Panelists Dialogue About Prison Industrial Complex

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Erin Gray, a history of consciousness Ph.D. candidate at UCSC, introduces the “Ferguson to Salinas” panelists. Prison abolitionists discuss their experiences confronting the privatization of the U.S. prison system. Photo by Georgina Sandoval
Erin Gray, a history of consciousness Ph.D. candidate at UCSC, introduces the “Ferguson to Salinas” panelists. Prison abolitionists discuss their experiences confronting the privatization of the U.S. prison system. Photo by Georgina Sandoval

Last year Frank Alvarado Jr. was shot by Salinas police officers for brandishing what they thought was a handgun — the “handgun” turned out to be a cell phone. On the first day of a two-day symposium, Alvarado’s father Frank Alvarado Sr. stood in the Oakes Learning Center on March 6, advocating for his son.

“If we don’t see each other like community, the police will always be king,” Alvarado Sr. said.

Around 130 people gathered for the two-day symposium titled “From Ferguson to Salinas: Intersections Against State-Sanctioned Violence,” which presented three panels called “Police Brutality and Mass Incarceration,” “Femicide and Criminalization of Black and Trans Women” and “Poetic Imaginaries Against Violence.”

The conference sought to explore and increase consciousness around the intersections between “racialization and economic violence, between police brutality and mass incarceration, and between intimate and state-based gender violence.”

“Our justice system now is less about solutions and more about punishment.”
— Taina Vargas-Edmond

Taina Vargas-Edmond of Sin Barras, a prison abolition group, and four other speakers led the panel titled “Police Brutality and Mass Incarceration.” The 2nd Vice President of the Monterey NAACP and member of the Monterey Peace & Justice Center, Vargas-Edmond spoke about the common reaction to the idea of prison abolition.

“When you talk about abolition, people say, ‘You want to let the murderers and rapists out?’ Sensationalization is the first place people go,” Vargas-Edmond said. “I don’t believe there is one solution but the way [the system] is now isn’t working.”

When talking about the problems within the U.S. prison system, the term Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) came up in the panel. The PIC refers to the privatization of the prison system — rather than prisons being run by the government, they are being run by for-profit companies.

“The question is how do you make it right?” Vargas-Edmond said. “Our justice system now is less about solutions and more about punishment.”

The solutions offered by the PIC are inappropriate, said Miranda Mossey, a Hartnell Community College student and Salinas resident. Her impression of law enforcement was affected by her own arrest and prejudices by police against her family.

Mossey said perhaps crimes are not committed out of malice, but rather out of need. If having a criminal record obstructs people from getting a job to feed and take care of their families, they may feel their only option is criminal activity.

Sin Barras Co-founder Courtney Hanson localized the issue of state-sanctioned violence to Santa Cruz.

“The ways in which people were advocating for the arrest of the six students [who blocked Highway 17] was worrisome,” Hanson said. “People look straight to punishment and weren’t able to look past the prison industrial complex.”