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Activists take “Freedom Buses” to Rikers Island rally against notorious jail

A view from inside one of the “Freedom Buses” of a police van that parked on the street so traffic could not go through when the rally to close Rikers began. February 28, 2022. Photo by Nathan Morris

On the last day of Black History Month, a large group of activists, families of the formerly incarcerated, and lawyers with the Legal Aid Society rode on three “Freedom Buses” from Barclays Center in Brooklyn to the foot of the bridge to Rikers Island, which they called “The Bridge of Pain.”

This was a way for them to honor the Freedom Riders, who were young Black and white civil rights activists that rode buses to protest racial segregation laws within public transportation in 1961. This time, demonstrators got off the charter buses and held several signs in support of decarceration while chanting “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Rikers Island Has Got to Go.” The demonstrators were protesting to close Rikers Island, the notorious jail that is continuing to claim Black lives due to its extremely poor conditions.

“Since it’s Black History Month, specifically the last day, we really wanted to honor the memory of the Freedom Riders that rode the buses to fight to end racial segregation and injustices,” said Darren Mack, who is an activist and organizer with Freedom Agenda. “We wanted to try to do the same thing today with what has been going on at Rikers.”

Earlier that morning, it was announced that yet another person died at Rikers, making him the first death of 2022. Tarz Youngblood was found unresponsive in his cell, where he later died at the hospital. The cause of death is being investigated, but protesters today continue to wonder how many more lives this jail will take.

A demonstrator stands next to one of the “Freedom Buses” he rode to the foot of the bridge to Rikers Island where the rally to close the jail took place. His sign reads “Free Our People.” February 28, 2022. Photo by Nathan Morris

A woman gets off the “Freedom Bus” with her sign that reads “Rikers is a Death Sentence.” The buses parked at the foot of the bridge to Rikers Island, where the rally to close the jail took place. February 28, 2022. Photo by Nathan Morris

Two police officers stand by and watch the large crowd of demonstrators at the Freedom Bus to Rikers Island rally. February 28, 2022. Photo by Nathan Morris

Lezandre Khadu, mother of Stephan Khadu, a 24 year old man that died at Rikers in September 2021, pleads for the closure of the jail at the Freedom Bus to Rikers Island rally. February 28, 2022. Photo by Nathan Morris

A police station on Hazen Street sits behind demonstrators of the Freedom Bus to Rikers Island rally. February 28, 2022. Photo by Nathan Morris

A group of demonstrators called the “Shut It Down! Squad.” They also rode the Freedom Bus to the rally to close Rikers Island. February 28, 2022. Photo by Nathan Morris

A corrections bus passes by as it leaves Rikers Island. Demonstrators at the rally to close the jail shouted that it would soon be passing by again, this time bringing more people in. February 28, 2022. Photo by Nathan Morris