The Coronavirus pandemic is impacting every aspect of our society and exposing deep, systemic inequalities that we know will cause Black communities to be harder hit than most. As the news changes minute-to-minute, BET and Color Of Change are teaming up to make sure Black people have the clear and focused information we need to get help, take action and support the hardest hit in our communities.
Prisons and jails are breeding grounds for sickness, especially the Coronavirus. The 2.3 million caged people in our country often have no soap, water, health insurance or control over their interactions with others. We know Black people are disproportionately imprisoned and now experts are warning that their treatment puts us all at risk.
It’s terrifying. Juan Giron, a Color Of Change member who is imprisoned in Rikers Island in New York, reached out to us for help because it’s clearly impossible to socially distance in a dorm where beds are spaced three feet apart.
Juan says that there are at least 200 people who have already tested positive at the prison and inmates are being forced to take extreme measures just to get basic medical care. While jails go into lockdown and ban visitors, hundreds of guards have also tested positive, creating a two-way spread between prisons and the public.
This week, we want to focus on putting pressure on the government to change our unjust mass incarceration system, save incarcerated people’s lives and slow the rate of infection for us all.
Here are five things you can do to be a part of the solution and change.
When the coronavirus pandemic began, more than 70 criminal justice organizations, lawyers and activists teamed up to create a comprehensive list of demands for a #HumaneOutbreakResponse in prisons, jails, courthouses and immigrant detention centers throughout the United States. As more people sign on, public and private decision-makers are taking notice.
Anything short of releasing vulnerable people, like the elderly and chronically ill, is a death sentence. New arrestees should also be kept out of jail as much as possible. Some governors are catching on, but most aren’t moving fast enough to stop the outbreaks. You can make sure that they feel the pressure.
Thousands of Black people who are too poor to pay bail are imprisoned before they even go to trial. The Black Mama’s Bail Out usually happens around Mother’s Day, but we’re raising funds early this year to pay the bail needed to free mothers and caregivers during the pandemic to provide immediate relief for fractured and frightened families.
Telecommunications companies have colluded to make it expensive for families to stay connected through prison walls. With facilities now closed to visitors, a recession setting in, and the incarcerated at great risk of illness, we’re demanding that phone calls be free to reduce the financial burden on our communities.
Incarcerated people are being mandated to produce hand sanitizer and protective equipment to support public health while only making pennies per hour. Worse, they aren't even allowed to use the products they produce. We’re demanding incarcerated people be paid a fair minimum wage, especially as it pertains to the work they are doing to support the public during the pandemic.
The fact is the United States accounts for only 3 percent of the world population and yet we are responsible for a whopping 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population. And, it’s no accident that this massive prison population is disproportionately Black. From over-policing to governments and corporations manufacturing poverty and then criminalizing it, locking up Black people has been big business for a long time. The forces that keep these systems in place lobby every day to ensure their economic wellbeing at the expense of our community.
Now, our values are being tested. Who we see as worthy, whose lives we are willing to fight for and what we are willing to accept from our leaders is up to us and us alone. When we stick together, we have the power to demand action and change. Together, we are #TheBlackResponse to coronavirus and this week we’re fighting to save the lives of imprisoned Black people.
Rashad Robinson is President of Color Of Change, a leading racial justice organization with more than 1.7 million members that design winning strategies to build power for Black communities. Rashad appears regularly in major news media and as a keynote speaker nationally. You can find him on Twitter @RashadRobinson
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