Ten months ago, I joined hundreds of Jews, immigrants, and our friends in Graham, North Carolina to say “no more” to the the cruel, racist, and unnecessary practices of ICE and to call out Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson‘s enthusiastic enforcement of their white supremacist agenda. I was arrested at that demonstration, along with nine other lovely human beings.
In the months since then, two things have become even more clear than before. One, our government has no regard for civil rights, human dignity, or democracy and will stop at nothing to promote the interests of the rich, white, and powerful at the expense of everyone else. And two, there are some people in and around Alamance County that will happily and shamelessly attempt to shut down peaceful dissent if it in any way challenges their racist assumptions about the world. (Alamance County is the home base of neo-confederate ACTBAC.) But we’ve also learned that there are even more people in and around Alamance that believe that Black Lives Matter and that protest is patriotic, and they’ve been bravely showing up in the streets of Graham for the past several months.
When I drove to the Never Again protest on November 24, I wasn’t aware there was a Confederate statue in Graham. I learned later that the Sheriff had sent his troopers to the town square to protect it from the imagined threat. Meanwhile, we were four blocks away attempting to peacefully march to the Alamance Detention Center so that we could say the Mourner’s Kaddish, sit shiva, and observe other Jewish rituals in remembrance of the many people who have died in ICE custody. Unfortunately, the racist Sheriff Terry Johnson would not allow this to happen. Ironically, once we were arrested we were transported by the county directly to the same detention center that they prevented us from walking to!
As Jews we have a special responsibility to remember the horrors of government-backed xenophobia, the dangers of draconian law enforcement, and the nightmare of illegal incarceration and family separation. When we say NEVER AGAIN, we must mean it. We cannot idly watch the actions of federal, state, and local government as they gradually but steadily march toward fascism. Those of us with privilege are called to spend it now in many forms of resistance large and small to stop the gears of authoritarianism, save people’s lives, and in doing so, save our own souls.
This summer, nonviolent protesters speaking out for Black lives and against the Confederate statue were arrested on a public sidewalk. (The ACLU of NC sued the town of Graham over their anti-protest ordinance and won.) And in recent weeks, as we have learned about a tragic and predictable COVID-19 outbreak at the Alamance detention center, people speaking out for health and human rights were arrested for such nonexistent offenses as swearing in the presence of a police officer.
It’s now undeniable that Alamance County officials have a racism problem, and that elected leaders are not concerned about the health or human rights of their residents. Alamance has the biggest prison COVID outbreak in the state of North Carolina with over 100 cases (out of just about 400 incarcerated people), far surpassing big cities like Charlotte and Raleigh. Thankfully the wonderful people of Down Home NC are working to free as many people from this nightmare as possible by raising bail funds.
In this new context of weekly demonstrations for and against racism in Alamance County, the town of Graham’s reactionary attempts to squelch free speech, and the increasingly grim reality of living in an uncontrolled pandemic stoked by racism, toxic masculinity, and ignorance, the nine of us arrested in Graham last November are scheduled to have our second appearance in court next week! You can show your support for us by donating to the Alamance Mass Bail Out.