Protesters against Oklahoma County Jail policies held the first demonstration of 2020 Wednesday, Jan. 1, continuing pressure previously applied in 2019 to Oklahoma County Sheriff P.D. Taylor.
The event was called “New Year’s Noise” and was held across the street from the Oklahoma County Detention Center, or commonly known as the County Jail.
Participants banged pots and pans creating a loud noise as a way of letting prisoners know that others are advocating for their humane treatment.
Protesters consider current conditions to be inhumane for those who are detained at the jail.
They also were protesting the presence of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Administration (ICE) officers at the jail who take custody of undocumented persons brought into the jail.
Taylor is still operating the jail by a recently modified agreement to give the Jail Trust more time to get organized before the hand-off from the Sheriff’s Office in a few months.
The “New Year’s Noise Demonstration” was sponsored by eight activist groups in the metro: Dream Action – Oklahoma, The American Indian Movement, Black Lives Matter, Women’s March – Oklahoma, Ending Violence Everywhere, The Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice, NAACP, and Oklahoma City Democratic Socialists of America.
Stories of incarceration
In addition to the noise of the pots and pans — a feature of the protest — was hearing from some who had been in the jail or who had family members in the jail at some point.
Edwin Ramirez spoke about having the mother of his children locked up in jail for a time and the fear he felt about the prospect of having her in jail for years if they could not pay for bail or the fines.
Ramirez is the son of immigrant parents who came to the U.S. to get a better life for their family.
And, he said the mother of his children was brought here “against her will” by parents who aspired to give her a better life.
“We did everything like we were supposed to do with school with the work, with our children, but sometimes a misunderstanding can get somebody locked up and that will happen to that person,” said Ramirez. “I don’t know how to explain the trauma that I went through the time knowing that I could lose a loved one.”
He said that eventually, they got the money to pay for bail and then pay for fines, “which made the state richer.”
“It is a bad, bad environment,” Ramirez said. “My wife is a witness.”
Before the event began, we talked with Al Kidd who had been in jail “for ten days last week.”
He said a misunderstanding between him and another person resulted in his being charged with robbery. Eventually, he got out.
“I saw bed bugs in there,” said Kidd. “They aren’t doing anything about it. And they don’t clean in there like they should. It’s an awful place.”
Madison Lovell, a member of the Kiowa tribe, spoke about the need for American culture to acknowledge the land that was taken from the tribes and how incarceration of Native Americans today causes further injury to indigenous people.
“We are standing on indigenous land today,” said Lovell as she pointed to the ground she was standing on across the street from the Jail.
“Many people who are in these detention centers today who are being detained are indigenous people as well and are people who are original inhabitants of this land, yet they are being detained from their land,” Lovell said.
“They do not belong here with us,” she said. “These ICE agents do not understand the cultural importance of our history here. Instead, they just see us as resources.”
“Many of the agricultural workers here today are being exploited by the criminal justice system, especially those from Mexico brown people who are coming as immigrants,” Lovell said.
Sheriff’s office responds
Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Mark Myers responded Wednesday afternoon to what little he knew about the protest.
“The Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office has actively worked with business leaders, judges, the public defender’s office, the district attorney’s office, local law enforcement agencies, and Oklahoma County elected officials on procedures reducing inmate population at the jail,” said Myers in a text message to Free Press.
Myers said that the Sheriff was looking forward to the transition to the Jail Trust operating the Jail.
“We hope a designated funding source will be secured to help improve the current jail or build a new detention facility,” said Myers.
He responded to the issue of ICE officers in the Jail.
“Regarding ICE, we recently received an opinion from the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office supporting our current process of working with ICE keeping the safety of our county a priority while also reducing financial liability to the county by allowing ICE in the jail.”
The protesters were using the “cacerolazo” method of protest made popular in 1971 in Chile when protesters turned out to show their discontent with the left-wing Salvadore Allende government for food shortages.
In the present day, it is a common form of protest not only in Chile but in other Latin American countries such as Argentina where it has been a widely-used form of protest since the year 2000.
One aspect that makes this form of protest so popular is that it is simple but unmistakable as a protest and not a drunken street brawl or riot.
Also, people can simply lean out a window and participate without even joining protesters at street level making the protest all the more unmistakable from any other type of disturbance.
It also allows a protest to occur without anyone actually breaking a curfew, making it almost unstoppable by the usual controls governments place on protests.