Hundreds of protesters rallied in front of the White House Saturday morning to condemn prison practices and policies that target minority communities.
Protesters spoke out against what they called unfair police practices in black and brown neighborhoods and the disproportionately high population of minorities in the prison population of the United States.
Demonstrators gathered at Freedom Plaza along Pennsylvania Avenue and marched to Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House. They carried signs with slogans like “End prison slavery,” and “Stand against war and racism.” Protesters chanted “Break the chains” and “Shut it down” as they marched.
“We can talk all day, but how will we bring about change?”
Shandre Delaney, a member of the Human Rights Coalition and one of the rally’s emcees, called the high minority population in U.S. prisons a form of modern-day slavery.
“Our ancestor’s bodies funded an entire economy. Today, people’s bodies are still being used,” she said. “We are fed up with the totality of the prison industrial complex.”
Other organizers said the current tumultuous political climate should encourage activists to enact change, especially at the local level.
“The system wants you to remain silent but we have change happening in this country and we need a voice that does not remain silent,” Lamont Banks, a member of A Just Cause, a justice organization, said. “We can talk all day, but how will we bring about change? We have to bring about justice for somebody’s mother, somebody’s father, somebody’s sister. This has to be the beginning of fighting this injustice.”
In the wake of violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., organizers asked protesters not to bring anything that could be used as a weapon. Flag poles and wooden sign posts were banned from the rally.
“Nobody can do this for us or free us. It’s got to come from us.”
Speakers told the crowd of several hundred protesters, some who had come from as far as Alaska, to check in on family members or friends in prison to ensure that they’re living in decent conditions and receiving needed medical care especially because many inmates suffer from Hepatitis C outbreaks but often don’t get treatment for it.
Ramona Afrika, the minister of communication for the MOVE Organization, said during her remarks that people of color would continue to be targeted, regardless of their wealth or status. She said change had to come from activists and would rarely start with elected officials.
“Nobody can do this for us or free us. It’s got to come from us,” Afrika said. “Unless we as the people stand up for ourselves and refuse to be treated in any way other than with respect, nothing is ever going to change. Let’s commit now to stand up and find for what’s right.”