the cases we worked on then. And thanks to the theorizing that came out of prison from people like George Jackson, we began to think about the larger role of the penal apparatus.

And my own experience, I was in jail for 16 months during the early '70s. My own experience made me even more sensitive to the need to focus on women's issues, because women are the most invisible of all of the imprisoned populations.

So, in a sense, I’ve been doing this work since then. I’ve been doing this work for about 30 years, and I’m extremely excited that we have been able to create a space for people from throughout the country who have been doing prison work, with no acknowledgment whatever, to be recognized and to connect with other people. And at the same time, we are appealing to people who associate themselves with progressive and radical causes to think about ways in which they can put the prison-industrial complex on their organizational or research or individual agenda.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask what you think of this latest move in Congress. There have been a number of them, despite the sex scandal. In fact, congressmembers are quite busy on a number of issues. They’re just not getting any attention, from juvenile justice to the issue of drugs to a bill that was passed last week that calls for the return of Assata Shakur from Cuba. Now, I noticed that that was — that she was one of the people who are going to be discussed this weekend at your conference. The resolution calls for her to be returned to the United States to serve a life sentence. She was convicted of killing a police officer, a crime she says she did not commit. But I also noticed that the Congressional Black Caucus, a number of the members of that caucus, including Maxine Waters, who will be speaking at your conference, voted for this resolution, and it was unanimous. What do you make of that?

ANGELA DAVIS: Well, the hysteria around Assata Shakur has been orchestrated, of course. When the pope visited Cuba, the New Jersey authorities had the audacity to request that the pope speak to the government authorities in Cuba about extraditing Assata Shakur. It seems to me that this hysteria around her case is reflective of the increasing conservatism that crosses party lines in this country.

Assata Shakur has been living in Cuba for the last — for more than 20 years. She lives an exemplary life. I have seen her several times. She has contributed to Cuban society. She is — she will be a part of our conference in spirit. We will evoke her name and her commitment and her determination. As a matter of fact, we will be showing a film by Gloria Rolando, a Cuban filmmaker, about Assata Shakur. The name of the film is Eyes of the Rainbow.

And I’m sure we will pass a resolution in our conference that we want to return Assad Shakur home, but we want her to come home free and undeterred by law enforcement. She needs to be pardoned. She needs to be given a full pardon so that she can come home and be with her family.

AMY GOODMAN: I actually saw that film in Cuba this past December. Global Exchange, the San Francisco-based human rights group, was in Cuba, and Assata Shakur spoke at its showing, a very interesting film about her. Well, Angela Davis, what about the plans after this conference? You talked about high school students walking out next week. What else?

ANGELA DAVIS: On April 11th, we’re calling — April 11th, 1999, we’re calling for a National Day of Prison Visiting. We’re asking people all over the country to visit prisons, to visit their families, their relatives, their friends. But also we’re asking teachers to take their classes in. We’re asking ministers to take their congregations into prison. We want to create more traffic between the free world, the so-called free world, where we live, and the world on the other side of the bars. And I think that will be a major beginning.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for joining us. If people can’t attend the conference or those last-minuters who would like to get to the University of California, Berkeley, is there a place they can call? Is there somewhere they can go on the web?

ANGELA DAVIS: It’s www.prisonactivist — and that is in the singular — dor org.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s www.prisonactivist.org”:https://www.prisonactivist.org/.

ANGELA DAVIS: Slash critical.

AMY GOODMAN: Www.prisonactivist.org/critical. And there, people can find out what the agenda is of the weekend, if you can make it over to the University of California, Berkeley. I am here in New York, and I understand that a lot of people are going to be flying out to Berkeley, and I bet that’s the case in a number of places.

ANGELA DAVIS: Absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, thanks again, and I hope that your broken leg heals quickly.

ANGELA DAVIS: Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: I won’t say “break a leg this weekend.”

ANGELA DAVIS: I’ve already done that.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you very much, Angela. Bye.

AMY GOODMAN: Angela Davis, a professor at University of California, organizer of the conference this weekend at the University of California, Berkeley, Critical Resistance: Beyond the Prison-Industrial Complex. You are listening to Pacific Radio’s Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

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