This week, Milwaukee County prosecutors announced some of the details in an appalling, tragic death in the Milwaukee County Jail.
In April 2016, a 38-year-old man was placed in solitary confinement within the jail. After seven days, Terrill Thomas was found dead on the floor of his cell. He died of dehydration.
Looking for something to be outraged about? Look no further than Milwaukee County.
Thomas was dealing with mental illness and reportedly flooded his regular cell, so Milwaukee County Jail personnel moved him to solitary confinement where they cut off water supply to prevent the same thing from happening again.
While that might seem reasonable for a brief period of time until the inmate calms down, staff in charge of the cell left the water shut off for the duration of the man’s stay until he was inevitably found dead of dehydration.
You would think he would’ve been fine, considering inmates receive meals, regardless of whether they’re in solitary confinement or not. But in Sheriff David Clarke’s Milwaukee County, inmates in solitary confinement receive only one beverage a week with their meals.
Because of his mental condition, Thomas was unable to tell jail officials he needed water. Despite the apparent pleas of other inmates to give the man water, he was still ignored and left to die by those who were meant to be caring for him.
I don’t know about you, but this is really upsetting to me. This really isn’t a question of whether jail officials were in the right or wrong, and it’s not a question of whether they should’ve “pulled the trigger” or not, like so many of the most horrifying police situations have been.
This was wrong. It was cruel, malicious and truly disturbing that this is the way we treat members of our own society. I really don’t think anyone can dispute that. This happened in my hometown, which continues to run under the reign of Clarke, who is, without a doubt, one of the most reprehensible men in American politics today.
But all of that aside, I think my bigger question is a lot more simple. Shouldn’t this be a bigger deal?
While it’s true national news organizations continue to report on the situation, it seems like business as usual continues in Milwaukee and beyond. The sheriff blew off the situation like the man’s life was worthless. I like to think the rest of us are better than that.
This is something everyone can and should object to. Regardless of what side you’re on when it comes to the #blacklivesmatter discussion, shouldn’t the slow, brutal death of a man neglected while in police custody upset everyone?
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Maybe people are tired of this happening again and again. Maybe to some people this is just another “sigh and shake your head” kind of situation. I’m not sure what I expected to happen, but I’d like to see something.
This is a new wake up call for several different areas that all badly need addressing. Treatment of black people in this country, the way we help the mentally ill and the way incarcerated individuals are treated all need to be dealt with, and this is a terrifying example of why.
Write a letter to your congressman, go to a protest or at least share a link to the story on Facebook. Just do or say something. Because the only way things like this stop happening is if more and more people become aware of what’s happening and show some outrage over it.
Connor Touhey ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in political science, history and journalism.