Photograph Credit score: Authorized Help Society, Isaabdul Karim
Isaabdul Karim was the eleventh particular person to die this 12 months whereas incarcerated at Riker’s Island, New York Metropolis’s principal jail. His avoidable loss of life drew consideration to the horrific and deepening disaster on the infamous facility, which has been referred to as a “ethical stain” on the Huge Apple. Regardless of a supposed official coverage of drawing down the variety of individuals held at Riker’s Island in preparation for its projected closure, it seems that Karim was solely being held for parole violations. And, regardless of New York state’s new legalization legislation, considered one of these parole violations involved his use of hashish.
Because the hashish legalization invoice in New York handed earlier this 12 months, there was an unprecedented, barely surreal, permissive environment for the herb within the Empire Metropolis. Below the brand new legislation, hashish could be smoked in public anyplace tobacco smoking is permitted. And in Washington Sq. and different fashionable youth gathering factors, cottage-industry outfits have arrange tables and are brazenly promoting THC-rich extracts, edibles, and dried flower. None of them are licensed, as a result of no licensing construction is in place but — however the authorities are turning a blind eye, seemingly by official coverage.
Mayor Invoice de Blasio has (for 2 years now) ordered police not make arrests for minor hashish offenses, and the town’s district attorneys are not prosecuting such circumstances. In the meantime, a human rights disaster is festering on the metropolis’s largest jail. Of some 6,000 individuals at present held at Rikers Island, the overwhelming majority have by no means been convicted of the crime they’re accused of. They’re in authorized limbo awaiting trial, enmeshed in an enormous backlog of circumstances within the metropolis’s prison justice system – a logjam partly because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
No less than 100 people are being held on the facility on technical parole violations — that’s, failure to dwell as much as circumstances of launch following a earlier conviction. Isaabdul Karim was considered one of these.
When parole violations are a loss of life sentence
Because the Daily News reported, Karim, 42, died at an infirmary within the island complicated after complaining to workers of feeling sick on Sept. 19. Town Division of Correction (DoC) stated it seems he died of pure causes, however the Medical Examiner’s Office has but to launch ultimate findings on reason for loss of life, and isn’t obliged to take action publicly.
In a bitter irony, Karim may have been eligible for speedy launch below a legislation signed by New York’s Gov. Kathy Hochul simply two days earlier than his loss of life. Supposed to ease the disaster at Rikers, the Less Is More Act requires launch of detainees held on “technical parole violations.”
DoC commissioner Vincent Schiraldi, in saying Karim’s loss of life, acknowledged the disaster at Rikers Island and most of the metropolis’s different lock-ups. “There’s nothing pure about what is going on in our jail system proper now,” Schiraldi stated. Karim was the eleventh inmate to die at Rikers in 2021.
Karim — who had suffered sickness and tried suicide throughout a earlier stint at Rikers in 2016 — landed again on the island this August after being stabbed whereas peddling gadgets on a Manhattan avenue, sources advised the Daily News. On the hospital, a background test revealed an open warrant for the parole violations, leading to his arrest.
Karim had been on parole since June 2018, after serving a time period of two years and 6 months for promoting cocaine to an undercover cop. Information on his case from the New York State Division of Corrections & Group Supervision (DOCCS) had been supplied to Challenge CBD by New York’s Legal Aid Society, which was representing Karim. The paperwork point out that DOCCS issued a warrant for Karim in 2020 for failure to report back to his parole officer. The paperwork additionally cited a earlier parole violation — Karim had been arrested for public smoking and possession of hashish on Broadway in Midtown Manhattan in October 2018.
A hashish reprieve?
Part 6 of the Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA), passed by New York’s state Meeting and signed into legislation by then-governor Andrew Cuomo in March 2021, bars penalizing parolees for possession of hashish in portions permitted below the Act, except particular measures have been imposed that “explicitly prohibit an individual’s hashish use.” No such circumstances had been imposed in Karim’s case, and Authorized Help advised Challenge CBD that his parole violation cost for the 2018 arrest in all probability would have been dropped at his subsequent listening to — as a result of the Part 6 provision is usually being utilized retroactively.
However Karim didn’t dwell to attend his subsequent scheduled parole listening to.
In a statement on Karim’s passing, Authorized Help stated: “Technical violations — together with marijuana use and failing to report, the non-criminal costs that led to Mr. Karim’s remand — mustn’t quantity to a loss of life sentence.” The assertion charged that DOCCS commissioner Anthony Annucci “has a lot to reply for.”
Contacted by Challenge CBD for this story, DOCCS refused to remark.
The NYC Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, reached by Challenge CBD, denied that there are any individuals at present detained in metropolis jails for both offenses or parole violations associated to hashish. However it’s tough to evaluate the accuracy of this assertion because of the lack of any public file offering a break-down of these held within the system, and for what violations.
Deaths on Horror Island
The Daily News gives harrowing particulars of Karim’s first keep at Rikers, or “Horror Island,” as many New Yorkers confer with it. In 2016, awaiting trial on a nonviolent drug cost (the cocaine sale, in line with Authorized Help), he was left alone in an consumption cell on the facility for 3 days. He tried to hold himself and swallowed a battery, inflicting “excruciating ache,” in line with medical data obtained by the Information. His lawyer advised the newspaper that he was additionally put in an isolation cell and never allowed to make use of the lavatory as punishment for accusing a guard of a racist insult.
The New York Times studies that Karim — who used a wheelchair and had hypertension, diabetes, and a historical past of epilepsy and psychiatric points — contracted the coronavirus whereas in Rikers this second time round. “It’s unclear whether or not launch would have saved Mr. Karim alive,” the Instances states.
After Karim’s loss of life, his associate, Felicia Bullock, advised CBS2 by way of textual content that he had referred to as her expressing his fears concerning the circumstances at Rikers. “He advised me individuals had been dying, and in a panic saying he needed to get out of there,” she wrote.
Karim’s loss of life was the second at Rikers in September. Gothamist studies that earlier within the month, Esias Johnson, 24, died of an obvious drug overdose within the island jail complicated. In August, Segundo Guallpa, 58, and Brandon Rodríguez, 25, had been individually discovered useless of their cells at Rikers, obvious suicides. Rodríguez was behind bars as a result of he could not afford the $10,000 bond set by a choose after he was arrested in a home violence case.
And one other detainee has died for the reason that passing of Karim. On Sept. 22, Stephen Khadu, 34, was pronounced deceased after he was delivered to Lincoln Hospital within the Bronx from a “jail barge” moored off Rikers to alleviate overcrowding on the complicated. Unnamed “medical misery” was cited by DoC officers, studies the Bronx Times.
Commenting on Khadu’s loss of life, New York Metropolis Public Advocate Jumaane Williams acknowledged, solely considerably metaphorically: “Twelve individuals up to now this 12 months, three within the final month, have been sentenced to loss of life on Rikers Island. I might be speechless in horror and grief if I weren’t so offended … that we have now reached this level.”
Dysfunction, neglect & violence
New York’s Mayor Invoice de Blasio was shamed by Karim’s loss of life into announcing some modifications at Rikers. “Yesterday, new consumption areas had been opened at Rikers, two clinics and a further housing unit,” de Blasio stated on Sept. 21.
The power was additionally toured that day by a delegation of officers together with state Lawyer Common Letitia James, Bronx District Lawyer Darcel Clark, Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez and Queens DA Melinda Katz. In a statement, James stated she was “deeply disturbed” at what she noticed. “For years, Rikers has been affected by dysfunction, neglect, and violence, and it’s clear we’ve reached a breaking level. These circumstances have led to an unprecedented and devastating variety of deaths, and motion is desperately wanted. I’m inspecting all of my workplace’s authorized choices to instantly deal with this dire scenario.”
Additionally on the tour was Alice Fontier, director of the Harlem-based Neighborhood Defender Services. She gave this harrowing account to The Intercept: “There’s a segregated consumption unit that we walked via the place they’ve individuals held in showers. It’s about two toes broad by six toes. There isn’t any rest room. They’ve given them plastic luggage to make use of for feces and urine. They usually’re sitting within the cells with their very own bodily waste locked into these circumstances. That is essentially the most horrific factor I’ve seen in my life. I’ve been coming to this jail since 2008. That is not like something that has ever occurred right here.”
Advocates say shut it down
Politicians have been kicking this could down the highway for some time. In response to mounting requires its closure, in 2019 Rikers Island was set to be shut down by 2026.
Stress had been constructing since 2011, when Rikers inmates, represented by Authorized Help, introduced a category motion swimsuit in opposition to the town in federal court docket. This resulted within the 2015 Nunez settlement. De Blasio’s administration committed to a bunch of reforms within the pact, together with appointment of a federal monitor for the power.
The US Justice Division had already launched a civil rights investigation in response to claims of abuse, and in 2014 released a report on its investigation, discovering “a sample and follow of conduct at Rikers that violates the constitutional rights of adolescent inmates.” The report famous a “deep-seated tradition of violence” on the facility, amongst inmates and workers alike.
In March 2015, de Blasio announced a 14-point plan to create a protected setting for inmates on Rikers Island. When public outrage was not appeased, in October 2019 de Blasio lastly agreed to shut the complicated by 2026, and exchange it with 4 new smaller jails at completely different factors across the metropolis. This deal was accepted by the Metropolis Council.
However this has additionally met with public opposition, and in October 2020 the closure date was pushed back to 2027.
‘Not in my yard’ versus ‘decarceration’
Opposition has been notably sturdy in Chinatown, the place one of many new services is deliberate. Chinatown is positioned close to the grim Manhattan Detention Advanced, generally generally known as “The Tombs” — the place arrestees wait to go earlier than a choose, who might then organize them to Rikers. (The Tombs can also be ostensibly slated to be closed.)
