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Some observations on the End the Contract action at the Kent County Commission meeting

July 27, 2018

Yesterday, roughly 50 people organized around the End the Contract campaign, went a second time to the Kent County Commission meeting to demand an end to the contract the county has with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

It is always a good indication of how effective social movements are, when systems of power respond with ridiculous tactics. In the picture above you can see that Kent County officials moved the podium to the center of the room and then added those retractable barriers to both sides, with signs on either side saying, “Staff Only Beyond This Point.”

This was no doubt in response to the fact that at the June 28th County Commission meeting, we took over the semi-circle space where the county’s logo is displayed on the carpeting.

The people who came to demand an end to the contract with ICE, brought signs to display, many of which had images of the commissioners themselves, challenging them to think about their complicity in the harm being done to the immigrant community by ICE agents.

After the formalities at the beginning of the commission meeting (which included the Pledge of Allegiance and a Christian prayer – I don’t know how they can continue to get away with that shit) the agenda did include an annual report from the Kent County Land Bank, which lasted about 15 minutes. However, several commissioners asked questions of the land bank representatives that took an additional 20 minutes, which to many in the room seemed like a stalling tactic just before the public comment period.

Once people were finally given the opportunity to speak, an estimated 20 people got up and used the 3 minutes to address the commission on why they should end the county’s contract with ICE. Gema Lowe with Movimiento Cosecha GR spoke first. Gema keep the focus on ending the contract and the harm being done to the immigrant community and then presented the commissioners with a list of over 1,600 names of people who have already signed the End the Contract petition, in the form of a scroll.

There were several other immigrants who got up to speak about the harm they have witnessed because of ICE violence, to members of their family and the immigrant community as a whole. Other people addressed the commissioners as parents, speaking about the unimaginable fear they would have if they were being separated from their children.

There were also people involved from GR Rapid Response to ICE who spoke about the weekly calls they receive from immigrants who have had a family member taken by ICE and the impact it has had on their families.

One person got up and used most of their time to play an audio recording of the children being taken from their families at the border and put into cages.

Another immigrant spoke about how his father had fled Guatemala during the civil war and came to the US to give his family a better chance. This immigrant spoke about the difficult choices his father had to make and the difficult circumstances that immigrant families are faced with because of the terror inflicted by ICE.

Then Kent County Commissioner Robert Womack came to the podium and made it clear that as a black man, he could no longer sit idly by and do nothing when other communities of color were being targeted by state repression. Commissioner Womack then sign the oversized End the Contract document that organizers brought to the meeting, shown here. You can see Commissioner Womack’s signature at the bottom, with a smaller signature signed by Commissioner Betsy Melton (she signed it later – after the formal meeting was completed).

After the public comment period, those demanding an end the to contract began chanting and some sat on the floor to further demonstrate their opposition to the county’s complicity in ICE violence.

The organizers were then asked to end the disruption of the meeting by Commissioner Womack, who said that they needed by 15 minutes to complete the meeting and then commissioners could address the ICE contract issue directly. Organizers agreed to stop disrupting and listen to what the commissioners had to say.

Of the commissioners who spoke, most of them either deflected the attention away from their responsibility in ICE violence or they said that it warranted further discussion. One Commissioner even admitted that he didn’t even know that the county had a contract with ICE.

Other commissioners used the time to speak about how great the Sheriff’s Department was and how they support the “Rule of Law,” which was just another way of saying they supported the county’s contract with ICE. Another commissioner used the opportunity to try to shame protestors because of their disrupting tactics, stating that such tactics, “didn’t help their cause.”

After the meeting was adjourned, there were several small conversations with some of the commissioners and at one point Commissioner Betsy Melton also signed the End the Contract statement. Unfortunately, only 2 of the 19 commissioners were willing to make a commitment to end the county’s contract with ICE, while most either avoided the issue entirely or in the case of one commissioner, they chose to continue to say that only the Sheriff’s Department could do anything about it.

One thing was clear…….those who are involved in the End the Contract campaign would be coming back and continuing to organize until the Kent County contract with ICE was terminated.

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