Winter weather didn’t stop people from protesting the coronavirus plague that’s being allowed to sweep through U.S. prisons. Dozens gathered in front of New York City’s main post office on 8th Avenue on Dec. 15. Other rallies were held in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Prisoners are some of those most vulnerable to COVID-19. Over 200,000 of those locked up ― one-out-of-ten inmates ― have caught the virus. In an outbreak at California’s San Quentin prison, 3,200 inmates fell ill and 28 died.
At the New York rally, former political prisoner and Black Panther Tarik James Haskins described the dangerous prison conditions:
“I spent 17 years in various prisons. Consequently, I know prison superstructures provide highly favorable breeding grounds for contacting COVID-19.
“In most prisons four or more cells share the same vent shaft. When a prisoner in one cell lights up a smoke, all the other prisoners connected to his vent smell his smoke.
“Moreover, those prisoners not housed in cell blocks are housed in dormitories. Their beds are not six feet apart. Both living arrangements provide ideal breeding grounds for contracting COVID-19.”
Governors procrastinate as prisoners die
Brother Shep ― Sadiki Olugbala ― of the Universal Zulu Nation chaired the rally. When he was 19 years old, Shep joined the Black Panther Party.
Relatives of prisoners talked of their imprisoned loved ones being refused adequate medical care. A granddaughter of Mutulu Shakur described how the 70-year-old political prisoner has been diagnosed with bone cancer. Yet prison authorities delayed giving him a cat scan.
Baba Zayid Muhammad tore into the governors of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The three Democratic officials have delayed freeing prisoners despite the dire health conditions that Tarik Haskins described.
Following the rally, people marched through Manhattan’s Penn Station with signs. A final rally was held across from Macy’s biggest department store.
SLL photos: Stephen Millies