Protesters rally outside City Hall calling for Rikers Island shutdown

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Protesters rallied outside New York City Hall on Wednesday, calling for Mayor Bill de Blasio to shutdown the troubled jail complex on Rikers Island.

In the last few months, Rikers has become dangerously overcrowded, filthy, and severely short-staffed with may correction officers simply refusing to show up for work.

"To the officers who didn't show up, left everyone in the lurch, and endangered fellow officers, you should be ashamed of yourself," Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "To the union that aided and abetted mass absenteeism, you should be ashamed of yourself, which is why we're bringing a legal action against you."

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Inside Rikers Island, there's an increase in violence, and it's not just attacks amongst inmates. Assaults against corrections officers are up by 23%.


The demonstrators who gathered Wednesday said Rikers needs to close now.

"If you mean what you say, close down Rikers today," State Assemblywoman Phara Souffrant Forrest said. "Shut it down."

In 2019, the average monthly number of AWOL officers was 645 a month. But now, that number has climbed to more than 2,000 a month.

De Blasio promised bonuses for those officers who did show up for work, and he vowed to punish those who did not.

"We are going to be very, very tough with those who went AWOL," he said. "We are suspending them, and the message is clear. We are not paying people who don't work, and if you are not willing to work, it's time to get out."

Correction Officers' Benevolent Association President Benny Boscio fired back at the mayor.

"Why don't you visit Rikers and talk to our officers instead of this futile effort to destroy our union?" he said.

During a court hearing Wednesday morning, the correction officers union told a judge they would never instruct guards not to report to work or call in sick or claim a false personal emergency or walk off post.

Upon hearing that, the city dropped its lawsuit against the union, COBA, calling the public statement "a step forward." But the city added it will "continue monitoring" and will "take further legal action as necessary."

Just last week, Governor Kathy Hochul and every single prosecutor in the city vowed a new day was at hand at Rikers, as they released 191 inmates and transferred dozens more.

But the situation keeps getting worse, and also Wednesday, there was another death -- the 12th this year.

Officials said the individual appeared to be in medical distress, and he was transported to Lincoln Hospital and pronounced deceased at approximately 10:50 a.m.

"I am devastated to see that we have yet another death in custody and determined to stop this heartbreaking trend," Department of Correction Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi said. "We are doing all we can to remedy the unprecedented crisis we are experiencing in our jails. My thoughts and prayers are with the individual's loved ones."

The name of the deceased is being withheld pending family notification. Opponents say well wishes aren't enough.

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Before community leaders testified about conditions at Rikers, human rights advocates gathered to make sure their voices were heard.


"I don't want to hear your apologies to the family," public defender Stan German said. "I don't want to hear your, 'OK, I'm so sorry, my condolences are with you, this is terrible.' You have blood on your hands. You are responsible. You know the conditions, and you continue to send people the abyss."

The protest came one day after New York Attorney General Letitia James toured the jail complex along with the district attorneys from the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens.

"I visited Rikers Island with District Attorneys (Darcel) Clark, (Melinda) Katz, and (Eric) Gonzalez, and I was deeply disturbed by what we saw," James said. "For years, Rikers has been plagued by dysfunction, neglect, and violence, and it's clear we've reached a breaking point. These conditions have led to an unprecedented and devastating number of deaths, and action is desperately needed. I am examining all of my office's legal options to immediately address this dire situation."

She said her office is examining legal options to address the controversial jail.

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