Juneteenth marks the anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the United States, but organizers of a protest in lower Manhattan on Tuesday argued slavery persists in the form of mass incarceration.
About 100 protesters gathered around 5:30 p.m. at the site of the New York City African Burial Ground in front of the New York City Criminal Court building to call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature to pass legislation that eliminates cash bail and helps protect against wealth- and race-based discrimination in the criminal justice system. Members of Justice Leadership USA, Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, Bronx Freedom Fund, Citizen Action of New York, Latino Justice, New York Communities for Change and VOCAL-New York were in attendance.
“Certain people, mostly black and brown people who are incarcerated, can’t afford the bails that are being imposed upon them, so they have to stay in jail pretrial, presentencing,” said Marvin Mayfield, the event’s emcee, who was held pretrial for 11 months in Nassau County Jail on $135,000 bail for a misdemeanor drug charge before accepting a plea deal.
Mayfield and other speakers told their stories of incarceration through a megaphone to a crowd of protesters wearing neon orange shoestrings around their wrists and necks as symbols of solidarity with those in prison. Mayfield led the group — which included New York attorney general candidate Zephyr Teachout and gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon — through a series of chants, such as “No money bail, decarcerate the jails” and “Emancipation, we need it now, we gonna tear this racist system down.”
“I’ve seen up-close what mass incarceration looks like, what structural racism looks like, and the idea that there are people who are stuck in jail just because of their debt makes no sense,” said Teachout, a law professor at Fordham University and a former death penalty lawyer.
“We have a deeply broken, deeply racist system that is holding people in jail; that is arresting people disproportionately because they’re people of color and then holding them for months and even years without even going to trial, often on minor offenses,” said Nixon. “The more stories you hear, the more individual stories, the realer it becomes for you, and I think that’s what every New Yorker needs to be doing now.”