Advocates and those who have spent time inside the harsh walls of Rikers Island continue to demand accountability from both elected officials and those seeking office in the upcoming November election.
A week shy of the first mayoral candidate’s debate, protesters who have been pursuing the immediate closure of Rikers Island demanded Tuesday that the candidates — including Democrat Eric Adams and Republican Curtis Sliwa — commit to the facility’s shutdown. Rallying on Chambers Street & Centre Street outside of City Hall Park on Oct. 12, speakers told a crowd of spectators that they will seek prompt, meaningful action from the next head of city.
“The next Mayor will inherit the human rights catastrophe on Rikers and The Boat. But they will also inherit a plan to close them led by survivors of Rikers. They will either be the Mayor who implements this plan and erases that stain on NYC once for all; or the only mayor in the history of this City who took office with a plan to close Rikers in place but made a choice to leave it open. We won’t allow that,” said Darren Mack, co-director of Freedom Agenda.
This joint action between advocate groups such as Women’s Community Justice Association, Mental Health Project – Urban Justice Center, BronxConnect, Legal Action Center, Exodus Transitional Community, Jails Action Coalition, and more also took the current Mayor to task for his handling—or as speakers charged—the mishandling of the crisis on Rikers.
Advocates tore into the de Blasio administration for running on promises to end racial and economic inequity, yet feel he has only exacerbated the situation at Rikers Island.
“The current state of Rikers Island is abysmal and every second that the Mayor continues to ignore this crisis and his commitment to close Rikers we are in danger of losing more lives. Rikers is called Torture Island for a reason, everyone from those detained, to visiting, to working are suffering because of the conditions. The least this current administration could do is begin the process to close the Rose M. Singer Center and address the trauma it has inflicted on all who live, visit, and work there,” Community Leader of the Women’s Community Justice Association Leah Faria said.
The group says they will do everything in their power to make the next mayor of New York City aware of the humanitarian crisis taking place on Rikers Island, promising that no matter how hard it may be to hear they will stop at nothing until the newly elected official makes a change.
“I was tortured – raped and starved – in Rikers Island. Yet people are still going through what I’ve endured. Too many have died — I mean, have been killed — at the hands of officers. It’s not right. The next Mayor needs to put an end to such abuse,” said Candi Hailey, a member of the Jails Action Coalition.
In a related note, Queens/Long Island Congressman Tom Suozzi became the latest lawmaker to tour Rikers Island on Tuesday. Afterward, he released a statement acknowledging that inmates and guards alike face dire conditions, but suggested a way could be found to vastly improve conditions there.
“I know firsthand that the deteriorating infrastructure that I witnessed today, the staffing levels, and years of mismanagement have led to the failure of the Rikers facility,” Suozzi said. “People are clamoring for the closing of Rikers. There are credible plans, that will require some amendments to build new facilities, utilize alternatives to incarceration for appropriate nonviolent offenders, along with other plans to close facilities and reduce the prison population, but no such relocation can take place for at least six years! Six years! Rikers’ physical plant must be improved. Staffing must be reassessed and adequate. Management must lay out a clear vision and a plan to implement that vision.”
With reporting by Robert Pozarycki