Mayor de Blasio’s proposal to shutter the jail complex at Rikers Island and replace it with smaller, borough-based jails is worthy of tortured scrutiny, offering as it does the moral and political quandary of replacing a notoriously brutal penal colony and avatar of mass incarceration…with still more sites of mass incarceration.
Elizabeth Hintons America on Fire, packaged as the untold story of police violence and Black rebellion since the 1960s, is a timely meditation on historical continuities and differences between previous cycles of urban rebellion and the present.
A crumbling strip of asphalt winds through the craggy countryside of eastern Kentucky, striated with power lines sagging in every direction. Wobbly pavement markings and errant skidmarks vanish at a hairpin bend buffered by low guard rails framing a rolling, sparsely tree-spotted expanse of hills. On one side of this road stands a roughly chiseled open coal seam, marking the remnants of a former mine. On the other, a bowed chain link fence capped in razor-wire announces the outer periphery of Otter Creek Correctional Facility. This remarkable image by photographer Jill Frank adorns the jacket of prison scholar Judah Schepts Coal, Cages, Crisis (New York: NYU Press, 2022), confronting the reader with the books central preoccupations.
In the unfolding of social antagonism which drives human history there are spectacular moments when a hitherto-invisible threshold is crossed and great masses who have long appeared to suffer in silence thrust themselves onto center stage to claim their place as breakers of chains and makers of history. The 2010 self-immolation of Tunisian street vendor Tarek el-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi was one such event. The 2016 plan to construct the Dakota Access Pipeline across sacred indigenous land and water was another.
Borough-based jails are nothing new in New York City. The original incarnation of Lower Manhattans notorious Tombs facility, opened in 1838, replaced the British colonial jail built before the Revolution.
While the original incarnation of Black Lives Matter focused on blocking infrastructure, like highways and bridgesostensibly to wake up a slumbering public to the brutal reality of American policing, and press for reforms that would make Black lives matter in the eyes of the lawthis time around protestors have unleashed an often frontal attack on symbols of carceral power: police precincts, courthouses, department of correction buildings, to name a few. As these rotting avatars of social control draw increasing fire, sometimes it seems that anything is possible but a return to the status quo that they serve to prop up.
AngryWorkers want you to build an international revolutionary organization guided by the axiom the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves, and they have a plan.