Organizers mourn increasing COVID deaths in prisons, detention, ‘hold a mirror’ up to governor’s hypocrisy as immigrants stage labor, hunger strikes in detention
by Jon Rodney
Fair Oaks, Calif. –A group of 14 people were arrested at the suburban mansion of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, located in Fair Oaks, outside Sacramento. The group, organizing under the banner of the California Liberation Collective, includes several community organizers who are undocumented, as well as immigration attorneys whose clients are at risk of contracting COVID in detention.
Dozens of additional supporters also rallied, painted a street mural reading “Newsom: Free Them All,” chanted and played drums on site. Participants held several mirror-shaped posters which contrast the governor’s lofty words with his failure to take action to save lives.
As of 2:50 p.m., the arrestees were still being held in the Sacramento jail, and California Highway Patrol, the Sacramento Sheriff and Gov. Newsom were considering “bail enhancements,” intending to keep organizers in jail longer, with no possibility to social distance or follow health protocols.
Outraged by the mounting death toll at San Quentin prison and rising infection numbers in state prisons and immigration detention centers, the California Liberation Collective is demanding that Gov. Newsom immediately:
- Use his power, including mass clemency and emergency release, to free people in state prisons.
- Stop transfers from state and local custody to ICE and between California prisons.
- Stop the expansion of immigration detention in California.
- Hold the detention industry accountable.
The action comes as campaigns urging mass clemency for people in state prison are intensifying and as immigrants detained at Mesa Verde and Yuba Detention centers are in the midst of a work stoppage and hunger strike, respectively. Detained people are seeking freedom and a series of life-saving measures.
“Today, we are holding a mirror up to the hypocrisy of a governor who banned the death penalty yet has presided over dozens of preventable deaths in state prisons; who issues hollow statements about racial justice while leaving Black and Brown people to die in squalid cells.”
The event included a faith ceremony to honor lives lost in California prisons and ICE detention centers. In a statement, organizers from the California Liberation Collective said:
“Today, we mourn each and every life lost due to Gov. Newsom’s failure to take action, and we offer our love and support to every family and community grieving these preventable deaths. We affirm that the health of each of us depends on the health of all of us.
“Today, we are holding a mirror up to the hypocrisy of a governor who banned the death penalty yet has presided over dozens of preventable deaths in state prisons; who issues hollow statements about racial justice while leaving Black and Brown people to die in squalid cells; who criticizes Trump when convenient, but who turns incarcerated Californians who are eligible for release over to ICE instead of their loved ones, and thus helps spread ICE COVID-19 not just across the U.S. but across the world.
“We are also here to honor the resiliency of people incarcerated in prisons, jails and detention, who are survivors of violence, abuse and trauma, who are our loved ones and family members, and who are organizing every day for freedom, justice and for a better world for all of us. And today, we stand with detained immigrants currently on strike at Mesa Verde and Yuba. In solidarity with them, we demand that the governor change course today. Gov. Newsom, take action NOW to save lives!”
The protest also falls some four months since the governor’s initial shelter-in-place order. In the ensuing 130 days, doctors, health experts and community groups have repeatedly urged the governor to take action to save the lives of incarcerated people, writing a multitude of letters, holding innumerable Twitter chats, organizing zoom press conferences, and staging socially distanced rallies. Doctors and health advocates have repeatedly warned physical distance is impossible in any type of incarceration, and that jails, prisons and detention centers inherently pose severe public health challenges.
Yet silence has been the governor’s primary response, despite health officials having called for a minimum 50 percent reduction at San Quentin prior to the crisis there. Even a federal judge derided the Newsom administration’s “significant failure of policy and planning.”
A recent move to release some 8,000 people from state prisons – merely 7 percent of the total population – was widely denounced as too little, too late. The releases do not go into effect until Aug. 1, leaving people in prison vulnerable to COVID for several weeks, and could result in transfers of community members to ICE.
Immigrants in detention centers across California, with the leadership of Black immigrants, have organized hunger strikes and protests in recent months, expressing solidarity with similar efforts led by people in state prisons. Immigrant rights organizers across the state are backing demands to defund an abusive system of incarceration and policing, and to invest in communities that have been most harmed by abuses. Advocates have noted that when policing and incarceration are fused with federal deportation, Black immigrants are disproportionately harmed.
Support the arrestees
Support the 14 attorneys and undocumented activists arrested who demonstrated in front of Newsom’s house calling for mass releases and protesting #deathbyincarceration and ICE transfers. Support their action here!
Journalist Jon Rodney can be reached at email@example.com. Watch livestreams here and here – co-broadcast at CIYJA, IC4IJ, Pangea Legal others.