Available December 30 for streaming on YouTube and Facebook
If you drove past the Executive Mansion at 200 N. Blount Street between Election Day and January 1—the beginning of Governor Roy Cooper’s second term—you would have glimpsed a small group of demonstrators outside. Gathered in camping chairs and holding signs with the names of incarcerated people, these activists stood in rain-or-shine solidarity with the more than 30,000 people, most of them Black, who are incarcerated inside state prisons.
Decarcerate NC Now: Let Our People Go, a mini-documentary created by the Wilmington-based arts organization Working Narratives, charts that 58-day vigil. At just over eighteen minutes, the film is a moving testament to the tireless fight for decarceration.
“From the beginning, we said we were going to be like our comrades in Hong Kong, who had said their strategy was to be like water,” Kristie Puckett-Williams, statewide manager for the ACLU of North Carolina’s Campaign for Smart Justice, says in the film.
“I have a choice to be out here, or not be out here,” says Andrea “Muffin” Hudson, director of the North Carolina Community Bail Fund of Durham. “People who are incarcerated don’t have a choice. I choose to endure, because I want to stand in that gap for them.”
The vigil was more than candles or commemoration: It was a direct call to action for the governor, who, at the onset of the demonstration, was the first North Carolina governor in more than 40 years to not exercise clemency powers. That inaction, particularly during a pandemic in which North Carolina’s prisons have seen some of the state’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks, is, activists in the film say, a “violence.”
On December 17, the 44th day of the vigil, the governor’s office announced pardons for five men: Ronnie Wallace Long, Kenneth Manzi Kagonyera, Teddy Lamont Isbell Sr., Damian Miguel Mills, and Larry Jerome Williams Jr. Let Our People Go beautifully captures the moments of celebration, as Ronnie Long receives a phone call with the news in a Sheetz parking lot, and Puckett-Williams ecstatically streams it over the Vigil for Freedom and Racial Justice Facebook page.
“People are coming home, y’all,” she says. “It’s only five. So by no means are we done. But we got the first of what we know are going to be many people.”
Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.