Amnesty for All

Organizing against Criminalization in Post-Katrina New Orleans

Press conference outside Orleans Parish Prison, including Xochitl Bervera (speaker) and members of Friends and Families of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children, Critical Resistance, the NAACP, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International. Photographs by Ashley Hunt are from his documentary works on Hurricane Katrina, including Notes on the Emptying of a City (2011) and I Won't Drown on that Levee and You Ain't Gonna Break My Back (2006).

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Amnesty for All

Organizing against Criminalization in Post-Katrina New Orleans

by Lydia Pelot-Hobbs
Southern Cultures, Vol. 27, No. 3: The Abolitionist South

“Periods of acute crisis are not times to confine our visions of what liberation might entail, but to confront the conditions that produce harm and violence straight-on.”

As I write in the summer of 2021, the US is in its fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Amid the celebration of widely available and highly effective vaccines, federal, state, and local governments have abandoned most public health protocols and failed to consider how their decisions have repeatedly led to the nation’s coronavirus case load spiraling out of control for most of the pandemic. Perhaps nowhere has the crisis of COVID-19 been more grave than in prisons, jails, and detention centers where imprisoned people have been left with little recourse or protection. In the early phase of the pandemic, organizers and advocates pushed for the release of incarcerated people, rightfully pointing out that carceral facilities would be a primary vector of the virus, but their release has been uneven and woefully inadequate, even as prison outbreaks catch headlines. Unfortunately, carceral politics that deem criminalized people disposable have permeated the responses of not only governors and mayors but also criminal justice reform advocates in determining which prisoners are worthy of release. Liberal prison reformers have too often hewed to narrow legal categories of “nonviolent” or “pretrial” in their demands for early release, leaving the vast majority of incarcerated people in the lurch.1

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