Honking for liberation: People rally and surround Indiana Women’s Prison

by Adrianna Hull

Fifty people participated in a car demonstration at the Indiana Women’s Prison Saturday afternoon, April 25, demanding the immediate release of a range of incarcerated people in the interest of public safety.

The event, which began as a rally at Ben Davis Park, was hosted by a coalition including IDOC Watch, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Indy10 Black Lives Matter, Indy SURJ, the Michiana Autonomous Defense Collective, For the People Bloomington, the New Afrikan Black Panther Party, and others.

The group demanded that prisoners be humanely cared for during the current world health crisis, asserting that the only way to properly and humanely follow social distancing guidelines is to release those who have already served their time, who have less than a year left on their sentence, who are incarcerated on technical violations, being held by ICE, and all prisoners whose medical condition(s) or age put them at higher risk for COVID-19. They also demand that the state use funds set aside for law enforcement to provide these formerly incarcerated people with hotel housing, so they are not left to fend for themselves in the midst of a pandemic.

As cars filed in to the meeting point, protestors followed social distancing guidelines by making masks available to attendees, sanitizing microphones, and keeping physical distance. Signs were handed out to those who didn’t have their own, with messages such as “High Risk=Early Release” and “FREE THEM ALL!”

Kwame Shakur, a member of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party and IDOC Watch, led the rally. Having served 18 years in prison himself, Shakur spoke on the most important issues to be addressed and how to do that. He called the coalition that organized the event a new “Rainbow Coalition,” in reference to the multinational alliance formed by Fred Hampton in Chicago, that will fight to dismantle all systems of oppression such as mass incarceration, sexism, LGBTQ oppression, imperialism, and capitalist white supremacy.

“We started our ‘Free ‘Em All’ demonstration at the Indiana Women’s Prison because women and LGBTQ issues are often minimized. We wanted to start this ‘prison circuit protest’ at a women’s prison to show that we will not be the same,” he told ANSWER Indiana, making it clear that no part of the working class will be left behind by the struggle. This is key, Kwame says, because exploitation and oppression are part of the same system. “When the U.S. represents only 5% of the world population, but 25% of all incarcerated people in the world, that’s not by coincidence; that’s by design. So ultimately this is an indictment of capitalist-imperialism.”

At the rally, speakers with loved ones who are currently incarcerated described the cruel conditions of the prisons and of the worry they felt for their safety every day. Organizers played the recorded words of a current inmate. These testimonies drove home the point that for incarcerated people, prisons have become death traps.

Timi Aderinwale, of the Indianapolis branch of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, also spoke against the prison-industrial complex and the government’s disregard for all people:

“We’ve watched the capitalist government reveal how much disregard they have for the lives of the people they supposedly serve, and instead choose corporations and profit over lives time and time again. We have gathered here today because we are all aware of the way that incarcerated people are treated in this country, and how much more vulnerable they are to this virus due to the circumstances that have been created,” they said.            

The protest ended with a car caravan that passed the women’s prison multiple times, with protesters honking repeatedly as they drove slowly past the prison. Hoosiers stand in solidarity with their incarcerated neighbors, and will continue fighting for their rights, health, and safety!