Ethan Duran

March Against Mass Incarceration During COVID-19

Protesters derided the conditions in jails and prisons, especially during the pandemic.

By - Aug 21st, 2020 12:25 pm
All Of Us Or None Wisconsin march. Photo by Ethan Duran.

All Of Us Or None Wisconsin march. Photo by Ethan Duran.

Activists marched through Milwaukee’s downtown Thursday protesting mass incarceration and raising awareness for prisoner rights during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The protest began in Cathedral Square Park and marched to the Milwaukee Police Department‘s District 1 building, 749 W. State St., and the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility (MSDF), at 1015 N. 10th St., to highlight and criticize the conditions of incarceration during the pandemic.

The march was put together by All Of Us Or None Wisconsin, a project of Breaking Barriers Mentoring, Inc. in partnership with JustLeadershipUSA, a national prisoner rights advocacy group. Also known as JLUSA, the organization bought several billboards across the country, including one in Milwaukee. Local activists Vaun Mayes and Sedan Smith marched with them.

Two women using bullhorns led chants of “Prison lives matter,” and “No justice, no peace,” as they led around 30 protesters west on State Street. They were followed by approximately 15 support vehicles and some police officers on motorcycles, some of whom provided roadblocks to ensure safe passage through downtown traffic.

Outside of MSDF, Mayes said, “I was a prisoner once myself. I’ve been in this building before. I’ve been in a cell with too many people and not enough beds, and people there don’t get enough peace and support that people outside get.”

Caliph Muab-El, the co-founder of Breaking Barriers, said, “Prison advocacy is important right now because we’re talking about the most pressing issue in the civil rights movement, that is a mass incarceration epidemic in the United States.”

Mayes said that the march’s timing with the last day of the Democratic National Convention wasn’t deliberate. Though, “It’s a good opportunity,” he said.

One of JLUSA’s concerns was the spread of COVID-19 in prisons. There was a huge outbreak at the Milwaukee County House of Correction during the first months of the pandemic. And, so far, there have been 13 confirmed cases at MSDF, according to the state Department of Corrections.

“I can’t imagine being in there right now with COVID-19,” said one woman through a bullhorn at the rally outside of the MSDF building. “They’re probably still there in bunks.”

They ended the march around 3 p.m. and held a press conference afterward on N. 10th Street and W. Winnebago Street, where a billboard paid for by JLUSA hung over the interchange between I-43 and Highway 145. The conference was like a cookout, with hip-hop music playing through loudspeakers and food being served.

Many of the people who attended the prison march that afternoon would join the Coalition to March on the DNC to march for social justice around downtown Thursday night.

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More about the 2020 Racial Justice Protests

Read more about 2020 Racial Justice Protests here

More about the Coronavirus Pandemic

Read more about Coronavirus Pandemic here

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