Protesters seek decreases in prison spending

William Grant held a magnifying glass to his eyes and read a speech to community members gathered at a protest in South Los Angeles. Legally blind, he testified his supplemental security income has been cut by $100 a month, making it difficult for him to pay his expenses.

On-lookers shook their heads when Grant shared that the state pays over $50,000 a year for his son to be incarcerated in jail, while his resources have been cut.

Grant’s son was convicted and sentenced according to the Three Strikes law for stealing a 10-speed bicycle from his then-girlfriend’s garage.

According to Families Against California Three Strikes (FACTS), Grant’s son is among 57 percent of Third Strikers that were incarcerated for a non-violent offense.

Grant ended his address by urging people to demand that the Three Strikes law, which was introduced in 1994, be modified to violent crimes only.

Protestors asked for legislators to reform the Three Strikes law, the death penalty and to implement the Federal Court order on prison overcrowding.

Students, teachers, and community members held signs in front of Manual Arts High School chanting phrases such as, “the power of the youth don’t stop.”

Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), FACTS, and other organizations arranged the event.

Army Cachero held a brightly decorated sign reading, “educate don’t incarcerate.” Representing the Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team, Cachero was diagnosed with HIV in 2002.
Cachero said disease education, counselor support and medical expenses are publicly funded by the state. He worries the state’s budget crisis and their commitment to jails will cut funding of programs that support him and other HIV positive people.

Other speakers expressed their concerns through art.

David Montes, a senior high school student, rapped a piece titled, “Schools not Jails.” Alejandra Lemus from the Community Rights Campaign group wrote a poem for the event narrating, “is it really a stretch to ask for books, not bars?”

Organizers passed out letters from Stop the Cuts Coalition and CURB for attendants to sign that will be sent to the State Assembly Speaker Karen Bass. The letter urges the state to re-invest money into communities, and support the Federal Court’s order to reduce prison populations by 44,000. It argues that, “Experts agree that reducing the prison population will not threaten public safety.”

While some support the current Three Strikes law and other prison policies, the purpose of the protest was to argue that the increase in prison spending decreases funding in education.

Katie Briggs, a teacher at Manual Arts High School, says cuts in education are “guaranteeing a bleak future.” She continued to ask, “Why invest in the death penalty? Why invest in something final? Let’s invest in something progressive. Let’s invest in something we know in the end helps every one of us. And that’s education.”

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