Death Trap: Human Rights Abuses & Drug War Casualties at Riker’s Island

by Msnbctv news staff


Picture Credit score: Authorized Support Society, Isaabdul Karim

Isaabdul Karim was the eleventh particular person to die this 12 months whereas incarcerated at Riker’s Island, New York Metropolis’s principal jail. His avoidable dying drew consideration to the horrific and deepening disaster on the infamous facility, which has been known as a “ethical stain” on the Huge Apple. Regardless of a supposed official coverage of drawing down the variety of individuals held at Riker’s Island in preparation for its projected closure, it seems that Karim was solely being held for parole violations. And, regardless of New York state’s new legalization regulation, one in every of these parole violations involved his use of hashish.

For the reason that hashish legalization invoice in New York handed earlier this 12 months, there was an unprecedented, barely surreal, permissive ambiance for the herb within the Empire Metropolis. Underneath the brand new regulation, hashish could be smoked in public wherever tobacco smoking is permitted. And in Washington Sq. and different standard youth gathering factors, cottage-industry outfits have arrange tables and are brazenly promoting THC-rich extracts, edibles, and dried flower. None of them are licensed, as a result of no licensing construction is in place but — however the authorities are turning a blind eye, seemingly by official coverage.

Mayor Invoice de Blasio has (for 2 years now) ordered police not make arrests for minor hashish offenses, and town’s district attorneys are now not prosecuting such instances. In the meantime, a human rights disaster is festering on the metropolis’s largest jail. Of some 6,000 individuals at present held at Rikers Island, the overwhelming majority have by no means been convicted of the crime they’re accused of. They’re in authorized limbo awaiting trial, enmeshed in a giant backlog of instances within the metropolis’s legal justice system – a logjam partly as a result of COVID-19 pandemic.

At the very least 100 people are being held on the facility on technical parole violations — that’s, failure to reside as much as circumstances of launch following a earlier conviction. Isaabdul Karim was one in every of these.

When parole violations are a dying sentence

Because the Every day Information reported, Karim, 42, died at an infirmary within the island advanced after complaining to workers of feeling ailing on Sept. 19. Town Division of Correction (DoC) mentioned it seems he died of pure causes, however the Medical Examiner’s Workplace has but to launch closing findings on reason behind dying, and isn’t obliged to take action publicly.

In a bitter irony, Karim may have been eligible for fast launch underneath a regulation signed by New York’s Gov. Kathy Hochul simply two days earlier than his dying. Meant to ease the disaster at Rikers, the Much less Is Extra Act requires launch of detainees held on “technical parole violations.”

DoC commissioner Vincent Schiraldi, in asserting Karim’s dying, acknowledged the disaster at Rikers Island and lots of the metropolis’s different lock-ups. “There may be nothing pure about what is going on in our jail system proper now,” Schiraldi mentioned. Karim was the eleventh inmate to die at Rikers in 2021.

Karim — who had suffered sickness and tried suicide throughout a earlier stint at Rikers in 2016 — landed again on the island this August after being stabbed whereas peddling gadgets on a Manhattan avenue, sources instructed the Every day Information. On the hospital, a background test revealed an open warrant for the parole violations, leading to his arrest.

Karim had been on parole since June 2018, after serving a time period of two years and 6 months for promoting cocaine to an undercover cop. Information on his case from the New York State Division of Corrections & Group Supervision (DOCCS) had been supplied to Challenge CBD by New York’s Authorized Support Society, which was representing Karim. The paperwork point out that DOCCS issued a warrant for Karim in 2020 for failure to report back to his parole officer. The paperwork additionally cited a earlier parole violation — Karim had been arrested for public smoking and possession of hashish on Broadway in Midtown Manhattan in October 2018.

A hashish reprieve?

Part 6 of the Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA), handed by New York’s state Meeting and signed into regulation by then-governor Andrew Cuomo in March 2021, bars penalizing parolees for possession of hashish in portions permitted underneath the Act, until particular measures have been imposed that “explicitly prohibit an individual’s hashish use.” No such circumstances had been imposed in Karim’s case, and Authorized Support instructed Challenge CBD that his parole violation cost for the 2018 arrest most likely would have been dropped at his subsequent listening to — as a result of the Part 6 provision is mostly being utilized retroactively.

However Karim didn’t reside to attend his subsequent scheduled parole listening to.

In an announcement on Karim’s passing, Authorized Support mentioned: “Technical violations — together with marijuana use and failing to report, the non-criminal fees that led to Mr. Karim’s remand — mustn’t quantity to a dying sentence.” The assertion charged that DOCCS commissioner Anthony Annucci “has a lot to reply for.”

Contacted by Challenge CBD for this story, DOCCS refused to remark.

The NYC Mayor’s Workplace of Prison Justice, reached by Challenge CBD, denied that there are any individuals at present detained in metropolis jails for both offenses or parole violations associated to hashish. Nevertheless it’s tough to evaluate the accuracy of this assertion as a result of lack of any public report offering a break-down of these held within the system, and for what violations.

