by Chris Stevenson
This is a reprint from an November 2014 Blackcommentator that somehow got lost– cs
African Americans have morphed into the virtually the same conditions in 2014 that we criticized the old deep-south about decades ago. The disturbing part is that high black unemployment, high black dropout rates, and high rates of incarceration of blacks directly coincide with a high number of black elected officials. This of course includes a black US President.
Recently I attended the wake of another victim of the notorious Erie County Holding Center (ECHC). There was a time this was happening so frequently one would think they have a deathlist. One article published in March 2010 charged them with a “suicide rate five times the national average.” Indeed cases like that of Richard Metcalf (11/30/12) raise strong suspicion of outright murder. RoseLee Yvette Mendez died while in custody on 8/24/14. After that things really got bizarre. Most of us just became aware of her name the week of the funeral, Sheriff Tim Howard no doubt has been noticing law enforcement around the country withhold names of guilty officers. In turn he withholds the name of the victim, making it most likely for me to assume there’s a guilty officer lurking around in that facility somewhere.
Withhold the victim’s name in the middle in an insular setting like Buffalo’s jail, and you withhold a circumstance.
As usual this ECHC death has been ruled a “suicide” with virtually no protests or hard questions from Buffalo’s major media or watchdogs. The silence was creepy, it’s times like this I really wonder about Buffalo more than the people they vote into office. Rose was laid to rest a full month after her death on 9/23, mostly due to her family requesting an autopsy. I was fortunate to meet her mother, daughter (a strong little girl) and other family and friends the day before at Lombardo’s Funeral Home. When they bought the casket in and opened it, I saw a young woman who had no business being there. And a load of questions with no answer. And No one from ECHC there to answer them during the time I was there with PUSH Buffalo’s Aminah Johnson and Janice Nelson-Wells.
Ironically just five days before her death a Court of Appeals overturned a State Supreme Court Decision to allow ECHC records remain private.
Mendez’ portrait as it was displayed on the wall of Lombardo’s-cs
I wrote a few years ago the ECHC deaths generally happen in twos at least. The weekend just before Mendez’ funeral David C. Liddick (41) died in custody. Liddick is the the 32nd inmate to die under suspicious circumstances in ECHC during the Howard/Gallivan era. Chuck Culhane told the Buffalo News that both deaths looked suspicious. Culhane is a board member of Prisoners Are People Too (PRP2) and a personal friend of Liddick’s, the same News article quotes a former prisoner whom disclosed that Mendez was “screaming and pleading for help while undergoing detoxification.” According to Culhane more than one cause has been given for Liddick’s death: “After the Buffalo News covered a small demo we did at the jail, a woman contacted me and said her son took his life out in the Genesee jail in July; he was in withdrawal and they just threw him in a cell and ignored him, much like what seems to have happened to Roselee Mendez. In Genesee they told the mother that she can’t see autopsy results for 5 months! What the hell is that about? Probably just trying to keep people from filing lawsuits in a timely manner. A guy I know died down at the Holding center a month ago; David Liddick, 41 years old, a worker, and they said he died of a heart attack, and then said it was a ‘pre-existing condition’ and finally told Dave’s sister it was from a ‘perforated adrenal gland.’ He got to the jail on a Monday and he was dead on a Saturday.”
This writer recently contacted the Genesee County Jail’s office and spoke with Superintendent William Zipfel, and he told me the name still “has not been released.” I told him this is October, and he repeated his statement. He did tell me to contact the Sheriff’s office, which I did. The next day Sheriff Gary T. Maha replied through email that “The inmate’s name was James J. Argento, age 36, date of death was 7/15/14 and cause of death was suicide by hanging.” This may be the first time Argento’s name was identified in print in connection to GCJ, a local TV or radio station most likely broadcast it last July.
