Hundreds marched and rallied in San José, Calif., Aug. 19, at a sister action for prisoners’ human rights to the main one that took place the same day in Washington, D.C. California Prison Focus and the united-front coalition Rise Up for Justice were the main co-sponsors and organizers of the action.
RU4J General Secretary Matthew Sahagian, who provided overall tactical leadership, introduced Troy Williams for an opening presentation at the Raymond Bernal Jr. Park assembly point. Williams, the newly appointed editor of the San Francisco Bay View, a “Black newspaper,” and a former “lifer” incarcerated for decades at San Quentin, had been paroled two and a half years ago after founding a video production program at the prison. His goal, he said, was “to give a voice to those who have not had a voice.”
Participants set off on a 1.3-mile march, whose route included a community known as Japantown. Tourists and other patrons in the patio area of a neighborhood restaurant spontaneously broke into applause as the chanting marchers passed by.
A variety of chants included: “Human rights apply to all, even those behind the wall” and “Brick by brick, wall by wall, we will make the prisons fall.”
The march route also included First Street, along which a half dozen or so widely hated bail bonds outfits have their offices. Because the march was led by Williams and a number of other parolee ex-prisoners whose security was paramount, the march did not stop to denounce these vultures.
Rally near county jail
The march concluded with a lengthy but spirited rally near the Santa Clara County jail, which included a minute of silence for the prisoners inside. Nube Brown of California Prison Focus and Rise Up for Justice, along with Troy Williams, chaired the rally. Many former prisoners presented heart-rending stories of the injustices they experienced in prison and after being released. These included a noted artist who had spent 10 years in solitary at the notorious Pelican Bay Prison SHU in northern California. His art has recently been published in book form.
Former Black Panther Dorsey Nunn, executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, appealed to the audience to call California Assembly members to pass AB 1008, the Fair Chance Act, which would “ban the box” on job applications.
Others called for building a movement to modify the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which ended slavery “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party has been duly convicted. …”
Laurie Valdez, an activist/advocate and single mom also spoke. She founded justice4josia.org, after the murder of Antonio Guzman Lopez by San José State University PD officers on Feb. 21, 2014. He was the father of their then four-year-old son. Josiah took the mic to say loudly and clearly in response to his mother’s question, what should happen to the police who killed your father, “They should go to prison!”
Bato, one of the San Quentin Six and co-founder of California Prison Focus, spoke near the end. He noted that few of the veterans of earlier struggles — not including Hugo Pinell, also one of the San Quentin Six who was killed in 2015 in Pelican Bay Prison — were still alive but urged the younger generation to carry on the fight for human rights.
For video of the march and rally, see here.
The writer is a member of RU4J and helped to organize this action.