Poughkeepsie, NY – On Thursday, August 27, the Hudson Valley Black Lives Matter Coalition and Samuel Harrell’s family and friends gathered in Hulme Park to call for justice for Mr. Harrell, a Black prisoner diagnosed with bipolar disorder who was killed by corrections officers at the Fishkill Correctional Facility. Fifty people gathered around enlarged photos of Mr. Harrell with his family, as his widow and sister spoke of their love for Samuel, their grief at his murder, and their commitment to fight until justice is won. The group marched down Market St., with several people wearing paper “bloody” hands and wearing signs with the names of the District Attorney (DA) and corrections officers known to have killed Samuel Harrell. Some of the crowd rallied in the plaza across from the DA’s office and others encircled the office, with some sitting down in front of the door and blocking it for an hour.
Mr. Harrell was killed April 21, when up to 20 corrections officers — a group known as the “Beat Up Squad” — shouted racial slurs as they repeatedly beat Mr. Harrell and threw him down a flight of stairs. Although Mr. Harrell’s cause of death was ruled a homicide, and although 19 inmates wrote affidavits and letters testifying to Samuel’s murder, DA William Grady has not filed charges. The Beat Up Squad remains on duty, assaulting inmates, throwing them in solitary, and commanding one to “forget what you saw here if you ever want to make it home.”
Diane Harrell, Mr. Harrell’s widow, had her statement read for her. “I will always remember Sam as a kind, loving, sensitive man who cared deeply for his friends and family… I cannot bear the thought of my husband’s last few minutes of life. I cannot help but visualize his beaten body. I know he suffered. I know he felt excruciating pain… I can promise that we will not rest until there is justice for Sam.” Cerissa Harrell, Mr. Harrell’s sister, said, “He wasn’t just an inmate. He was a brother, son, grandson, uncle, nephew, cousin, and friend to so many people…Sam’s life was stolen from him. He was only 30 years old. He had so much more life to live. Sam, we miss you every single minute of every single day. We will not stop fighting until we get you the justice you deserve.”
Margaret Kwateng, an organizer with the Hudson Valley Black Lives Matter Coalition, demanded the DA act immediately. “What is left to investigate? It has been four months. The autopsy ruled his death a homicide and there are 19 affidavits and letters documenting the fatal beating. If Bill Grady doesn’t press homicide charges, he will not only be condoning the continued terrorizing of current inmates at the hands of a known gang of violent corrections officers, but condoning racist violence in prisons in general.” Demonstrators committed civil disobedience, blocking the door of the DA’s office to show support for the family’s continued struggle for justice. The group then moved to block a nearby intersection for an hour and then a highway. There were no arrests. Cerissa declared, “We ask for the people involved in his death to be held accountable for their actions. We ask the District Attorney to bring charges against the men who murdered my brother.”
Statement by Cerissa Harrell:
It has been 4 months and 6 days since I lost a brother and a friend. There aren’t any words to express the intense feeling of loss I go through every day and every night. I miss him so much. There are a few things that people don’t know about my brother Samuel Harrell: He wasn’t just an inmate. He was a brother, son, grandson, uncle, nephew, cousin, and friend to so many people. He was well liked and respected as an individual, he minded his business, and tried to help those he could. Ask anyone who knew him: Sam was a gentle soul. He believed in God. Even though he may not have been perfect, he was perfect to us. He was loved so dearly by us, his family and friends. Sam’s life was stolen from him. He was only 30 years old. He had so much more life to live. Sam, we miss you every single minute of every single day. We will not stop fighting until we get you the justice you deserve. We ask for the people involved in his death to be held accountable for their actions. We ask the District Attorney to bring charges against the men who murdered my brother. I pray for those who, like me and my family, have lost a loved one at the hands of the authorities. No one should have to endure such pain. We will keep fighting until no one else will.
Statement by Diane Harrell:
As a single mother, it was difficult finding someone to care for both me and my children. Sam did exactly that: going above and beyond by taking the time to bond with them. It was important to him that he gained their trust and respect. He cared for my children like they were his own. He cooked meals for them, took them fishing, and tried to teach them important life lessons. Although Sam struggled with a mental illness, he was a soft, gentle human being who appreciated the small pleasures that life had to offer. He found great joy in spending quality time with his mother, teaching the kids a new skill, playing cards with his buddies, and catching fish in the creek. He was a hard worker: always fixing things around the house, taking odd jobs, and helping those less fortunate. Sam was greatly affected by people in his community, empathizing with their struggles and misfortune. He would always reach out to offer help. I will always remember Sam as a kind, loving, sensitive man who cared deeply for his friends and family. Although he was not perfect, he was someone’s husband, someone’s father, someone’s brother, someone’s nephew, someone’s uncle, someone’s friend. We loved him just the way he was. He was a good man. Now my husband is gone. Sam was murdered by a group of men who used their positions of power in the prison to act out their rage. I cannot bear the thought of my husband’s last few minutes of life. I cannot help but visualize his beaten body. I know he suffered. I know he felt excruciating pain. I cannot help but wonder what his final thoughts were. I imagine he thought about us, his family. Our family and our community are broken and will never be the same. I can only hope Sam is at peace. And I can only pray that the people responsible for Sam’s death will be held accountable. I can promise that we will not rest until there is justice for Sam.