When asked why it was important to speak out on this case in particular, Xochitl Bervera, a lawyer and activist who worked with the defendants and signed onto the letter, said the community is not helped and homophobia not erased through long prison sentences.
“I think what’s really important now is that the community move forward and find ways to talk about how we keep our community safe and end violence in a way that doesn’t engage state systems that cage people and target our community,” she said.
It was important to advocate for this strategy using the Brandon White case because homophobia is not eliminated by sentencing people to prison, she said.
“In this case there was a lot at stake. As a community we need to start asking the question of how to stop the cycle of violence, how do we end hate-based violence and homophobia. And it’s not the prison system,” she said.
The statement in full by SONG
This statement seeks to bring clarity to SONG’s position on the case of the violent attack against Brandon White in Atlanta, GA.
First of all, we would like to say that SONG whole-heartedly supports accountability for the attackers of Brandon White. What happened to Brandon White was atrocious, and, as LGBTQ people and leaders, we stand alongside our LGBTQ community in the horror, grief, and anger many of us feel about this attack. We have never intended to, nor would we, speak for Brandon White or his family. We urge LGBTQ community members to acknowledge that individual activists and organizations have differences of opinion about what accountability looks like, and how it should be acquired. Yet, we are still united as a community in a common demand to see justice done and accountability accomplished in this case.
We also know that this case does not stand alone. As an LGBTQ organization that organizes LGBTQ People of Color, immigrants, rural, and working class people in the South–we have the painful experience of seeing these kinds of atrocities happen far too often. Because of this witnessing, we have as high a stake as any group of LGBTQ people in seeing this kind of homophobic and transphobic violence end. However, we do not believe that longer and harsher prison sentences will stop it.
We know that prisons are not institutions that push people to change and transform patterns of violence. They are cages for poor people and people of Color that serve those who profit from their labor. The role of leadership calls for communities to answer hard questions. We have to ask ourselves as community leaders: “Do longer and harsher prison sentences keep our LGBTQ youth safer?” Our answer is No. Because they do not get to the root of the problem. In the case of White’s attackers, we do want them to never harm him or anyone else again. In nineteen years of working with LGBTQ communities in the South, we have not seen extended prison time halt harms in the long run. However, we have, in some cases, seen intensive rehabilitation and community accountability transform harmful people to the point where they not only no longer do harm, but they stop others from doing harm. Some have suggested that alternatives to extended prison sentencing are the same as “leniency”. We do not agree.
We want people who do violence to change, and violence to stop. As people of principle, we do not get the luxury of just standing by that principle when it applies to people that we can feel compassion for, or whom we see as like us. We can be angry, saddened, and pained by this case and the many others we see every day. That does not mean we get to forget what we know about the realities of the prison system. For hundreds of years, we have been told that the police will keep us safe. They have not kept most of us safe–particularly people of Color, immigrants, LGBTQ people and poor people.
We have been told that prisons will cure society’s ills and reduce crime and violence. They have not done so. In the 1970′s, Trans and LGB people of Color led the Stonewall Riots–and we were clear as a community that the prison and police systems (not individual officers alone) are a mechanism by which our communities are policed, hurt and controlled. The same is true today. We have to hold not only our very valid and raw feelings about incidents like this attack, but also to what we know to be true as students of history.
While we stand true to our principles, we deeply regret if any of our actions have been misconstrued as “siding with the defense of White’s attackers.” We are, always and forever, on the side of our people. We simply define ‘our people’ as ALL people who are marginalized, and history has taught us that the prison systems have never been on the side of our people.
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