On Thursday afternoon in North Dartmouth, we and dozens of other drivers packed the parking lot of a local pharmacy. We weren’t there for coronavirus testing or supplies, but to prepare for a mass protest. Arriving on the scene, a police officer turned to a pharmacy employee and snapped, “They just showed up and took over the parking lot?”
The disgust in his voice was jarring. We were gathered in solidarity with the 52 people detained by ICE at the nearby Bristol County Corrections Center. Targeted and rounded up on the basis of their race and migration status, these individuals are trapped as the coronavirus rips through the state. The crowded conditions of the jail threaten their lives, but it was a crowded parking lot that disgusted the officer?
We set off in a convoy and lined the street outside the jail, shouting, honking, and driving up and down the road, our cars covered in signs reading “Governor Baker: No Death Camps” and “Release Them All.”
Since COVID-19 hit the US, incarcerated people in Bristol County and around the country have been organizing, terrified of what will happen when the virus reaches them in the cramped, unsanitary conditions of jail. At Bristol County, the beds are three-feet apart, half the distance recommended by the CDC, and there isn’t enough soap. In an outbreak where self-isolation and frequent handwashing are the best tools for survival, mass detention is as good as a death sentence.
Bristol detainees have released three letters detailing these conditions and asking for precautions as basic as nutritious meals and non-diluted soap. They’ve also called for the release of those with underlying conditions, those who are considered low risk (without aggravated felonies), and immediate hearings or release for detainees who have not had their bond hearing. Their pleas have been ignored.
One organization fighting to elevate the voices of detainees is Never Again, a nationwide movement founded in 2019 as the Jewish response to concentration camps on the US/Mexico border. In July, over 1,000 people stopped traffic in downtown Boston protesting detention at the Suffolk County House of Correction. In August, one of us witnessed an ICE guard drive his truck into a line of peaceful protestors at Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls, Rhode Island.
During this pandemic, Never Again stands in solidarity with detainees whose lives are imperiled by the insidious violence of the state’s refusal to act.
Thursday’s “honkathon” followed a demonstration last week during which the Massachusetts chapter of Never Again projected an image of Anne Frank on the JFK Federal Building. The action served as a chilling reminder: Anne Frank was not killed in a gas chamber. She was killed by a deadly virus in a crowded detention camp.
Never Again’s rallying cry, Never Again Para Nadie, means “never again, for anyone.” It means that we must not let the injustices and atrocities of the past repeat themselves unchecked. Detainees in Bristol County know the coronavirus is coming. If we don’t take immediate action to meet their demands, what happened to Anne Frank will happen today in our own communities. Governor Baker must act to free detainees before it is too late.