Activists Are Using A Creative Tactic To Protest Prison Expansion In L.A.

"If you’ve got $3.5 billion, invest it in the people."

The United States is a world leader in incarceration rates, so to protest the expansion of the prison system in Los Angeles (which just so happens to boast the largest county jail system in the nation) Black Lives Matter activists and dozens of other protesters from a coalition of anti-incarceration groups called JusticeLA placed 100 steel-frame jail beds on a downtown street on September 26. Protesters were perched on the beds and wore prison-orange T-shirts that read "I am not the property of L.A. County jail."

According to HuffPost, the demonstration took place outside of the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration, where the Board of Supervisors was meeting to finalize next year's budget. The Los Angeles Times reports L.A. county intends to spend "$2 billion to build a 3,885-bed replacement for the downtown Men's Central Jail and a 1,600-bed women's facility at the now-vacant Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster," though opponents say that plan will likely cost more around $3.5 billion.


Per the NAACP, mass incarceration disproportionately impacts people of color. The organization notes African Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of White Americans, and found that if African Americans and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates as White Americans, prison and jail populations would decline by almost 40 percent. The NAACP also reports that even though African Americans and White Americans use drugs at similar rates, the imprisonment rate of the former for drug charges is almost six times that of the latter.

In addition to arguing against mass incarceration, protesters also pointed out that money would be better spent elsewhere. "We can find $3.5 billion to build more jails, but we can't find money for schools. We can find money for Olympics, but we can't find money for parks," Black Lives Matter L.A. activist Greg Akili told the Times. "If you've got $3.5 billion, invest it in the people." 

Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, who led Tuesday's protest alongside others from her newly launched JusticeLA coalition, tells The Root that although supporters of the expansion claim it will help those suffering from mental health and substance abuse problems, the facts tell a different story. "We know that those beds are intended to expand the carceral state by incarcerating more marginalized people for profit," she explained. "That is tradition in this country, and the numbers show that." 

From a visual perspective, the 100 beds were meant to make a poignant statement. "This visual was a plea to divest from the $3.5 billion jail plan and invest in health care, youth centers, infrastructure, education, career development, and other resources that benefit our communities and address the years of governmental neglect and fundamental conditions that have caused deep-seated harm," Cullors added.

The L.A. Times reports contracts to design and build both prison facilities are expected to be awarded in summer 2018.


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