FOR BREAKING NEWS VISIT WWW.QNS.COM JUNE 3, 2021 • THE QUEENS COURIER 23
The job to close Rikers isn’t done yet — New Yorkers
deserve to know how our next mayor will do it
BY TRACIE GARDNER
As election day approaches, New York
City mayoral candidates are making it
clear where they stand on several key
issues. From transportation to climate
change to the economy, candidates are
letting New Yorkers know exactly how
they plan to bring tangible change to one
of the most diverse cities in the country.
However, there is one issue that candidates
haven’t adequately addressed — and that’s
the closing of Rikers Island.
In 2019, following years of advocacy, the
City Council fi nally approved a sweeping
and historic plan to overhaul New York
City’s correctional system, including closing
Rikers by 2026. If that deadline is to be
met, the city’s new mayor has substantial
work to do – and voters deserve to know
precisely what candidates have in mind.
Rikers Island is New York City’s primary
jail complex and biggest nightmare.
Intentionally built in a remote location far
from the rest of the city, Rikers is notorious
for its inhumane conditions. People
incarcerated there are subjected to solitary
confi nement, violence and sexual assault,
insuffi cient temperature control, fl ooding,
unhealthy food and, more recently, the
unbridled spread of coronavirus inside the
jail due to a willful lack of preventive or
protective eff orts by offi cials.
While NYC mayoral candidates agree
that Rikers embodies multiple human
rights violations and must be closed, there
is still a major gulf between what actually
needs to be done and what candidates have
committed to doing.
Let’s be very clear: the problem of Rikers
is getting worse. Conditions are still violent
and unsafe while the number of New
Yorkers jailed there only increases.
Th ere’s no way around it – the next
mayor will inherit this stain on New York
City. And right now, most of the candidates
have failed to demonstrate that
they grasp the magnitude of this issue or
the mountain of tasks that require urgent
attention to successfully close it down.
While Maya Wiley supports the closure
of Rikers, and many of the abovementioned
measures, there are some glaring
omissions in her plan, including shift -
letters & comments
ing away from the criminalization of substance
use disorder and ensuring all New
Yorkers can access the treatment they need
to get and stay well – in their communities.
She wants to remove mental health crisis
management from the NYPD, but ironically
hasn’t said the same for substance use
Shaun Donovan likewise has asserted
Rikers must be shut down and included
important measures such as expanding
alternatives to incarceration in his plan,
but he similarly neglects to address the
reality that a signifi cant number of individuals
are sent to Rikers because of drugs.
Both Mr. Donovan and Ms. Wiley
appear to understand broadly the many
layers of decarceration, but neither has
explicitly described immediate steps they
would take to expel the stigma that prevents
so many formerly incarcerated individuals
from securing the life essentials
they need to thrive in their communities
and avoid re-incarceration.
Meanwhile, Scott Stringer, one of New
York’s fi rst public offi cials to endorse the
plan to close Rikers, is now backpedaling.
He wants to “re-work the current jails
plan,” but provided no additional details.
Andrew Yang acknowledged that Rikers
needs to be closed and that any new borough
based jails must be a dramatic leap
forward in conditions, treatment, culture
and the goal should be to have jails that
“refl ect our values” in what appears to be
the fi rst time he’s ever endorsed the borough
based jail plan. However, he also said
the time frame for closing Rikers needs to
be fl exible because the city is in the middle
of a crisis. But Rikers is a crisis – right now.
Dianne Morales agreed that the city
needs to close Rosie’s Th e Rose M. Singer
Center, the women’s jail on Riker’s Island
by 2027, but has issued confl icting statements
on whether the city should build the
new borough-based jails at all!
Shutting down Rikers is an absolute
imperative. It’s about saving the lives of
incarcerated people, saving their families,
and strengthening our shared communities
citywide. Rikers must be treated like
the emergency that it is.
Tracie Gardner is the vice president of
policy advocacy at Legal Action Center.
Astoria Pool will open on June 26. Good
news! But not for everyone. Unfortunately,
many seniors will be denied enjoying this
Th e steep stairs and steps at the main
entrance to the pool on 19th Street are
too diffi cult for many seniors to negotiate,
down and up. So, for many years,
pool management has allowed seniors
to enter the pool at a rear gate on Shore
Boulevard. Now, with the closing of Shore
Boulevard to cars, seniors will not be able
to park on Shore Boulevard.
Th e parking lot within the park is not
viable as there is a steep hill from the
parking lot to the Shore Boulevard gate.
I know of one senior who recently suffered
a serious leg injury and will be
unable to attend the pool unless parking
is available on Shore Boulevard. Aft er
more than 50 years of enjoying Astoria
Pool, she will be shut out.
So many seniors will be unable to partake
of the senior swim program and
other activities at the pool. Th is is just
another example of how our senior population
is becoming increasingly isolated
from using many venues as the city continues
to close more and more streets,
eliminates parking spaces for bicycle
lanes and racks and allows restaurant
kiosks to proliferate in the streets.
I urge the Department of Transportation
to reopen Shore Boulevard to automobiles
at least during the pool season.
Richard Nebenzahl, Astoria
CRIMES IN NYC
Mayor Bill de Blasio has addressed
hate crimes in the city and outlined
what he believes needs to be done.
Saying that all hate crimes are unacceptable,
the mayor put together various
community groups to fight against
prejudice and hate. While this is a good
start, more needs to be done.
Children need to be taught at home by
their parents that they need to respect
others who are different than themselves
— and that goes for schools, as
well. Additionally, community groups,
houses of worship and neighborhood
watch groups need to band together
across the city to fight all this hate.
If you see a hate crime being committed,
I’m reminded of Martin Luther King
Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech, during
which he said, “When we allow freedom
to ring — when we let it ring
from every city and every hamlet, from
every state and every village — we will
be able to speed up that day when all
God’s children — Black men and white
men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants
and Catholics — will be able to join
hands and sing in the words of the
old Negro spiritual. Free at last, free at
last! Thank God almighty, we are free
In my opinion, we will only be free
as a nation when we stop hating our
brothers and sisters in America.
Frederick R. Bedell Jr., Bellerose
MMM, DOG CHOW! // COURTESY OF COUNCILMAN ROBERT HOLDEN’S OFFICE
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