ARNOLDI 1: A line of people stands tall with placards outside City Hall. Their mission is clear.
Shut Down Rikers! Shut Down Rikers! Shut Down Rikers!
ARNOLDI 2: Like their chant, the group calls themselves #ShutDownRikers. They have emerged off the back of the city-wide debate over the jail. It’s clear what they want, but why do they want it now?
Because we saw this opening, we saw this argument being made, we saw those in power having difficulty in trying to rationalize why they still put so much money at this system.
ARNOLDI 3: That’s organizer Julian Guerrero. The money he talks about is the hundred and ten thousand dollars it costs taxpayers for a Rikers inmate per year. But the system he talks about is more controversial. A system often marked by brutality and violence. You may have heard this name:
Justice for: Kalief Browder!
What’s his name?
Who’d they kill?
ARNOLDI 4: Kalief Browder killed himself last June after spending three years on Rikers awaiting trial for a crime he did not commit. His charge? Stealing a book bag. His older brother Akeem says Kalief’s suicide could be a tipping point.
This is why we need to shut down Rikers. This is why justice for Kalief needs to happen. Justice for all the inmates on Rikers.
ARNOLDI 5: Kalief’s story is one of many. 85% of the inmates at Rikers are not convicted criminals, but detainees waiting for their day in court. Many for non-violent offences. Yet the impact of their time inside is unforgettable.
It was an experience I would never put my worst enemy in.
ARNOLDI 6: When Khalid McKenzie was 17, he spent a year on Rikers for a non-violent charge. He’s now 37.
Before I got locked up, I used to take everything off to get in the shower. Up until this day, I get into the shower with my draws on because I seen someone literally get beat half to death for doing it.
ARNOLDI 7: McKenzie says that being changed by the Island is inevitable.
You come home, you don’t leave those things in jail. I’ve witnessed kids, the sweetest kids, they go to the Island, come home, a different type of beast, now they’re robbers, now they’re hustlers, now they’re stabbers, now they’re killers. The Island created these monsters so let’s find another alternative because there is one.
ARNOLDI 8: And what are those alternatives? Ramping up restorative justice programs that are already underway. Placing detainees into two thousand spare jail beds across the city. But perhaps the most important reform is this: beginning March 7, police in Manhattan will have the discretion to issue summons for minor infractions, like public drunkenness or urination.
For reformers this is where the process of shutting down Rikers begins. How we arrest offenders. Here’s Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito on Pix 11 last month.
In the case of low level offences, there needs to be a way that we revisit the way that we approach these crimes.
ARNOLDI 9: Margaret Egan is a Senior Policy Associate at CUNY and says that closing Rikers won’t happen overnight. But the need for strong voices on the ground is critical.
I think the complicated piece of this is that it requires a huge cultural shift on the part of the system but public awareness is no small thing when you’re talking about a jail on an island, sort of out sight, out of mind.
ARNOLDI 10: Guerrero and Shut Down Rikers are aware of this.
As a campaign, you always haggle high, right? We can’t wait until they decide that this is the best course of action because there are too many lives at stake.
ARNOLDI 11: For now, more protests are planned outside City Hall and across New York City.
Oliver Arnoldi, Columbia Radio News