200 people incarcerated in the Robert N. Davoren Complex (RNDC) at Rikers Island have been on a hunger strike since Saturday, January 8. They are protesting hellish and inhumane conditions: freezing temperatures inside the facility, mail being withheld, family members denied the right to visit, cancellation of court hearings, and video conferences with attorneys being denied. The RNDC complex contains unhygienic and dangerous dormitories. Beds are crammed close to each other, COVID is spreading, and fights and violence have escalated.
I call on everyone who stands against injustice to stand with these courageous hunger strikers.
87 percent of those jailed at Rikers are Black and Latino. In New York City's jails, some 1500 people — most of them at the Rikers hellhole — have been held for over a year simply awaiting trial. In 2021, 16 people died at Rikers. Inmates have suffered beatings at the hands of prison guards and other inmates. People held in solitary confinement at Rikers experience what amounts to torture. Khalief Browder was a tragic victim of these kinds of conditions. Arrested at the age of 16, he was held at Rikers for 3 years, much of it in solitary confinement; soon after his release, Khalief committed suicide.
These conditions are a concentrated expression of the reality and functioning of this capitalist-imperialist system. Its prisons, along with its cops and courts, are important components of how this system controls oppressed people and enforces racial oppression and degradation against those whom this system has no future for. I have called this a slow genocide targeting Black and Brown people, a genocide that could easily become a fast one.
We have to confront the hard but liberating truth that this system can't be reformed. The exposure of horrors like the conditions at Rikers has generated outrage and resistance. In response, politicians and authorities have promised “reforms.” Former NYC mayor Bill de Blasio and past administrations spoke honeyed words of ending prison abuses (even closing Rikers). Yet today, conditions are worse than ever at Rikers. The new pig mayor Eric Adams wants to reinstate solitary confinement, bring back plainclothes police task forces and Stop-and-Frisk, and increase pig funding — so more people will suffer these horrors...so more lives, dreams, and hopes can be destroyed.
The revolutionary leader Bob Avakian has analyzed that the only way to end the epidemic of police terror, murder by police, genocidal mass incarceration, and all the other horrors this system perpetrates on humanity, is through an actual revolution: millions of people rising up to overthrow a system that can only function by treating people like this.
The Rikers hunger strikers are setting a bold example. All those this system has hemmed in, beaten down, and locked up need to follow that example.
As Bob Avakian has also said: “Instead of fighting and killing each other, what people need to be doing now is uniting to defend each other — opposing all unjust violence, not launching attacks on anyone but at the same time not allowing the police or 'civilian' fascist thugs to wantonly brutalize and murder people. And people need to do this as part of building up the forces for revolution.” Further, Bob Avakian has analyzed that, given the fierce infighting at the top of the system that is unraveling the normal ways the system operates, this is a time when revolution becomes possible.
The hunger strikers at Rikers need support and solidarity. Christopher Boyle, an attorney who represents some of them, has been told that his phone number is blocked by the authorities at Rikers. This means that news of retaliation against the hunger strikers may not be getting out of the prison.
If it hurts you to your heart when you hear of people being subjected to injustice, stand with these bold resisters. And if you want to see all these horrors ended once and for all, dare to become part of the revolution we need to do just that.