Death Camps for Prisoners Inspire New Ways to Protest

by Ellen Isaacs

April 25, 2020

In New York City and all around the country, activists are finding creative and safe ways to demand the release of prisoners in jails, prisons, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention. Yesterday, about 25 cars and as many bikers and those on foot from Close the Camps/Cosecha and other groups stood, rode, and drove around New York Governor Cuomo’s office. The cars honked and the standing protestors chanted, gaining much support from the few onlookers on the street. We demanded that Cuomo use his emergency powers to release immigrants and prisoners in NY state custody in order to save their lives. The caravan then proceeded to circle Times Square and ended at an ICE office on 26th St where Close the Camps had its first civil disobedience action last summer.

Some of the other similar large actions that have taken place were outside the Brooklyn Detention Center, Cook County Jail in Chicago, and the Mayor’s office in Philadelphia. The large actions in Philly put enough pressure on the courts that a procedure to begin releasing prisoners was instituted soon after.

Prisons and ICE detention centers have become centers of disease and death for inmates and staff. At least 100 prison inmates have died across the US, some locked up only for technical parole violations or misdemeanors. In Ohio, 80% of inmates in the Marion Prison have tested positive. Over 30% of the few ICE detainees tested are positive for COVID-19. Many of ICE’s over 32,000 immigrant prisoners, including over 6000 children, are confined in private contracted facilities where virtually no health care is available, but all are in crowded, unsanitary conditions. It is certain that many more will sicken and die if they are not released. Moreover, ill and infected prisoners must be provided with hospital care or livable quarantine facilities upon release. As of now, even sick immigrant detainees are being deported to countries like Honduras and Guatemala, where they are major vectors of infection!

Racism Rules in the US

The fact that a majority of these near 2.5 million prisoners and detainees are black and Latin accounts for the willingness of the financiers that run America to discount their lives. As with the figures for death among the population at large, and the disproportionate frequency of poverty, poor health, unemployment, homelessness and COVOD-19 among non-whites, racism rules in America. From Trump’s concern for his own and others’ wealth, to the right wing protests against social distancing, to the politicians who are recklessly opening businesses, it is racism that abets their actions, for it is black and Latin workers who will suffer the worst consequences. Racism also accounts for the fact that mass death will be tolerated by the “developed” world in Africa, South and Central America, the Middle East, and South Asia, where the virus has not yet arrived in its fullest force.

The racist way COVD-19 is affecting workers around the world has been much discussed on this blog and in many other places, but it is exhilarating to see new imaginative and militant movements growing in opposition. In order for these movements to be even more effective, they need to become even more multiracial and inclusive, to reach out to large groups in unions, schools, and neighborhoods, and to knot together the understanding that racism is tied up with the basic survival of capitalism. Racism and capitalism cannot survive without each other and we will fight them together.

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