An “activist project” aligned with Black Lives Matter is recruiting white people to advance radical criminal justice reforms in California, such as eliminating cash bail for most defendants, granting felons incarcerated in state penitentiaries the right to vote, and abolishing the prison system altogether. Those and other transformations were promoted by featured speakers at the Justice L.A. Town Hall last Thursday, organized to enlist “non-people of color” to oppose a jail expansion plan in Los Angeles County.
“The task before us, as white people of conscience, is to mobilize other white folks into taking anti-racist action and to dismantle the white supremacist system that is crushing us all,” said Dahlia Ferlito, co-founder of White People 4 Black Lives (WP4BL), which coordinated the gathering.
WP4BL describes itself as “a white anti-racist collective and activist project” that is “rooted in acting in solidary with Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles.” Both organizations are part of an anti-cop conglomerate working together to disrupt the daily operations of the Los Angeles Police Department. WP4BL's membership roster includes actor Matt McGorry, who played a prison guard that impregnated an inmate on the Netflix hit, “Orange is the New Black.”
The group also blends with the local branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and more than 40 community-based organizations that form Justice L.A. — a coalition created to stop county politicians from spending billions of dollars on two new jails. The activists contend that such facilities are inherently racist and part of a tyrannical system that has discouraged different races from uniting to challenge existing, oppressive power structures.
“This centuries-old scheme has allowed white people to support ‘law and order’ policies that devastate poor white communities and communities of color,” Ferlito told the audience assembled at the Hollywood United Methodist Church. “The law and order policies, under the guise of public safety, served to indoctrinate the vast majority of white people into a culture that supports and promotes incarceration as the tool to solve all of our social problems.”
Justice L.A. organizers are demanding politicians redirect the funds budgeted for the jails to other projects they say would better benefit residents, including building new schools, implementing job training programs, and “investing in the health of our community members.”
“Making sure the jails don’t expand is a first step,” said Dr. Melina Abdullah, lead organizer for the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter. “We don’t want cages at all. Our people don’t belong in cages.”
The sanctuary broke into applause.
Abdullah, who is also a professor at California State University, went on to teach attendees about the history of incarceration in the United States. She referenced slave plantations that morphed into correctional facilities after the 13th Amendment had formally abolished slavery in 1865, claiming such penal institutions continued to "enslave" black individuals.
Then she led a ceremony called "the pouring of libations," where Abdullah conjured the spirits of several departed, revolutionary black icons into the church.
The Justice L.A. campaign, launched last September, was founded by Patrisse Cullors — a prison abolitionist who is also a Black Lives Matter co-founder. Mark-Anthony Johnson, a lead organizer for Justice L.A., was awarded a paid fellowship from George Soros’ Open Society Foundations last summer to “push for progress toward a more humane criminal justice system.” They were both mentored by Eric Mann, a Weather Underground radical from the 1960s who has been organizing students from Los Angeles high schools for many years through the nonprofit he heads, also part of the Justice L.A. alliance.
Town hall organizers encouraged attendees to sign and distribute an ACLU petition targeting L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl which calls on her to “stop supporting the wasteful, unnecessary, and misguided investment” to build jails. “Instead you should back far more effective, proven initiatives such as bail system reform and community-based alternatives,” the petition continued. The ACLU is currently co-sponsoring a bail reform bill making its way through the state legislature.
Kuehl, who represents approximately 2,000,000 people, was a child actor best known for her role as Zelda Gilroy on the television series "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis," which had a four-season run on CBS from 1959-1963.
Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter @Near_Chaos.