At 7:45 on March 4, 2016, while the community roared outside Disney’s The Lion King at DPAC, Le’Andre Demond Blakeney and Mia Hutchins-Cabibi dropped a banner inside the theater, reading “This Jail Kills: Enjoy the Show.” They were removed and detained by police and, thankfully, later released without charge. This is the statement that they wrote ahead of time to explain their action, which was also released to the press while they were in custody.
A great divide exists (Lk 16:26) between the ostentatious entertainment and frivolity of the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) and the starving, tortured, and dying prisoners in the Durham County Jail. DPAC profits off of the invisibility of the lynching of black bodies across the street while exoticizing all things African on its stage. On January 19, Matthew McCain died in the Durham County Jail after detention staff had medically neglected him for months. As his family and other community members expressed their grief and outrage, it came to light that two other Durham residents had died in 2015, Raphael Barnett and Dennis McMurray. In addition, the jail saw 12 suicide attempts in 2015 alone, as medical neglect, malnourishment, freezing cell temperatures, and price gouging at commissary continue to run rampant. Meanwhile, Nederlander Theaters and the county government continue to invest in ignorance and inaction, betting that the public will remain silent.
Therefore, we have disrupted business as usual at DPAC; we will not remain silent, and by the time you read this we will likely be under arrest. We have acted because, as followers of Christ, the God revealed to us in Jesus requires action, demanding “justice and only justice” (Dt 16:20). God does not just want us to feel bad about this situation, but to do something about it. Yes we are to pray without ceasing, but we are also to ransom the captive (Mt 25:36), and we are not to stop there. Yes, we are to comfort the afflicted, but we are also to afflict the comfortable, and we are not to stop there. “We’ve got to put our bodies and souls in motion,” to take direct action to “seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan plead for the widow.” This is not an abstraction. These are fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, colleagues, and neighbors. Hundreds of people incarcerated in the Durham County Jail are guilty of no crime other than being too poor to post bail, but their invisibility continues to turn a profit for the county and its corporate partners, who continue, in turn, to fill our community’s homes with orphans, widows, and widowers.
Money should not buy ignorance. We refuse to allow middle and upper income people and white people to continue to “feast sumptuously every day” (Lk 16:19) while our comrades who are locked up in the jail are not even allowed “to satisfy their hunger with what falls from the table” (Lk 16:21). We take this action not out of anger, but in love. We act to militantly defend our neighbors who are under attack because we know that “an injury to one is an injury to all,” because this business “cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love,” and, because, in the words of Cornel West, echoing Christ himself, “justice is what love looks like in public.”
Le’Andre D. Blakeney & Mia Hutchins-Cabibi