The Afrikan Black Coalition, the largest statewide coalition of Black students, recently reported on the $25 million investment in private prisons and $425 million investment in Wells Fargo by the University of California (“UC”).
After learning further about the for-profit industry of mass incarceration, the Black Student Unions at all nine University of California campuses have unanimously voted on a resolution calling on the UC regents to divest immediately.
The formal resolution calls on the UC Regents to divest from private prisons, divest from Wells Fargo, and to create a Socially Responsible Investment Screening Committee. For Black students, the decision was simple from both a personal and political standing.
Black students are intimately familiar with the disproportionate rate at which Black bodies are rounded up and fed to the carceral state. The impact of mass incarceration on Afrikan and immigrant folks in the United States cannot be ignored.
We must not forget that we live in the United States, where the legacy of criminalizing Blackness is a constitutive element of the nation’s fabric.
And if we truly believe that #BlackLivesMatter from the hood to the academy, we must stand with our brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins and extended family members who are currently incarcerated or are at a higher risk of incarceration because of their very Blackness.
We must not forget about leaders who came before us and who still remain trapped as political prisoners in a futile attempt to isolate our revolutionary elders from our Black masses. This is not empty rhetoric.
Addressing the reality of this problem includes addressing the sheer number of our lives earmarked for incarceration in order to feed a system of modern-day slavery. Some of us “make it” to college only to remain shackled to student loans for life, some of us are targeted in modern day lynchings, and most of us are enslaved anew.
Slavery never disappeared. A caveat was attached to the 13th Amendment of 1865 that declared slavery an unlawful entity, except when serving as a punishment for a “crime”.
Prisons are the latest iteration of slavery and the newest repackaging of Jim Crow. The FBI states that violent crime in the U.S. has dropped since 1991, yet the amount of people in private prisons has steadily risen.
While many other countries were busy reducing the numbers of prisoners and frequency of imprisonment, the U.S. created a racially coded “War on Crime,” mandatory minimum sentences, and a three strikes policy.
These punitive approaches combined with a focus on “law & order” are blatantly racist and classist. For example, Black and white folks use drugs at similar rates, yet Black folks are much more likely to be arrested.
In 2010, Black men were incarcerated at a rate of 5,525 per 100,000, compared to 1,146 for Latinos, 671 for whites, and 43 for Asians. For women, the Sentencing Project reports that the lifetime imprisonment rate is 1 in 56 for all women.
Yet the lifetime imprisonment rate for white women is 1 in 118 for white women versus 1 in 19 for Black women.
And in 2010, Black women were incarcerated at a rate of 133 per 100,000 women, which is nearly 3 times the rate of white women. However, the population most at risk is Black youth (under 18 years old). Young Black women are the fastest growing segment of the juvenile justice system and the criminal justice system.
So we must ask ourselves, what could the Black community accomplish if these invisible people were made visible and released from America’s chains? When private prisons make $122/day from each prisoner, yet each prisoner makes anywhere from one to five dollars a day, who is profiting? While the state of California only built three CSU campuses and one UC campus in the last 30 years, 23 prisons were built in that same timeframe.
Private prison divestment is not merely a personal, political or an academic issue for Black students, but a human rights issue. It is clear that investment in private prisons does not align with the proposed values of the UC and the Black students at the UC have spoken in unison and with piercing clarity: we must divest now.
The demands call for divesting from CCA, the Geo Group, and other private prisons; divesting from Wells Fargo as long as the bank has business relations with the private prison industry; and reinvesting the university’s funds in in education and companies that are owned or controlled by the formerly incarcerated.