Filed under: Incarceration, Police, Repression, Southeast
Report from Alabama about repression and harassment of organizers and supporters of Unheard Voices and the Free Alabama Movement by guards.
Atmore, AL – On Sunday, August 18, 2019, two organizers with Unheard Voices OTCJ and the Free Alabama Movement (FAM) Queen Team were doing outreach during visitation hours at Holman Prison when they were confronted on three occasions by law enforcement who insisted, under threat of trespass, that they do their outreach from a “designated protest area” on prison property.
The officers involved at various interactions were Lieutenant Wilson and Sergeant Davis of the ADOC K-9 Unit, and Deputy Peebles of the Escambia Sheriff Department. Two interactions were recorded by the organizers, whose outreach efforts must be considered free speech and thus protected as a constitutional right. The recordings are linked here and here, and in the second video the interaction runs from minutes 3:25 to 6:20.
The volunteers were located on the shoulder of State Highway 21 opposite the turnoff for Holman Prison (Ross Road) handing out Unheard Voices OTCJ brochures and information about an upcoming press conference scheduled for September 21, 2019 in Washington D.C. This event will bring travelling Alabama family members with incarcerated loved ones together with local and national prisoners’ rights organizations in order to put pressure on the Department of Justice to take action on its own report issued in April 2019. In the 62-page report, the Department of Justice found ongoing and egregious violations of the 8th Amendment Constitutional Right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment within Alabama prisons.
After finishing their outreach efforts, the organizers consulted with lawyers who volunteer with Unheard Voices. “There is absolutely no law that forbids law abiding citizens from being on a public road right of way and distributing pamphlets,” said Mobile Attorney Donna Wesson Smalley. She adds, “These were not protestors, they were doing a public outreach targeting friends and family who voluntarily come to Holman to see loved ones” Smalley added. Tuscaloosa Attorney Michael Cornwell agreed, and stated, “Those volunteers have every right to be anywhere on public property, so long as they are not breaking the law, and not entering the designated prison property.”
Unheard Voices OTCJ will continue to push back against unfounded and unwarranted threats by law enforcement that limit and impose burdens on their right to free speech, particularly at a time when the ADOC and Alabama politicians continue to shirk institutional accountability and the Department of Justice refuses to uphold its duty to protect the constitutional rights of all people including our incarcerated loved ones.