Nearly precisely a 12 months earlier than the loss of life of Karim, a state choose issued a ruling that the town bypassed the legally-mandated assessment course of for the proposed Decrease Manhattan jail, siding with Chinatown residents who had introduced swimsuit in opposition to the deliberate building. The deliberate jails in Kew Gardens, Queens, and Mott Haven, within the Bronx, additionally face lawsuits from locals.
However opposition is cut up between “NIMBY” (Not In My Yard) sentiment, and teams like No New Jails, which oppose changing Rikers with new services altogether.
The #CLOSErikers marketing campaign, whereas stopping in need of this forthright demand, additionally speaks of the necessity to radically shrink the town’s jail inhabitants in a “decarceration” coverage. Activists on Sept. 15 rallied outdoors Metropolis Corridor earlier than testifying at Metropolis Council hearings on circumstances at Rikers. These providing testimony included family of inmates who died on the facility.
The de Blasio administration’s official Roadmap to Closing Rikers, adopting the rhetoric of “decarceration,” requires lowering the town’s jail inhabitants to not more than 3,300 — the bottom determine in a century. And it emphasizes that one of many eight jail items at Rikers has already been closed.
However the whole within the metropolis’s jails remains to be nearly double that purpose — though tremendously lowered from the over 20,000 on the top of racist “damaged home windows policing” and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s crackdown on public hashish use within the Nineties. Throughout the pandemic paralysis within the spring of 2020, the town’s jail inhabitants dropped below 4,000 for the primary time since 1946. However this 12 months, the determine started to rise once more.
A 2019 New York state bail reform legislation, which bars imposing bail for non-violent offenses and establishes standards for judging flight danger, has been met with vociferous opposition from legislation enforcement teams — and what Gothamist calls a “quiet rebel from the bench,” with judges skirting the factors and persevering with to impose excessive bails. Rising crime within the metropolis over the previous 12 months has supplied a propaganda setting conducive to subversion of the legislation.
‘A stain on the soul of New York Metropolis’
Because the COVID-19 pandemic, the disaster at Rikers Island has been compounded by a sort of undeclared walk-out by the power’s guards. In August alone, Rikers correction officers failed to point out up 2,700 occasions, National Public Radio studies. And whereas the guards themselves have an unsavory fame for brutality, their absence has led to rising management of cellblocks by gangs. This summer season, items at Rikers went up to 24 hours with no guards in any way. Terrorized workers has meant detainees not getting well timed entry to meals or drugs.
Town has filed suit in opposition to the guards union, the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, charging it has allowed and even inspired guards at Rikers Island and different metropolis jails to not present up for work. Town is asking a choose to pressure the union to intervene and assist cease guards from skipping their shifts — whether or not by taking sick days or just going AWOL.
Metropolis Councilmember Robert Holden of Queens is calling on Gov. Hochul to mobilize and dispatch the Nationwide Guard to Rikers Island.
After the loss of life of Karim, the Authorized Help Society submitted a letter in federal court docket asking a choose to carry an emergency convention on Rikers, and to contemplate ordering detainees to be launched. The federal monitor for Rikers, Steve Martin, additionally wrote the choose, warning that plans by de Blasio and his DoC to deal with the disaster “have a big void.”
As NY1 studies, Martin wrote: “Said bluntly, the Metropolis’s and Division’s plans will not be enough to deal with the approaching danger of hurt to individuals in custody and Workers flowing from the poor operation of the jails.” He urged appointment of an “exterior safety operations supervisor” to supervise Rikers Island.
On Sept. 27, de Blasio lastly responded to public stress by personally touring Rikers, which he had not achieved all through the years of mounting disaster. However inmates charged that jail directors had steered the mayor away from the power’s harshest areas. “That is the darkish aspect, they usually saved him off the darkish aspect,” stated one detainee contacted by Gothamist information web site.
Jonathan Lippman, former chief choose of New York state and chair of the town’s fee on closing Rikers, advised Boston’s WBUR that Rikers Island is a “hellhole” and a “stain on the soul of New York Metropolis.”
He particularly emphasised: “It’s the silliest factor on this planet that we’re maintaining individuals in jail on these nonviolent technical violations. Jail must be a final resort. If you happen to’re not violent, why on this planet would you place someone into considered one of these locations the place you come out more likely to commit a criminal offense than whenever you went in?”
Lippman referred to as on New York Metropolis to “shut Rikers as soon as and for all. It’s an abomination. Shut down this image of mass incarceration.”
Invoice Weinberg, a Challenge CBD contributing author, is a 30-year veteran journalist within the fields of drug coverage, ecology and indigenous peoples. He’s a former information editor at Excessive Instances journal, and he produces the web sites CounterVortex.org and Global Ganja Report.
Copyright, Challenge CBD. Might not be reprinted with out permission.