“If they build it, they will fill it!” “Close Rikers now, no new jails!” “Fund communities now!” chanted some 50 people at 8 a.m. on Sept. 5 in New York’s City Hall Park. They came together to oppose the city’s plan to build four jails to replace the notorious prison complex on Rikers Island when it is closed as planned.
The rally marked a year since the community came together to tell the city to shut down Rikers, and to voice a resounding “No!” to building any new jails. Despite the overwhelming opposition in every borough to jail expansion voiced at many public hearings, the City Planning Commission voted “yes” on Sept. 3 to go ahead with the original plan to shut down Rikers and to spend $11 billion to build jails in four communities to replace it.
Members of Take Back the Bronx, Decolonize this Place, the Isaacs-Holmes Coalition and No New Jails Coalition all joined together at the rally. Activists spoke out on both their individual struggles against the prison industrial complex and the power they had fighting had together. They called for the money slated for jails to be used instead to fund communities and public housing.
“The Rikers prison was built on top of a landfill. Mayor de Blasio’s plan right now to build these four jails is equivalent to the former mayor’s plan back then, and these are the same principles they’re applying to these new jails, said community organizer and PSL member Kerbie Joseph.
Kei Williams, an activist with No New Jails and a national organizer with the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, pointed out the flaw in the city’s peddling of the new jails on the basis that it will provide “services” to trans women and others. “Black trans women are the most marginalized population and also likely to end up in our jails. Considering the systematic oppression they already deal with inside these prisons, and all of the struggle they have to go through to get the things that they need, you’re telling me that the only way they can get services is to put them inside a prison?” What about funding communities before they are incarcerated?
Other speakers pointed out that the wave of gentrification in communities of color leads to over-policing, and more arrests. The new community based jails will make incarceration easier.
Saundrea Coleman, from the Isaacs-Holmes Coalition, touched on this city’s capitalistic priorities. There are not enough funds to maintain NYCHA, this city’s public housing, she said. Yet the city government awarded the new head of NYCHA a salary more than three times the rate of his predecessor –$400,000! She pointed out that public transportation is no more reliable than it was the year prior, but is even more expensive. This city’s most basic needs are not being met due to the purposeful mismanagement of our tax dollars, she said.
A speaker from Take Back the Bronx explained, there’s nothing separating Trump, who wants to build detention centers, from these so-called “progressive” New York Democratic politicians who want to build new jails in our neighborhoods. “It’s up to us to keep the pressure on these shameless, opportunistic politicians, hold them accountable, and fight back!”