Coalition Merges Art and Activism for Holiday Message about Mass Incarceration

justicela jail beds

At a busy intersection in Baldwin Hills, artist Jasmine Nyende sat on a jail bed, with dolls tied to its posts.

The dolls represented “every member of my family who has slept in a prison bed,” said Nyende, 24, who read poetry about the impact of the massive numbers of people in jails and prisons from her perch near Crenshaw and Martin Luther King Jr. boulevards.

Nyende was one of dozens of artists taking part in a Christmas Eve demonstration called #JailBedDrop, coordinated by Justice L.A., a coalition of more than 40 local activist organizations.

The group placed 50 beds in Baldwin Hills, Beverly Hills, Compton, Inglewood, Lancaster, Manhattan Beach, Palmdale, West Hollywood, the San Fernando Valley and other locations to highlight inequities in the criminal justice system.

The coalition “activated artists and organizers so a larger discussion about mass incarceration in this city” could begin, said Justice L.A. co-founder Patrisse Cullors, who is also a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The demonstration was also meant to be a reminder to shoppers and residents that thousands of people will not spend the holidays with their loved ones

The demonstration was also meant to be a reminder to shoppers and residents that thousands of people will not spend the holidays with their loved ones, Cullors said.

Many homeless and mentally ill inmates “see this bed as their only bed,” Nyende noted.

In September, the coalition’s first act was placing 100 of the steel-frame jail bunks outside of the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration to protest a planned $2 billion jail expansion approved by the Board of Supervisors. Opponents contend the final price tag could reach $3.5 billion, which they say would be better invested in community services.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell has argued that expanded jail facilities are needed to curtail overcrowding.

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Michael Livingston
Los Angeles Times

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