(Image above from Black August — The Black Collective)
Black August is an annual dedication of our collective commitment to make Black liberation real. As this August draws to a close, we recognize the many events in the centuries-long Freedom Struggle that have transpired during the month, including the global reckoning in the Haitian Rebellion of 1791, the 1832 slave rebellion led by Nat Turner, the historic March on Washington of 1963, and the Ferguson Uprising of 2014 after the murder of Mike Brown.
Since California has innovated and expanded much of the carceral infrastructure of the prison-industrial complex (a term coined by Angela Davis), it is unsurprising that Black August emerges from this state’s enterprise of mass caging and repression through confinement.
It began in 1979 after the coordinated murder of several politicized prisoners in state prisons by guards and officials, as well as political repression and racial terror they suffered. The most notable victim was revolutionary George Jackson, assassinated at Soledad State Prison. Jackson was sentenced at 18 years-old to one-to-life after pleading guilty to a robbery for which he maintained his innocence.
Divest in prisons, invest in people
Closing prisons and investing in programs that encourage public safety are necessary and urgent steps towards a culture of public safety that actually redresses conditions leading to crime. In order to do that, movements should be steeped in accountability to those currently imprisoned who in turn guide and inform our coalitions. AFSC is a member of Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), which is leading the path towards completely closing prisons in the state—and ensuring those inside get to return to their communities. Read CURB’s Prison Closure Memo for the vision and concrete steps to get there.
This year, former AFSC fellow Paul Redd, who was imprisoned for decades, interviewed several people with significant experiences of incarceration. We commemorate Black August by sharing some of their wisdom in the following clips as part of a forthcoming narrative project.
William Palmer was sentenced to a lifetime in prison when he was just 17. He eventually challenged his imprisonment at the California Supreme Court and was released. Read more about his story at The Marshall Project. In this clip, he envisions the collective power of people with prior justice-system involvement to make change:
In another clip, Katie Dixon remarks on the shameful role that private corporations have in perpetuating and maintaining mass incarceration, particularly GEO Group, a major investor in prison and so-called rehabilitative services:
Families and advocates on the outside have to rely on information and knowledge from people currently incarcerated who analyze their conditions. For instance, we know of the horrid reality within Alameda County’s Santa Rita jail because of activism from within, such as hunger strikes, prison labor strikes, and lawsuits. Another mega-corporation, Aramark, benefits from millions in publicly-funded contracts to provide food services in jails. It was hit by a lawsuit by Santa Rita detainees for not being paid for millions of dollars worth of work and various threats from sheriff deputies.
AFSC and abolition
Real liberation means the end of oppression and exploitation of Black and African-descended people everywhere. It also means a different world where social conditions and relationships are transformed so that Black people—and therefore, all of us—thrive. This is what abolition demands: a world made anew, based on healing and solidarity. We form this new world to the extent we abolish the current one. Black people will not thrive so long as prisons, jails, police, and broader systems of control exist.
As August draws to a close, we reflect on AFSC’s contributions to concretely dismantle prisons and caging across the state, raise the alarm on despicable conditions, and humanize and amplify the experience of formerly incarcerated people, who have and will continue to lead in transforming conditions for those returning to society. In 1978, AFSC called for an end to building prisons in the US, the abolition of imprisonment as a means of dealing with social problems, and supported a constitutional amendment to prohibit involuntary servitude—otherwise called “slavery.”
We are thankful for your continued support and engagement in this righteous work. We look forward to sharing the full narrative project at a later time and to remember and commemorate Black August in the years to come.
Nathaniel, John, Fatimeh
California Healing Justice program team
Learn more about Black August and its legacy: Black August — The Black Collective
Follow Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) as it works to close prisons: