Decolonize Portland Statement on Prisons
DC PDX Prison Statement
Decolonize PDX stands in solidarity with prisoners for Occupy the Prisons today. We are thankful to Occupy/Decolonize Oakland for proposing it, and even more thankful to the organizers in prison who first called for a day to support prisoners.
We understand the vital importance of addressing prisons. The United States is the number one incarcerator in the world, holding over 2.5 million people. 1 out of 100 people in this country are locked down. Whether or not we know someone incarcerated (as too many of us do), we know the landscape of prisons shapes all of our horizons.
We understand the prison industrial complex as a mechanism of control. Critical Resistance uses the term prison industrial complex to highlight “overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to what are, in actuality, economic, social, and political ‘problems.’” We know the history and ideology of prisons grows directly out of the foundation of slavery, which was based on overlapping interests of government and industry to exploit enslaved African labor. Prisons are a method of social and economic control of rebellious populations, specifically Black communities, as was slavery before it. There is a reason, as Michelle Alexander shows, there are more Black people in prison now than were enslaved before the Civil War.
We know it is no accident that 70 percent of people in prison are people of color, with 50 percent being Black. In Oregon, Black people are 4 percent of the population, but 25 percent of the prison population. Six times more likely, same as the national average. Oregon - a state founded on exclusion of all people of color, with the Constitution calling for public whippings of any Black people who lived here - is not an anomaly. This is the day-to-day functioning of empire.
We see the immense growth of the detention system and exponential explosion of deportation of immigrants and the criminalization of Brown survival. We are arrested, we are detained, we are imprisoned, we are deported not for what we have done, but for who we are. For the fact that, despite all efforts to the contrary, we exist.
We see prison abolition as hand in hand with border abolition as an opportunity for immigrant and non immigrant communities of color to work together to create the world we all want to live in. Colonialism stole land from indigenous populations around the world to carve up by artificial borders, not for the purpose of creating community, but for the purpose of creating profits. This is the same way this new colonialism is and has kidnapped millions, for the purpose of containing communities of color sand exploiting labor.
As a collective of racial people of color, we know very well prisons are used to repress movements of liberation. The passage of NDAA and indefinite detention is nothing new; it is merely the legalization of the repression tactics used against communities of color for decades, for centuries. We honor the hundreds of political prisoners and prisoners of war here in U.S. (and around the world), held for 20, 30, 40 and more years, and those who have passed on inside a prison cell. We honor that these political prisoners are still organizing, still educating, still inspiring - still very much a part of our community.
We know prisons are disproportionately warehousing people who sit at the intersections of multiple identities and oppressions: people of color, immigrants, queer and trans, women, poor, young, disabled. This is not a coincidence or an unfortunate byproduct; this is the system working exactly as it was intended. Those who are most marginalized know that they can not turn to the system for protection from violence: this system is in fact the greatest purveyor of violence in our communities. We all must protect, honor and nurture all of our community, whatever side of bars or borders they are on.
We stand in awe of the communities and families who stay connected even in, as Mumia Abu-Jamal called it, these “bright shining hells.” Who visit every Sunday under the malevolent gaze of guards. Who scrape together money by magic to buy packages of toothpaste, of soap, of tampons, each quarter. Who send pictures of children who grow from baby to teenager as the years stretch beyond breaking. We honor communities and families who are able to make visiting rooms feel like family reunions, even if only until a guard yells “Time’s up!”
We honor the incredible organizers and community builders behind the walls. Folks who are incarcerated are and historically have been at the forefront of movements of resistance. We know some of the most courageous and innovative organizing today happens in prisons. We on the outside have much to learn from our companer@s able to organize over 12,000 California prisoners in dozens of institutions to go on hunger strike, all from solitary confinement cells. And we have a responsibility to stand in solidarity, to reach through barbed wire, to tear down the walls from the outside.
We know communities have and do create mechanisms outside of the criminal justice system to hold people accountable and address harm done, around the world, in this country and right here in Portland. We want to reclaim and learn from that knowledge and those histories. Decolonize PDX wants to be part of growing this work in an intentional way, so we rely on one another for our safety, rather than an oppressive system.
For these reasons, we believe complete abolition of the prison industrial complex is the only means forward for our communities to be healthy, safe and whole. Most Americans today believe slavery was an institution that needed to be abolished, utterly destroyed. But at the time, as Angela Davis has written, the majority of white Americans did not believe that; they thought reform of slavery was possible. We believe the prison system, rooted in the ideologies of slavery, has to be completely abolished. We believe when future generations look back, they will agree, without question, the dismantling of both institutions rooted in racism was not just the right thing to do; it was the only thing to do.
“If I know anything at all, it’s that a wall is just a wall and nothing more at all. It can be broken down.” Assata Shakur
Love and Struggle,