Phalanx of Local Leaders Arrested Protesting Start of Demolition at Lower Manhattan Jail Complex
Above: Protestors block Baxter Street to obstruct the start of demolition at the Manhattan Demolition Complex, led by Jan Lee (center): “Until the Mayor meets with us, and listens to our plan for a fiscally responsible, safer, faster and less impactful gut renovation of the existing jail, we remain distrustful and feel betrayed by him.” Below: State Senate candidate Vittoria Fariello: “This morning, I was arrested standing with other local activists to block the unjust plan to build an enormous new jail in Chinatown. Our neighborhoods don’t need a bigger jail—we need more schools and more housing, and I’ll do what is necessary to win this goal.”
Ten Lower Manhattan community leaders, including two candidates for public office, were arrested Wednesday morning as they protested the start of demolition at the Manhattan Detention Complex (MDC), in a preliminary move by the administration of Mayor Eric Adams to replace that facility with the world’s tallest jail.
More than 100 demonstrators turned out for the continuation of a multi-day protest that began on Monday, with the aim of preventing the installation of construction fencing around the MDC site (centered on White Street, between Baxter and Centre Streets). On Monday and Tuesday, the contractor designated by the City to install the fence did not appear as scheduled, and the small number police monitoring the protest withdrew.
But on Wednesday morning, the police turned out in force, as the contractor’s vehicles approached the site. At that point, shortly after 8:00 am, a delegation of ten protest leaders stepped into the middle of Baxter Street to block access to MDC. They were identifiable by blue armbands, in a prearranged signal to the police that this group planned to commit non-violent acts of civil disobedience by obstructing the installation of the fence, but also planned to submit to arrest without offering any resistance.
This continent was led by Jan Lee, a widely respected community leader in Chinatown, who recounted, “this morning, beginning at 6:00 am, we stood vigilant at the jail site, awaiting the arrival of the trucks carrying the materials that would become the construction fences surrounding the Chinatown jails.”
Mr. Lee, who is a co-founder of Neighbors United Below Canal (NUBC), a community organization that opposes the plan to demolish and rebuild MDC, continued, “for three years now, NUBC has used numerous tools to fight the building of this mega-jail in Chinatown, including community outreach, education sessions, a lawsuit in which we prevailed, and numerous protests and rallies.”
He added, “our March 20th rally was attended by 2,000 people. Today, we sat in the middle of the roadbed of Baxter Street to stop the truck from off-loading materials to build the construction fences around the jail. For this act of civil disobedience, ten of us, including myself, were arrested and brought to the Seventh Precinct. It is disgraceful that we had to get arrested to be heard by a Mayor who said, in April, 2021, that he ‘stood side by side with us.’”
This was a reference to a statement made by Eric Adams, before he was elected Mayor, when he joined a rally on the same site last fall. At that event, the then-candidate said, “I did not just discover you when I decided to run. I know how much this community has endured. We have stood together, side by side. Let’s stop the institutionalization of hate that we are seeing in government.”
“We can do a better job,” Mr. Adams continued. “The problems we are facing can’t be solved with incarceration and the destruction of communities. So I am here with you, standing side by side. No new jail! No building up a jail at this location!” Since then, Mr. Adams has made no public statement explaining his change of heart after taking office, nor he has acknowledged the contradiction between his promise as a candidate and his policy as Mayor.
A spokesman for the Mayor’s office responded, “this administration will always follow the law, and the law says the jails on Rikers Island must close on time. To follow the law and protect the safety of the community and all involved in this project, this work is proceeding. We have engaged deeply with the community every step of the way, and we are committed to continuing to work with them to limit the disruption of this project.”
Mr. Lee insisted that, “until the Mayor meets with us, and listens to our plan for a fiscally responsible, safer, faster and less impactful gut renovation of the existing jail, we remain distrustful and feel betrayed by him. We will continue to call out the people, companies, and foundations that are profiting from incarceration and the business of poverty. Our community will not be sacrificed by a jail experiment that is not only destined to repeat the atrocity of the current jails, but will be totally obsolete the day it opens, a decade from now.”
Also arrested was Vittoria Fariello, a Battery Park City resident and elected Democratic Party District Leader, who is a candidate for the State Senate. She said, “Our neighborhoods don’t need a bigger jail—we need more schools and more housing, and I’ll do what is necessary to win this goal.”
Ms. Fariello added, “I want to thank everyone who has stood up against this dangerous plan, and the NYPD officers of the Seventh Precinct for their professionalism. I call on Mayor Adams to keep his promise and stop the jail immediately.”
Additionally taken into custody was Grace Lee, a Lower Manhattan activist and community leader who is a candidate for the State Assembly. In a reference to the plan to close the City’s primary jail at Rikers Island (which purportedly necessitates the MDC expansion), she said, “Rikers is a place of systemic injustice and needs to be closed. But a $2-billion mega-jail that has even fewer beds than the existing structure is not the solution. The demolition of MDC and the construction of the new mega-jail will have an enormous environmental impact. Hundreds of toxins and chemicals will be released and contaminate the air that our seniors and our children breathe. There is asbestos in that building, and volatile organic compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls, and heavy metals have been detected in the soil below.”
