Clergy Demand Mayor Bill de Blasio #CLOSErikers
By The Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis
It is critical that we put those on the margins at the center of our activism.
Kalief Browder was a 16-year-old sent to Rikers Island Jail in May 2010 for allegedly stealing a backpack – his family could not afford the $10,000 bail. He spent nearly three years awaiting trial with no conviction, two of them in solitary confinement, fighting for his life in a place notorious for rampant violence by inmates and correction officers alike.
At age 22, this innocent young black man committed suicide.
Nearly 8 out of 10 people at Rikers have not been convicted of a crime – they are waiting for a trial. And the majority of those held cannot afford bail.
Rikers is a place dangerous to the flesh, a place where surviving turns you inside out and erodes your soul. In the new Bill Moyers documentary, RIKERS, former detainee Ralph Nuñez says, “It’s gladiator school for real. If you get there and you don’t have a weapon to defend yourself, you have an issue.”
As people of faith, it is our moral responsibility to stand for the marginalized, to care for the poor, to have compassion for the children of God who are behind bars, whose lives are shattered, and who live in danger every day.
New York City has a history of failed reforms for Rikers. Though Governor Cuomo and City Council President Melissa Mark-Viverito have both called for Rikers to be closed, Mayor de Blasio has said it would be too complicated and too expensive to do so.
Locking up just one person at Rikers costs $208,500 a year. Imagine those funds redirected to more just systems and centers in the five boroughs. And as we think about comprehensive solutions, we must create bail reform, “speedy trial” reform and alternatives to incarceration.
Watch the RIKERS documentary below, and add your name to our petition before delivery on December 4. I’ll be delivering your name to the Mayor at a prayer vigil surrounding his Gracie Mansion home that day with other clergy and concerned citizens – join us in New York City.
Kalief’s tragic story is not unique. Over 70,000 New Yorkers cycle through Rikers every year, most of them poor people of color, many of them young, struggling with mental health issues, substance use, and housing instability.
“It’s madness,” says Tariq Barness, a formerly incarcerated Rikers detainee.
Our tax dollars fund this madness, and it will only get worse under the new administration. We cannot stay silent. Let’s #CLOSErikers now.