Jomo Kenyatta and several other members of Black Lives Matter Savannah attended the Chatham County Commission meeting. When it was over, Kenyatta spoke to reporters.”The jail in Chatham County has been troubling for years,” he said.
Kenyatta talked about the death of Matthew Ajibade, a young man who was bipolar and who died after an altercation with guards and being tased. He acknowledged that Wilcher wasn’t even in office when Ajibade died, but said that there have still been issues during Wilcher’s tenure.
“And what is troubling to many of us is the lack of care and lack of concern and lack of tears by Sheriff Wilcher for the death of continual black men, why are black men dying?”, Kenyatta asked.
Wilcher told reporters that five inmates (including three African Americans) have died since he took office last year. He said three died by suicide and that the other two deaths were determined to have been natural causes. Wilcher said conditions at the jail have been steadily improving, especially in terms of a different healthcare company that he says has offered more mental health intake and or treatment..
Still, Kenyatta said the sheriff is ultimately responsible for the deaths under his watch. “We will make an offer to Sheriff Wilcher, resign within 30 days or face individual lawsuits from up to 100 inmates,” he said. Kenyatta also said that investigators will look at filing a “conditions” lawsuit at the jail.
Wilcher told us “everyone is entitled to their opinion but you’ve got to know what you’re talking about before you stand up there and talk to people.”
Wilcher said he is certainly “not resigning.” He said if they want me out, they can “take me out in 2020 with a vote against me.”
“I understand that people are concerned, they’re not more concerned than I am,” said Wilcher. “That’s one of the reasons I went back to the jail to make things better. I was retired, I didn’t need the money.”
Kenyatta told reporters he had “not tried to speak to Wilcher but had offered on the group;s Facebook page to spend a week in the Chatham County Jail.” Kenyatta said he would sign waivers and that he indicated on Facebook “if he made it out of the jail alive, the group would drop their complaints.”
Wilcher said it wasn’t possible to do something like that and said there was no amount of waivers to prevent liability if there had been an injury of some kind.
Kenyatta said the legal action may be forthcoming, and would be filed by inmates who can talk about conditions under Wilcher’s leadership as sheriff. “And because Black men do matter to us, we’re willing to risk whatever it takes so that no one else dies in that facility,” he said.
Kenyatta’s leadership of the group – Black Lives Matters Savannah – has become a controversy.
Thursday, members of several local African American groups said they don’t endorse his leadership of BLM Savnanah because at one time he seemed to advocating stirring up trouble or even violence.
Kenyatta says BLM Savannah will not march or protest but rather “hit the city where it will pay attention, i.e. money.”
Friday, Kenyatta said he is affiliated with a BLM group in South Carolina and that he has worked closely with BLM in Atlanta. He said he grew up in Augusta, but has lived in Savannah for the past year.