Durham County in North Carolina recently voted to drop the British security firm G4S over its role in prisons across the US, at Guantanamo Bay and its ongoing contracts with the Israeli military and Israel’s prison systems, where Palestinian women, children and men are routinely detained and tortured.
In Durham County, G4S provided security services at libraries and civic buildings.
Jade Brooks, a member of Jewish Voice for Peace - North Carolina and part of a broad coalition of local groups that have long campaigned against G4S, told The Electronic Intifada that it was a welcomed “second win.”
In November 2014, after a year-long campaign by the Durham Drop G4S coalition, “county commissioners voted to end their [$1 million private police services] contract with G4S which they had had for about thirteen years, and open it up again for bidding,” Brooks said.
Jewish Voice for Peace stated in a November press release that “Durham reconsidered its security contract after residents protested the role of the privatized police force in the community and the company’s involvement in Israeli institutions that detain and discriminate against Palestinians.”
Last week, in deciding between several different companies — including G4S, which had re-applied for the contract — the Durham County board of commissioners chose a local company “that has agreed to pay its workers a living wage and consider rehiring the G4S workers,” Brooks added.
“Shaping our community”
Brooks said that Durham-area human rights and civil rights activists had galvanized around the Durham Drop G4S campaign, responding to the Palestinian-led call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) to hold Israel accountable for its violations of Palestinians’ rights.
“We started a campaign very much as a coalition of people interested in BDS … we’re responding to the call from Palestinian political prisoners,” Brooks said. “But we also wanted the opportunity to say, why are we spending our county money — which could go toward all sorts of things — on [private] security?”
She explained that activists also used the campaign as a way to bring attention to the private security and prison industry “and how it was shaping our community.”
Kay-Robert Volkwijn, a retired South African Presbyterian minister and member of the Durham Drop G4S campaign, told The Electronic Intifada that he was very involved in the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s and wanted to be involved in the current BDS campaigns against Israeli apartheid.
“I saw it as an opportunity to add my voice and my experience to this group,” he said.
Brooks said that Durham County had joined the boycott of South African goods during the apartheid era, and current campaigners were able to “use that as precedent for them taking action on G4S. We were building on the work that had been done in the ’80s.”
The global campaign to boycott G4S is growing. Just this past week, the University of Helsinki in Finland canceled its security contract with G4S over its contracts with Israel’s prison system.
The Electronic Intifada’s contributor Michael Deas added on Thursday that more than twenty businesses in South Africa had pledged to stop contracting with G4S, joining companies, unions, universities and charities who have divested from the firm.
Additionally, Deas wrote, “the Bill Gates Foundation and the United Methodist Church in the US have both divested from G4S as a result of BDS activism.”
Listen to the interview with Brooks and Volkwijn via the media player above.