When local activists found out that employees of the prison industry reserved a block of tickets to see the Red Sox take on the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday at Fenway Park, they decided to send a message.
And they did so in boldface letters from atop the Green Monster.
“NO ICE, NO PRISONS, NO MORE CAGES,” read the black-and-white banner draped over the left field wall before the top of the second inning.
Two prison abolition groups are taking credit for the demonstration.
Deeper than Water, which focuses on local prison conditions, particularly water quality for inmates, said in a Facebook post Thursday night that its members and those with Black and Pink, another anti-prison group, were trying to catch the attention of the American Correctional Association, which is holding its annual conference in Boston this week. According to its website, the conference, which runs through Aug. 6, organized a “night out” at Fenway Park for Thursday’s game.
“We wanted to make sure that they knew that they were not welcome here, and not appreciated,” Katie Omberg, a coordinator to the Boston chapter of Black and Pink, told Boston.com in an interview Friday.
Omberg was one of four protesters, as well as a legal observer, who were subsequently ejected from the game. Omberg said the ballpark’s security apprehended them “pretty quickly.” Red Sox spokeswoman Zineb Curran told Boston.com that the group violated the team’s signage policy, which prohibits hanging banners over the Green Monster, and that all five individuals were “escorted out of the ballpark.”
According to Omberg, the group was looking to capitalize on the “attention and energy” around migrant detention centers on the country’s southern border to shed light on conditions in the American prison system as a whole. She noted that the ACA conference features a broad swath of the industry, from companies like GEO Group and CoreCivic that directly contract with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to run migrant detention centers to vendors at local prisons in Massachusetts.
“As prison abolitionists, we were really excited to keep the conversation going,” Omberg said.
Amid troubling reports about the migrant detention centers, Deeper than Water wrote on Facebook that they were making three demands with the ACA “prison profiteers” in town: “1. Shut down the cages and the camps 2. Stop accrediting facilities that abuse people and violate human rights 3. Make the credentialing process public.”
The ACA did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday afternoon.
Unlike reform-minded advocates, Omberg said Deeper than Water and Black and Pink believe the “prison system, as it exists in the U.S., is beyond repair in a number of ways, because is a racist and classist system” — though the group also provides local support services to people inside and outside the system. Black and Pink particularly focuses on helping LGBTQ and HIV-positive people affected by incarceration; Deeper than Water was founded in light of long-running concerns about unsafe drinking at MCI Norfolk, the largest prison in Massachusetts, which Omberg said still hasn’t been addressed.
“Our belief is that instead of trying to make prisons more humane, the actual humane thing to do would be to do more transformative justice, community accountability, those sorts of models,” Omberg said, conceding that, for many, their vision may be “harder imagine compared to the status quo.”
Asked about the response their demonstration received, Omberg said she found it interesting “how many people have been saying things like politics and sports shouldn’t mix.” It’s a notion with which she disagrees.
“I have literally seen people [online] commenting ‘I come to sports to forget about what’s happening,'” Omberg said. “I can’t imagine living in a world where you can forget that children are in cages, and even adults are in cages — that we see anyone as so disposable — and you can come for nine innings and forget that other human beings are experiencing that.”