Noise, outrage on display at protest of Dartmouth jail incident

May 4, 2020

Dozens of protesters around the New Bedford District Courthouse waved signs from the sidewalk or from honking cars on Monday afternoon in support of immigrations detainees.

The protest was held following a violent disturbance on May 1 at the Bristol County House of Correction’s Immigrations and Customs Enforcement facility in Dartmouth that saw three detainees taken to hospital.

The incident also caused $25,000 worth of damage to the facility, Sheriff Hodgson stated at a May 2 press conference, and he was himself struck with a chair during the disturbance.

Those taken to hospital are expected to make a full recovery.

Hodgson stated at the conference that the disturbance started after a small group of detainees said they all had Covid-19 symptoms, but refused to be taken to the medical unit for testing before becoming violent.

Protesters disagreed with Hodgson’s version of the event and called for an independent investigation. Sheriff’s Office spokesman Jonathan Darling said that both the sheriff’s office and ICE will be conducting investigations into the incident.

Attorney for several ICE detainees Ira Alkalay said that the incident kicked off after two days of detainees refusing to clean the facility due to concerns over contracting Covid-19, after hand sanitizer provided by officials ran out.

Alkalay said that he was on the phone with a client when the disturbance happened, and disputed the sheriff’s version of events, stating the sheriff and his armed officers “attacked” the unarmed detainees, and were responsible for at least part of the damage to the facility.

Dartmouth resident Ronny K, who declined to give her last name, was holding a sign saying “No one deserves to die in detention.”

She said she joined the protest “because I feel compassion for people who really shouldn’t be there in the first place.”

“It’s not a particularly big rally, but every little bit helps,” she said with a smile, adding, “At least it’s a beautiful day!”

“I’m feeling kind of sad and terrible,” said Dartmouth resident Elizabeth, who chose not to reveal her last name. “I don’t actually want to be here in any way...But honestly, it’s feeling like one of those situations that’s gotten so out of control it’s unbelievable.”

“We don’t want to look back and say, ‘Oh, I heard about these things that were happening, and I wish I had done something or said something.’ It feels like we’re sort of at that point now,” she added. “It’s scary.”

Protesters engaged with several passers-by who wanted to know what all the honking was about. One cyclist described the noise as “aggravating” before thanking them and continuing on his way.

When asked why she was protesting, Fairhaven resident Diane Hahn joked, “I have a degree in empathy.”

Hahn works as a personal care attendant and joined the protest with her union, 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. “I just get fired up over injustice,” she said with a grin.

“[Hodgson] wants a say in who does the independent investigation,” stated protester Joe Quigley of New Bedford, a retired teacher and member of Bristol County for Correctional Justice. “That’s not very independent!”

Quigley said that after teaching immigrants in LA and Oklahoma City, he realized that politicians promote stereotypes about migrants and refugees. 

“These are people who are desperate,” he said. “They’re human beings.”

Dartmouth resident Dr. James Griffith was also protesting recent events at the jail. “The Bristol County sheriff is more interested in punishment than rehabilitation,” he said.

“We want the sheriff to have an open investigation of what happened on Friday night,” stated Alicia Cortez, a volunteer with Movimiento Cosecha, a nonviolent movement that fights for dignity and respect for undocumented people.

“Immigrants are contributing to this country, we’re paying taxes,” she said. “We should be proud of who we are.”