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Davis demands end to racism in criminal justice system

By : Shirley Yi Lin

Angela Davis addresses 650 members of the campus and local community Saturday where she urged them to stop racism within the nationís criminal justice system.
America’s criminal justice system may be made up of colorblind laws that aim to prevent discrimination, but racism is lurking at the very heart of it, activist Angela Davis told a Binghamton University audience last week. Davis, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, addressed 650 members of the campus and local community Saturday where she urged them to “take part and be active” in stopping racism within the nation.

“We often consider knowledge simply as a collection of facts,” Davis said. “What we know and what we don’t know... but I would like to think of it as how we know.” A controversial scholar who joined the Communist Party at the height of the cold war, Davis was placed on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List on false charges and was the subject of an intense police search that drove her underground and culminated in one of the most famous trials in recent history. A massive international “Free Angela Davis” campaign led to her acquittal in 1972.

Davis said that even though more than 80 percent of the people in U.S. prisons are black or Latino, it is unrealistic to assume that these minorities commit more crimes. She said that the criminal justice system is putting too many people in prisons and “sometimes all they need is education.”

Arguing that the death penalty is rooted from slavery, Davis pointed to history, saying that when the death penalty was abolished, some states retained the right to hand out the penalty to whites only in cases of murder. However, those states retained many more grounds to give blacks the death penalty, including rape. “Slavery really preserved capital punishment in this country,” Davis said.

Davis said that the death penalty is a form of racism regardless of the racial or ethnic backgrounds of those sentenced. Instead of death being given at the hand of the state, she urges her audiences to find more humane ways to address the issues.

Davis’ lecture was a part of the Black Student Union’s celebration for Black History Month. Past lectures have brought in Cornell West and Michael Eric Dyson. “Every year, we try to bring in someone to lecture on something that is not usually discussed in the normal realm of academics,” said Eric Henry, a junior philosophy, politics and law major and vice president for the Black Student Union. “We hope to broaden their (the students’) horizon and bring them towards a new point of view.”

Students said they attended Davis’ lecture for various reasons. Joel Maria, a junior financial economics major, said that Davis addressed a lot of points that were discussed in his sociology classes. “We are the youth,” Maria said. “We are the influence. We need to take into consideration what governs the society that we live in. We give them the power to direct and represent us.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08