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#30Days30Dollars Challenge

grabbTake the Pledge! 

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#30day30dollars Challenge

Today, the Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses (GRABB) launched an economic empowerment initiative primarily seeks to raise the community’s awareness of Black owned businesses while increasing the capital flowing to these businesses. One way you can make this happen is to shop the Southeast Area Farmers’ Market on Sept. 5 and 19! 

GRABB also seeks to aide in the sustainability of locally owned black businesses that support families. “By doing so we will increase employment opportunities for residents within neighborhoods of focus that will lead to a reduction in the unemployment rate and begin to revitalize economically neglected neighborhoods,” GRABB’s messaging says.

Beginning the week of September 1, 2020 through the week of September 30, 2020, GRABB is challenging 1,000 residents to commit to shifting $30 of their monthly spending to a Black owned businesses with the overall goal of increasing the length of time dollars remain in Black neighborhood businesses.

“By shifting your dollars to Black Businesses, you will be playing a vital role improving the quality of life in economically marginalized neighborhoods in Grand Rapids while purchasing great products and services,” GRABB reports. “By the end of our #30days30dollars challenge, we will realize the collective strength of our dollars and the strength of the people in our community!’

Support New Legislation to Extend and Expand Online SNAP Sales

Please support this bill by signing here …. and share with others!

SNAP-logo-png-300x300SNAP benefits cannot be processed electronically with independent markets, grocers, or farms. The only approved vendors in Michigan are currently Amazon, Walmart, and few larger stores.

However, new federal legislation (“Expanding SNAP Options Act of 2020“) was introduced last month to expand online redemption of SNAP to retailers and markets of all scales. To help advocate for this bill, Taste the Local Differencehas collaborated with a community partner to create the above linked sign on letter. 
With the pandemic this year, many consumers have turned to web platforms for essential purchases, including food. Online sales have also become critical to many producers and markets in our local food system. While these systems have many benefits, one challenge operators of online local food markets have repeatedly expressed is accessibility.
Please support this bill by signing here …. and share with others!

Black lives matter — but not to the nuclear industry

Reposted from Beyond Nuclear

“Black communities get more promises than jobs — and they get pollution and they get sick”

By Linda Pentz Gunter

Systemic racism in the nuclear industrial complex has endured for decades. Every community of color has been affected. As we confront the wider impact of centuries of racism in the US, we take a closer look specifically at discrimination against African Americans in the nuclear power sector.

The shackles of slavery may be gone, but there is now a knee on the neck of African American voices, whether literal or metaphorical, when it comes to challenging injustice. And it is there when confronting the bias of the nuclear power industry and other lethal polluters. It is quite deliberately there. It is there not only to oppress — and in the case of George Floyd to kill — but to silence and disenfranchise. To stunt movements for change.

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That is perhaps how the NAACP’s A.C. Garner, felt after the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) dismissed black concerns over a proposed new nuclear power plant in Mississippi in 2005. It was, he said,  like “posting a ‘WHITES ONLY’ sign on the hearing room door.”

Garner’s statement was a reaction to a January 19, 2005 decision by the NRC to grant permission for a second nuclear reactor to be built at the Grand Gulf site in Mississippi. It was to be built in the poorest county in the state, itself the poorest state in the union.

It would join Grand Gulf Unit 1, opened in 1985 in the Claiborne County city of Port Gibson, and would be known as Grand Gulf Unit 3, as all there is of Unit 2 is an empty concrete pad— the plant owners, Entergy, having asked the NRC to revoke that planned reactor’s license in 1991.

Grand Gulf 1, the largest single unit in the country, with an output of around 1,500 MW, is located in a community that is 87% African American, with a poverty rate of 46% according to census data. The median household income in Claiborne County is $24,601 per year. At least 35% of the population depends on Medicaid. The Covid-19 infection rate there is still headed on an upward trajectory.

Back in 2005, the county was already ill prepared for a health crisis of any sort. It had just one crumbling hospital, struggling to meet the needs of a deprived community and with zero capacity to handle a nuclear emergency. Evacuation routes were washed out and impassible. The police force was completely under-equipped.

