The city’s $2.25M settlement of a wrongful death suit filed by the family of Herman Diaz, 52, led local news last week.
Diaz, a detainee on Rikers Island, choked on an orange, collapsed in an unstaffed jail section and died when cellmates carried him to a station where an on-duty Corrections Officer refused to assist. Diaz, one of 6000 in facilities meant for half that number was one of 2022’s nineteen dead (with one more in February 2023).
The humanitarian crisis persists on Rikers Island, where people sleep on shower stalls’ tiled floors with shivs at hand for safety. The abuse of solitary confinement (which the UN Human Rights Council calls torture) can include surveillance and starvation; trauma from three years of such torment drove Kalief Browder to take his own life in 2015.
The Independent Commission on Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform chaired by former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman five years ago endorsed a closure plan that the City Council three years ago enacted into law.
Mayor Eric Adams resists it. Department of Corrections Commissioner Louis Molina has told the Council that the incarcerated population will rise by 1000 next year, contrary to mandated decreases toward dispersing those detained on Rikers Island to the borough-based jails that are already under construction.
The Brooklyn Heights Synagogue’s Social Justice Committee on Thursday, April 20th at 7:00 PM will present authors Graham Rayman and Reuven Blau (Rikers: An Oral History) to describe their experiences and the book’s implications. Dwight Garner’s New York Times review calls them “extraordinary interviewers who get people to say incredible things.”
Special guests will read selections from the book’s authentic accounts, with Council Member Lincoln Restler, Deputy Public Advocate for Equity, Health and Justice Edgardo Acevedo and Akeem Browder, Founder/Director of the Kalief Browder Foundation ( and brother of the young man who took his own life after three years of solitary confinement for a crime he did not commit) areamong those already confirmed.
“Rikers Island has long been a humanitarian crisis, and it is a moral imperative that we do everything in our power to permanently close Rikers Island by 2027,” said Council Member Lincoln Restler. “We must focus on real solutions to safely and permanently decrease the number of people in jail and provide struggling New Yorkers access to the services they need, which is why we released a comprehensive plan to end mass incarceration in New York City and shutter Rikers Island.”
The Katal Center’s Close Rikers Campaign and the Jewish Coalition for Criminal Justice Reform will also take parts in the program.
Melanie Dominguez, Lead Organizer at the Katal Center for Equity, Health and Justice, adds that “Under Mayor Adams, the crisis at Rikers is only getting worse. Instead of working to save lives, the Mayor’s current approach to the crisis is centered on sending more low-income Black and Brown New Yorkers to cages there, subjecting them to dangerous and life-threatening conditions. Since taking office the jail population is on the rise and Rikers Island is the deadliest it’s been in 25 years. Instead of working to save lives and close Rikers, the Mayor is bringing his cronies to try to cover up the crisis unfolding in our city jails. This is unacceptable. To address the crisis, the Mayor must cut the jail population, shut down Rikers, and invest in real public safety such as housing, health care, education and jobs.”
Facilitated discussions will guide the audience through its emotional reactions, ideas toward positive change, and any post-program questions – concluding with “What Have We Learned?” and “How Can We Use What We Have Learned?” Authors Graham Rayman and Reuven Blau will interact with audience members after the event. The book will be available for purchase.
The Brooklyn Heights Synagogue’s Social Justice Committee Presents:
A CONSCIENCE CALL TO SAVE LIVES
Readings and more from Rikers: An Oral History with authors Graham Rayman and Reuven Blau and Special Guests Present
** Thursday, April 20th at 7:00 PM
** Brooklyn Heights Synagogue, a liberal and politically active Reform, Congregation led by Senior Rabbi Serge Lippe and Cantor Ayelet, Porzecanski at 131 Remsen Street, between Clinton & Henry Streets, Brooklyn, NY 11218, (718-522-2070)