I'm pre-med, pre-job, not-prison!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

By Patrisse Cullors, Community Rights Campaign Organizer at the Bus Riders Union

I grew up in a barrio in Van Nuys (Los Angeles), CA. As a young black woman in a mostly Brown community I was aware of the criminalization/militarization of/in my Van Nuys. My whole life I feared police, and more importantly I feared the disorientation and violence they brought onto my community. “Street Terrorist,” is what my older brother calls them; from the age of 13, he had been consistently harassed, criminalized, and humiliated by the ones who “protect and serve.” My older brother is 3 years older than me. He was my hero, and every violating interaction I witnessed left me filled with anger. That anger would later transform into rage, and that would eventually drive me directly into the larger movement against the mass incarceration of Black and Brown people.

For the last 11 years I have dedicated my life to the larger movement against racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic corporate driven United States policies and institutions. I spent the first half of those years inside of the Bus Riders Union. The ever famous campaign that successfully sued the MTA (Metropolitan Transit Agency) and won a billion dollars for buses on the streets of Los Angeles!

In 2006 I was asked to move my campaign from the Bus Riders Union to the Community Rights Campaign. The Community Rights Campaign's focus is on U.S. racist policies that have resulted in punishing and criminalizing Black and Brown people at such an exponential rate, resulting in the U.S. prison population being in the millions. 2.3 million to be exact. These policies have given birth to the school to prison pipeline. We like to call it the "pre-prisoning" of youth inside public high school settings.

What was once a minor infraction and dealt with by school officials, has now turned into the over use of law enforcement. Law enforcement is seen as the supposed expert in dealing with students who have "non-normative" lives. Each of these students are now vulnerable to a hyper vigilant school environment that comes down on them with an iron clad fist. Over the last 6 years we have been on the front lines, fighting for restorative and transformative justice polices to shape school environments. Below are our demands:

The Community Rights Campaign 5 Demands are:
  • Schools, Not Pre-Prisons! Decriminalize tardiness, truancy and all student behavior issues.
  • No LAUSD Collaboration w/ Cal Gang database
  • Civilian Review Board
  • Restrict Use of Force by LASPD/LAPD on school campuses
  • Counselors and Resources not Tickets and Handcuffs
These demands have been the back bone of the campaign. The first demand is looking at the role in which LAMC (Los Angeles Municipal Code) 4504, the daytime curfew law affects the lives of over a half a million youth throughout LAUSD ( Los Angeles Unified School District).  We discovered that from years 2004-2009 LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department) issued 47,000 tickets to mostly Black and Brown youth. Each of these tickets issued were at least $250 and had the potential, due to court fees, to go up to $1,000. LAUSD students are overwhelmingly poor leaving them to have to make decisions between paying an exorbitant ticket or put food on the table. Often students were so humiliated by their interaction with the police when given these tickets that they didn’t show up to the court dates. This would lead delinquent tickets resulting in a student having a suspended license.

For the past 6 years we have been fighting to amend the day time curfew law and low and behold our movement, the Community Rights Campaign, with its allies Public Counsel and ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) successfully mobilized LASPD, LAPD, City Council, LAUSD, and community members around the amendment of LAMC 4504. Through many meetings, press conferences, 1 on 1 conversations and most importantly mass street organizing, in a matter of 6 years we were able to completely shift the debate, implement two police directives one by LAPD and one by LASPD (these directives were a part of a multi-tier tactic that would eventually lead us to victory.) The final amendment of the law came down on February 22nd, 2012. Los Angeles city council members Tony Cardenas and Bernard Parks succeeded in passing a motion that amended the day time curfew law. In all our efforts to fight and protect Black and Brown students, the city council passed the motion unanimously, 14-0!!! We made history ya”ll.