The decriminalization of our society starts with addressing education and race problems in both the classroom and prison system, according to scholar, author and activist Marc Lamont Hill, who spoke at Oakland Technical High School on Tues., March 3.
“A Conversation with Marc Lamont Hill: Linking Race, Hip-Hop, Activism and Social Change” was a part of the Center for Urban Schools Partnerships (CUSP) through Mills College.
Throughout the event, Hill discussed the issues surrounding the prison system.
“I encourage you to dream of a world without prisons,” Hill said. “Let’s move beyond punishment as a primary model.”
Hill began his talk by stating that after Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Mo., it was social media that covered the news, which commenced the outrage, organization and protests to come.
“Michael Brown was not a rare case,” Hill said, “but the mass observation and speculation of the people was the change.”
In response to Brown’s and countless more deaths since, Hill states the importance of teaching and organizing against the “penal state,” which is obsessed with mass incarceration and normalizing imprisonment.
Hill noted that schools are structured like prisons in the way that confinement and isolation have become primary models of discipline. According to Hill, not only are more behaviors considered infractions, but the penalties for those actions are increasingly severe. Hill also discussed the growing presence of police and surveillance within schools.
Building schools like a prison, Hill states, normalizes, widens and deepens the net of criminality. By this, he means youth are becoming increasingly criminalized, and their punishments more extreme.
Hill said that punishments are based upon subjective perceptions of a generalized group of people. For example, according to Hill, Black youth are automatically criminalized in our imaginations while White people are not.
In addition, homelessness, the mentally ill, those in poverty or with drug problems are all viewed as breaking the law.
“They’re sent to the only sustainable housing we’ve spent money on — prison,” Hill said.
Currently, Hill states that we have a war on youth, and solving the problem of mass incarceration starts by delving into the school system.
In Paris, Texas, a 6 year-old was arrested for “disorderly conduct” for having a temper tantrum. Schools around the country have zero tolerance policies, causing students to be suspended or expelled for breaking dress code or truancy.
Hill encourages restorative models of school that he considers to be the opposite of prisons.
“We are always looking to punish, looking to isolate,” Hill said, “but we can teach against the prison.”
Prior to the conversation with Hill, people gathered outside on the steps to hear Mills student Sarah O’Neal, sophomore class president and poet, perform her poem, “Survival.”
Young, Gifted and Black (YGB) also performed rhymes and rhythms, shouting phrases like “Ain’t gonna let racism turn me around.” YGB is an organization which, according to their website, studies “African-American history and culture through poetry, music, writings, art, and movement.”
The organization also aims to empower young people of color.
“All children are brilliant. The difference is that children of color are not expected to be brilliant,” Laroilyn H. Davis, founder of YGB said.
For more information on Marc Lamont Hill’s activism, visit www.marclamonthill.com.