Carl Dix and Cornel West on the October Month of Resistance and the Need to Act Against Mass Incarceration

April 7, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


On April 3-4, people came from around the country to a meeting in New York City to strategize for the October 2014 Month of Resistance against mass incarceration. Carl Dix and Cornel West, who had called for this meeting, gave the opening talks to the meeting. The following are their remarks, which have been slightly edited for publication.


Carl Dix

Why did I join with Cornel to propose a Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration in October 2014?

Carl Dix, April 3, 2014

Carl Dix. Photo: Special to Revolution

There are the horrific numbers of people suffering under mass incarceration—2.2 million in prison; not counting more than 30,000 immigrants held in detention centers every day; 80,000 people held under the torture of solitary confinement; 5 million formerly incarcerated people who are treated like less than full human beings even after serving their sentences. All this horror casts a shadow on the lives of tens of millions more people.

Some of these people are migrant workers driven to this country by the way the U.S. dominates their homelands, people who have built new lives in this country over years and even decades who are being held in conditions in detention centers so severe that many have put their lives on the line, going on hunger strikes to demand better conditions and an end to the deportations. Others of them are women, which is the fastest growing section of the prison population in this country, like the women in the Tutwiler prison in Alabama. Women who are held in conditions so foul that these sisters have to submit to sexual assault by the guards in order to get basic necessitates like toilet paper and tampons. Others of them are men who are imprisoned, held under miserable conditions. These conditions are so bad that there are a number of prisons around the country right now where people are on hunger strike, like Menard in Illinois; another prison in Georgia where people are on hunger strike dealing with horrible food and brutality. And in the prison in Georgia, these brothers in jail, they’re also being hit with sexual assault.

And that’s not all. There is a long and growing list of people who have been murdered by police in this country. And I could go on and on cause I see some people here who have lived that reality. Nicholas Heyward Sr., his son, Nicholas Heyward Jr., 13-years-old, gunned down by a cop when he was playing with a toy gun. Malcolm Ferguson, his mother Juanita Young is up here in the front row. Malcolm was shot down by an NYPD officer. Cephus Johnson, Uncle Bobby, his nephew Oscar Grant, gunned down on a transit platform in Oakland, California. Other people like Sean Bell. It’s happening all over the country. There is too long a list to run it all down.

In just this past year, because this is something that really struck me—in fact, maybe in less than a year—there have been three cases where young men were handcuffed in the back of police cars after having been searched by the police with their arms handcuffed behind them, the police found no weapon on them. These men ended up shot through the head dead. And in each case the police reported these brothers shot themselves. Think about this. The cop checked them, frisked them, searched them and handcuffed them behind themselves. Then they shot themselves in the head. And in explaining this and justifying it, the cops in the second case said, “Well, we know this is possible because it happened in that city.” And the cops in the third case said, “Well, of course this is possible, it happened there and there.” So in other words, they tell a lie and then they recycled that lie back to justify the murders they have carried out.

And it’s even more than that. You can talk about Andy Lopez, a 13-year-old in California. Again a 13-year-old with a toy gun, gunned down by police.

And earlier this month—I just saw the video of this yesterday. I heard about it but I was like, I’ve seen too many killings by the police, I don’t really need to see another one. James Boyd in Albuquerque, New Mexico—a homeless man camping just out in the open. Cops come on him, there’s a stand-off, they want to take him away. They say like he’s having mental problems and all like this. But I watched this video and at some point he’s like, OK, I’m coming with you, let me get my things.  And he turns his back and bends down to pick up his stuff and that’s when they started shooting. He’s laying down there motionless, they’re saying, “Drop that knife, drop that knife.” And he’s saying, “Don’t hurt me anymore,” and, “I can’t move.” And then the cops keep saying, “Drop the knife,” and then they start shooting again. Then they let loose the dog to tear at his flesh. Then they come up and handcuff him. This man dies. This is what they’re doing to us.

See and then we have to talk about Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride. We gotta talk about this because it underscores an ugly reality here in this country. A reality that Black and Latino people are treated like permanent suspects – guilty until proven innocent, if they can survive to prove their innocence. And unfortunately, all too often they are not allowed to survive to prove their innocence.