“The county doesn’t even have a hospital that’s open 24 hours, and there’s only one fire station in the entire county,” Rose Johnson, chairwoman of the Mississippi Chapter of the Sierra Club, told the Jackson Free Press at the time. “The situation should send chills down the spines of anyone who lives within a 100-mile radius of Port Gibson.”

Why such deprivation? Why weren’t Port Gibson and Claiborne County flush with the tax revenues the plant should have brought in? Because in 1986, fearing price hikes for the “too cheap to meter” electricity generated by Grand Gulf nuclear Unit 1, Entergy succeeded in getting the predominantly white Mississippi legislature to pass a bill to redistribute more than 70% of those tax revenues to 47 other counties in the state. It is the only reactor community in the country that does not reap the lion’s share of its nuclear plant tax dollars.

The law left an already poor black community even more desperately deprived. But it pre-empted any complaints about increased electricity costs from whiter communities elsewhere in the state.

By the time of the 2005 NRC decision, the agency had also conveniently ruled that issues of environmental justice such as racism, fairness and economic equity would not be considered litigable during reactor licensing proceedings. It was a move clearly designed to silence black voices. “Whites Only” was indeed firmly nailed to the door.

It’s an old story, one of systemic racism throughout the nuclear sector.

It began with the uranium mining conducted largely by Native Americans, without protection and unaware of the health risks. It continued with the Trinity test, irradiating downwinders, many of them from Native American and Hispanic communities.

Then the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, an act of racism that did not pass unnoticed by the African American community, many of whom — including Martin Luther King, Jr., W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, James Baldwin, and Marian Anderson — came out to join the nuclear freeze movement.

The US atomic tests carried out overseas blasted the atolls of the Marshallese, treated as guinea pigs and described by a US official as “more like us than mice.” The domestic tests were conducted on land belonging to the Western Shoshone.

The British tested their bombs at Maralinga in Australia, on Aboriginal homelands. The Belgians mined their uranium in the African Congo. The French tested atomic weapons on Algerians in the Sahara, then moved to the South Pacific islands.

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Back in the US,  Hispanic communities such as Sierra Blanca, TX were targeted for nuclear waste dumps, a trend that has continued; with the choice of Yucca Mountain, on Western Shoshone land, as the place to host the country’s high-level nuclear waste; with the imposition of unwanted new nuclear reactors and the huge nuclear weapons complex at the Savannah River Site, which would poison black communities. And on and on.

It is a culture and a practice that have never changed. In a 2016 paper — Emerging Environmental Justice Issues in Nuclear Power and Radioactive Contamination — published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, academics Dean Kyne and Bob Bolin noted that the NRC’s “growing constraints” in public participation spoke to “who is or is not recognized as worthy of inclusion in decision-making regarding the allocation of hazard burdens.”

They described the culture at the NRC as reinforcing “a tradition of secrecy, denial, and misinformation that has long been part of the nuclear industrial complex.”

They further noted that while “federal agencies are mandated to identify and address adverse human health and environmental impacts on minority and low-income populations,” this does not apply to the NRC, for whom it is “not mandatory” but merely “voluntary.” In allowing this level of discretion over what issues may be considered an environmental justice concern, “not surprisingly, 76 percent were labeled as being of ‘small significance’,” the authors wrote.

“The NRC once again bowed to its master — the nuclear industry — to pave the way for construction in an area where they expect least resistance,” said Garner of the Grand Gulf 3 debacle. (As it turns out, Entergy canceled Grand Gulf 3 in February 2015, when its lousy economics finally wouldn’t stand up).

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The forced imposition of a dangerous and polluting industrial installation on a poor community of color in desperate need of jobs remains an age-old tactic of corporations and governments. In challenging Grand Gulf 3 before its cancelation, residents of Port Gibson rightly asked why, if a new nuclear power plant was such an economy-boosting bonanza, the area was still the poorest in the country two decades after the first reactor came on line?

Residents of Burke County, Georgia, are asking similar questions. The county itself is about evenly divided between black and white populations, but the communities of Shell Bluff and Waynesboro, poor and black, have been the hardest hit by nuclear installations in the area. Today, 40.9% of the children there live below the federal poverty line, with a higher rate of childhood poverty than 86.8% of U.S. neighborhoods. Waynesboro is 70.4% black.

