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 attempting to look out for the well being of incarcerated folks. Regardless of this variation, he describes what can be thought-about harmful circumstances, no matter COVID-19.
“There have been 30 males with 4 rest room stalls to share.” In the midst of August in New York Metropolis, “we didn’t have any central air, however the home windows had been saved open, and there have been these large followers they used to blow air across the dorm,” he shared. Primarily based on his experiences and the historic fame of the jail, C thinks Rikers ought to be closed.
Traditionally, organizers have sounded the alarm on the human rights abuses taking place 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 … Individuals have been rioting, putting, 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 explanation why the variety of folks incarcerated in New York Metropolis dropped between 2000 and 2015 (with out the development of recent jails, Mon factors out). The Rikers Island Project Working Document was a report compiled in 1979, explaining the harmful atmosphere in Rikers. Since then, hundreds of individuals have been subjected to the hazards, and tons of have died—15 in 2021 alone, proving that Rikers just isn’t match to stay in existence.
“After a century, why ought to we belief a metropolis that has ignored the pleas of incarcerated folks and their family members to function any jails?” asks Mon. As a substitute, she says, we ought 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 folks, proving that with sufficient political will, numbers inside will be introduced down sufficient to negate the necessity for brand spanking new cages. We’ve got a possibility to set a precedent now that when catastrophe happens, we free folks—not punish them.”
The federal government has been criminally negligent of the state of affairs at Rikers. As an nameless organizer stated, “People have been working for years on this, and the identical horrible tales are written concerning the shitty circumstances, the shitty politicians, and the identical calls for and abolitionist anti-fascist organizing efforts have been taking place and are ongoing. Surveillance from the state makes this work and help of decarceration harmful for out of doors and particularly inside organizers and comrades. None of those calls for have been met; solely false guarantees and reneges the place progress appears like Black fascists.” These guarantees embrace 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 need 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 vital 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 simplest ways to do that is for folk to “be constructing long-term with incarcerated people, previously incarcerated people, and their family members—not simply on this second of disaster, however over time.” As a result of these issues are systemic, this combat just isn’t going to be over in a month or two. Nonetheless, she additionally talked about methods to assist incarcerated folks instantly, similar to donating to commissary fundraisers or bail funds.
“Along with becoming a member of cellphone zaps, and demanding their native electeds help calls to free as many individuals as doable from DOC custody,” Mon says. “Individuals have to be sending commissary, political training, doing mutual support, and supporting the livelihood of Black incarcerated folks in New York Metropolis general—in addition to their communities.”
Elected officers—particularly Gov. Kathy Hochul—have the ability to shut Rikers, however not the need. Mon says it’s as much as the folks 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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