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Queens councilman introduces ‘commonsense’ legislation on Rikers Island rebuild, diaphragm ban

Rikers Island diaphragm ban
Councilman Robert Holden at the Kew Gardens community-based jail protest last summer. (Julia Moro/QNS)

In a series of six introduced bills, Councilman Robert Holden made clear his intentions to boost city transparency and protect police restraint tactics. 

The legislation would further examine the Rikers Island rebuild and undo the controversial diaphragm ban, which the counselor said will allow police to do their jobs.

The diaphragm law — which prohibited the use of police chokeholds — was signed into law in July of 2020 amid the sweeping public outrage over the George Floyd murder. The law was struck down by the State Supreme Court last year but was recently appealed by the state’s Appellate Division, putting the law back on the books. 

However, Holden’s legislation would remove the prohibition on police restraint methods, such as sitting, kneeling or standing on the chest or back of a person under arrest.

“It is vital that we allow our police to do their jobs safely and effectively, so I’ve introduced a bill to undo the unconstitutional diaphragm law,” Holden said. 

Holden’s legislation would leave former Queens Councilman Rory Lancman’s chokehold ban intact. 

“This bill would allow officers to safely apprehend a violent suspect who is resisting arrest or attacking an officer while leaving the ban on chokeholds in place,” he said.

Holden also introduced legislation that would form a city commission exploring the cost of renovating jail facilities on Rikers Island. The commission would be required to release a report of its findings. 

The city plans to shut down the Rikers Island jail and replace it with four smaller, more humane complexes. The estimated cost to rebuild is about $8.7 billion. 

“We need to examine the cost of new facilities on Rikers Island and compare it to the cost and many disadvantages of putting skyscraper jails in our neighborhoods,” Holden said. “I will never give up on providing commonsense solutions to our city’s problems.”

Closing Rikers Island would build four smaller jail complexes in Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Bronx and on Union Turnpike in Kew Gardens, Queens. Holden previously criticized the 19-story jail in Kew Gardens set to take in over 800 Rikers Island inmates. 

“My City Council colleagues would rather close [Rikers] as a symbol of mass incarceration,” Holden said at a protest last summer. “It’s going to cost a lot more money. We don’t have that money and we’d rather put it into the infrastructure of the city.”

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