HomeChinese AmericanApproved closure of Rikers Island ignites controversy

Approved closure of Rikers Island ignites controversy

By Shirley L Ng, AsAmNews Staff Writer

New York held an all day public hearing Thursday at City Hall on the closing of Rikers Island and the proposed new jails

It was just Wednesday that the New York City Planning Commission voted 9-3 in favor of closing Rikers Island and proposing to replace it with four new jails in Manhattan, Queens, Bronx and Brooklyn. The city wasted no time in scheduling a meeting for public comment on Thursday, which was also the first day of school for many NYC parents of school children. Some say this was a ploy to limit the amount of New Yorkers attending the meeting.

Those that live in the proposed sights have expressed a “not in my neighborhood” attitude and those that want to see Rikers closed have come to City Hall to express their concerns before the NYC Council.

Supporters for the closure of Rikers say it must close due to human rights violations that include environmental hazards and to begin decarceration.  In place of Rikers Island would be state-of-the-art jail facilities closer to the associated courts at the cost of almost $9 billion dollars.

Charlotte of Queens, who lives two blocks from the proposed site in Kew Gardens and is on the board of directors of seven buildings, shared her concerns.

“This 1500 person jail and 2 big towers will add tremendous traffic and congestion. The whole thing is ridiculous because they are going to close the streets so people can’t walk to the subway,” she tells me.

Outside City Hall, Will Depoo of Desis Rising UP and Moving (DRUM) with a megaphone in hand, stood before a crowd outside City Hall. 

“The 11 billion dollars should be used for our communities that are struggling, the Black and Brown people, the working class, immigrants and LGBTQ, for the everyday needs like full education and healthcare that our people need, not building jails,” said Depoo.

Depoo supports the closing of Rikers, but does not want new jails. 

#BuildCommunities, a coalition of 150 organizations are in favor of closing Rikers and building the new jails, but demand that the facilities would not be managed by the Department of Correction.

Other groups want the city to rewrite the plan for the new jails, making them smaller, with fewer stories, etc. Some hoping to put it “elsewhere.”

Waiting most of the day to speak was Nancy Kong, a life-long Chinatown resident and founder of “Neighbors United Below Canal and Boroughs United.”

 “Because Mayor DeBlasio and Speaker Corey Johnson and my council member, Margaret Chin, whom is not present, resoundingly ignored the community’s concerns, the real hazards that we have identified, the illegal nature of the process and quite frankly the shear arrogance of them marching into our community and imposing this ridiculous jail, an experimental, untested and unprecedented jail in the middle of an already densely populated and neglected neighborhood. This is modern day colonialism.” 

The proposed site for the new jail in Manhattan would be built on 125 White Street in Chinatown, which is between, Baxter and Centre Streets . There are two jails there now, the tallest with 13 floors. They were built in the early 80’s midst protests from the Chinatown community. The current jails would be demolished and replaced with a 45-story massive structure.

NYUNews just published an article on the negative health impact of seniors in Chinatown should the new jails be built, citing respiratory disease and more. A huge concern as the new jail would be right behind Chinatown Planning Council’s low-income senior center, Chung Pak.

By 4pm, many council members have left including council woman Margaret Chin. It This makes you wonder, what was the point of the public comments? According to the Bowery Boogie, “The Chinese press recently labeled Chin, “The offender of the century against Chinatown.”

The fate of these proposed new jails will be decided by Speaker Corey Johnson

Mayor DeBlasio was no where near City Hall at the start of the public comment meeting. He was busy making his rounds, giving high-fives to children on the first day of school . 

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