Mar 1, 2021
Nearly 120 prisoners took over two units of the St. Louis City Justice Center jail in the early morning hours of February 6. Prisoners broke fourth floor windows in the downtown facility and interacted with crowds of supporters and onlookers in the streets below. The revolt erupted after a guard assaulted an inmate and pepper sprayed wide areas. Police used brutal force to suppress the revolt which lasted for six hours.
Prisoners hung banners from the windows. One read “Free 57” to show solidarity with fellow inmates victimized for their participation in earlier prison protests. Another read “What about Anthony Smith,” a 24-year-old black youth gunned down by a white cop.
Tensions reached a boiling point because of deplorable and inhumane conditions in the jail. Prisoners staged protests in December and January over unsafe prison practices that caused rapid spread of COVID-19.
Even though COVID spread is notoriously high in prisons, with one in five prisoners infected nationally, inmates at CJC were frequently denied COVID testing and access to PPE. Social distancing was impossible at times as guards ignored safety protocols.
Sometimes officers intentionally herded sick inmates into small cells with other inmates out of spite and sheer cruelty. Prisoners also reported freezing cell temperatures, bad food, and other brutal treatment by officers.
To the media, prison officials spread lies that the rebellion was the work of “very violent” criminals only out to create a violent disturbance. They tried to disassociate the revolt from earlier protests and hide prisoner issues from public view.
In fact, most inmates at CJC are poor, accused of crimes and awaiting trial but unable to put up cash bail. Due to a backlog of cases, inmates report waiting more than 300 days in jail for their trial to begin.
Under U.S. “justice,” these inmates are supposedly “presumed innocent.” But in reality, capitalist “justice” presumes guilt as the poor have to wait almost a year for a trial.