This is what we’re talking about. This is what we’re dealing with. This is what many of you have come from all over the country to deal with.... And there’s me—I did some time too—it was a while ago, about 40 years or so. And it was time that I am glad I did because they told me to go to Vietnam and kill some Vietnamese for them. And I had to figure out, am I gonna go kill people for this country? And I am very glad that I did not [applause] because I did not want to become a mindless killer for this system. So that’s why I say that time was time well spent.

But we know what it’s like. Some of us spent some time in solitary confinement. We got an idea of what it’s like, what kind of treatment they put down on us. And we know the importance of building a fight to stop it.

So why is all this happening? That’s a part of why we need a Month of Resistance. But there’s more. Why is all this happening? And the backdrop for mass incarceration and all its consequences is the way that whole generations of youth are growing up in inner cities that have no access to work; no legitimate ways to survive and raise families; inner cities where the educational system has been geared to fail our youth.

The horrors of mass incarceration have been brought on by the very way this capitalist system operates. Beginning in the 1960's, globalized production shifted production to other parts of the world, leaving people in the inner cities without access to work. People are taught to think they own the jobs in this country. Looking at it like that keeps you thinking you're at odds with workers in other lands, workers who are being subjected to vicious exploitation. At the same time, the rulers of this country adopted policies and enacted laws to control the people left living in those miserable conditions by this disappearance of work.

Here is a basic point—and we can discuss this further, but I think this is a basic point. We cannot rely on the powers-that-be to deal with this problem. If we sit back and let them deal with it, if we limit ourselves to asking them to deal with it, we ain’t going to get nothing done.

Look, I know Obama has been talking about mass incarceration. I know he let a few people out of jail in January. I know that this is going on. But I also understand why it’s going on. That’s happening because they know that people are beginning to question what’s happening with the criminal injustice system in this country. Questioning the unfairness of it. And also then questioning the legitimacy of a set-up that does those things to people. And because the United States values being able to call itself the “leader of the free world,” they can’t allow their legitimacy to get pulled away from them. So they’re trying to feed illusions, trying to give people the mistaken sense that they’re working on the problem and that all we have to do is get behind them

Now in saying this, I’m not saying our Month of Resistance should take a position on Obama, either for or against him. Our Month of Resistance is about mass incarceration and that it needs to stop. But I had to say that.

Now what is it going to take to end mass incarceration? And I have an answer to that question on two levels. One level is mass determined resistance and the Month of Resistance has gotta be that in spades and I’ll come back to that.

But I gotta answer on another level too. And that is that it’s gonna take revolution, nothing less—to end mass incarceration once and for all and end all the other horrors that this system inflicts on people—whether that’s attacks on the rights of women, whether that’s government spying, drone missile strikes, the destruction of the environment and more—it’s gonna take revolution, nothing less to do that, to end all of that because these horrors are built into the fabric of this system. So we gotta see that and understand that.

Now, when I talk about revolution, I don’t mean running out there now doing some crazy stuff. I mean mobilizing people numbering in their millions to resist the attacks of the system and spreading the understanding that the system is the problem and revolution is the solution. And I mean unleashing that revolutionary people when the time is right to meet and defeat the system’s attempts at violent suppression of that resistance, and then going on to build a new society with totally different economic and social relations—a society that is in transition to a world where the horrors of today are no more. No more power and wealth concentrated in the hands of a few. No more whites lording it over Black people and other people of color. No more men dominating women. And no more one country running the whole world.

Now, I know revolution can seem like climbing a steep mountain, with no path that seems to be there to get up the mountain—something that looks like it can’t happen. But that’s not true. Revolution has been made before and we also have something important in the case of going up the mountain today. And that is someone who has done the work to chart a path up this mountain. That somebody is Bob Avakian, the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party. A man who has studied previous revolutionary societies, identifying what they did right but also where they made errors and fell short. And through that he’s figured out a path to go through. Now revolution is not going to be an easy walk up a wide path. We still got work to do to hack out a path up this mountain. But we got guidance for hacking out that path. And what I will say to people is that if you don’t know Bob Avakian, talk to me about this. That’s not what we’re going to be dealing with mainly today. We’re going to be talking about mass incarceration and how we’re going to stop it. But talk to me and I can introduce you to him. Like I have a CD here of an interview with Bob Avakian done by Cornel West—you might want to check it out and listen to it.

