A Shout-out to the Courageous Fighters Who Put Their Bodies on the Line to Shut Down Rikers Island Prison

The torture chamber and debtor's prison known as Rikers Island was, for about an hour, shut down on the morning of Friday, October 23! Seventeen courageous freedom fighters, in a demonstration of civil disobedience, sat and laid in front of the only entry to the dungeon and were arrested. And about 100 others gathered around them chanting, "We Are Kalief Browder," "Rikers, Rikers, Shut It Down! This audacious and historic action made a powerful statement: we're not going to stop until the epidemic of systematic mass incarceration and police terror end.

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Shut Down Rikers!

October 23, Non-Violent Direct Action as Part of #RiseUpOctober

Just 300 yards from the runways at LaGuardia Airport, just a few miles from a glistening city, an island sits dedicated to confinement, brutality, and torture of our youth and others. Human beings languish for weeks, months, sometimes years awaiting trial. Almost all Black or Latino. Many simply for lack of money for bail. Many locked down for weeks and months in solitary confinement. Guards inflict a culture of violence—fractured jaws, broken bones, denial of medical care, cover-ups and retaliation against those who report, and rampant sexual violence against the women and LGBT people as well as the men. Rikers typifies and concentrates the immorality and illegitimacy of mass incarceration in the U.S.

It is difficult to say which is a greater shock to the conscience: that this torture and brutality goes on day in and day out, or that millions go about their daily lives accepting this as normal just miles away.

The violence against inmates at Rikers has been studied. It has been exposed. Guards have been sued. Settlements have been paid. The deaths inflicted through brutality and negligence have been documented. The life-long trauma and dysfunction imposed on inmates has been proven. Yet the brutality continues day in and day out. All this is plain for the whole world to see.

The time for wringing our hands is over. The time for cosmetic but essentially meaningless reforms is over. A line must be drawn. People of conscience must put our bodies on the line to stop this depravity and barbarity, else we ourselves are complicit.


This call was initiated by:

Nellie Bailey, Harlem activist
Carl Dix, Revolutionary Communist Party, USA and co-initiator of Stop Mass Incarceration Network
Willie Francois, Associate Pastor, First Corinthians Baptist Church, Harlem*
Rev. Jerome McCorry and Candace McCorry, RiseUpOctober Faith Task Force
Rev. Stephen Phelps, member, Presbytery of New York City*
Cindy Sheehan, mother of Casey Sheehan, killed in unjust U.S. war on Iraq, 2004
Sunsara Taylor, writer for Revolution newspaper, initiator of StopPatriarchy.org
Mia Thornton, NYU student activist
James Vrettos, professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice*

* for identification purposes only

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Shut Down Rikers! Fact sheet

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Rikers Island Jail, New York City: Shut Down This Torture Hellhole!

Rikers Island jail complex sits in the East River, right next to Manhattan. It has an average of 14,000 inmates a night. Brutal beatings, torture by isolation, and other horrors are happening daily in this hellhole only miles from New York City’s skyscrapers.

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“Reform” NYC Rikers Island Jail? 
No—Shut Down This Torture Hellhole!

...The message being pounded into people’s heads is: Things are being reformed at Rikers—be patient.

But the reality is that the horrors at Rikers are continuing every single day, not far from the high-rises of Manhattan. And this is intolerable!

See "Rikers Island Horror Stories"

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Shut Down Rikers Island Prison

October 23, Non-Violent Direct Action as Part of #RiseUpOctober


  • Huge, beautiful portraits of people killed by the prison system and prison authorities were contributed to Rise Up October by French street artist/photographer JR as part of his #insideoutproject-A Global Art Project. People carried these posters to the front gates of Rikers Island Prison.

  • The day began with participants speaking out about Rikers and their own experiences with the police. Here, Sharon Irwin, grandmother of Tony Robinson, killed by Madison, WI police March 6, 2015

  • Rev. Stephen Phelps

  • Dionne Downs, mother of James Rivera, 16 year old murdered by Stockton, CA police , July 22, 2010

  • Chris Silva, brother of David Silva, killed by Bakersfield sheriffs May 7, 2013

  • Steffanie Williams who is now homeless on Skid Row in Los Angeles and came to NYC for Rise Up October, testifying to how cops beat her up, breaking her leg, in Indianapolis.

  • Raging Grannies singing a song about police murder

  • After the rally, people marched to the front entrance of Rikers

  • Protesters blocking entrance to Rikers with the large posters of people who have been murdered by the police and killed in Rikers that were contributed by French artist JR.

  • Protesters blocking the entrance to Rikers.

