It’s a new year and as Governor Kathy Hochul settles into her role as the now-elected governor of New York State, we will likely see some cracks in the relationship between her and New York City’s Mayor Eric Adams. We know the two have worked closely together these past few months, but the rubber may hit the road as the two try to negotiate everything from budgets to bail reform, housing policy and the homeless, and education and the environment.
Both leaders have their respective constituencies. Both leaders are keenly aware of their unique and historic positions as executives of the state and city, respectively. And both leaders tend to represent more moderate policy positions within the New York Democratic party. As we watch the two leaders grow into their roles (and pray their relationship does not devolve into de Blasio and Cuomo petty fights each day), we must remember the people behind all of these policy fights.
What continues to weigh heavily on my heart are those in Rikers Island jail. According to the Vera Institute for Justice, in 2022 alone, nineteen people died while at Rikers. We know far too many Black and Latino young men and women are held there because they cannot make bail. Essentially, those who can make bail await their trial at home and those who cannot must oftentimes wait in jail for a court date, which could take weeks, months or even longer.
According to NYCLU.org, roughly two years ago, “New York lawmakers passed legislation that eliminated the use of cash bail for most misdemeanors and some nonviolent felony charges, in an overdue recognition that a person’s wealth should not determine their liberty.” This was an important step to begin to bring some sort of equity to the judicial process. Unfortunately, bail reform has become a political football and far too many politicians misrepresent the intent of the legislation and the various individuals and communities it helps.
We must continue to pressure our legislators, the mayor and the governor to make sure those who are currently housed at Rikers are treated equitably. We must make sure the conversation pertaining to the closing of Rikers does not disappear from policy conversations. And we must make sure we support organizations that provide services to those awaiting trial on Rikers and those who could use financial assistance to make sure they can return to their communities, and not have their lives ruined by minor infractions or accusations.
As the new year begins, I will be supporting the Envision Freedom Fund as it works alongside impacted communities to dismantle the oppressive and interconnected criminal, legal and immigration systems. You can learn more at www.envisionfreedom.org
Christina Greer, Ph.D. is an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC and host of “The Blackest Questions” podcast at TheGrio.