After spending a year in prison, 17 year-old Pedro Hernandez of the Bronx, has been set free. Hernandez was arrested for the shooting of another teenager back in 2015. When he went to trial, instead of taking a plea bargain that would have set him free and allowed him to take advantage of a college scholarship, he maintained his innocence. His bail was set to $250,000 and his trial date pushed back beyond the date he needed to be a free man in order to accept the scholarship, in essence, losing it. Although things looked bleak for him, Hernandez, found a way to become a leader while incarcerated at Rikers Island, mentoring others and completing his studies.
Four New York City Rikers Island correction officers, including a captain, have been suspended for knowingly failing to intervene in a teen detainee’s suicide attempt for seven minutes. The night before Thanksgiving, Nicholas Feliciano, 18, was jumped by seven other inmates and left with a gash on his face. Instead of taking him to the infirmary, guards placed him in a holding cell where he hung himself from a pipe with his shirt. Whistleblowers from the prison have told The New York Times that one guard actually opened Feliciano’s cell door to find him hanging from the pipe, closed the door, and walked away. A witness told The New York Times that, after Feliciano stepped off the toilet partition, he changed his mind and tried to find the partition to free himself from the makeshift noose. Feliciano hung for seven minutes without any intervention, and it was more than a half-hour before paramedics were able to whisk him away from the prison complex.
Feliciano was taken to Elmhurst Hospital, where he was put into an induced coma on Tuesday. He has yet to show signs of brain activity.
At first, the Department of Corrections wouldn’t allow Feliciano’s family to visit him in the hospital.
The Legal Aid Society, which has taken up Feliciano’s case, penned a letter to the DOC to request charges against the teen be dropped. “This is unacceptable. He poses no security risk and needs his family at his bedside at this critical time,” the letter reads. According to Legal Aid Society, the family had to wait to be cleared by DOC to visit him, were not allowed to bring anything inside his hospital room, or even photograph him.
In response, the New York State Department of Correction and Community Supervision canceled Feliciano’s parole warrant.
That meant that Feliciano was no longer in the custody of the state, and his family was free to visit him at their leisure. “We are relieved that the New York State Department of Correction and Community Supervision canceled the parole warrant pending against Nicholas Feliciano, our client who is still battling for his life at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens,” reads a statement from The Legal Aid Society. The organization maintains that the act is too little too late for the much more serious “concerns over the New York City Department of Correction’s failure to properly screen and address Mr. Feliciano’s mental health issues, which were known to the City at the time of his remand,” the statement continues.
Feliciano was charged with robbery, but because of his age, the court gave him a short sentence and kept his criminal record sealed. Within weeks of his release, Feliciano had violated his parole by testing positive for drugs, skipping mandated programs, attempting to purchase a gun, and traveling past state lines to visit a girlfriend. When Feliciano arrived at his parole meeting, he was taken into custody and scheduled to be arraigned more than a month later. The Legal Aid Society of New York is using Feliciano as a tragic example for “the need for Albany to enact comprehensive parole reform legislation immediately next session to address cases like Nicholas’, where the alleged violation of parole does not rise to the level of a new criminal charge.”
Feliciano has a history of mental illness, including suicide attempts, says the Legal Aid Society.
According to The New York Times’s report, Feliciano was taken out of the general population holding area after getting into a fight in order to get him medical attention. He waited for six hours in a holding cell without medical attention. An hour before he attempted suicide, he was taken out of a two-person cell and placed in a cell by himself. An hour and a half later, he was hanging off a pipe while correction officers stood by. An off-duty captain saw closed-circuit surveillance footage of Feliciano hanging and rushed to take him down. According to The New York Times, an official said Feliciano didn’t have a pulse for two minutes.
In response, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted, “The people in our jails are human beings. Their well-being is our responsibility. These allegations are deeply troubling. The 3 officers and their supervisor have been suspended and an investigation is underway. We’re taking immediate action.” The New York City Council voted October 17 to close Rikers prison complex and the chapter on its disturbing human rights violations.
