The New York Daily News continues to hammer the Rikers prison scandal, putting stories on the front page day after day, calling for resignations and investigations and kinds of change at the prison.
Good for them.
But they inexplicably continue to ignore the systemic abuse, torture and murder of prisoners in the state prison system by corrections officers even as they hammer the Rikers story.
There have been 60+ allegations of prisoners being beaten, choked, abused, and threatened with waterboarding at Clinton Correction Facility in Dannemora and an allegation of a prisoner being beaten to death by corrections officers known as the "Beat Up Squad" at Fishkill Correctional Facility in Beacon.
The NY Times reported on both of these stories the past few weeks, but other New York papers, including the crusading Daily News that never met a Rikers story it didn't want to put on the front page and editorialize about, has ignored them.
Today the Albany Times Union published an editorial, asking when the Department of Justice will investigate these allegations of torture, abuse and murder in the state prison system under Cuomo:
Cruel and All Too Usual
“There is no protection from the freezing temperature … the prisoners are still standing in the courtyard, shivering with cold, tortured by hunger and fainting from exhaustion. In such conditions, the prisoner has only one hope left, to die.”
So goes a description of a roll call by photographer-author Brian Gaylor in “Ghosts of Auschwitz,” about the most infamous Nazi death camp.
“Once the frisking was done, they continued to make us stand with our hands on the fence. Those of us that didn’t have gloves were suffering, and the staff didn’t care.”
That second account is not from World War II. It’s from an modern-day inmate of a Feb. 7, 2013, incident at Bare Hill Correctional Facility in northern New York. The incident, related by reporter Alysia Santo of The Marshall Project, a journalism nonprofit that focuses on criminal justice, involved a prison yard search for weapons after an inmate’s face was slashed. The search that went on, inmates claim, for 30 minutes or more in the 5- to 10-degree cold. Inmates say they were ordered to remove their hats and gloves and hold a chain-link fence, even after the search was over, as guards waited for someone to come clean about the assault. Ten prisoners suffered frostbite.
Which brings us, once again, to the question: What is going on in New York’s prisons, and when will the U.S. Department of Justice take notice?
The question springs from Clinton Correctional Facility where, after the escape by two prisoners this summer, inmates told The New York Times that guards beat handcuffed prisoners, slammed them against walls and cell bars, and choked them or suffocated them with plastic bags over their heads.
The question lingers at Fishkill Correctional Facility in Beacon, a prison with a history of complaints of official brutality, where the Times recently reported on allegations that an inmate was beaten to death in April by what’s known at the prison as the “Beat Up Squad,” and witnesses put in solitary confinement and threatened.
The response from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration on the allegations at Clinton Correctional? They’re being looked into. At Fishkill? Looking into it; State Police will turn over their findings to the Dutchess County District Attorney in the “near future.” At Bare Hill? No comment, since it’s a matter of litigation.
When is enough enough? When does one report of abuse after another add up to a possible pattern of systematic, dehumanizing brutality?
When will the Cuomo administration concede that this demands an outside investigation, not one by the same state government that operates these prisons and stands to be on the hook for possible civil rights violations and potential damages?
And when will the Justice Department take notice? When these prisoners’ terms are done, and they return to society, to put into practice all the lessons they have learned about how civilized people behave?
Hell, when will the New York Daily News?
It seems that if prison abuse doesn't occur at Rikers Island, they're not interested in the allegations in the least.
The cynic in me wonders if they continue to do Rikers stories day after day because they get to hammer de Blasio but they ignore the state prison abuse allegations because that would reflect badly on Governor Cuomo and they wouldn't want to hurt his feelings (or his political standing.)
The same goes for the politicians in this state, all of whom continue to ignore the state abuse stories even as some talk about criminal justice issues.
Some of these politicians have been hailing Cuomo as a criminal justice reformer - take Hakeem Jeffries, for example, who gave Cuomo an award from the Urban League for being swellest politician on criminal justice reform issues even as allegations of systemic abuse, torture and murder of prisoners by New York correctional officers surface in the NY Times.
The newspapers and many in the political establishment have it out for de Blasio these days, the Rikers story being just the latest example of where they take the rhetorical bludgeon out and bash him over the head with it.
I think the Daily News is justified to do so with the Rikers mess.
Yet I cannot fathom why the Daily News and other newspapers (outside of the Times and Times Union) or politicians like Hakeem Jeffries stay silent on the state prison abuse allegations even as they speak out on the Rikers mess other than they have a political agenda to protect Andrew Cuomo and destroy Bill de Blasio.