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1,000 People March And Rally In Queens In To Close Rikers Island Jail Complex

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For Immediate Release

gabriel sayegh, 646-335-2264
Valrie Fowler, 347-622-3694

September 26, 2016 

Nearly 1,000 People March and Rally in Queens in Action to Close Rikers Island Jail Complex

Nearly 100 Advocacy Groups, City Officials and Celebrities Demand Mayor de Blasio Close Rikers, Build Communities 

New York, Sept. 24, 2016 – Nearly 1,000 New Yorkers — including NYC Comptroller Scott StringerRussell Simmons, NYC Council Members Brad Lander, Danny Dromm, and Antonio Reynoso, State Senator Gustavo Rivera, Rev. Vivian Nixon, and more — gathered in Queens on Saturday in a historic march and rally to call on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to close Rikers Island Jail Complex.

The march through Astoria, Queens was led by people who had been detained on Rikers, family members who have been impacted by the nearly impossible challenges of visiting loved ones on Rikers, and people who have lost loved ones to the violence and abuse of Rikers. They were joined by city officials, celebrities, and concerned citizens from across New York City. See photos from the action on our Facebook page.

At the foot of the bridge leading onto Rikers Island, marchers held an energetic rally, hosted byGlenn E. Martin, founder and president of JustLeadershipUSA, whose experience of being twice detained on Rikers led to the formation of the #CLOSErikers campaign.

In addition, speakers included Bianey Garcia, LGBT Community Activist, Make the Road NY;Ruby Carrasquillo, mother and activist, VOCAL-NY; Aber Kawas, Lead Organizer, Arab American Association of New York; Latrice Walker, NYS Assembly Member; Emily Althaus, actor and activist; Malik Yoba, actor and activist; Donna Hylton, President, From Life to Life;Donna Lieberman, Executive Director, NYCLU; Johnny Perez, Urban Justice Center; Akeem Browder, Criminal Justice Advocate and brother of Kalief Browder; Herbert Murray, author and #CLOSErikers leader; Lisa Whiteside, Retired Rikers Correction Officer; Rev. Wendy Calderón-Payne, Executive Director of BronxConnectand more.

The Peace Poets performed; Drive Change provided food from their Social Justice food truck and, Refoundry facilitated an interactive art experience using the replica of the Rikers sign from the hit television show, The Night Of.

In a show of solidarity, the march and rally was supported by a wide range of artists on social media, including Nas, Olivia Wilde, Marlon Wayans, Omar Epps, Residente, Chris Tucker, Bobby Cannavale, Matt McGorry, Piper Kerman, Wesley Snipes, Evelyn Lozada, Bill Bellamy, Garcelle Beauvouis, Combat Jack, General Steele, Joel McGarland, and more.  

The march and rally marks the latest action of the #CLOSErikers campaign, which after nearly a year of preparation, publicly launched in April 2016 to shut down the brutal Rikers facility, reimagine New York City’s criminal justice system and rebuild communities.

The action to close Rikers is part of a growing national movement to end mass incarceration and mass criminalization. The action coincided with the third week of what is currently recognized as the largest nationwide prisoner strike in U.S. history.

Earlier this month, nearly 500 organizers gathered in Oakland, CA, for the first national conference of formerly incarcerated and convicted people. The conference and the prisoner strike were timed parallel to the 45th anniversary of the uprising and massacre at Attica Prison.

Saturday’s actions also occurs in the midst of a national protest launched by athletes to highlight incidents of violence against Black people by law enforcement officers, including Terrence Crutcher, who was killed by police this week in Tulsa, OK. Speakers at the march highlighted the connections between mass incarceration, police violence, and institutional racism, calling for broad, systemic reform.

A growing number of elected officials have joined the community call to close Rikers. In addition to the speakers at the march, a growing number of elected officials have called to close Rikers Island, including NY City Comptroller Scott Stringer and NY City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Earlier this year, Governor Andrew Cuomo expressed openness to the idea of closing Rikers.

