Things on my wish list : Hear Angela Davis speak in person.
ITHACA — Professor and former Black Panther Party member Angela Davis spoke to a packed Sage Chapel audience at Cornell University Tuesday night about the connection between the U.S. prison system and democracy.
Davis, who was once on the FBI's most wanted list and who spent 16 months in jail, challenged the audience to rethink their understanding of the country's prison system.
She started her speech focusing on the 1838 text “Democracy In America” and how French author Alexis de Tocqueville was drawn to America by its prison systems.
“This new prison system served as evidence of the existence of democracy,” Davis said. “How did this occur? During slavery many people gauged their own freedom by the (lack of freedom) of the slave.”
Davis also addressed the ability of prison to rehabilitate.
“This institution was supposed to refashion citizens, it was supposed to allow citizens to reflect on themselves and remake themselves,” Davis said. “How can you rehabilitate someone if the foundation of the punishment consists of denying them their rights and liberty? Not that rehabilitation shouldn't be possible, but is it possible within the confines of an institution whose purpose is to rob you of your rights and liberties?”
Asa Craig, a Cornell freshmen who is studying prisons in one of his classes, said he was excited to hear Davis' address.
“When I told my parents about this chance to see Angela Davis they said, ‘Wow, you should read about her and learn about what she was done in her past,' ” he said. “I think I'm going to walk away with a better understanding of our prisons and society and how that correlates with each other.”
Maanami Ransom, a sophomore pre-med major at Cornell, was eager to hear Davis' thoughts about prison and African American women.
“I don't get opportunities like this coming from a science background,” she said. “But I thought it was a way for me to keep in touch with things that are going in my community as an African American female.”
Davis shared the story of a white friend who stole constantly and how her friend never was watched by the police when she entered retail stores. Davis compared that to an Ithaca High School student she spoke with on Tuesday who said he was constantly approached by the police.
“But they're are not watching people like my friend,” Davis said. “I'm trying to make an argument about the reasons why people end up in prison that often have little to do with their behavior. I'm not trying to excuse the things people do that put them in prison, people do horrible things, but at the same time people who don't go to prison do a lot of horrible things as well.”