On Friday, June 19, I asked my dad, “Want to go to a protest with me on Sunday?” He promptly responded, “Sure.” And so I spent Father’s Day with my dad, mourning the death of a son.
Over 250 demonstrators gathered on Sunday, June 21, at Coupeville Library and marched toward Island County Jail to protest the death of Keaton Farris, who died of dehydration and malnutrition at the jail on April 7. Many people wore black t-shirts with a picture of Keaton and a quote from Keaton’s Facebook page: “I see your hate, and raise you One Love.”
It is clear to me and, I hope, to anyone examining this case or even glancing at the sheriff’s report that Keaton’s death is unconscionable. It is the result of neglect and abuse. It is the result of a system capable of making its own rules and protecting those who do wrong in its name. No person should die of dehydration in a public facility. No person should be denied medical and psychiatric attention while in the care of those paid to uphold our justice system. When a man receives 185 ounces of water over a thirteen-day period, the jail responsible for withholding 77% of the amount of water needed for him to survive is guilty of murder. Lori Taylor, a nutritionist in Coupeville, spoke to the crowd before marching: “A sin of omission is still a sin….This is neglect, and I don’t understand how it’s not criminal.” Those gathered answered in chorus, “It is.” I overheard someone say, “If this shit had happened at an animal shelter, it would be shut down.”
I didn’t know Keaton, but he grew up on Lopez Island, Washington, which is a forty-minute ferry ride away from my home on Orcas Island. I played basketball games in his high school gym. We shared a ferry route and a tide table. To hear that a man so close was treated in such a horrific way was a shock. It’s a shame that it often takes proximity to jolt us into caring, to wake us up. Police brutality and the inhumanity of American prisons are not faraway problems. They’re happening in my backyard and in yours. That they happen at all is an assault, whether the victim is a friend or a stranger.
I wonder about the words on the black shirts that surrounded me on Sunday: “I see your hate, and raise you One Love.” It’s hard to face this injustice with love. It’s hard to imagine change without rage. It’s hard to believe in reform at a jail that has had two deaths related to medical neglect in as many years.
Before ending her speech at Sunday’s protest, Lori Taylor appealed to the crowd: “I don’t want us to get destructive, but we need to get angry.” I’m angry. I’m angry that a man lost his life needlessly. I’m angry that a family lost a son. I’m angry that 250 people had to show their love for Keaton by protesting his death. I came to Coupeville on Sunday with my dad, a man who has shown me the meaning of conscience in action and thought. His love for me and his commitment to what he believes in are two of the strongest forces I have ever seen, and maybe it is this kind of love and commitment that allows us to begin to conquer hate.
I see your hate, and raise you One Angry, Fervent, Incessant Love.
For more information about Keaton, his family, and their efforts to hold Island County Jail accountable, visit http://www.keatonh2o.com.