For several years, I’ve joined the call for the release of sick, aged and low risk people in prison, and for the release of people in ICE detention. With the COVID 19 pandemic, the urgency is exponentially increased.
With the RAPP Campaign, (Release the Aging People in Prison), relentless GPB activist Joan Pleune, myself, and many others, made countless trips to Governor Cuomo and State Legislators in Albany. We’ve gotten to know many family members of people in prison who tell compelling and heart wrenching stories. Gov. Cuomo has consistently been unresponsive to our proposed legislation; Fair and Timely Parole (S497A/A4346A) and Elder Parole (S2144/A9040). Joan, Fran Geteles-Shapiro and other GPG members have waged a struggle to end the abuse of solitary confinement and to replace it with humanity and rehabilitation (see http://www.nycaic.org) .This bill, Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act (A.2500 / S.1623), the result of the labors of many dedicated people, had the support of the both the State Senate and State Assembly last session. Majority State Senate Leader, Andrea Stewart Cousins, Carl Heastie, Speaker of the New York State Assembly, and Gov. Cuomo prevented it from coming to a vote
Now, people in prison, correction officers and other prison workers are testing positive for COVID 19. People in prison have launched hunger strikes. RAPP Campaign and others held a press conference and car protest at Sing Sing, after the death of 58-year-old Juan Mosquero in Sing Sing prison. People continue to be held with no ability to social distance and no sanitary supplies. Health worker, social workers, faith community leaders, lawyers have petitioned the Governor, who could grant immediate clemency, but, to date, only a handful have been released.
Hundreds of thousands of people, including separated children, are held in ICE detention across the country because they dared to seek asylum. I have been busy working with the New Sanctuary Coalition writing letters to free detained people, helping people with asylum applications, accompanying people to court, and demonstrating.
Now, like those in other prisons, their crowded unsanitary conditions put them at enormous risk for contracting COVID 19. Staff and people inside have tested positive. People inside have organized and held hunger strikes and called on all of us to help. In Tacoma, Washington, immigrants imprisoned at the Northwest Detention Center just launched another hunger strike — the third in just three weeks. Prisoners held a protest Wednesday in the facility’s yard, forming the letters ”SOS” with their bodies, as they continue to demand their release. Many groups have joined the call. Even a former acting ICE director, John Sandweg called for the release of people in ICE detention. To date, several hundred have been released, but the momentum needs to accelerate!
Over all, I find the deadening silence horrifying. We seem to think that leaving people in potential death camps is OK. We don’t seem to even realize that by doing so, we prolong the epidemic and increase our numbers of positive and sick people, further taxing our direly overextended health care system.
Some of us are rising to the occasion. Cosecha NYC is organizing a car, bicycle and pedestrian action, with masks and social distancing, at Union Square. Join them FRIDAY APRIL 24 to demand that Cuomo release ICE detainees and provide emergency relief to the undocumented community! FB Event: https://facebook.com/events/s/freethemall-carbike-demo-say-n/2044986345626641/?ti=icl.
My activist friend Abbie Zamcheck and I are keeping a socially distanced vigil going at the Inwood Farmer’s Market and near a local supermarket to urge action.
Abbie says “ We need an outpouring of creative thought about how to demand that the most vulnerable in our society are not left to die. Last Thursday, an MTA worker who came across our signs remarked about the layers of cruelty in the system, remarking how even how the eventual closing of the draconian Rikers Island jail will be followed by its replacement by even more draconian smaller prisons, built within dense urban areas that will not even leave future inmates with the outdoor space to recreate that they currently have the “privilege” of on Rikers. And he made the point that nursing homes are arguably even worse now than prisons, with people being abandoned and forgotten The degree of concern and awareness he had for others at a time when over 50 of his MTA coworker had died of COVID-19 shows me the potential for a world not defined by individualism and apathy. The need to join this struggle is a matter of urgent importance both for those at risk of death now, and for even more draconian policies under development. Already half the states in the country have put forward guidelines that make people with disabilities low-priorities for access to ventilators, reminiscent of the eugenicist policies implemented during the rise of fascism in the 20th century. We need to work together to innovate COVID-safe forms of civil disobedience that will prepare the ground for these and other struggles in the weeks and months ahead. We cannot rely on the empathy of elected officials, we need foster and project the empathy of the many good people of New York City as a force for good.”
We really need to exert tremendous pressure on our federal, state and city government (Rikers Island is under NYC control) Calls to the jails also needed. Please checkwww.rappcampaign.org, and http://www.newsanctuarynyc.org #FreeThem All, http://www.nycaic.org, for updated actions, for calls to make and for petitions to sign.
- Alice Sutter for the Granny Peace Briagde