Prisoners' rights demonstrators block downtown traffic as part of nationwide protests
Commuters on Grand River Avenue Friday afternoon were stopped by a different kind of traffic block — protesters in the street.
A group of about 20 protesters gathered, holding signs and banners to bring awareness to striking prisoners.
Protester and social relations and policy senior Leon Hister said protest organizers chose Sept. 9 because the date marks the 45th anniversary of the Attica prison riot, which temporarily shut down one of New York state's largest prisons, the Attica Correctional Facility,
Hister said protesters aimed to bring awareness to the substandard conditions inside prison walls
“Today was a national call to action because prisoners are arranging or organizing a nationwide strike to protest prison slavery and resist against prisoners in general,” Hister said. “We’re here as people on the outside to call awareness to what they’re doing.”
Protests were planned in 24 states, according to The Nation.
These states include Florida, where more than 400 inmates participated in a riot at Holmes Correctional Institution Wednesday night, according to the Miami Herald.
The East Lansing protesters started at the 2700 block of Grand River Avenue in front of the Whole Foods Market.
They protesters walked into the intersection at about 5 p.m. and used a U-Haul truck to block traffic while chanting against forced labor and prison conditions.
The Meridian Township Police Department quickly arrived on the scene and asked the protesters to move to the sidewalks.
Shortly after the group moved to downtown East Lansing and began protesting at the intersection of M.A.C. Avenue and Grand River Avenue at 5:15 p.m., without the U-Haul, and were standing in the road, blocking traffic for approximately 30 minutes.
East Lansing police arrived at the scene about halfway through the protest and encouraged protesters to move off the streets.
No arrests were made at the time. Officers declined to comment on the demonstration.
Genetics freshman Konnor Robinson said he was walking across the street when the demonstration began, but he stopped to watch.
“More power to them,” Robinson said. "I don’t have the guts to do that and stand in front of traffic.”
Robinson later joined the protest by holding a sign and blocking the street.
Protester and humanities pre-law junior Tahir Al-Tersa said he did not mind stopping cars because of the purpose of the demonstration.
“I’m here because I don’t think people have the right to have a normal day going right now when people are rioting behind bars and no one gives a damn about them,” Al-Tersa said. “I don’t mind that I’m ruining people’s lives, because I think that the fact that people are allowed to have normal lives while so much injustice is going on is pretty disgusting.”
Lansing resident Peter Hochstedler, one of the leaders of the demonstration, said protesters wanted to support the prisoners’ protest because the system does not treat prisoners well.
“These systems are designed to destroy the soul,” Hochstedler said. "I think of it as prison resistance rather than reform."
Flyers passed out by the protesters to passerby described their cause.
“From Alabama to Ohio, from Arizona to Minnesota, prisoners have been organizing for a massive wave of resistance against the prison industry,” the flyer reads. “Prisoners are forced to work for little or no pay. That is slavery. The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution maintains a legal exception for for continued slavery in U.S. prisons.”
Cars were backed up along Grand River Avenue. Frequent honking and obscenities were heard and crowds gathered on the sidewalks to watch the demonstration unfold. The protesters left at 6:20 p.m., after they moved to the sidewalks. Police left the scene shortly after.