This day has started off with horrible news. Yesterday, YET ANOTHER PERSON OF COLOR died while in custody of the Arlington County jail. This is the 7th person of color to die in as many years.
Mr. Paul Thompson was 41 years old, just a year younger than I am. He had been arrested on a trespassing charge two weeks ago and was awaiting a court hearing before being found in his cell yesterday afternoon.
If this was the only recent death of this circumstance, then expressing dismay and urging improvements to the detention facility’s procedures could be sufficient. If there had not been the lives of six other black and brown men who have also passed in just a few years, then we could trust Sheriff Beth Arthur, the Arlington County Police Department (which sometimes helps investigate incidents), and the Arlington County board members to improve the system.
But we’re well beyond that now.
Let me stress this again: now seven men of color – African-American and Latino – have DIED IN OUR COUNTY JAIL. Seven lives GONE. Seven families harmed because their husband, father, son, or cousin were lost while under county custody. Mr. Clyde Spencer and Mr. Darryl Becton are the next two most recent people who have died in custody.
During my own time incarcerated in my hometown’s county jail down in Florida, I saw first-hand the blatant racial disparities in how inmates were treated in detention and the criminal legal system. It’s troubling to keep seeing it play out here in our wealthy, progressive community of Arlington, too.
I’ll hold off on commenting further today on this recent case and what I believe needs to be done until our county’s leadership has had an opportunity to speak on it, but I am WHOLEHEARTEDLY SUPPORTING the Arlington Branch NAACP’s call for a U.S. Department of Justice investigation of Arlington County’s Detention Facility and following wherever else it leads, including to the rest of the county Sherrif’s office and county government.