During his press conference just now, a reporter asked Mayor Bloomberg about the status of inmates on Rikers Island with Hurricane Sandy approaching. The question was asked out of concern for the inmates' safety with dangerous storm surges approaching and nowhere for them to go.
However, Bloomberg apparently thinks the safety of those jailed does not warrant consideration, and that their lives are not particularly important, for his answer was to allay fears about them getting out. Which is precisely what
is needed may be needed: evacuation.
Below I've included just a few reactions from earlier today, after Bloomberg's answer made it clear he would be making no evacuation plans:
As you'll see below, this isn't the first time Bloomberg has left inmates on Rikers during a hurricane. Take action now by emailing his office here.
This won't be the first time inmates on Rikers are going to be left for dead at a hurricane's approach. In a story titled "Locked Up and Left Behind: Hurricane Irene and the Prisoners on New York’s Rikers Island," Jean Casella and James Ridgeway dissected Bloomberg's last response in 2010:
"Don't worry about anybody getting out," is Bloomberg's response to a question about plans for inmates at Rikers Island. What an asshole.— Liliana Segura (@LilianaSegura) October 28, 2012
Never occurred to Bloomberg the reporter was asking about prisoners' safety. "Don't worry about them getting out." #Sandy— allisonkilkenny (@allisonkilkenny) October 28, 2012
“We are not evacuating Rikers Island,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a news conference this afternoon. Bloomberg annouced a host of extreme measures being taken by New York City in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Irene, including a shutdown of the public transit system and the unprecedented mandatory evacuation of some 250,000 people from low-lying areas. But in response to a reporter’s question, the mayor stated in no uncertain terms (and with more than a hint of annoyance) that one group of New Yorkers on vulnerable ground will be staying put.He was annoyed by the question then, when he left them for dead, and he was annoyed by the question today as a far more deadly storm that promises to flood Manhattan approaches. And about Rikers Island's vulnerability?
According to the New York City Department of Corrections’ own website, more than three-quarters of Rikers Island’s 400 acres are built on landfill–which is generally thought to be more vulnerable to natural disasters. Its ten jails have a capacity of close to 17,000 inmates, and normally house at least 12,000, including juveniles and large numbers of prisoners with mental illness–not to mention pre-trial detainees who have yet to be convicted of any crime. There are also hundreds of corrections officers at work on the island.There are juveniles at Rikers. Prisoners with mental illnesses. Those detained without being convicted of a crime. And thousands of other inmates who are no less human, no less worthy of protection from New York City.
And yet, Bloomberg may be leaving these people to die. During Irene, NYC was spared. If the opposite occurs this time, and if forecasts about the severity of the storm surges are correct, we may be looking at a grotesque, preventable and utterly horrific tragedy in the making on Rikers Island.
But don't tell Bloomberg that. He'll just be annoyed.
My response is three-fold:
- The potentially devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy are immense, and in many ways this storm being billed as historic defies categorization. For it is not only immense and quite powerful, but it will be colliding with a cold front.
- Unlike most other citizens, those imprisoned on Rikers Island do not have a choice whether or not to evacuate. They must rely on those in the city to make that decision for them, whereas countless New Yorkers not under mandatory evacuation threats will be evacuating for fear of what this storm portends.
- Mayor Bloomberg's response, on its own, merits outrage, for the man clearly interpreted a question about inmates on Rikers as having only one important aspect: to allay fears about the potential for these inmates to escape. Their welfare? It's the farthest thing from his mind.