March for Justice Update!

TYLER WILLIAMS and ELINOR TATUM
8/24/2017
REPRINTED FROM AMSTERDAM NEWS 

This Saturday, Aug. 26, will mark the beginning of a 180-mile, 18-day march that is calling for the closure of the Attica correctional facility, the elimination of human rights abuses in state prisons and jails and comprehensive reform of the juvenile justice system.

The march has been called by the Alliance of Families for Justice. The marchers will walk from New York City to Albany.

Soffiyah Elijah, who is the executive director and founder of Alliance of Families for Justice, organized the march. Some participants will walk the entire march, and others will join in for a few miles on any given day.

The plan is for the group to walk approximately 10 miles a day, culminating 18 days later in a major rally and news conference in Albany, on Sept. 13, 2017, the anniversary of the 1971 Attica uprising.

Black Rising Radio host and AFJ volunteer, Kevin Barron, spoke with the Amsterdam News: “Final preparations are being made. We are excited that actor and activist Danny Glover will be joining us as we kickoff Aug. 26.”

Also according to Barron, the AFJ march will have a kickoff lineup that will include Impact Repertory Theatre, a performing arts theater that resides in New York City; actress Liza Jessie Peterson; Joel Forrester, a jazz composer and pianist; Dave Tarlo and the Hudson Valley Sally, a folk band in New York City; and Craig Harris Ensemble, a jazz ensemble group that is in New York.

Barron shared with the Amsterdam News a four-minute video that describes the March for Justice in detail. In the video, Elijah speaks about the focus of the march, saying, “The March for Justice is focused on a number of different aspects of mass incarceration. The central focus is the conditions of confinement and human rights violations that occur inside of New York prisons and jails.”

Barron was also in the shared video and expressed his viewpoint on why he is participating in the march. Barron said, “I am marching because I think a lot of the inhumanity in the criminal justice system needs to be put in the forefront of our minds.”

Barron added, “My wife was incarcerated, so I have a good idea of the impact it has on families. I have five children. When a father or mother is taken out of the household, that has a profound effect on families, especially on the children.”

Lilly Oseitutu, the AFJ co-logistical lead and AFJ member, also spoke out about why she is marching. She said, “If I tell you the truth, the real reason why I am marching is because there are too many of our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters [who are incarcerated] that can’t march with us. I personally believe they should be free to march with us, but they can’t. As long as every single one of them is in a situation where they’re being abused, exploited and essentially being kept prisoner, I’m going to keep marching until they’re home with me and they can march by my side.”

According to Barron, Heather Ann Thompson, an American historian, author, activist and speaker from Detroit, Mich., spoke about her support for the March for Justice. She won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in History for her work “Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy.” She said, “I stand with Alliance of Families for Justice and the upcoming March for Justice. Given the horrific human rights violations that are confirmed to be happening right now in facilities such as Rikers and Attica, each of us has a moral, ethical and humanitarian responsibility to demand an end to the abuses happening to those who are incarcerated.”

Barron also shared with the Amsterdam News that Michelle Alexander, author of best-selling book “The New Jim Crow,” expressed her support with the AFJ. Alexander said, “I stand with the Alliance of Families for Justice, their allies and the marchers who are calling for an end to human rights violations in prisons and jails and the closure of the Attica prison. The March for Justice challenges us to pay attention to who is incarcerated, and how they are incarcerated and how they are mistreated, and it contributes to the movement building and consciousness raising that is necessary to end mass incarceration once and for all.”

For the AFJ video, visit https://youtu.be/cucvAb0qM1E.

The March for Justice Demands an End to Human Rights Abuses in NY Prisons

BY JAMIE MALESZKA
AUGUST 23, 2017
REPRINTED FROM MASS APPEAL

"System change isn't a spectator sport."

The flow of energy necessary to magnify true social change can begin with a single step. This weekend, The March for Justice, an undertaking of the Alliance of Families for Justice (AFJ) will embark on a 19-day journey—entirely on foot—from NYC to Albany, to call attention to the ongoing human rights abuses in New York State’s prisons and jails.

The families of those who are incarcerated, and people who have a criminal record, will be leading the way.

