Last October 23, 17 protesters were arrested at a nonviolent civil disobedience demonstration of 100 people outside the entrance to New York’s infamous Rikers Island jail. This was part of the three days of Rise Up October protests against police terror and murder on October 22-24.
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Miles Solay of the band Outernational and I were singled out for more serious charges. And now we have a court appearance and possible trial on Monday, February 22, 9 am, at the Queens Criminal Court, 125-01 Queens Blvd., Queens, NY. What everyone did on October 23 was righteous and just. It makes a difference if people come out on Monday to support us and sign a support statement at StopPoliceTerror.org.
The Rikers Island jail complex, one of the largest jails in the world, holds approximately 10,000 prisoners. Almost 90 percent are Black or Latino, many are juveniles, and most are there awaiting trials because they cannot afford to make bail—making Rikers Island a giant debtors’ prison. Rikers Island also remains the site of horrendous acts of cruelty by guards and the wide use of prolonged solitary confinement—recognized internationally as a form of torture.
Many have read the heart-wrenching story of Kalief Browder, the New York teenager held in Rikers for three years awaiting trial because he could not make $3,000 bail on a charge of stealing a backpack. In the end, the state dropped the whole case. But Kalief, who was locked for two of those three years at Rikers in solitary confinement, was so damaged by what he was put through that he committed suicide after his release.
What kind of society is it that requires an institution like Rikers Island? What kind of system criminalizes, incarcerates, and tortures a whole generation of our youth?
Every day the horrors continue at Rikers. In January, former New York City correction officer Victor Rodman was sentenced to a paltry 90 days in jail for a beating of Rikers Island inmate Carlos Sanchez in 2009 that cost Sanchez his vision in one eye. Then just this week we learn that seven Rikers guards, who are scheduled to go on trial February 24 for savagely beating a Rikers inmate, have been reinstated with full pay! Rikers Island remains “Abu Ghraib on the Hudson.”
As my co-defendant Miles Solay recently put it: “Rikers Island … is a debtors’ prison where poor people get sent. It’s a torture prison where thousands of people are dehumanized. It’s a conveyor belt to the mass incarceration of our people. It’s unjust, it’s inhumane. It’s like a tumor from the cancer of American capitalism. Too many have died here. Far too many rot away in oblivion. Over the years, thousands and thousands of human beings have had their lives foreclosed upon. Rikers Island needs to be shut down.”
Clearly, they are not about to close down Rikers without one hell of a determined political fight by the people. I say, let’s give them that fight! Let’s shut down this hellhole once and for all!
This article originally appeared on revcom.us on February 22, 2016.