Sunday, December 7, 2014



Quick links on panel discussion:

Background on Kwadir Felton case:

Organization links
NJ Black Wall Street:
Decarcerate the Garden State Facebook Group:

Zuku Nation

Keynote presentation from earlier Newark “Street” Panel on Decarceration
Writing as a participant in the Decarcerate NJ panel discussion held at Metropolitan Baptist Church at 149 Springfield Avenue in Newark, 6pm on December 5, the first priority is to offer tremendous kudos to Dr. Justice of Community Life organization who was the primary organizer of this extremely successful event.  I was thoroughly impressed by the quality of the panel participants, the level of organization, the staffing of the event, the timeliness and facilitation of the discussion and the turn out.  It was an honor to participate on behalf of the Committee to Decarcerate the Garden State – my participation and that of our organization was warmly welcomed and encouraged.

When I arrived a minute or two late due to traffic and making a wrong turn or two, the crowd was still trickling and many participants were signing up for the housing support program being coordinated by Community Life.  The door volunteer referred me to George Hornsby and Malik Uzn who were seated at the panel table – when I asked if I can put the banner up for Decarcerate the Garden State I was most pleased that it was suggested that I put it in front of the podium!  

The next steps were to get the camera set up, distribute the NJ Decarcerator paper and get the NJ Decarceration Act petition circulating.  I was able to leave a stack of NJ Decarcerator papers at the front table and I circulated sharing papers with those in attendance.  Some asked for multiple issues so that they could share with their colleagues who were not in attendance.  In all by the end of the evening about 200 papers were distributed.

To view NJ Decarcerator on line:

Several clipboards were sent around the room and one or two at the table by the door gathering signatures in support of the NJ Decarceration Act.  In all about 100 signatures were gathered.  To sign the petition on line:

To print the petition to gather signatures face to face:

The event had slamming presentations from beginning to end.  I am depending largely on notes from Sally Gellert to give some of the comments from the panelists.  I make loose use of quotes below as these are somewhat paraphrased quotations as taken from the notes.

 Dr. Justice made some introductory remarks.  She spoke of the need to pass legislation that would bring about sweeping decarceration measures and highlighted the profit motive of incarceration and how it drives the sentencing and the demand on police to make arrests to fulfill what often are quotas in agreements with prison corporations.  Dr. Justice then introduced Sr. Munirah Bomani.

Munirah is a social entrepreneur.  She stated that in order to get full understanding of mass incarceration, you need to understand that a lack of affordable housing and other social programs that are paid for by tax dollars drives incarceration.  These programs are funded by our tax dollars so it is perfectly appropriate to demand the allocations to make these programs work.  We must do it together; those on the front lines stand on behalf of our communities; which are suffering; some of us have learned how the system was designed to hold us back, pit us against each other; some have had that awakening and come back to community.

Munirah, as a formerly incarcerated female, cannot stand by and watch criminal injustice system criminalized people.  She state Our state, country are addicted to capitalism, mass incarceration is tied in; police brutality, killing of black men, women, children, other poor, going on all over the world, we need a common goal of defeating this system.

She urged us to “stand together to fight for what is rightfully ours; welfare funded, housing funded, by taxpayer dollars.”She offered her respect to the Decarcerate the Garden State movement.  “We are in solidarity - with other comrades; we are fighting common goal together regardless of other differences.”

She urged us not to wait for leaders, politicians, those who want spotlight.   “We are the leaders we are looking for; politicians are stakeholder in the government, many know what is going on , politics as usual, they act as though they will stop, help with jobs, but they want you to go along to get along; we need to prepare ourselves on our own and create own jobs.”

She expressed an understanding that things can be frustrating in the streets and it leads to doing negative things, need to redirect to creativity, go from negative to positive. 

There was a break in Munirah’s presentation and host Dr. Justice came up to provide some further remarks.

Dr. Justice told a story of a woman who went to college, was a single parent of 3 children.  This woman worked 3 jobs, she ran for congress,state senate and was about to run for another seat.  She then found out serendipitously that the election was manipulated.  She took the political machine culprits to court.

Next thing her home was visited by the prosecutor at her home in front of her family.  This woman had taken in to her home and provided housing and other support persons who had nowhere to go.  She was working evenings and in the morning six prosecutors came to her home.  They asked asked about another woman.  They were obviously after her – they broke windows in her house and arrested her son on a trumped-up charge.  She had been sleeping and went downstairs, kitchen had a bunch of white people in her house.  They put her in handcuffs, told son to stay out or get hurt.  She had never been arrested before and thought they had made a mistake.

She ended up accusing her of stealing $183000 from a homeless woman she had helped.  They offered her to take 5 years probation and admit guilt or go to jail.  The head prosecutor of Union County filed the complaint.  She  wound up in Union County jail for a few weeks before her family could get her out on 100,000 bail.  They had subpoenaed her job records which led to her losing her job.

Through the experience she learned how women who are incarcerated were treated: 3 to 4 women in a cell.  She learned much more on the suffering of incarcerated women.  When she finally got out on bail, people came back, banged on her door.  They were agents.  They would kick the door in if she did not open.  They took her again, to a private jail where nobody could find her, forced drugs on her.  The story that Dr. Justice had told was about herself.  And as it turns out the politician she had exposed for rigging the election – while he had won the election – he was forced to resign – due to the election corruption she had exposed.