Now, I know for a lot of people revolution might be a lot to swallow. But we can talk about that. Some people want to cling to the hope that the system can be transformed into something that works for the people. We can discuss that. But we have to discuss it while we are fighting together to end mass incarceration cause that’s what we really need to do, sisters and brothers.

And in approaching this, we gotta go at it like everybody who sees mass incarceration as a problem, everybody who understands the horrors being inflicted on people needs to be a part of this fight. And we need to take the responsibility to mobilize people to do this. And this Month of Resistance in October to mass incarceration, police terror, repression and the criminalization of a generation is the way to do that.

When the brother got killed in Albuquerque, the homeless man, who got murdered by the police—hundreds of people came out in anger around the police. And that was inspiring. But think of the impact of demonstrations in cities around the country—some even more powerful and bigger than the one in Albuquerque on October 22, 2014, the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. Students doing a teach-in or a panel on their campus around mass incarceration, that’s a good thing. But think of hundreds of such teach-ins and panels happening in October. I want to draw on the vision of the Month of Resistance that’s in the draft call that I hope everyone here has gotten a copy of all. It says: “October, 2014, must be a month of powerful demonstrations nationwide on October 22; major concerts and other cultural expressions in October; panels and symposiums on campuses and in neighborhoods; ferment in faith communities and more – all aimed at taking the movement to STOP mass incarceration to a much higher level. October, 2014, must be a month that makes clear that thousands and thousands are willing to stand up and speak out today and to awaken and rally forth millions. It must be the beginning of the end of mass incarceration in the U.S.” That’s from the draft call that I’ve circulated that we’ll talk about later.

Imagine the impact all this will have on the thinking of millions of people, letting those who suffer mass incarceration know that there are people who will join them if they stand up and resist it and opening the eyes of those who don’t suffer it to all what’s being inflicted on tens of millions of people in this society and challenging them to join us in resisting it.

This can be done, and it must be done. Those outrages that I talked about at the beginning of my talk, they have been going on and continuing to happen again and again and again. And again, drawing on from our draft call, is this something we want to gradually work on over the next 50 years? So that our grandchildren are telling their children about somebody else that got murdered like Trayvon did. Like I was trying to explain to my grandchild about Emmett Till, 50 years ago, something that happened way before she was born. We got to stop that. That’s a responsibility that we have to take on ourselves.

And let me just speak a little bit about the responsibility we have to see ourselves taking. I just read a book about the 1960s. And one thing that it talked about was some of the sessions of the activists of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Stokley Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, Ella Baker, some other people—some of the sessions that they had. See and they had to assess what’s happening with this Jim Crow segregation and lynch mob terror—why is it happening and what do we need to do about it. And then when they came up with something, it wasn’t like they were just talking shop and they weren’t going to do anything. It wasn’t like they were coming up with something for somebody else to do. They were coming up with planning that they were then going to take up and themselves lead in carrying out.

And that’s what we have to do here today. We have to look at this problem. We have to assess it and we have to develop a vision and a plan for taking it on and changing that fight. And then once we do that here today and then tomorrow, we gotta go to people and we have to say to them—if you are horrified by the notion that the color of a person’s skin could determine whether they live and how they live. If you are sickened by the fact that the families of migrant workers have to live in fear that one of their members being snatched away, not knowing where they’ve been taken to, not knowing whether they will find out that they have been deported halfway around the world, put under conditions that are inhumane. If this and all these other horrors that I’ve talked about earlier bother you, then you need to be a part of this Month of Resistance. If your eyes are open to this problem and you got an ounce of justice in your heart, you need to be part of mobilizing people to stand up, beginning now and building up to October when we manifest a kind of resistance that can take this whole movement to a whole new level. That’s the responsibility that we’re shouldering today, sisters and brothers. And look, I am confident that we can shoulder this.

