This May Day: Smash the Durham Jail and Prisons Everywhere
On Friday, April 29, Inside-Outside Alliance and Triangle Area Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) invite you to stand in support of prisoners organizing against the racist violence of the Durham County Jail, the Durham Community’s struggle for an independent jail investigation, and prisoners on strike in Alabama and Texas, who are calling for a national strike starting September 9. Meet at 6:00 in Central Park and march to the jail.
The Struggle Continues in the Durham Jail
Inside-Outside Alliance and others we met through organizing first protested against the jail-wide lockback conditions (6 hours a week out of cells) last April 17, and continued every Friday through December 11. We didn’t stop because we had achieved a goal (though the protests were profoundly effective in helping to restore prisoners’ daytime hours out of their cells), but rather to evaluate how best to continue ramping up pressure and advancing the struggle against such ‘issues’ as medical neglect, unsanitary conditions, malnourishment, and corporations’ exploitation of detainees and families. Since our last weekly Friday protest in December, ‘all’ that’s happened is Matthew McCain died in custody due to medical neglect, and we found out about two other inmate deaths that had been suppressed. Despite the jail administration bending to tremendous pressure and struggle inside and outside on such things as hot trays (very recently) and to some degree on time out of cells, they have never reinstituted the night walk for inmates from 9:00-10:45, and, in fact, they have said they “never” will. Thus, ‘lockback’ conditions still prevail. We think it is high time that changed.
Inmates in the Durham County Jail have independently formed a “First Five Grieving Committee” to address these very concerns. As they point out: “The time we should be out at night (9:00 p – 10:45p) has been taken away from us permanently…We now cannot call home after 6:45 pm, but are locked in our cell till the next morning at 6:45 a.m. (12 hours). Some of us cannot reach our family during the day because they are at work, but after 6:45 pm, they are at home, but we cannot call them, cause we are locked back.” By locking back at 6:45 for the night, detainees spend at least 12 continuous hours in their cells—not as punishment, but as the normal course of things each day.
The Struggle Continues on the Outside
One of the main demands to come out of the struggle to end the lockback is for an independent, community-based investigation of the jail. We know that the agencies the Sheriff’s department invites to “inspect” the jail are at best there to rubber stamp what is going on there, at worst to make the machinery of death run more efficiently. In December, a group of academics, researchers, scientists, and ordinary people who have firsthand knowledge of the jail came forward and offered to conduct a real investigation as an act of community service. Through repeated protests, they have forced the Sheriff’s department to release medical, grievance, and corporate revenue records from the jail (previous public records requests had gone unanswered), but there is a lot of work left to do to get access to the jail to survey prisoners and conduct a physical inspection.
The Struggle Continues Nationwide
We are also in a profound moment of struggle against jails and prisons nationally. On March 14, prisoners in Holman, Alabama began an uprising demanding federal assistance, the release of prisoners to ease overcrowding, the repeal of Alabama’s habitual felon laws, the release of all inmates qualifying for parole, better educational programs, and financial reparations for violence done to prisoners. Then, on April 4, the anniversary of the martyrdom of Martin Luther King Jr, members of the Incarcerated Workers’ Organizing Committee (IWOC) of the IWW began rolling strikes in prisons throughout Texas to win collective bargaining rights for prisoners. IWOC members in prisons throughout the country are now calling for a national strike on September 9. They write: “This is a call to end slavery in America. This call goes directly to the slaves themselves. We are not making demands or requests of our captors, we are calling ourselves to action. To every prisoner in every state and federal institution across this land, we call on you to stop being a slave, to let the crops rot in the plantation fields, to go on strike and cease reproducing the institutions of your confinement. This is a call for a nationwide prisoner work stoppage to end prison slavery, starting on September 9th, 2016. They cannot run these facilities without us.”
May Day originally began as a commemoration of the Haymarket martyrs, four Chicago labor activists executed on false charges by the US government. Today, the death penalty, as well as the broader criminal injustice system of police, jails, courts, and prisons, continues to be an instrument of brutal repression used by the capitalist state against working and poor people, especially people of color. Since its nineteenth century origins, May Day has also been a way to build a broad-based working class politics and to place the struggles of the most oppressed workers, particularly working and poor people of color, at the head of the agenda of the labor movement, such as in 2006, when workers, students, and community members struck nationally to highlight immigrant rights as workers rights. This May Day, we continue to stand against the repressive judicial apparatus of the capitalist state, and we continue to place anti-racism and the issues of the most oppressed workers at the center of the labor movement. Solidarity with Prisoners Everywhere, and, in Durham, No More Jail Deaths, No More Jail! An Injury to One is an Injury to All!
FRIDAY, APRIL 29
Central Park, Durham @ 6 pm