The Mayor Can Sell His Jail Plan Elsewhere, Chinatown’s Not Buying [OP-ED]

Posted on: January 7th, 2019 at 5:07 am by

The following editorial was written by vociferous Chinatown activist Karlin Chan.

The charade continues..

You’ll recall Mayor de Blasio visited Chinatown on December 18 in yet another closed door meeting with community “stakeholders” about the “roadmap” to closing Rikers Island. The stunt was likely just a fulfillment of his boast on the Brian Lehrer show to visit one of four neighborhoods to receive a prison if the local councilmember requested it. The meeting was hush-hush among “invited” attendees, and press outlets were not notified until yours truly outed Councilwoman Margaret Chin on yet another sham community engagement display to local press.

One would think things would change…

  • After being outed and blasted for holding secret “community engagement” meetings; or
  • After the September 27‬ demonstration following de Blasio’s August announcement when the community realized I wasn’t just the “Boy who cried Wolf”; or
  • After three contentious “public forums” where the mayor’s team had no answers to residents’ concerns nor actual plans on the former proposed jail site at 80 Centre Street which seemingly turned out to be a “bait and switch” for EIS purposes; or
  • After the community backlash at Margaret Chin for the lack of transparency and thousands of petition signatures hand-delivered to her personally by community leaders.

Margaret Chin made a big splash last month by releasing her letter to Mayor de Blasio requesting a Chinatown visit to answer questions on the proposed jail. Yet, incredibly, as evidenced by the shenanigans of December 18, instead of opening the meeting to the community, Chin doubled-down and invited only those she felt were malleable enough to listen and negotiate “community benefits.” Of the roughly 40 invited “guests,” many were nonresident heads of area nonprofit organizations who are often dependent on the city for funding. Not a single stakeholder vehemently opposed to the jail was invited, even the president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association did not receive an invitation until the day before the meeting.

During said gathering, which was recorded and subsequently released on social media, de Blasio had few answers for those present other than the hastily called press announcement where he stated, “Mass incarceration did not start in NYC but will end in NYC.” His only argument was putting detainees closer to their families would help in the rehabilitation process. Yet we must face the fact that a segment of the prison population can not, nor want to, be rehabilitated.

Equally important in this equation, but left out, are the victims of these same detainees; has anyone thought of them? Even when nonviolent crimes are involved, it still takes an incredible amount of courage to step forward and face the accused in court. Will they have to live in fear of retaliation?

And what of the communities where these four proposed borough jails are located (Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx)? The Mayor has stated that safety around the jails is priority. But what about the surrounding streets; will residents have to be wary of different gangbanger factions interacting on our streets?

Some in our Chinatown community have argued for the mayor’s office to explore other sites, but this is simply a NIMBY talking point. The fight should be against closing Rikers Island. Simply put: if you do not oppose closing Rikers, you have no argument. The island prison is an outdated facility – built in 1932 – and in dire need of upgrades. Therefore, the city should seize upon the opportunity of half capacity, tear down the older buildings, and erect two new gender-based facilities. This could save taxpayers tens of billions of dollars better spent building new schools, subway infrastructure repairs, NYCHA repairs, etc.

In a few short months, this borough-based jail plan will enter an unprecedented ULURP process at City Council; purportedly a single review without actual architectural plans to cover the four sites, each with unique environmental, traffic, safety concerns. So, where are the respective district’s elected voices?

I fully support criminal justice and prison reform, but simply building four new local jails without serious changes to current policies will, in effect, do little for the detainees and the communities. At the end of the day, Councilwoman Margaret Chin needs to step up and represent the district’s constituents who elected her; enough of the charades. As for myself, I will continue to promote awareness of the Intro-940 bill (calls for 10-person commission on the feasibility of renovating Rikers Island) and protest along with likeminded locals.

Mayor de Blasio can sell his jail plan elsewhere because we are not buying.

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