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US Rights Activist Calls For Abolition of Prisons

American Civil Rights Activist Calls For The Abolition Of Prisons

By Joseph Barratt


Racism is an even more powerful force today than it was in the days of the civil rights movement says Angela Davis an iconic American civil rights activist and professor.

Speaking to a packed theater at Auckland University, Angela Davis talked about the effects of the growing prison industry on minority communities and the racism behind it. She then called for the abolition of prisons.

American civil rights activist Angela Davis.

Mrs Davis gained world wide notoriety and became a symbol of resistance against racism in 1970 after being linked to a Black Panther prison break, and spent 18 months in prison before being acquitted on all charges.

“While certain elements of the structure of racism we knew during [the 1960’s and 1970’s], particularly the legal structures have been dismantled. This does not mean we have managed to eradicate racism.” said Mrs Davis.

“It has become a part of the structure of the institutions that shape our lives.” said Mrs Davis, “therefore it is more difficult to perceive the inherent ways in which racism functions.”

“As these social resources are withdrawn and as programs are dismantled, as resources for education and health are declining, imprisonment functions as the default solution.” she said.

According to the United States Department of Justice, at the end of 2005 there were 2.2 million inmates held in state and federal prisons or county and municipal jails. The figure represents the highest rate of incarceration in the world.

Mrs Davis said that “If one asks why is it that over 70% of people of the 2.2 million people who are in prison are people of colour?”

The answer is often “Well obviously it has nothing to do with race, all these people got a fair trial, because the law requires a fair trial,” she said with a touch a sarcasm in her voice. Human Rights Watch reports that the rate of incarceration for black men is 3145 in 100,000, 6.6 times higher then for white men which is a rate of 471 in 100,000.

She then went to explain the prison-industrial complex as a vast network of corporations that profit extensively from prisons.

This means that they have “expanded stakes in the continued expansion in the prison system” Mrs Davis said.

Department of Justice records show that in December 2005, 7 percent of 2.2 million inmates were housed in private prison facilities.

“The security state relies on our collective fear,” said Mrs Davis. “We are called upon to fear terrorists and therefore to assent to a global war on terror.

“In the past there was the fear of the communists [which led to] the Vietnam war. We fear crime, and therefore assent to more prisons and ever more people incarcerated, and in the US evermore people subject to the death penalty.”

Angela Davis concluded her talk with a call to “abolish imprisonment as the dominate form of punishment.”

She called for people and the government to look towards community based solutions. She suggested policies such as instead of imprisonment; offenders could be offered to finish high school or university.

Its not as much a prison campaign, it’s an equal rights campaign, a women’s rights campaign, a civil rights campaign, a family campaign, and most of all its a human rights campaign, Mrs Davis said.

Angela Davis was in New Zealand for just a quick tour with one talk in Auckland and another in Wellington.


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