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COBA battles those who want to close Rikers Island

Stephon Johnson | 2/10/2017, 4:01 p.m.
New York City Councilman Danny Dromm of Queens wants to close Rikers Island. The Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association has something ...
Rikers Islands, New York.

New York City Councilman Danny Dromm of Queens wants to close Rikers Island. The Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association has something to say about that this election season.

In January, the union started sending postcards to Dromm’s constituents criticizing him for wanting to close the prison and not paying proper attention to crime occurring in his district.

“The union’s message is simple: If elected officials want to grand stand and score political points off Correction Officers, we will expose the real issues facing the citizens in their districts whom they are elected to represent,” read one of the postcards. “Why isn’t Council Member Dromm as concerned about crime in our district as he is about crime at Rikers Island? Isn’t it time our Council Member focused on us?”

According to a report in the Queens Chronicle, the mailer cited crimes in the 110th and 115th precincts in Northern Queens—Dromm’s district—stating that 40 percent of all robberies and 37 percent of felony assaults take place in those two precincts.

“This flyer illustrates the twisted logic and misplaced priorities of a failed leadership desperate to change the subject from its legacy of corruption,” read part of the statement provided to NY1. “I will never back down from doing what is right for my community—regardless of the opposition.”

A couple of organizational leaders have Dromm’s and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s backs.

In a joint statement, Glenn E. Martin of Just Leadership USA and Gabriel Sayegh of Katal Center for Health, Equity and Justice spoke in favor of criminal justice and bail reform and criticized COBA for their recent actions.

“We thought after the embarrassing departure of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association’s (COBA) previous president they would stop the union’s bully-style tactics,” read the statement. “Unfortunately, we were wrong. Rather than focusing on creating a safer environment for its 10,000 members and the 10,000 New Yorkers they guard daily, or fostering a culture of professionalism, COBA is spending union dues on diverting attention away from important issues plaguing Rikers by taking aim at a City Councilman who has done nothing but fight for his community and constituents, and the people of New York City.”

Rikers Island is back in the news because of an upcoming documentary on Kalief Browder, who at 16 years old was sent to the facility without trial for allegedly stealing a backpack. Browder served three years there, while maintaining his innocence and demanding a trial. Eight hundred of those days in jail were spent in solitary confinement. After finally being released and becoming an advocate opposed to solitary confinement, Browder committed suicide.

Rapper and entrepreneur Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter produced the Browder documentary for Spike TV and spoke with Democracy Now! about his desire to see Rikers Island closed down.

“Well, if anything like that is happening, if one kid—if that happens to one kid, any place [where] that can happen to any kid should be closed,” he told Democracy Now! reporter Amy Goodman.