De-Bug’s Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project (ACJP), we often hear families say they feel “lost” when they first find out a loved one is facing criminal charges. There is a deep resolve to assist, but a lack of direction of how. At the ACJP, through the community built with other families walking along a similar journey – they find their way. In that regard, ACJP is that compass a family creates to move collectively towards the justice they seek.That is why this print poster “Navigating the Criminal Justice Maze” produced by Doug Minkler and Aram James is such an apt artistic rendering of ACJP and the maze of a system in which it works. And as the poster illustrates, a community needs a creative flexibility to respond to the labyrinth of institutional walls, as well as the ability to move in multiple directions, even concurrently, in order to proceed with impact. Some may assume our model of power would most want the resemblance of a proud lion or a high flying eagle – but it is, as the poster shows, the humble octopus that is the true animal spirit of ACJP. The life-form has an inherent fluidity, and has, as the top text shares about ACJP, “many tentacles that move independently, collectively, and in response to danger.”
It is the creative synergy of Aram James, an ACJP co-founder, and reknown Berkeley-based artist Doug Minkler, that was able to articulate this intimate and complex organizing model. James was a tireless advocate as a public defender for over 25 years, but with an organizer’s soul, after his work inside the courtroom, he encouraged community members to not just watch the court process from the sidelines, but to get in the game. In many ways, ACJP was made possible by James telling families who were losing their sons, daughters, mothers and fathers to prison, jail, and/or deportation – you have both the ability and right to stop this, and keep your family whole. The families and community responded, answering his call to hold those public entities controlling the gears of the criminal justice system accountable. With ACJP, criminal justice systems in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, to start, would operate no longer in a veil of secrecy, and nor would families let the institutions grind away without their input. Their inclusion is transforming the institutions themselves. And the families and communities of ACJP have been transformed as well, seeing their own agency to make real change – beating false allegations, helping defense attorneys win for their clients, changing the policies that govern the system, and bringing loved ones home. In the poster, you will see some of the disciplines that enable ACJP to achieve some of the remarkable wins – building relationships with attorneys, creating paper trails, learning and implementing motions and policies, and of course meeting regularly to leverage our cumulative strength and energies.
On the top of the artwork, you will see that the poster is dedicated to Clara Foltz – the first female lawyer in California, and the founder of the Public Defender Movement well over a century ago. James saw a historic connection between Foltz and her movement to the women of ACJP who are carrying on Foltz’s dream of equal representation regardless of background, resources, gender, or race. The ACJP women listed along the border of the poster tell remarkable stories of courage and conviction. Some of them saved their sons from prison, some changed policies that will affect thousands, some who lost their loved ones to police violence have become the leading advocates for law enforcement accountability.
When ACJP started, it had no name. It was simply a group of families who met at the De-Bug community center, diligently building a model as they went. When we lost one of our founding members Albert Cobarrubias in 2010, we decided to name the work after him. This way his name would be called everytime one of our communities fought for justice – he would help guide and embolden the families who didn’t have the opportunity to meet him in person. But they would know him, and thank him. It means a lot to have such a name.
And now, thanks to Aram James and Doug Minkler, we have a poster, done with the same care, effort, and heart of the work of the families who meet regularly. And it means a lot to have such a poster. — Raj Jayadev
Click here to download a high resolution version of the print poster.