Sunday, January 25, 2015

First Camden Stop of Tour de Decarcerate 2015

Decarcerate the Garden State and Camden Come Back teamed up and produce an awesome community based panel discussion on mass incarceration and the struggle to end it in NJ on Saturday, January 24at the Ferry Acenue Library in Camden, NJ.

The night before and morning of the event – we had to make a tough call.  The weather was borderline – snow followed by rain with varying effect on parts of NJ.  No matter what we were going to take a hit.  Postpone and we lose momentum – possible availability of our keynote.  Move forward and we lose at least some people that will be scared off by the media hype that accompanies every snowflake.  We decided that the best option was to move forward.

Personally – everything in the morning for the most part went off like clock work 
I prepared all the hand outs and made sure I had all the items needed to make it happen – picked up the Jericho entourage at Trenton, son Rob along for the extra pair of hands and educational and movement experience – roads not too bad weather or traffic wise – we got there before 3 pm.  We could not have set up early anyway since the previous reservation held the room until 3.

We ended up off to a little bit late of a start – about 3:20 pm and since we only had the room for less than 2 hours that provided our first challenge.

In the room along with the Decarcerators from NJ and even Pennsylvania and the Jericho crew from NY there were two reporters and a news photographer representing South Jersey Times and The Gleaner, a campus paper at Rutgers Camden.  Rowan University was also represented by a faculty member, several student including one who would participate on the panel.

The event was kicked off with an introduction by Queneke King who had already done much to bring the success to the event having written the press release that led to advance coverage by the Patch and NJ dot com.  Below is the press release with links to the many outlets including news outlets the press release resulted in.  (Follow up calls and e-mailing and tweeting the release were also part of the process of getting the information across to achieve the advances.)
First up was keynote speaker Dequi Sadiki.  She painted the broad brush of mass incarceration from the days of capture for enslavement, through the counter –liberation warfare against the Black Panther Party and other US Black liberation forces to today’s war on drugs and mass imprisonment.  She drove home the point about how the latest wave of mass incarceration from the 70s through today was and is a means of controlling the oppressed of this nation and of this world.  She highlighted the importance for our decarceration movement to put the freedom for all political prisoners and prisoners of war at the forefront of our demands for decarceration.  She also read a passage she co-wrote with her husband, former political prisoner for over 3 decades Sekou Odinga ( ) from the collection of works just published:

The Roots of Mass Incarceration: Locking Up Black Dissidents and Punishing the Poor
Edited by Mumia Abu-Jamal and Johanna Fernández
published by Journal of the Research Group on Socialism and Democracy

Queneke next introduced Gary Frazier.  He started outright with explosive information about a recent incarcerated casualty, a Camden resident who ended up deceased at the Southwoods facility.  While the authorities are reportedly claiming a heart attack, Gary relayed having seen injuries suggesting otherwise.  This information had not been broken though has been a matter of under the radar and social network consideration in recent days.  Gary’s highlighting this casualty led to it breaking in the NJ dot com article (see below). 

Gary laid out the vicious cycle for those who have been incarcerated and are in debt due to child support or other debts related to their prosecution and unable to get work due to their stigmatization for past incarceration and the plain lack of availability of livable wage jobs particularly in impoverished communities.  He conveyed clearly the need for the cities across the US to unite to bring an end to mass incarceration and deal explicitly and effectively with the issues of re-entry, employment and recidivism.  His insightful presentation is available in full at this link:

The Honorable Allen Cannon, former Deputy Mayor of Hopewell Township and President of the Camden High School Alumni Association reiterated the systemic double standards and the racial stereotyping that feeds mass incarceration.  He called for greater civic and political engagement including electorally of the Black and other impoverished communities.  He talked about the many ways that corporate power games the system to control outcomes including Citizens United that legalizes purchasing of political office by corporate power.  His presentation:

Following, Nia Ali, a Musical Theatre major at nearby Rowan University and a co-founder of the anti-violence Keep Youth and Streets Safe from her home town of Plainfield spoke on behalf of the Youth Section of Decarcerate the Garden State.  She urged the engagemet of youth organizers and activists in working to waken youth up to the dangers of what she terms “hyper” incarceration – instead of mass incarceration – because it targets some sub sectors of the population more intensely than others.  She hit on the school to prison pipeline and how school discipline matters now often result in arrest situations.   Nia issued an urgent clarion call upon youth to join the battle to learn about mass incarceration and to rise up against the system of mass incarceration:

Nia also recently presented upon behalf of the Youth Section of Tour de Decarcerate before the Students of Color Retreat of United States Students Association and she wrote about the experience (vid also at this link):

Following Nia was my own presentation.  We had started late and the program so 
far had taken a little longer than expected.  It also became apparent that the library wanted us out not at 5pm but beforehand.  So I had to do some fast talking to get out our 6 points of action.  My son told me that I was rushed made me sound more intense – maybe that was good.
Our 6 points of action include:

1. Fight for introduction and passage of NJ Decarceration Act calling for release of non-violent incarcerated persons, 50% incarcerated reduction over next 4 years, right to vote for incarcerated, funds that were spent on incarceration and freed up follows the incarcerated back to their communities to create jobs and re-entry projects, among other profivions.
2. Tour de Decarcerate: Our plan to host at least 30 panel discussions like this one over the next year in cities across NJ.
3.Media:  Distribution of NJ Decarcerator paper, nightly internet paper NJ Decarcerator Daily, promotion of writers on the topic at out blog site  , our Facebook group and page and other media and social media outreach.
4. Our justice committee fighting to free political prisoners and supporting those falsely imprisoned or over sentenced, over prosecuted as well as supporting demands to stop abuses occurring within the system including day to day deprivations as well as solitary – and being ready to support incarcerated should they launch a protest movement on the inside.
5. Study groups: Through study of New Jim Crow and other texts, internet resources, videos, and participating in joint tudy groups, the development of expertise among all of our members so that we can better serve as teachers and discussion leaders on the topic.
6. Facilitate communication through the walls of the institutions from the inside to the outside to publicize abuses in the system, share the information from the inside and any information about protests inside and from the outside to the inside to let the incarcerated know that we are building a decarceration movement so that they can have some hope – and to let them know if they do decide to strike or protest on the inside we are ready to support and rally solidarity from the outside.
For more on the 6 point action plan of Decarcerate the Garden State:

Here was my presentation:

After the formal event – it was continued informally at a local pizza shop – we enjoyed pizza and each others company and lasting bonds of unity and camaraderie were formed.  

The major accomplishments of the event were:

1.       Unity of Camden fighters with students from Rowan University and Rutgers Camden – should these bridges be fortified there will be HISTORIC repercussions.
2.       Very powerful article in SJ Times – which solidly summarized what we presented which means our message reached thousands of people.
3.       It was revealed first time publicly about the recent death of a Camden resident inside Southwoods State Prison – that authorities are calling a heart attack but visible inspection of pictures suggest otherwise – a piece of information that was picked up by the news article referenced above.
4.       Local resident Jennifer came to event with several completed petition pages that she has been circulating in Camden.
5.       Residents of Bridgeton came forward and offered to help plan a forthcoming similar event there (where Southwoods prison is located).  Planning for the event has already begun.
6.       The assertion of a the Youth Section of Decarcerate the Garden State with Nia’s presentation and several of her student associates in the room.  It is strongly possible that we will be able to do an activity at Rowan and possibly at RU Camden this spring.
7. There was a proposal for a second larger discussion - possibly a Street Panel Discussion again in Camden when it gets a little warmer with other communities and campus events leading up to it.


The process toward this event is fairly typical of what needs to take place when putting a local event together.  The important thing is to have a local committee on the ground to support the logistics of site reservation, to assess the community and determine what groups to involve and how to promote in the community and to participate in organizing, shaping the presentations, and assuring the organzing fits in with the community goals and plans.

Gary Frazier had traveled to Newark to participate in the Decarcerate the Garden State Street Panel Discussion on the steps of Newark City Hall on July 30.  He took stacks of NJ Decarcerator papers back to Camden and determined that there was interest in Camden in the issue. Since then we have been attempting to move forward with a plan to hold such an event there.  Given local demands on Camden – its battle against the manipulations of the state controlled school administration in privatizing the school system – the activists of Camden are always splitting their time between various pursuits.  So it was not until December 21, 2014 that a meeting finally came together.

In arder to strive toward our goals of organizing 30 or more stops of the Tour de Decarcerate panel discussion tour, the following are some of the first steps:
Have a local person that can call an initial organizing meeting.  At the initial organzing meeting it is probably best to have at least 4 or more people from the local community – but more is better and having representation from the local fighting organizations is ideal.  The things that need to be determined at the meeting:

1. Is there agreement to do the event and enough agreement among the local constituents to actually carry out the local tasks involved.
2. Tentative date of the event and tentative location (or dates / locations).
3. A general agreement on the general format of the event.
4. A plan for going about determining how the speakers will be selected , who will do the press release, and how things will be communicated going forward and if additional meetings are needed.
If those points can be agreed upon and determined – then it is a go.  The following was the result from the Camden kick off meeting.
Coming up:

We have another event already planned on Tuesday, February 24, 6pm at the Plainfield NJ Library.

Beginning steps have been taken toward an event in Bridgeton.

We have been contacted by someone in Franklin Township and their might be an opportunity there.

Anyone interested in exploring potential for bringing our traveling panel discussion to their community should contact us immediately at or 908-881-5275.

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