In 2014, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara issued a report that highlighted the “culture of violence” endemic to the facility. The facts about Rikers Island are sobering:

  • Nearly 80 percent of those detained on Rikers are being held pre-trial – they have not been convicted of a crime, but are detained awaiting trial, most frequently because they are unable to pay to make bail. Spending months and even years in detention because of the inability to raise bail money leads to the further impoverishment of families and communities.
  • Nearly 90 percent of the people detained on Rikers are Black or Latino – despite making up only 56 percent of the city’s population – and most come from the city’s poorest neighborhoods. These disparities are unwarranted and unjust.
  • More than 40 percent of the people detained on Rikers have a diagnosed mental illness. Many others suffer from drug addiction. Confinement at Rikers Island only exacerbates these conditions.
  • Because New York is one of only two states that treats 16 and 17 year olds as adults in the criminal justice system, children are detained in a place that isn’t fit for human beings, let alone designed to meet their needs.
  • It costs $208,000 a year per bed on Rikers Island. This is the most expensive and least effective component of the city’s criminal justice system. With nearly 8,000 people detained there each day, New York City is spending vast sums of tax dollars on a system that provides little to no value.

A high-profile Commission, chaired by former NYS Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, is studying the logistics of closing Rikers.

There have been efforts to close Rikers in the past – once during the Koch administration in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and again under Mayor Bloomberg in the mid-2000s. Both efforts suffered from a lack of community involvement and support, and thus failed. March organizers from JustLeadershipUSA and the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice believe that if communities impacted by Rikers are at the table, the facility can, finally, be closed once and for all.

About the #CLOSErikers campaign:

The #CLOSErikers campaign was formed in 2016 to break the political gridlock and achieve real solutions that are guided by directly impacted communities. Led by JustLeadershipUSA, in partnership with the Katal Center for Health, Equity and Justice, the #CLOSErikers campaign includes community groups, researchers, business leaders, faith and human rights leaders, criminal justice experts, health and housing service providers, advocacy and legal groups, and more. Through the campaign, nearly 100 diverse organizations across New York City have joined together to demand Mayor Bill de Blasio close Rikers. By closing Rikers, New York City can focus on healing and rebuilding the communities to which Rikers has brought suffering. The campaign to #CLOSErikers is calling for New Yorkers to boldly reimagine the city’s failed criminal justice system and become a national leader in ending mass incarceration.


Glenn E. Martin, founder and president of JustLeadershipUSA, which leads the #CLOSErikers campaign, said: “Mayor Bill de Blasio cannot allow Rikers to remain open. It is a human grist mill and an ugly stain on our city’s reputation for being progressive and compassionate. Rikers cannot be fixed. Violence and corruption are embedded in its DNA. It is time for Mayor de Blasio to close this disastrous jail once and for all, and instead build our communities.”

New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, said: “Our criminal justice system should be humane and treat everyone with dignity and respect. New York City’s jails should be national models – not urban shames. Today, we acknowledge that the problem with Rikers is Rikers itself, and we will seek ways to safely and responsibly close this institution.”

Bianey Garcia, LGBT Organizer at Make the Road New York, said: “My story of serving 18 months at Rikers as a Trans-Latina is difficult to share, but it is not unique. Across that bridge, thousands of my brothers and sisters are held in dangerous and isolated cells. They all suffer and some may even feel forgotten. The violence and corruption in Rikers makes it a place that no one should see. It is a broken system that tried to break me. On Saturday I marched to raise their stories. Closing Rikers will not be easy, but it is possible and necessary.”

Gustavo Rivera, NY State Senator (33rd District, Bronx), said: “The reality is Even though no jury has determined that the majority of these New Yorkers are guilty of committing a crime, they are exposed to a ‘culture of violence’ that includes everything from senseless beatings to prolonged stays in solitary confinement, costing taxpayers over $200,000 per year for each person being held. It is time to close Rikers and invest our resources on initiatives, like the Charitable Bail Law I passed in 2012, and facilities that seek to focus on safety, justice and rehabilitation.”

Nathaniel Linden, member of VOCAL-NY, said: “I spent two years trapped at Rikers because I was too poor to make bail. You have to become violent in order to survive in there and I still have permanent health problems because of the violence. I needed help because of my drug use, instead I got warehoused at Rikers and feared for my life everyday. Rikers is beyond repair – it’s time to shut it down.” 

Lisa Whiteside, Adjunct Professor and Retired Rikers Correction Officer, said: “Anytime spent behind the gate is challenging; it’s a shared experience for those detained and staff. Structural confinement should never happen on an island–Close Rikers Island.”

Brad Lander, NYC Council Member (District 39, Brooklyn), said:  “With Saturday’s march, we are taking symbolic steps to #CLOSErikers. Through Judge Lippmann’s commission, we are developing more concrete steps. For Kalief Browder and the thousands of others who’ve suffered unjustly, our communities must come together to bring an end to this dark chapter of abuse, violence, corruption, and systemic racism in our criminal justice system. I am proud to march with fellow elected officials, advocates, and New Yorkers from all backgrounds. We won’t stop marching until we #CLOSErikers and restore humanity to our city.”

