Activists in Los Angeles took to the streets on Thursday to protest against injustice and the racial profiling of minorities in the US as part of a campaign on the National Day of Action to Stop Mass Incarceration.
There are nearly 2.4 million people in jails across the United States, with African-Americans and Latinos making up more than 60 percent of the inmates.
Protesters say the murder of black teenager Trayvon Martin — who was killed by a volunteer neighborhood watch guard on February 26 in Sanford, Florida — shows the racial profiling and discrimination at work in the criminal justice system.
They argue Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, would have never been arrested if people across the country had not stood up and demanded it.
“We need to make a change; we can’t just be sitting around,” teenage demonstrator Tahmeer Perry said.
Protesters say Martin’s death, along with the fatal shooting of African-American teenager Kendric McDade near Los Angeles one month later, has forced them to change their behavior.
“It makes me more aware of my surroundings, what I’m doing,” Tahmeer Perry said. “It is hard to hear somebody who was my age and of my kind getting killed for no reason,” Perry said.
Activists say the mass incarceration of minorities in America started in the 1970s, when authorities started rounding up thousands of African-American men, noting that the move was not due to an increase in crime.
“In fact the crime rates, it has been shown, have gone down over the period of time, yet the rate of incarceration is eight times more people in prison than they were in prison when I got out ,” prisoner advocate Clyde Young said.
Protesters blame America’s so-called War on Drugs for the massive increase in imprisonment. They say these mass arrests made over non-violent drug law violations have affected families and minority communities.
“This is nothing than slow genocide what they are doing. It’s 2.4 million people in prison; they are torturing people in prison. This was brought out to the prisoners, 12,000 of them to the hunger strike last year,” Young noted.
Campaigners say the inmates who went on a hunger strike are still facing the same tortuous conditions.
Prison officials are reportedly meeting with the inmates to discuss possible improvements. However, inmates say they may go on another strike if the prison system continues to disregard their demands.