Participatory Defense Launches in Durham, NC!

For De-Bug, visiting Spirit House in Durham, NC is like going to a family reunion and meeting cousins you heard of through stories — family who moved, believed, and breathed like you, just in a different part of the country.  Last week, De-Bug organizers Gail Noble, Cecilia Chavez, and Charisse Domingo shared space with amazing organizers from Durham, NC who are holding it down in the community: Spirit House, a cultural-arts and community organizing group fighting mass criminalization; All of Us Or None, a membership-based organization made of formerly incarcerated individuals organizing to transform the system; Southern Coalition for Social Justice, an organization made of lawyers, researchers, and organizers supporting communities of color addressing racial inequities; and Inside Outside, an organization made of families addressing disparate jail conditions in Durham County.  We were brought together by the Hayward Burns Institute’s Community Justice Network for Youth, who promoted the peer exchange among our organizations. We spent two days sharing Participatory Defense strategies and collectively brainstorming how to support each other in our larger movement to end mass incarceration.  We can’t wait to keep building with these dedicated community warriors!  Check out our photos below!

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ACJP organizers Cecilia and Gail sharing points of intervention in the criminal justice system that families can use to impact their loved ones’ cases.

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De-Bug, All of Us or None, CJNY, and Spirit House organizers head to the Durham County Court to observe first appearance hearings

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Etched into the pew in one of the courtrooms. In just the hour we visited and sat in court, there were around 60 people, and 90% were African American.

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At the first appearance in Jail Court, familiy members sit behind a glass as they await their loved ones who are brought in from the side. If they want to plead for their family member’s release, they have to speak through a button on the side to the Judge, who then determines bond or other conditions of release. During the time we went, it was all Black women being held, and their family members awaited their fate.

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De-Bug ACJP organizer Gail outside the Durham County Detention Facility where we just finished sitting through Jail Court. She is there to work with Durham organizers to transform the experiences of families whose loved ones are facing charges in the system. For Gail, this visit is especially heartfelt, because her father and mother were both born in North Carolina, and this is her first trip back to her roots.

We were so excited to meet Poet, a proud member of All of Us or None who has had negative experiences with the criminal justice system. He will be one of the organizers leading participatory defense meetings in Durham, NC!

We were so excited to meet Poet, a proud member of All of Us or None who had negative experiences with the criminal justice system. He will be one of the organizers leading participatory defense meetings in Durham!

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Mama Nia Wilson, Executive Director at Spirit House, leads a deep, honest conversation on generational trauma with participants of their Harm Free Zone. She is a longtime OG at Durham who’s been holding it down for years, and we’re so blessed to build with her.

Taye, an artist and organizer with Spirit House, photographs the first participatory defense meeting in Durham!

Taye, an artist and organizer with Spirit House, photographs the first participatory defense meeting in Durham!

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Andrea with All of Us Or None leads our second participatory defense meeting as we strategize on how to get a loved one released after he was just arrested that morning.

San Mateo County Board of Supervisors Vote to Build New Jail

Last Tuesday, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted to spend approximately $155 million to build a new jail in the county.  Proposed by Sheriff Greg Munks, the construction of a new jail is supposed to relieve overcrowding in the current jail, create space for a women’s facility, and address the potential overflow as a result of AB109, the California realignment plan that makes counties deal with low-level offenders.

Instead of addressing why there are high incarceration rates to begin with, the County chose to just figure out how to house the growing population.  Community advocates such as All of Us Or None led by Dorsey Nunn, Critical Resistance, and Youth United for Community Action in East Palo Alto showed up at the Board of Supervisors meeting last Tuesday to state their opposition to the jail, saying the money put towards the jail only takes away from community services. “This is a jail for future generations,” Dorsey said. “Not only will they take our sons and daughters, but our grandkids.”

YUCA, a youth organization in East Palo Alto committed to environmental and social justice, first got involved about 2 years ago when the jail was being proposed to be built in East Palo Alto.  They collected over 400 petitions and got the City to declare their opposition to the jail construction in the community.  However, regardless of where the jail was in the county, YUCA youth were also opposed to the idea.  Anna Turner, a longtime resident in the community and is a Program Director at YUCA, attended the Board meeting as well.  “We should be spending the money on preventative measures, targeting the root cause of crime, not just locking people up.  Plus, we don’t want this jail to target undocumented people as well.”  YUCA and community advocates are looking to challenge the county’s decision.

At De-Bug’s ACJP, we’ve seen incarceration be too easy of an answer for San Mateo County.  We have seen some of the harshest sentences imposed on San Mateo County defendants, and on the front end, some of the most extreme charges placed on people that will almost always guarantee a plea bargain.  Compounded by this is ICE’s Secure Communities Program that has entangled immigration and criminal justice laws, and turned every police officer into an ICE agent.  We have seen immigrants with ICE holds beat their charges, have their charges dismissed or dropped, or could have been eligible for drug programs like Prop 36 but because of their ICE holds have been sent away to federal detention facilities.  

We feel that this decision to build a jail is counter to what seems like a regional trend of dealing with criminal justice issues in a more holistic and progressive way.  We hope the county rethinks this decision, and takes a more courageous, creative, and cost-effective stance to deal with the criminal justice system. — Submission Post by Charisse Domingo