Professor Angela Davis is known for many things: her activism, her involvement in the Black Panther Party in the 60s and 70s, running for vice president on the Community Party ticket in 1980 and 1984, and even her afro hairstyle pictured on “Free Angela Davis” posters.
Davis is also famous for being the 3rd woman to make the FBI’s 10 most wanted list in 1970. Although Davis wasn’t present, a shotgun registered in her name linked her to the death of Judge Harold Haley. Haley was killed when teenager Jonathan Jackson interrupted a trial and held hostages to demand the release of his brother, George Jackson, and other political prisoners known as the Soledad Brothers.
Much of Davis’s current political work is on prison abolition, which will be the topic of her speech when she visits Western on April 16 at 7 pm in the Performing Arts Center. Davis, who is a Professor of Philosophy at University of California, will also discuss the prison industrial complex and the ways prisons rely on and enforce race, class and gender oppression.
Davis herself was incarcerated as a political prisoner for 18 months at the Women’s Detention Center in New York as an accomplice to murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy after Judge Haley’s death. In prison, Davis helped mobilize prisoners and initiate a bail program before she was exonerated of all charges in 1972.
In her 2003 book Are Prisons Obsolete?, Davis describes prisons as institutions where undesirables are deposited. Prisons disproportionately affect poor communities and communities of color. In her book she writes, “The prison has become a black hole into which the detritus of contemporary capitalism is deposited. Mass imprisonment generates profits as it devours social wealth, and thus it tends to reproduce the very conditions that lead people to prison.”
The term prison industrial complex was popularized by Critical Resistance, a grassroots prison abolition organization co-founded by Davis. Many prison abolitionists argue that prisons are more interested in making money than rehabilitating inmates. Prison abolition is a movement to create radical alternatives to prisons. According to Critical Resistance’s website, prison abolitionists do not believe crime is human nature, and that people are less likely to cross community boundaries or commit crimes when their needs are met.
The Critical Resistance website says, “To do that, we must create alternatives for dealing with the injuries people inflict upon each other in ways that sustain communities and families. Keeping a community whole is impossible by routinely removing people from it.”
In 2005, the Department of Justice reported over 2,100,000 individuals in state and federals prisons, and local jails, out of the total US population of 300 million. In Washington state, 45% of people in prison are people of color while people of color are 18% of Washington’s total population.
Davis’s talk is $5 for Western students and $10 for non-students. Tickets are available at the Performing Arts Center Box Office.