What you can do NOW after the death of Matthew McCain in custody at the Durham Jail
More actions will be coming soon!
1/25/16 — Statement from Inside-Outside Alliance
In the days following the death of Matthew McCain in a cell of the Durham County Detention Facility, and after our initial breaking of that news, a few things have become crystal clear: Sheriff Mike Andrews and his DCDF administrators are cowards; the media are weak-willed and won’t do a decent job of reporting; and we—people in Durham and beyond who are outraged about the senseless, preventable death of a man in the county’s custody—are a gathering force that can absolutely overwhelm both of those public entities if we try.
The scant media who did report on this horrific event have done no real reporting at all, merely taking down the Sheriff Department’s report of what happened before inserting the charges against Matthew and attempting to refute facts about how much a medical call costs at the jail and whether that is standard. In fact, we have eyewitness reports that no attempt was made to resuscitate Matthew, contrary to what media reported, because he was obviously dead by the time jail staff finally got around to answering the numerous emergency calls being made by other inmates. News sources such as The Herald-Sun and WRAL News didn’t bother talking to anyone but were sure to name his charges high up in the story—as if to convince people that Matthew’s death and the circumstances around it weren’t worth knowing about. This type of character assassination is not surprising—consider the ways various media outlets portrayed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri—but it can and must be called out.
In the ensuing six days, neither Sheriff Andrews nor DCDF director Natalie Perkins has made a public statement about Matthew McCain’s death. In 2013, in what may have been less unsettled times for them, Andrews at least made a public expression of condolences for the family of Terry Lee, an inmate who died in jail custody. But in the context of sustained community outrage about conditions and medical care at the jail and a resounding call for a community-led, independent investigation of the jail, and with the obvious knowledge that detainees divulged the truth the jail staff never would, the Sheriff has not even expressed remorse that a human being died in the facility he oversees, much less take any responsibility.
This is not without precedent, however. Because after posting about Matthew’s death, we have heard from many more people with their own accounts of terror and/or neglect in the Durham jail, and people who fear for the safety of their loved ones who are inside. We also have learned more about what we had only vaguely heard about some months ago: the death of another man in custody one year ago, in January 2015. Dennis McMurray’s death inside the Durham County Detention Facility was never reported in the media and was completely covered up by the Sheriff’s Department. We know now, though, and more facts about that will be brought to light soon.
Not coincidentally, the timing of Dennis’s death corresponds with when the jail put what amounted to a full months-long embargo on mail passing between jail inmates and Inside-Outside Alliance (which was semi-lifted after pressure to end the lockback spotlighted mailroom problems and other issues, too). We have volumes of letters from the Durham jail, documenting medical neglect, unsanitary conditions, and abuses by officers, but the jail almost stopped us from learning about the death of a detainee. That won’t happen again. Because another thing is clear: the Inside of Inside-Outside Alliance, ever-changing but nonetheless growing a culture of resistance and rebellion by the day, is strong. Their self-activity and vigilance, their bravery and creativity in getting the word out, is a wellspring of our strength on the outside, which has been enhanced a thousandfold in the past few days.
Although our eyes have been wide open about the terror inflicted on those in the Durham jail for a while now, we know that this moment of terrible anguish and outrage will mobilize many more to demand answers, to question the jail practices, and perhaps even the existence of the downtown Terrordome itself. Matthew McCain’s death is the horrific result of policies in a system that treats people, especially Black and Brown people, as expendable. The jail has been the endpoint of at least three lives since 2013: Terry Lee, Dennis McMurray, and now Matthew. But indicative of the way the ‘justice’ system grinds a person down, the Durham jail has also been the previous address of at least three others just hours before their passing: Tracy Bost (killed by NCCU police in 2013), La’vante Biggs (killed by Durham police in 2015), and Cenntell Thomas (hit by a train in 2014).
Many people, far and wide, desperately want to know what they can do to find some glimpse of that elusive and dear idea: justice. We will share more calls to action and ways to engage in the coming days, especially as Matthew’s grieving family considers its demands. For right now, we support any and all groups and individuals taking small actions and putting out their own statements in solidarity with and in support of Matthew McCain’s family and the detainees of the Durham jail and their loved ones, and in support of an independent, community-based investigation of the jail.
Right now, we are also calling for folks to pursue two avenues to mount pressure:
- Blast the Sheriff and Jail & County Officials– Demand that the Sheriff and jail officials be held accountable and responsible for Matthew McCain’s death.
Craft your own message, coming from your own sense of outrage, injustice, or political orientation. Consider including any all of these points:
- Why did no jail staff react to repeated emergency calls being made by inmates on 3D on the morning of January 19?
- Why have the Sheriff and jail officials remained silent about the death of Matthew McCain?
- When will Matthew’s family be able to see his body?
- Why has it taken so long for Matthew’s body to be released to them? Will they be able to pursue an independent autopsy?
- Why was the public never told about the death of a detainee in January 2015? What happened then?
- How is the jail equipped to handle people with chronic medical conditions?
- And be sure to: Express support for an independent, community-led investigation of the jail.
- Blast the Media – Force the media to actually report about the death of a person in the county’s custody, rather than spin the Sheriff Department’s tale and dehumanize Matthew by focusing on his charges and not his life lost.
**Target your blasts to any and all of the following**:
DURHAM COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE & SHERIFF MIKE ANDREWS
Facebook (blanket the page with posts!): https://www.facebook.com/DurhamCountySheriffsOffice/?fref=ts
Lt. Col. Natalie Perkins, Detention Director
Julian Couch, Head of Detention Security
Brenda Howerton, Vice Chairman
(919) 544-4160 / email@example.com
Fred Foster, Jr., Commissioner
(919) 479-8305 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Wendy Jacobs, Commissioner
(919) 418-3169 / email@example.com
Ellen Reckhow, Commissioner
(919) 383-3883 / firstname.lastname@example.org
We are not limiting anyone to the following outlets and reporters, as in fact any not listed here has not covered Matthew McCain’s death at all (to the best of our knowledge).
The Herald-Sun (read and react to story by Lauren Horsch here)
Letters to the editor: email@example.com (250-word limit)
Herald-Sun Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/theheraldsun/?fref=ts
**Herald-Sun Twitter: @TheHerald_Sun
**Lauren Horsch on Twitter: @LaurenHorsch
WRAL News – news brief posted on WRAL.com here
**If you Tweet, please hashtag #WeBelievePrisoners and #JailInvestigationNow (and whatever else you want!).