In the context of the conversation about mass incarceration in the United States, there is one prominent figure who is calling for an end to the prison system altogether.
On Monday night, activist, CNN commentator and host of BET News Marc Lamont Hill spoke about mass incarceration as part of an annual social justice lecture series hosted by the Black Men at Penn School of Social Work, Inc.
The organization was founded in 2002 in order to address the lack of representation of men of color in social work, as well as to provide anti-racism and violence prevention training around the country. Hill's lecture was particularly timely given the national conversation on the prison system, the organization's co-founder and current president Chad Dion Lassiter said.
Hill, who started the lecture with a call to “free the land,” spoke passionately about the way the current prison system disproportionately incarcerates men of color.
“I am not a liberal,” Hill said, adding, “I come from a black, radical tradition of abolition.”
Hill called on the country to dissolve the prison system altogether.
"End the prison system," he said, repeating the phrase several times throughout the lecture.
Hill, who received his Ph.D. from Penn's Graduate School of Education, described his experience arriving on campus as "returning home," though his time at Penn was not without difficulties or contradictions, he said.
“I think all students of color in these sorts of institutions wrestle with problems. We have seen that in Mizzou, Yale, and Brown just in the last month," Hill told The Daily Pennsylvanian, adding, "There were moments where I didn't feel as if I fit [in] entirely."
He also said that Penn should be part of the national discussion of the disparate effect that mass incarceration has on blacks, though he added that Penn students and faculty may face difficulties discussing this issue.
“There are ways in which Penn is left out of the conversation about mass incarceration, because the students who are coming here are not on the precipice of prison,” Hill said. “But I think any institution that is as big as Penn and is as influential as Penn in the local economy, public policy making, and in the creation of future policy makers of the world, has to be heavily invested in the conversation about mass incarceration.”
Hill stressed the importance of Penn deciding what type of institution it would like to be.
“Penn can be an institution that ignores the most vulnerable, or it can be one that addresses and redresses the most critical issues of our day,” Hill said. “We can be the gentrifier of West Philly, even more than we already are. Or we can be an institution committed to justice and change. The evidence suggests that we are somewhere in the middle, as most institutions are.”
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