On Sept. 27, Asian Americans for Equality joined other non-profit organizations at City Hall to urge a true community-driven process to guide the city’s replacement of Rikers Island. The administration has proposed construction of a new jail at 80 Centre St. in Manhattan’s Chinatown, along with three additional facilities in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

The group demanded a stop in the land use process for the jails until residents, small businesses and other stakeholders have the opportunity to be heard. Here’s the statement delivered by AAFE Co-Executive Director Jennifer Sun:

AAFE stands together here today, on the steps of City Hall, because a process is broken. Each and every one of us has taken time away from serving the most vulnerable New Yorkers because the system is not serving our Chinatown community. Together, we stand and say to you, Mr. Mayor,  Stop the clock — and stop it now! Mr. Mayor, you have an opportunity to change how Chinatown has been treated throughout history, an opportunity to build trust in this community. Prison reform is a social justice and human rights issue — one all of us here stand behind. Closing Rikers was driven by activists and non-profit organizations like the very ones before you here today.  It’s a process that should, and needs to happen. It is irresponsible, however, for the city to propose a new jail in Chinatown, given the existing impacts of citywide uses like parking, and security policies like the closure of Park Row, on Chinatown residents and businesses. It is unfair for the City to present 80 Centre St. for the new jail without engaging the Chinatown community to share its site analysis. It is disrespectful for the city to give piecemeal information about the new jail and describe that as a transparent, community process. The city has said that the new borough jails are guided by the design principle of neighborhood integration. However, in the city’s emphasis on design to change a culture of power abuse, it has forgotten about the people who live, work, and own businesses in neighborhoods that have carried the burden of citywide uses for decades. The city must meet us at the table, as equal partners.  Together, we can find other ways to address racial inequality in the criminal justice system and community priorities to increase economic opportunity and equality for all New Yorkers. AAFE also calls for prison reform advocates to meet with us and work together – towards a shared goal of prison (and criminal justice) reform that also incorporates community needs — to improve the lives of all low-income families.  

The day before the City Hall event, non-profit leaders sent a letter to the mayor. AAFE was joined in signing onto this letter by: the Asian American Federation, Chinese American Planning Council, Chinatown Business Improvement District, Chinatown Manpower Project, Chinatown Partnership, Chinese Progressive Association, Chung Pak Local Development Corporation, Hamilton-Madison House, immigrant Social Services, and OCA New York. You can read the latter here.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Councilmember Margaret Chin also called on the city to stop the clock. The mayor’s office declined to delay the process, but did extend the public comment period for the Draft Scope of Work until Oct. 29.