When C first arrived at Rikers in August 2020, he was positioned right into a dorm with 30 beds lined up, diminished from 60 because of the pandemic. Based on him, the discount of beds within the dorms was due to prisoner calls for, not due to the Division of Corrections making an attempt to look out for the well being of incarcerated individuals. Regardless of this modification, he describes what can be thought of harmful circumstances, no matter COVID-19.
“There have been 30 males with 4 lavatory stalls to share.” In the course of August in New York Metropolis, “we didn’t have any central air, however the home windows have been saved open, and there have been these massive followers they used to blow air across the dorm,” he shared. Based mostly on his experiences and the historic popularity of the jail, C thinks Rikers needs to be closed.
Traditionally, organizers have sounded the alarm on the human rights abuses occurring at Rikers Island. Protests on the skin and the within have wealthy historic context and precedent. Mon M, an abolitionist organizer, reminds us that “[p]eople have been combating to shut Rikers since its origin … Folks have been rioting, placing, burning down cells, protesting, and extra because the mid-Twentieth century in opposition to Rikers, the NYPD, and the New York Metropolis Division of Corrections.”
These actions and efforts are the the explanation why the variety of individuals incarcerated in New York Metropolis dropped between 2000 and 2015 (with out the development of latest jails, Mon factors out). The Rikers Island Project Working Document was a report compiled in 1979, explaining the harmful atmosphere in Rikers. Since then, 1000’s of individuals have been subjected to the hazards, and a whole bunch have died—15 in 2021 alone, proving that Rikers is just not match to stay in existence.
“After a century, why ought to we belief a metropolis that has ignored the pleas of incarcerated individuals and their family members to function any jails?” asks Mon. As an alternative, she says, we needs to be specializing in “decarceration with out compromise.” This isn’t an unrealistic purpose. “On the peak of the pandemic, New York Metropolis launched 400 individuals, proving that with sufficient political will, numbers inside could be introduced down sufficient to negate the necessity for brand spanking new cages. We now have a possibility to set a precedent now that when catastrophe happens, we free individuals—not punish them.”
The federal government has been criminally negligent of the scenario at Rikers. As an nameless organizer mentioned, “Of us have been working for years on this, and the identical horrible tales are written in regards to the shitty circumstances, the shitty politicians, and the identical calls for and abolitionist anti-fascist organizing efforts have been occurring and are ongoing. Surveillance from the state makes this work and help of decarceration harmful for outdoor and particularly inside organizers and comrades. None of those calls for have been met; solely false guarantees and reneges the place progress appears to be like like Black fascists.” These guarantees embody plans to shut Rikers and open 4 new borough-based jails, for an obscene price tag of $8.7 billion—an affront to the calls for of organizers who wish to see Rikers closed with out the funding of public funds into incarceration. Progress is being framed as a Black mayor who believes in solitary confinement and increased policing. As the federal government refuses to take a position cash into housing, COVID testing, and different crucial and life-saving providers, it’s integral to withstand allocating these funds to additional criminalize susceptible New Yorkers.
When confronted with the bravery of incarcerated protesters combating for his or her rights, we on the skin should reply. Based on Mon, one of the best ways to do that is for people to “be constructing long-term with incarcerated of us, previously incarcerated of us, and their family members—not simply on this second of disaster, however over time.” As a result of these issues are systemic, this battle is just not going to be over in a month or two. Nevertheless, she additionally talked about methods to assist incarcerated individuals instantly, comparable to donating to commissary fundraisers or bail funds.
“Along with becoming a member of telephone zaps, and demanding their native electeds help calls to free as many individuals as doable from DOC custody,” Mon says. “Folks must be sending commissary, political schooling, doing mutual support, and supporting the livelihood of Black incarcerated individuals in New York Metropolis general—in addition to their communities.”
Elected officers—specifically Gov. Kathy Hochul—have the ability to shut Rikers, however not the desire. Mon says it’s as much as the individuals to create the circumstances for her to take action, because the starvation strikers at Rikers are trying to do now.
Reina Sultan is a Lebanese-American Muslim freelance journalist and one of many co-creators of 8 to Abolition. She is a PIC abolitionist and anarchafeminist, working to dismantle programs of white supremacist cisheteronormative patriarchy.
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