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Photos: Decolonizing Columbus Day, With An Emphasis On ‘No New Jails’

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This year’s Columbus Day counterprogramming began as it has the past three years, at the steps of the American Museum of Natural History, next to a problematic statue of Theodore Roosevelt, former president, conservationist, and white supremacist. Monday’s protests had a renewed sense of urgency: on Thursday, the City Council is set to vote on the land use provisions for Mayor Bill de Blasio‘s plan to close Rikers Island and replace it with four new borough-based jails.

The plan is expected to cost around $9 billion and has the support of the four councilmembers whose districts will host the jails.

“We’re asking all of the City Council members to vote no on this land use process plan,” Zoe Hopkins, a student and No New Jails activist told Gothamist. “Put resources into communities like indigenous communities, like black and brown communities, that have been suffering under the yoke of mass incarceration in this city for so long.”

Hopkins added, “This is an abolitionist project. This is part of a conversation that’s happening in our country right now around prison abolition, and around creating of an infrastructure that’s based around transformative justice rather than incarceration.”

After hundreds of people gathered on the steps of the museum to hear speeches and poems, the group marched down Central Park West, surrounded by dozens of NYPD officers on scooters, to begin a walking tour in Central Park.

The group stopped at the site of Seneca Village, where African Americans and immigrants lived until they were evicted in 1857 to make way for Frederick Law Olmstead’s vision of Central Park, and again in the Great Lawn, where leaders talked about how the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure has enabled a “methodical execution of displacement” in gentrifying neighborhoods.

Zahra Khalid, a graduate student who opposes the construction of the new jails, said she understood that the city’s plan was created “in earnest,” but that the billions of dollars budgeted for the jails should be invested in other ways.

“They’re not evil people, but their framework is just so different,” Khalid said of the city planners. “The jails are just a way of putting money into the system in a very particular way, whereas it could be put into the system in many different ways that could actually benefit people.”

Khalid described the prison abolition movement as “a radical reworking of the idea of how we relate to each other as part of society.”

“Yes, it is difficult, but it’s really a challenge to our imaginations,” Khalid said. “What can we imagine otherwise?”



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