“Please Help We Are Dying”: Protests Called as Anger Grows Over Viral Photos from Inside Dekalb County Jail

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Several days ago, photos and videos of inmates in the Dekalb County Jail, located outside of Atlanta, Georgia, were posted to the internet and went viral. The photos included messages written on the bottom of Styrofoam food trays, as Atlanta Anarchist Black Cross documented:

Inmates who sent photos pleading for help for inhumane conditions were abused and put in the hole as retaliation on April 11, according to the mothers of the two men. Their relatives had posted screenshots from an April 7 video visit on a jail device that the inmates are allowed to use. The posts began going viral on social media April 10 with the hashtags #JusticeForInmates and #DekalbCountyJail.

“Dekalb jail is mistreating us!!!”, “We sleep & breathe mold”, and “Please help we dying! Need food!!!!”. They included The hashtag #Justiceforinmates.

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🗣🗣REPOST 🚨🚨🚨 Inmates in Dekalb County Jail is actually DYING and being subjected to unhealthy conditions; breathing and sleeping with mold, having skin break outs, being assaulted by correctional officers in areas of the jail where there are no cameras etc. STAND FOR THESE YOUNG MEN! They are caged away with no voice! No matter what they are incarcerated for, they do not deserve to live in such treacherous conditions! Most of them are there awaiting trials or traffic tickets…They are innocent until PROVEN guilty. But judge ye not! REPOST AND SHARE! Let our voices be heard for them to get attention of officials who can have this facility investigated and fix the conditions. #Justiceforinmates #DekalbCountyJail @yandysmith @troubleman31 @louisfarrakhan @ajcnews @yada_awakening @so_on_point_ @she_royal_rebel #explorepage #viral

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Inmates also produced the following message:

“Inmates in the DeKalb County Jail is actually dying and being subjected to unhealthy conditions; breathing and sleeping with mold, having skin break outs, being assaulted by correctional officers in areas of the jail where there are no cameras etc. STAND FOR THESE YOUNG MEN! they are caged away with no voice. No matter what they are incarcerated for, they do not deserve to live in such treacherous conditions! most of them are there awaiting trials or traffic tickets… They are innocent until PROVEN guilty. But judge ye not! Repost and share! Let our voices be heard for them to get attention of officials who can have this facility investigated and fix the conditions.”

Across the US, many people are unable to leave the county jail system simply because they cannot pay to bail themselves out and remain stuck inside the system, regardless of if they are innocent or not, or have even gone to trial. During the 2016 prison strike, It’s Going Down interviewed the partner of one inmate that has been stuck in Merced County Jail for years. A recent article in the Chicago Tribune wrote:

As of Feb. 13, the most recent data available, there were 5,736 inmates in Cook County Jail; 5,390 were pretrial, according to the Cook County sheriff’s office. Of that number, 48 percent either cannot afford their monetary bail or lack a residence for electronic monitoring…

Wisconsin Public Radio noted:

Such pretrial incarceration is common throughout the United States. About half a million U.S. residents are held in jail on any given day awaiting trial — a trend that has grown sharply since the 1980s, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, which researches and advocates against mass incarceration.

Some defendants spend longer in jail awaiting trial than their sentences ultimately call for. In Louisiana, the problem is so acute that some indigent defendants — who under the law are presumed innocent — can wait four years or more for their day in court.

Coupled with crumbling infrastructure, guards angry and stressed about increasingly volatile environments pushed beyond capacity, and a lack of any sort of accountability for abuse, county jails have increasingly become violent cesspools for the poor who cannot afford to bail out.

Guards Respond to Social Media

According to an Instagram account covering the situation inside, soon after the photos and video first appeared on social media, the men in the photos were quickly put in isolation. Then, guards raided their cells and attacked inmates associated with the photos.

Conditions in Dekalb County Part of a Larger Problem

Earlier this month, photos were leaked to the New York Times showing the degree of violence and lack of access to basic resources in an Alabama prison facility, St. Clair, notorious for violence. They showcase graphic images, including prisoners writing pleas for help in their own blood. Things have become so bad, that even recently a federal judge ruled that the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) violates the 8th amendment by being “deliberately indifferent” to the mental health needs of inmates, and the Department of Justice wrote in a recent report:

“Alabama routinely violates the constitutional rights of prisoners housed in Alabama’s prisons by failing to protect them from prisoner-on-prisoner violence and prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse, and by failing to provide safe conditions.”

Images published by the New York Times from inside Alabama prison facilities.

Violence has also been used as a counter-insurgency technique to attack prisoner led organizing, ironically, often organizing that seeks to stop inmate violence and sexual assault. As The Appeal wrote:

Two weeks ago, eight men embarked on hunger strikes in Alabama’s Holman prison. They had all been transferred from the state’s other notoriously violent and dangerous prison, St. Clair. The official explanation for their placement in solitary was not punishment for disciplinary violations but for the “peace and tranquility of the institution” until a further determination could be made about their placement. A release issued on the men’s behalf said this was particularly troubling because the men, rather than having instigated violence, “were involved with inside organizations promoting peace in the institution, including Convicts Against Violence and the Free Alabama Movement.”

The Free Alabama Movement, in December, called for authorities to allow a community task force to enter Holman. The impetus was what ThinkProgress described as “a slew of stabbings”—four in nine days—at Holman. Deadly violence has been skyrocketing across the state’s prisons. One man told ThinkProgress: “They basically let prisoners kill each other.”

Currently both the US Department of Justice and the Southern Poverty Law Center are poised to launch lawsuits against ADOC.

Call-In Campaign and Noise Demonstration Announced

In response, a phone call-in campaign has been organized by the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee. For info on what a call-in campaign or phone zap is, read up here.

Call: Sharon Williams Jail Division Operations Command 404.298.8508

Script: “I know about the mistreatment of inmates in Dekalb County Jail and I expect changes. Clean the mold out of their cells, feed them, and stop the physical abuse immediately.”

There is also a call from the Atlanta Anarchist Black Cross and the Atlanta IWOC chapter for a noise demonstration on Friday, April 12th, at 8 PM. The rally will take place outside of the Dekalb County Jail, which is located at 4415 Memorial Drive in Decatur, Georgia.

From the Facebook event page:

Noise demo! Bring pots & pans, drums, noisemakers, signs and banners! Brave inmates at Dekalb jail are putting themselves on the line to speak out about their mistreatment. We will show up and make enough noise to let them know we hear and support them.

People are encouraged to show solidarity and support and follow the hashtag #Justiceforinmates.


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