‘Exercise leadership!’ #CLOSErikers takes protest to de Blasio

Stephon Johnson | 7/6/2017, 10:30 a.m.
As New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio exited the YMCA last Friday, protesters greeted him with chants of “Exercise ...

As New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio exited the YMCA last Friday, protesters greeted him with chants of “Exercise leadership! Ten years sucks!” The #CLOSErikers campaign was determined to be heard one way or another.

CLOSErikers, a coalition of people devoted to the closing of jail facilities on Rikers Island, greeted the mayor during his usual workout time at the Prospect Park YMCA. They were protesting a recent report released by the city titled “Smaller Safer Fairer: A Roadmap to Closing Rikers Island.” According to the city’s report, closing the jail would take 10 years and a combination of a decline in Rikers’ population, an increase in capital funds, a continued decrease in crime and more political advocacy.

But the #CLOSErikers campaign conducted a review of the city’s report and compared it with their own suggestions and the ones from the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform (aka the Lippman Commission). Both the city report and the Lippman Commission suggest a 10-year time period for closing Rikers Island. According to activists, that’s too long of a wait.

“This goal of 10 years is too much time wasted,” said Samantha Johnson, a member of the #CLOSErikers campaign, in an emailed statement. “We need Rikers closed now and for good. We will continue to fight for the right to fix our communities and will continue to advocate for those who cannot.”

Another #CLOSErikers member, Darren Mack, confronted de Blasio midworkout inside the Prospect Park YMCA. Captured on video and posted on the campaign’s Twitter page, Mack demanded that de Blasio come up with a “stronger” plan for closing Rikers Island that occurs in a shorter timespan. De Blasio eventually waived him off and said, “We’ll talk later.”

“The voices of people directly impacted by Rikers and our allies brought us to this point and it must be those same voices at the table discussing any plan to reach the finish line,” said Mack in a statement. “We want transparency.  We want inclusion.  Anything less than that is not progressive.  A 10-year plan is not progressive.  This is a fundamental issue of justice here, and it would be fundamentally wrong to delay it that long.”

De Blasio went on to express dismay at a later news conference about being interrupted during his workout routine. The mayor told NY1’s Grace Rauh, “I’ve been going there for three and a half years as mayor. It’s the first time that particular type of thing happened. You can’t disrupt other people in the middle of their private time. That’s just obvious.”

But activists don’t mind inconveniencing the mayor if it means helping to close Rikers.

“We should be ashamed every day that Rikers is allowed to exist in New York City, and the Mayor should be doing everything in his power to close that awful place as soon as possible,” said Alyssa Aguilera, co-executive director of VOCAL-NY, in a statement. “Plans and policies for reducing the city’s jail population and closing Rikers already exist. What we need now is the political will and a swift timeline to enact change.”