End Prison Terror
Report on the recent Conference On Raza Prisoners And Colonialism
Published on LatinoLA: July 8, 2002
?I want to plead with all of you to recognize that we stand in the midst of the most massive, state organized human captivity known to humankind -this thing we call the prison industrial complex?.
- Dylan Rodriguez
On a Saturday this past late-Spring, close to 100 people, which included barrio youth, community organizers, academicians, and pintos (ex-cons), attended the ?6th National Conference On Raza Prisoners And Colonialism?. The day-long conference was organized by the Chicano Mexicano Prison Project (CMPP), a mass-based organization under the leadership of Uni?n del Barrio. The conference took place at the University of California, Riverside and was hosted by ?Nuestra Cosa? (a Raza student newspaper).
Organized under the theme of ?Justicia Y Dignidad Para Todos; Acabar Con El Terrorismo En Las Prisiones? (Justice And Dignity For All; End Prison Terror), the conference consisted of speakers, workshops, and discussions, on issues related to question of La Raza?s struggle for justice, democracy, and self-determination and its relationship to the U.S. criminal justice and prison system. The theme represented the belief that everyone has a right to expect justice from the legal system, to be treated with dignity, and that no one should be a victim of terror. Furthermore, that prisoners are not animals, that they are humans, and therefore should be treated as such.
The conference theme also embraced the understanding, that due to the racist-capitalist nature of the system which currently exists, justice and democracy in the U.S. exist primarily for the rich. This reality has led to a situation where Mexican-Indians, Puerto Ricans, African (Americans), Filipinos, Samoans and other oppressed nations, as well as poor whites, because of discrimination or the inability to afford a legal defense, make up the great majority of the prison population of the United States.
It was the CMPP?s intention that the relationship between Raza liberation and the criminal justice system be discussed at the conference, specifically over the political economy of prisons, the impact of prisons on women and youth, how to defend democratic rights, and what more needs to be done to materialize the formation of a network of progressive activists doing work around prisoner rights.
It is important to note that the conference took place during a time when the U.S. government is effectively using the Sept. 11, 2001 destruction of the New York Twin Towers as a cover for the elimination of all progressive forces and to ignite an atmosphere of political terror. This has created a political atmosphere where far too many people are afraid to express any opinion that could be interpreted as ?anti-American?. Hence, it was satisfying to see the degree of enthusiasm, seriousness, courage, and unity, as was demonstrated by those attending this year?s conference.
The conference keynote speaker was Dylan Rodriguez. Dylan is a professor at the University of California, Riverside and has taught various courses on the politics and economics of prisons and has a history of activism in the struggle to abolish the prison industrial complex. Also, a solidarity presentation was delivered by Matthew Willis of the African People?s Solidarity Committee (APSC). The APSC works under the leadership of the African People?s Socialist Party (APSP) to get European (white) people to support the struggle for African (and other oppressed peoples) liberation. The conference facilitator was Ernesto Bustillos, a leading member of Uni?n del Barrio and the Chicano Mexicano Prison Project. A welcoming statement was given by Alejandra Guerrero, a member of UCR MEChA and representative of Nuestra Cosa newspaper.
The following are brief and general summations of what transpired at the four panel discussions that took place at the conference:
Organizing In Defense of Our Democratic and Human Rights: The panelists on this particular workshop were Quetza Ortiz (Barrio Defense Committee, San Jose), David Rico (Brown Berets de Aztl?n, San Diego) and Benjamin Prado (Coordinator of the Raza Rights Coalition and member of Union del Barrio). The panelists focused on the necessity to continue, and indeed, double our efforts to build independent organizations whose interest is the legal and human rights of the masses of the community. The panelists and the dialogue that followed emphasized that only through organized community power will we be able to challenge police shootings, brutality, and mass imprisonment of Mexicanos and poor people of all nationalities.
Participants urged everyone to actively work in the building of political parties and organizations that are completely independent of the corporate-colonial system, such as La Raza Unida, Raza Rights Coalition, Barrio Defense Committee and Union del Barrio. As this is the only real viable road towards creating independent people?s political power.
Moreover, there was a general consensus that consciousness raising work (talking to the people in the streets, parks, churches, and so forth) is fundamental to bringing the masses into organization. This type of work must be primary to the work of progressive and revolutionary forces. In addition, we must step up the organizing of rallies and protests, as a way of raising consciousness, specifically to the growing imprisonment of Raza and the implementation of racist-fascist laws under the pretext of fighting terrorism.
Workshop participants also recognized the crucial role that barrio youth and students will play in the future struggles in defense of our communities. Bringing youth into the movimiento demands consistent work and, at all times, taking into consideration the needs and interests of young people.
This workshop also included reports and updates on the campaigns to free Jose Luis Avi?a, Alavaro Hernandez, Luis V. Rodriguez, and other political prisoners. Discussion also took place, based on the concrete experiences of those participating on this workshop, as to the most effective methods (pickets, etc.) of bringing attention to the situation of political prisoners.
Finally, the workshop raised the need to find ways of bringing Raza academicians and professionals, the primary beneficiaries of the victories of the last period of mass-militant struggle (Chicano and Black Power Movements of the 1960s and 70s), to become more active. Specifically, that this sector of our community be more aggressive in the fight to again open the doors of the colleges and universities to the working class and poor communities.
Youth and the Criminalization of La Raza: Ricardo Favela (Mexicanos Unidos En Defensa del Pueblo, Fallbrook), Ernesto Bustillos, Jr.(Brown Berets de Aztl?n, San Diego) , David Rico (Brown Berets de Aztl?n, San Diego), Leo Negrete (Casa de Aztl?n, Riverside), Francisco Romero (Committee On Raza Rights, Oxnard) , and Libertad Ayala (La Raza Unida Party, San Fernando) were the panelists on this particular workshop.
This workshop centered their discussion on the need to work with youth, not only to end the vicious police and psychological war being waged against them, but to educate and raise the consciousness of youth so that they can become productive and positive leaders in our communities, and of our movement.
The participants of this workshop explained how the media, schools, and the police, have join forces to effectively turn many of our youth into criminals or self-centered individuals, thereby keeping them from joining the struggle for the liberation of the Mexican community.
These attacks by mainstream institutions take place in the form of stereotyping, racial profiling, and reinforcing of negative behavior. Moreover, programs that are geared towards providing the foundations for a relevant education, such as Bilingual Education and Chicano Studies, etc, have been virtually eliminated. It was noted, that it is precisely within this institutionalized campaign against our youth where we find the root cause of drug abuse, barrio violence, and criminal activity.
In order to overturn this situation, the workshop participants called for activists to stand side by side with youth against police attacks, irrelevant education, and media stereotyping. This stance necessitates the creation of programs and activities which will bring an understanding to Raza youth of the rich history and culture of the Mexican people.
The participants felt that it was important to understand that in order to be an effective organizer of youth, we have to be well versed on the real basis for the current anti-youth policies (for example prop 21, so-call ?anti-gang? ordinances, elimination of Bilingual and Chicano Studies Programs, the re-introduction of ?remedial? education, and ?closing? of the doors of the colleges and universities to working class and poor youth, which are make up the majority of our population. It was furthered explained, that only armed with this knowledge, in conjunction with practical skills, will enable us to begin to overturn the social-pyschological crisis in which most Raza youth find themselves.
Women, The Struggle, and Prisons: Speaking on this workshop were Catalina Espitia (Coordinator of the Chicano Mexicano Prison Project, San Diego), Elba Alvarez (Uni?n del Barrio, San Bernardino), Teresa Azhocar (California Coalition For Women Prisoners, San Diego), Amanda Perez Sosa (Criminal Justice Consortium, Los Angeles), and Yolanda Fajardo (Chicano Park Steering Committee, San Diego).
This workshop offered a women?s perspective on how the criminal justice and prison system impacts social, economic, and political life of the Mexican community. While most conferences and gatherings limit the question of women?s liberation to discussing feminism and personal issues, the workshop provided a perspective on issues that are central to our whole community; making it clear, that women?s liberation is an issue to be dealt with by all Raza.
A wide range of issues pertaining to the criminal justice and prison system were addressed by the panelists. For example: the lack of proper medical services for women prisoners: the fact that most of women prisoners have children; that the incarceration rate of women is growing faster, relatively speaking, than that of men; and that a large percentage of women in prisons come from abusive relationships with men and that this has played a central factor leading to their imprisonment.
The testimonies and dialogue also called for movement activists to recognize the fundamental role that incarceration of women play in the capitalist-colonial oppression of our whole community. It was specifically pointed out, that the growing incarceration of women is nothing short of a form of genocide, as it is tears apart the family. Once the mother is imprisoned, the odds are that her children will be sent to mainly white foster homes (where money is made by the foster parents and racism prevails), then moved into juvenile hall, and finally they in up in prison themselves.
The cases of Teresa Cruz and Yolanda Farjado were summed up. Teresa is currently doing has been in prison for over six years for conspiracy to kill her abuser (no one was killed) and Yolanda, who tried to assist an young man being beaten by the police, was herself brutally beaten by the San Diego Police. The conference was united in supporting the case of these two Mexicana women.
The panelists called upon for women to become active in the struggle for social change, that women already involved help each other out, and for the movement itself, to make bringing women into the struggle a priority.
The Politics and Economy of Prisons: The panel on this workshop consisted of Pablo Aceves (Union del Barrio and Comite Flores Magon, Tijuana), Benjamin Prado (Coordinator of the Raza Rights Coalition, San Diego), Ernesto Bustillos (Union del Barrio and Free Luis Rodriguez Committee, San Diego), and Cecilia Ubilla (Committee For World Democracy, San Diego)
This workshop made it clear to everyone that prisons are part of the arsenal of oppression and terror to be used against the masses. That the police/migra, criminal justice system, and prisons work in unison to keep the masses oppressed. Furthermore, that this capitalist and colonialist oppression, is not limited to the belly of the beast (United States), but an oppression extending to the whole world community.
Examples and personal testimony was given by the panelists, who cited numerous instances where the various police (including the migra) agencies have violated the civil and human rights of the Mexican community. The basis for these violations are to be found in the need to keep our communities oppressed and their labor easily exploitable.
In was understood that prisons do not only serve as concentration camps for the poor, for political dissidents, or those with the potential to rebel, but have become highly profitable economic enterprises of the capitalist system. It is a fact that prisons are one the fastest growing enterprises in United States. Almost every employee of the criminal justice system, as well as major construction and maintenance companies, make a profit out of the imprisonment of the poor and oppressed peoples.
The dialogue concluded with the need for moving beyond conferencing, to that of supporting and joining organizations who have taken on the struggle against the prison industrial complex; as only a militant, well organized struggle, will begin to end the massive imprisonment of the colonized, poor, and oppressed peoples.
For more information on the CMPP, see:
The CMPP was founded in 1993 with the objective of informing the public on the impact of prisons and the criminal justice on the Mexican communities within the current borders of the United States.