We don’t yet know why Matthew McCain died in the Durham County Detention Facility on January 19. The sheriff’s office is investigating, as is the county’s department of public health. It may be months before their official reports arrive.
What we do know is that McCain, 29, an epileptic and diabetic, had told his family he was not receiving his medication. We know that the most recent review of the jail by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services found that its medical plan was not in compliance with state rules. And we know that in December, two guards at the jail were fired and arrested for assaulting inmates.
It’s also clear that Durham residents are increasingly disgusted by the unabated stream of bad news coming from the local jail. On Saturday afternoon, more than 100 protesters marched from CCB Plaza to the jail. They carried signs (“No more jail deaths”; “Justice for Matthew”; “Black Lives Matter”) and shouted chants (“Back up, back up, we want freedom, freedom/All these racist-ass cops, we don’t need ’em, need ’em”). They blocked off traffic in the street between the jail and DPAC, where Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy would perform that night. The redneck comedians’ tour-bus generator hummed in the background as marchers arrived to a Kendrick Lamar track.
The juxtaposition was too severe to process.
McCain’s family members addressed the crowd. His girlfriend, Ashley Canady, said, between tears, “He leaves behind two girls, one that he will never get to take to a dance, a prom. He will never go to her wedding. She will never get to see what her dad looks like. All she can know is just the stories of his life. But I promise we will find justice.”
The daughter of Dennis McMurray, who died in 2015 at the jail, added, “They neglected him when he screamed out for help. No one came. He collapsed on the floor and died …” She couldn’t go on. There was applause, then silence.
Before the protesters marched back to CCB Plaza, they joined together in unison for a tribute to those inside the towering stone buildinga wordless, guttural cheer. It lasted a minute, the roar getting louder and louder as it went on. Until some change comes to the Durham County jail, it will only get louder still.