The poisoning of surrounding communities began in the 1950s, when an entire town was relocated to make way for the massive Savannah River Site (SRS) atomic bomb factory just across the river and state line, near Aiken, SC— the place where tritium and plutonium was produced for nuclear weapons.

In the 1980s, a whistleblower named William Lawless revealed how the US Department of Energy, which owns SRS, had been dumping cardboard boxes filled with nuclear waste into trenches, where the boxes had leaked their deadly inventory into the groundwater.

In 1987, two nuclear reactor units came on line at Plant Vogtle, just 10 miles from Shell Bluff and 18 miles from Waynesboro. Cancer rates started to creep up. Then, against the objections of the local black community, the green light was given for two more reactors to be built at Plant Vogtle.

The decision was made all the more painful given that it was Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States, who came in person to announce the Vogtle 3 and 4 go-ahead, sweetening it with a $8.3 billion federal loan guarantee and flanked for his big media moment by two white guys.  Meanwhile, Vogtle 3 and 4 are both still under construction, wildly over budget and way behind schedule and with a micro-epidemic of Covid-19 cases among the workforce.

What Will the Hunger Industrial Complex Look Like After Covid-19?

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Andrew Fisher is the author of Big Hunger: The Unholy Alliance between Corporate America and Anti-Hunger Groups.

By Andrew Fisher 

Reposted from Food Bank News, APRIL 22, 2020

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, normal wasn’t so great for the working poor in America. Despite a 10-year recovery, 12 percent of the nation remained food insecure in 2018. The state of affairs was so economically unsustainable that food banks doubled their distribution from 2009 to 2019, to 5.25 billion pounds, serving 40 million people.

And now in 2020, with 22 million people thrown out of work in just a few weeks and an administration unable to muster much empathy for their plight, much less the cash to keep their refrigerators stocked, food banks have stepped in again to fill the void left by an absentee government. This time, however, food banks have gained more visibility, not just as the safety net under the (shredded) safety net, but as a front-line response. The miles-long lines of motorists waiting for a few sacks of groceries have become seared into the public imagination, a meme of the collective isolation and powerlessness many of us feel in the hands of an incompetent government. Charity has become the governing metaphor of the pandemic response, replacing justice, which itself has been placed on a ventilator.

But the food to feed people and the money with which to buy that food has to come from somewhere. And just as it has for the past few decades, it’s the alliance between anti-hunger organizations, the USDA, and corporate America, or the hunger industrial complex, that provides. It is this paradigm that is filling the vacuum left by Trump’s sociopathy, and as James Bailey, a management professor at George Washington University says, “Every crisis creates a void. And whatever force fills that void, inherits power.”

We should all be concerned that, in the post-pandemic era, the hunger industrial complex becomes more robust at the expense of the movement for fair wages, strong nutrition programs, and universal health care. Frankly, the unholy alliance between food banks and corporate America has shown itself to be more interested in maintaining the problem of hunger than actually solving it.

The existence of this unholy alliance poses the fundamental question of: “Why end hunger when anti-hunger work is so profitable to all parties?” Through supporting anti-hunger organizations, corporations reduce their labor costs, garbage disposal fees, and tax bills while building their reputations as socially responsible firms.

For food banks, hard times are good times. Their fundraising soars during recessions, and all too often they measure their success in the number of pounds that they distribute. The higher the poundage, the more they appear to be successful, and the more the donations come flowing in.

During this crisis, Big Food and Ag are doubling  down on the hunger industrial complex as a way to enhance their reputation. Consider the following examples:

Smithfield, the nation’s largest pork producer, has donated an extra $3 million and 10 million pounds of protein to food banks. It’s also been sued successfully multiple times for its racist practices of siting its hog factories next to impoverished African American communities. And it has come under fire for propagating the pandemic at its South Dakota processing plant, where over 500 workers have fallen ill with Covid-19.

At Amazon, CEO Jeff Bezos recently donated $100 million to Feeding America. Amazon is both poised to be one of the two largest redeemers of online SNAP, sales, and has been revealed to be the largest employer of SNAP recipients in multiple states.

