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When future generations look back on the devastation caused by this coronavirus pandemic, they are likely going to say that what happened to incarcerated populations in America’s prisons is tantamount to crimes against humanity.

When future generations look at what politicians and prison officials did to protect those in their custody, they are likely going to say that they acted with complicity in allowing the deaths of those who have succumb to corona’s disease.

They will also likely say that those politicians and other officials, who could have acted, but stood by silently and did nothing, acted just as violently as the White police officer who put his knee on George Floyd’s neck.

This system has no heart, no emotion, and no soul. Like that look in Derek Chauvin’s eyes, this system is cold.

What we are witnessing through the lens of this coronavirus pandemic is a deliberate and catastrophic failure of leadership. Racism that is systemic. Judges, politicians and corrections officials failing to take actions that are decisive.

It’s not enough to see a federal judge reduced to tears. It’s not enough for Governor Newsom to say I lived in Marin and I care about the incarcerated population at San Quentin. No. Not with coronavirus being brought into this once pristine environment.

How did we all of a sudden forget about the 1918 epidemic? Is this déjà vu or déjà flu we are witnessing all over again or a capitalist attempt to get money because of threats of defunding?

We went from 16 to hundreds of infections in just two weeks. Yeah, Newsom’s right. It’s not Black people’s fault what’s happening. But it’s not enough for Nancy Skinner to call for a hearing and it’s not enough for Marc Levine to point the finger at a series of gaffes. No. Someone has to take off their mask. Stand up and take action. Take away the mystery, and be on the right side of history.

Set the captive free. Reduce prison capacity. Let them all breathe. Send them home to their families. If you want to be on the right side of history.

One must be willing to shatter that glass ceiling. Condemn the killing of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and others. Admit that Black lives matter. Remove all monuments celebrating White slave masters.

If you want to be on the right side of history.

It’s a shame that the voice of reason is often powerless. It’s often oppressed. But it silently manifests in cities in states of unrest. Rising out of the ashes like the Phoenix, unscripted.

Incarcerated and formerly incarcerated voices are screaming, “We are human! And we want justice!”

Nostradamus could not have predicted this cruel twist of fate. How people wound up marching in the streets after sheltering in place.

How did we go from riots to looting and threats of shooting? From being aghast to being hit by tear gas? Are we no longer asleep?

Military generals are defying their commander-in-chief? Mayors are considering defunding the police? Black Lives Matter signs are in white folks’ yards? Thomas Jefferson is being protected by the National Guard.

This isn’t the land of liberty but of police brutality. Black bodies are being slaughtered in the name of law and order.

In these unprecedented times in American history we are witnessing the rapid unfolding of centuries of trauma, from Washington to Obama, and now the Donald is spreading chaos and confusion, ignoring the Constitution, and calling American citizens terrorists for engaging in peaceful protests.

We must never forget, before the sun sets, when we are nothing more than ink pressed against paper, that future generations will judge how each of us stood in the face of adversity, and they will say who acted compassionately — who acted courageously — and which of us were on the right side of history.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Global Forum Online has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Steve Brooks is a writer for San Quentin News, an award-winning newspaper published out of San Quentin State Prison in California, where he is incarcerated. He has been published in the San Francisco Public Press, Street Spirit, All of Us or None and Voice of Witness. He is also a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and has won a 2020 Journalism Excellence Award by SPJ's Northern California chapter for two of his columns published by PJP.