Aber Kawas, Lead Organizer for the Arab American Association of New York, said: “The closing of the Rikers Detention Center is an incredibly important cause to the Arab American Association of NY, serving a community who has often been a target of discriminatory police practices. Many of our clients have passed through Rikers and have given testimonial of the horrific experience that both the inmates and their family members have endured, especially those with vulnerabilities such as an undocumented status or lack of English language abilities. We believe that the closing of Rikers Island is an integral responsibility of the city to end the culture of violence that is perpetuated through both its policing and prison systems.”

Russell Simmons, entrepreneur and activist, said: “Rikers Island is a disaster. The U.S. Attorney has highlighted its “culture of violence,” and nearly every day, we see another news article describing horrific injustices perpetuated on our fellow human beings. Now communities are marching and demanding reform. And a growing number of officials are joining them. NYC Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Comptroller Scott Stringer have called to shutter the island, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has expressed openness to the idea. New Yorkers know how to win real reform — together we ended the Rockefeller Drug Laws, and together, we can Close Rikers, end mass incarceration, and build strong, healthy communities.”

Elizabeth Crowley, NYC Council Member (District 30, Queens), Chair of the Fire and Criminal Justice Services Committee, said:  “The City must take the steps necessary to correct safety and security issues that plague its jail operations. The 400 acres on Rikers Island could be used for more productive development, and not just as a space to house inmates. I applaud Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and our advocates for taking bold steps in criminal justice reform, seeking to shrink the jail population and work towards the day when we can close Rikers Island.”

Daniel Dromm, NYC Council Member (District 25, Queens), said: “It’s time to close Rikers and end its culture of violence once and for all. While the city’s efforts to curb violence and injustice on Rikers Island are admirable, they fall very short of solving what is a decades-old problem. Our resources can and must be put to better use. Therefore, I call upon the administration to continue to work with the experts and advocates to establish an infrastructure that will be better equipped to keep both detained individuals and correction officers safe.”

Antonio Reynoso, NYC Council Member (District 34, Brooklyn), said: “As a co-sponsor of the Right to Know Act, which would increase transparency and accountability in police interactions on the streets, I support the movement to close Rikers as another step in achieving justice for our communities. The facts that the majority of the individuals detained at Rikers Island are Black or Latino and have not been convicted of any crime, and the conditions they are subjected to there, are unacceptable. Despite our best efforts, attempts at reforming Rikers have failed to achieve their intended goals. It’s time to close Rikers for good.”

Anna Pastoressa, whose son was incarcerated at Rikers for nearly six years pre-trial, said:“Tehran, Pyongyang, New York City. Three capital cities in the world, but to families of people held on Rikers, what’s the difference? It’s impossible to hide New York City’s shameful island any longer. Let’s be proud of New York City. Let’s make a difference: Close Rikers NOW.”

Corey Johnson, NYC Council Member (District 3, Manhattan), Chair of the Committee on Health, said: “The unfortunate reality is that Rikers falls woefully short of basic standards. We cannot continue to subject inmates in our correctional system – many of whom have not been convicted of a crime – to punitive segregation and neglectful health care. It is beneath the dignity of our City, and New Yorkers expect much more of their government.”

Latrice Walker, NYS Assembly Member (55th District, Brooklyn), said:  “We know our city has a mass incarceration problem stemming from misguided policies like the war on drugs – which disproportionately affected communities of color. Rikers Island is the fruition of the worst of these policies and has become a public safety and health hazard. Rikers is beyond repair, we must #CLOSErikers.”

Donna Lieberman, executive director at the New York Civil Liberties Union, said: “Rikers Island is New York City’s shame. As the latest spate of violence in the jails reminded us, the human cost of keeping Rikers open has been unbearable, and it’s time to cut our losses. The good news is that there is a path forward. The city must move 16- and 17-year-olds off Rikers as soon as possible, and stop holding people simply because

they are too poor to make bail. Albany must ‘Raise the Age’ and take on speedy trial reform and discovery reform in the next legislative session. New York deserves a smaller, safer and more effective system that will improve public safety and be a model for the rest of the country.”

Emily Althaus, Activist, and Actor in Orange is the New Black, said: “The citizens of NY deserve better than this. We can no longer close our eyes to the abuse taking place a few miles from our homes. It is time to close Rikers and instead build communities.”