It is the core mission of AFJ, an entirely volunteer-driven non-profit, to ensure that those who are directly impacted and carry the burden of mass incarceration are at the forefront in the movement for justice reform and in the shaping of a path forward.

Kicking off at the National Black Theatre in Harlem this Saturday, August 26th, marchers will walk approximately 10 miles per day en route to state’s capital. They will stop for teach-ins and press conferences in prison and college towns along the way. The March for Justice will then culminate with a rally in Albany on Wednesday, September 13th, the anniversary of the 1971 Attica State Correctional Facility uprising and massacre.

And although 46 years have passed since the seminal 4-day rebellion of more than 1200 inmates at the upstate prison that ended horrifically, many of their demands still ring true today. The human rights violations remain unchanged—at Attica and throughout facilities in all of New York State.

The March for Justice aims to incite meaningful reform regarding the use of solitary confinement, parole, and our cash-bail system. It calls for the shuttering of Attica, the halting of this era of mass criminalization and the eliminating of the human rights abuses behind bars.

A core team of marchers will complete the entire route (it is approximately 135 miles between NYC and Albany), but they will be joined daily by others from all walks of life who want to support the cause along the way.

MASS APPEAL sat down with Soffiyah Elijah, the Executive Director and Founder of AFJ—who has committed her life to justice reform—to learn more.

Why are the families of those doing time—the sisters, brothers, mothers, their children—and the community at large not typically included in the discussion regarding the impact of mass incarceration?

Soffiyah Elijah: I can think of a few reasons. One is, the majority of the people who are incarcerated come from impoverished communities, and as a society, we’ve made it clear that we don’t care about those communities, or the people who live in them. The fact that people from these communities are suffering and experiencing the impact of mass incarceration is not chosen. As a society, we’ve indicated that we don’t care anything about.

Is their exclusion from the system working exactly as it was intended? Do the different systems function to specifically drown out those voices?

I don’t think that the systems, and the people who create these systems, necessarily even believe there are voices to be drowned out. To them, they simply don’t count. The people whose voices need to be heard aren’t even considered as being relevant, or having a voice, by the powers that be, by and large. Most of the time, it’s not even a plan of, “We’re going to drown out, or devise a way to ignore those voices.” They don’t even give any credit to the fact that people have a voice to disagree with what’s going on.

In fact, if you talk to law enforcement, when they use militaristic strategies in black, or brown, or poor communities, the quick response that their lawyers give is, “Well, the community complained about a problem. We’re just being responsive to what the community wants.” But, if there were to be a demonstration, or a rally, or a massive outcry from the community challenging it, then somebody definitely doesn’t have a voice.

How does the Alliance of Families for Justice combat and strive to change that and amplify those voices?

The Alliance for Families of Justice uses a three-prong strategy, which is to support, and empower, and then mobilize families of people who are incarcerated, and people who have a criminal record. We recognize that the criminal and justice system has done huge, emotional, mental, economic, and physical damage to the people who are impacted most: the people behind the walls, and the families that they’ve left behind.

We start off with supporting people, listening to what they have experienced. Letting them know that they’re not alone, letting them know that they don’t have to suffer in silence, or alone, or continue to suffer, period. That they can see the kind of support necessary to enable them to feel empowered in the situation, as opposed to helpless, which is the mantra we hear from so many families when they first come to us. Then, once fairly empowered … then, to mobilize. They can use their power to bring about the kind of changes that they want to see in the system. That’s exactly what the March for Justice is designed to do.

Glen E. Martin‘s words immediately come to mind: “Those closest to the problem are those closest to the solution, and furthest from the necessary resources.” They hold the answers on how to move forward.

Yes. We also have to recognize that the people who hold the answers, are also the people who hold the pain. Part of our strategy at the Alliance of Families for Justice, is to enable people, and transform their pain into power.

How was the idea for the March for Justice born? I understand this is something you’ve been envisioning for some time.

That’s true. For a few years. With each horrific story of someone being murdered, in prison or in jail, or being horribly abused, or a failure to receive appropriate mental health care, or being thrown in solitary confinement for hundreds and hundreds of days, and experiencing the pain and suffering that they and their family members went through, the flame for doing this march just grew brighter and brighter.

What are some of the key issues that the March aims to bring attention to?

