Locked Up and Left Behind: Hurricane Irene and the Prisoners on New York’s Rikers Island

From Solitary Watch:

Aug. 26, 2011
by Jean Casella and James Ridgeway

“We are not evacuating Rikers Island,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a news conference this afternoon. Bloomberg annouced a host of extreme measures being taken by New York City in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Irene, including a shutdown of the public transit system and the unprecedented mandatory evacuation of some 250,000 people from low-lying areas. But in response to a reporter’s question, the mayor stated in no uncertain terms (and with more than a hint of annoyance) that one group of New Yorkers on vulnerable ground will be staying put.

New York City is surrounded by small islands and barrier beaches, and a glance at the city’s evacuation map reveals all of them to be in Zone A (already under a mandatory evacuation order) or Zone B–all, that is, save one. Rikers Island, which lies in the waters between Queens and the Bronx, is not highlighted at all, meaning it is not to be evacuated under any circumstances.

According to the New York City Department of Corrections’ own website, more than three-quarters of Rikers Island’s 400 acres are built on landfill–which is generally thought to be more vulnerable to natural disasters. Its ten jails have a capacity of close to 17,000 inmates, and normally house at least 12,000, including juveniles and large numbers of prisoners with mental illness–not to mention pre-trial detainees who have yet to be convicted of any crime. There are also hundreds of corrections officers at work on the island.

We were not able to reach anyone at the NYC DOC for comment–but the New York Times‘s City Room blog reported: “According to the city’s Department of Correction, no hypothetical evacuation plan for the roughly 12,000 inmates that the facility may house on a given day even exists. Contingencies do exist for smaller-scale relocations from one facility to another.”

For a warning of what can happen to prisoners in a hurricane we need only look back at Katrina, and the horrific conditions endured by inmates at Orleans Parish Prison in New Orleans. According to a report produced by the ACLU:

[A] culture of neglect was evident in the days before Katrina, when the sheriff declared that the prisoners would remain “where they belong,” despite the mayor’s decision to declare the city’s first-ever mandatory evacuation. OPP even accepted prisoners, including juveniles as young as 10, from other facilities to ride out the storm.

As floodwaters rose in the OPP buildings, power was lost, and entire buildings were plunged into darkness. Deputies left their posts wholesale, leaving behind prisoners in locked cells, some standing in sewage-tainted water up to their chests …

Prisoners went days without food, water and ventilation, and deputies admit that they received no emergency training and were entirely unaware of any evacuation plan. Even some prison guards were left locked in at their posts to fend for themselves, unable to provide assistance to prisoners in need.

UPDATE (Saturday midnight): In his final news conference of the day, Mayor Bloomberg defended his decision not to evacuate Rikers Island, stating: “It is higher than the Zone A areas and it’s perfectly safe.” Representatives of the mayor have made further statements to New York Magazine (see update at end) and the Wall Street Journal, also specifying that no part of Rikers Island is in Zone A. Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson went on Twitter to say the same thing. To our knowledge, the mayor’s office still has not clarified what zone, if any, Rikers Island is in, and has not responded to questions regarding the lack of any evacuation plan for the jail.

NYC: Cop convicted of assaulting cyclist will not face any repercussions

Patrick Pogan, the former NYPD officer who was caught on tape in 2008 violently shoving a cyclist off his bike, seemingly without provocation, faced up to four years in prison for a felony conviction of filing a false criminal complaint against cyclist Christopher Long. But yesterday Justice Maxwell Wiley (a Pataki appointee) sent a clear message to all those following the high-profile case: Lying cops suffer no consequences. And the “sentence,” a “conditional discharge” which set no conditions, was even more lenient than Pogan’s lawyer, Stuart London, had recommended.

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NYC: Anarchist sentenced to prison for violation of supervised release

A Post-Sentencing Statement From Dave Solidarity

On June 1, I was sentenced to a 1 month stay in a Federal Prison, starting June 22nd, after being convicted of a ‘violation of the terms of my supervised release.’ To give a little bit of background, in 2006, I was convicted of ‘damaging United States property’ after setting fire to an Army recruiting center in the Bronx, and served 6 months in a federal prison, followed by 3 years of ‘supervised release.’ Last year, a few months before this term of supervised release was set to expire, I was arrested outside of the second occupation of the New School, and charged with assaulting an officer, rioting, resisting arrest and maybe a couple other things.
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Police and JTTF raid anarchist house in Brooklyn

[JTTF = Joint Terrorism Task Force]

From the anarchist 1am collective

Today in Brooklyn NY, the NYPD entered without a warrant 13 Thames Art Space, a Bushwick based art and performance space where members of the Independent Anarchist Media (I AM) Collective have been organizing the Fourth Annual NYC Anarchist Film Festival in honor of Brad Will.

Two plainclothes detectives entered first, followed quickly by a Lieutenant and vans full of blue shirt officers. After corralling everyone present in the back room, they searched the space and detained two members of the collective.

