Say His Name: Darren Rainey

Over the weekend, as I arrived home from a much needed workout and prepared to hop in the shower, I did what I always do: I scrolled through my Facebook feed to catch up on some news.  I was completely prepared for hearing more about Trump/Russia or getting irritated at people for posting mindless and/or offensive nonsense, but I wasn’t prepared for a post from a classmate covering the outcome of one of the most heinous murder cases I had ever heard of.

I first heard the story of Darren Rainey a few years ago.  This is the first story I read about him and what happened to him while he was in the custody of the State of Florida. Included here is an excerpt from that piece:

Mark Joiner was roused from his cell earlier than usual on June 24, 2012.

He was handed a bottle of Clorox and was told it was clean-up time.

Joiner was used to cleaning up cells in Dade Correctional Institution’s psychiatric ward, and many of them were frequently brimming with feces and urine, insect-infested food and other filth.

Joiner thought he pretty much had seen it all, from guards nearly starving prisoners to death, to taunting and beating them unconscious while handcuffed for sport. He recalls one inmate was paid a pack of cigarettes to attack one sick inmate whose only offense was to ask if their mail could be delivered before bedtime.

But Joiner, a 46-year-old convicted killer, saw something that morning that shook even him to his core.

On the floor of a small shower stall he was ordered to clean, he saw a single blue canvas shoe and what he later realized was large chunks of human skin.

The skin belonged to Darren Rainey, a 50-year-old mentally-ill prisoner whom the guards had handcuffed and locked in the cell the night before. Witnesses and DOC reports indicate Rainey was left in the scalding hot water for hours, allegedly as punishment for defecating in his cell.

Rainey, who carried a diagnosis of schizophrenia and struggled with a cocaine addiction, was imprisoned for cocaine possession.  He was murdered in 2012, but there was no real coverage of it until a few years later.  You may wonder why (or you may not because Florida), but the truth is that prison officials and staff worked hard to cover it up.  As a matter of fact, the only reason it has received any attention at all is because another DarrenRaineyinmate was brave enough to blow the whistle on Dade Correctional Institution from inside its walls.   Harold Hempstead’s cell was just beneath the shower where Rainey was boiled alive and, in spite of the fact that he will spend the rest of his incarcerated life dealing with the consequences of being a “snitch”, he demanded that the State of Florida investigate the death.
According to all reports, Rainey begged the guards to turn off the steaming stream of water.  According to all reports, the guards responded by mocking him and asking if he liked the shower they were giving him.  And according to all reports, Rainey screamed that he couldn’t take anymore just before collapsing and dying on the floor of the stall.
This case should have been fairly straightforward.  There were witnesses willing to talk.  There were accounts of Rainey’s skin melting off of his body and needing to be scooped into a shoe and thrown in the trash. There were records stating that his body temperature was so high upon his removal from the shower that it didn’t register on the nurse’s thermometer.  Unfortunately, though, none of this was enough.
Last week, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle chose not to charge the four guards with a crime.  John Fan Fan, Cornelius Thompson, Ronald Clarke and Edwina Williams will walk away free individuals despite having committed one of the most gruesome crimes I have ever heard of.  And you have to wonder: why?
Rundle’s official reasoning was that she had no proof that the guards disregarded Rainey’s safety or well-being.  She also stated that the shower, itself, was “neither dangerous nor rundle-fernandez-katherine-2unsafe.”  I wondered how she could arrive at such conclusions, especially given so much evidence to the contrary, so I did a little digging.  Turns out some official documentation contains a vastly different story than the one told by witnesses and inmates at the facility.  Now, perhaps I am jaded, but I don’t really have faith in law enforcement’s ability to police itself or to produce honest documentation of their actions, especially when it comes to interactions with people of color.  In other words: I call bullshit.

The fact of the matter is this: black men have long been exploited and discriminated against within the American justice system. Florida is notoriously problematic in this regard.  This fact, coupled with Rainey’s addiction and mental health issues, rendered him an easy target.

The issues here are bigger than just Rainey’s case; they are systemic problems that permeate the criminal justice system as a whole.  Rainey’s addiction likely developed as he attempted to self-medicate his schizophrenia.  Therefore, we must stop seeing every addict as a criminal. We must shift our views on drug possession, as is not always a criminal act, but often an act of desperation. Rainey, like most people with schizophrenia, needed medication and psychiatric support in a therapeutic environment. The fact that he was a black man in Florida, though? That nearly ensured he wasn’t going to get the help he so desperately needed.

For example, the response to the suburban opioid epidemic has been to view addiction as a public health issue (which it is!); however, when communities of color were grappling with the same thing, both with opioids and crack, the response was very different. The response was militarized police, mandatory sentencing, and a media narrative that villainized an entire group of people as irresponsible, dangerous, and barely human. To much of American society, and especially within the American justice system, black men are seen as disposable. Black men with an addiction and a severe mental illness are seen as even more so…and that’s one of the most devastating pieces of this story.
So, if you read this and found yourself infuriated and grasping for action items, here are a few ideas for you:
1.  Tweet at Katherine Fernandez Rundle to demand that she seek justice for Darren Rainey or submit her resignation.
2. Call her office and give her a (very mature and well-informed) piece of your mind.
“Hi, my name is __________________ and I am calling on behalf of Darren Rainey.  I am very disturbed by your decision not to press charges against the guards involved in his gruesome murder. Given the heinous nature of this crime, I urge you to reconsider your decision.  People of color, people with disabilities, and people with addictions deserve justice in the same way that the rest of your constituents do.  I will be paying close attention to how you handle this moving forward and hope to see a shift in your approach.  Thank you.”
3.  Plan and hold a rally or vigil in Rainey’s name.  Choose a park or other high-traffic, public area in your community to tell his story and honor his life.  I am working on planning one for this Thursday evening.  If you happen to know me personally, please reach out.
Remember, we are the resistance and we must fight for justice for those who can no longer fight for themselves. Injustice does not begin and end with Donald Trump; it is happening all over this country.  We need to make sure we are paying attention and we are using our voices to inspire action at a community level.  Darren Rainey deserves that.  Say his name.

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