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Hey, Ellen DeGeneres, your privilege is showing.
The talk show host of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” sparked backlash on social media on April 6 after comparing her time social distancing to spending time in jail. The show, which returned to television this week from the talk show host’s $27 million home in Santa Barbara, California, started off with applauding the healthcare workers who are helping to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 62-year-old talk show host continued to reflect on her time at home by saying she’s been spending a lot of time with her wife, Portia de Rossi, joking she just found out that she’s from Australia. She then tried to make a joke by comparing her time in isolation to jail.
“One thing that I’ve learned from being in quarantine is that people — this is like being in jail,” DeGeneres said. “Mostly because I’ve been wearing the same clothes for 10 days and everyone in here is gay.”
The joke was not funny. Many people on social media slammed DeGeneres for her insensitive comment.
Following the backlash, the comment she made comparing self-isolation to prison was cut from the video that was posted to YouTube as of April 9. The video, which was also posted to the show’s Twitter account, has been removed.
Advocates continue to demand the release of incarcerated people vulnerable to COVID-19
DeGeneres’ insensitive comments come as prison reform advocates demand the release of elderly and medically-vulnerable people from prisons and jails due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On April 6, an incarcerated person who was held at Rikers Island in New York City died after contracting the novel coronavirus. The Legal Aid Society, a non-profit legal services organization in New York City, said in a statement that Michael Tyson, 53, died at Bellvue Hospital on April 5. Tyson was held at the jail over a technical parole violation, a non-criminal violation, since February 28.
“We are both heartbroken and outraged to learn that our client, Michael Tyson, who was held on Rikers Island for a technical parole violation, has passed away from COVID-19. This tragedy would have been entirely avoidable if only Governor Cuomo had directed DOCCS to act decisively from the outset of this epidemic to release incarcerated New Yorkers who, like Mr. Tyson, were especially vulnerable to the virus,” Tina Luongo, Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at the Legal Aid Society, said in a statement.
Hundreds of organizations have demanded federal and state officials to release vulnerable and elderly incarcerated people since the coronavirus has spread across the nation. As of April 10, there are more than 1.61 million coronavirus cases across the globe and more than 467,000 cases in the U.S. The confirmed death toll is nearing 100,000 cases. The Prison Policy Initiative, a non-profit organization that exposes the harm of mass incarceration, has created a tracker to keep track of state and local agencies that are taking measures to prevent the coronavirus from spreading in jails and prisons.
On April 7, the Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) organization slammed New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for not releasing elderly incarcerated people who are the most at risk for contracting the virus. As of April 9, there are 381 state prison employees who have confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 62 incarcerated people who have contracted the virus, WYNT reported.
“The Governor’s lack of action to release people from his prison system who are vulnerable to
this virus is truly [disturbing]. A record number of people are sick, lives have already been lost,
and a ticking time bomb looms over New York State,” the statement from RAPP read. “The Governor must act now by granting clemency to older people and others in prison to whom this virus presents a life and death risk.”
On April 9, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced that it launched a national television campaign in an effort to release incarcerated people who are vulnerable to contracting the virus.
“During this extraordinary pandemic threat, elected officials must act swiftly to save the lives of the most vulnerable and ensure that a jail and prison sentence does not become a death sentence,” Udi Ofer, ACLU deputy political director, said in a statement. “Public health officials are recommending reductions in incarceration rates, recognizing that social distancing is nearly impossible in prisons, jails, and detention centers. Where we haven’t seen swift action, we’ve sued, we’ve lobbied, and we’ve mobilized our supporters to free medically vulnerable and elderly people. We are using every tool in our toolbox, and are now taking our case to the airwaves: we can’t incarcerate our way out of this pandemic, but governors, sheriffs, prosecutors, and the president have the power, and responsibility, to save lives.”
There have been more than 10,000 incarcerated people who have been freed from prisons and jails across the U.S.because of COVID-19, according to the ACLU.
How to help
Below are a list of organizations that are working to free vulnerable incarcerated people from prisons and jails during the pandemic to support:
- The Prison Policy Initiative
- Release Aging People in Prison
- The Legal Aid Society
- New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (NYCAIC)
At the end of each story we publish about the coronavirus, we are now sharing the following information:
Coronavirus, officially named SARS-CoV-2 but also known as COVID-19, is a novel virus that causes a number of respiratory illnesses, including lung lesions and pneumonia. The virus spreads easily from person to person through the air when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes.
COVID-19, which originated in Wuhan, China, has spread to 185 countries. More than 1.61 million people around the world have become infected and more than 97,000 people have died. On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic. President Donald Trump declared the COVID-19 outbreak a national emergency on March 13. Less than two weeks later, on March 26, the United States surpassed China in the number of COVID-19 cases.
Symptoms of COVID-19 can take between two to 14 days to appear. The CDC recommends calling your doctor if you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 and develop symptoms, including fever, cough and difficulty breathing. If you also experience persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to arouse and bluish lips or face, seek medical attention immediately.
In order to keep yourself and others safe, be sure to wash your hands frequently, practice social distancing and avoid touching your face. The CDC is recommending that gatherings of 50 people or more be canceled for the next eight weeks. Click here for information on how to prepare for a quarantine.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Maria Perez is the associate editor for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.