I think one of the overarching themes is to eliminate all human rights abuses that are happening in the prisons and jails throughout New York State. That’s the overarching theme. Shutting down Attica, is also a call, and it’s because of their iconic role that Attica plays, and has played in the history of incarceration in this country for decades. Not that it’s the only horrific prison, but it’s certainly representative of the horrors that happen in various prisons throughout the state. Then, there’s our host of related issues, like solitary confinement, like the treatment of the mentally challenged, the need to expand and provide quality, educational and programmatic, and vocational opportunities. The need to have gender-specific programming for women inside. The needs of the LGBTQ community should be specific to their situations. The need to provide adequate quality medical care. To name a few. Then, there are related issues, like bail reform, wrongful convictions, like drug policy reform. All of which are connected. There are organizations that focus on each of those issues that are also participating in the March.

Enroute to Albany, you’ll be joining forces with a network of other advocates?

Oh, yeah. Advocates from all over the state. Actually, whether they are in a prison town or not, and even people who aren’t advocates. We’ve got a faith-based community. We’ve got students, nurses, doctors, teachers, lawyers, performers, some kind of everybody.

The possibility exists that as you make stops in these prison towns, there could be a convergence of families on both sides of the incarceration equation. Those whose entire local economy thrives on the prison industry could come face to face with the families of those doing time. There might even be a conversation between those two “sides.”

Exactly. Exactly. That’s part of the dialogue that we’ve already been starting before the march. We’ve built partnerships with some people up in Adirondack, where the Clinton Prison and several other prisons are located. That started a conversation that’s never been had before. There’s this unspoken wall, or divide between upstate and downstate. And although the majority of the people who are incarcerated come from downstate, the majority of the people who feed their families from the prison economy, are upstate and the two never had an opportunity to share the same space, and just talk as people. This march also enables us to build that dialogue and to take down those walls. To build unity, instead of divisions.

Michelle Alexander Stands with the March for Justice

Quote from Michelle Alexander author of The New Jim Crow

I stand with the Alliance of Families for Justice, their allies and the marchers who are calling for an end to human rights violations in prisons and jails and the closure of Attica prison. The March for Justice challenges us to pay attention to who is incarcerated and how they are mistreated, and it contributes to the movement-building and consciousness raising that is necessary to end mass incarceration once and for all.

 

Heather Ann Thompson Endorses March for Justice.

Heather Ann Thompson, 2017 Pulitzer Prize winning author of Blood In the Water, endorses the March for Justice. She says:

"I stand with the Alliance of Families for Justice (AFJ) and the upcoming March for Justice. the horrific human rights violations that are confirmed to be happening right now in facilities such as Rikers and Attica, each of us has a moral, ethical and humanitarian responsibility to demand an end to the abuses happening to those who are incarcerated."

 

Alliance of Families for Justice plan march to Albany

Isaac Monterose and Tyler Williams
August 3, 2017
Reprinted from the Amsterdam News (link)

As the Alliance of Families for Justice approaches the upcoming date for the March for Justice on Aug. 26, three family members from the AFJ spoke with the Amsterdam News about their future participation and commitment for the March for Justice. The three family members preferred to remain anonymous for confidentiality purposes.

The March for Justice is a 19-day march that will travel from New York City to Albany. The participants can choose to walk part of the way or the entire route. For example, participants can choose to walk from New York City to Yonkers.

The Amsterdam News spoke with a daughter who has a mother and brother who are incarcerated for more than 10 years on separate bids. A second person is the spouse of a wife who is incarcerated for 17 years. A third person is the mother of a son incarcerated for 16 to 25 years.

The daughter said, “My personal view is this is a unique event, for several reasons. One being that it is an action that seeks to include the voices of incarcerated people whose human rights have been violated while serving their time. Second, the March for Justice provides opportunity and space for family members to raise their voices as well. When a person is sent to prison to serve time, their family members are served a bid as well.”

Asked about what inspired her to join the March for Justice, the daughter replied, “I come to this work as a family member directly affected by the destruction of mass incarceration. My mother rotated in and out of the system for well over 20 years of my life.

Because of this, my body lingered in the foster care system, until I aged out at 21 years old. Her mother, my maternal grandmother, served time at Bedford Hills, when I was a child. My brother is currently serving time at a New York state prison, a 14 year bid.”

