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PSL: Despite police intimidation, Frances Villar campaign holds press conference at Rikers

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On 38th Anniversary of Attica Uprising, socialist mayoral campaign calls for closure of jail

On Sept. 9, socialist mayoral candidate Frances Villar held a press conference at the gates of Rikers Island Prison in Astoria, Queens to commemorate the 38th anniversary of the Attica State Prison uprising. Joseph Little, a veteran of the prison rebellion, joined Frances outside Rikers.

It was set to be a normal press conference similar to the dozens politicians hold across the city on a routine basis. But before it could begin, officers of the NYC Department of Corrections attempted to shut down and intimidate the press conference organizers. When Villar and campaign organizers asserted their right to hold a press conference on the sidewalk — public property — the officers returned to their parked cars and turned on the sirens in an attempt to drown it out.

The daily Metro-NY, which has a daily circulation of over one million newspapers, detailed the whole thing on page 3 of the next day’s paper. “Before [Frances] opened her mouth, officers asked her small group to move. They refused and the SUV blared its siren. Villar broke out an amplifier. Another police vehicle appeared. A police helicopter passed overhead. Soon, there was one vehicle for every protester standing on the corner.”

Over the noise of the sirens, and despite the distractions caused by the heavily armed officers, the press conference continued. Little emphasized that the same conditions that gave rise to the Attica uprising continue to this day, and that the legacy of Attica is to build a movement to take on these injustices. Frances laid out a program to challenge the institutionalized racism and anti-worker policies of the city’s criminal justice system.

Frances immediately distinguished the PSL’s campaign from that of the Democratic and Republican candidates, who are “expected to genuflect at the altar of the police and prison system, calling for more cops, more jails, tougher laws that hit poor people hardest.”

Frances continued:

“The laws in this country were not written to protect poor and working people. They were written to protect the interests of the billionaires and super-rich—the ruling class.

“Launching wars of aggression like the one against Iraq or Afghanistan—wars that cost the lives of U.S., Iraqi and Afghan working people working people — isn’t that a crime? Handing out multimillion-dollar bonuses while workers are laid off — isn’t that a crime? Police brutality against Black and Latino communities — isn’t that a crime? Huge landlords evicting tenants, big banks foreclosing on family homes — aren’t those crimes?

“But none of the people who commit those crimes will see a day in jail—not under today’s for-profit capitalist system. On the contrary, the law protects the criminals who commit those crimes. Instead, we are bombarded day in and day out that it’s poor people who are criminals.”

Frances closed her speech with specifics on how the criminal justice system in New York City should be radically transformed:

“Until we can begin the job of building a society where laws protect poor and working people and not exploitation, my campaign is calling for the following immediate measures:

“Shut down Rikers Island. Anyone who has set foot inside Rikers knows that it is a blight on the city and needs to be eliminated. We will create a massive publicprogram for jobs, housing, education to eliminate poverty and erode the social basis for street crime.·

“No deportations or anti-immigrant sweeps. As mayor, I will prohibit ICE from operating in Rikers or any other city-administered facilities.

“Drug use should be decriminalized. Drug profits, including the billions being held in accounts in the biggest banks in the city, will be expropriated in order to expand drug treatment programs and fund education and community programs to give young people meaningful life choices.

“All prisoners and parolees should have full voting rights. As mayor, I would mobilize the city’s people and resources to reverse the racist state laws that disenfranchise Black and Latino communities.

“I will immediately end the NYPD stop-and-frisk policies that disproportionately target Black and Latino New Yorkers.

“Police brutality and harassment must end. On my first act as mayor, Ray Kelley and other top NYPD officers would be served with charges for the abuses against poor and working people like the murder of Sean Bell. It happened on their watch—they should face the consequences.

“The NYPD needs to be out of our city schools.”

To read Frances’s full remarks (in pdf), click this link.