On October 22, 2014 at Keney Park in Hartford, approximately 125 people from across CT including students from UConn SSW, UConn Storrs, Central CT State University, UConn Urban Semester, University of St. Joseph, and numerous ministers and community members rallied to protest Mass Incarceration, Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation. Hartford joined 30 cities demonstrating on the National Day of Protest, which started in 1996 by co-founders Cornell West and Carl Dix. Undergraduate student, Kendra Thomas, co-chaired the rally with Aswad.
Local rap artist RahRhyme performed a song “Don’t Shoot” about police brutality. UConn undergrad student, Daeja Bailey’s, spoken word poem titled “Black Boy” provided a touching message about the youth in our communities. Students provided individuals with the opportunity to register to vote during the rally.
In response to the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri, and the numerous other incidences of police brutality around the country, the rally aimed to create a collective consciousness about incarceration as a systemic and racially biased injustice. Students organized to bring awareness, demand policy changes that address reintegration of formerly incarcerated individuals and enhanced resources allocated for education, jobs, and mental health services. The message was delivered through speeches and performances from student leaders and prominent community figures.
“This protest will bring people together and strengthen our capacity to organize against something we see every day in our community. Incarceration is a personal problem; mass incarceration is everyone’s problem”, said Aswad Thomas, rally organizer and 2nd year community organization student at the UConn School of Social Work. Aswad discovered the National Day of Protest while building awareness and coalitions in protest of mass incarceration as a part of an independent study. Sandy Lomonico, another UConn Social Work student noted, “The system is unfair. It impacts impoverished communities who are battling a history of oppression and underfunded education and opportunities.”
“With only 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prison population, it is clear that the United States is in a crisis. Mass incarceration can no longer go unnoticed. We must unite to reform our justice system and move toward a preventative model—rather than the punitive model we currently have that disproportionately affects people of color”, says Jasmin M. Haynes, a student from the School of Social Work.
More than 60% of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities. On any given day, 1 in 10 black males in their thirties is in prison or jail. Landon Osborn, 2nd year MSW student, stated, “Knowing the facts based around criminal justice, mass incarceration and the targeting of minorities, why hasn’t this become a major topic with in the social work world?” This is a question echoed not only within social work, but every discipline dedicated to helping people.
The rally was a huge success and truly inspired ALL in attendance.