For most of her life, Alice Green has been at the forefront as an activist in the local civil rights movement and the illustration on the cover of her latest book, “We Who Believe In Freedom: Activism and the Struggle for Social Justice (King Jesus Press), perfectly reflects his courage and commitment.
“I love this illustration,” said Green, who is also proud that her book was published by a local black press. “This photo was from 2020 when the city decided to remove young people from their camp where they were demonstrating for the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Green went down to the South End of Albany, and she saw a line of police facing the protesters. “A lot of officers had their badges hidden and they were forcing everyone to get behind these barricades; well, I thought, ‘I’m not going to do that. I will stand up and face them.
As she stood alone in front of the barricade, Green could tell that the officers were confused and unsure of what to do. “I think they were wondering if they should forcibly deport me. They knew who I was. Eventually another woman came forward and joined me and after a while other people came from behind the barricades and joined us, which seemed to defuse the confrontation. Sometimes you have to resist, especially when you think you are right.
There were parts of the book that Green enjoyed writing and other parts that were extremely difficult. “It is always difficult for me to write about some of the horrific things that have happened to our young people like Ellazar Williams, 19, who was shot in the back by police in 2018 and is now paralyzed from chest to feet.”
She enjoyed writing about the work she has done with so many incarcerated people. “I have met a lot of wonderful people in the prisons, and received so much gratitude from them. They helped me understand the conditions in which they lived, the forces that acted on them and how they came to be incarcerated. I love to hear their hope to be free one day and how they will live differently.
As director of the Center of Law and Justice, a civil rights organization she founded in 1985, Green has spent much of her adult life working to improve the lives of incarcerated people and trying to find ways to improve criminal justice. “Most people don’t understand how big the impact of incarceration is in the black community. It’s hard to find a family that hasn’t been touched in some way by this.
She said most black people in our community live in fear of being arrested. “It’s like another type of slavery. Lawmakers seem to believe that punishment is the only answer. We punish and it doesn’t work. We have a very high recidivism rate of prisoners returning to prison in this country. I’m a fan of trying to keep our young people out of the criminal justice system. We must help them where they are before it is too late.
Green said the idea of law and order is a popular campaign theme, that punishment is the only way to make our country safe. “I seriously oppose it. I have visited prison systems in other countries, Amsterdam, Brussels and Germany, and it is amazing how different they are from ours. They treat incarcerated people like human beings and their recidivism rates are much lower.
In his book, Green reflects on growing up as the only black family in Witherbee, a small mining hamlet in the Adirondack Mountains. “My dad moved us from Greenville, SC because he was worried that one day he would be arrested for a minor infraction in the South. He was an outspoken person and he realized things weren’t going to work out. not good for him if he stayed, so he was brave enough to leave and find work in the iron ore mining industry.
Life in Witherbee and being an outsider in the community had a way of helping Alice Green get tough. “My mom tried to encourage us to act white and fit in as much as possible, but I grew up not really knowing what life was like in the South. I knew very little about black people. I didn’t know who I was or where I came from. In school, there was never any discussion of black people and we never read stories about them.
The book also traces some of the history of the city of Albany and how the black community struggled to integrate there. “I’ve barely scratched the surface of Albany’s racial history, but it’s evident when you look at how the Albany Police Department and the city’s black citizens have struggled.”
Although Alice Green still feels like a positive person, she is not as optimistic today as she was in the summer of 2020, when many protests took place across the country over the murder of George Floyd. . “I was very optimistic then to see so many people coming together in black and white, young and old, to declare that we had to change our system.”
She was also thrilled that Governor Cuomo signed Executive Order 203 which required jurisdictions to review the criminal justice system and make significant changes. “I’m disappointed that nothing really came of that either. We had some changes but nothing significant, and today I see again a lot of voter suppression across the country.
Green thinks Donald Trump has had a horrific impact on civil rights in this country. “He appealed to many white supremacists and they were very emboldened. I still have a lot of hope for our young people. They are the ones who will one day control this country. I hope that some of this racist remarks will not filter into their beliefs.
Looking back on her career, she is proud that the Center for Law and Justice has remained in the fight for social justice. “I never see myself retiring from this job. I cannot turn my back on a community and a people who need help. They give me the support and the energy to continue this work.
Reading by Alice Green
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, January 25
Where: Page Hall, UAlbany Downtown Campus, 135 Western Avenue, Albany
Info: Free and open to the public, nyswritersinstitute.org/alicegreen-2022