Activists with the group “Anacostia Conservative Coalition” held a news conference Tuesday to protest D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowsers’ alleged human rights abuses of inmates who were held in near-solitary confinement at the D.C. jail during the coronavirus pandemic.
For almost 400 days straight, 1,500 people at the D.C. jail were locked in their cells for 23 hours a day to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the Washington Post reported in April 2021.
Activists called for congressional action against Mayor Bowser, the D.C. city council, and “all other parties complicit in this abuse of power and violation of basic human rights” when they gathered at the Black Lives Matter Plaza, according to the coalition.
“The bottom line is very simple. We stand next to a sign that says Black Lives Matter, yet the majority of the lives that are going ‘unmattered’ in D.C. Jail are Black lives. Black men like myself,” Ken McClinton said during the conference. McClinton is the father of journalist Charnice Milton, who was shot and killed on her way home from work in 2015.
“My love for my daughter extends to the constitution itself, and no man woman or child — even suspects involved in my daughter’s death — should never face this nation without the constitutional protections under the law,” he said.
According to the Post, many of the men and women stuck at the jail have not yet been found guilty of the crimes for which they were arrested. They were also reportedly denied access to basic services such as grooming, exercise, visitation, medical care, and more.
“They are being held captive in the D.C. Jail, in the detention center for merely the allegation of a crime,” McClinton continued. “They have not been prosecuted to the full extent of the law. As a result, they are innocent until proven guilty.”
D.C. officials said they put the restrictions in place to prevent large breakouts similar to ones seen at other detention facilities, though most jails did not keep their policies indefinitely. In May, officials eased restrictions, but only for inmates who are vaccinated against coronavirus.
“Beginning June 11, inmates will be released from cells for about 5½ hours a day, which mirrors pre-pandemic levels, officials said,” the Post reported. As of May, only a third of the jail’s population had been fully vaccinated against the virus.
D.C. Department of Corrections Director Quincy L. Booth said the jail’s policy was largely created in response to a class-action lawsuit brought by inmates last spring over inadequate coronavirus controls and said there is “basically no wiggle room for us to do anything different,” according to the Post.
At the news conference, activists said Americans should be alarmed by the amount of mental and physical abuses going unchecked at the jail.
“Every single American should be outraged that we are staining our Constitution with unconstitutional, inhumane, Nuremberg code violation-level issues,” said Suzzanne Monk, who organized the event.
The activists called on supporters to contact officials and politicians and demand they see the jail for themselves.
“It is time to end this embarrassment in D.C. It is time to stop playing politics with the lives of these American individuals, and it is time to see what is really going on in Muriel’s torture chamber,” Monk concluded.