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RELEASE: Community Groups Protest State of City Address

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January 24, 2024

Contact: Yonah Zeitz – 347-201-2768, 

Follow online: #ShutRikers #CutShutInvestNY | @katalcenter | 

Community Groups Protest State of City Address, Demand Mayor Cut City Jail Population, Shut Down Rikers, and Invest in Housing, Health Care, Education, Jobs

People Directly Impacted by Rikers and Community Groups Join Care Not Cuts Rally to Call for End to Adams’s Austerity Priorities 

New York, NY – Today, community groups protested Mayor Eric Adams at his third Mayoral State of the City address at Hostos Community College in the Bronx. When Mayor Adams took office in 2022, the City was largely on track to fulfill its commitment to close Rikers. But since day one, Adams has systematically stymied efforts to reduce the jail population and fulfill the city’s legal mandate to shut Rikers. Instead, for over two years, his administration has implemented policies that disproportionately penalize and criminalize Black, Latine, poor, and working-class New Yorkers. As a result, the jail population has increased by nearly one thousand, violence at Rikers continues to be out of control, and at least 30 New Yorkers have died in city jails. Instead of working to address the crisis at Rikers, Adams has blocked or otherwise sought to hinder oversight and transparency efforts by both the city and federal watchdogs. 

Thus far, this mayor has prioritized harmful criminalization and austerity measures, cutting essential services like education, libraries, re-entry programs, and more. The mayor even opposes common-sense proposals to improve safety. Last week, the Mayor vetoed two reform measures passed by the City Council that would make our city safer. One, the How Many Stops Act, would bring greater transparency to policing practices and the other, the Halt Solitary Act, to end the tortuous practice of solitary confinement within city jails. 

At today’s rally, groups and community members demanded that Mayor Adams cut the correctional populations and the budgets used for caging people; shut down Rikers Island; and invest in real public safety: housing, health care, education, and jobs.

Statements from impacted community members and community group:

Danielle Lynn Shanks-Efuntosin, a member at the Katal Center, said: “I have a son who was sent to Rikers where he was exposed to horrific conditions for months when he should have been sent to get the proper treatment he needed for his mental health. I cannot stress enough that mental health victims are not fully receiving the best treatment or proper supervision at the Rikers Island Jail Complex. The NYC Department of Correction does not have adequate accommodations to treat someone with a mental illness. Correctional officers do not have the proper training when dealing with someone who has a mental health crisis. Today, Mayor Eric Adams is delivering his priorities for the year at the State of the City address. I implore the Mayor to fund access to treatment for people who have a substance abuse disorder and individuals dealing with mental illness. It’s in our best interest to facilitate a more conducive environment to further treat people with traumatic conditions to make communities safer. It is not acceptable that Rikers is considered the largest mental health facility in our state. It is a disgrace. The Mayor needs to shut down Rikers and invest in public health!”

Ziyadah Amartul-Matin, a leader of the Katal Center, said: “It is heartbreaking to witness the disregard that Mayor Adams has for human life. My family has gone through so many hardships over the past few years. I have a brother who died in a state prison due to medical neglect and a son who is currently incarcerated in a state prison whose medical needs are not being met. They continue to deny him the medical services needed for his health. There is so much pain and suffering when you have a loved one incarcerated. This is the reality that so many families live in. So I feel deeply for those who have lost a loved one in NYC jails. I send my deepest condolences. When is it going to end? When are our people going to be treated like human beings? So many Black and Brown people are being mistreated because of the color of their skin. They are being treated as property. Enough is enough. The Mayor needs to shut down Rikers immediately to save lives and invest in rehabilitation all across the board. This is what our communities need!”

Shirelle Howard, a member at the Katal Center, said: “It is time to put the politics aside. Powerful oppressors thrive on our communities not knowing what they are doing. The truth is we are not ignorant of the horrors unfolding at Rikers. I did 25 years in prison, and I have been incarcerated at Rikers. I have lived through the horrors that run through these correctional facilities, and nobody deserves to go through that. Correctional officers do not care about the well-being of the human being in custody. They are more concerned with catching a check. Mayor Eric Adams does not care about our communities but rather is invested in profiting off our people. How is it that since he took office at least 30 people have died in NYC jails? This is unacceptable. It costs the city over $500k to incarcerate one person at Rikers for a year.  This is money that can be better used providing our youth with educational opportunities. Opportunities that teach them different skills that can help them find jobs to build up their communities. It is time for Mayor Adams to take accountability and do what the community needs and that is to shut down Rikers.”

Luke Steele, a leader at the Katal Center, said: “In light of everything that is currently happening at Rikers and the experiences I have had there while incarcerated, it is unbelievable that the Mayor is not taking measures to shut it down and be transparent with the families and the public about ongoing abuse, neglect, and deaths plaguing the jail complex. Every time I turn on my television to watch the news or turn my radio to listen to music I should not have to hear about reports of someone losing their lives while being detained at Rikers most of which are awaiting trial. I have friends who periodically tell me of the various forms of verbal, emotional, and in some cases physical abuse they’ve experienced at the hands of other incarcerated people and/or correctional officers. This violence needs to stop. Our mayor continues to make up excuse after excuse regarding his lack of action to shut Rikers. At the same time, abuse and deaths are on the rise. At least 30 people have died since he took office. To add to this ongoing madness, the risk of contracting COVID-19 is on the rise in various parts of the city which soon will exacerbate at Rikers Island. The only way to save lives is for Mayor Eric Adams to decarcerate, shut down Rikers, and invest in our communities. There is no reason why so many New Yorkers are experiencing homelessness or are living in shelters. I’ve been living in a shelter for 5 years since I was released and have yet to be able to secure affordable housing that I can call my own. Do what’s right Mayor Eric Adams!”

Lah Franklin, a member at the Katal Center, said: “It is unconscionable to think that a place like Rikers Island can exist in the State of New York. Yet it does, and since Mayor Eric Adams took office there have been at least 30 incarcerated people that have passed away in NYC jails. The death toll is alarming and overwhelming. My condolences go out to all the families that are grieving the death of a loved one from this horrific jail complex. There are no more excuses that can be made. The Mayor needs to shut down Rikers, it has already taken too many lives”

Lily Fawcett, a member at the Katal Center, said: “A safe New York City is one where *every* person here can live in good conditions without fear of eviction, secure a fair-paying job, take care of their medical needs, and receive an empowering education without the burden of debt. The money for that investment exists, but it’s tied up in systems like policing and jail that fail to heal people or meet anyone’s needs. Cut that funding and shut down Rikers. Don’t criminalize my neighbors, my students, or their families. Care for us through your budgetary decisions, and only then can we call New York safe.” 

Melanie Dominguez, the lead community organizer at the Katal Center, said: “In his two years as Mayor of New York City Eric Adams has continued to implement regressive policies that have caused so much harm to Black, Brown and low-income New Yorkers. Last week, he vetoed two sensible reforms passed by the City Council. One, the How Many Stops Act, would bring greater transparency to policing practices and the other, the Halt Solitary Act, to end the tortuous practice of solitary confinement within city jails. All while continuing to increase the number of New Yorkers being funneled into the jail system. This has resulted in at least 30 incarcerated people dying in city jails since he took office. Families are grieving the death of their loved ones, and we send our condolences to these families. We cannot lose another life. The Mayor needs to shut down Rikers and invest in real public safety like housing, health care, education and jobs. We urge the City Council to override the Mayor’s vetoes and swiftly reissue and pass the resolution introduced by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, which calls for a federal receiver to take over and improve conditions at Rikers until it is shut down once and for all.” 


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