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Malik Washington: Activists rally for SF news editor release, end to for-profit prison corporations

When Keith “Malik” Washington in January exposed a Covid-19 outbreak at a federal “transitional housing” facility in the Tenderloin, he was met with a disciplinary report for “Unauthorized Contact with the Public.”

The San Francisco Bay View news editor said his time at the Taylor Street Center was extended, his cell phone was confiscated, he was prohibited from contact with the press and was warned that additional disciplinary actions may be taken if he continued to speak out about the conditions.  

The Taylor Street Center is run by the GEO Group, Inc., a for-profit prison corporation contracted by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. 

A rally was held Sunday afternoon in front of the facility at 111 Taylor St. and participants called for justice in Washington’s case, an end to for-profit prison operators and an end to attacks “on Black journalism.”

Activists from various organizations, San Francisco public defenders and District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney lent their support during Sunday’s socially distanced rally.

Washington discussed the outbreak with Tim Redmond of 48 Hills in January. 

The conditions at the center were later highlighted in a documentary produced by the Adachi Project, named for the late San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi. The film titled “One Eleven Taylor (During a Pandemic)” is an 11-minute film that follows a 64-year-old man who was one of 80 residents at the Taylor Street facility amid the pandemic.

In the film, the man said that when he arrived at the facility, his parole officer told him to “just consider it your apartment.”

“You have more freedom where you can walk around and go in and out whenever you want, kind of.”

The man said:

“I guess these people are just banking on the fact that if you’re not used to freedom, they don’t have to really give it to you.”

Using a camera, the man documents inside the facility, pointing out that residents are assigned to rooms housing two to 14 people each. He goes on to recall a meeting held when the Covid-19 pandemic struck — he asked then if residents would be given masks. Masks are often prohibited as a condition of parole. He claims the assistant CEO told him:

“Oh, you don’t need masks unless you already have coronavirus.”

The man claims parole agents stopped visiting the facility once “there was a hint of the virus” there.

The man films another resident about to be released during shelter-in-place orders, who had not yet secured safe housing but nonetheless was told to leave. He shows a group of about 10 residents inside the day room without any social distancing, and an ambulance that arrived to take a resident out. He said EMTs were wearing blue personal protective equipment.

Residents were not informed then about why the resident was removed, but were eventually told that “one person” had tested positive for Covid-19 and that person was brought back to the facility.

Another man in the film said:

“We have one confirmed positive case, and, believe me when I tell you this, there’s no such thing as just one confirmed case. … I guess, you know, something happens to one of us, it’s no big loss to society.”

Days later, the residents were finally tested and told they would be notified by cell phone of the results. The man filming said: 

“The staff was buzzing around like crazy and it didn’t take a genius to see them in their white paper jumpsuits — we realized that some of the results had come back and people were one-by-one testing positive. … There was one guy, then there were four people and before the night was over, there wound up being seven people.”

Not long after, 12 residents were in quarantine after testing positive. San Francisco Bay View said in a report published Saturday they hadn’t found “evidence that the facility reported this outbreak to either the San Francisco Department of Public Health, or the California Department of Public Health, as they are required to do so by law.”

The conditions and resulting outbreak documented in “One Eleven Taylor” give credence to Washington’s account of the situation, which he was allegedly retaliated against for discussing with the media. 48 Hills ran the story on Jan. 11, including a copy of a letter to the facility’s residents and stating that Washington, who was already employed and had an apartment waiting, had just about three months left on his federal sentence. He is now scheduled to be released in May.

Washington, represented by attorney Richard Tan, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, and requested an immediate restraining order against the Bureau of Prisons and the GEO Group. The suit alleges the retaliation measures are a violation of Washington’s First Amendment rights and further seek to silence the media from exposing the unsafe conditions and Covid-19 outbreak. A hearing is scheduled to take place Wednesday morning.

San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju has expressed solidarity with Washington, something Tan hopes to get from other elected officials as well. He has appealed to President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Domestic Policy Council Director Susan Rice, asking that they “get involved right now” and “put their hands on this situation.”

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