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Jacksonville community attends forum on institutionalized racism

By staff |
August 6, 2015
 Speakers at Jacksonville forum on institutionalized racism
Speakers at Jacksonville forum on institutionalized racism (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Jacksonville, FL - On August 2, more than 35 people from across Jacksonville attended a forum on institutionalized racism. Sponsored by the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition (JPC), the event featured a stack of speakers who addressed the Black Lives Matter movement, the struggle against police crimes and the fight against mass incarceration.

The forum comes on the heels of a large rally in downtown Jacksonville in memory of Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old African American woman who was arrested in Texas during a routine traffic stop and died in jail under suspicious circumstances. Bland's death is one of the most recent in a series of police crimes that have sparked nationwide protests.

Wells Todd, organizer with the JPC, kicked off the forum with a talk on the roots and history of institutionalized racism. Drawing from Michelle Alexander's book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Todd outlined how the land-owning wealthy planters in the North American colonies and Europe originally used racism to keep white indentured servants and poor people from uniting with Black slaves. He discussed how this system of oppression evolved over time, from slavery to Jim Crow to the current era of mass incarceration.

After Todd, Dr. Irvin Pedru Cohen, the Vice President of Social Responsibility for Florida's First Coast YMCA, spoke about institutionalized racism in and around Jacksonville as something "engrained into the fabric of the U.S."

When asked what to do next, Cohen said, "We need to move beyond conversation into action. That means demanding quality education, quality employment and quality neighborhoods."

Fernando Figueroa of the JPC spoke about the proposal in Chicago for a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC). Speaking as a former student activist who worked on police brutality campaigns in Gainesville, Figueroa outlined the need for community control of the police. The Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression is holding a massive march in Chicago on August 29 to demand CPAC, which the JPC officially endorsed and plans to attend.

During the discussion period, members of the community took to the microphone and shared their thoughts and experiences with institutionalized racism.

Terri Brown Neil spoke on the exploitation of prison labor by massive corporations. "It's not just three strikes and you’re out," she said, in reference to three-strike laws that disproportionately target Blacks and Latinos. "Now it's three strikes and you're hired."

Neil continued, "Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said the moral arch of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice. But that arch isn't going to bend by gravity. We have to force it to bend."

The forum ended with some announcements of upcoming events. Tefa Galvis of the JPC announced a rally against mass incarceration for 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, August 8 outside the Duval Regional Juvenile Detention Center. The rally will protest State Attorney Angela Corey's role in incarcerating Black juveniles - the most of any state attorney in Florida. The JPC has an ongoing campaign to force Corey out of office.

Before disbanding, the crowd chanted, "Ain't no power like the power of the people, cuz the power of the people don't stop."

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