More than 50 students turned out on Beinecke Plaza yesterday to protest what they called problems and inconsistencies in the U.S. criminal justice system.
The protest, organized by Yale’s Student Legal Action Movement, was a part of what the group called a “day of information and action against the prison-industrial complex.” Speakers from the American Civil Liberties Union and student activists protested issues like wrongful conviction and the 1998 amendments to the Higher Education Act.
Student protesters carried signs declaring “Educate don’t incarcerate” and “Stop the Drug War.”
Protesters said the timing of the event is important because of a proposed bill in the Connecticut legislature that would impose a statewide moratorium on the death penalty.
“A couple of different things are going on — the death penalty moratorium and also trying to raise awareness on campus in general,” Student Legal Action Movement member Anita Seth GRD ’05 said.
Also at the forefront of the rally yesterday was the Higher Education Act, a federal act which precludes any student who has a drug conviction from being eligible for federal financial aid. All students on federal financial aid are required to indicate on federal financial aid forms whether they have had a drug conviction. Those who do not indicate either way are also ineligible for federal aid.
Student Legal Action Movement has worked recently to ask Yale to pledge to replace the federal aid that is lost with institutional aid. Students at the rally said the law is unfair.
Graham Boyd, director of the ACLU Drug Policy Litigation Project, said the Higher Education Act disproportionately affected the poor and people of color.
“The reason why it is such an urgent issue is because financial aid is something that is very important to reparations for economic and racial inequalities,” Student Legal Action Movement member Stephen Osserman ’02 said. “The drug war so disproportionately affects poor people and people of color that this law is directed to act on those people who have historically been oppressed. The only people who will be harmed by this are people who are poor, and that’s not justice.”
The rally yesterday was also coupled with a master’s tea and speech at the Law School with renowned Northwestern University law professor Larry Marshall. The speech was titled “Student Activism: Saving the criminal justice system.”
Marshall, legal director of Northwestern’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, is recognized as a leader of the movement in favor of the Illinois moratorium on the death penalty. He has worked with death penalty cases in which the people involved were exonerated.
He spoke about how he became involved in issues concerning the death penalty and how that relates to students today promoting social justice issues.
“Students should find issues whether it is this issue or find something that inspires you and gives meaning to your life,” Marshall said.