Cornel and I was just talking about the strategy session that we did before we started the civil disobedience campaign around stop-and-frisk. And it was like 7 or 8 of us. And some of the folks wasn’t really sure, but we came up with something and then we said let’s go out and do it. And we said, even if it’s just me and him, we’re gonna go out and do it.

In developing that, we are on to a burning problem in society and we were proposing a plan of action to take that on. And by spreading that, we were able to bring many more people into in. And I mean, we got a lot more than seven or eight people here today. We come from all across the country and we are on to a burning problem in society. So let’s take up discussion of this problem and forging of a solution, and then let’s spread this throughout society and let’s bring forward resistance that could change everything around mass incarceration. Thank you brothers and sisters.


Cornel West

I want to just salute each and every one for being here. You are in the right place at the right time. We’re here why? We’re here because we love the brothers and sisters, especially the young brothers and sisters. The police may shoot them down, the criminal justice system may criminalize them. We want them to know we care, that we love them, we target them, and we zero in on them. I want to be very upfront about that. When Brother Carl and I focused in on stop-and-frisk, when the police dragged us in put us in jail, our last words were, we want the young folk to know that somebody cares.

Cornel West, March

Cornel West. Photo: Special to Revolution

And when you really love folks, you can’t stand the fact that they’re being treated unjustly. You loathe the fact that they’re being treated unfairly and if you don’t do something to rock the boat or cry out. And that’s the fire that we need because we’re living in an Ice Age still with too much indifference and callousness toward our brothers and sisters, of whatever color, but especially the chocolate ones, especially the Black and brown and red ones in our nation so deeply shaped by the legacy of white supremacy.

Now anytime I get a chance to work with brother Carl Dix, I get fired up. I get fired up…

W.E.B. DuBois raised four questions in 1957—he was 89-years-old…he'd been fighting for freedom for most of his life. The first question: how does integrity face oppression? You can’t talk about struggle for justice unless you’re dealing with folks with integrity, I didn’t say purity but integrity, but I didn't say cupidity. I didn’t say love of money. I didn’t say banality. I didn’t say selling your soul for a mess of pottage. We live in an age of the sell-out when it comes to too many of our leaders—don't want to tell the truth…don't want to take a risk, all they want to do is go on television like a peacock. No, this is for folks on the ground. This is for folks in the love business. This is for folks willing to go to jail if they have to, or put a smile on your face.

Now I’m a revolutionary Christian, he’s a revolutionary communist. We overlap. We don't agree on everything. But one thing we're willing to do is hit the street, go to jail, tell the truth, in the name of something bigger. You may be a Christian, you may be a Buddhist, you may be an atheist, you may be an agnostic. The question is what kind of integrity do you have?

The second question: What does honesty do in the face of deception? Because we live in an age of monstrous mendacity. Lies everywhere. Hyper-hypocrisy. Folks doing one thing and moving in another direction. What does honesty do in the face of deception?

And then: What does decency do in the face of insult? I come from a Black people who have been terrorized and traumatized and stigmatized for 400 years and yet we still emerge, our backs straight, willing to be honest and decent and preserve integrity and something that’s deep, not just political, it's moral, and for me it’s spiritual. What kind of person would I be with my brothers and sisters shot down like a dog? I won’t be like the dog but the dog is not going to get away with it. They're going to be accountable, they're going to be responsible, they're going to be culpable or the rocks are going to cry out.

And that last question: What does virtue do in the face of brute force? These are DuBois's four questions.

As we move in the Stop Mass Incarceration Network and generate more fire, we’re going to keep the focus on integrity, honesty, decency, and virtue in the face of brute force, of terror, of horror.

Why? Because we take the higher moral ground, even as we hit the ground in our attempt to keep the police accountable, politicians accountable, and tell the truth about the crime against humanity which is the New Jim Crow. And the criminal justice system in America is itself criminal.

