On July 18, activists rallied in front of the jail and courthouse in Racine County, Wisconsin, to demand justice for Malcolm James and Ronquale Ditello-Scott, as well as advocate for the necessity of the abolition of the deadly U.S. prison system. On Memorial Day weekend, James, age 27, and Ditello-Scott, age 22, were arrested and booked in the county jail. Within five days both of them ended up dead.
The rally was organized by the James and Ditello-Scott families, Change is Coming Racine, local prison abolition activists from the Forum for Understanding Prisons and AbolishMKE and the Party for Socialism and Liberation Milwaukee branch. Family members of the victims, members of the community, prison abolitionists and PSL members spoke out against the crimes committed by the Racine County jail and the prison system overall.
“He [Ditello-Scott] is no longer here to see his brothers and sisters grow up. His daughter grow up. His son grow up. He won’t even see his son be born,” said Ditello-Scott’s cousin Tammy Bush. “Why?” she questioned, “Why did he not come back out of this jail… Why did these men not come back out of this jail?”
As reported by Liberation News in June, Ronquale Ditello-Scott was found dead in a holding cell due to medical negligence by the jail after being arrested and booked on suspicion of DWI early in the morning on May 29.
Malcolm James was arrested the same morning for calling 911 during a mental health crisis, and on June 1, he was found dead in his cell. The Racine County Sheriff’s office alleged that he slammed his head on the wall and “experienced a medical event.” However, on the same day James died, a report came across the police scanner of a “person unresponsive after being tased” at the Racine County Jail. There are no reports of any other incidents in the facility on that day.
“People have been swarming me with stories about the negligence that has been going on across the street [Racine County jail] and it needs to change,” said Sherry James, Malcolm’s mother. “I am aware that I’ll never see my son again, but I don’t want that to ever happen to anyone else. They’re asking for money for the police, but what I am asking for is more community support and mental health awareness.”
Echoing the sentiment of James’ mother, PSL member Robert Penner, said: “We want to make sure that this does not happen to anyone else. That people are not murdered by the police. Not murdered by the incarceration system… So we need to get rid of these torture chambers, we need to get rid of the police. And we can do it.”
PSL member Brandon Scharles spoke about firsthand experience with police brutality and incarceration in jail last fall while protesting killer cop Joseph Mensah in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. Scharles related their experience to that of James and Ditello-Scott. They recalled being assaulted by seven police officers who threw them on the ground, tased and pepper-sprayed them while yelling “stop resisting” when they were fully compliant.
The thought of what happened to Malcolm, the thought of being in a jail cell being assaulted by police officers while in a suicidal crisis is terrifying. It’s brutal… These are places that are considered houses of corrections… there is no corrections going on in there, just brutal mistreatment of people considered lesser.Brandon Scharles
According to WISN-12, the initial autopsy performed on James was completed in Milwaukee County, but the Racine medical examiner concluded that James’ cause of death was inconclusive. However, the attorney hired by the family provided the results of an independent autopsy that concluded that a taser was used with taser puncture wounds but no abrasions to James’ head.
In an attempt to counter the findings of the independent autopsy, Racine County Sheriff Christoper Schmaling released an edited video compiled from an officer’s bodycam showing James in his cell. Conspicuously wearing a thin blue line pin, Schmaling presented an in-video statement that served to propagandize the public by dismissing all the charges against the jail as slander. However, Schmaling admitted to a taser being used on James. The video has no timestamps, contains one camera angle and ends before displaying any use of force on James.
The four-minute video shows James experiencing a mental health crisis while receiving zero competent mental health care. James walks around his cell with a blanket over his head, intermittently hitting the wall with his shoulders, elbows and back. Although James does hit his head on the wall a few times, he does not hit it with full force and somewhat deflects the impact with his shoulders. Schmaling concludes the video repeating earlier equivocations while purporting to be willing to answer any questions at the conclusion of the investigation. While touting the importance of waiting for the investigation’s conclusion, Schmaling has no problem using edited video to boost his narrative.
“Nothing will change until we decide to stop accepting the totally unacceptable,” said Damani Nantambu, an abolitionist incarcerated in a maximum-security prison in Portage, Wisconsin, speaking in a pre-recorded message. “Because they are free to apply lethal and coercive pressure,” continued Nantambu, “enough pressure to instill fear in the hearts and minds of all the POW class throughout this whole racist state… But I tell you, if you stop allowing these racist and terrorists to occupy space in your mind, you will discover these little people can only do what you have allowed them to do, no more.”
Feature photo: Protesters call for justice for Malcolm James and Ronquale Ditello-Scott in Racine, Wisconsin. Liberation photo