“We are not evacuating Rikers Island,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a news conference this afternoon. Bloomberg annouced a host of extreme measures being taken by New York City in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Irene, including a shutdown of the public transit system and the unprecedented mandatory evacuation of some 250,000 people from low-lying areas. But in response to a reporter’s question, the mayor stated in no uncertain terms (and with more than a hint of annoyance) that one group of New Yorkers on vulnerable ground will be staying put.
New York City is surrounded by small islands and barrier beaches, and a glance at the city’s evacuation map reveals all of them to be in Zone A (already under a mandatory evacuation order) or Zone B–all, that is, save one. Rikers Island, which lies in the waters between Queens and the Bronx, is not highlighted at all, meaning it is not to be evacuated under any circumstances.
According to the New York City Department of Corrections’ own website, more than three-quarters of Rikers Island’s 400 acres are built on landfill–which is generally thought to be more vulnerable to natural disasters. Its ten jails have a capacity of close to 17,000 inmates, and normally house at least 12,000, including juveniles and large numbers of prisoners with mental illness–not to mention pre-trial detainees who have yet to be convicted of any crime.
Incidentally one of the areas of activism I pursued while living in New York was evacuation plans for regional prisons, not only for weather events but also in the event of a catastrophic nuclear meltdown. If you’re familiar with the region, you may be familiar with the Indian Point nuclear power plant, an outdated cracking 50-year-old facility which has leaked radiation on several occasions in recent years. It sits on the Hudson River a short ride from Sing Sing, and in the event of a nuclear meltdown, evacuation plans call for Sing Sing to be locked and abandoned with all inmates still inside. The only sure solution is actually to shut down Indian Point — and we managed to get as far as county hearings on the question, but didn’t manage to cross the finish line and shut it down. In the meantime, the inhumanity of evacuation plans is a point for agitation and reform, and Irene provides an opportunity to engage that debate.
Now’s a good time (no actually, a couple weeks ago was a good time, really) to read up on disaster preparedness & relief outside of the government. Here’s a zine, Insurrectionary Mutual Aid, that we distro and that I really like, about organizing for disasters (natural/manmade/political, etc.) as communities and from an anarchist framework. What got me really paying attention to disaster relief was the immigration raids here a few years ago, and everyone sorting out what families needed in the aftermath of it, and seeing that as a disaster as well, just an intentional one.
This is important to remember after everything: they were willing to force incarcerated people to take a risk they recommended unincarcerated people avoid.