“This will only encourage inmates to continue to attack Correction Officers at a time when we need more protection.”
Colin Kaepernick visited Rikers Island on Dec. 12, a surprise visit organized by 100 Suits for 100 Men, a nonprofit that provides business attire and other resources to individuals trying to find employment. Kaepernick, who recently was named Sportsperson of the Year by Sports Illustrated, had previously donated $33,000 to 100 Suits as part of the $1,000,000 he’s pledged to various activist and social justice organizations.
In a video posted to social media, 100 Suits’ founder, Kevin Livingston, discussed the impact that Kaepernick had on the men he met with:
In a separate video, Livingston explained that a portion of Kaepernick’s donation had helped provide holiday meals for men being held at Rikers.
Despite being invited by the Department of Corrections to “share a message of hope and inspiration,” a spokesperson said, Kaepernick’s visit provoked a backlash — if a wildly disingenuous one.
“This will only encourage inmates to continue to attack Correction Officers at a time when we need more protection,” the president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, Elias Husamudeen, said, per the New York Daily News. Husamudeen also shunted additional blame on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, calling Kaepernick’s appearance part of his “political con-game,” as if the mayor hasn’t been targeted by police unions since taking office. “This is yet another brazen display of the hypocrisy of this mayor who pretends to support us in public, yet does everything possible to jeopardize our security in private,” said Husamudeen.
What, exactly, did Kaepernick do or say that would potentially cause harm or inspire hostility? Husamudeen doesn’t say, but it seems giving them clothing that could help them when facing a jury played a role.
“Husamudeen was also upset inmates were provided with suits to wear for the meeting. Kaepernick’s meeting was in conjunction with the organization ‘100 Suits for 100 men,’ a program for young adult inmates who are mentored in financial literacy, become members of a book club and listen to guest speakers.
‘We’re living in a world of make believe,’ Husamudeen said. ‘Inmates don’t wear suits in jail. Give suits to the men in the streets looking for work. Help them before they come to jail.’”
Kaepernick has been working with kids as part of his ongoing “Know Your Rights” camps, offering seminars and practical training in subjects that range from legal issues, education, job preparation, and nutrition. The former quarterback has also given suits to “men in the streets looking for work,” as previously mentioned. Whether Husamudeen was unaware of Kaepernick’s efforts or simply chose to grandstand is irrelevant.
What should be of greater concern, though is this: In April, the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, a group comprised of New York City officials, ex-judges, academics, and others, issued a report that recommended Rikers Island be closed for good, largely due to their finding that the guards have been using excessive force.
Via the dearly departed and invaluable New York site, Gothamist:
“According to the report, inmates are regularly subjected to ‘head strikes, wall slams and violent takedowns often involving neck/chokeholds,’ leading to injuries that are ‘followed by delays in providing needed medical attention.’
The report also found that guards will regularly strike inmates who are restrained in handcuffs and that there is a tendency to use pepper-spray, often in large doses and at close range, as a punishment for minor altercations. And violent incidents at the controversial facility appear to be increasing — in December of 2016, there were 3.93 uses of force for every 100 inmates, compared to 3.73 in November of 2015.”
As Mother Jones reported in 2013, Rikers ranks as one of America’s worst prisons, prone to administering violent reprisals, including allegations of rape, for the slightest transgressions. Perhaps someone could inform the Correction Officers Benevolent Association that inmates at Rikers have actual reasons to fear and resent their jailers, and the presence of a single out-of-work blacklisted NFL quarterback has absolutely nothing to do with it. Because lashing out at Kaepernick could appear to be a way to deflect from Rikers’ deep-seated institutional problems and state-sanctioned violence.