Detroit Environmental Justice Leader Unjustly Incarcerated for Defending Family from Assault

Siwatu-Salama Ra Sentenced to Two Years in Prison During High-Risk Pregnancy

April Thomas, 206.321.3850,

Detroit, MI -- Earlier this month, Siwatu-Salama Ra, Co-Director of the East Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC), was sentenced to two years in prison for defending herself and her young child from an attacker. Siwatu is a member of the Sierra Club family, the daughter of Rhonda Anderson, a Sierra Club organizing manager in Detroit with nearly twenty years experience. Siwatu’s leadership at EMEAC has helped build community power through environmental justice education, youth development, and collaborative relationship building -- and Siwatu has emerged as a national and international environmental justice leader, participating in numerous conferences like COP21 in Paris.

Siwatu is 26, the mother of a 3 year old, and is 7 months pregnant. She came into contact with the criminal justice system because of an incident in which an attacker threatened to strike Siwatu, her three-year-old daughter and her mother with a car. Siwatu showed her legal, permitted, unloaded handgun in an attempt to scare off the attacker, as allowed by Michigan’s Stand Your Ground law. She did not fire the unloaded gun and no one was harmed.

Siwatu was unjustly arrested, tried and convicted of felony gun charges and sentenced to two years in prison. She is now experiencing a high-risk pregnancy in prison, and could be forced to deliver her child while incarcerated.

In response, Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club released the following statement:

“Siwatu-Salama Ra is a powerful and inspiring leader in the Michigan environmental justice community, and a member of the Sierra Club family who has been unjustly incarcerated for defending herself and her family as should be permitted by law. Siwatu has spent her life fighting environmental injustice and pushing back against the big polluters who are violating the law to poison her community. She does this difficult work against the backdrop of a legal system and society that disproportionately oppress people of color, particularly Black women, at every turn. In this case, it does not appear that she is being afforded the protection of the law she deserves, as is all too often the case for women of color dealing with our criminal justice system. Black women are incarcerated at a rate four times higher than white women, and Siwatu’s case is a tragic example of this injustice.

“Her unjust incarceration during a high-risk pregnancy  is just one example of the racism people of color in our country experience every day. Her story underscores the reality that our struggles are all deeply connected - from environmental justice to the fight against racialized oppression in the criminal justice system. That’s why we join the voices across the country urging Siwatu’s sentence be commutated or that she be released on an appeal bond so that she can have a healthy pregnancy, raise her children, and exercise her rights free from injustice as everyone in this country should have the opportunity to do.”

About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3 million members and supporters. In addition to helping people from all backgrounds explore nature and our outdoor heritage, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit