Sending a message: Chinatown residents rally against local jail plan

More than a hundred Lower Manhattan residents at a Sunday rally decried the proposed construction of a new city jail in the heart of Chinatown. 

Piling on the steps and alongside the sidewalk outside of the Manhattan Detention Complex (also known as the Tombs) on 125 White St., New Yorkers — many of whom identify as members of the AAPI community — brought protest signs and unbridled rage to rally against what they feel will be a blight in their historic neighborhood.

Led by the Neighbors United Below Canal (NUBC) and Council Member Christopher Marte, who has been both an opponent of the borough-based jail plan and a supporter of closing Rikers, residents spoke out against the destruction of the current jail and construction of a bigger, new jail site. 

Chinatown residents roared in opposition to the jail. Photo by Dean Moses
Well over 100 people amassed for the rally. Photo by Dean Moses

Despite the Tombs being renovated and upgraded to be a state-of-the-art municipal facility that houses male, mostly pretrial detainees, a new jail will be constructed boasting a bigger more modernized 30-story high rise. The destruction of this site was part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s borough-based jail plan so that Rikers Island will be able to fully close by the year 2027.  

Chants of “No new jails!” rang out during the rally, where protesters demanded that communities be built back better without an incarceration facility in their backyards.

Attendees at the rally stated that this new, bigger jail will be located in one of the hardest hit areas by the COVID-19 pandemic, both economically and the fear that still resonates along the city streets due to Anti-Asian hate crimes. 

Speakers at the rally called out Mayor Eric Adams’ and his campaign promise to solve New York City’s criminal issues through programing and not the destruction of a community.

Christopher Marte helped lead the rally. Photo by Dean Moses
Even the elderly braved the cold to fight against the jail. Photo by Dean Moses

“When we are talking about Asian hate crime, we never talk about the systemic nature of racism. This mega jail represents systemic racism where we invest to have people on Rikers Island, but we don’t invest to make sure that they can thrive in the communities that need them there. So, in two weeks according to the City’s plan, the bulldozers are going to come. We have two weeks to do the right things and make sure that we try to end this cycle of incarceration, this cycle of neglect, this cycle of lack of representation,” Marte said. 

Those at the rally also argued that behind every jail is an ulterior motive to earn money, rather than investing in community programming and centers. Additionally, the deconstruction would cause massive disruption to businesses and the flow of traffic into the area.

“I am a proud New Yorker, and it breaks my heart to say this, but I cannot imagine raising my future children in a society where we would rather invest in jail than people. Moving forward with this jail signals that we as a community are not worth investing in. You are telling the current generation and future generations of New Yorkers that they are not worth investing in. That the city would rather seek solutions once harm is done and create a 40-story jail in the heart of Downtown Manhattan. Mayor Adams it is not too late to stop this jail and reconsider what criminal justice and criminal reform looks like,” said Victoria Lee, Co-Founder of Welcome to Chinatown and District Leader.

amNewYork Metro reached out to the Mayor’s office for comment and is awaiting a response.

One by one, speakers decried the new jail. Photo by Dean Moses
Protesters urged the mayor to prevent the construction. Photo by Dean Moses
Many feel the construction will leave them in dust. Photo by Dean Moses