New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s announcement to permanently shutter Rikers Island prompted many responses. One of the more notable reactions came from rapper, executive, and reluctant tweeter Jay Z. Friday, Hov added to the scant 249 dispatches he’s sent since joining Twitter in 2008 with a nod to Barack Obama and the late Kalief Browder.
Kalief is a prophet. His story will save lives . You guys watching and your compassion made this happen. Thank you . pic.twitter.com/Vvnt9tDBeR— Mr. Carter (@S_C_) March 31, 2017
“Kalief is a prophet,” Jay Z tweeted. “His story will save lives. You guys watching and your compassion made this happen. Thank you.”
The tweet linked to a picture of Browder, who spent three years on Rikers Island without being convicted of a crime. Browder was subjected to physical and verbal abuse while in prison. He repeatedly struggled with mental health issues during and after his incarceration, and he ultimately hanged himself after being released. Jay Z co-executive produced Time: The Kalief Browder Story, which aired on Spike TV in March. Jay’s tweet made the rather obvious connection between long-held assumptions about substandard and abusive practices at New York’s infamous prison facility and Browder’s death.
There was also a reference to Barack Obama’s 2016 speech about campaigning in Greenwood prior to the 2008 Presidential Election, which spawned the well-known quote, “One voice can change a room.”
Friday, de Blasio announced New York City would permanently close the Rikers Island jail facility as part of a joint effort with Melissa Mark-Viverito of New York’s 8th District. No timeline was given, as de Blasio stated, “It will take many years” at a press conference announcing the closure.
Given Rikers' history, the celebration in some circles was understandable. But many were quick to make the credible argument that Rikers or any particular prison is a symptom of a larger problem. Enter John Legend, who has used his platform to repeatedly call for prison reform.
In closing Rikers, New York City takes a crucial step towards ending #massincarceration. Now the hard work begins.— John Legend (@johnlegend) March 31, 2017
Rikers Island is an expression of a national problem. The mass incarceration era did not begin in New York City but it’s going to end here.— Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) March 31, 2017
"Thanks to @NYCMayor, @NYCCouncil, Judge Lippman, @CloseRikers & @glennEmartin for your commitment to end #massincarceration," Legend tweeted. "In closing Rikers, New York City takes a crucial step towards ending #massincarceration. Now the hard work begins."
Legend called on President Obama to enact legislation that would be more lenient on non-violent drug offenders as his final term came to a close. And the tweets underscore the complex nature of trying to divest from the industrial prison complex. Critics of the Rikers closing have essentially called it a cash grab that benefits developers, and de Blasio himself called Rikers Island "an expression of a national problem."
Expect some heated ongoing debate about mass incarceration in the years leading up to the closure of Rikers Island.