As former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg weighs a run of a possible 2020 Democratic presidential campaign, he has some regrets about some of his previous policies. In speaking to potential voters at the Christian Cultural Center, a Black church in Brooklyn, Bloomberg showed remorse for his handling of the controversial stop-and-frisk policy. During his 12-year tenure as mayor and well after he left office, Bloomberg defended the policing strategy which allowed city officers to stop and search anyone they suspected of committing a crime.
“I was determined to improve police-community relations while at the same time reducing crime even further,” Bloomberg said at the church. “Our focus was on saving lives. But the fact is: Far too many innocent people were being stopped.”
Statistics show that the policy didn’t work as it should have and instead targeted people of color in the community, most notably Black and Latino residents.
The stop-and-frisk policy was in place long before Bloomberg took office in 2002 and has long been viewed as a policy that directly targeted Black and Latino communities. The strategy allowed city police to detain an individual and subject them to unnecessary searches sometimes to look for possible weapons, drugs or other paraphernalia. An officer would have to have a reasonable belief that the person is, has been, or is about to be involved in a crime. The purpose of the policy was to deter violent crime in the city but, in return, it destroyed police-community relations for years in New York.
“The temperature in the city at the time was that the police were at war with Black and brown people on the streets,” Jenn Rolnick-Borchetta, the director of impact litigation at the Bronx Defenders, told the New York Times. “And that is how people experienced it.”
Statistics show that Black and Latino people were nine times as likely as white people to be stopped by police officers when it came to the policy. They were no more likely to be arrested, the New York Times reported back in May 2010.
During Bloomberg’s tenure as New York City mayor, there was a huge spike in the overall use of the stop-and-frisk policy. According to the New York Times, the number of stops reached a peak of 685,724 in 2011 and then fell to 191,851 in 2013. In Bloomberg’s 12 year tenure as mayor, there were 5,081,689 stops by police recorded.
Political pundits and criminal justice reform advocates are fiercely criticizing Bloomberg’s sudden backtracking on the controversial policy.
There has been a growing wave of criticism for Bloomberg’s sudden policy walk back that is coming just as he is set to announce his 20202 campaign run. Many are criticizing Bloomberg as changing his tune in an attempt to appeal to the voters once terrorized by a policy he spent over a decade defending. One of the most high profile critics has been current New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who dropped out of the 2020 presidential race earlier this year.
“This is LONG overdue and the timing is transparent and cynical,” Mayor de Blasio tweeted.“With all due respect to my predecessor, we’ve spent six years undoing the damage he created with this bankrupt policy. We ended stop and frisk AND drove down crime. Actions speak louder than words.”
Another critic was social justice advocate Shawn King who decried Bloomberg’s apology. He voiced what some see as a political walk back in midst of a potential run at president.
“BULLSHIT. After years of running the Apartheid-like policy of stopping and frisking millions of people of color throughout New York City, and then defending it every day in office, then every day he was out of office up until this week, @MikeBloomberg,” King tweeted.
Many view his apology as a way to try to gain Black and Latino voters. More importantly, it is seen as an attempt to regain years of lost trust between him and the community.
“The fact is, far too many innocent people were being stopped while we tried to do that. The overwhelming majority of them were black and Latino,” Bloomberg told church attendees on Sunday. “That may have included, I’m sorry to say, some of you here today. Perhaps yourself or your children, or your grandchildren, or your neighbors, or your relatives.”
There is one notable person that has voiced his approval in Bloomberg’s apology, Rev. Al Sharpton, who said the former mayor reached out to him. He says that history will be the judge of the policy-making that Bloomberg had in New York City.
“Whatever his motive is, I’m glad that he’s taking this stand,” Sharpton told the Daily News. “We will have to wait and see whether it was politically motivated but Mr. Bloomberg should be judged by the same standards we judged Joe Biden, the author of the 1994 Crime Bill that led to disproportionate numbers of Black and brown men going to jail for years, as well as Senator Bernie Sanders, who voted for it.”