By Malika Elmengad
We are so proud of the thousands of young people who stood for hours and days in blistering cold weather outside the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, New York to raise their fists and voices in protest over the poor treatment of inmates and terrible conditions in the jail. Hundreds of thousands of additional millennials across the nation joined in solidarity with the Brooklyn protesters via social media.
The disproportionate mass incarceration of people of color in America continues to grow. It is bad enough to be confined and locked up in over-crowded jails and prisons in the United States. But what just went down inside the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, New York was a serious violation of the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
The General Assembly of the United Nations adopted by resolution the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment on December 10, 1984. The United States officially signed and adopted the Convention against Torture on April 18, 1988.
The U.N. Convention against Torture states in Article 2, “1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction. 2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”
MDC’s heat and electricity being off to more than 1,600 inmates caused the facility to become a tortuous below-freezing block of ice during the recent extreme cold weather in New York, forcing inmates inside the detention center to endure sub-freezing polar temperatures.
Family members and young community activists had no choice except to stage daily street demonstrations and rallies to protest this injustice. The Federal Bureau of Prisons that operates the MDC was too slow to respond to the crisis.
In fact, at first the Bureau of Prisons denied that there was an absence of heat crisis inside the jail. After later admitting that there were power problems inside the jail, it still took over a week before full electrical power and heat was restored to the detention center.
Several local lawmakers who were able to tour the jail a week ago said conditions were unacceptable and jail officials are subject to accusation for not understanding the seriousness of the situation. “It is like living in a closet without lights,” said Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), whose congressional district includes the MDC.
NY State Senator Julia Salazar (D) has criticized MDC Warden Herman Quay for allegedly denying the freezing inmates adequate medical care during the power outage.
However, the torture of incarcerated and detained persons is not isolated to federal prisons in NY. This is a national problem. In the state of Texas, there is a different form of torture now unfolding away from public view and any organized protest. The torture of children, women and men who are being detained in federal detention facilities in El Paso, TX.
Many of the immigrant detainees have been staging hunger strikes to protest their unjust detention. Local media in El Paso have reported that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers have been physically force-feeding the immigrant hunger strikers using acts of violence.
Some of the detainees have had liquid food forced into their noses while strapped down to beds as punishment for demanding fair and better treatment from ICE officers. Texas Democratic Representative Veronica Escobar who toured the El Paso Processing Detention Center, emphasized in a letter to ICE, “It is critical that ICE commit to ending this practice.”
African American and Latino American youth will not be silent about these issues. We believe that civil rights and human rights movements have to have a more effective intergenerational involvement of young activists and social visionaries. Our voices count. Our lives matter. Our votes will make the difference in the future elections. Now is the time we believe to speak out more forcefully: “Stop the Torture of U.S. Prisons Inmates and Detainees!”
Malika Elmengad is a college student in Florida, and a member of Black Millennial Voices, a national activist group of young scholars and researchers.