[Pnews] It's Time We Recognize Black Lives Matter Behind Bars, Too

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Aug 9 11:58:13 EDT 2016


  It's Time We Recognize Black Lives Matter Behind Bars, Too

by J. Soffiyah Elijah, August 05, 2016

Similar to police officers on the streets, violence between guards in 
jails and prisons is a crucial problem that has gone from brutality to 
outright homicide. As is the case with police violence, African 
Americans and other people of color are disproportionately the victims 
of abuse at the hands of prison and jail officials.

Last week, the shocking video footage of Darius Robinson’s April 4, 2016 
death while in police custody was released. The 41-year-old father of 
seven was being held on charges of failure to pay child support when he 
apparently experienced a mental meltdown. He reportedly tore up paper 
and walked about his cell waving a blanket. In the video, Robinson can 
be seen sitting on a bench, two guards in front of him. Robinson 
appeared to lean or step forward when one of the guards, Allen Smith, 
struggled with Robinson and the other guard, Vicki Richardson, sprayed 
Robinson with pepper spray. Both men fell to the ground and struggled 
when Smith choked Robinson until he was all but motionless.

Smith continued to use the chokehold well beyond the point where 
Robinson was subdued and while Richardson handcuffs him. After cuffing 
him, the guards roll Robinson onto his back and quickly realize that he 
is nonresponsive. Richardson gives him two chest compressions after she 
apparently is unable to find a pulse. Robinson briefly stirs before 
convulsing and, ultimately, choking to death.

The autopsy determined that Robinson’s death was a “homicide by 
asphyxiation from the manual compression of his neck.” Nonetheless, 
Smith has yet to be charged with any crime.

About a year earlier, in a New York State prison, Samuel Harrell also 
died at the hands of guards when he packed his bags and decided that it 
was time to go home — even though he had years to left to serve. 
(Harrell had bipolar disorder and sometimes behaved erratically.) The 
guards reportedly threw Harrell to the ground and cuffed him. Up to 20 
guards reportedly kicked and punched Harrell, before throwing him down a 
flight of stairs, according to accounts from inmates. An ambulance was 
called and the guards told paramedics that Harrell likely overdosed on 
synthetic marijuana — never mentioning the beating. An autopsy revealed 
that Harrell died of a cardiac arrhythmia “following physical 
altercation with corrections officers.” (There were no illegal drugs 
found in his system.) His death was ruled a homicide.

The week before Harrell's murder, guards at another New York State 
prison, in haunting similarity to Taylor, allegedly beat Karl Taylor to 
death. More than a year later, no charges have been filed against the 
guards involved in Mr. Taylor's or Mr. Harrell’s deaths. Prison 
officials have not taken any disciplinary action against them and the 
New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (NYS 
DOCCS) has not even filed a report on either death.

These are just three examples of the rampant abuse of people who are 
incarcerated. In fact, there are numerous cases of people in New York 
who have been brutally beaten and/or killed by guards. The guards have 
all gone unpunished by authorities, often protected by their coworkers, 
union, police and even district attorneys. And NYS DOCCS, often impeded 
by the union contract, has exacerbated the harm by failing to take 
appropriate action in these cases.

Black Lives Matter behind bars, too. The U.S. Department of Justice 
(DOJ) needs to step up and step in to protect incarcerated people. Here 
in New York State, the DOJ should immediately review the countless 
deaths in state prisons.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo needs to do a complete overhaul of the corrections 
system, and he needs to include community members in the process, giving 
those impacted by the criminal justice system input into hiring 
practices and oversight.

Until we have collaboration with communities — especially communities of 
color — prison and jail guards will continue to go rogue. Without 
repercussions, they will continue to brutalize and kill people, and 
engage in cover-ups.

We have to reject the violence perpetrated by guards. We must demand 
justice for all, including those who are incarcerated. If we continue to 
look away while people are abused in custody, then we too will have 
blood on our hands.


/J. Soffiya Elijah is the executive director of the Alliance of Families 
for Justice. Follow her on Twitter @SoffiyaElijah 

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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