Decarcerate PA Protest Hits Snag at Graterford; Carries On Anyway
Despite being prevented by police from protesting in front of the prison, the movement voiced their concerns regarding Governor Corbett’s priorities.
Decarcerate Pennsylvania protested the Graterford Prison expansion on Tuesday, though it was semi-thwarted when members of the Pennsylvania State Police prevented them from walking onto the Graterford complex.
The group had initially planned to meet at Perkiomen Valley High School and walk to the prison entrance, but state police prevented them from making the trek citing safety concerns.
“We prevented them from obstructing the highway – we did it for their safety,” said a Pennsylvania State Police Trooper. “People are going to start looking at them, and not pay attention to the way they are driving, so it is an issue of safety.”
Despite the concerns from police, Decarcerate Pennsylvania member Hakim Ali believes that the police were not acting in the group’s best interest.
“Obviously [the police are] not that concerned about our welfare in terms of getting hit by a car,” Ali said. “That’s like saying we’re the most idiotic people in the world, like we would walk in front of cars and get hit. There are ulterior motives to this.”
Regardless of motive, the protest carried on and roughly 60 people stood in front of Perkiomen Valley High School – including several people who biked from the Philadelphia Art Museum – with signs stating "Stop the Prison Expansion," "Education, Not Incarceration" and "No New Prisons, Community Re-Investment."
The most vocal member of the protest was Atiba Kwesi, a former Graterford inmate who was released two and a half years ago.
"I did a lot of time in that spot – unfortunately – and now I have the freedom to be here," said Kwesi, a member of Justice for All and the Public Safety Initiative. "Governor Corbett wants to take money from Philadelphia schools and put it into prisons."
Schools versus prisons were an echoed sentiment amongst many at the protest.
"To me, it’s becoming one of the most pressing social issues of our time," said Thomas Dichter, a member of Decarcerate PA. "It’s becoming a financial crisis because we can’t afford a $400 million prison while we’re slashing education; while the Philadelphia school district has dissolved. It’s atrocious that the money is being spent expanding a prison system."