(Q) What is your organization’s mission statement?
(A) Mass Liberation is a group of community members who work together to dismantle mass incarceration--through various avenues--while centering Black Liberation. Directly impacted people and their families are at the center of the movement; as we are told by Glenn E. Martin, “Those closest to the problem are closest to the solution, but furthest from resources and power.” In order to transform the system, we must build resources and build power, and we do this by raising capital, organizing our people, and engaging in deep learning so that we can build a future where we all thrive. We use a grassroots approach to galvanize our communities to force systemic change, while simultaneously building sustainable systems of support, resources, and accountability that are community determined and community driven. Mass incarceration is an interconnected system of various institutions, such as the courts, prisons, jails, and law enforcement, working together and with non-penal institutions like education and health care to control and exploit poor black and brown people across many categories of oppression. Together we work to attack the criminal justice system at various strategic entry points to agitate the linchpins of the system and make it fall, thus, creating opportunity for new better systems to emerge.
(Q) What do you see as the biggest impediment to the successful growth of the African-American community in Las Vegas?
(A) Successful growth for black people is Black Liberation. Black Liberation is our financial, mental, emotional and spiritual freedom. I believe that our lack of education is the biggest impediment to our successful growth, and liberation, in Las Vegas, as well across the nation.
When I mention education, I do not mean formal education. As black people, we lack the education of our culture and history, including how we’ve arrived at this current moment of continual injustice and oppression. Without knowledge of the ways in which the system operates to destroy us, we often unintentionally embody white supremacy and resist opportunities for freedom. Right now, we are in the midst of an uprising. Black people have grown tired of police violence, and all other kinds of violence, that make it unsafe for black bodies. But, without knowledge of - the historic roots of policing stemming from US slavery, how police department have been overrun by white supremacists, and how policymakers have invented mass incarceration through legislation that has criminalized black people, while also increasing funding of police and prisons - we may find ourselves rejecting our loved ones who are on the front lines calling on officials to defund the police and abolish the criminal legal system.
Too often we think of education as an academic engagement that takes place in institutions that don’t belong to us. But the education I reference comes in different forms. Education is sitting at the feet of our elders and learning through the oral tradition about our history, our culture, and our traditions that extend to a time before we were enslaved. Education is taking time to understand how white supremacy has shaped legislation since this country’s inception - legislation that was fashioned to control and exploit black bodies. Education awaits us in media, such as documentaries, feature films, and speeches about movements of the past. Education is connecting back to our spiritual heritage so that we have the spiritual strength to continue the fight of our ancestors.
When the U.S. made reading an act punishable by mutilation and even death, in order to hide the truth from us, black people always resisted. We must continue to resist by engaging in revolutionary self-guided reading about the origins of the criminal legal system in the United States, as well as the legislation that has gotten to us to this point.
Educating ourselves will allow us to understand the context of our experience, and therefore guide our strategy. We are a people in the midst of an uprising, within the context of the pandemic, surrounded by systems that were created to subjugate us, undergirded by an all-encompassing ideology of white supremacy, which aims to, in the end, control us (maybe make profit off us) – and, if it cannot control us, it will kill us.
(Q) What specific initiatives are having previously been supported by your organization that yielded a direct impact on the African-American community in Las Vegas?
(A) We started the Mass Liberation Project in 2017; we created an opportunity for mostly black and brown, formerly incarcerated people to create space, to be heard, and to begin teaching each other and our community about the criminal legal system, so that we could begin to understand how it has impacted us. We participated in the local District Attorney’s race. We hired formerly incarcerated people to knock on doors and talk to underrepresented communities and educate them on the power of the prosecutor, encourage them to vote, and create accountability in the District Attorney’s office. Although our candidate did not win, it was still a successful campaign because hundreds of community members were educated and we began to push a new narrative: directly impacted people can and should lead the fight for their liberation.
Through community listening sessions, we learned that we needed to end money bail and restore formerly incarcerated people’s right to vote. Entering the 2019 legislative session we lobbied in the capital with over one hundred directly impacted people to change the bail system and restore formerly incarcerated people’s right to vote, among other bills. We were able to help pass SCR-11, which created a committee to study pre-trial detention, and in April of this year the Supreme Court issued a ruling on bail, that included most of the same recommendations we lobbied for in the 2019 legislative session.
Aside from our legislative work, in 2018 we created the Vegas Freedom Fund. Every Mother’s Day since the bail fund’s creation, we raise money to bail out Black mothers from jail, and assist them claiming their stability, and fighting their cases. The Vegas Freedom Fund expanded during the pandemic to also provide COVID-19 relief bailouts, and now we are bailing out protestors who are marching for Black lives. We also register formerly incarcerated people to vote and educate them on their right to vote - while building a platform that represents the needs and issues that formerly incarcerated people face in society. We host monthly community meetings, and mutual aid events such as our annual brake light clinic--where we fix brake lights for free to prevent unwanted interaction with law enforcement for people in our community.
(Q) What specific initiatives are currently supported by your organization that have a direct impact on the African-American community in Las Vegas?
(A) Mass Liberation provides a comprehensive set of supports that materially impacts the lives of black people every day in Las Vegas. As a group of formerly incarcerated people and family members fighting to dismantle the criminal justice system, we are first and foremost during supporting our collective uprising and moving to reimagine public safety with our people. We are asking ourselves and our community, “What would a world without police look like? What would a world without prisons look like? What would we need to be able to provide public safety for us?”
We understand that dismantling the criminal justice system is a long-term fight, so while we engage our community on building alternate forms of shared safety, we simultaneously provide material support and work on policy change for our people. We currently run the Vegas Freedom Fund, as mentioned above, this community bail program provides bail for primarily black and brown arrested, but not convicted community members who cannot provide bail for themselves. We have posted bail for over 50 people who were protesting for Black Lives. Many times, people are arrested and held in custody when they should be returned home to their community where they can keep their jobs and housing and maintain relationships with their community. We are also in the process of launching a black policy table with coalition partners to design tangible legislative solutions to stop police violence, decriminalize traffic tickets, implement the recent Nevada Supreme Court ruling to end bail, and foster economic growth in our communities.
With that being said, we have not forgotten about our loved ones currently behind the walls. Since before the strike of this pandemic, we have been fighting to free our people, and even more so given the conditions inside jails and prisons across Nevada. We will continue to engage the Board of Pardons of Commissioners, as well as other state leaders, to free those vulnerable to the virus.
(Q) How can members of the community support your efforts?
(A) Sign up to our email list on the www.massliberationnv.org website.
Join Mass Liberation Mondays and events, follow us on the Mass Liberation NV on Facebook, and the Vegas Freedom Fund on Facebook, Mass Liberation on Instagram.
Volunteer! We need help with media, organizing, social workers, mutual aid and supportive services, fundraising, peer support, managing resources like housing and rides to court.
Donate! Please donate to the Vegas Freedom Fund to continue to support the work to post bail and provide supportive services to people impacted by the criminal legal system, and systems of oppression.
Need more information? Reach out to me directly! Leslie Ann Turner on Facebook!
(Q) Is your organization one that members of the community may join? If so, what is the process? If so, what is the cost?
(A) To join the Mass Liberation Project, just attend our meetings and get more deeply involved however you can! All skills are needed, and there are many ways to show up. The only thing it will cost you is your time!
P.L.A.N. (Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada) | Mass Liberation Project
Leslie Ann Turner
2330 Paseo Del Prado
Building #C, Ste. 109
Las Vegas, NV 89102
(702) 791-1965 T