The current crisis presents an unparalleled organizing opportunity. But are food banks taking advantage of this crisis to make broader structural changes? How many food banks are doubling down on advocacy as tens of millions of new clients come through the door? How many food banks are including voter registration cards and SNAP-related action alerts in the grocery bags?  Or are food banks retrenching, eliminating their small social justice-oriented programs in favor of mobilizing all hands on deck to deal with increased demand? What’s the post-pandemic vision for the role of the sector on the part of Feeding America?

Going back to the old normal is no longer a tenable choice. The hunger industrial complex needs to be diminished in favor of a stronger government response — one that strengthens the social safety net while guaranteeing living wages and better working conditions for all. And food banks can be agents of change or keep themselves, as one former food bank CEO once told me, “mainstream, rich and respectable.”

Andrew Fisher has worked in the anti-hunger field for 25 years, as the executive director of national and local food groups, and as a researcher, organizer, policy advocate, and coalition builder. He is the author of “Big Hunger: The Unholy Alliance between Corporate America and Anti-Hunger Groups.”

GRPS shares updated P-EBT info

unnamedThe Grand Rapids Public Schools just shared these P-EBT updates and information.

Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer Program (P-EBT) food assistance benefits will go to Michigan families with students ages 0-26 that are eligible for Free or Reduced-Price School Meals. This includes families currently receiving Food Assistance Program (FAP) benefits, as well as those not currently enrolled in the program. No application is necessary for eligible families to receive P-EBT benefits.

Program Information

Q: When will P-EBT cards be mailed out?
A: P-EBT benefits are being distributed in waves. The first round of benefits for families with active Food Assistance Program cards started last week and will continue to be distributed through the first week of May. The benefit will go to their bridge card. Families that do not have a bridge card will be mailed a P-EBT card. These cards will also be distributed in waves. The first cards start mailing out April 26th and will continue through the middle of May. Instructions are being mailed out for how to use and activate the card.
Again, it will take until the middle of May for cards to be mailed out. Please encourage families to hold off on calling DHHS with inquiries and wait for the first round of mailing to go out.

Q: Will there be directions on how to use the card?
A: There will directions mailed about a week ahead of the card. To activate the card, call the phone number on the back of the card. You will need the EBT card number on the front of the card, your zip code, and the date of birth of the oldest child in your household. You will need to set a four-digit pin number

Q: What address will the P-EBT card be sent to?
A: If the student was already receiving SNAP benefits, they will automatically receive the P-EBT benefits on their current Food Assistance Program (FAP) card. If the student is eligible based on a Free or Reduced-Price Meal Application, a new P-EBT card will go to the address in the Michigan Student Data System.

Q: Will there be an email or phone number available for parent questions regarding the P-EBT cards?
A: MDHHS is processing cards in batches thru mid-May. If you receive calls on P-EBT cards you may supply them with this number 1-833-905-0028. Keep in mind they might not answer the questions until then.

P-EBT Student Eligibility

Q: I have multiple school-age children, how much will our family be eligible for?
A: The pre-loaded Pandemic-EBT card will come in the mail and will be in the oldest school aged child’s name, not the parents name. Keep the card for ongoing benefits you may receive. The benefit amount for March/April is $193.80 per child and will be available by the end of April. The benefit amount for May/June is $182.40 per child and will be available by the end of May.

Q: For students that attend a CEP school, will all families be eligible for the P-EBT program automatically
A: In schools where all students receive free lunch and breakfast, which in Michigan is the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), all students will automatically receive the P-EBT benefits.

Q: Do schools need to send anything over to the Michigan Department of Education?
A: For non-CEP schools, eligibility for P-EBT was based on data reported in the Supplemental Nutrition Eligibility (SNE) field in the Michigan Student Data System (MSDS) Spring Collection.
Updated addresses or student eligibility will need to be submitted through the Student Record Maintenance in the MSDS. Records that are submitted by the April 28th SRM will be eligible for April, May and June P-EBT benefits. Records that are submitted for the May 12th and 26th SRM will be eligible for May and June P-EBT benefits.

