On Tuesday, June 4, 2019, activist, educator, and farmer Holly Stein began serving a ten day sentence at the Bristol County Jail and House of Corrections in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. She was one of several activists arrested in August 2018 for blockading the entrance to the jail she is now incarcerated in over the Sheriff’s participation in the 287(g) program, which allows Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson to coordinate and participate in apprehension and deportation matters alongside Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
I have previously participated in a wintertime protest action outside this jail owing to its inhumane violence. The Boston Globe reported “Bristol County accounted for about a quarter of all jail suicides in Massachusetts from 2006 to 2016, even though it holds 13 percent of the statewide jail population.” Sheriff Hodgson has launched a crowdsourcing campaign to finance Trump’s proposed border wall and has volunteered to send incarcerated workers in his captivity as a work detail for the project.
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“Last August four people with The FANG Collective [an intersectional direct action-focused based organization that mobilizes around issues of climate and racial justice] were arrested at the Bristol County House Corrections after peacefully blocking the entrances to the prison. The action was carried out in solidarity with ICE detainees who were on hunger strike to protest the dire conditions at the facility. Bristol County Sheriff’s reacted to the action with violence, resulting in two demonstrators receiving traumatic brain injuries,” said FANG in a press statement. “This case marks one of the first times that a person has been sentenced to jail time for an ICE related protest. This comes at a time when free speech and protest are becoming highly criminalized under the Trump administration.” In another statement, they said “The action was part of FANG’s Shut Down ICE Campaign that has focused on supporting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees and ending 287(g) agreements in Massachusetts.”
The task of writing a sterilized, “non-biased” news report on this is not only a challenge for anyone with a heart and a brain, it also frankly fails to articulate the reality, that the defendants and the wider community of undocumented workers are going into a rigged court room with a setup already having been worked out. The presiding judge in the June 4 hearing has previously donated to political campaigns of Sheriff Hodgson, who has been elected by the county since June 1997. Doesn’t that stand as an obvious conflict of interests? Isn’t the ruse self-evident? Isn’t justice supposedly blind, something made impossible by such cronyism?
“I believe that if more people put their bodies where their hearts are we could show these powerful state institutions that they can not cage, torture, and separate people without consequences. We will not be silent, far too much is at stake,” Stein said.
That was what made Tuesday’s courtroom proceedings particularly bizarre. The judge and officers (including a seemingly-abnormal bevvy of security guards) went through the proceedings with a certain procedural formality to mask the ruse but those in the know understood the fix was in.
“We can only hope to change the world by staring injustice in the face and forcing ourselves out of our comfort zones. As walls are built and people are caged it is our obligation to stand in solidarity with the most active impacted people to that they know we see them and that their voices are heard,” Stein continued, expressing no regrets for her participation in last year’s action.
Stein was taken into custody following entry of her plea. Around 30 supporters, including Stein’s mother, a rabbi, showed support for Stein by crowding into the court, leaving it standing-room only. Some hissed as she was taken away in handcuffs despite the flaccid commands for quiet from the predominantly white male courthouse guards, with one yelling out “We love you Holly!”
Three other defendants from last year’s action will go before the court this July.
As was mentioned before, the notion of journalistic neutrality and professional autonomy from the story’s subject is simply a propaganda myth generated to maintain a certain kind of politics in America. Outlets like The New York Times or CNN never have been without bias and their reporters have never been disconnected observers from the subjects they report on.
It is with this pointed out that I do not mind saying that these are some of the bravest people I have met in my life. While a plethora of folks say revolutionary things with great comfort and little risk, these are the no-bullshit ones who put their shoe leather to the pavement and lives on the line. I’ve tried watching the video of the aforementioned August 2018 action and it is a brutal moment of people being subjected to unnecessary violence that could have been deadly. These activists are braver than Sheriff Hodgson and his deputies will ever be. If you have the ability, please consider donating to support them.