Protesters Renew Calls for Change at the Durham Jail—This Time Through Song | News

Protesters Renew Calls for Change at the Durham Jail—This Time Through Song

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Demonstrators rallied at a Durham County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday night in what one participant called "a renewed opening salvo" demanding changes at the county jail.

About twenty-five people, including members of Inside-Outside Alliance and Alerta Migratoria, gathered in front of the county government building on Main Street. Earlier in the day, barricades were put up around the base of the now-dismantled Confederate monument that stood in front of the county government building. Before demonstrators showed up, about a dozen deputies gathered around the monument, prompting one of the first arrivals to sarcastically ask the officers if they were holding a rally.

"We're not," a deputy said, to which the demonstrator asked why the officers were around the statue.

"What statue?" the deputy quipped.


The two groups in the past have gathered at the steps of the building, sometimes heading inside to disrupt a commissioners meeting. A Facebook event for Monday's rally made no mention of the Confederate monument, which was toppled by protesters on August 14 during a rally in response to a white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville in which one antiracist protester was killed.

Since the August 14 demonstration, Sheriff Mike Andrews has been calling on elected officials to develop guidelines for public assemblies—for example, better enforcement of the permitting process and facility use policies, and "to declare that they expect the laws to be observed."

“By taking these simple, and common sense, measures and working together to uphold these standards, we can ensure that Durham continues to be a vibrant and prosperous community with an activist spirit," he wrote to officials last month. "One where citizens feel both respected and protected in expressing themselves and where citizens feel secure in the community."

Monday's crowd chanted, called Andrews a liar and a racist, and held signs reading, "This jail kills," “Sanctuary for all" and “Video ‘visit’ is Newspeak,” a reference to George Orwell's 1984. Deputies mostly chatted in small groups, some using their cell phones and at least two filming the group. One could be heard punctuating the chants with "uh-huh" and "say what" (facetiously, no doubt).

Some members of the group did go inside, delivering their demands to county commissioners (who were beginning their regular meeting) via an original adaption of Florence Reece's "Which Side Are You On?"

"They say in Durham County/ there are no neutrals here/ the Sheriff is a racist ass/ the people want what's fair!" they sang to the commissioners before joining the group outside and delivering an encore. (Demonstrators said they tried to get on the evening's agenda, to no avail.)


The group called on the board to pass a resolution freezing new funding for the Sheriff's Office until Andrews agrees to halt any collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, maintain in-person visitation at the county jail at is current levels, and to never charge a fee for video visitation, which is being implemented at the jail next month. In addition, they want to see Andrews “testify under oath about his department’s collaboration with ICE, the deaths in the Durham Jail, and his plans for video visitation.”

The agency has been the focus of frequent protests.

Four people have died at the Durham jail since the start of 2015, the most recent being Uniece Fennell, a sixteen-year-old who was found hanged in her cell.

Andrews's statements that he is not eliminating in-person visits have not been enough to assuage demonstrators' mistrust and concern that the detention center would join the 74 percent of facilities that have cut in-person visitation after adopting the technology. Starting October 15, visitors can speak to inmates at the Durham County jail via video kiosks in the lobby.

As far as collaborating with ICE, the Durham County Sheriff's Office has given conflicting statements about its participation in the Secure Communities program, in which jails hold detainees after their local charges have been adjudicated so ICE can pick them up. As the INDY reported in June, the process that begins when someone is booked into the Durham jail sounds an awful lot like Secure Communities.

"Last week we took out someone with an ICE hold," said Sandro Mendoza, a member of the immigrant advocacy group Alerta Migratoria. Statements that the agency does not collaborate with ICE give immigrants a false sense of security, he added.

Mendoza said the commissioners can expect to see demonstrations like the one held Monday until changes are made.

"It's going to to take the rest of the community who think Durham is progressive," he said.


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