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The impact of COVID-19 on our prison system and the health of those incarcerated

The “Defund & Defend: Change Must Come” episode of “REVOLT BLACK NEWS” addressed the impact of gun violence in hip hop and COVID-19 on the American prison system.

Prison cells Emiliano Bar

Inspired by Sean “Diddy” Combs’ successful “State Of Emergency: The State of Black America & Coronavirus” town hall, “REVOLT BLACK NEWS” is a platform that is designed to report news from the perspective of Black people for Black people.

Last night’s (July 16) “REVOLT BLACK NEWS” episode titled “Defund & Defend: Change Must Come” addressed gun violence in connection to hip hop culture and the impact of COVID-19 on the American prison system. Host and executive producer Eboni K. Williams facilitated conversations with a lineup of speakers that included Dr. Steve Perry, Brittany K. Barnett, Chief Patrick Labat, Big U, Courtney English, Lynda Williams, Dr. Wes Bellamy, and Mayor Candace Hollingsworth.

Eboni first introduced the executive director of Developing Options and former gang member Big U. As they began to talk about his childhood and getting into gang life at an early age while growing up in the Crenshaw district, Big U told Eboni about his passion for getting these young children on a better path to success. “You’re gonna regret it ten years from now, but I tell them right now that you’re being a coward,” he tells the young children in his area about steering away from the hustling life.

“He’s the kid I’m talking about,” Big U said to Eboni about meeting the late Nipsey Hussle on Crenshaw and Slauson, hustling at 18 years old. “I came in and I [saw] the drive that he had and he knew what he wanted to do; he just needed help to get there. The Nipsey experience is helping our community with young Black men.” The host picked up the gems Big U was dropping to commend him for buying property to reinvest into Black wealth building and being a role model.

Eboni pivoted into another segment to “discuss the harsh reality of the lack of protection that’s in our communities.” “While there’s work being done to defund the police, we gotta keep it one hundred and talk about how we better police ourselves while law enforcement does the work to be better,” she said before introducing Chief Patrick Labat. Labat encouraged cops to shift the focus from deescalation to getting us home safely and putting the arrest portion to the wayside in order to find effective resolutions.

“If we inject that into an early training setting that our goal is customer service, then we change the dynamic of the conversation,” he said. The chief continued to advise viewers to take care of themselves by engaging in psychological examinations at least twice a year to unpack desensitization and trauma in their day-to-day lives.

Last night’s “Headlines” included the lawsuit against city of Minneapolis and the four officers involved in George Floyd’s death, as filed by his family; the North Carolina city of Asheville City Council approving a reparations resolution, and the launch of “Our Black Party.” Co-chairs Mayor Candace Hollingsworth and Dr. Wes Bellamy shared screen time with one another to break down the new political party. “Before you were Democrat, before you were Republican, and before you were independent, you were Black,” Dr. Bellamy said.

Other headlines included Nick Cannon being let go by ViacomCBS, and Colin Kaepernick’s $1.75 million donation in support of Black and brown communities for COVID-19 relief and social justice on behalf of his “Know Your Rights” campaign. “For anybody who claps back, Colin has been about his work,” Eboni said. “This is what it looks like to put your money where your mouth is.”

Dr. Perry joined to discuss the potential state of education in the coming fall season amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. “Distance learning could be, for the first time in American history, the opportunity poor Black and Latino kids have always needed because we’re no longer bound by our zip code,” he said. English encouraged educators to assess the risk of health and safety of the students before considering schools reopening. “While we know in school, education is critically important to a child’s upbringing and overall well-being, their health and safety must come first,” he enforced.

After a few words from students Jelani Sweet, Kristen Valentine, and Kiara Johnson about their concerns for the forthcoming school year, Eboni introduced a new segment called “Black Excellence Entertainment Headlines” with journalist and The Root’s content officer Corey Townsend for a conversation surrounding positive narratives for the Black community, which started with speaking about Gina Prince-Bythewood making history as the first Black woman to direct a big budget action film, Netflix’s new The Old Guard.

“To us, Black women have always reigned supreme. This is nothing new,” he said. “It is refreshing, also disheartening at times, to see that now everybody is finally seeing what we’ve seen and known all along.”

The two journalists continued their Black excellence in entertainment conversation with topics such as Viola Davis gracing the cover of Vanity Fair, Beyonce’s BeyGOOD and NAACP teaming up for Black-owned business grants, and the filed lawsuit on behalf of 227 Mississippi inmates by JAY-Z, Team Roc and Yo Gotti regarding the prison’s heinous conditions during COVID-19. “These people are in really dire constraints. They have no place to go and no other option, so I’m very glad to see, from a legal lens, that JAY-Z and Team Roc is taking a charge from a legal stance,” Eboni added before handing the mic to Townsend. “The reason why we’re treated like this and the reason why we’re in these conditions is because they see us as less than,” he pointed out. “It’s not surprising at all that prisons are basically doing what they’re doing to Black bodies and prisons are an evolved form of slavery in my opinion.”

Townsend concluded that everyone has a part to play in changing society — whether it be taking the notes at the meeting or protesting. “No role is too big or small. Everything lends itself to the greater picture,” he added.

Keeping the conversation going on the prison system in relation to COVID-19, Eboni welcomed Barnett and Lynda Williams. When Eboni asked Barnett about the legal standards of qualification for compassionate release for prisoners with pre-existing health conditions, he quickly identified the issue: There is none. “It’s actually all over the place and that’s part of the problem. There’s no consistency,” she disclosed.

Barnett continued to shed a light on the mental health of those on 24-hour lockdown, which include cancellation visits and phone call limitations. “There is a psychological impact that comes with COVID[-19] in prisons that is going to extend far beyond this pandemic,” she said.

“Our mass incarceration has been an issue since the beginning of time and it’s not getting any better,” Lynda chimed in. She continued to speak on overcrowding in our prison system. “Even if they’re wearing the masks and the gloves, it’s still a limited, overcrowded and very unclean environment,” Lynda added.

As Eboni closed out the show, she acknowledged that this episode was one we all needed to hear. “The statistics, they tell us one thing, but when we bring conversations inside of our communities and they add our perspective, they add a whole other story,” she said.

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