Jacksonville makes demands to “Free them all, people’s budget now”
Jacksonville, FL – Wrapping up an entire month of action, on June 27, over 400 people gathered in front of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and the Duval County Jail. Over a month ago, in the wake of COVID-19, the Jacksonville Community Action Committee led a car caravan around the Duval County Jail demanding the mass release of inmates, especially those over 65 years of age and those who are immunocompromised. Those demands were ignored and now 178 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19. This rally and march occurred under a backdrop of rising COVID infection rates in the city of Jacksonville as well as recording-setting heat.
The Duval County Jail is already overpopulated by over 800 inmates, and there have been firsthand accounts, including those of protesters who were recently arrested, attesting to the filth and inhumane conditions of the jail.
The mother of a 16-year-old minor who was arrested and is awaiting trial addressed the crowd. She explained how she has received no information regarding the release of her son, that when he calls, he is covering his face with a t-shirt as those incarcerated were not given masks. The Jacksonville Community Action Committee has handed out free masks at every march and rally, while the jail has yet to issue masks to inmates. Family members and loved ones of those incarcerated are left feeling hopeless as they hear that there is no social distancing, no appropriate protective gear, and that inmates are forced to share cells with those infected.
The crowd marched around the jail and chanted “Free my brother! Free my sister!” The inmates pounding on the windows and walls could be heard throughout the crowd.
“There is no excuse for what is happening in this jail and in prisons around the country,” said Rachel Duff, an organizer with the Jacksonville Community Action Committee. “We warned that this would happen and now that it has begun to spread, there must be a swift response by our elected officials, and we will hold them accountable for anything that happens to those incarcerated and exposed to COVID-19.”
As of June 29, JSO Sheriff Mike Williams indicated 50 inmates who had tested positive for COVID-19 had been released over the weekend, after the protests.
Protesters also raised the demand for community control of the police through a Jacksonville Police Accountability Council, as a means to hold JSO accountable through indicting killer cops, overseeing policy and amongst other things, having the ability to defund the police.
Earlier that week, Sheriff Mike Williams asked for a $6 million budget increase, for a department that already makes up over 40% of the city’s total budget. The Jacksonville Community Action Committee is also demanding a People’s Budget, calling for slashing half of JSO’s budget and reinvesting those hundreds of millions back in the Black community.