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Beyond these walls

Tony Platt discusses the truth behind the American criminal justice system

Criminal justice author Tony Platt visited Humboldt State on Feb. 14 to discuss with a panel his new book, “Beyond These Walls: Rethinking Crime and Punishment in the United States.” Students, professors and community members filled the Native American Forum where the event took place.

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Renee Byrd, sociology professor, introduced author Tony Platt, whose work changed her life. | Photo by T. William Wallin

Nancy Perez, critical race, gender and sexuality studies professor at HSU and Stephanie Lumsden, scholar and teacher finishing her Ph.D. in gender studies at UCLA, completed the panel. Dr. Renee Byrd, professor of sociology, introduced Platt and said reading his work as an undergraduate in Oakland changed her life forever.

“Platt is a co-author of my favorite text, ‘The Iron Fist and The Velvet Glove,'” Byrd said. “There were few books at the time that really took a radical approach that looked to the causes of state violence and corrupt criminal activity.”

Platt is a distinguished affiliated scholar at the Center for the Study of Law & Society, University of California, Berkeley and is familiar with Humboldt county. He resides both in Berkeley and Big Lagoon. Platt said he has been visiting Humboldt county since 1975 and it feels like coming home since he’s done a lot of research here.

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Tony Platt, author of ‘Beyond These Walls: Rethinking Crime and Punishment in the United States, speaks to students, professors, and community memebrs in The Native American Forum on Feb. 14. | Photo by T.William Wallin

Platt began his talk with the four main themes of his new book: We’re too weak for the fight for social justice within our own movement. Public police and prison guards are just a small portion of how coercive power and social control are executed. The problems now are not products of Trump nor the leftover issues of the past. We have to learn from our forgotten history and bridge activists ranging from high school kids marching for gun control to Black Lives Matter.

“We have the highest incarceration rate of any other country.”

Tony Platt

“We have the highest incarceration rate of any other country,” Platt said. “Our solitary confinement violates U.N rules and regulations. The 99 percent of those incarcerated are poor and dis-proportionally African American. We have 30 percent of all women incarcerated in the world.”

Platt is the author of ten books and 150 essays and articles dealing with issues of race, inequality and social justice in American history. Platt said currently we are too often left picking a choice at the detriment of another group.

“We’re in an in-between moment in history where were deciding what do we want to look like,” Pratt said. “We know what we don’t want. For the next generation it’s up to them to decide what they want and who it will help.”

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Nancy Perez, CRGS professor, Stephanie Lumsden, scholar and teacher finishing her Ph.D in Gender Studies at UCLA, and Tony Pratt, author of ‘Beyond These Walls: Rethinking Crime and Punishment in the United States, in The Native American Forum on February 14 2019. | Photo by T.William Wallin

Panelist and abolitionist Stephanie Lumsden agreed and said although it’s negative that there’s so much violence occurring right now this is also the moment of opportunity for us to organize and do something about it.

“I am not a reformist, I am an abolitionist… I don’t think we should lock people away in cages which for some reason is a radical idea to some people.”

Stephanie Lumsden

“What do we do about justice?” Lumsden said. “Prisons aren’t solving crime. Police aren’t solving crime. Racial capitalism is what we’re working with. Abolitionist politics is overtaking this order. It is taking apart this system.”

Lumsden said she valued Pratt’s new book for its thorough research. She said the main thing she reflected on was the critique it had on reform work and the reformist attitudes that build the state.

“I am not a reformist, I am an abolitionist,” Lumsden said. “I don’t think we should lock people away in cages which for some reason is a radical idea to some people.”

Javon Patterson, a junior in computer science, came to the discussion with his altruism and compassion class to hear the panel talk on how we deal with prisoners when they integrate back into the world.

“I think this is important because prisoners are not treated very well when coming back into society,” Patterson said. “Even if they try their best to change society makes it difficult. It’s important to talk about this and how we can change.”

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