“Oh, Brother West, you sound like you’re anti-American.” No. I’m anti-injustice in America. And I’m not ashamed of it. And I’m mindful of Brother Martin when they put him in that paddy wagon in the dark with a German shepherd. Drove around for four-and-a-half hours and took him down to Reidsville Prison in Tattnall County in gut bucket Jim Crow Georgia, 26 and a half years old. Brother Andy Young tells me that when he got out of the paddy wagon, six hours, just him and the German shepherd in the dark, look like he had a nervous breakdown, but he had one sentence in his lips, and he said what? “This is the cross we must bear for the freedom of our people.”

That’s what love is. That’s the caravan of love that the Isley Brothers sang about. That’s the love train that the O’Jays sang about. That’s the love train that Curtis Mayfield had in mind when he sang “People get ready, don’t need no ticket, just get on board.” When you get on board, you better be willing to pay a cost. You better be willing to cut against the grain. You better be willing to have some non-conformity and shatter the cowardice and the complacency and the complicity that we see too often in our society.

How do we keep the love train alive? More than justice is what love looks like in public, just like tenderness is what love feels like in private. We believe in being tender with one another and gentle with one another and sweet with one another as we are militant in telling the truth about the lies and crimes of the police, of the State Department, the Pentagon, the U.S. government, the Wall Street crimes. We know there are folk on Wall Street right now who ought to be in the prison system. Crimes were committed, insider trade and market manipulation. But they sipping tea in the White House. They sipping tea in City Hall. We can mention names. That’s not our focus today. Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase. What’s the name of his bank?

I was at Howard University on Sunday. They asked me to preach. I preached on the Kingdom of God is not a brand. That the cause of the beloved community is not a commercial. That the freedom struggle is not an advertisement, it’s a way of life. And Howard University had just given him [Jamie Dimon] an honorary degree just a few days day before… They let me show up a few days later. And I said, he’s a criminal, "Oh, Brother West you got hate in your soul." No I hate the deed, don’t get it twisted. I hate the action. I hate the choices that they make. I’m not in the hate business. I love Jamal and Latisha. I love Juanita. I love Juan. I love the least of these, the prisoners… That’s the tradition I come out of. I just want to be honest about it because all of us should be honest with one another as we coalesce, even given whatever disagreement we may have when it comes to religion and other things. That’s all right. We got a long tradition that goes all the way back even before the slave ship, of coalescing, in the name of something bigger than them. And that’s the reason why I’m here.

I want to apologize, I have to pick up my precious daughter, she’s getting out of school…  But I wouldn’t want to be any other place than right here, right now. Cause I want you to know that Brother Carl and I, we’re in it, just like the stop-and-frisk, all the way through. And I’ve already had a chance to talk to some of you…

I want to give salute to each and every one of you. And I want to make the connections here. We have to keep in mind that we’re living under a neo-liberal, capitalist and imperialist regime. What I mean by that is the three major tendencies on the globe is to financialize, privatize and militarize. That’s why 42 percent of the profits in America go to the banks… That’s why one percent of the population got 95 percent of the income over the last four years. Under Obama—because he's been a Wall Street president. He bailed out Wall Street, didn't bail out Main Street—$790 billion dollars just for a few banks. Homeowners got zero. Detroit's dangling, just need 18 billion. They wrote a check for billions for the Ukraine in the last few days. Lets you know what their priorities are.

Oh yes. He's a Wall Street drone, national surveillance… I called George Bush a war criminal with 45 drones. And you know I call Obama a war criminal with 421 drones. I gotta be morally consistent. Gotta tell the truth across the board. Not a question of your pigmentation, even though black is beautiful. I gotta be honest about that. But I want to know about your integrity, your honesty, your decency. That’s what I’m talking about… That’s the folk that I’m going to throw down with. Why? Because like this brother, Carl Dix. He raise up in the morning, thinking about, reflecting on, strategizing how can poor and working people be free and the people needing dignity, being treated the way they are. I know that and I know that’s true for each and every one of you.

So now I do sit down briefly and then make my way to catch my daughter so she’s not sitting there all by herself wondering, "Daddy are you at one of those meetings again? You’ve only been at it for 40 years, how come your cause is not won? Is it a lost cause or what?” Oh honey, I want you to know you come from a great people tied to a noble cause and it might not be winning at the moment, just keep track of it but as long as we’re committed we’re on the way, we're on the way.

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