By Charlene Muhammad CHARLENEM
LOS ANGELES–Black students in California are claiming victory after convincing the University of California (UC) to sell its shares in private prisons.
According to the Afrikan Black Coalition, a collective of Black Student Unions throughout California, it learned the UC had invested $25 million in private prison corporations. The investment was split between the Corrections Corporation of America, and the Geo Group.
“This victory is historic and momentous. Divesting $25 million is a good step towards shutting down private prisons by starving them of capital,” said Yoel Haile, political director of the student-led group.
“This is a clear example of Black power and what we can achieve when we work in unity. This victory belongs to the masses of our people languishing behind America’s mass incarceration regime,” he said.
The Afrikan Black Coalition also confirmed the UC system has $425 million invested in Wells Fargo, reportedly one of the largest financiers of private prisons.
According to Anthony Williams, the Afrikan Black Coalition’s Prison Divestment communications director, in 2013 students met with school officials to discuss what types of investments were still in effect, and how they could get the university to sell its shares and divest from private prisons.
“They weren’t even aware of how large a problem this was and how it actually went against their own investment policies, their own human rights polices, their own ethics and governance policies, and we are disgusted by the fact that an institution of higher learning and one that is so well known and that is across the state of California was investing in the dehumanization of Black and Brown and immigrant lives,” Mr. Williams told The Final Call.
“Morally, it doesn’t make any sense. Ethically it is bankrupt, and we are definitely disappointed that UC ever was involved and was not aware of how large their role was,” he said.
“We want the UC and regents to have an official policy against prisons. We want them to say ‘we are officially divesting’ so they never do this again,” he added.
Steve Montiel, UC press secretary, told The Final Call there is no official statement, and that it appreciated the coalition bringing the matter to its attention.
“UC’s investment in private prisons was a relatively small amount in a portfolio of a $100 million that UC’s chief investment officer sold,” Mr. Montiel stated. That amounted to between $25-30 million sold in early December after meeting with students of the Afrikan Black Coalition, he explained. Mr. Montiel said the move consistent with UC’s approach to sustainable investment in which the chief investment officer sells holdings which are not considered wise for the long term.
Now the students are focused on a secondary issue, which is getting UC to dump its $425 million investments with Wells Fargo, which has a horrible history with Blacks, said Mr. Williams. Like many banks, Wells Fargo is well known for their discriminatory lending practices in Black and Brown neighborhoods. According to Mr. Williams, Wells Fargo has a $900 million credit line to private prisons which equates to funding private prisons.
“We at the University of California should not be associating with Wells Fargo, so we want them to sell those shares and divest from Wells Fargo, or we want Wells Fargo to stop dealing in private prisons, and then we’re fine with the University of California working with them.”
According to Prison Legal News, an independent monthly magazine that provides review and analysis of prisoners’ rights, court rulings and news concerning criminal justice-related issues, while Wells Fargo and Company sold off much of the stock it once owned in private prison company GEO Group amid a divestment campaign targeting the multi-billion dollar bank. It has concurrently increased its shares in Corrections Corporation of America.
The student coalition will also be working to put pressure on the University of California to drop the $425 million and to educate Blacks who bank with Wells Fargo about the investments, Mr. Williams said.
Wells Fargo’s a separate issue, Mr. Montiel said. “We have not sold Wells Fargo holdings, and don’t intend to.” Wells Fargo has a number of different business relationships, and UC as a policy does not believe in blanket disinvestment, he said. “In the case of the direct holdings in private prisons, those are direct holdings, and those assets were sold, but it’s not considered divestments,” he said.