Mayor de Blasio Foolishly Thinks South Bronx Residents Will Allow New Jail in Mott Haven So Easily

Yeah, we said it. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is a fool of he thinks the South Bronx community is just going to sit back and allow a new jail to be built in the area continuing the tradition of the South Bronx being a dumping ground for every unwanted facility.

Caught by surprise, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr, Congressman José E Serrano, Councilman Rafael Salamanca Jr and borough residents all stated dismay at the city administration’s lack of transparency or decency to even speak with local elected officials about this move.

The site in question is currently an NYPD tow pound where once stood the old Lincoln Hospital and is surrounded by residential town homes.

The South Bronx continues to be dumping ground for waste transfer sites, medical waste, and not to mention the unwanted FreshDirect warehouse bringing thousands of truck trips through our streets.

Must we continue to be railroaded and not consulted on what the future of OUR neighborhood should look like?

Welcome2TheBronx acknowledges that criminal justice reform must happen and we agree with the need to shut Rikers Island, that is not the debate here.

The question is whether the mayor can just make such a decison without consulting the community stakeholders or elected officials as if it were a done deal.

Congressman Serrano, in a press release issued the following statement:

“Criminal justice reform is badly needed in New York and nationally- and I will always support efforts to ensure our justice system is fairer and more equitable. As part of that, I strongly support the effort to close Rikers’, but that process cannot take place at the expense of community input and participation in the siting of such a facility. Far too often, the South Bronx is used to deal with negative problems that other areas of New York City do not want to deal with. Waste transfer stations, sewage treatment plants, industrial/commercial facilities that generate increased truck traffic- all seem to be located in the South Bronx disproportionately when compared to the rest of the City. Once again it appears the South Bronx has been selected to bear an unnecessary burden on behalf of the City.

“What is most troubling about this announcement is the City’s decision making process itself in selecting the sites. First and foremost, there has been no input to date from the local communities or consideration of their needs. In the Bronx and elsewhere, the City simply selected a site and made an announcement. The ‘process’ should have started with a site search, open to public feedback. The site selected in the Bronx is one that the community has sought for years to develop- with little engagement or support from the City. Repeatedly, community members were told that the NYPD needed it as a tow lot. Suddenly, without warning or notice, the City plans to develop it into a jail. Even more troubling and concerning, Mother Hale Academy – a public school sits just two short blocks away from where the City plans to build the jail.

“It is important to note that the South Bronx is already home to a city jail- the Vernon C. Bain Correctional Center in Hunts Point. The South Bronx is already doing its fair share of housing the City’s prison population, and it is unclear whether this fact was taken into account in the planning process to date. It is also important to note that twelve years ago, the City attempted to build a jail at Oak Point in the South Bronx. Those plans were eventually abandoned in the face of universal opposition from local residents, community groups, and elected officials.

“This ‘process’ already seems to be fundamentally flawed. There should be equity and fairness in the jail placement process- and that means looking throughout our borough- not just in the South Bronx; taking into consideration the number of jails already in an area; and at the very least, taking into consideration a community’s needs and concerns in an inclusive manner. I urge the City to reconsider its decision and reopen this process in the Bronx and elsewhere if need be.”

Councilman Rafael Salamanca Jr, who’s District nearby and is now the chair of the City Council’s Land Use Committee issued a statement ad well stating the following:

“There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s time to shut down Rikers Island, and for me, it’s not only due to the critical state of the facilities there, but also because of the deep stigma that surrounds Rikers that resonates with many.

‘But as we address the important issue on how to it shut down, we also need to use the opportunity to address another stigma – one that resonates in lower-income communities, mostly of color, who for far too long have taken on more than their fair share of the types of facilities more affluent neighborhoods have refused to accept.

‘The South Bronx is a perfect example of a community that has historically taken on more than its fair share. Not only do we have a growing juvenile detention center in the middle of one of our busiest commercial hubs, but we also have the Vernon C. Bain Center, a relic from the crack epidemic of the 1980’s and 1990’s.

‘While the Vernon C. Bain Center, or ‘The Boat’, was supposed to be temporary, it has instead been anchored on the waterfront of Hunts Point for more than twenty-five years. And in that time, it has only added to a stigma that I believe surrounds the South Bronx. For residents, it’s a symbol of embarrassment. For outsiders, it symbolizes that the South Bronx is dangerous, disparate and not worthy of investment. I can’t stand for that.

‘While I understand that four of the five boroughs are finally being asked to take on their fair share, I think that the Bronx has to be given particular attention due to the historical, emotional and psychological encumbrances before us. That attention, to me, includes a real conversation about not only shutting down Rikers, but also on shuttering ‘The Boat’ once and for all.

‘As we move forward, I hope the fact that the South Bronx has been historically disenfranchised is taken into real consideration. As we work to build a more just New York, I for one will not let that fact be forgotten.”

The Mott Haven Herald reports:

“South Bronx Unite, a grass roots coalition that has opposed major industrial developments such as the new FreshDirect facility on the Port Morris waterfront, says it will organize residents to fight the jail plan.

“We’re totally against the jail being put on that site,” said South Bronx Unite spokesman Mychal Johnson, adding that, while other boroughs have received robust job creation initiatives, “we’re still the site of jails, waste transfer stations, and industrial facilities.”

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr’s statement was similar in sentiment:

“I was surprised to learn that the administration has already selected a site for a new jail in The Bronx. I hope that, going forward, this lack of outreach is not a harbinger of the amount of community input the people of my borough will have in this process. I expect that the administration will present my office with a detailed outline of their plans for a new jail, and I will examine those plans carefully as the process moves forward.

“Criminal justice reform, and the need for a fairer court system, is a defining issue of our time. I was proud to work to end ‘stop and frisk’ and to ‘raise the age’ of criminal liability, and that work informs my office’s current efforts to end cash bail and reform parole. Our jail system is a human rights violation, and efforts to limit the unconstitutional levels of our jail population are certainly welcome.

“However, any new site for a jail in this borough must be thoroughly vetted, and the people of The Bronx must have a meaningful say in the selection of any future site, be it the one that has been proposed in Mott Haven or other appropriate sites that could host a new jail. Presenting the selection of this site as a fait accompliundermines the entire process, and has the potential to derail necessary criminal justice reform,”

Council woman Diana Ayala who represents the district replacing the term-limited former Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito issued a statement which was quite contrary to the sentiments of the community and other elected officials.

In her statement she said she’d work to make sure it would be “a robust community engagement process on the ground to make sure the neighborhoods I represent and residents throughout the Bronx have an opportunity to provide input into this important proposal.”

Clearly this has been anything but that.

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Ed García Conde

Ed García Conde is a life-long Bronxite who spends his time documenting the people, places, and things that make the borough a special place in the hopes of dispelling the negative stereotypes associated with The Bronx. His writings are often cited by mainstream media and is often consulted for his expertise on the borough's rich history.