Jay Z Applauds New York Mayor’s Promise to Close Rikers Island
Jay Z applauded New York mayor Bill de Blasio’s announcement Friday that the city plans on shuttering its Rikers Island prison facility.
The rapper’s recent six-part documentary Time: The Kalief Browder Story focused on a 16-year-old Bronx kid who spent over 1,000 days in Rikers – many of them in solitary confinement – while awaiting trial for allegedly stealing a backpack.
Although the case was eventually dismissed, Browder committed suicide at the age of 22, with the severe PTSD he suffered while imprisoned at Rikers cited as the reason he took his own life. Browder’s story led to an upheaval of the criminal justice system and served as a catalyst for de Blasio’s announcement Friday.
“Kalief is a prophet. His story will save lives,” Jay Z tweeted Friday alongside a Barack Obama quote. “You guys watching and your compassion made this happen. Thank you.”
At a March panel prior to the broadcast premiere of Time: The Kalief Browder Story, the rapper was optimistic that the documentary would instill some major changes.
“We put people in office; we make the laws,” Jay Z said. “These government officials? They work for us. They speak to us like we work for them, but we are the power. Three million people watched this the first week; we need it to be 20. We need everyone to be talking about this. That’s how this stops.”
When the documentary debuted at Sundance, Jay Z promised that Time “will save a lot of lives.”
On Friday, de Blasio said in a statement, “New York City will close the Rikers Island jail facility. It will take many years. It will take many tough decisions. But it will happen. The goal is to get our overall jail population down to 5,000 people. We believe that can be achieved in the next 10 years. The mass incarceration era did not begin in New York City but it’s going to end here.”
The mayor had previously been critical of the facility and its treatment of Browder, admitting in 2014, “Browder’s tragic story put a human face on Rikers Island’s culture of delay.”
John Legend, who has actively lobbied for prison sentence reform for non-violent drug offenders, also commented on Rikers’ impending closure. “In closing Rikers, New York City takes a crucial step towards ending #massincarceration. Now the hard work begins,” Legend tweeted (via Billboard).