(Photo by Joe Piette, courtesy of PCBF)
My colleagues and I have felt a fierce urgency to dismantle white supremacy, particularly as it manifests in the prison industrial complex for many years.
This urgency has only been magnified with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our fears over what this pandemic would mean for our loved ones trapped inside Philly’s prisons has kicked us into a state of emergency since March 16.
Jails are petri dishes for COVID-19 where it is impossible to practice social distancing. Conditions pre-COVID-19 were already filthy with poor food, inadequate medical services, and violence. Now imprisoned people are not being given soap or cleaning products. They are denied masks. It is routine for folk to be locked in their cells for up to four days on end. There are reports of sewage flooding cell floors. People are being denied food or fed infrequently.
Conditions in the Detention Center (DC), Philly’s oldest operating jail, is dormitory style where people are imprisoned 12 or more to a room. There is no air conditioning and the summer heat is oppressive, making DC particularly dangerous for those with asthma. Fear of COVID-19 and worsening conditions have led to a series of hunger strikes and uprisings as folk inside are desperate to be heard.
During the George Floyd uprisings, PCBF is joining our sibling bail fund Philadelphia Bail Fund in posting bail for those arrested during the protests. We believe no one should be jailed because they are too poor to pay a ransom. And we should absolutely not be jailing more people in the middle of a pandemic!
Even before the protests began and DA Larry Krasner levied charges against 400+ protestors, the jail population was climbing back toward pre-COVD-19 levels, erasing the unimpressive 17% decline Philadelphia had managed to achieve.
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For many Black-led nonprofits and organizations dedicated to dismantling the prison industrial complex, I believe our response to the current uprisings should be three-fold:
- We should continue engaging in the libratory work we have always done and capitalize on the renewed now-worldwide cry for justice to increase our reach.
- We should help bring more folk into the movement and open doors for directly impacted communities — Black and brown folk — to lead our organizations in real meaningful ways.
- And we should connect the uprising’s cry for justice to dismantling the entire prison industrial complex.
Yes, #DefundthePolice. But also #FreeThemAll and #AbolishPrisons!
Anything less than these demands is just a short term reform which will quickly be defanged and absorbed into the mass incarceration system to become another tool of the oppressor.-30-
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