Friday, August 26, 2011

Prisoners Left to Drown like Rats

Today's blog was going to be about a lovely photo shoot in Albuquerque this morning and how much fun I had. That will have to wait. I'm upset about what I learned from the day's news once I returned to Deming.

As I write this, you see, New York City is being evacuated. It is unprecedented, an extraordinary precaution taken in advance of Hurricane Irene, which is threatening much of the east coast this weekend. At noon tomorrow (Saturday) New York's entire transit system will stop. 250,000 people have been ordered to evacuate from low-lying areas, especially the islands.

All except for one island.

Among the islands being evacuated, one island is being left exactly as it is, and there is no plan to evacuate its inhabitants even if their safety is indeed threatened.

Maybe you have already guessed. Rikers Island. There is no safety plan in place, as the Mayor tersely disclosed during a press conference earlier today.

Mayor Bloomberg's declaration that the inmates on Rikers will stay in place come what may recalls the horror of the Orleans Parish Prison during Hurricane Katrina. The sheriff had declared in advance of the storm that the prisoners would "stay where they belong," and stay they did: some standing chest-high in sewage as the waters flooded their cells and their guards fled their posts.

Despite all the advance warning, there was no contingency plan -- not even a last-minute plan -- for the safety of the inmates. In the aftermath of the storm, they not only literally wallowed in shit, they also went days without food or potable water before the state of Louisiana intervened and ordered their evacuation. Before then, chaos set in, including brutal violence.

The ACLU report has some details that Mayor Bloomberg should know about.

This is a human rights violation that ought to smell to the rest of us like the water those prisoners had to stand in for several days. Would we treat rats with such depravity, never mind human beings?

The reason we stand for these abuses -- the reason, indeed, that few of us even know about these stories -- is that our society does not regard prisoners even as second-class citizens. We scarcely acknowledge their humanity. That is why there is no moral outrage when the mayor of New York City evacuates all of the human beings around Rikers Island but announces with a tone of impatience that there are no contingency plans for the prisoners at Rikers. This shameful fact was confirmed by the NYC Department of Corrections.

For those who can muster a little moral outrage on behalf of human beings, and who do not want a repeat of what happened during Katrina -- even if it is too late to intervene this weekend -- there is an opportunity to contact Attorney General Eric Holder and demand that the DoJ order an accounting and review of the NYC DOC's disaster contingency plans, and that it seek an explanation as to why 12,000 human beings under the state's care were left to drown like rats while citizens around them were evacuated ahead of Hurricane Irene.

I'll even throw the phone number at you: (202) 514-2001. Email is good too.

[Photo: Prisoners grudgingly evacuated from the flooded Orleans Parish Prison after moral outrage forced the state to intervene and order local officials to do the humane thing.]

1 comment:

quid said...

This is horrible, and particularly in light of what happened in New Orleans.

Some of those people in Rikers ARE innocent, they just can't make bail yet. Regardless of innocence or guilt.. man's inhumanity to man. Again.