HomeChinese AmericanProtesters: Chinatown mega-jail "not a done deal." Federal lawsuit next?

Protesters: Chinatown mega-jail “not a done deal.” Federal lawsuit next?

By Shirley Ng, AsAmNews Staff Writer

Supporters of Chinatown, young and old marched in protest of the world’s tallest mega-jail slated to be constructed very soon.  Approximately two thousand marched and chanted “No new jail, ” through Chinatown.  

Jan Lee, Neighbors United Below Canal (NUBC) have organized several rallies, but Sunday was their first march. “This community is under threat,” he said.

Chinatown began to turn up the heat to oppose the new jail when the city opened an office on Walker Street recently to oversee the operations of the new jail.

Jan Lee of Neighbors United Below Canal speaking at a rally against the Chinatown mega-jail at Columbus Park. Credit: Shirley L. Ng

Protestors marched through Chinatown, which ended with a rally of several speakers and local elected officials in Chinatown’s Columbus Park.

A mother pushing a stroller with two young children in through Chinatown to protest the new jail. There were several parents with young children in the march. Credit: Shirley L. Ng

The first steps to make way for the new jail is the “clearing out’ of the nearby courthouse, which begins today, Monday, March 21. Workers constructed scaffolding at the courthouse a few weeks ago.  The new jail at 124-125 White St. is slated to be as tall as the Statue of Liberty and is adjacent to Chung Pak, a senior residence home. 

NYC approved four new borough-based jails in the city almost three years ago in 2019 under the administration of Mayor Bill DeBlasio. Opposition began immediately from the communities of Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, and Manhattan’s Chinatown.

“Everytime they build a new jail, it takes away its resources from every community in the corner of this city,” Lee said. He also pointed out that Chinatown’s Columbus Park is the most used park on the East Coast and is merely 50 feet away (literally across the street) from the demolition of the new jail site.  He wants Mayor Adams to continue to oppose the jail as he said early on and to solve the problem of incarceration without destroying communities. 

March ended with a rally at Chinatown’s Columbus Park with approximately 2,000 people in attendance. The park is just across the street from the site of the new jail. Credit: Shirley L. Ng

Chinatown already has had three jails built there for some 100 years, each time demolishing an old one and building a bigger one at the same location. Opponents fear the construction in this mostly senior and very congested community will negatively impact, health, businesses, and the livelihood of all that live there. Traffic detours will be certain and would deter many from driving into Chinatown. It could be another severe blow to small businesses already affected by COVID.

Woman holds a sign during the march in Chinatown. The old jail is seen in the background which is slated to be demolished with a taller jail in its place. Credit: Shirley L. Ng

The proposed jails were the city’s answers to closing Rikers Island, which had many problems, including the difficulty to travel there. At a budget of $8.7 billion dollars for the new four jails, the city still has not given any answers or clues as to what will become of Rikers when it closes. Many have asked why not just renovate it? Good question. That would save billions of dollars, and with the rate of inflation, it is said the four borough-based jails would now cost more than the proposed $8.7 billion dollars.

NYC District One Council Member, Christopher Marte leading the march through Chinatown with a mega-phone in hand to protest the world’s tallest jail in his district. Credit: Shirley L. Ng

District 1 Council Member, Christopher Marte of Chinatown called for Mayor Adams to oppose the jail and to reinvest in the community in health, education, and housing. He blasted last year’s 30% cut in the budget towards services to the community, while the budget for the borough-based jails remained the same.  He adamantly said the jail, is “not a done deal.”

During his mayoral campaign last Spring, Eric Adams was recorded on video with Marte saying he opposed the jail, but Mayor Adams has become increasingly quiet since being elected. At last month’s Lunar New Year parade, protesters against the jail were along the parade route with signs calling out the Mayor who was the grand marshal of the parade to oppose Chinatown jail.

Woman holding signing protesting against the proposed mega-jail, considered to be the world’s tallest jail in Chinatown. Credit: Shirley L. Ng

Arline Parks, the CEO of Diego Beekman Mutal Housing in Bronx spoke out against the jail in her neighborhood at the rally and sent a message to Mayor Adams, “You must, he must stand with us today, so we can stand with you tomorrow!”

Evelyn Yang spoke passionately at the rally, speaking about memories she has of coming to Chinatown with her family when she was young, but also blasting the government of putting in the jail in Chinatown because of their, “long history of dumping on communities of color, dumping on communities of immigrants.”  She said that this behavior of dumping on Chinatown is a form of hate and it brutalizes the community and tries to, “tear down our sanctuary of color and our cultural centers.”

Evelyn Yang speaks out against the jail in Chinatown and institutional racism and hate against communities of color. Credit: Shirley L. Ng.

After the rally, Lee said they are exploring legal action at the federal level that would include looking into charges of institutional racism and the violation of the first amendment rights.

New York State awarded Chinatown $10 million dollars last November to support social services, including $20 million last February to support Asian American organizations to stop anti-Asian. The amount of financial support is a tremendous help in the community, but it appears the immediate need to support Chinatown right now is to get Mayor Adams to say, “No,” to the mega-jail.

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