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Jailed Denver anti-racist leaders subjected to dangerous and degrading conditions in custody

This is an outrage! They are still in jail. Almost six days after their arrest, three of the jailed organizers have not been brought before a judge yet.

The following is a report from Ryan Hamby, a Party for Socialism and Liberation member and the long-time partner of Lillian House, one of the four PSL organizers who were rounded up and thrown in jail with multiple bogus felony charges. They were targeted for their leadership in the anti-racist movement in the Denver area, especially the struggle for justice for Elijah McClain. Three of them have been in jail without a bond hearing since they were arrested on Thursday, September 17. Other organizers and protesters across Colorado have been arrested in recent weeks as well. 

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The unjustly incarcerated Denver-area organizers are being subjected to terrible conditions while locked up. Some of what they are facing is just the horrible conditions of most jails — Lillian House knows this well, having just written an article exposing the conditions that women face in prison for the latest issue of Breaking the Chains. Some of it is certainly the incompetence of a rotten and incompetant bureaucracy. But without a doubt, in a situation so political, much of what they are experiencing is punitive.

Another one of the arrested organizers, Joel Northam, is in a pod with seven to eight other men for 23 hours and 20 minutes a day. Although there have been positive COVID cases in the nearby pods, Joel has been given only one face mask since he was arrested. Joel has had phone calls with us and with his family cut off before his time ran out without warning or explanation. He tells us that he has watched many men come and go as they receive bond hearings while he remains incarcerated. 

The targeted activists have been inside since Thursday, meaning that they have been held without being able to post bond, or even have a hearing before a judge, for six days. This is a violation of the 14th Amendment, which is supposed to protect the right to due process.

Lillian and Eliza Lucero, another organizer who was hit with bogus felony charges as part of the same operation, are in the women’s unit, which requires (supposedly due to COVID) that inmates be isolated with a single cellmate for 23 hours and 20 minutes a day. Both Lillian and Eliza say that this isolation is one of the most difficult parts of being inside. Even though it would be entirely feasible for the jail to test inmates for COVID and then allow them more time outside of their cells if they tested negative, this facility would rather torture inmates with near-solitary confinement. And remember, this is jail — no one has even been convicted of a crime yet.

Yesterday, Eliza told us that although her “out” time had started the guards did not open up the door for nearly 20 minutes, leaving only 20 minutes for her to make calls to us, her family and her lawyers. These 40 minutes are also the only time that the organizers have to shower, so they have not showered since they have been inside. Their allowed time out could happen as early as 4:45 a.m. or as late as 8:30 p.m., and inmates are given no warning. This is also their only time to order goods from the commissary, use antibacterial cleaner to clean their cells, gain access to the few available books (when there are any), or talk to one another.

Like Joel, both Lillian and Eliza have been wearing the same mask and the same prison jumpsuit since they were booked. To clean themselves, they are allowed only a harsh anti-bacterial disinfectant. No surfaces — phones, tables, chairs — are disinfected by guards.

Both Lillian and Eliza have reported verbal abuse from the guards. They have not expanded much on this on the recorded calls that they have with us, but they say that the abuse is both personal and political.

Lillian was able to get us a note summarizing other conditions. While the guards state that many of the restrictions are for COVID safety, many guards do not wear masks. There are COVID-positive inmates in the larger pod that both Eliza and Lillian are in. Prisoners are required to use the same cup and spork the entire time they are inside. Occasionally, even though it would require only a quick trip to the supply closet, guards do not refill tampon and pad dispensers. 

Both Lillian and Eliza have dietary restrictions, and because of this in addition to the extremely low quality of the food neither of them has been able to eat more than about 300-500 calories a day. Lillian has made multiple requests to accommodate her dietary restrictions and has been ignored.

Build the movement: Drop the charges now! Justice for Elijah McClain!

Despite their conditions, the organizers are still thinking of others — constantly telling us about the conditions of their cellmates and others in the jail, and agitating for their release. 

Eliza told our legal team that we need to be working just as hard to release her cellmate as we are for her, because her cellmate is also unjustly incarcerated on false charges. Lillian is particularly concerned about pregnant women in the unit, who are given the same low-quality food and no adequate medical attention. Joel is concerned for the multiple men in his unit who are going through severe opiate withdrawals, and for the men who are sole breadwinners for their families. All three say that they are not the only ones unjustly incarcerated — this is, in fact, the norm in the local jail and not the exception.

Every time we talk to the locked up activists, we tell them how hard we are fighting for them. Lillian told us, “you all better be just as angry as us when we get out.” Eliza tells us she has written a full agitational speech in her head while inside. Joel has gotten others in his pod to donate to the legal and political fund and to commit to contacting the PSL when they get out so that they can become organizers.

These three fighters for justice — Lillian, Joel and Eliza — are some of the strongest, kindest, most clear-headed people I know. They are the most giving of themselves and their time and energy; they are the most dedicated and self-sacrificing. They will never give up the fight for justice for Elijah McClain. They take the fight for Black lives and a better world free of injustice and racism more seriously than they take their own freedom or their own lives. THAT is why they were arrested, not because of their bogus charges.

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