Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center, Pine Prairie, Louisiana August 10-11, 2020 and August 21-ongoing, 2020
On August 10, 48 African detainees in the Bravo Delta dorm of the Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center declared their collective refusal to eat, continuing a years long saga of collective protest and repression. The majority of the strikers are English-speakers from Cameroon. After crossing three continents and an ocean seeking safety in the US, their battle for dignity continues within ICE detention.
Sylvie Bello, of the Cameroonian American Council, situated the hunger strike in the broader context of Black August, a celebration that began in California’s prison system in the 1970s.
“August is Black August and in the spirit of the ancestors before them and the elders before them who started what is known as Black August out in California, the Cameroonians at Pine Prairie led a protest in the form of a hunger strike.”
The strike follows other significant protests led by Cameroonians in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention this year, including one in February (Black History Month) and one on Juneteenth, a yearly celebration of the formal end of chattel slavery in the US. Citing the significance of Juneteenth, the strikers released a video and audio statement explaining their motivation for acting.
On August 10, one striker reported that as they returned to their dorms after refusing to eat in the cafeteria, guards tackled three detainees, intending to take them to solitary confinement. A scuffle ensued as the remaining 45 detainees refused to return to their dorms until the three were released.
“I stood up so strongly,” the detainee recalled, “they had guns, I tried to remove [the officer]’s leg from them, they were trying to put them in a choke hold, I ran toward them, he was pointing a gun at us, a long gun. I asked them to shoot me and kill me.”
As a result of their courage, the three detainees bound for solitary were released and returned to their unit with the rest of the strikers.
Detainees paused the strike when ICE agreed to negotiate, but these talks broke down, and by August 21st the strike was back on.