Speak Truth With Your Back to Power: Champaign-Urbana Against Jail Expansion

August 18, the Champaign County Board met to vote on a sales tax referendum to go on the ballot in the Fall. The purpose of the proposed sales tax increase is primarily to fund a jail expansion package at the expense of neglecting sorely needed social services and programs. Knowing that Champaign County’s rich would oppose an increase in property taxes, the Board chose to instead fund jail expansion through a sales tax increase, which largely affects the poor. In other words, Champaign’s mostly Black working and sub-working class people who are disproportionately targeted by the police will be made to fund their own incarceration. Kristina Khan, who is a BRRN member and an organizer in the local group Build Programs Not Jails attended the Board meeting to speak during the Community Comment portion. Rather than address the Board, as is the custom during Community Comment, Khan turned her back to the County Board and instead addressed the people. The following is a video and transcript of her speech.


I’m gonna use my allotted 5 minutes of fake democratic process to talk to you all, not to them. Although I’ve been struggling with what exactly it is I want to say tonight I do know that I don’t want to waste any more of my time facing that direction [toward the County Board]. I want to put my time and energy your direction [toward the people].

As we all know the community has been battling jail construction for about 5 years and I’ve been working within this campaign for only two of those years while also being self employed and a mother to three young children. While I have see the deception and manipulation of the board chair and the sheriff’s office I have also seen what makes C-U a wonderful place to live and that is due wholly to you – the people who fight daily for this to be a compassionate, healthy, and justice-centered community.

I have seen you as many different organizations and individuals who have stepped up and who I know will continue to step up and speak out on how jail expansion here – in the midwest of a country in a crisis of racialized mass incarceration –  is financially ridiculous, physically and emotionally cruel, and a threat to public safety. And make no mistake, the way this is all set up, this proposal is a threat to the needs of the nursing home as well. We know that proven alternatives exist and that it’s a matter of will to begin implementing them. We know that we have to look at the entire picture of criminal justice in order to address it. We know that we can’t build our way out of social problems.

One of the leading scholars on mass incarceration and a survivor of abuse in the criminal justice system herself, Angela Davis says,

“The history of the very institution of the prison is a history of reform… Reform doesn’t come after the advent of the prison; it accompanies the birth of the prison. So prison reform has only ever created better prisons. In the process of creating better prisons, more people are brought under the surveillance of the correctional and law enforcement networks… We internalize the notion of a place to put bad people… Why is that person bad? The prison forecloses discussion about that. What is the nature of that badness? What did the person do? Why did the person do that? If we’re thinking about someone who has committed acts of violence, why is that kind of violence possible?… The very existence of the prison forecloses the kinds of discussions that we need in order to imagine the possibility of eradicating these behaviors.

Just send them to prison. Just keep on sending them to prison. Then of course, in prison they find themselves within a violent institution that reproduces violence. In many ways you can say that the institution feeds on that violence and reproduces it so that when the person is released he or she is probably worse. So how does one persuade people to think differently? That’s a question of organizing.”

We are scholars, physicians, city planners, students, parents, blue collar workers and union members, teachers, artists, musicians, church leaders and goers, community members and some of us are survivors of the criminal justice system.  And I think that we have been able to and will continue to organize in tremendous ways because… that is what we do! I’ve seen how passionately all of you care about this county and the people in it; especially those most abused and robbed by the criminal justice system. Let’s continue to fight for justice for Toya, Paul, and Veronica [three people who recently died in Champaign County jails within a six-month period]  and Black men and women most at risk for abuse by the system.

Let’s continue to organize together despite our political differences. Let’s create community alternatives to this kind of deceptive and ridiculous BS, and let’s crush this referendum this Fall. Thank you for all that you do.

People leaving the Board Meeting found that the front doors and windows of Brookens Administration Building, Champaign, Il, were anonymously covered with messages calling for divestment from jails, investment in community, and an end to anti-Black racism.