San Quentin out­break: Hun­dreds protest out­side pri­son where 816 in­mates have caught coro­n­avirus.

San Francisco Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Rusty Simmons

Called to ac­tion by the cat­a­strophic out­break of COVID­19 in­side San Quentin State Pri­son, pro­test­ers stretched nearly the length of the vil­lage’s Main Street to the pri­son gates Sunday.

Hun­dreds from the Ella Baker Cen­ter for Hu­man Rights, in­ter­faith re­li­gious groups, fam­ily mem­bers of in­mates, and for­mer pris­on­ers filled the quaint Marin County neigh­bor­hood. They held signs of protest, cheer­ing and chant­ing as lead­ers ad­dressed the crowd with de­ mands di­rected at Gov.

Gavin New­som and

Ralph Diaz, head of the

Cal­i­for­nia De­part­ment of Cor­rec­tions and Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

As re­cently as last month, the pri­son re­ported zero coro­n­avirus cases among its in­car­cer­ated pop­u­la­tion. How­ever, that changed after 121 men were trans­ferred in late May to San Quentin from the Cal­i­for­nia In­sti­tu­tion for Men in Chino, the site of the pri­son sys­tem’s dead­li­est out­break.

By Sunday af­ter­noon, 871 pris­on­ers and 89

staff mem­bers were con­firmed to be in­fected, ac­cord­ing to the state’s web tracker. The count spiked by 258 cases since Satur­day.

“This is not just in­com­pe­tence,” said Emile Deweaver, who spent 21 years in pri­son, in­clud­ing seven at San Quentin. “This is about power, who has it and how they choose to wield it.”

Deweaver, who had his 67­year pri­son sen­tence com­muted by then­gov. Jerry Brown in 2017, drew thun­der­ous re­ac­tions from the crowd as he ex­plained how the peo­ple could re­gain the power and de­tailed de­mands that should be made to the gov­er­nor and to Diaz, the CDCR sec­re­tary.

Among the de­mands, pro­test­ers asked New­som to grant mass clemency and re­lease pris­on­ers, asked the CDCR to stop col­lab­o­rat­ing with Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment, and asked for the end of trans­fers be­tween prisons dur­ing the pan­demic.

Nei­ther the Gov­er­nor’s Of­fice nor the CDCR re­sponded to re­quests for com­ments about the de­mands Sunday. A day ear­lier, the trans­fer of in­mates from San Quentin to a pri­son in the Bak­ers­field area was halted after two tested pos­i­tive.

That’s a start, but not nearly enough, ac­cord­ing to the pro­test­ers, who paused a two­hour demon­stra­tion a hand­ful of times to peace­fully move peo­ple, ban­ners, mi­cro­phones and speak­ers out of the street to al­low pri­son work­ers to drive through the gates.

Move­ment isn’t quite so easy in­side San Quentin, where the 3,600­plus in­car­cer­ated rep­re­sent more than 100% of the de­signed ca­pac­ity.

“They have no free­dom to wash their hands, use soap or so­cially dis­tance,” said the Rev. Deb Lee, who used to teach tai chi at the pri­son. “This is tak­ing away their dig­nity.”

With peo­ple hold­ing signs such as “Care, not cages” and “Can’t get well in a cell,” a se­ries of speak­ers ro­tated to the mi­cro­phones at the front of the crowd. Some di­rected chants, with the leader say­ing: “Free them,” and the crowd re­spond­ing “all” or “now.”

Oth­ers prompted the crowd to fall into si­lence while shar­ing heart­felt sto­ries. Oak­land’s Shawanda Scott, who iden­ti­fied as “Mama Bear,” told the crowd that her son was locked be­hind the gates that made the back­drop of her emo­tional speech.

“My son will be mad at me, be­cause I am cussing, but I give no f—,” she said, be­fore turn­ing her mes­sage to the CDCR. “Let him go. I can take care of my son. You’ve proven that you can­not.”

Or­ga­niz­ers of the demon­stra­tion gave out the phone numbers of New­som and Diaz and prompted the crowd to call them ev­ery other day un­til all of the de­mands are met.

The groups also are ask­ing for ad­e­quate coro­n­avirus test­ing for in­car­cer­ated peo­ple and pri­son staff and that staff be reg­u­lated to work in only one part of the pri­son to avoid spread­ing the virus.

Ac­cord­ing to pub­lished de­mands of the in­car­cer­ated com­mu­nity, they are also ask­ing for free per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment, hy­giene prod­ucts and es­sen­tial goods un­til the end of the pan­demic. With vis­i­ta­tion sus­pended for three months, they are ask­ing for free tele­vis­its.

Paul Kuroda / Spe­cial to The Chron­i­cle

Emile Deweaver speaks as Jes­sica Mckel­lar helps hold a ban­ner at the Stop San Quentin Out­break rally at the pri­son.

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