  • Protesters blocking the entrance to Rikers

  • Protesters blocking the entrance to Rikers

  • Protester lies down in front of the bus brought in by Rikers cops to arrest people

  • 17 courageous freedom fighters, in a demonstration of civil disobedience, sat and laid in front of the only entry to Rikers and were arrested.

  • Sunsara Taylor being arrested.

  • Carl Dix being arrested

  • About 100 people witnessed and supported this action, including members of the Revolution Club.

Rise Up October Confronts Rikers Island:

Rikers Island: 14,000 people imprisoned, 85 percent of them have not been convicted of anything; people locked up because they are poor, because the court system is purposely clogged. People held for weeks, months, even years without a trial. People who are tortured, brutalized, driven insane.

As Sunsara Taylor, correspondent for Revolution/revcom.us and an initiator of StopPatriarchy.org, described it, “This is a torture dungeon. We call it a concentration camp. We say it's Abu Ghraib on the Hudson. None of that is exaggeration.”

Here are some comments from people who demonstrated in support of or participated in the non-violent direction action to Shut Down Rikers.

A young woman headed to an Ivy League college: “This is so different. You know, you grow up, and you read the news, and you're not as sheltered, and it's so weird to be scared, I mean, I'm a little white girl and I even get on guard when I see them (the police). And I think it’s just so great that people are flipping them off, that's just the kind of challenge like, don't just be safe, don't just be comfortable.... My brother called me up last night and told me everything I should know. He's like, you're going to get arrested if you're obstructing the street, so if you don't want to, stand on the sidewalk. He's gone to a protest before. He made me write down the phone number on my arm. He's the best.”

Carl Dix, a representative of the Revolutionary Communist Party and, along with Cornel West, co-initiator of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network: “You see those faces. These are people whose lives have been stolen. There is no middle ground on this. You have to be a part of stepping up and saying 'this has to stop'. Which is what we're saying over these three days. We began it with the loud voice yesterday in Times Square, with 'Say Their Names, No More Stolen Lives'.… This unimaginable horror is real, it has to stop, and we're acting to stop it. That's what Rise Up October is about.”

Reverend Jerome McCorry, coordinator of the #RiseUpOctober Faith Task Force: “Rikers is perhaps the most notorious prison in the United States. We still have too many cases of people losing their lives at Rikers. These people are not committing suicide, they're not locking themselves in hall closets, in broom closets. These are corrupt police who are doing these things and it's being sanctioned by the government or it would cease to exist. That is why I don't believe that we have good cops and bad cops, because if we had good cops, bad cops would be driven off the force and that's important to know too. So that silence makes them complicit to the actions of their counterparts.”

Sharon Irwin, whose grandson Tony Robinson was murdered by police in Madison, Wisconsin: “I use my voice. I use it loud and clear. I have learned since my grandson was murdered all the laws protect the police as they murder. They are given all the evidence. They are allowed to retract their statements. They are allowed to make up lies. And everyone says OK. I have gone over that evidence for seven months, and I have found a smoking gun. But nobody wants to… see or listen to what I have to say. They would rather say, 'I don't see this. I don't hear this. And I'm not speaking to it.'

“We are seven billion strong. What people don't understand is that we have the power. If we do not unite as a people, then we will not succeed. We will all go down together. And I say this: we are a human race. One of us is attacked, all of us should stand together. All of us.”

Chris Silva, whose brother David was murdered by police in Bakersfield, California: “They (Rise Up October) seemed to be the most determined to look for a solution to this overall issue. I came because it just seemed like the best way to go.”

Gabrielle Chanel, whose father Rev. David McCarter was murdered by police in Newton County, Texas: “What we are aiming to do is be part of a bigger movement as it spreads because this (her father's murder) happened in 2011 and we wanted to do something but we couldn't get the momentum.... But as its more prevalent and known about, we can, all of the families can tack onto the same movement and move together. Come together and spread out.”

She said she was “stunned” by this protest, and when asked why, she said, “The people in the movement’s passion. And the reaction to the passion. I'm amazed at how courageous everyone is. It’s awesome. But it's sickening what's going on, too. So it does call you to be an even better person. To give more of yourself because of what's happening. I'm really in awe. I hate to feel like a spectator but I'm here to represent my dad and it's just amazing watching.”

Sunsara Taylor: “If we preserve our safety, if we preserve our security, at the cost of turning our backs on a crime against humanity, we have forfeited our humanity. For when we stand up we are part of something, and changing something, because this is an open wound of this system. This (Rikers Island) is a known crime. And people, when we put our bodies on the line to shut it down, to say it must stop, we will be shedding a light, and changing how millions of people are seeing this and acting, so we are doing this to win.”