Dr. Justice related her experiences and how she had survived those circumstances as a success story.  “I thought that I was going to lose my mind, they said I had PTSD, that I need disability.  This is real, there is no way someone can come out unaffected.  Prisoners will not tell you what happened.”  She referred to the psychological physical and structural violence suffered by the incarcerated.

For the second part of Sr Munirah Bomani: presentation she focused on the need for more effort to support women incarcerated.  Many women are incarcerated as accessories to their male partners on conspiracy or other charges when they are not the true perpetrator of the drug crime.  Munirah pointed out that men are the majority of the prisoners, but women are fastest growing segment of prisoners.  When they take mothers, who are often breadwinners – they invariably lose their children to child protective services.  She spoke of the school to prison pipeline and how welfare reform who moved women off welfare and often on a collision course to incarceration.  She asked who will stand for women today?  She emphasized the need for women to stand for ourselves – she called for toughness in the fight – for women who are hurt and killed in prison – who are fighting to get their children back after incarceration – fighting for section 8 housing.

She called upon us to be our own leaders and to take up our own issues – not to look for handouts but to figure out how to do for ourselves and to fight for ourselves with the same intensity as we fight for others.  She urged us to welcome support even if it is from those of other races or ethnicities and to work with those who are sincere and willing to work together and not to be divided.

Munirah states that she came out of prison over 20 years ago and had to fight and navigate the system to work for herself.  She called upon legislators to work for us and pointed out that Marissa Alexander who has to take a plea because they threatened her with long sentencing for defending herself.

Munirah states “When I came home, survived on my own.  I made a bad choice, now I have changed negative into positive – as a  college graduate, a certified construction worker.”  She works to send 10 women a year to learn building trades.   “You can be your own contractor, construction engineer, architecture, don’t let anyone keep you form that industry if you choose.”  Munirah tells us that it is not just about the “New Jim Crow” = it is about Jamika Crow – the growing victimization of women by mass incarceration.

The next presenter was Ms. Renee Felton.  She told the story of her son Kwadir Felton who in 2010 was shot in the head by Jersey City police officer and now is blinded for life.  The cop claims Kwadir tried to rob him, which is why he shot him.  Just 3 days after being shot, Kwadir was taken out of hospital (East Orange General), put in jail in lieu of ½ million bail. After a month in county jail, he made bail but 7 days later the police came back with a warrant for arrest on conspiracy and set bail for another 125000.  He got out again, and when the case went to trail,he lost.  The gun that the cop said was his had no fingerprint, nor DNA.  He is currently incarcerated with a 16 year sentence.  The Felton family is preparing an appeal due to the many irregularities in the first trial.  Renee stresses that this is not just about Michael Brown and Eric Garner – these cases are occurring everywhere.

The following article talks about the many – many – travesties in the Kwadir case.  This article also appears on page 4 of the NJ Decarcerator that was distributed at the event: 

The next speaker was Sis Dequi Kioni-sadiki of the Jericho Movement dedicated to decarceration and in particular freedom and support for the hundreds of political prisoners and prisoners of the domestic war on oppressed communities.  The best way to find out what she said is to watch her presentation:

I (Bob Witanek) was honored to be the next presenter . . . I spoke on the NJ Decarceration bill and also on the role mass incarceration plays in social control.  Speaking on behalf of Decarcerate the Garden State , here is my presentation: I also spoke of plans to promote a Tour de Decarcerate for similar kinds of events in as many as 20 cities around NJ in 2015 and to train more participants including youth as speakers for these events.
The next speaker was the renowned scholar on African history Dr. Leonard Jeffries and his presentation is also available on video:
Next up was Malik Uzn of Zulu Nation dedicated to building unity of street organizations.  Malik’s presentation is also available for your own viewing:

George Hornsby: Black Wall Street, early this evening, passed a sign up notebook around for anyone looking for a jobs, to provide their information and also anyone with people who are getting out of prison within 90 days.
For more on Black Wall Street see:

Randy Burley of Fathers on Fire was next up.  He told his story of having been shot 7 times.  When he was 15 years old he was investigated by police for selling bottled water.  Later he got a full scholarship to attend Princeton University.

He apologized for the failure of black men in setting a better example for young men.  He urged the audience to teach boys to stand up stating “Without you, there is no us.”  He urged us to teach daughters their value and to understand who you are.  He urged teaching children to be owners, to create and own businesses.  He urged mothers to take kids out of the street and push them to their potential.  He called upon Newarkers to be leaders.  He also suggested that we withhold our spending during this holiday season and that we cook for ourselves in our homes.

He invited people to contact him through New Hope Baptist at 106 Sussex Avenue. Newark, NJ.
 Following Randy, Kha Sekem Wy of REFAL headquarters spoke.  He talked about the community support projects at REFAL including after-school education support program, teaching Swahili language and offering food support for the local impoverished community.  He called upon the community to hold back on spending and use the power of boycott.  For more information on REFAL, visit:

In closing the event, Dr. Justice urged everyone to come back for a follow up meeting next Thursday, 6pm at the REFAL HQ 269–271 South 9th St, Newark NJ.  For more information, contact Dr. Justice at 908) 906-7146 .
This was the second panel discussion that Decarcerate the Garden State participated in this year, the first one occurring on July 30 outside Newark City Hall.  The following was the key note presentation from the first event by Johanna Fernandez:

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