ENDING MASS INCARCERATION: A City’s Multicultural CALL through Art, the Day after Nipsey Hussle was Lain to Rest.

On March 31st, 2019, grammy-nominated rapper, entrepreneur, father-of-two, and a community leader, was gunned down at his Marathon clothing store over a personal dispute. He was 33. After his death, those city leaders, and the city of Los Angeles itself, the second largest in America, who were unaware, became aware, of Ermias Davidson Asghedom, also known as, Nipsey Hussle. After his death, South Central Los Angeles, now South Los Angeles, was in a state of visible mourning. Not privately, but on the streets, which culminated in the city’s second Staples Center’s funeral; the first being, the late great Michael Jackson. But unlike Jackson, who was accused during his lifetime of distancing himself from his Black heritage, Nipsey embraced that he was Black. Listing a montage of his community investment in South Central is not what this article is about, but the 2.5 mile long funeral procession, post Staples Center Services, is a testament to his impact. You see, you can’t list his impact, without giving the appearance any of his work was greater than some other, when it all was impactful. For example, the laying down of arms by the city’s Crips, Bloods, and Hispanic gangs. While the blood and beating of Rodney King was the catalyst to the Los Angeles riots, it only brought truces between the Crips and the Bloods. On the other hand, Nipsey’s blood, ended the city’s Crip, Blood, and Racial Wars. However, the city was not through in carrying out the mission of Nipsey’s life.

Many months prior to Nipsey’s death, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), was preparing to implement a plan to end mass incarceration through art. CALL, Connecting Art & Law For Liberation, held its inaugural art fair-workshop, at UCLA’S Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American studies. The inauguration of this event took place the day after the world participated, and witnessed, The Celebration of Life funeral procession, of the late, great, Nipsey Hussle. The inaugural “Connecting Art and Law for Liberation (CALL),” festival, was the brainchild of Delaram Kamalpour, a third-year student of UCLA’s School of Law and an alumna of UCLA’s College of Letters and Science. Kamalpour is also a fellow at the school’s Prison Law and Policy Program. Kamalpour will graduate in May, and plans to become a public defender. She hopes her brainchild, CALL, has a lasting legacy on the school’s campus.

“This is the culmination of a dream I had a year ago,” Kamalpour said. “Unfortunately at this time, not everyone is ready to accept that prisoners’ rights are human rights, they are people who have hopes and aspirations and are talented and thoughtful.”

Her hope is to initiate more dialogue, harnessing the work that artists, law advocates and reform activists are all already doing.

Event organizers were able to enlist the participation of some highly visible, and longtime activist. Such notables included, actor and activist, Danny Glover; Los Angeles Poet Laureate 2014-2016, and activist, Luis J. Rodriguez; Hip-Hop artist of Public Enemy, Prophets of Rage, and activist, Chuck D; author, activists, and former prisoner, Donna Hylton; and prisoner-artist, and Prisoner Transformative Justice Coordinator, Donald "C-Note" Hooker.

The event's first day, included a stirring speech by Keynote Speaker, Danny Glover. Besides Glover, Rodriguez read some powerful poetry, including a poem he had written in 1970.

"This poem was first written when I was 16 years old and jailed during the Chicano Moratorium against the Vietnam War," stated Rodriguez.

"The date was August 29, 1970. Some 30,000 people took part in the largest anti-war protest, at that time, by a neighborhood of color.

After law enforcement officers attacked a mostly peaceful crowd, a riot ensued, leading to millions of dollars in damage and the deaths of three persons, including Chicano journalist Ruben Salazar. Hundreds were arrested. I recall several of us being maced while handcuffed in an L.A. County Sheriff’s bus. Others were beaten.

However, after releasing most people within hours, five of us “cholos,” Chicano gang youth, were not released. Instead, sheriff’s deputies held us in the murderer’s row of the Hall of Justice Jail in downtown Los Angeles (which was illegal—you’re supposed to be 18 and over). I had a cell next to Charles Manson. The first night I was there, two murderers put a razor blade to my neck. I stood up to them, showing no fear, although I was scared to death. Deputies threatened us with charges in the riot killings, including the death of Reuben Salazar. I was lost for several days while my parents tried to find me in juvenile hall and other facilities.

But, charges were never filed. Deputies woke me up in the wee hours and released me without a word. Their apparent plan to make scapegoats of us “gang bangers” backfired when Chicano activists produced photos and film of police beating and shooting people, including of the Silver Dollar Bar on Whittier Boulevard where Salazar was killed.”

The calling came to me while I languished

in my room, while I whittled away my youth

in jail cells and damp barrio fields.

It brought me to life, out of captivity,

in a street-scarred and tattooed place

I called body.

Until then I waited silently,

a deafening clamor in my head,

voiceless to all around,

hidden from America's eyes,

a brown boy without a name.

I would sing into a solitary

tape recorder, music never to be heard.

I would write my thoughts

in scrambled English;

I would take photos in my mind

—plan out new parks, bushy green, concrete free,

new places to play and think.

Waiting. Then it came. The calling.

It brought me out of my room.

It forced me to escape night captors

in street prisons.

It called me to war, to be writer,

to be scientist and march with the soldiers

of change.

It called me from the shadows, out of the wreckage

of my barrio—from among those

who did not exist.

I waited all of 16 years for this time.

Somehow, unexpected, I was called

Other poets of note, was the participation of incarcerated poet, Eric W. Davis aka San’i A. Mateen. San’i’s poem, “Little Brother,” was a reminder that generational plight stems from upbringing.

"How can we expect a fool not to be a fool, when they were never schooled?” Says San’i. “And that’s a conversation that starts with us. We were the ones running around acting foolishly in our youth and now in our older age we are critics? That don’t make no sense. When will we as the older generation bring a kind of reckoning on us?"

How Can Younger Brothers Ever Give
The Love They Were Not Taught To Live
In Which I'm Almost Positive
That Most May Never Know

For Many Begin To Tear Apart
Their Relationships Right From The Start
And Love There Never Grows
Because They Never Cleansed Their Hearts

Still We Do Not Look At Us
Because We Envy, Hurt And Cuss
Each Other While We Make A Fuss
About The Plight We're In

Which Shouldn’t Sound At All Strange
For Most Of Us Refuse To Change
Because Each Day We Still Arrange
To Do These Things Again

So Yeah, Don't Sit There Lookin Shocked
For We Are Those Who Still Do Block
Our Ears And Hearts We Won't Unlock
To Truly Understand

And Our Condition Remains The Same
For When Will Big Brothers Ever Name
Themselves The Only Ones To Blame
For The Problems In All Hoods

For One Of Brothers Greatest Fear
Is Letting Go Our Mournin Tears
That We've Collected Through The Years
And Still We Do Not Cry

Yet We Cause Our Women To
By What We Say And Things We Do
But When Will It Dawn On You
That We Also Need To Cry

For Crying Does Away With Pride
Helps Change The Way You Are Inside
So That Your Soul May Be Your Guide
As It Should Always Be

But If You Think I’m Too Sensitive
I’ll Go Ahead And Let You Live
Your Life, Which Life Will Always Give
These Problems That We See

By Eric W. Davis aka San'i A. Mateen

Endnotes:

Wolf, Jessica. "UCLA law student leads call to action for criminal justice reform." UCLA Newsroom, 12 Apr. 2019, http://newsroom.ucla.edu/stories/law-student-leads-call-to-action-of-criminal-justice-reform. Accessed 15 Apr. 2019.

Rodriguez, Luis J. . "Trauma to Transformation." Los Angeles Public Library Blog, 23 June 2015, https://www.lapl.org/collections-resources/blogs/lapl/trauma-transformation. Accessed 15 Apr. 2019.

Artwork by Musafiir Salman

Leaders in the movement to end mass incarceration through the Arts.