A broad coalition of prison abolition activists took to Philadelphia’s streets in over 120 cars—most with just one occupant—to demand officials massively decarcerate jails, prisons and detention centers in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. Four separate car caravans—decorated with signs and banners—circled City Hall, the Criminal Justice Center, Gov. Tom Wolf’s Philadelphia office and the federal court building near the Liberty Bell.
Sarah Morris with the #No215Jail Coalition stated: “It is completely unacceptable that elected officials have not taken sufficient steps to release people in Philadelphia’s prisons, jails, and detention centers.” Morris, who also represents the Youth Art and Self Empowerment Project, continued: “Their inaction is putting thousands of incarcerated people, workers and their family members at extreme and unnecessary risk. We took to the streets today to say we are not going to let Pennsylvania leave our incarcerated loved ones behind.”
City officials admit there are two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in their jail population. The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections announced their first confirmed positive COVID diagnosis in the state system. Immigration and Customs Enforcement also revealed it has a confirmed case in custody.
After first targeting four separate sites, the 120 vehicles converged on City Hall. For half an hour, after circling around the building, with drivers honking horns, cars then blocked several lanes on the north side of the building.
Police, at the order of Philadelphia’s new Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, responded by placing $76 “double parked” tickets on each vehicle’s windshield. None of the officers involved, including Outlaw, wore protective gloves or observed social distancing, essentially putting anyone receiving these tickets at risk.
Drivers silenced their horns so that demands could be read by two activists standing on top of a car. Protesters want Mayor Jim Kenney to release pretrial people, grant parole, lift detainers, end cash bail and prioritize the release for youth, elderly people and people who are medically vulnerable.
They want Philadelphia’s First Judicial District Court of Pennsylvania to immediately implement a process to allow mass release of people incarcerated in the city’s jails and juvenile detention centers.
They also call on Gov. Wolf to release people in state prisons by expediting parole processes, releasing elderly and medically vulnerable people, and taking other common sense measures. They demanded Wolf stop ICE from unlawfully detaining immigrants—including children—at the Berks County Detention Center.
The #No215Jail Coalition includes Abolitionist Law Center, ACLU-PA, Amistad Law Project, Black Alliance for Peace, Black and Brown Workers Co-op, Black Lives Matter Philly, Decarcerate PA, Frontline Dads, Just Leadership, LILAC, Movement Alliance Project, Philadelphia Bail Fund, Philadelphia Community Bail Fund, Reclaim Philadelphia, ShutDownBerks, Social Worker Action Network, Working Educators, Youth Art & Self-Empowerment Project.