Queens-based immigrant advocates bring the fight against new jails to Richmond Hill

Max Parrot/QNS

Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), a Queens-based South Asian advocacy group, continued a string of protests against the Mayor Bill de Blasio’s borough-based jail plan Thursday evening outside the Lefferts Boulevard subway stop in Richmond Hill. 

The group has joined the ranks of groups like No New Jails who are demanding the closure of Rikers Island without the construction of new jails. Their organizers’ message connected criminal justice reform with issues like displacement and Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids.

“We want that $10 billion spent on our communities. Increasing and building jails leads to increased policing in our communities,” said Will Depoo, a DRUM organizer.

The protest coincided with a resolution the City Council voted for that earlier that afternoon, which brought a jail ban on the island one step closer to being law. The City Council’s Land Use Committee passed a resolution allowing the city to prohibit the island’s use as a prison after 2026.

The DRUM speakers argued that the new construction of the new jails would negate the goal of criminal justice reform by failing to address the systemic issues that lead to disproportionate levels of incarceration for people of color.

Asked where he proposes to house the 7,000 inmates who currently reside in the jail, Depoo argued that he would call for increased criminal justice reforms to reduce that population by the time that Rikers closes in 2026. 

The mayor’s plan aims to reduce the number of people in jail to no more than 4,000 by 2026 and claims that on an average day in 2017, there was only space for 2,300 people in existing facilities in the city. DRUM’s plan would hinge on reducing the number of incarcerated citywide down further to meet the remaining space. 

DRUM was joined by advocates from Queens Neighborhood United, an anti-gentrification group based mostly out of Corona, Jackson Heights and Elmhurst, who argued that policing is inherently tied to the process of gentrification. 

“The clearest thing to see is that for areas to be gentrified, the streets have to be pacified. So people that you think don’t make the community safe, are locked up,” Josselyn Atahualpa, a QNU organizer. “We’re just making the connections here that we all know exist. That money and power play a lot into how our communities are criminalized and displaced.”

Shaniyat Chowdhury, the leftwing candidate challenging Rep. Gregory Meeks in the Democratic primary for Jamaica’s Congressional District, also showed up to the protest and joined Rep. Alexandrio Ocasio-Cortez in opposing the plan. 

“We need to abolish the prison system for good because we know that policing is rooted in anti-black racism and white supremacy,” said Chowdhury. 

Depoo added that representatives of DRUM, which has its South-Queens base in Richmond Hill, have spoken with the neighborhood’s Councilwoman Adrienne Adams to push her to vote against the borough-based prison plan vote, which is scheduled for Oct. 17.

Though Depoo said that Adams told him she would take his recommendation under consideration, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that she has stated her support for plan.

Adams could not be reached for comment in time for publication of this story.

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