The I AM collective was preparing for the NYC Anarchist Film Festival, a showcase of resistance movements and insurrectionary events from around the world presented from an anarchist and anti-authoritarian perspective.

Our response to the raid: regardless of these attacks, the film festival will happen as planned on Friday April 16, 2010 at Judson Memorial Church. The voice of decentralized creative communities will not be silenced by police repression. They cannot raid us, because we are everywhere.

NYC: Four arrested at MTA Public Hearing

MTAAt 6pm on Wednesday, March 3rd, the Metro Transit Authority (MTA) of New York City held a public hearing at the Brooklyn Museum. The unspoken punch line of these events is that the searing, controversial issues to be brought up – service cuts, fare hikes, and the revoking of student metrocards, for instance – have already been officially decided on. The events themselves are formalities; spaces for people to relieve their stress verbally, to vent at a table of silent board members and then go home to the knowledge that no one was really paying attention.

To add insult to injury, as procedure, politicians always speak first. Members of the city council and senate are given priority at the mic over workers, students, parents, the real public. The list of registered speakers is weighted by salary. The booing, then, wasn’t reserved only for the MTA board members on the stage – including Mark Page, whose interest in the people he’s helping to screw over is so sincere that he actually slept through most of the event, a nap interrupted only by shouting from the crowd. The audience was tired of hearing from politician after politician, representative after representative, and eventually booed them as well, demanding for the students themselves to be allowed to speak.

We heard from a few real people. They told their stories, they berated the MTA puppets in front of them, they even called for takeovers, strikes, acknowledgments of a war that was already being waged against them.

When one bold woman walked up and took the mic “out of turn”, she was interrupted by the “moderator” on stage, and assaulted and pushed away by plainclothes cops, even as the entire crowd screamed for her to be allowed to speak. Even as the person whose turn it actually was said that she would give her a minute of her time. The board members’ precious ears were so violently defended that what happened next was a blur of the audience’s anger becoming material. As the room erupted in noise and motion, four people – including the woman who had tried to take the mic – were dragged out and arrested.

All four were taken to the 78th precinct and charged with Disorderly Conduct, Resisting Arrest, and one initial count of Incitement to Riot which was dropped to Obstructing Governmental Administration at arraignment. The judge dismissed a stuttering rookie prosecutor’s pathetic attempt to extract $700 bail each for two of the arrestees based on (partially fabricated) prior riot charges and released three of the defendants on their own recognizance. The fourth was transferred to a different precinct on an outstanding warrant; he is expected to be arraigned Friday night.

Surprisingly, the extensive media coverage in New York City has been almost sympathetic to the defendants – it seems that the audience that night were no more alone in their frustration about the speakers policy than they were in their anger at the MTA in general. The fact is that the Transit board has no friends in this city, and their opponents don’t need anyone in a suit to speak empty protests for them.

Fuck the MTA. Be the crisis. Jump the turnstile.

Occupation, blockades, and arrests as students and workers across the country strike on March 4th

CUNYAs budgets for public and higher education continue to dwindle, students and workers are raising the stakes in their responses nationwide. Yesterday, March 4th, was called as a national day of action. Student and workers participated in strikes at schools across the country, occupied and shut down campuses and highways, held street parties and rioted, in a decentralized wave of resistance from coast to coast.

Some brief highlights:

  • UC Santa Cruz was shut down as hundreds of students and workers blockaded the entrances to the campus. Several students were injured as cars attempted to ram through the blockades.
  • At UC Davis, students shut down the nearby freeway and were attacked by police with pepper balls and rubber bullets. One student was arrested.
  • University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee police arrested at least 15 people protesting tuition hikes after protesters tried to enter an administrative building to deliver petitions to the school chancellor. When police turned them away, some protesters threw punches and ice chunks, university spokesman Tom Luljak said.
  • In Oakland, protesters clambered onto Interstate 880 near downtown Oakland just before 5 p.m., forcing the closure of the freeway in both directions for more than an hour and causing traffic to back up for miles. Police arrested more than 150 people who blocked the freeway after breaking off from a peaceful rally at Oakland City Hall, said Officer Sam Morgan, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol.
  • In New York, SUNY Purchase was occupied.
  • At CUNY Hunter in NYC, students broke out the windows of the financial aid office and destroyed security checkpoints at the entrances of the building. Reports indicate that up to 4 students may have been arrested during the actions.

NYC: Migrant Detainee hunger strikers attacked by SWAT

Agents in riot gear from Immigration and Customs Enforcement tried to break up a hunger strike by detainees at the Varick Federal Detention Center in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday, three detainees at the center said Wednesday in telephone interviews.

Matthew Chandler, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, denied that there was “a sustained hunger strike” at Varick, but said immigration agents entered and searched a jail dormitory when detainees complaining about conditions refused to leave it.

A Jamaican detainee in one dorm said “all hell broke loose” after about 100 inmates refused to go to the mess hall on Tuesday morning and gave guards a flier declaring they were on a hunger strike to protest detention policies and practices.
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