Deaths on Horror Island

The Every day Information offers harrowing particulars of Karim’s first keep at Rikers, or “Horror Island,” as many New Yorkers discuss with it. In 2016, awaiting trial on a nonviolent drug cost (the cocaine sale, in line with Authorized Support), he was left alone in an consumption cell on the facility for 3 days. He tried to hold himself and swallowed a battery, inflicting “excruciating ache,” in line with medical information obtained by the Information. His lawyer instructed the newspaper that he was additionally put in an isolation cell and never allowed to make use of the toilet as punishment for accusing a guard of a racist insult.

The New York Instances reviews that Karim — who used a wheelchair and had hypertension, diabetes, and a historical past of epilepsy and psychiatric points — contracted the coronavirus whereas in Rikers this second time round. “It’s unclear whether or not launch would have stored Mr. Karim alive,” the Instances states.

After Karim’s dying, his companion, Felicia Bullock, instructed CBS2 through textual content that he had known as her expressing his fears in regards to the circumstances at Rikers. “He instructed me individuals had been dying, and in a panic saying he needed to get out of there,” she wrote.

Karim’s dying was the second at Rikers in September. Gothamist reviews that earlier within the month, Esias Johnson, 24, died of an obvious drug overdose within the island jail advanced. In August, Segundo Guallpa, 58, and Brandon Rodríguez, 25, had been individually discovered useless of their cells at Rikers, obvious suicides. Rodríguez was behind bars as a result of he couldn’t afford the $10,000 bond set by a choose after he was arrested in a home violence case.

And one other detainee has died for the reason that passing of Karim. On Sept. 22, Stephen Khadu, 34, was pronounced deceased after he was dropped at Lincoln Hospital within the Bronx from a “jail barge” moored off Rikers to alleviate overcrowding on the advanced. Unnamed “medical misery” was cited by DoC officers, reviews the Bronx Instances.

Commenting on Khadu’s dying, New York Metropolis Public Advocate Jumaane Williams acknowledged, solely considerably metaphorically: “Twelve individuals thus far this 12 months, three within the final month, have been sentenced to dying on Rikers Island. I’d be speechless in horror and grief if I weren’t so offended … that we’ve got reached this level.”

Dysfunction, neglect & violence

New York’s Mayor Invoice de Blasio was shamed by Karim’s dying into asserting some modifications at Rikers. “Yesterday, new consumption areas had been opened at Rikers, two clinics and an extra housing unit,” de Blasio mentioned on Sept. 21.

The ability was additionally toured that day by a delegation of officers together with state Legal professional Common Letitia James, Bronx District Legal professional Darcel Clark, Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez and Queens DA Melinda Katz. In an announcement, James mentioned she was “deeply disturbed” at what she noticed. “For years, Rikers has been tormented by dysfunction, neglect, and violence, and it’s clear we’ve reached a breaking level. These circumstances have led to an unprecedented and devastating variety of deaths, and motion is desperately wanted. I’m analyzing all of my workplace’s authorized choices to right away handle this dire state of affairs.”

Additionally on the tour was Alice Fontier, director of the Harlem-based Neighborhood Defender Companies. She gave this harrowing account to The Intercept: “There’s a segregated consumption unit that we walked via the place they’ve individuals held in showers. It’s about two toes large by six toes. There isn’t any rest room. They’ve given them plastic baggage to make use of for feces and urine. They usually’re sitting within the cells with their very own bodily waste locked into these circumstances. That is probably the most horrific factor I’ve seen in my life. I’ve been coming to this jail since 2008. That is not like something that has ever occurred right here.”

Advocates say shut it down

Politicians have been kicking this could down the street for some time. In response to mounting requires its closure, in 2019 Rikers Island was set to be shut down by 2026.

Stress had been constructing since 2011, when Rikers inmates, represented by Authorized Support, introduced a category motion go well with in opposition to town in federal courtroom. This resulted within the 2015 Nunez settlement. De Blasio’s administration dedicated to a number of reforms within the pact, together with appointment of a federal monitor for the ability.

The US Justice Division had already launched a civil rights investigation in response to claims of abuse, and in 2014 launched a report on its investigation, discovering “a sample and apply of conduct at Rikers that violates the constitutional rights of adolescent inmates.” The report famous a “deep-seated tradition of violence” on the facility, amongst inmates and workers alike.

In March 2015, de Blasio introduced a 14-point plan to create a secure setting for inmates on Rikers Island. When public outrage was not appeased, in October 2019 de Blasio lastly agreed to shut the advanced by 2026, and substitute it with 4 new smaller jails at completely different factors across the metropolis. This deal was accepted by the Metropolis Council. 

However this has additionally met with public opposition, and in October 2020 the closure date was pushed again to 2027. 

‘Not in my yard’ versus ‘decarceration’

Opposition has been significantly robust in Chinatown, the place one of many new services is deliberate. Chinatown is positioned close to the grim Manhattan Detention Advanced, generally often known as “The Tombs” — the place arrestees wait to go earlier than a choose, who could then get them organized to Rikers. (The Tombs can be ostensibly slated to be closed.)

