A North Carolina county seems set to drop private company G4S’ contract to provide security for libraries, parking lots and other municipal buildings. The move by Durham County commissioners followed a months-long campaign by a coalition of activists who criticized G4S, a British-Danish company, for its ties to the Israeli occupation.
On Monday night, Durham County officials decided to spur their years-long contract with G4S, opting to open up a new process for choosing how to secure municipal facilities. G4S could obtain that contract again, though activists in Durham have vowed to try to stop that from happening.
The North Carolina Jewish Voice for Peace chapter says that Durham County would be the first municipality to cut off ties to G4S in the U.S.
“The reason they were receptive is because there was so much outcry,” said Gabriel Baldasare, an activist and life-long resident of Durham. “They felt the pressure from our e-mails and our phone calls and the speaking at meetings.”
G4S is a global private security company that works with the Israeli, British and U.S. governments. It has come under fire from the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for providing security services to the Israeli prison system, which locks up thousands of Palestinians. Earlier this year, G4S said it would end its dealings in Israel in the next three years.
In Britain, G4S has been harshly criticized for its role in the death of Jimmy Mubenga, an immigrant who died in detention. Three G4S guards are on trial for his death.
The contract that G4S lost in Durham was worth about $1 million annually.
“It could set a precedent for other communities that contract with G4S,” said Ahmed Jitan, a Palestinian who lives in Durham and who campaigned against the contract.
Durham County officials did not cite the company’s role in Israel as the reason for why they were dropping the contract. Instead, they said that municipal security was too disorganized and that the county needed a centralized system, according to the Durham Herald-Sun. The county and G4S did not return requests for comment.
Since 2005, G4S has provided security in Durham County. But starting in July of this year, the company was placed on a month to month contract. That decision followed lobbying by those involved in the Durham Drop G4S Campaign, which includes Jewish Voice for Peace, the Muslim American Public Affairs Council, NC Peace Action and more. The coalition wrote a letter to Durham County over the summer expressing concern that “Durham County is unintentionally helping to fund human rights abuses around the world through its contract with G4S.”
In interviews, activists expressed concern that G4S guards had arrest powers and could look up outstanding warrants for Durham residents.
“We can barely hold our public officials accountable for racial profiling, so how can we expect to hold a private company accountable?” asked Jitan.
Durham County, which includes the city of Durham, is a liberal area in North Carolina. But Durham city’s police force has been criticized for disproportionately stopping black drivers. Last month, following pressure from activists, the city said it would require police to give drivers they pulled over forms telling them they did not have to allow a search.
In June, the Gates Foundation and the United Methodist Church dumped its investments in G4S.