The spouse said she is excited about the march. “My wife is in prison for 17 years,” she said. “The prison has abused her with impunity.” The spouse added that the incarcerated wife has been abused within the prison system while the system itself does not deal with any consequences.

The mother said her son was offered a plea deal of 16 to 25 years, but it was never formally documented. According to the mother, her son was “railroaded” in his trial. She said her son has been “a model prisoner,” but he was moved to the “nastiest” cell block in the prison, where incarcerated people smoke K-2 marijuana, and pepper-spray is regularly sprayed.

“Right now, I’m trying to get the support that I need to gear myself up for the fight,” she said.

According to the mother, the fumes affected her son’s speech so much that he had to go to the prison’s doctors.

She continued, “I just went to see him three weeks ago and to see him looking somewhat vulnerable. It’s working on me right now…it’s just awful. So I got to really work on with whoever I got to work with and if I need to do letters and petitions and whatever I need to do right now [then] I got to get all the support I can get to help my child in this particular situation.”

Aside from family members of incarcerated people, students, community leaders, members of faith-based organizations, organized labor, social workers, lawyers, teachers, service providers, policy makers, academics, athletes, elected officials from local municipalities, organizers, health professionals and celebrities will be attending the March for Justice, according to the AFJ press release.

According to Soffiyah Elijah, executive director and founder of AFJ, in a meeting July 27 at the National Black Theatre in Harlem, the New York State Nurses Association is endorsing the AFJ and will do health assessments if necessary. Sam North of the Peekskill chapter of the NAACP, who is the second vice president and chair of the Criminal Justice Committee, said that the Peekskill chapter of the NAACP will be at the march. However, they haven’t officially endorsed the march.

When asked about the chapter’s support of AFJ’s policy positions, North said that the NAACP is “very much in line” with many of AFJ’s prison reform policies. Also, he said that the Peekskill NAACP are interested in raising awareness about Samuel Harrell, who is an incarcerated person who was allegedly beaten to death by several corrections officers in the Fishkill Correctional Facility. An investigation into Harrell’s death is ongoing, but none of the officers involved have been charged.

July 29, Elijah, along with Angel Solis, a Columbia University student and AFJ volunteer, were interviewed by Kevin Barron, the host of Black Rising Radio, about the upcoming March for Justice. “The focus of the March for Justice is to expose the human rights abuses that happen every day in the prisons and jails across New York State and to call the elimination of them and the shutdown of Attica prison,” said Elijah.

When asked about how mass incarceration affects families, Solis told Barron that families are dying, not just biologically but dying in the sense of the relationship. “What happens to the prisoners that ultimately, while we’re holding on at the very ledges of despair, it comes to a point where you see no one up there with an extended hand?” said Solis. “You just end up letting go and when you fall into that darkness in prison, you end up becoming like even worse of a person to some extent because you just stop caring.”

Solis added, “Prison is not the hardest thing. The hardest thing is not being behind bars or serving time. It’s losing one’s ties to one’s society in the form of family and friends.”

Tiffany McFadden, a New York writer who is a volunteer with Alliance of Families for Justice, wrote on the AFJ website, “Courts won’t allow the capping of phone rates in prisons, even though it would be the humane way to treat the incarcerated. The courts should then help incarcerated families and communities.”

McFadden was responding to a June 17 editorial in The Washington Post about a federal appeals court decision denying the Federal Communications Commission the ability to cap prison phone rates within states. According to The Washington Post, the real losers are incarcerated people and their families.

This article reprinted from the Amsterdam News: 
http://amsterdamnews.com/news/2017/aug/03/alliance-families-justice-plan-march-albany/.

March for Justice

Tyler Williams
Amsterdam News (reprint of original article)

July 27, 2017

August 26, the Alliance of Families for Justice will lead a 19-day march to bring to the attention of the New York State Legislature, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the general public the human rights abuses in New York prisons and jails such as Rikers and Attica, according to the AFJ website.

Soffiyah Elijah, executive director of AFJ, organized this march with board members of the AFJ and volunteers. According to the AFJ press release, “The marchers will walk approximately 10 miles a day, culminating 19 days later in a major rally and news conference in Albany on Sept. 13, 2017, the anniversary of the 1971 Attica uprising.”