Nearly precisely a 12 months earlier than the dying of Karim, a state choose issued a ruling that town bypassed the legally-mandated evaluation course of for the proposed Decrease Manhattan jail, siding with Chinatown residents who had introduced go well with in opposition to the deliberate building. The deliberate jails in Kew Gardens, Queens, and Mott Haven, within the Bronx, additionally face lawsuits from locals.

However opposition is break up between “NIMBY” (Not In My Yard) sentiment, and teams like No New Jails, which oppose changing Rikers with new services altogether. 

The #CLOSErikers marketing campaign, whereas stopping wanting this forthright demand, additionally speaks of the necessity to radically shrink town’s jail inhabitants in a “decarceration” coverage. Activists on Sept. 15 rallied exterior Metropolis Corridor earlier than testifying at Metropolis Council hearings on circumstances at Rikers. These providing testimony included family members of inmates who died on the facility.

The de Blasio administration’s official Roadmap to Closing Rikers, adopting the rhetoric of “decarceration,” requires lowering town’s jail inhabitants to not more than 3,300 — the bottom determine in a century. And it emphasizes that one of many eight jail models at Rikers has already been closed.

However the complete within the metropolis’s jails continues to be practically double that objective — though drastically decreased from the over 20,000 on the top of racist “damaged home windows policing” and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s crackdown on public hashish use within the Nineties. Throughout the pandemic paralysis within the spring of 2020, town’s jail inhabitants dropped under 4,000 for the primary time since 1946. However this 12 months, the determine began to rise once more.

A 2019 New York state bail reform regulation, which bars imposing bail for non-violent offenses and establishes standards for judging flight threat, has been met with vociferous opposition from regulation enforcement teams — and what Gothamist calls a “quiet insurrection from the bench,” with judges skirting the factors and persevering with to impose excessive bails. Rising crime within the metropolis over the previous 12 months has supplied a propaganda setting conducive to subversion of the regulation.

‘A stain on the soul of New York Metropolis’

For the reason that COVID-19 pandemic, the disaster at Rikers Island has been compounded by a form of undeclared walk-out by the ability’s guards. In August alone, Rikers correction officers failed to indicate up 2,700 occasions, Nationwide Public Radio reviews. And whereas the guards themselves have an unsavory popularity for brutality, their absence has led to rising management of cellblocks by gangs. This summer season, models at Rikers went as much as 24 hours with no guards by any means. Terrorized workers has meant detainees not getting well timed entry to meals or drugs.

Town has filed go well with in opposition to the guards union, the Correction Officers Benevolent Affiliation, charging it has allowed and even inspired guards at Rikers Island and different metropolis jails to not present up for work. Town is asking a choose to pressure the union to intervene and assist cease guards from skipping their shifts — whether or not by taking sick days or just going AWOL.

Metropolis Councilmember Robert Holden of Queens is looking on Gov. Hochul to mobilize and dispatch the Nationwide Guard to Rikers Island.

After the dying of Karim, the Authorized Support Society submitted a letter in federal courtroom asking a choose to carry an emergency convention on Rikers, and to contemplate ordering detainees to be launched. The federal monitor for Rikers, Steve Martin, additionally wrote the choose, warning that plans by de Blasio and his DoC to deal with the disaster “have a big void.”

As NY1 reviews, Martin wrote: “Acknowledged bluntly, the Metropolis’s and Division’s plans will not be adequate to deal with the upcoming threat of hurt to individuals in custody and Workers flowing from the poor operation of the jails.” He urged appointment of an “exterior safety operations supervisor” to supervise Rikers Island.

On Sept. 27, de Blasio lastly responded to public stress by personally touring Rikers, which he had not finished all through the years of mounting disaster. However inmates charged that jail directors had steered the mayor away from the ability’s harshest areas. “That is the darkish facet, and so they stored him off the darkish facet,” mentioned one detainee contacted by Gothamist information website.

Jonathan Lippman, former chief choose of New York state and chair of town’s fee on closing Rikers, instructed Boston’s WBUR that Rikers Island is a “hellhole” and a “stain on the soul of New York Metropolis.”

He particularly emphasised: “It’s the silliest factor on the planet that we’re preserving individuals in jail on these nonviolent technical violations. Jail ought to be a final resort. When you’re not violent, why on the planet would you set someone into one in every of these locations the place you come out more likely to commit a criminal offense than while you went in?”

Lippman known as on New York Metropolis to “shut Rikers as soon as and for all. It’s an abomination. Shut down this image of mass incarceration.”


Invoice Weinberg, a Challenge CBD contributing author, is a 30-year veteran journalist within the fields of drug coverage, ecology and indigenous peoples. He’s a former information editor at Excessive Instances journal, and he produces the web sites CounterVortex.org and World Ganja Report.

Copyright, Challenge CBD. Might not be reprinted with out permission.




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