Transform panic into the power of action

By Nakechia Gay
AFJ Staff

They called it Y2K, which means little to those who can't recall it, but once struck global fear.

Weeks before the official start of the year 2000, people around the world panicked about possible system failures, the second coming, or even the end of the world, none of which occurred. New Year's Eve came and went, a new century began and the world went on largely as it did before.

But, the early 2000s did bring change, including the two biggest blessings in disguise we have today—the camera phone and Facebook. Together these two technologies have helped elevate the issues of police brutality, over policing, and mass incarceration to a global audience—issues that have been plaguing low-income communities and communities of color for centuries.

Seventeen years later some of us are once again panicking about possible system failures, the second coming, or the end of the world as the administration of Donald Trump begins its work in Washington, D.C. But it is important that we ask ourselves what blessings in disguise do we have today or should we create to continue the momentum of transforming the criminal justice system into a just justice system? Two of the blessings in disguise that we have today are our lessons from the past and the number of people willing to mobilize and help positively change the future.

Around the nation we have seen hundreds of direct actions, new organizations being formed, and new leaders emerging to raise awareness and demand changes in our criminal justice system. Reform is needed In New York, where a recent New York Times investigation uncovered large racial disparities in the prison disciplinary system.

While we do applaud Governor Cuomo for launching a statewide inquiry into the racial disparities in the prison system, we cannot sit by and wait for results that could take years to produce and even longer for the system to be corrected (if they, in fact, correct it). We have learned from the past that waiting for change and hoping for the best can many times lead to a disastrous future.

We cannot continue to ignore a history that has birthed today’s systemic oppression and that has led to downward economic mobility, high incarceration rates, and overall fear for many low-income people and people of color. Instead, we must continue to educate, advocate, and agitate for the transformation of the criminal justice system, not just more piecemeal reform.

We must find alternatives that will provide an end to cyclical poverty and redevelop impoverished communities without the negative side effects of gentrification. We must do what we can at the community level to support the families of incarcerated people—a population that is often forgotten in these efforts—to ensure a holistic form of healing for everyone. Alliance of Families for Justice is aware of the need for action and holistic forms of support. We are using today’s blessings to organize and advocate for the end of human rights abuses in New York state prisons.

“At AFJ, we are mobilizing people to eliminate human rights violations in the prison system by combining modern technology with grassroots organizing methods from the civil rights era.” -- Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director

This September AFJ will march to Albany to demand the closure of Attica Correctional Facility due to the facility’s failure to end the prison abuses suffered by those who are incarcerated. The 1971 Attica Prison riot, which erupted because of horrific living conditions, only ended with more documented torture and abuse.

Nearly 40 years later, the culture of torture and abuse has not changed. It is evident that Attica Correctional Facility is beyond reform. It is time we transform the facility by shutting it down. Instead of panicking this year, let’s be inspired and motivated to use our blessings to educate, advocate, agitate for the end of prison abuse.

You can help. Join us this September on our March for Justice. And "march" with us online right now as we go #viral4justice. Share this post and help elevate the cause of #humanrightsnow.