Nearly 2 million people are incarcerated in the United States. According to Human Rights Watch, an independent organization dedicated to the protection of human rights, 63 percent of those people are black or Latino, though their populations combined make up 25 percent of the United States population.
A speaker series at Ithaca College, “The Prison Machine: Race, Torture, and the State,” plans to discuss the factors which have resulted in the country’s high number of minority incarcerations.
Sean Eversley-Bradwell assistant professor of African Diaspora studies, said the series, which includes four lectures, is designed to explore the social and political conditions that result in a large number of people of color being imprisoned.
“It’s a good opportunity to explore what democracy means,” he said.
Eversley-Bradwell hosted the first lecture, “Warfare in the American Homeland: Policing and Prison in a Penal Democracy,” on Tuesday night. It featured Joy James, a professor of political science at Williams College and the John B. and John T. McCoy Presidential Professor of Africana Studies.
Alan Elado Gomez, assistant professor of Latino studies at Ithaca College, will lead a forum tonight in response to the Jena Six case at 7 p.m. in Textor 101 to discuss the taboo of racism and the inequalities in the judicial system.
The case began in September 2006, when tensions in a high school in Jena, La., escalated after white students hung nooses from the “white” tree in the school’s courtyard the day after six black students sat beneath it. Later, a white student was beaten and suffered a concussion and multiple bruises.
According to a Sept. 15 article in the New York Times, five of the six black students, known as the Jena Six, were tried as adults and were charged with attempted second degree murder. One was a juvenile at the time of the fight. The Louisiana state appeals court decided on Friday the remaining member of the group, Mychal Bell, 17, should not have been tried as an adult and reversed Bell’s conviction.
Junior Taylor Desir, internal affairs officer for ALS, said he felt the forum tonight is necessary.
“[The event is meant] to spark an educated discussion to get students to know what’s going on and hopefully promote some activism on the topic”
ALS will hold a rally for the Jena Six at noon today at Cornell University’s Hope Plaza.
Tanya Saunders, dean of the Division of Interdisciplinary and International Studies at the college, said few Americans are informed about the prison conditions for people of color.
“I think very few know about it and very few care about it,” she said.
Saunders said she hopes the lectures will force students to start asking questions about these issues.
“People are going to begin to question why … we have such a high representation of people of color in prison,” she said.
The next lecture, “Community Dialogue,” will be held on Nov. 7. The lecture will include a panel of activists and educators. The speakers include Leslie Jones, a local lawyer; Jason Corwin, a filmmaker and graduate of Cornell University; and Raul Salinas, a published poet and human rights activist.
Gomez said the community dialogue will bring people who are interested in the issue of racial incarceration together in an open forum.
To end the series, Gomez will present the play “Guantanamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom,” on Dec. 5 in the Clark Lounge.
Gomez said the play is based on interviews with the families of the Tipton Three, three Guantanamo Bay detainees who were held in Guantanamo Bay for two years.
“The idea [for the play] … is to emphasize the fact that prisons far away are simply extensions inside our own country,” he said.
A fourth lecture, titled “The Real Cost of Prisons,” was originally scheduled for Oct. 17 but was tentatively rescheduled for Spring 2008.
Gomez said he hopes the lectures will make students more informed about the realities of prisons.
“I would venture to say very few know that every road out of Ithaca leads to a prison,” he said. “[People] don’t pay attention to prison in society. [They think,] ‘Just lock them up and throw away the key.’ ”
To see a full list of the series’ events, visit http://www.ithaca.edu/cscre/prisons