DC Abolition Coalition blockades US Department of Justice entrances in protest of prison abuses

One role of prisoner advocates is to be the voice for voiceless prisoners and to reach the ears of people who are capable of making a difference if they choose to. Prisoners and their families and other supporters typically have few resources, so with courage and creativity they find a way to make their message heard. Here, the DC Abolition Coalition, based in Washington, D.C., is speaking for Unheard Voices of the Concrete Jungle on behalf of Alabama prisoners and their families. DOJ had promised to sue over egregious abuses in Alabama, then backed off, allowing state officials to go ahead with plans to build more prisons and commit more abuses.

by DC Abolition Coalition

First thing in the morning on the first day of October, organizers with the DC Abolition Coalition demonstrated at the US Department of Justice in solidarity with the demands of incarcerated freedom fighters in Alabama prison facilities to bring attention to rampant abuses within the Alabama Department of Corrections.

Protesters scaled ladders and locked themselves on top, blocking the entrances of the U.S. Department of Justice. Homeland Security agents used an angle grinder to cut through a lock around a protester’s neck with only a blanket between the protester and the grinder.

The ladder was cut above the head of a person who was locked down. Homeland Security agents removed this person out of sight, then used an angle grinder to cut them out of their lock box with no protection around their exposed arms.

For five hours, Justice Department entrances were blockaded. During those five hours, the DOJ could have come out and discussed the prisoners’ demands voiced by the protesters, but they refused.

Instead, they arrested five people who were standing in solidarity with their comrades, the incarcerated freedom fighters in Alabama. All five were later released but will need support when they go to court.

Today’s demonstration is an escalation of actions taking place across the country to stand in support with demands presented by Alabama-based prisoner advocacy group Unheard Voices of the Concrete Jungle.

These demands include that the DOJ must:

1. Follow through on filing suit against the Alabama Department of Corrections, implement staffing replacements and mass releases.

2. Stop the construction of all new prison and jail facilities.

3. End targeted retaliation against incarcerated organizers, including the abusive use of solitary confinement and non-lateral transfers.

4. Provide real rehabilitative programming and shortened sentences for “good behavior.”

5. Remove U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama Jay Town from office.

6. Halt the transition from in-person to video-only visitation.

The DC Abolition Coalition shuts down the United States Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 1 demanding that DOJ deliver what it promised in Alabama, first and foremost a lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections.

The federal Department of Justice came out with a scathing report in April 2019 which outlined the ADOC’s routine violations of the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution, which protects incarcerated people from cruel and unusual punishment. As the report found, these violations have created an environment in Alabama prisons in which prisoners are routinely subjected to a lack of mental and medical healthcare, overcrowding, sexual abuse, and in many cases death from “a high level of violence that is too common, cruel, of an unusual nature, and pervasive.”

The ADOC had up to seven weeks to remediate the problem before a lawsuit could be filed. After nearly six months, conditions have only worsened inside Alabama prisons, while Gov. Kay Ivey and US Attorney Jay Town move forward on plans to build three new men’s prisons in Alabama.

“Freedom fighters on the inside have been putting their bodies on the line to demand justice but their voices go unheard, so we’re here today to force the DOJ to listen to and act on these very basic demands,” said Mei Azaad of the activist group Fight Toxic Prisons.

Meanwhile, the DOJ continues to ignore the overcrowding, understaffing and chronic violence, even as Alabama family members and supporters of incarcerated people have held protests and outreach efforts on several occasions in the past months, both in Alabama and DC.

“Prisons don’t keep anyone safe,” remarked another member of the coalition, Fariha Huriya, with #Vaughn17 Support. “As part of the Vaughn 17 family, we salute all prison liberators.”

The coalition which has identified and campaigned against injustice within local facilities presented the following demands to address DC’s high level of incarceration:

1. End all collaboration between the DC Jail and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).

2. Pass the Second Look Amendment.

3. Restore local control of DC parole.

4. Halt the proposal to construct new jail facilities in DC.

Campaigners with DC Abolition Coalition will continue to ramp up pressure against the Department of Justice and Alabama Department of Corrections until the demands for justice are met and the voices of those subjected to the violent conditions in the ADOC are finally heard.

To learn more and get involved, contact Mei Azaad of Fight Toxic Prisons, at fightoxicprisons@gmail.com.