Anti-Gang Violence Campaigner Aqeela Sherrills Speaks About Prison Overcrowding, Death Penalty on Black Hollywood Live Network’s Justice is Served

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Aqeela Sherrills, an anti-gang violence, anti-death penalty campaigner joined host Mari Fagel on Black Hollywood Live Justice is Served this week to discuss efforts to cut down on prison overcrowding in California and a new campaign to abolish the death penalty in the state. Black Hollywood Live is the world’s first online broadcast network dedicated to African American entertainment news, interviews and commentary; Justice is Served is the network’s legal news show.

I eventually realized that attacking the root causes of violence would not only help me deal with my grief but also lead to preventing cycles of crime.

Anti-Gang Violence Campaigner Aqeela Sherrills Speaks About Prison Overcrowding, Death Penalty on Black Hollywood Live Network’s Justice is Served

Aqeela Sherrills, an anti-gang violence, anti-death penalty campaigner joined host Mari Fagel on Black Hollywood Live Justice is Served this week to discuss efforts to cut down on prison overcrowding in California and a new campaign to abolish the death penalty in the state. Black Hollywood Live is the world’s first online broadcast network dedicated to African American entertainment news, interviews and commentary. Justice is Served is the network’s legal news show.

Much of Aqeela’s personal experiences have shaped his efforts to reform crime and the criminal justice system. He grew up in Watts and became a part of the gang culture, joining the Crips. Yet, unlike many of his friends, he went to college and decided, after losing so many friends to gang violence, that he would dedicate his life to trying to change the culture of the streets. In just one year alone, 1989, he lost 13 friends to the gang war. At 19, he began working with football star Jim Brown to co-found Amer-I-Can to heal gang violence around the country and with Brown’s help, in 1992, Aqeela forged a historic truce between the Crips and the Bloods in Watts.

Despite all his efforts, Aqeela was personally affected by gang violence yet again in 2004 when his 18-year-old son Terrell was shot in the back at close range. Terrell was home on winter break from college and Aqeela believes the red sweater he wore that night may have led a Crip to mistake him for a Blood. The perpetrator was never caught. Aqeela says his son’s death inspired him to continue his efforts to get to the root cause of crime.

“Despair and rage are understatements for what I felt after Terrell’s murder. But I eventually realized that attacking the root causes of violence would not only help me deal with my grief but also lead to preventing cycles of crime,” Aqeela said.

In addition to working with organizations that help provide support for youths in the “war zone” neighborhoods he grew up in, Aqeela also became a fierce advocate in the campaign to abolish the death penalty in California. He says despite being a victim of crime himself, he does not wish his son’s murderer to be executed, saying that would only “revictimize” him. Instead, he would rather the state divert funds used for death penalty proceedings and executions to funds for mental health and rehabilitation services.

Our death penalty system costs California taxpayers $137 million each year, according to the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice. In contrast, permanent imprisonment – lifelong incarceration with no chance of parole – for all inmates currently on Death Row would cost just $11.5 million.  Aqeela says abolishing the death penalty would free up funds for prevention programs that work. Though Prop 34, the measure to abolish the death penalty in California, was defeated in 2012, he hopes a new measure will be on the ballot in 2016.

Meanwhile, Aqeela is also working with state legislators to come up with a solution to the prison overcrowding California faces. The state currently holds 120,000 prisoners in 34 facilities. Due to mounting lawsuits over poor prison conditions, a panel of federal judges has ordered the state to reduce the prison population by about 8,000, either by finding new prison beds or by releasing the inmates that pose the lowest risk to society.

Yet, under a new plan that Aqeela supports and one approved by both houses of the state’s legislature, the state will ask the panel of judges to reconsider an end-of-year deadline to ease prison crowding, saying the state would prefer instead to spend funds on rehabilitation and mental health services for inmates.

Aqeela says he believes spending funds on rehabilitation and mental health services will help ease overcrowding over time. He says it is a better option than spending funds on diverting prisoners to private lockups, county jails and out-of-state prisons because it gets to the root cause of why these inmates end up in prison in the first place. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported in November 2011 that 2 out of every 3 people leaving its prisons were back within 3 years. That’s why Aqeela says the key to easing overcrowding is programs that reduce recidivism rates by preparing prisoners for effective reentry into the workforce and programs that provide teenagers who have broken the law with mentoring and other support to put them on the right path.

Links to Show:
iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/black-hollywood-live-justice/id687413147?mt=2
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKiBqTieJkw&feature=c4-overview&list=UUqp6OhEmlbH1WpPObE9DFbg

Black Hollywood Live's Justice is Served show airs live Fridays and is available for audio download the next day on iTunes or on video through BlackHollywoodLive.com. Justice is Served is hosted by legal experts, Eboni K. Williams Esq. and Mari Fagel.

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Derrial Christon
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