Rev. Graylan Hagler
Rev. Graylan Hagler Credit: Hamil R. Harris

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Last night, a D.C. pastor and nearly two dozen protesters stood in the rain outside the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Department, chanting “Clean It or Close It!” The “it” they were referring to is the D.C. Central Cell Block, specifically the basement of the facility, where inmates are allegedly being kept in filthy cells infested with roaches and rodents.

Rev. Graylan Hagler, pastor of the District’s Plymouth Congressional United Church of Christ, led the protest after June 14 incident, in which he and eight other ministers were arrested outside of the United States Supreme Court for an action of civil disobedience. Hagler—a longtime District pastor who’s well known for leading the charge on protests, has been arrested for acts of civil disobedience in the past, he said that what he and the group of ministers endured was completely unacceptable for anyone.

“For 28 hours we were kept in filth. I sat up all night and killed roaches,” Hagler told City Paper. “It’s not about me going to jail, but there are prisoners living in inhumane conditions in the Nation’s Capital.”

Hagler recalled how, after the ministers were arrested for praying on the steps of the Supreme Court, they were shackled and taken to federal court. From there, they were taken to the DOC Central Cell Block. Hagler said he and the ministers prayed inside the lock up as some of the people locked up with them for other reasons joined. But as they were praying, the ministers realized just how rough the conditions in the Central Cell Block really are. 

“[It] is truly inhumane,” Hagler said. “It is filled with roaches and vermin. Thousands of men and women go through these conditions ever year and there is no way that we should be operating a facility with these deplorable and inhumane conditions.”

In a statement provided to City Paper, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Kevin Donahue said that “while the Central Cell Block, which is located in the Daly Building, is cleaned daily and regularly treated with pest-control measures, we recognize that the entire building is in need of a full-scale modernization. That is why the District’s Office of Public-Private Partnership recently opened a solicitation for qualified bidders interested in completing a full renovation of the Daly Building.

Last night’s protest comes three years after the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs released a comprehensive report looking at the condition of confinements at D.C. DOC facilities, which found similar conditions illustrated by Hagler. 

“There is an active infestation of vermin/pest throughout the facility,” the report states, and in addition to these conditions, inspectors found poor shower facilities and more than 100 physical problems that needed to be addressed.

Protesters outside the police headquarters held up signs that read “DC Cell Block: Original Roach Motel,” and “DC Jail Dirty Unsafe;” a number of protesters said there is a double standard when it comes to housing inmates in D.C., compared to the incarceration of political celebrities like Paul Manafort, whose trial begins today.

Julia Ridgely, a resident of Rockville, said “Paul Manafort was moved out of the D.C. jail to Northern Virginia after his crime because they considered it too bad of a jail, but it’s okay for D.C. residents. This is another example of residents in D.C. being treated inhumanely.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include a statement from the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice.