San Diego — On June 14, the 16th Annual Conference on Raza Prisoners and Colonialism was hosted by the Chicano Mexicano Prison Project.
The conference began with solidarity statements from the Brown Berets, Uhuru and the San Diego Committee Against Police Brutality, followed by keynote speaker Dolores Canales of the California Families Against Solitary Confinement. Canales spoke passionately about what solitary confinement does physically and psychologically to prisoners. She showed slides of individual prisoners and pointed out how their skin looks after years with no sunlight. She also spoke about the prison hunger strike where over 30,000 prisoners refused food.
There were two panels. The first addressed the issue “How prisons have destroyed families.” Speakers on this panel included Aloni Bonilla, a victim of police brutality from Orange County who is fighting back. Bonilla had posted a video on Facebook to raise awareness about police using excessive force. A Los Angeles judge did not allow this video to be shown in court.
Carolyn Torres of Chicanos Unidos of Orange County spoke on gang injunctions and Pedro Ríos from the American Friends Service Committee spoke on immigration and detention.
The second panel focused on conditions in prisons and creating Raza resistance. Speakers included Martha Esquivel and Kwame Agomou, of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement, who spoke of the conditions in the San Diego Central Jail based on his own experience. Agomou spent 21 days in jail, and he believes that without the organized phone calls, support and actions from organizations on the outside he would not have received the medical attention that he needed. Helena Rodríguez, of the Chicano Mexicano Prison Project, spoke on the topic of forced sterilization and the attacks on women in prison. She began her presentation with disturbing statistics on the growing number of women inmates.
Support for Cuban 5, U.S. political prisoners
This year’s conference was organized under the theme “Prisons: Destruction of Families and Communities.” There were many youth in attendance who participated in the discussion after each panel. One of the youth in attendance was the son of Sagon Penn. On March 31, 1985, 23-year-old Penn was racially profiled by San Diego police. He fought back but was acquitted of any wrongdoing after two trials. In retribution, Penn was hounded and harassed by police right up to the day he was found dead in his apartment on June 2, 2002. The San Diego chapter of Copwatch was named in honor of Sagon Penn.
The conference ended with two resolutions. One of the resolutions was to build support for the Cuban 5 political prisoners, three of whom are still incarcerated in U.S. prisons. Many “Give me Five” cards, demanding that the U.S. government release the remaining three imprisoned heroes, were distributed. Footage from the Washington, D.C., demonstrations from “5 Days for the Cuban 5” in early June was shown. Conference facilitators gave an update on the remaining three of the Cuban 5 and the possibility of a prisoner exchange — releasing U.S. spy Alan Gross in exchange for the remaining three Cuban heroes. The other resolution was to continue to hold forums and rallies to build awareness about the prison-industrial complex and the criminal injustice system.
Organizations that participated and endorsed this conference included the Association of Raza Educators, Students Against Mass Incarceration, Save Our Barrios Coalition, Workers World Party, the San Diego Immigrant Youth Collective and those organizations mentioned above.