Q: Are Head Start and/or Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) families receiving the P-EBT card?
A: Students in Great Start Readiness Programs, GSRP/Headstart Blends, Early Headstart, and Headstart that were reported as part of the Early Childhood Collection as eligible for Free and Reduced-Price Meals or directly certified have been included.

Q: Are students who attend non-public schools eligible for P-EBT?
A: Directly certified students who attend non-public schools were included in the list of students eligible for P- EBT. If the student was already receiving SNAP benefits, they will automatically receive the P-EBT benefits on their card. For other directly certified students without an address with DHHS or the Michigan Student Data System (MSDS), the card will be sent to the school and the school must mail the cards to the families.
If a student was a shared time student with a public school and that school reported the student in the Michigan Student Data System (MSDS) as eligible for Free and Reduced-Price Meals, they will receive the benefit through the public school’s reporting.
There is not a state collection where F/R application eligible students are reported, but we are working on ways to try and include them at a later date.

Q: Are 18-26 special education students eligible for P-EBT?
A: Eligible, enrolled special education students are eligible for P-EBT.

Q: Do children that are homeschooled qualify for this program?
A: Unfortunately, homeschool children were not included in the list for P-EBT because they are not in the public school records. However, all Michigan children are eligible to participate in one of available Meet Up Eat Up sites. You can look for the closest site to your home at: www.michigan.gov/meetupeatup or Dial 211 to find out more information on resources in your local community.

New Free and Reduced Applications

Q: Will newly eligible students, through Direct Certification or an approved Free or Reduced-Price application, be eligible for P-EBT.
A: Yes, students with new eligibility will qualify for P-EBT. Updated student eligibility will need to be submitted through the Student Record Maintenance (SRM) in the Michigan Student Data System (MSDS). Records that are submitted by the April 28th SRM will be eligible for April, May and June P-EBT benefits. Records that are submitted for the May 12th and 26th SRM will be eligible for May and June P-EBT benefit.

Q: For families with multiple children, how will the card be loaded?
A: The pre-loaded P-EBT card will come in the mail and will be in the oldest school aged child’s name, not the parents name.

Q: What do GRPS families do if they did not receive a communication in the mail from the state about P-EBT benefits?
A: Families should be referred to Steve Slabbekoorns in Nutrition Services. He is available at 819-2135 or email at slabbekoorns@grps.org. Nutrition Services will work with Student Data Systems to submit updated data to the state system.

Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer Program (P-EBT) Frequently Asked Questions (Spanish)

Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer Program (P-EBT) Frequently Asked Questions (Kinyarwanda)

Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer Program (P-EBT) Frequently Asked Questions (Swahili)

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LINC UP mounts petition drive to prevent cuts to GRPD community programs

LINC UP is asking its neighbors, friends, and supporter to sign the petition to keep GRPD from cutting community programs and staff positions that were created to improve police and community relations! Sign the Petition!

The Grand Rapids Police Department proposed $1,000,000 in budget cuts as a response to the economic crisis created by COVID-19. Almost 3/4 of the proposed cuts are for program and staffing that are meant to improve GRPD’s ability to engage with the community. The GRPD budget supports cutting programs known to be necessary and effective in increasing the diversity of its recruitment efforts, funding to increase community engagement training, and funding for staffing the Deployment study has identified as necessary to advance the data management and information systems of the department. The proposed cuts would keep the City of Grand Rapids and GRPD from reaching goals for strong engagement and racial equity.

Here are 3 Things You Can Do:

  1. Sign and Share the Petition! 
  2. Call and Email Your City Commissioner! You can find their contact information here!
  3. Share the MLIVE article covering the full story on budget reductions! Read the Article!

2020 Michigan Good Food Charter underway

Read the draft and complete the brief survey! 