Vivian Nixon, Executive Director of College & Community Fellowship, said: “Women are the fastest growing population in US prisons, and women housed at Riker’s have been subjected to the same inhumane, sexist, despicable conditions as men. I am here to change the narrative and give a voice to the women inside who are facing traumas we can only image. It’s time we close Riker’s once and for all and focus on gender responsive services and education to prepare men and women in Riker’s for an engaged life once we shut it down.”

John Legend, musician and philanthropist, said: “There are few places in this world worse than Rikers Island. Let us #CLOSErikers and build communities instead.”

Malik Yoba, Actor, Activist and co-founder iconic32, said: “As someone who has spent time working with the young people in Rikers Island High School and having many friends who are burnt out psychologically and emotionally from their time serving as corrections officers, in my opinion which is also shared by many of them, Rikers Island is a disaster. It costs over $200,000 to hold one person there for a year– and thousands are held there, pre-trial, simply because they’re too poor to pay bail.

Violence is commonplace at Rikers, and the trauma of being detained there comes back with people to our communities, as it did with Kalief Browder. As New Yorkers we must do better to prevent the poor and uneducated from ending up there in the first place. It’s time to close Rikers and invest in communities to build safety and justice.”

A joint statement was issued by Tina Luongo, Attorney in Charge, Criminal Defense Practice, The Legal Aid Society of New York and Deborah Wright, President, Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, UAW Local 2325, “For decades, The Legal Aid Society has vigorously sought relief for people who are harassed, abused and mistreated while being held Rikers.  We have sued the City to force the Department of Correction to improve the horrid safety and sanitary conditions and to stop the violence that permeates every wall of this old, poorly designed facility. It is time to stop placing Band A  ids on these problems. We must take a brave and bold step in order to save lives, save money and change the culture of brutality once and for all. It is time to shut the doors. Close Rikers.”

Akeem Browder, President, Campaign to Shut Down Rikers, and brother of Kalief Browder, said: “The black community suffers injustice both in and out of the criminal justice system. Locally, this burden of injustice is exemplified by the horrors and violence of Rikers Island. It is time that we create a vision that leads to action. We need to stop buying a dream that things will change on its own, or that Rikers Island can be reformed. It is time to close Rikers Island, and begin restructuring New York City and the rest of America into a place where black people want to be. Now is the time that we, as a people, should gather together and make steps that will maintain peace and unity beyond just today’s march. Let’s show that we can work together, fight together, and be united as one.”

Bill Lipton, State Director of NY Working Families, said: “Mass incarceration has had a devastating effect on working families across America, especially in Black and Brown communities, and has eroded trust in our criminal justice system. Rikers embodies much of what is wrong with that system today. At Rikers, nearly 80 percent of those detained have not been convicted of any crime, yet it is not uncommon for people to languish there for a year or more — incarcerated far away from family and often losing their housing, employment and parental rights in the process. It’s time to close Rikers and reform the New York criminal justice system so that it is fair and equitable for all New Yorkers.”

Johnny Perez, Safe Reentry Advocate, Urban Justice Center, member of the Bar Association Corrections and Reentry Committee, and Member, NYS Advisory Committee to the US Civil Rights Commission, said: “Being on Rikers Island is a second-by-second attack on your soul. No one ever really recovers from living there and when I was finally released, I left a small piece of my humanity behind. It’s time to put an end to the violence and close Rikers.”

Rev. Wendy Calderón-Payne, BronxConnect Executive Director, said: “In New York City exists an island where our children experience unimaginable abuse daily, where the constitutional right to a speedy trial is denied, and where mental illness is left untreated. A progressive city such as New York, should be ashamed to allow such a place to exist. Even more shameful, is that we have allowed this nightmare to continue for decades. We call on Mayor de Blasio to think big and end this “Tale of Two Cities,” where 79 percent of those detained are awaiting trial, stuck at Rikers Island because they are too poor to make bail. If we are truly a progressive city, we call on our leadership to shift funding from this travesty to successful community-based alternatives. Let us, whose children are trapped at Rikers, be responsible for restoring their humanity and building our communities from within.”

Juan Cartagena, LatinoJustice PRLDEF President and General Counsel, said: “Rikers Island is symbolic of so much of what is wrong with our criminal justice system. We have to reform our dysfunctional criminal justice system on so many levels and one way to start is to close Rikers. Our incarcerated community has suffered abuse and even deaths on Rikers and it’s time to put a stop to this. New York City spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on each person incarcerated in Rikers and that money could be better used on a host of other programs that would have more fruitful impact on our incarcerated population.”

