August 2019: SURJ NYC Unendorses the #CLOSErikers Campaign

SURJ NYC is committed to mobilizing white New Yorkers to decarcerate our city by closing Rikers Island and shrinking the population of our jails and prisons. 

Over the last several years, we have done this work alongside our accountability partner JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA), supporting their #CLOSErikers campaign. Following Mayor DeBlasio’s commitment to close Rikers Island, there has been disagreement among various players in NYC about the Mayor’s plan to replace part of Rikers' capacity with one new and three expanded borough-based jails. In response, several campaigns have developed distinct demands and strategies. Most significantly, the #CLOSErikers campaign is advocating for approval and improvement of the Mayor's plan with what they believe to be transformative conditions, while the #NoNewJails (NNJ) campaign demands the closure of Rikers without building any new jails under any circumstances. 

Over the past few months, some of SURJ NYC’s individual members have been strongly supporting NNJ, some have been organizing powerfully with JLUSA, and we have been struggling together to come to an agreement about a collective way forward for SURJ NYC. Members have been particularly concerned about the seeming contradiction of organizing against white supremacy while supporting new or expanded jails, the urgent need to improve the conditions faced by currently incarcerated people, and the fear that Rikers may not close if the Mayor’s plan is rejected. There is also concern that the logic behind the Mayor's plan, implying that Rikers can only close if other jails are built or expanded, creates a false binary and normalizes incarceration. We have also put much thought into what it means to be a responsible partner to organizations we work with—many of whom have taken differing stances in this moment. In the resources linked below, you can read more about the nature of our members’ perspectives, the substance of the disagreements, and the conversations we’ve had at chapter meetings about this issue. While these discussions have happened with a great deal of respect, they have not moved those aligned with either campaign to a shared understanding of how SURJ NYC should move forward with regard to the Mayor’s plan.  

Because of the deep, substantive division within SURJ NYC about how to mobilize the power we’ve built in this crucial moment, SURJ NYC has decided to formally unendorse the #CLOSErikers campaign. SURJ NYC is currently endorsing neither campaign. 

While we cannot responsibly continue to endorse the #CLOSErikers campaign when so much of our membership opposes its strategy, we are unified in our commitment to working in partnership with JLUSA. We are proud of the work that we’ve done to stand in solidarity with JLUSA members, and of the relationships and trust that we’ve built with their organizers. We will continue to commit to that relationship, and to use our structures to support JLUSA’s #FREEnewyork and #2MillionVoices campaigns.

We will also continue to move our members into meaningful work and action to decarcerate our city.

We will provide political education that supports our membership to understand the ways that our carceral system is rooted in, and perpetuates, white supremacy. We will share resources on abolitionist theory and practice, making space for differing perspectives, and centering the perspectives of directly impacted people. And we will equip our members to take immediate and meaningful action by sharing calls to action, events, and information from both the #NoNewJails and #CLOSErikers campaigns, ensuring that members are aware of every opportunity to support this work. 

To learn about political education and campaign events, make sure you subscribe to our eblast, and follow us on Facebook or Twitter. To learn more about abolition and this issue, start with some of the resources below.


On Abolition

On the Campaigns

From #CLOSERikers supporters:

From NNJ supporters: