By Luci Riley, Lead Organizer, Richmond Chapter of BA4B
On Saturday, October 24, the Richmond Chapter of Bay Area For Bernie will be hosting our Say Her Name march to commemorate the heroic life and activism of Sandra Bland. As a nation, our hearts were broken, while we watched in horror as the events that ended her precious life unfolded. Barely three months has passed and many of us are still in a state of shock over this maddening event.
Watching her “Sandy Speaks” online videos has been a haunting experience for many of us who never had the good fortune to know this generous soul. The humanity of Sandra’s activism, as witnessed by her online encouragement, has touched so many of us as women activists. It only seems natural for us to commemorate her life as a kindred spirit.
As political activists working for a just society, many of the organizers and participants of this march were already galvanizing around Bernie Sanders as a Democratic hopeful for the presidency. Soon after Bernie announced his run for the Oval in late April, BA4B organizers sent out petitioner cards for our members to sign and send into campaign headquarters. These cards were our collective cry to Bernie to put Black Lives Matter concerns on his platform. We knew that addressing income inequality without intersecting racial injustice was a moot point for so many disaffected minority voters, right here in our own communities.
When the BLM activists interjected their concerns at Netroots, many of us within the larger Bay Area For Bernie network cheered them on. We saw these “Voices Of Disruption” and their message of racial justice as a gift to the campaign. We were deeply encouraged by Bernie’s responsiveness and we immediately went to work supporting the growth and development of his racial justice platform.
Sandra’s death moved us deeply. She did everything she was “supposed” to do. She worked hard to graduate from college and she had just landed her dream job at her Alma Mater. She met all the prescribed “expectations of success” from those far removed from the daily injustices of living in poor urban communities without much hope of upward mobility.
And yet still, she suffered the violent indignities of police brutality as so many precious young black sons, brothers and fathers have suffered. The only difference? All of those young men had been easily dismissed by calling them the new “N” word. Mainstream media and so many obtuse white folks on social media labeled them as “thugs” and they tossed them out of their consciousness as trash. Therein lies the cognitive dissonance with Sandra’s situation. You can’t call Sandra Bland a “thug.” She was an outlier to the theme. Her story wasn’t supposed to happen, much less meet the light of day.
Sandra has become the face of the movement for so many of us who have realized that it doesn’t matter that you can “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” if the police state can snuff you out under the boot of mass incarceration through police brutality in the streets.
For Bernie supporters, this election is about far more than one candidate sitting in an oval office. The widespread political activism Bernie’s candidacy has inspired is indicative of the full fruition of his challenge to ignite a political revolution. Little did the vast majority of us know on that inspiring day at Netroots in mid-July, that the widespread news of the tragic details of Sandra Bland’s death was about to make this issue a visceral experience for so many.
Here at Bay Area For Bernie, we are taking up the baton that Bernie has handed us. We are organizing this march through Richmond chapter and other local progressive activist orgs as a coalition building action to protest the local expansion of the West County jail here in Contra Costa County. We see this immoral proposal as an epic failure of priorities set by the Board Of Supervisors, when we just witnessed the closure of our only West County acute care community hospital, Doctor’s Medical Center. As Bernie supporters, and BLM supporters and allies, we see this jail expansion as part of the insidious growth of the police state nationwide.
For many of us working in the arena of social justice, mass incarceration has become the moral dilemma of modern American life. As Americans, we constitute only five percent of the worldwide population, yet we imprison twenty five percent of the world’s inmates. The patriotic notion of “The Land of The Free” is apparently a suburban thang that the vast majority of inner city urban youth have never had the good fortune to understand. The song of the American Dream simply does not resonate for many poor communities in the U.S. and that is doubly so for poor communities of color living under the boot of constant police surveillance and the ever present threat of police brutality.
Through a series of failed legislative actions regarding domestic crime policy, dating back to the Regan era and thrown into overdrive by the Clinton era 1994 Tough On Crime bill, mass incarceration has become a business model for the prison industry and our criminal justice system has become tragically corrupted as a result. The goal of correcting behaviors deemed unacceptable by society in the modern correctional facility has been undermined by the demand for cheap prison labor to sort fruit for Whole Foods Market. As a nation, we are spending 80 billion dollars annually to support failed policy, as we now have a 50 percent failure rate evidenced by correlating prison recidivism studies. As Bernie supporters, we know this vast war chest of public funding could be put to much better use through projects focused on building community, not tearing families and communities apart to provide cheap prison labor for big business.
Bernie supporters focused on his racial justice platform and community activists from local labor groups and our faith community have come together under a common belief that through our combined pressure to engage our community regarding this issue on the local and national level, we have a real chance to move our agenda forward. We seek to end further proliferation of correctional facilities in our county and to demand reinvestment in community building projects like a new acute care community hospital in West County. This one effort alone would provide much needed mental health services for our citizens in crisis, by averting their inevitable incarceration if left untreated. We know from numerous studies that being locked up in solitary confinement for 23 hours out of the day risks further deterioration of an already tenuous mental health situation. A new acute care community teaching hospital would create construction jobs, as well as employment opportunities for many East Bay healthcare professionals and students seeking to serve their community.
We are seeking support from the community to join us in our October 24 “Say Her Name March.” At 10 a.m. sharp, we will begin our march with a vigil in the now shuttered Doctors Medical Center parking lot in San Pablo, just North of Richmond. We will be led in prayer by local ministers and faith leaders representing our faith community in Contra Costa County. We will lift up the victims of police violence nationwide along with their family members, who carry a heavy burden of loss. We will be walking the sidewalks in a remembrance procession down San Pablo avenue with the names of the unarmed victims of police violence who have lost their lives since January 1st, 2015. There are over 200 victims to carry on white signs with black writing. When we arrive at Civic Center Plaza just outside Richmond City Hall at approximately 11:30 a.m., we will begin an open prayer meeting to share the stories of a broken criminal justice system from members of the community and we will call on the powers that be to endorse legislation to end federal funding of the for-profit private prison industry with our hard earned tax dollars.
Please distribute our flyer amongst your networks and we hope to see you there!
Many in body, one in spirit!
Acknowledgments and future action:
We would like to thank our Bay Area For Bernie volunteers for so much behind the scenes work in organizing this action, as well as the following:
Our faith community will be represented by CCISCO organizers from EBASE and FAME among others, who will lead us in prayer at both our vigil and our open prayer circle.
Safe Return Project is assisting with making signs of the victims of police violence.
We would like to thank Tom Butt’s office for working with us to stop this immoral jail expansion, by giving our organizers a hearing at Richmond City Hall.
Please note that we will be organizing in surrounding communities in the coming months to address our neighboring city councils to endorse this legislation and join us in calling an end to mass incarceration nationwide. If you would like to be a part of our organizing effort, please contact us at RichmondCAforBernie@gmail.com.