Mark Winston Griffith of Communities United for Police Reform, said: “Rikers Island embodies our city, state and nation’s dysfunctional criminal justice system that needlessly harms people from their first contact with it through policing all the way to incarceration. Rikers and the manifestations of injustice it perpetuates must be eliminated. New York City should be a leader in ending the dysfunction that promotes mass incarceration, but we can only do that by truly reforming policing and criminal justice policies. A new vision and reality of justice has no space for Rikers or anything so reflective of inhumanity and injustice, just like abusive and discriminatory policing.”

Darren Mack, Social & Criminal Justice Advocate and #CLOSErikers Campaign Member, said: “Rikers is the Abu Ghraib of NYC, it must be closed. Policy conversations about Rikers too often leave out the people most directly impacted. It’s time for New Yorkers lawmakers to have a listening session with impacted people who’ve been at Rikers to hear why it must be shut down. Today we are taking it to the streets to make our voices heard – it’s time to close Rikers.”

Marc Washington of Friends of Island Academy, said: “For decades Rikers Island has been seen as a symbol for unjust, unproductive and unstainable interaction with communities of color in NYC. On Sept. 24 2016, Friends stood with the greater NYC community to say “No more of this way of investing and policing communities of color.” There is a better way. Let the people most impacted by these policies show you the way, to healthier community outcomes and ways of policing our neighborhoods.” 

The Jails Action Coalition issued this statement for the rally: “The NYC Jails Acton Coalition works to promote human rights, dignity, and safety for people in NYC jails. None of those can be secured in the notoriously bleak, corrupt, and inhumane penal colony of Rikers Island. We support shutting down Rikers by ending mass incarceration without building more jails.”

Raul Baez, Founder and President of WITO, said: “The culture survives because it’s stressful in there. Officers don’t have the support they need. You can only put so much weight in a bag before it breaks, and the Department of Corrections fails to equip officers with the necessary tools to deal with that weight. Many officers are too young. Most lack the educational and professional experience. Rikers can’t be reformed. I believe we need to start over. As we think about reimagining the system, we need to create programming that includes access to mental health and education. There’s also a lot of potential in youth that needs to be cultivated.”

Justice C., a member of the #CLOSErikers campaign, said: “Not only am I am impacted by Rikers Island and mass incarceration, but also our youth in my community can almost expect to experience what I went through. If concerned individuals don’t get involved, then this vicious cycle will continue. It’s time to CLOSE Rikers once and for all.”

Alisa Wellek, Executive Director, of the Immigrant Defense Project, said: “As advocates for immigrants facing deportation after contact with the criminal legal system, we see daily how policies of mass criminalization target people of color, abuse basic rights, and subject people to inhumane conditions. It’s long past time to reverse the injustice and end mass imprisonment. Closing Rikers is an essential step.”  

Maritsa Cosme, Mental Health Advocate and former Suicide Prevention Aide on Rikers, said:“On Rikers, I made sure women were not committing suicide. That job expanded my awareness about the countless women on Rikers with mental health issues. This is why we must close Rikers for good.”

Floyd Jarvis, Program Coordinator, Black Latino Male Initiative, Brooklyn College and #CLOSErikers Campaign Member, said: “We must #CLOSErikers immediately, because it is an assault to the justice and equal protection that the Constitution promises to uphold. When 89 perent of detainees are Black and Brown, but rates of crime are similar across races, that’s not justice, that’s white supremacy.”

Staff from Theater of the Oppressed NYC – Katy Rubin, Moon Lowery and Devyn Mañibo – said: “Theatre of the Oppressed NYC believes that collective and creative actions are necessary to change broken systems and we have been thrilled to support JustLeadershipUSA in their efforts to Close Rikers. One of the keys to making change is solidarity and dialogue, which is central to the work we’re doing together. Too many injustices happen because of Rikers and mass incarceration in the United States, and we marched for hundreds of New Yorkers on Saturday, not only start a dialogue, but also to call for concrete remedies and work toward closing Rikers for good.”

gabriel sayegh, Co-Director of the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice, which works with JLUSA to lead the #CLOSErikers campaign, said: “As a city, we cannot allow institutional racism and systemic injustices to persist. We must end mass incarceration and the drug war, close Rikers Island, and build safe communities for all. This is not only possible, but as a progressive city, this is our mandate. Together, we will make New York a healthier, more equitable, and more just City.”


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