December 21, 2015 | revcom.us
On October 23, as part of Rise Up October, protesters held portraits of people who had died at Rikers, they spoke out, sang and danced energetically, and some sat down chanting “Shut It DOWN!” The NYPD put up barricades across the road leading to Rikers Island prison, and for more than an hour access was blocked. Prisoners heard about the shut down and cheered according to reports from relatives. (Photo: Special to Revolution/revcom.us)
Reverberations of Rise Up October protests in New York City to STOP police terror and murder were felt in courtrooms this past week as some of the 27 people arrested during three days of action appeared to face protest charges. Prosecutors say that two arrested outside the entrance to Rikers Island will be tried on charges serious enough to get a one-year sentence on Rikers Island for nonviolent political protest.
On October 23, as part of #RiseUpOctober, 100 people gathered to #ShutDownRikers, the island prison they compared to Abu Ghraib. This is no exaggeration. Decades of deaths in custody at the hands of guards, brutal and widespread sexual violence, solitary confinement for years, denial of medical care, and abuse of children are routine—a part of the genocide of mass incarceration. Of those imprisoned at Rikers on an average day, some 90 percent are Black or Latino.
“Rikers Island: 14,000 people imprisoned, 85 percent of them have not been convicted of anything; people locked up because they are poor, because the court system is purposely clogged. People held for weeks, months, even years without a trial. People who are tortured, brutalized, driven insane.”From “Shut Down Rikers Island Prison.”
Despite years of lawsuits, many of them won against the city, as well as commissions, panels and with even some in the power structure saying Rikers cannot be fixed and should be shut down, thousands disappear into the hell of this prison, making people feel powerless. The righteous demand “Shut Down Rikers” has had significant support. But up until October, no organized group had put out a call to actually stop the machinery delivering prisoners there with nonviolent civil disobedience. Sunsara Taylor, correspondent for Revolution/revcom.us and an initiator of StopPatriarchy.org, and others called on people to do that as part of three days of action to STOP police terror and murder.
A day after families of those killed by police had brought the lived experience of murder by police to Times Square in No More Stolen Lives: #SayTheirNames, the outpouring on October 23 was strong and beautiful. One hundred marched to the entrance of Rikers, including some of those family members; co-initiator of Rise Up October, Carl Dix; students from Columbia and New York Universities; war resisters, including the “Raging Grannies”; revolutionaries and the Revolution Club; religious leaders; and a couple who drove from Michigan to join the protest.
For more than an hour, as the NYPD put up barricades across the road leading to the island prison, access was blocked. The crowd held portraits of people who had died at Rikers. They spoke out and sang and danced energetically. Some sat down and chanted, “Shut It DOWN!” Prisoners heard about the shut down and cheered it, according to reports from relatives. Finally, someone was doing something tangible in response to their outcries. (See photos/video at “A Shout-out to the Courageous Fighters Who Put Their Bodies on the Line to Shut Down Rikers Island Prison.”)
The authorities responded with a show of force. NYPD vehicles massed for arrests. Police dogs—the 4 legged kind—increased the tension. “I thought they stopped deploying dogs against people of color in like 1960?” tweeted a videographer.
Sixteen people were arrested, and others forced away from the barricades. But no one left unmoved by the righteousness of the action and the passion of the protest, which was based on the reality of what Rikers means for the people. Confronting the monstrous brutality of Rikers strengthened people’s determination to really STOP it—and the rest of the system’s genocidal program.
“I didn’t really even know enough about Rikers until I came that morning and heard Sunsara and others telling the stories of people who had died there. They were just so passionate, and I knew I had to be part of the action,” said a woman who was arrested.
Fourteen protesters were released hours later, charged with disorderly conduct. This past week, in a Queens, New York, court, charges were dismissed against four of them, and 10 were given a 24-hour “adjournment in contemplation of dismissal,” meaning the charges have been dismissed—a very good development.
But two of the protesters involved in the action were put through the system with criminal charges that could bring one year in Rikers, “obstruction of government administration,” a catch-all charge often used on political protesters such as Noche Diaz. (See “Trial Set for January 27: Support Noche Diaz—Demand That All Charges Be Dropped!“)
On December 17, the two arrested on October 23 appeared in criminal court, where the prosecutor refused to drop or lower the charges. A junior district attorney said her supervisor told her he was “personally offended” by the protest. A trial date was set for February 22. Stop Mass Incarceration Network supporters and the legal defense team say they will file to have the charges dismissed, and seek discovery to reveal why and how these two protesters were singled out for criminal prosecution.
The political battle to stop terror and murder by police is also continuing in the courts around arrests made at the major October 24 march in Manhattan. On December 16, ACDs (adjournment in contemplation of dismissal after six months) were given to four people arrested on Fifth Avenue, an area for which organizers were given a permit to march. A lawyer for the NYPD directly intervened in the court proceedings to argue that there was “probable cause” for the arrests, and demanded as a condition for one person’s ACD that the defendant “admit” they were blocking traffic—going directly counter to the fact that an ACD is supposed to be given without any admission of guilt.
This police lawyer tried this same maneuver on another person who also had been arrested October 24 in Times Square on a Parks violation after the main march ended, demanding that he admit to being “disorderly” in order to get an ACD. This NYPD “offer” was refused by the defendant, with the defendant’s lawyer arguing vigorously against this condition and later saying that this action by the NYPD was “profoundly improper.” This defendant’s next court date is February 16.
Drop These Unjust Charges
Revcom.us did a shout-out to those arrested in October: “Rikers Island is an abomination, an atrocity. It is a concentration of the horrific abuse this system routinely, daily inflicts on Black and Latino youth. The heroes who sat in and laid down at the gates of Rikers have put a challenge in front of anyone with a conscience and a sense of justice.”
The system’s message that protesting the intolerable conditions at Rikers could get you a year on Rikers makes the case for justice even more strongly. They’re incapable of “fixing” their own system. Shut It Down!
Support those arrested October 23/24 at #RiseUpOctober actions:
Tuesday, February 16, 9 am, Midtown Community Court, 314 West 54th Street
Wednesday, February 22, 9 am, Queens Criminal Court 125-01 Queens Blvd.
Updates will be posted at stopmassincarceration.net