January 26, 2023
Contact: Yonah Zeitz – 347-201-2768 firstname.lastname@example.org,
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Community Groups Protest Mayor Adams at State of the City Address, Demand Immediate Action to Close Rikers
Formerly Incarcerated People and Family & Community Members Demand City Budget Reflect Commitment to Closing Rikers and Investments in Real Community Safety: Housing, Health Care, Education Jobs
New York, NY – Today, people directly impacted by Rikers, along with community organizations, held a protest at Mayor Adam’s State of the City address at the Queens Theater to demand immediate action on the city’s jail crisis. In the face of inaction by Mayor Adams and a proposed austerity budget, the group demanded that Adams cut the city’s jail population, shut down Rikers, and invest in real community safety: housing, health care, education, and jobs.
Under Mayor Adams, the crisis at Rikers has only gotten worse. In 2022 – Adams’ first year as mayor – 19 people died on Rikers – the most since 2013 when the jail population was twice as large. Violence on Rikers has escalated to record levels. Vulnerable populations are increasingly under threat – this week, news broke that Mayor Adams’ Department of Correction (DOC) has completely gutted the LGBTQ+ Affairs Unit at Rikers, exposing LGBQ+ and trans people in particular to greater harm. The DOC under Adams is working to stymie transparency – a few weeks ago, they blocked the Board of Correction from accessing video footage from Rikers, and this week, they rejected a request from the congressional representatives from the Committee on Oversight and Accountability for data on the crisis at Rikers.
Meanwhile, as the crisis at Rikers deepens, the principal objective of Mayor Adams is to roll back bail reforms so he can send even more New Yorkers to Rikers to languish pre-trial. New Yorkers know Rikers must be shut down, but under Adams, the City’s plan to close down the jail complex – passed in 2019 — is now in peril. To achieve closure under the plan, the City must reduce the jail population to 3,300. But under Adams, the jail population is rising. Last December, in testimony to the New York City Council, Adams’ DOC commissioner revealed they expect the jail population in 2023 to rise to 7,000 people, mostly low-income, Black, and brown New Yorkers.
As Adams works to defund our public schools, homeless and housing services, libraries, mental health services, services for the aging, and other critical programs, impacted New Yorkers and community groups turned out today to reject the mayors austerity budget and to demand a budget for a just an equitable City and that that Rikers be shut down once and for all.
Statements from impacted people and community group:
Henry Robinson, Leader at the Katal Center, said: ““In this past year, the mayor has shown us his true colors. He does not care about the well-being of all New Yorkers including those who find themselves in the death trap that is Rikers Island. It is astounding that the Mayor is unable to see the big picture here and how his actions have a direct impact on the lives of human beings. It is a humanitarian crisis to continue to stray away from the plan to shut down Rikers. This is a matter of life and death, the Mayor has blood on his hands with the 19 human beings that passed away in city jails last year. He has continously turned his back on Black and Brown communities and we will not stand for it. Mayor Adams, you need to make it your top priority to decarcerate our city jails and shut down RIkers Island.”
Melanie Dominguez, Senior Community Organizer at Katal, said: “The crisis at Rikers continues and it’s only getting worse. This mayor wants to approach every problem by putting more cops in the streets and to put more people behind bars. With violence at an all-time high and with a population of about 6,000, the City is backtracking on the commitment to closing the Rikers Island jail complex. Our communities need and deserve more than that. Our communities are still feeling the devastating impacts of COVID-19 and we are suffering a housing crisis, but the mayor’s budget proposal focuses on cuts to essential services. We demand immediate action by Mayor Adams to shut down Rikers and invest in true community safety like housing, health care, education and jobs.”
Kaeshalee Vega, Member of the Katal Center, said: “The longer the fight to close Riker’s Island continues the more concerning the conditions Rikers become. Mayor Adams cannot continue to ignore that an inhumane culture found at Rikers has been hurting the people of our community for too long. The longer he takes in shutting down the Riker’s Island jail complex the more lives that will be lost. Our Black and brown communities long for equity in the Justice system. They desperately need investement in reentry assistance, housing and healthcare. Mayor Adams, you need to close Rikers Island and invest in our communities now!”
Alicia Gorham, Member of the Katal Center, said: “As a mother, I am deeply concerned about the crisis at Rikers. There are times that I feel powerless knowing that I can’t just simply on my own do what the Mayor has failed to get done. I have a loved one who is currently at Rikers and they tell me all the time about the horrors that people are experiencing. The living conditions are not fit for anyone. They do not have access to proper medical and mental health. The Mayor needs to remember that they are people. They are someone’s child, parent and significant other. If the Mayor had a family member at Rikers they would without hesitation act immediately to address this crisis. Mayor Adams you need to do what is just and shut down Rikers Island for the sake of our children”
Avion Gordon, Member of the Katal Center, said: “Since the takeover of the Adams administration, 19 people have died in city jails. This is shameful. I feel for the families that have lost a loved one behind bars. I express my sincerest condolences to all of them. You have a community behind you that cares and supports you. I am appalled that we have a Mayor that can’t even recognize that he is hurting families by keeping Rikers open. The Mayor is not prioritizing the lives of all New Yorkers. What else needs to happen to get the Mayor to understand that sending New Yorkers to Rikers is a death sentence? Our communities need help in the form of housing, jobs, and access to mental health. The solution to these problems will never be putting people behind bars. Mayor Adams you need to shut down Rikers, families across the city shouldn’t be spending their days grieving the death of a loved one because you refuse to do what’s right.”
Yonah Zeitz, Director of Advocacy at Katal, said: “As the crisis on Rikers Island continues it, it is unconscionable that Mayor Adams is removing safeguards to protect trans women, skirting efforts for transparency and oversight at Rikers, and outright abandoning the city’s plan to shutter the notorious Rikers Island jail complex. This comes after his first year in office, where 19 people died on Rikers – the most since 2013 when the jail population was twice as large. This is an absolute scandal. And to make matters worse, Adams has proposed a disastrous budget that prioritizes criminalization and incarceration, while cutting funding for nearly everything else, including the things that form the basis of real safety, including libraries. Without a drastic change of course, there will be more suffering and more needless deaths on Rikers. Instead of bringing back an antiquated and regressive tough-on-crime approach, Mayor Eric Adams must cut the number of people incarcerated at Rikers Island, shut down Rikers, and invest in real community safety for all New Yorkers – housing, health care, education, and jobs.”