One year ago today, I and eight other lovely humans were arrested by the Graham Police Department as we attempted to walk to the Alamance County Detention Center and hold a Jewish-led ceremony to say #NeverAgain, to mourn the many who have suffered at the hands of ICE, and to protect the ICE detainees currently held by Alamance County’s racist sheriff Terry Johnson.
Half of the group is STILL being charged, but the nine of us are fortunate to have the freedom to not be detained while we await trials. Unfortunately others are not as lucky. With COVID the jail is even more inhumane than ever. Please donate to Down Home North Carolina’s bailout fund to free as many people as possible:
On our first trial date, one member (who was charged with “masking” if you can believe it) received a Prayer for Judgement. The rest of us are charged with failure to disperse. Two had trials and were convicted. Those judgements will be appealed. The rest of us (including me) are now scheduled for trials in November and December.
I grew up next door in Orange County, and I’m here to stand with my neighbors both new and old who have had enough of the childish tantrums, violent threats, and racist intimidation in Alamance County. Sheriff Johnson must go, and he can take all the city and county officials that coddle racists and arrest racial justice supporters with him.
I am old enough to remember life before ICE. I was 30 when the planes struck the twin towers on September 11. To many of us at the time, the whole idea of a Department of Homeland Security smacked of nationalism and violence. And sure enough it has grown to become a source of xenophobia, violence, and human suffering for nearly 2 decades now. ICE is our gestapo: terrorizing communities, abandoning people in concentration camps, and tearing families apart.
As a Jew and as an American, I have a moral obligation to stand up for the rights of all people, not just those who look or act like me.
As a parent I have an obligation to try to make this world a better place for my son and all the kids he’s growing up with in these unfortunately historic times.
And as the descendant of immigrants who were also demonized and ghettoized and exploited, I know that today’s immigrants are my siblings coming to the United States for a better life just like my ancestors did.
So when I learned last year that Terry Johnson was not only terrorizing women and people of color of Alamance County with his authority but also taking money from ICE to lock up innocent migrants in the Alamance Detention Center, I knew I had to come to Graham and join with others in calling out his racism and inhumanity.
This summer in Graham demonstrations have continued for civil rights, Black lives, and freedom. Unfortunately we’ve also seen a lot of ugly white supremacy on display. Many around NC and around the country have looked on in horror as Alamance County officials have not only allowed actual neo-Nazi and neo-Confederates to swarm the streets and intimidate people, but in fact have arrested peaceful demonstrators who had the audacity to simply disagree with racist symbols and policies.
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.