At the turn of the century, a young civil rights attorney saw a Northern California poster that read, “THE DRUG WAR IS THE NEW JIM CROW.” Ten years later, she would publish her seminal work, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. A book so radical, it has been banned in some of the United States’s State Correctional systems. One such state where it was not banned was California, where the book achieved mythical status as the gold standard or Bible on the mass incarceration crisis plaguing America. One such prisoner who had been affected by the book was an artist trying to facilitate getting Prisoner Art to the people on the other side of the prison wall. Using his resources, he asked if art created during Jim Crow could be looked up using internet search engines. The results were astounding, it did not exist. This digital desert raised another question in this prisoner-artist’s mind, “Are we experiencing a second resurgence of Jim Crow because there exists no authentic cultural record of the first one?” If in fact, Blacks are reliving through mass incarceration another form of Jim Crow, what is stopping this to repeat again? Jewish Holocaust survivors have hammered out a strategy never to be shipped off to concentration camps to where unspeakable horrors had become of them. This strategy or campaign is known as “Never Forget.” It is a reminder through Holocaust era cultural artifacts and photojournalism to remind the public and for the public to confront Humanity’s inhumanity conducted towards the Jewish people. What if The New Jim Crow is a direct result of failing to keep the cultural records or heritage from the first Jim Crow? If Black people failed to keep such a record during the second or New Jim Crow, are they not setting the conditions for there to be a third Jim Crow, and so forth? Thus was born Neo Jim Crow Art. So named because the architect at the time did not want to give the appearance this cultural record-keeping was biting on or taking away from, the work of Michelle Alexander and her book The New Jim Crow. Neo Jim Crow as an art movement is based upon three political themes; 1.) Part of the Black experience in the United States during the 20th century was Jim Crow; 2.) Part of the Black experience in the United States during the early 21st century is The New Jim Crow; and 3.) Will part of the Black experience in the United States during the 22nd century be a Jim Crow or Jim Crow like experience? To prevent the latter, this generation is culturally responsible for the next in order for history not to repeat itself.
On July 13th, 2013, prisoner abolitionist, Patrisse Khan-Cullors was in Susanville, California, awaiting to see a prison inmate at California’s worst maximum security prison for general population prisoners. This was the day of the George Zimmerman acquittal of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. A tearful Alicia Garza posted on Facebook as a sign off, Black Lives Matter. Khan-Cullors would later coach Garza that day to put a hashtag in front of it. Thus is the origins of the hashtag Black Lives Matter; that went from an online immemorial from the loss of a Black male-child, to an offline social protest movement. But the tears of Alicia Garza, and the pressing of a send button on a computer to the pressing of human bodies being sent out into the streets to protest, didn’t occur until one year later with the death of Michael Brown. Observers have noted, that Brown’s death, and the subsequent deaths of Black men coming in contact with law enforcement, awoken a consciousness of looking at other consequences that arise from such contact, such as jail or imprisonment. People behind the wall we’re noticing for the first time, they were being paid attention to. Last month, over 3,000 prisoners were released as a result of the First Step Act. These prisoners could never have found freedom if it wasn’t for the death of Brown and other Black men that spurred accountability from America’s criminal justice system.
Since 1979, every August, prisoners across the United States have held a month-long memorial to fallen prisoner-rights activist, who lost their lives as a result of their activism while behind bars. Once again, Facebook played a role in Los Angeles prison-artist, C-Note’s, 2016 seminal Political Art, Black August-Los Angeles, so named and inspired by, Jitu Sadiki’s Facebook Page, Black August Los Angeles. C-Note’s work makes references to Beyonce’s “Formation;” the death of prisoners, and prison reform activists, George Jackson, and Hugo “Yogi” Pinell. Both men were murdered in prison. Police shooting death victims, Michael Brown, and Ezell Ford. These kind of deaths awoken the American conscious on it’s criminal justice system, thus prison reform. The California Coalition of Women Prisoners (CCWP), so that the public wouldn’t forget we imprison women too. The Los Angeles Women’s Center, to bring public consciousness, and hopefully funding, to a place that provides services and refuge to women, most likely from the same environmental milieu as those who have been, or will become imprisoned. The Raised Fist, a symbol of Black Power during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, now a symbol of empowerment during any struggle. And “Mundo Sin Jaulas” (A World Without Cages), in recognition of the Brown People’s Movement. In 2017, Black August-Los Angeles was donated to the Partnership for Re-Entry Program (PREP), for their 13th annual prisoner art Exhibition. The Art of Incarcerated: Faith and Hope Beyond Prison Walls, was held Saturday, September 22, 2017, at Homeboy Industries in conjunction with their 5K run. Money raised from the event was used to pay for resources to help parolees and pre parolees make successful transitions back into society. PREP and Homeboy Industries are two of the restorative justice ministries of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
While it has been five years since his death, just as it will be 10 years after his death, and 20 years after his death, the blood of Michael Brown has been memorialized in Neo Jim Crow Art, as the lifeblood to their freedom.