By Phineas Rueckert and David Brand
Dozens of demonstrators visited the mainland entrance to Rikers Island Tuesday to memorialize individuals who have died in detention over the past several years.
The vigil was organized by members of the #CloseRikers coalition, which advocates for closing the nine jails on the island and opening four new detention centers in Kew Gardens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan. Activists released balloons into the air to commemorate the individuals who died at Rikers and other city jails.
Larger balloons represented adults, while small balloons represented children — until October 2018, 16- and 17-year-old were detained in Rikers jails.
“We’re moving the conversation from brick and mortar to the lives that are affected,” #CloseRikers spokesperson Brandon Holmes told the Eagle Monday. “This is about recognizing the people who have died at Rikers in the past ten years. Remembering the people who were lost and the people who we still don’t have the solutions to get out.”
The Rikers protest was the culmination of a day of action calling for the closure of Rikers Island’s dangerous and isolated jails. About 7,500 people are currently detained in city jails, mostly on Rikers. The city estimates that the detained population will decrease to 4,000 people by 2026, at which point the city will open the new jails, including a 270-foot tower behind the Queens Criminal Courthouse.
“It’s very sobering to come to the realization that there are still going to be 4,000 folks who are going to be potentially detained in New York city after pretrial reforms are implemented,” Holmes said.