‘Funeral Friday’ protest in Charlotte demands release of inmates amid COVID-19

‘Funeral Friday’ protest in Charlotte demands release of inmates amid COVID-19
Participants in a protest organized by Decarcerate Mecklenburg, called Funeral Friday, carry flowers and boxes representing coffins during part of a memorial to honor those who have died from coronavirus while being incarcerated, on Friday, August 7, 2020. (Source: David T. Foster III DTFOSTER@CHARLOTTEOBSERVER.COM)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Charlotte Observer) -A group of around 30 protesters dressed in black gathered in front of the Mecklenburg County Detention Center on Friday. They passed around bouquets of fresh flowers, sang “Amazing Grace” and held black coffins made from paper and cardboard.

On the ground lay stuffed black trash bags, resembling body bags.

The memorial service, called “Funeral Friday,” was to honor those who have died from coronavirus while incarcerated. A program given to attendees accused the county jail of “disregard for human life.”

Authorities say, as of Friday, there have been no COVID-19-related deaths among those in custody in Mecklenburg. But at least 59 total cases have been reported over recent months.

Across North Carolina, 10 inmates have died from the coronavirus while imprisoned. There are 16 active outbreaks among detention facilities in the state, according to N.C. health data.

In Charlotte, defense attorney Tim Emry and ACLU organizer Kristie Puckett Williams gave speeches urging for the release of people from the county jail and against incarceration as a punitive measure against crime in general. Then after a moment of silence lasting eight minutes and 46 seconds (honoring the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd), protesters walked around the jail three times followed by a shiny black hearse and a few cars.

The protest was organized by Decarcerate Mecklenburg — a local advocacy group consisting of activists, lawyers, public defenders and members of the ACLU — which has held near-weekly protests every Friday since April.

The group has demanded the Sheriff’s Office to test all inmates and asked Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police to issue citations instead of making arrests for misdemeanor crimes. They have also advocated for the release of people in the detention center who cannot afford bond, have six months or less to serve, or who are at-risk for coronavirus complications.

According to a recent press release, the sheriff’s office has instituted “mass testing” of its resident population. Employees are screened daily before entering the building, officials have said.

As of this week, 124 people inside the Mecklenburg jail are quarantined, officials say.

On Friday, there were three active positive cases among inmates and 14 among detention center workers, according to Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Dejah Gilliam. That’s a decrease since July 24, when the jail had 43 active cases.

Since March, a total of 65 employees have tested positive for the virus, Gilliam said.