My name is Fariha, and I am a house co-manager at the Peace House, D.C. Dwayne Staats asked me to answer a few interview questions to which he already has the answers. However, our audience might not. I remember the day of the James T. Vaughn uprising well, because in D.C., protestors were on the streets having their voices heard. I chose to stay home that day. As I was scrolling through my social media feed, I ran into a live coverage of the uprising. I had pushed it back in my mind and memory until my friend, Betty, asked if I wanted to go with her to the first day of trial. I remember saying and thinking, “oh, yes, I remember seeing that.” Honestly, I am convinced that the universe wanted me to be there. Truthfully, I was initially not as enthusiastic to go there. I was suffering from activist burn out, I was losing hope, nothing was making much sense at that time in my life, and yet we left to go support the trials.
I remember very well the extreme security measures, I remember how packed it was even outside the courtroom which forced my group to wait for empty seats before we were allowed inside. In D.C., we are used to appearing in court and doing court support. It was interesting to experience Delaware all in all for the first time. Surprisingly enough, it was not the defendants catching my immediate attention; it was the old white judge sitting in front of colonizer flags. Fast forward, not only was I highly impressed with the pro se defendant Jarreau Ayers and Dwayne Staats, the entire courtroom was. Judging from the judge’s face, even he was. Let’s be clear, anyone with even no understanding of the law could see that the state had pushed former subjects to become their star snitches. Their intention was never, ever to see justice as they claimed. Rather than finding real answers to questions, they were too focused on blaming just about anyone, and as history has shown us in cases similar to the James. T Vaughn Prison uprising, those who refuse to cooperate with the state or those who refuse to lie and snitch, are subjected to the states hunt for “people to blame.”
After closing arguments, something incredible happened: the defendant, Jarreau Ayers, was getting off his chair and, as his handcuffs were put back on his wrists, he turned around towards my little group, and thanked us out loud. Surrounded by COs, Court Police, and Delaware state police, he found it important to stand up and turn around toward us. Let’s repeat this one more time, he thought, as he was getting handcuffed to be forced back into his cell, that he needed to face us and he spoke the following words, “where you all from? I thank you all for the energy you brought in here. What’s your names? I will write you all.”
Listen, that was the craziest shit I have seen and I know everyone from my group was very touched. I remember leaving the courtroom thinking, “this guy did not care that he was surrounded by all those PIGS, he had the courage to do that while surrounded by all that.” It goes without saying that impression is what we took from thereon, and for me, it was the motivation to carry on what became some of the most important work I have been involved with.
I need everyone to understand the vaughn17 defendants are different and unique. They speak more about helping others than they speak about themselves. They are fathers, brothers, sons and husbands who, if given the chance, would be a great asset to our communities. I have been in contact with many of them now since the trials have ended. We have gone through creating workshops on the incarceration of youth, discussing how to break cycles of violence, we speak of faith, and many, many times, they mentor me with advice on things I face and my community faces in our lives. They not only made me a better community organizer, but they also helped me be a better version of myself. I am in particular thankful to Dwayne Staats and Jareau Ayers who have welcomed me into their families and continue to guide me to always see the bigger picture in doing this work. Last but not least, I am thankful to everyone in the Peace House and my friend, Betty, without whom I would have never been able to push through this work.