From the July-August 2020 issue of News & Letters
San Rafael, Cal.—On June 9 several dozens of us gathered in front of San Quentin prison, with many more participating remotely, to demand freedom for Chanthon Bun. The board had found him suitable for parole. But instead of honoring the board’s decision, the California Department of Corrections and rehabilitation (CDCr) intends to transfer him to an ICE detention center, another form of imprisonment and another serious risk of contracting COVID-19.
HISTORY OF SAN QUENTIN
The protest began with a historical grounding of this moment by Rev. Deborah Lee of Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, who gave a history of San Quentin prison, bringing in the current “outcry against police brutality…[which is] about the whole system…Black men are imprisoned at ten times the rate of white men, Black women five times the rate of white women, Black immigrants are 7% of immigrants but 20% of those facing deportation.”
She continued, “We see not only police brutality as a weapon, but the weapon of COVID-19. [The outbreak] shows disregard for the lives of those in California’s prisons, jails and detention centers.”
Ny Nourn, from Advancing Justice–Asian Law Caucus, named some of the many organizations participating, including those advocating for prisoners, immigrants, people of color, young women and others.
Urszula said the California Coalition for Women Prisoners opposes all CDCr to ICE transfers, especially while the pandemic continues to spread. It is unconscionable for CDCr to send Chanthon Bun from one unsafe institution to another. The swift release of older and immunocompromised prisoners is necessary to save hundreds of lives.
NONE OF THE VULNERABLE RELEASED
Gov. Gavin Newsom received a list of 25 vulnerable women who have active commutation requests he could approve. He has not released any. Patricia Wright, a Black woman with terminal liver cancer who has less than six months to live, has served more than 20 years. She said, “I suffer from loneliness. It’s harder than cancer. It’s heart-wrenching being away from my children and grandchildren.”
Wright is a survivor of domestic violence who speaks for many others deprived of their voice. We stand in solidarity with all people demanding justice. We, the whole society, need protection from the brutality of prison guards, ICE agents and police, and from domestic violence. CCWP stands with Chanthon Bun, and all human beings struggling for freedom. Stop ICE transfers now!
Oscar, from All Of Us or None, recounted his experience with prison and ICE. A Salvadoran refugee, his four brothers have already been deported, one of whom was killed after being sent to El Salvador. Oscar demanded an end to mass incarceration, citing its effects on immigrant communities.
Ali, a Black former prisoner who spent decades in San Quentin prison, spoke about the despair on the streets that leads to some young people making bad choices. They end up in these inhuman concentration camps. He spoke of the need to break down all racial divisions in society and rebuild it so it reflects all of us.
INTENTIONALLY SPREADING COVID-19
Dr. Nicole Tantoco said, “Last week ICE reported that nearly one half of the people they tested in the detention camps are positive for COVID-19. The transfer of patients from one cage to another under these conditions is in direct violation of my Hippocratic oath. As all CDCr and ICE facilities are emerging as centers of COVID-19, I stand with the beautiful people of this coalition to urge Gov. Newsom and CDCr to free them all!”
Another doctor reported data from the Marshall Project that, as of June 8, over 40,000 people in U.S. penal institutions have tested positive for COVID-19 and that 496 individuals have died. That is unacceptable! We are in the middle of a powerful Black Civil Rights movement. It demands that we rethink and reimagine what a just society will look like.