Amnesty International at Cornell will be hosting a Mass Incarceration Week of Action, from April 9 to April 13. The week will be dedicated to educating students and spreading awareness regarding flaws in the United States’ current criminal justice system.
“Amnesty International at Cornell had this idea of hosting a week of action to fight against incarceration since last semester,” said Chris Elliott ’20, one of the organizers for the Mass Incarceration Week of Action. “Mass incarceration has significant intersection when talking about how it affects different communities in the United States.”
At the beginning of every semester, Amnesty International allows its general body to discuss what specific human rights issues they feel most passionate about.
“This semester, and past semesters as well, we have repeatedly talked about how mass incarceration is one of the biggest human rights crises happening in the country right now,” Elliott said.
Some of the events of the week include a mass incarceration teach-in by Black Students United, a screening of the documentary 13 by Amnesty International and a talk about the intersection of police brutality and mass incarceration, featuring guest speakers Yusef Salaam, a member of the Innocence Project who served five and half years for a crime he didn’t commit, and Kenneth Chamberlain Jr., the son of the man shot in his own home after police responded to his life alert alarm.
“We also hope to raise awareness about how there is a specific intersection between mass incarceration in different communities,” Elliott said. “We believe there is power in both Yusef Salaam and Kenneth Chamberlain sharing their experiences.”
He said that if student organizations can highlight specific abuses repeatedly, they will prompt students to speak up about these issues and bring about change.
“We would hope, in an ideal world, that after this event, Cornell students would feel inspired to speak out and to write to lawmakers to end mass incarceration as we know it in the United States,” Elliott said.
Emma Lester ’20, co-facilitator of Amnesty International, said that actions as simple as calling your local representative and expressing disapproval of the construction of new jails can send a powerful message for future legislators.
“In that same vein, it’s an international human rights issue, but it’s also very local,” Lester said. “Students here can feel like they are having a tangible impact when they look at the local community, but also know that they are part of an international movement.”