Rebecca J. Kavanagh @DrRJKavanagh @theappeal Media Relations Director, NYC Public Defender, Writer, @nyulaw, @sydneylawschool, @sydney_uni. Sydney ✈️ NYC. Views my own. Oct. 11, 2019 1 min read

No coincidence that Rikers Island is named after Richard Riker, a New York magistrate judge, who abused the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Act to send free Blacks to the South to be sold into slavery.

Abolitionists considered Riker a member of the "Kidnapping Club," along with city officials Daniel D. Nash and Tobias Boudinot, who infamously boasted that he could "arrest and send any Black to the South.'"

Under the terms of the Fugitive Slave Act, bounty hunters who caught "fugitive slaves" in the north were supposed to bring some sort of paperwork before a judge to prove a person was in fact a slave.

Riker instead took cash from the bounty hunters, did not require any paperwork, and allowed them to take free Black people to the South and sell them into slavery. Even children.

Oh and, by the way, Riker became the first District Attorney of what is now New York City.

Some people don't realize how much the history of the North is steeped in slavery, but at one point, New York City ranked second only to Charleston in the total number of slaves held by slave-holders.

People think slavery has been abolished.

But under the 13th amendment, slavery was never abolished as a punishment for those who have been convicted of a crime.

When people talk about prison slavery, that's not hyperbole. That's a fact.

Rikers Island is a jail not a prison and most of the people detained there are held pre-trial - meaning they haven't been convicted of a crime.

So NYC doesn't actually have an "out" under the 13th amendment to justify the horrific conditions at Rikers or any other city jail.

People used to talk about renaming the jail. Now it is going to be closed.

When people did talk about renaming it, I was ambivalent. For what? To hide its connection to slavery? To sugarcoat what it is? I think better to leave its name and educate people on the history.

You can follow @DrRJKavanagh.


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