Our society tortures people all the time. They are the millions thrown behind bars and forgotten about. As we know, prisons are hot beds of COVID. Prisoners in Richmond started asking questions. So what did the prison guards do in response?
On August 29th, Tobias Hill was sitting in his cell at the Richmond City Justice Center (RCJC) when the gas began to creep beneath the door. He didn’t know what was happening outside, but as the tear gas burned his eyes and burrowed into his lungs, he did reach one conclusion. He was going to die.
“I’m screaming, ‘Help! I’m ready to pass out, I’m ready to die! Can you please help?’” said Hill, who has multiple pre-existing conditions and mild claustrophobia. “Three of the deputies look at me and just kept walking. I tell them I have asthma, I can’t breathe, I have bronchitis. They just kept going. Didn’t pay me no attention.”
Hill is one of about fifty people who sheriff’s deputies gassed with weapons intended for outdoor use, after cutting off his ventilation and water. Accounts from eyewitnesses suggest the gassing was an act of excessive and unprovoked aggression, one designed to inflict maximum physical and emotional harm on Pod 5G’s inmate population, many of whom were trapped inside their cells.
“I think the guards feel like, because we in cells that mimic a cage, we supposed to be animals or something,” said Theron Moseley, who authored a petition and letter on behalf his fellow inmates in 5G. “We not. We human just like them. We got nieces, we got nephews, we got kids, we got mothers. We human.”
According to Hill, the gassing was the worst thing that has ever happened to him in his life. “I was stuck in this little-ass cell not knowing what the fuck was going on,” he said. “I’m traumatized, to be honest with you. I thought I was going to die.”
After a moment, he reconsiders: “I knew I was going to die.”
The conflict that would leave Tobias Hill locked in his cell, screaming for his life, began with a level-headed conversation, says Moseley. At around seven that evening, he and about ten others were asking about the coronavirus protocols at RCJC, where over 100 people (13.5 percent of the jail’s population) have recently tested positive for COVD-19.
The group had two primary concerns. First, they were upset about the handling of recent fever on the pod — the individual with the fever had been moved to quarantine, but his cellmate continued living among the general population, according to Moseley. And, second, they did not understand why people from pods with COVID cases were being transferred to their pod, 5G, which had zero reported cases. Such transfers had occurred multiple times in recent weeks, and at least one of the individuals transferred tested positive for COVID-19 ten days beforehand. He did not test negative until after his arrival in 5G, an anonymous source confirmed.
According to Moseley’s letter, in the lead-up to the gassing, protesters informed Sergeant Brown and Lt. Branch that they would lockdown “as soon as the administration start following proper quarantine protocols” by removing individuals coming from pods already exposed to COVID-19. When Branch and Brown were unable to address these concerns, the group demanded to speak with their superior, Major Hunt. Hunt did come to the pod, but he refused to discuss the jail’s COVID-19 protocols; instead, he ordered the protesters to lockdown in their cells and left. A little while later, a deputy came on the intercom and ordered people to stand by their cells. Everyone complied, according to Moseley.
Then the ventilation cut off.
But hey, if we abolish the police, who will patrol the roads for speeding…..