Speakers at the event included Darren Mack; Program Coordinator for the Center for Justice at Columbia University and Campaign member of #CLOSErikers, Melissa Mark-Viverito; New York City Council Speaker, moderator Christina Greer Associate Professor, Fordham University, Award winning Singer/songwriter; John Legend Founder of #FreeAmerica, and founder of JustLeadershipUSA and formerly incarcerated Glenn E. Martin.
According to information posted at the event:
JLUSA leads the #CLOSErikers campaign, which recently secured a commitment from Mayor Bill de Blasio to shutter all facilities on Rikers Island within 10 years. #FREEAMERICA is a multi-year culture campaign initiated by John Legend to change the national conversation about our country’s misguided policies and transform America’s criminal justice system.
Glenn E. Martin is the President and Founder of JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA), an organization “dedicated to cutting the U.S. correctional population in half by 2030. He is part of the vanguard of advocates working to make that future a reality”.
Glenn was asked by Christina Greer what led him to initiate a program that many thought to be a “pipe dream”. Martin replied by saying, “thirteen months ago he started asking questions, particularly of those who are being the most harmed by our criminal justice system in NY about what they would like to see JLUSA take on with respect to criminal justice reform here in NYC. Martin went on to say that any time you have a discussion about Criminal justice in NY you have to take a look at what he called “Torture Island 200 ft away from LaGuardia airport”.
Darren Mack, who also spent time on Rikers Island, was asked the question of what was it about the CLOSErikers campaign that made it different than other attempts to reform the criminal justice system? Mack thanked Christina for the question and thanked the New School for hosting the event then said that what he thought made this campaign different was those directly impacted by Rikers being the center of organizing and mobilizing around this issue. “It was a grassroots, bottom up campaign”.
Melissa Mark Viverito serves as the Speaker of the New York City Council, the “first Puerto Rican and Latina to hold citywide office”. She represents the 8th District, which includes El Barrio/East Harlem and the South Bronx. Viverito was one of the first public officials to support the CLOSErikers campaign.
Melissa Mark Viverito was asked what it was about the CLOSErikers campaign that she found compelling and what it took to gain support from other government officials? Viverito’s response, “Bottom line, It was way overdue and it was the right thing to do. In February 2016 when I had my state of the city speech that is where I presented the idea of this independent commission to look at, right, getting to the reality of Rikers, what would it take for us as a city to get the population on Rikers so small that we could go into a neighborhood base community justice model.”
Find more on Melissa Mark-Viverito here.
Award winning musician John Legend started the #FreeAmerica on the “issues of mass incarceration and the school-to-prison pipeline, coupled with nationwide protests over the deaths of unarmed young men and women of color, provide an unprecedented opportunity for all of us to get involved in criminal justice reform efforts”.
“What led you to venture into criminal justice and why is your commitment so hands on?” Christina Greer asked John Legend. “Part of it was working in communities, working with students, working with teachers and schools that were dealing with kids that were, kind of, left behind by our mass incarceration system so, a lot of our kids are growing up with a single parent with one parent locked up.”
“A lot of them are touched by the criminal justice system in all kinds of ways and we would see the effects of that in schools. So, I was doing a lot of advocacy for our children and I realized it wasn’t enough to just worry about the school. It was important to worry about what was happening outside of the school”.
“How the police and the criminal justice system impacts the families of these young people. The more I read about it the more I watched films and got involved with the activist community the more angry I got about how badly America is failing our communities and our families”.
John Legend told the crowd he “wanted to make it clear what percentage of the Rikers population have not even been convicted of a crime, 80%”. When we talk about bail reform, this is not a side issue. Bail reform is the most crucial issue when we talk about reducing the population in these jails and making it easier to close Rikers, the biggest hurdle is MAKING SURE THAT NO ONE IS LOCKED UP BECAUSE THEY ARE TOO POOR to pay $1000 or $2500. WE LOST KALIEF BROWDER BECAUSE HE COULDN’T AFFORD A COUPLE OF THOUSAND DOLLARS!”
On Rikers Island’s ties to slavery from Essence:
At one point in history, New York City ranked only second to Charleston, South Carolina in U.S. cities that held the most slaves. Now, the bustling hub is home to one of the most violent jail complex’s in the nation, filled with corruption, misconduct and violence.
Rikers Island, known for its harsh conditions, brutality and intense violence amongst both inmates and correctional officers, is set for closure within the next 10 years. As Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last week, the city will shut down the complex, which houses mostly African American and Latino inmates. Most recently, Rikers has been a topic of discussion due to renewed interest in the Kalief Browder case — the young man who was held and abused at the jail for three years without a trial. And considering the atrocities that occur on the island, it’s no surprise that it’s deeply rooted in slavery, as noted by the Atlantic’s City Lab.
The jail was named after Magistrate Richard Riker, who was the owner of the island in the early 1800s. His ancestor, Dutch immigrant Abraham Rycken, purchased the land in the 17th century.