by Jay Monaco
Friday afternoon, Jeffrey Pendleton’s former coworkers and fellow activists with Fight for $15 were joined by dozens of supporters (including a New Hampshire State Representative) in a vibrant protest march at Manchester’s Valley Street Jail. The event was as much a memorial for the tragically deceased young man as well as a strident demand for answers in his suspicious death.
Pendleton was found dead in the jail earlier this month. He was being held because, as a homeless fast food worker, he could not afford to pay the draconian $100 bond set for a simple marijuana possession charge, and his unexplained death in a jail known for its unusually cruel and violent conditions has left behind far more questions than answers. Labor organizer Howard Rotman laid it out straight in a Facebook post about the rally: Pendleton “was mysteriously ‘found dead’ on Sunday, 3/13/16, while in police custody at the Valley Street Jail after being arrested for ‘a misdemeanor’, in circumstances eerily similar to the internationally known case of Sandra Bland, a Black woman also active in the struggle against police brutality, who was ‘found hung’ in a police cell 3 days after being arrested subsequent to a traffic violation [failure to signal when changing lanes].”
Rotman is not alone in making the comparison to the equally tragic case of Sandra Bland, and in the meantime, Pendleton’s family in Arkansas have stated that their own medical examiners, contrary to the findings of local coroners, have found possible evidence of foul play.
Occupy New Hampshire alum Matt Lawrence, who attended the rally, told me that, for him, the issue is a straightforward one. “We should not be criminalizing homelessness. The suspicious nature of his death, and the fact that valley street jail has had numerous other infractions and known abuses creates, for me, a culture of domination and slavery….[The fact] that the second autopsy (commisioned by the family) found that he had suffered serious injury prior to his death only adds to the perception (correctly or not) that the officials and corrections officers who work there knowingly tried to cover up abuse. That Jeffrey was involved in activism only adds fuel to the fire.”
Seemingly without concern for the fact that Valley Street is quickly becoming widely known as a black hole of torture and death for many locked up on minor charges or those who, like Jeffrey, were too poor to afford bail, no further details have emerged as to exactly how and why Pendleton ended up dead.
WMUR quotes Andy Fontaine, Pendleton’s former coworker and comrade in the Fight for $15, saying, “We’re all just here to find out what happened.”
The same article quotes State Representative Renny Cushing (Hampton – D) putting it a different way: “Possession of marijuana shouldn’t be a death sentence.”
But as so many of the signs read last Friday, No justice, no peace. Until those involved account for the actions leading directly to Pendleton’s death and until we collectively recognize the need to transform the underlying systemic bias against the poor, the homeless, the wage-workers, and the nonwhite, we will not ease up.
THE FIGHT CONTINUES: The next scheduled action on behalf of Jeffrey Pendleton will take place this Thursday – March 31 – at 4 pm in front of the Nashua Police Department Headquarters. See here for more details, follow Communique New England for further updates, and COME OUT THURSDAY TO DEMAND JUSTICE FOR JEFFREY!
Special thanks to Howard Rotman for the generous use of his photos.