According to the History Channel website, on Sept. 13, 1971, a four-day rebellion of more than 1,200 inmates at the Attica State Correctional Facility in upstate New York ended most horrifically after Gov. Nelson Rockefeller ordered approximately 600 state troopers to storm the prison. The rebellion was the reaction of the inmates to the poor living conditions in the prison. The inmates were frustrated with the chronic overcrowding, censorship of letters and being limited to one shower per week and one roll of toilet paper per month. The Attica uprising was the worst prison riot in United States history.

“Attica, like Rikers Island, has a long and troubling legacy of human rights abuses,” said Elijah according to the AFJ press release. “However, Attica and Rikers are not the only problem facilities. Human rights abuses are a systemic problem inside New York’s prisons and jails, and the March for Justice is designed to educate and mobilize people to bring an end to them. Solitary confinement, women-specific concerns, jail expansion, bail reform and treatment of people with mental health needs are just some of the issues we will address.”

Black Rising Radio host Kevin Barron, who is a volunteer with the AFJ, spoke with the Amsterdam News about the upcoming march. When asked about the significance of the march, Barron said that it is to call more attention to human rights abuses in prisons. “There are a lot of people who don’t know what’s going on, so we want to keep it at the forefront and limelight,” said Barron.

The issue of food, water, and shelter arises for the 19-day march. To solve this problem, nursing organizations and other service providers will provide food and water, and churches and community centers will allow overnight stays, according to Barron.

According to Elijah, adequate education and bail reform are some of the subjects that the march will cover for the incarcerated individuals. “The march will be at a leisurely pace,” said Elijah.

According to the executive summary provided by the AFJ, the participants who are expected to attend the march are students, faith leaders, organized labor, social workers, lawyers and paralegals, teachers, policy makers, formerly incarcerated people, academics, athletes, elected officials, community organizers, health professionals, celebrities, activists and researchers.

According to the press release, actor and activist Danny Glover said, “As a founding board member of AFJ, I am proud to participate and lend my support in every way possible to the March for Justice. The scourge of mass incarceration and the criminal injustice system on the poor, Black and Brown communities throughout New York State and the country must be exposed and eliminated.”

Heather Ann Thompson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy,” according to the press release, stated, “I stand with Alliance of Families for Justice and the upcoming March for Justice. Given the horrific human rights violations that are confirmed to be happening right now in facilities such Rikers and Attica, each of us has a moral, ethical and humanitarian responsibility to demand an end to the abuses happening to prisoners.”

According to the AFJ website, a meeting will take place Thursday, July 27, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the National Black Theatre, 2031 Fifth Ave. (between 125th and 126th streets) in Harlem. Elijah said that this meeting will be a “prep session” for the March for Justice.

“Mass incarceration and mass criminalization are issues that collectively, we can change,” said Elijah in the press release. “That is why throughout the March for Justice, we will be educating people and registering them to vote. Every step counts!”

The tentative schedule and locations for the march, from the AFJ website, are listed below.

Day 1, Saturday, Aug. 26: New York City

Day 2, Sunday, Aug. 27: Yonkers

Day 3, Monday, Aug. 28: Tarrytown

Day 4, Tuesday, Aug. 29: Croton-on-Hudson

Day 5, Wednesday, Aug. 30: Peekskill

Day 6, Thursday, Aug. 31: Garrison

Day 7, Friday, Sept. 1: Beacon

Day 8, Saturday, Sept. 2: Wappingers Falls

Day 9, Sunday, Sept. 3: Poughkeepsie

Day 10, Monday, Sept. 4: Esopus

Day 11, Tuesday, Sept. 5: Port Ewen

Day 12, Wednesday, Sept. 6: Saugerties

Day 13, Thursday, Sept. 7: Catskill

Day 14, Friday, Sept. 8: Coxsackie

Day 15, Saturday, Sept. 9: Coxsackie

Day 16, Sunday, Sept. 10: Ravena

Day 17, Monday, Sept. 11: Glenmont

Day 18, Tuesday, Sept. 12: Glenmont

Day 19, Wednesday, Sept. 13: Albany

For more information, visit www.afj-ny.org.