The Fresno State chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) collected petition signatures last week and encouraged students to write message of freedom during the Mass Incarceration Recognition Chalk Out.
The messages written in chalk on the cement included: “13th Amend [sic] world’s greatest loophole” and “Since 1980, California has created 22 prisons but just one UC Campus – #SchoolsNotPrisons.”
“We wanted to recognize those from the community that have been disproportionately incarcerated because of the stereotypes and the sentences that are commonly tagged on black and brown men and women,” said Charie Payne, president of the Fresno State chapter.
In the Free Speech Area, signs were displayed with facts on mass incarceration. One read: “If African-Americans and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rate as whites, prison and jail populations would decline by 40 percent”
Another read: “There are more African-Americans under ‘correctional supervision’ right now than were in slavery in the United States in 1850.”
The Fresno State NAACP collected signatures for a petition in favor the proposed federal “Reverse Mass Incarceration Act of 2017.”
The bill would implement a grant program to reward states that reduce the number of individuals incarcerated in prisons. Payne said that enacting change to incarceration laws requires more than raising awareness. And for that reason, the event also included the petition.
“We wanted to recognize that there is an overrepresentation of black people in the American prison complex. But we also want to do something about that, not just bring awareness,” Payne said.
She said that in addition to being incarcerated in high numbers, people of color are underrepresented in politics.
“In politics, there’s a small percentage of African-Americans and Latino people,” Payne said. “We don’t get to a be part of those conversations predominantly that regard our well-being and progression in American society.”
Kwone Robinson, a Fresno State psychology major, wrote a Fannie Lou Hamer quote in chalk. It read: “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Lou Hamer was an activist in the civil rights movement.
“I just think that quote was personally really powerful for me,” Robinson said. “There’s just a lot of struggle in the world, and if people aren’t trying to change, then nothing will change.”
Robinson also signed the petition for the incarceration reform law.
“In these times, you do see a lot of more ethnic people being arrested for small things than you would people of non-ethnicity [sic],” Robinson said. “I’m not saying that’s always the case, but it does happen a little bit more often.”
James Hernandez, a Fresno State graduate student, also signed the petition.
“I think [mass] incarceration is deplorable,” Hernandez said. “It’s basically the new slavery. It’s the new Jim Crow law.”
Hernandez said he believes strongly in the cause that the petition centered on.
“They’re trying to make people aware of the injustice and inequality that’s going on in this country – that America is not great; that it could be great,” Hernandez said. “We need to work on it.”
Payne said the event was held in honor of Black History Month. She said Black History Month is a way to honor black historical figures who might not receive much recognition.
“There’s so much credit that was not given to black people because of the time and period that we were in,” Payne said. “We want to make sure those people are recognized from here on out.”
Payne also said that Black History Month can be an opportunity to highlight past as well as present-day race relations.
“We live in a society that holds onto titles like ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘diversity’ to make it seem like we have progressed, when we really haven’t gone too far from where we were 50 years ago,” Payne said