As part of SGPA’s Black History Month series: What’s at the Roots?, we talked with the George Jackson Freedom Coalition, where Latio Cosmos broke down the root cause of mass incarceration. This blog is a summary of that conversation, and provides some ways you can help end mass incarceration. More information about the George Jackson Freedom Coalition and their work can be found on their Instagram.
If you weren’t able to make it to the livestream, the recording can be found as an IGTV on our Instagram page.
The George Jackson Freedom Coalition is an organization dedicated to “building bridges with those incarcerated in Washington and lifting up their work”. It is made up of community members both incarcerated and not.
Mass Incarceration During a Pandemic
The issue of mass incarceration is complicated and ingrained into the structure of the United States. Cosmos referenced several layers that contribute to mass incarceration today including the history of mass incarceration, the use of prison labor as a form of modern slavery, the disproportionate number of BIPOC incarcerated, incarceration of BIPOC for petty crimes or none at all, and the lack of respect for health recommendations in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
BIPOC are disproportionately incarcerated in Washington State and across the county, and with the current pandemic, they are at increased risk of contracting COVID-19. There has not been enough conversation about the issue of prisons becoming places where COVID-19 can run rampant. People are being crammed in cages without access to masks, hand sanitizer, or any safety precautions. The Department of Corrections has failed to comply with CDC’s COVID-19 heath protocols, endangering the lives of so many loved ones. People have been forced to congregate in shared spaces, a clear violation of safety recommendations. Even worse, the DOC has used pepper spray at close range on inmates, an action which is not only inhumane but has also been proved to accelerate the spread of COVID-19.
People are being kept in unsafe conditions in the middle of a pandemic. Cases are being neglected by the state, even in cases where there is evidence of racist systems and innocent BIPOC. Families everywhere are worried every day about their loved one’s well being, and nothing is being done to protect them or get them out.
The Prosecutor's Office
Cosmos told us the prosecutor’s office is sometimes referred to as the “black box of the criminal justice system” because they are notorious for their lack of transparency - the community is unable to see what goes on behind the scenes. This office is supposed to be holding officers accountable, instead they are keeping information secret from the community they are supposed to be protecting. We need full transparency in the prosecutor's office, otherwise, the SPD will continue endangering the people of Seattle without consequence.
One of GJFC’s top goals is to oversee staffing prosecutor’s to ensure that those in these positions are committed to justice and equality. Prosecutors hold a lot of power and they cannot continue to use it to perpetuate modern day slavery. Our community deserves better.
The current prosecuting attorney of Washington State is Dan Satterberg, who has shown time and time again to not be interested in ensuring justice.
GJFC’ is making 10 demands to the Prosecutor's Office, the first two were discussed in the livestream, and be sure to keep a lookout for them they publish the rest
- The Brady List Protocol needs to be transparent
- The prosecutor's office in Seattle was getting awards and praise nationally for being progressive and transparent
- This list is supposed to be a body of evidence for what an officer who has been accused of misconduct has done and shows if there is a history of abuse
- Everyone is supposed to have access to this information, but there is very little actual transparency and so even though there is supposed to be a list that ensures officers cannot become repeat offenders,
2. Community oversight of a board that takes a second look at cases
- This was supposed to be established by the prosecutor's office
- The community should have a voice in ensuring no one is incarcerated unfairly
- Have lawyers from the community take a second look at cases and bring people home
Here are some groups working to change the prison system and protect incarcerated individuals:
- George Jackson Freedom Coalition https://www.instagram.com/gjfreedomcoalition/
- Free Them All https://www.facebook.com/FreeThemAllWa/
- The Black Law Students Association https://www.nblsa.org
- Dismantle https://www.dismantle.us
Here is a list of just a few books (and one movie) that can help you better understand this issue.
- Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California by Ruth Wilson Gilmore
- Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Y. Davis
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
- Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy by Heather Ann Thompson
- The 13th (documentary on Netflix)
- From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America by Elizabeth Hinton
In addition to educating yourself, here are some great ways you can get involved and help end the issue of mass incarceration.
- Write letters to incarcerated individuals (links via GFJfreedomcoalition on instagram)
- @survivepunish: https://survivedandpunished.org/letter-writing-action/
- @BLACKandPINKorg: https://blackandpinkpenpals.org
- @nycabc: https://nycabc.wordpress.com/2020/11/27/guide_13-8/
- @AbolitionChurch: https://www.abolitionapostles.com/become-a-penpal
- Beyond These Walls: http://www.beyondthesewallslgbt.org (has a pen pal program you can sign up for)
- Death Row Support Project: https://www.brethren.org/drsp/
- Lifelines to Solitary: https://solitarywatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Lifelines-Overview.pdf
- Sick of It! An Inside/Outside Project -- https://www.sickofit.space/pen-pals
- Write to your representatives
- You can find your local representatives here: https://app.leg.wa.gov/districtfinder/
- Visit/write a person affected by mass-incarceration