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Local Organizers Protest Abuses of Carceral Systems, Urge Governor Wolf to Close Berks Detention Center During Worldwide Lights for Liberty Vigil


Local organizations working for immigrant and racial justice will co-host a vigil to call for an end to inhumane incarceration and the closing of the Berks Family Residential Center, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Berks County, PA, one of three such facilities in the United States. The vigil is part of Lights for Liberty, a worldwide event organized to protest the abuse being perpetrated within U.S. detention centers and to urge government officials to order the closure of these facilities. The Pittsburgh event will feature stories of individuals and families held in detention centers and those of Black Americans who face parallel injustices within the criminal justice system. Artists from 1Hood Media will present musical performances as well. This event will take place on Friday, July 12 from 7:30-9PM in Schenley Plaza, 4100 Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh, PA.


“Detention is a human rights crisis. The abuse going on within ICE detention centers—from separating children from their parents; to keeping hundreds of people in cramped, unsanitary conditions; to the verbal, physical, and sexual abuse detainees face from ICE officers—cannot be allowed to continue,” says Casa San José Executive Director Mónica Ruiz. 


Organizers at Friday’s vigil will call on Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf to issue an Emergency Removal Order (ERO) for the Berks Family Residential Center (BCRC), with attendees writing letters during the event. The evidence of abuse and neglect at the BCRC is overwhelming, in addition, the mere act of incarcerating children and families is abusive in and of itself.  While the facility is run through a contract between the federal government and Berks County, which receives $1.3 million annually for its partnership, it is subject to regulation by state laws, and an ERO on the basis of abuse would prevent its use as a federal detention center. 


“This is only part of the solution, adds Ruiz, “with the real objective being systems-wide reform including permanent closure of all detention centers. However, closing Berks would send the message that Pennsylvania will not tolerate human rights abuses in our state, while setting an example for other elected leaders. We are proud to stand with our community partners to organize action on this issue and make our collective voices heard.”


Pittsburgh’s vigil is organized by a collaboration of seven local organizations with an intersectional focus on social justice, including 1Hood Media, Alliance for Refugee Youth Support and Education, All for All, Bend the Arc: Pittsburgh, Casa San José, Pittsburgh United, and Women’s March. 


Friday’s event coincides with the birthday of Antwon Rose II, a Black teenager who was shot and killed by an East Pittsburgh police officer in June 2018. This year, on what would be his 19th birthday, community members in Rose’s hometown of Rankin, PA will hold the second annual celebration of his life featuring musical performances, food, children’s crafts, and a bookbag donation drive for neighborhood children. Friday’s Lights for Liberty vigil, which has been scheduled to allow community members to attend both events, will include purple roses in honor of Rose and a moment of silence to commemorate his life.


“There are obvious parallels between the situation of those detained in ICE detention centers and the millions of Black Americans incarcerated in this country’s prison system,” says 1Hood Media Founder and CEO Jasiri X. To paraphrase Audre Lorde, we are not free while anyone in this country is unfree. We recognize this as an opportunity for different marginalized groups to stand together and speak out, not just against individual examples of racism and injustice, but against these larger violent and oppressive systems that persist in America.”


Facebook Event: Lights for Liberty Vigil: Shut Down the Berks Detention Center!

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