Cecily McMillan on Rikers: “We know that people die there…”

October 20, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


Cecily McMillan was assaulted by the police and arrested in March of 2012 at an Occupy Wall Street demonstration. She was found guilty of felony assault on a police officer and served 58 days in Rikers jail in 2014. Shortly after Cecily was released she did an interview with Revolution about her experiences in Rikers. Revolution recently talked to Cecily about the Call to Shut Rikers Down that has been taken up as part of #RiseUpOctober, and the following is an excerpt from what she had to say about why she supports this Call and this action:

I think that it’s like a really worthy endeavor. I’m really glad that people are doing it. [When I was in New York] I really helped to organize the [Shut Down] Rikers effort. At this point all I’ve got left in me is a very serious anger, building towards rage because if people really want to shut down Rikers, if people really realize that there are people in there that because they are called prisoners they are not treated as people, they are not looked at as people, they are being killed, they are being raped, they are being medically neglected, which is the same as being killed, it’s not really that difficult. It’s one island, there’s one bridge.

We’re at the point now where we have heard first hand, I would say towards a hundred―hundreds of accounts of how many people who have been scarred if not killed, maimed, their life completely deranged by the experience of being in Rikers. I don’t know what else left there is to say to compel people to really do something about it. And I think that until we get over this hump of people thinking that their own freedom and that their own privilege and their own capitalist-controlled life, that is really not freedom, that is really not privilege, their own alienated life, until they get to the point that they stop thinking that is more important than these people dying in Rikers and really put their bodies on the line.

If standing outside of Rikers, if yelling about Rikers, if coalition building, if trying to even minimally even reform Rikers is not working , then people have to put their money where their mouth is, then people have to put their bodies on the line and there has to be a mass exodus to Rikers itself. This is not a crazy thing to say. There is a jail no bail movement, an effort to fill the jails. It was done in the Civil Rights Movement. And what we’re looking at is something on par with that―even worse. Because unlike the Civil Rights Movement where you could had cameras, journalists and people there standing up and witnessing the suffering and the murder of an entire people of color, you can’t do that at Rikers, no way.

In the Civil Rights Movement things were being done to people outright. They weren’t doing it behind razor wire, they weren’t doing it on an island, separating the rest of the boroughs. They were doing it there and people could see it. And now we’ve had this exposure of what goes on in Rikers, we know that people die there, we know that if people don’t die, they die a death of the soul. We know that this is happening en masse. We know that people die and they get cremated and their families don’t know about it.  We know this and yet people aren’t stepping up like they have in the past like in the Industrial Workers of the World Movement, like in the Civil Rights Movement, like in the Women’s Rights Movement, like in every other movement. It’s time. It’s time. Put yourself on that bridge. What are you doing with your life that is so much more important? What are you doing that matters more? Put yourself on that bridge….

We want a mass movement to follow. But a mass movement doesn’t follow from inaction. There has to be people who put a moral precedent on the issue and sacrifice their bodies… At this point it’s not just whether or not you’re participating, it’s whether or not you’re a decent person. You need to, you should. It’s now. Not tomorrow, not the next day. It’s now. Today somebody will die in Rikers. Today somebody will get raped in Rikers. Today somebody will get sexually assaulted in Rikers. Today somebody will not get fed. Today somebody is sitting in isolation. Today somebody will go to the hospital and die and their family will not know about it for god knows how long because they will get a letter saying “inmate no longer here” and they’ll call every single hospital until they find out their loved one has been cremated regardless of whether or not they were Catholic and their family wanted religious burial rights. Walk across that bridge….


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