State Assembly candidate Grace Lee (center): “I was arrested as I stood arm-in-arm with the Chinatown community. Mayor Adams may think that Chinatown is not going to fight back, or that we’ve forgotten his campaign promise to oppose this jail. But thanks to the strength and bravery of our community leaders, we’re here to demand that he hear us.”
“Given the severity of this threat,” Ms. Lee continued, “the City should have given more time and consideration to alternative plans that would be more environmentally conscious and respectful to the health of the community. Yet this administration has shown a complete disregard for the people of Chinatown.”
Recalling the local history that accompanied the building of the existing MDC, she observed that, “what happened this morning is eerily evocative of a massive protest against the construction of the current structure back in the 1980s. Mayor Koch dismissed the protest by saying of the Chinatown community, ‘you don’t vote, you don’t count.’ He thought this community would not fight back. And that is the legacy of systemic racism. Because now, 40 years later, Chinatown is fighting not just a jail, but the tallest jail in the world.”
Ms. Lee concluded that, “Mayor Adams may think that Chinatown is not going to fight back, or that we’ve forgotten his campaign promise to oppose this jail. But thanks to the strength and bravery of our community leaders, we’re here to demand that he hear us. We are not passive. We will not stay quiet. We call for investment in people—in our schools, our businesses and our community instead of the world’s tallest jail.”
Another member of the group arrested on Wednesday morning was Victoria Lee, an elected District Leader, who said, “I can’t believe that the words ‘mega’ and ‘billion’ are associated not with schools, community centers, parks, and the other investments that our communities need, but instead with a jail. Why does the City tout Chinatown as a cultural hub when it’s convenient, but then marginalize and neglect this community?”
Edward Cuccia, an attorney who both lives and practices in Chinatown, was on hand to act as a legal advisor to the demonstrators. He was also there to offer pro-bono legal representation to everybody who was arrested, and to monitor any possible violations of their rights. Mr. Cuccia said, “today, ten heroes were arrested while protesting against the demolition of the Chinatown jail. These ten men and women were willing to take a stand against political stupidity and corporate greed. They were arrested while calling on Mayor Adams to keep his promise not to destroy Chinatown and Little Italy, and to keep his promise not to waste $2.3 billion with the idiotic demolition of the Chinatown jail. They will be charged with disorderly conduct and summonsed to Criminal Court.”
An Adams administration official responded that, “we have reviewed multiple proposals to renovate the existing Manhattan Detention Complex building. With the extent of renovations required to bring the building to code and meet the requirements of 2019 laws passed by the City Council, this degree of work would be infeasible. The building is not structurally sound enough to withstand the extent of the renovation required. Moving forward with renovation would introduce the risk of catastrophic collapse, putting construction workers and community members at risk. In addition to the physical safety issues, renovation would also increase the cost to taxpayers and extend the construction period, only prolonging the disruption for the community. The environmental impacts of renovation would be equal or greater to that from new construction. We have engaged deeply with the community, pausing construction for over a month at the community’s request to review alternative proposals. Even with the month-long delay, we will close Rikers on time, as required by laws passed by the City Council.”
City’s Design Panel Gives New Lease on Life to Local Agitprop Icon
The iconic “Fearless Girl” statue—artist Kristen Visbal’s bronze likeness of a young female striking a jaunty, audacious pose—can remain at its current location, near the intersection of Broad and Wall Streets, for 11 months, the City’s Public Design Commission ruled on Monday.
May I add my voice to the others as reported on Monday? Please leave W. Thames alone. And definitely have a meeting that is open to those who live here before an RFP goes out and with the designer who eventually gets the assignment. I agree that we need to know how resiliency might affect these streets before proposals are made—or is that known already?
Maryanne P. Braverman
To the editor,
Great coverage! Thanks for keeping the pressure and story of no new jails alive.
Getting to the Route of the Problem
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On Saturdays and Sundays, visit the exhibitions and the ships of the South Street Seaport Museum for free. At 12 Fulton Street, see “South Street and the Rise of New York” and “Millions: Migrants and Millionaires aboard the Great Liners, 1900-1914,” and at Pier 16, explore the tall ship Wavertree and lightship Ambrose. Free.
Local Rates of Infection with BA.2 Version of COVID Among Highest in City
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Available for PT/FT. Wonderful person, who is a great worker.
Worked in BPC.
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Lower Manhattan Greenmarkets
Greenwich Street & Chambers Street
Every Wednesday & Saturday, 8am-3pm
Food Scrap Collection: Saturdays, 8am-1pm
Open Saturdays and Wednesdays year round
Bowling Green Greenmarket
Green Greenmarket at Bowling Green
Broadway & Whitehall St
Open Tuesday and Thursdays, year-round
Market Hours: 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Compost Program: 8 a.m. – 11 a.m.
The Bowling Green Greenmarket brings fresh offerings from local farms to Lower Manhattan’s historic Bowling Green plaza. Twice a week year-round stop by to load up on the season’s freshest fruit, crisp vegetables, beautiful plants, and freshly baked loaves of bread, quiches, and pot pies.