Jazz for Justice: Keith LaMar at the Claremont Colleges

Ella Menton ’27
Staff Writer

On Oct. 7, the 5C Prison Abolition Collective and the Pomona Student Union hosted “Justice for Keith LaMar, an Abolitionist Jazz Concert Series for Justice and Liberation.” The event was held at Lyman Hall at Pomona College and was one in a series of concerts LaMar has performed at university campuses across the country.

The goal of these performances is to reevaluate his 1993 court case and conviction. LaMar’s execution date was initially set for Nov. 16, but has been postponed to Jan. 13, 2027 thanks to the efforts of everyone involved in his campaign. With his musical collaborators Albert Marques on piano, Kazemde George on the saxophone, Yosomel Montego on bass, and Zack O’Farrill on drums, LaMar recited his poetry about resilience, faith, and his life in solitary confinement.

Keith LaMar called in from an Ohio state prison, and his call was connected to a speaker so he could recite his poetry live. The jazz band, whose members played with focus and skill, brought the room to life. When the jazz met LaMar’s impassioned poetry, the energy of the room seemed to crackle and spark in the air.

“The arc of the moral universe bends towards justice, we are told / This may very well be / but we, with our own hands and mind / must bend it / We have to do the work / People are dying who could be saved,” said LaMar. At the end of the concert, the entire audience sang together, repeating the words “a love supreme” (in reference to the John Coltrane album of the same name).

Slowly, the band faded out so only the audience was left singing for LaMar and those suffering everywhere beneath the American prison industrial complex. The crowd of young voices filled the room. The message was clear.

In 1993, LaMar was convicted for his alleged involvement in the Lucasville Prison Uprising in which nine prisoners and one guard were killed. According to LaMar’s website, the State “paid jailhouse informants to create a false narrative that implicated Keith, even though he wasn’t affiliated with any of the groups involved in the riot.” Justice for Keith LaMar demands a reevaluation of his court case, as LaMar, a Black man, was convicted by an all-white jury in a notoriously racist neighborhood.

LaMar’s fight for his freedom is one facet of the larger problem that the 5C Prison Abolition Collective, which partially hosted the event, focuses on dismantling. The organization is dedicated to abolishing the prison industrial complex in the United States.

Under this system, private prisons are used for capital gain by private corporations and the state is therefore incentivized to arrest as many people as possible in order to keep prisons filled. The police serve as instigators of this money-making process, arresting predominantly Black men for minor charges and legislation like minimum sentencing laws keep these men in jail for a time disproportionate to their crime.

To get involved in Keith LaMar’s movement, go to keithlamar.org and stream his album, FREEDOM FIRST, on all streaming platforms.

Image Source: Pomona Student Union & 5C Prison Abolition Collective