Our Kitchen Table recently provided feedback on the new 2020 Michigan Good Food Charter, being developed by the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems.  Initially published in 2010, the Michigan Good Food Charter helped build momentum for efforts across Michigan to advance a food system that promotes equity, health, sustainability, and thriving economies. OKT’s responses are below.

charterOKT’s responses

Q. How do these priorities look in your community?

  • Everyone does not have access to healthy food in Kent County, especially people of color and those in rural locations. Food sovereignty is negligible.
  • People with income challenges here will be hard hit by climate change.
  • MUCH MORE needs to be done to encouraging food system practices that mitigate climate change (farming, transportation, waste).
  • Yes we need living wages in the food system! Living wages are few and far between for far too many folks in Kent County as evidenced by rising numbers of homeless.
  • We need more local food production and less reliance on global, as transportation long distance is not sustainable. We have the ability here in our state to eat local.
  • We are a long ways away from health equity — and good food is the biggest solution along with dismantling institutional racism.

Q. How does your vision of the food system align with these ideas?

Our vision aligns perfectly except for the “diversity” in mix of food sources as ultimately a global food market is a food market that negatively impacts the environment and reduces food security in developing countries where much of food is sourced.

What is missing? Is there an issue, challenge, or solution that is NOT represented here?

  • “Everyone” needs to be qualified initially as especially inclusive of women, vulnerable children, elders, and people of color. otherwise, this statement is somewhat watered down.
  • Sustainable should emphasize support for organic and sustainable farming methods and reduction of reliance on fossil fuels, chemical fertilizers and GMOs, all which are not sustainable.
  • Need to include humane treatment of animals involved in food production.

Governor Whitmer Creates the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities

“This virus is holding a mirror up to our society and reminding us
of the deep inequities in this country.”
Governor Gretchen Whitmer

downloadOn April 9, Governor Gretchen Whitmer created the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities. The task force, chaired by Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II, will consist of leaders across state government and health care professionals from communities most impacted by the spread of coronavirus. The task force will hold it’s first meeting this week. 

As of today, over 40% of COVID-19 deaths in Michigan are African Americans, but only 14% of Michiganders are African Americans. The Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities will provide the governor with recommendations on how to address this disparity as we work to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our state. 

“This virus is holding a mirror up to our society and reminding us of the deep inequities in this country,” said Governor Whitmer. “From basic lack of access to health care, transportation, and protections in the workplace, these inequities hit people of color and vulnerable communities the hardest. This task force will help us start addressing these disparities right now as we work to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Michigan.” 

 

“We know that generations of racial disparities and inequality has a detrimental impact on the lives of people across the state,” Lt. Governor Gilchrist said. “The coronavirus pandemic has shown this inequity to be particularly true, especially in the Black community, where the health of our friends and family has been disproportionately impacted. That’s why we are taking immediate action to assemble some of the greatest minds to tackle this racial injustice now and in the future.” 

During the COVID-19 crisis, Governor Whitmer has signed a number of executive orders aimed at protecting people in vulnerable communities. These include orders to temporarily ban evictions and tax foreclosures, expand unemployment benefits, and restore running water for families. 

During her first year as governor, Governor Whitmer took several steps aimed at lifting Michigan families out of poverty. She announced the Michigan Poverty Task Force within the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO), which will provide her with recommendations on how to get more families on a path to success. She has been working with providers and universities to establish implicit bias training in their curriculum so that as people of color seek health care, they’ll be treated with equal dignity and respect, which will yield better outcomes. And in October, she raised asset test limits to make it easier for families to access food assistance and assist them in paying for necessities like rent, utilities, and warm clothes. 

“It shouldn’t take a global pandemic for us to address these problems” Governor Whitmer continued. “It shouldn’t take a crisis for us to expand unemployment benefits, ensure protections for workers who are sick, or expand access to quality, affordable health care. We’re going to come out of this, but we must also learn some hard lessons about the deep problems in our economy that we need real, meaningful solutions on. As we recover from the impact of COVID-19, my administration will continue to focus on long-term solutions for every family in Michigan.” 

This media release was originally broadcasted April 9, 2020

Grievances Mount as North Lake Correctional Facility Hunger Strike Continues through Fourth Day

92792222_893035397787225_1224929191124795392_nAbout ten inmates are moving into day five of a hunger strike, demanding adequate nutrition and basic healthcare services currently being denied, as well as religious freedom. CALL on 4/9 TO SUPPORT IMMIGRANT PRISONERS’ HUNGER STRIKE:

Immigrants imprisoned at the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Michigan continued their hunger strike on Wednesday amid escalating complaints of inhumane conditions, violations of Federal Bureau of Prison regulations, and discriminatory treatment by staff. A group of men began the hunger strike on Sunday, April 5th. At the close of their fourth day of hunger strike, strikers reported that Facility Administrator Donald Emerson is aware of the strike and has attempted negotiations with at least some of the men.

