A hunger strike by around 200 people incarcerated in the Robert N. Davoren Complex (RNDC)at New York City’s Rikers Island jail entered its sixth day Thursday, as demonstrators continued to protest “deplorable” and dangerous conditions including lack of medical care during a surging Covid-19 outbreak at the notorious lockup, where 15 inmates died last year.
They have been on hunger strike since Saturday, January 8. They are protesting hellish and inhumane conditions: freezing temperatures inside the facility, mail being withheld, no visits from family members, cancellation of hearings in their cases, being denied video conferences with attorneys. The RNDC complex contains unhygienic metallic dormitories with beds crammed close to each other, COVID spreading, and fights and violence escalating.
“I call on everyone who stands against injustice to stand with these courageous hunger strikers,” Carl Dix, a long-time revolutionary, a follower of Bob Avakian, and co-initiator with Cornel West of the Campaign to Stop “Stop-and-Frisk.” shared with Black Westchester.
According to protesters, 87 percent of those jailed at Rikers are Black and Latino; 1500 people in NYC jails — most of them have been held at the Rikers hellhole for over a year — simply awaiting trial; 16 people died at Rikers in 2021. Inmates have suffered beatings at the hands of prison guards and other inmates. People held in solitary confinement at Rikers experience conditions that amount to torture. These conditions led to Khalief Browder who was arrested at the age of 16 and held at Rikers for 3 years, much of it in solitary confinement, and who committed suicide after his release.
“These conditions are a concentrated expression of the reality and functioning of this capitalist-imperialist system. Its prisons, along with its cops and courts, are important parts of how this system controls oppressed people—and enforces racial oppression and degradation on them. Those whom this system has no future for,” Dix said in a statement sent to BW. “I have called this a slow genocide targeting Black and Brown people, a genocide that could easily become a fast one”
“We have to confront the hard but liberating truth that this system can’t be reformed. The exposure of horrors like the conditions at Rikers has generated outrage and resistance. In response, politicians and authorities have promised “reforms.” Former NYC mayor Bill DeBlasio and past administrations spoke honeyed words of ending prison abuses (even closing Rikers). Yet today, conditions are worse than ever at Rikers. Now newly-elected pig mayor Eric Adams wants to reinstate solitary confinement… wants to bring back plainclothes police task forces, reinstate Stop-and-Frisk, wants more pig funding—so more people will suffer these horrors, more lives, dreams, hopes destroyed.
The revolutionary leader Bob Avakian has analyzed that the only way to end the epidemic of police terror, murder by police, genocidal mass incarceration, and all the other horrors this system perpetrates on humanity, is through an actual revolution – millions of people rising up to overthrow a system that can only function by treating people like this.
The Rikers hunger strikers are setting a bold example. All those this system has targeted with being hemmed in, beaten down, locked up, and even killed off need to follow that example. As Bob Avakian has also said: “Instead of fighting and killing each other, what people need to be doing now is uniting to defend each other-opposing all unjust violence, not launching attacks on anyone but at the same time not allowing the police or ‘civilian’ fascist thugs to wantonly brutalize and murder people. And people need to do this as part of building up the forces for revolution.” Further, Bob Avakian has analyzed that given the fierce infighting at the top of the system, which is unraveling the normal ways the system operates, this is a time when revolution becomes possible.
The hunger strikers at Rikers need support and solidarity. Christopher Boyle, an attorney who represents some of them has been told that his phone number is blocked by the authorities at Rikers. This means news of retaliation against the hunger strikers may not be getting out of the prison. If it hurts you to your heart when you hear of people being subjected to injustice, stand with these bold resisters. And if you want to see all these horrors ended once and for all, dare to become part of the revolution we need to do just that.
Prison abolitionists and other human rights activists have also voiced solidarity with the hunger strikers, while decrying conditions at Rikers.
“We are in solidarity with the brave people incarcerated on Rikers Island who had to resort to a hunger strike to protest the deplorable and deadly conditions they are facing, especially as Covid rates skyrocket,” Jerome Wright, statewide organizer of the #HaltSolitary campaign and member of the Jails Action Coalition, said in a statement.
“New York City officials need to act NOW to decarcerate, end solitary confinement, and ensure people have access to medical care and other basic needs,” he added.
Incidents including the 2015 suicide of Kalief Browder, a teenager previously jailed at Rikers for three years without trial for allegedly stealing a backpack, spurred former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to propose a plan to close the facility by 2026. Although approved by the City Council over two years ago, the plan had since been delayed indefinitely.
After elected, NYC Mayor Eric Adams said he would back former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s watershed plan to close the notorious facility by 2027 and replace it with newer, smaller lockups across New York City.
The NYC Revolution Club is calling a press conference at the entrance to Rikers Island for everyone to support these courageous hunger strikers at the Robert N. Davoren Complex at Rikers Island, who are fighting against the flagrant, inhumane conditions on Rikers Island at 2:00 PM ET Saturday, January 14th, at Rikers Island Bridge (Frances R. Buono Memorial Bridge), Intersection of Hazen Street and 19th Avenue in Queens. [Bus: Q100]
Stay tuned to Black Westchester for more on this developing story!