If it’s true Mendez passed away while going through detox then she wouldn’t be the first. But due to the veil of secrecy surrounding it, anything is possible. A commentary by Elana Gordon published last spring raised questions about two Bucks County Facility inmates who died “while withdrawing from opiates.” Their County Controller is calling for a review of their detox procedures. Of course there is no comfortable detox, after that it gets worse, jails aren’t known to be accommodating, inmates anticipating detox are afraid of just thinking about it, and ECHC have a couple of officials known to often compare basic human rights in jails as equating to living in a “hotel room;” Howard and Erie County Attorney Cheryl Green.
In cases like these it’s extremely important to remember many of the same type of white American individual who signs up to become Police Officer or Sheriff’s Deputy also becomes prison guard or Corrections Officer. The lifeblood of such a cop is your discouragement and resignation that they are so powerful they can’t be beat. In other words why even question them? With that in mind here are a few basic things to remember when having lost a family member at the hands of police, deputies, or corrections:
1- Never let them tell you that you have no business trying to stop, interfere, or inquire about a family member or close friend. The difference between losing someone to bad policing as in the case of Mike Brown or Darren Wilson and losing someone locked up is of course the obvious lack of witnesses due to it taking place in a closed or insular setting.
Any real officer will look to talk to a family member-especially parent-as to the situation with their children, not try and con them by telling them it’s none of their business, or take a condescending tone or rush them away.
2- Do not expect any black police or corrections union or whatever they call themselves to back you. I’m not saying they won’t, I’m saying if they did it would be a Black History moment.
3- Go to the news media. Do not let police or corrections beat getting out the story if your loved one died under suspicious circumstances while in custody. Otherwise you can expect most people to believe they can shoot themselves in the chest with both hands cuffed behind their backs or some other ridiculous scenario they’ll push.
4- Hire an attorney immediately.
Erie County has a problem of withholding more than just names. Part of their problem with the Department of Justice (DOJ) was their refusal to come forth with public information regarding their practices back in 2009. Just recently a federal ruling in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the public. Last August the 18th ECHC was ordered to release written jail records demanded by the DOJ in a lawsuit having to do with a probe of the facility and it’s allegations of depriving inmates of their constitutional, mental health, medical rights and almost total lack of provision of an “inadequate system to prevent suicide,” that was cut short in ‘09.
Like many cities, Buffalo is not unique with high unemployment and high incarceration virtually sleeping in the same bed. Last summer Derek Neal and Amin Rick compared the status of black men 50-years-ago to now and wrote a paper of their preliminary findings at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Their findings show little or no difference between the plight of black men during Civil Rights Era and today except White America wasn’t as incarceration-crazed as it is today, there weren’t any “Rockefeller Laws,” or mandatory minimums, or “Stop & Frisk,” privatized prisons, or any other policies that were targeted towards black men mostly as is today prior and during the Great Recession. Like Malcolm said, “Stop talking about the south.” Right now few cities are more “old south” than Buffalo. We got the conditions to prove it.
These jails have had problems of momentous proportions other than the so-called suicides for some time now; rapes of women inmates by deputies, reported attacks against male inmates by deputies. So nothing can be ruled out regarding Mendez’ death. Some on the right might think I’m trying to imply Sheriff Howard and his deputies are direct murderers, just because there may be no physical evidence doesn’t mean it isn’t. Creating the circumstances that lead to giving people what they need isn’t making the jail into a Holiday Inn, this is murder too.
Chris Stevenson is author of “The MAO Syndrome: A Timeline of Newspaper columns Tracking Hate, Fear, Loathing, Obstinacy, and Stubbornness of many on the right & some on the left who are simply Mad At Obama.” He is also a regular columnist for blackcommentator, and a contributor to the Hampton Institute, his own blog www.thebuffalobullet.com, and a syndicated columnist. Follow him on Twitter, and Facebook, you don’t have to join any of them. Watch his video interviews for Griot Nation (GNN). Sign his change.org/DTL petition for an Anti-Racial Profiling law. Follow his Blogtalkradio interviews on 36OOseconds. Respond to him by email; firstname.lastname@example.org