Initial reports of the strike cited inadequate nutrition, lack of medical attention, and unequal treatment by prison staff, who have a history of fomenting tension among those detained. Some of the men who’ve been on hunger strike are followers of the Hebrew Israelite faith and report that they have faced religious discrimination. One of the men also reported that staff “demonstrated a lot of racism.” Conditions at North Lake are described as “unbelievable to humankind.” “There’s no way somebody’s supposed to live like this,” one of the men said Wednesday.

The strikers’ mounting grievances come amid increasing concern about COVID-19 in prisons and jails and worry that the facilities cannot provide the space necessary to follow the six-foot social distancing recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prisoners in touch with No Detention Centers in Michigan have described incredibly close quarters and below-regulation cell sizes at the North Lake Correctional Facility, which is operated by the GEO Group, a private prison company that contracts with the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The spouse of one of the men participating in the strike has expressed concern about the well-being of her husband and said that staff at North Lake are now wearing masks to protect against the spread of COVID-19. Her husband and other inmates have not been given the same protection. Strikers noted other inequities during their contact with outside supporters on Wednesday, including lack of commissary access. Prisoners across the country are turning to commissary purchases to get cleaning products and protective equipment to guard against COVID-19 infection.

No cases of COVID-19 have yet been confirmed at North Lake, but there were 380 cases confirmed across Michigan prisons as of Tuesday. These include 262 prisoners and 118 prison staff. An additional two prisoners have died, as have two employees.

On April 8, No Detention Centers in Michigan made this plea via Facebook:

On Sunday, April 5th, approximately ten people incarcerated at the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Michigan launched a hunger strike in response to unsafe conditions and the mistreatment they have experienced inside the Special Housing Unit, or SHU. Their concerns include inadequate food and lack of access to medical attention. North Lake is a private immigrant-only prison operated by the GEO Group through a contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

“The main thing is the food,” said one incarcerated person, who stated that their diet had not been meeting the protein requirements of the federal prison system. In addition, he described a lack of proper medical care and treatment after an assault last month. Prison staff have repeatedly exacerbated violence inside the facility.

The majority of those currently on strike inside the SHU are Black men who have expressed serious fears for their safety, describing an inhumane and chaotic environment in which they have suffered racial repression, including administrative segregation within the SHU for over a month after a conflict in which they had not been involved.

“We’re tired of the mistreatment and lack of protection,” one person told No Detention Centers in Michigan last month. “Incidents have occurred and will occur in the future; it’s inevitable.”

“Prison experiences are all unpleasant but this is next-level for so many reasons,” another person wrote. “I have been to six prior institutions, and I have yet to witness a facility like this one. To subject anybody to these living conditions is offensive, racist, and unfair. Are foreign citizens any less human than U.S. citizens?”

Although members of No Detention Centers in Michigan are not currently aware of any suspected cases of COVID-19 inside this facility, the hunger strike comes at a time of grave new dangers facing incarcerated populations worldwide, who are unable to practice social distancing or other steps needed to prevent the spread of the virus and maintain public health.

“The experiences we’ve been hearing about inside North Lake are a reminder that prisons aren’t safe for anyone,” said Jonas Higbee, a member of No Detention Centers in Michigan. “At a moment when COVID-19 is spreading rapidly throughout the Federal Bureau of Prisons as well as Michigan’s state prisons and jails, this is also clear evidence that the GEO Group is not able to protect the people in their custody during a crisis. GEO already has a long history of neglect and abuse, and when people are telling us that they’ve been fearing for their lives even before the COVID-19 emergency, it’s an indication that a quarantine inside a prison is not the answer to a pandemic. As we’ve been starting to see around the country, starting with the most medically vulnerable, the federal government needs to find a way to release people immediately.”