Community protests construction of new jail in Chinatown

CHINATOWN, Manhattan (WABC) -- A decision to replace Riker's Island with four borough-based jails in New York City, is getting major blowback from a community in Chinatown, where one of those jails is set to be built.

Chants of "no new jail," resounded on a street in Chinatown. It was the beginning of a last stand.

A human chain was formed on Baxter Street, blocking construction crews from starting work on a new jail on Wednesday morning.

They were desperate and livid.

"Shame on you for making money off the backs of people of color!"

Evelyn Yang, wife of former presidential and mayoral candidate Andrew Yang, were among those arrested.

"Hearing Mayor Adams in his own words calling than jail institutionalized hate against Chinatown and making the promise last year with his campaigning to the people of Chinatown that he would not allow this jail to go up if he were mayor ... and then going back on his word ... how dare you make this promise to people who have suffered so much and then turn their back on them," Yang said.

The new jail at the site of the Manhattan detention complex known as the Tombs, is part of the city's plan to close Riker's Island.

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"It would be jail number five for just this site. We had jails since 1838," said Jan Lee of Neighbors United Below Canal.

"You can renovate this. It'll cost much less and you can achieve the goals that everyone wants," council member Christopher Marte said.

A spokesperson for the mayor's office had this to say:

"This administration will always follow the law, and the law says the jails on Rikers Island must close on time. To follow the law and protect the safety of the community and all involved in this project, this work is proceeding. We have engaged deeply with the community every step of the way, and we are committed to continuing to work with them to limit the disruption of this project."

City officials also say the existing building can't withstand the extent of the renovation required and say council members made clear extending the deadline legislatively was a non-starter.

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"In the global pandemic that we just experienced, for one every deadline has been changed in some form everywhere in the world," Jan Lee said. "It doesn't make sense that we have to look at this it's carved in stone. It's just unreasonable. But even within that deadline, we feel that the plan that we're proposing certainly can meet the deadline possibly faster and get people off of Rikers Island."

Community leaders say they'll be at city hall on Thursday, and the day after to protest. And they'll file a lawsuit if they have to.

But what they really want they say, is to continue the dialogue with the mayor's office.


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