By: Bryn Taylor, Red Phoenix Correspondent, Florida
Note: Heaven is the victim’s preferred name, though other media outlets use Erica.
The morning of August 12 2021, baby Ava passed away in her mother Heaven’s arms at a hospital here in Gainesville, FL. Heaven was picked up for a traffic infraction the evening before and forced to spend the night in Alachua County Jail. Despite informing police she was seven months pregnant and actively having contractions, cops left her in a cage anyway, where she gave birth, alone, to baby Ava. She screamed and begged the nurses for medical attention for four hours, but was nonetheless forced to endure the pain of childbirth without medical assistance and without her family by her side.
Jail staff finally believed her when she was holding her newborn child in her hands. Heaven and Ava were taken to the hospital, but it was too late. Ava tragically passed away.
What was supposed to be one of the most special and joyous moments in Heaven’s life turned into the most physically and mentally painful and traumatizing event imaginable. There is blood on the hands of Alachua County cops. They denied a black woman the medical care she needed, and are responsible for the death of her baby.
Heaven was supposed to return to prison after being discharged from the hospital, but she has since been released home. To Heaven, this indicates “they know they messed up.” Community leaders quickly organized a protest outside the Alachua County Jail the afternoon of August 12. Jail staff made no attempt to engage with protestors, and instead chose to cancel visitation for the afternoon. Ironically, republican “sanctity of life” legislation could lead to a successful lawsuit: B 1259 – INCARCERATED PREGNANT WOMEN signed by Governor Ron DeSantis in June 2020, dubbed the Tammy Jackson Act after a Broward County woman who gave birth alone in jail, ensures, among other things, that pregnant inmates in Florida’s prisons and jails are not placed in “restrictive housing” involuntarily while in labor. This opens the possibility for a successful lawsuit, should Heaven choose to take legal action.
I think this statement by Community Leader Kiara at the protest is an excellent summation of our message to the state: “Black women and babies are not disposable.” The agony and suffering endured by Heaven, and the stolen life of Ava resulting from a traffic violation illustrates the state has no interest in community safety or justice. They exist to punish, to harm, and to murder those the state feels are not valuable. Hundreds of women give birth inside prisons each year, beginning a cycle of trauma propagated by the state that increases the likelihood of being able to profit off of that person later in life via prison slavery. The state has never valued black lives, and simply sees them as a source of income.
The biggest ask from community leaders is to tell Heaven’s story. The crimes of Alachua County cops need to be as public as possible to expose their true nature. This tragedy serves as yet another reminder that cops don’t make communities safer, we do, via mutual aid and accessible social services. If you are interested in helping Heaven monetarily, funds are being raised for her here.
Categories: U.S. News