Last month our reporter Ariama C. Long did a fantastic job outlining the inhuman conditions at Rikers Island and a need to close it down. Among a cadre of informants she cited was the cogent comments from Brandon J. Holmes, co-founder of the Freedom Agenda. He told Ms. Long that back in August when he was doing voter registration for the incarcerated he saw whole rooms with at least 60 open cots “where people were sleeping communally, no masks, no circulating air, sticky floors, and a bad stench.”
In effect, as protesters take to the streets to close that “hell hole,” the cry of “Rikers equals death” has gained resonance, particularly after Freedom Agenda member Crystal Clarke voiced her demands at City Hall Park earlier this month. “I am here to let the elected officials know that our loved ones are on Rikers Island, and they do not deserve to feel as though they are cast away and out of sight and mind.
“They are being pushed to their limits mentally and physically every day,” she continued. “If our mayor, governor, judges, and DAs do not decarcerate they will contribute to the demise of hundreds of people.” Clarke herself is the partner of a person incarcerated on Rikers Island.
At least another elected official has heard her plea. Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke, not related to Crystal, recently issued a statement in support of the initiatives to close the facility, linking her concerns with those already on board such as Mayor-elect Eric Adams, and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. “For far too long, we have heard the harrowing, sickening stories of the cruelty and inhumanity allowed to fester within the walls of Rikers Island. These abuses are appalling, and they must be brought to an end. I fully support Freedom Agenda and its allies in their efforts to bring attention to this crisis and close our city’s most reprehensible incarceration complex,” she said.
“Mayor de Blasio has put the wheels in motion necessary towards ending this decades-long humanitarian crisis,” Clarke added. “The onus is on our next mayor to finish the work and decisively say New York does not tolerate injustices, wherever they arise. Let me be clear: Rikers Island should not be open another minute. It cannot be open another administration.”
As reporter Long noted in her article, the mayor’s executive order called for the NYPD to help operate courts so staff can shift back to Rikers, more “accountability for AWOL DOC officers, emergency contracting for repairs and cleaning, and speeding up intake to reduce crowding.”
The crowded conditions only exacerbate the spread of disease and discontent, Queens Assembly Member Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas said at the City Hall Park rally. “We’ve lost 12 people on Rikers Island this year and all of them were avoidable. The crisis on Rikers Island is a crisis of inhumanity and despite knowing the solutions, the mayor, judges, and district attorneys are choosing not to act. There is nothing just about that. We must decarcerate Rikers,” she concluded.