On the evening of March 14, a small group of workers braved the extreme New England winter weather, gathering outside the infamous Valley Street Jail in Manchester, N.H. They met the day after the second anniversary of the death of Jeffrey Pendleton, the “Labor Martyr.” The memorial vigil was called by CSEL (Class Struggle Education League), a socialist league based in Nashua, the southern New Hampshire city where Jeffrey lived and organized against racist policing, for the rights of people without shelter, and for the right to a fair wage and a strong union, before dying in police custody. The vigil was attended by CSEL and Party for Socialism and Liberation members, union workers, members of the religious and [email protected] communities and others, some whom drove hours to be there. The purpose of the event was to “sear the memory of Jeffrey Pendleton into the consciousness of the N.H. working class and oppressed.”
Soon upon arriving from Arkansas, Pendleton made himself well known to friends and enemies alike as a champion of the working class and oppressed. Twice in 2014, he challenged repression within the court system. Like many Black people in the United States, he had been terrorized by police. First, he sued the city of Nashua, whose police had harassed and grabbed him and threw him into a cage for allegedly trespassing in a park. Jeffrey was held captive for over a month because he could not afford to post the $100 bail. Later, he was part of a civil lawsuit against the neighboring town of Hudson for its police department’s “unconstitutional practice of detaining, harassing, threatening, dispersing and citing panhandlers.” Both suits were successful. He was also active in the Fight for $15 and a union campaign organizing strikes at the Nashua Burger King where he worked, and helped lead a mass mobilization outside the 2016 Republican Presidential Debate at St. Anslem’s College in Goffstown, N.H.
Organizer Danny Keating noted, “Jeffrey’s whole life was an incredibly inspiring story that shouldn’t have ended in tragedy.” Those who gathered at the memorial are committed to pay homage to Jeffrey’s legacy and to demand answers to his suspicious death.
Mike Gath of CSEL detailed the major findings of a July 2017 article published in the local Telegraph newspaper, which raise key questions about the narrative of Jeffrey’s death offered by the establishment press.
After the 2014 lawsuits, Jeffrey was thrown back into the hardships of wage theft and semi-homelessness. Most of the money awarded in the lawsuits went to ACLU-NH. On March 8, 2016, after the necessities of life completely swallowed up what little money Jeffrey had, he was again arrested by the Nashua police (this time for allegedly possessing a small amount of marijuana, which has since been decriminalized) and was again incarcerated for his inability to post the $100 bail. He was sent to Valley Street Jail where less than a week later he died, we are told, of a fentanyl poisoning.
The story of a poor, young man dying of a fentanyl poisoning in New Hampshire is familiar and was at first accepted by many. The state has the second highest rate of opioid-related deaths per capita in the country and the president has referred to this state as a “drug infested den.”
Manchester, the state’s largest city, gained national attention for an unconstitutional “anti-panhandling” ordinance for which it recently had to pay a nearly $90,000 settlement. The city is littered with anti-poor signs that read, “Your generosity could lead to a fatality.” Police Chief Nick Willard exhibited his chauvinism in a quote published by CBS stating, “Even if they’re not addicted to drugs, they’re panhandling for alcohol, they’re panhandling for cigarettes.”
Pendleton’s family was skeptical of the coroner’s report and sought another medical examiner who determined that physical trauma had occurred.
This is where The Telegraph comes in. The article published over a year later recounts the events immediately following Jeffrey’s death. Manchester police searched his cell and found nothing noteworthy. Later that day, a guard conducted a search of his own and claimed to find a small bag of white powder. Neither the contents nor the fingerprints on the bag were tested because, according to officials, to test either would destroy the other so it was best to do nothing. The article also reveals that Jeffrey’s cellmate was a known white supremacist and former member of the Brothers of White Warriors.
None of attendees at the memorial vigil claim to know exactly what happened to Jeffrey, but are highly skeptical of the official story. We know that Valley Street Jail is infamous for abusing inmates, that Jeffrey Pendleton fought his whole life to transform society, that the official narrative of his death is unsatisfactory and suspicious, and that the ongoing struggle for justice for Jeffrey is a primary task of revolutionaries and progressives in N.H.
For anyone interested in the end of poverty, super-exploitation and oppression, in the emancipation of labor and the liberation of the Black community, it is undeniable that Jeffrey Pendleton served the people. Justice for Jeffrey! Honor his legacy by continuing his work! Struggle and build! Hasta la victoria, siempre!