It’s seems like it is becoming a trend these days. Find a mentally ill homeless person, lock them up and let them die. It’s difficult to see the media without seeing a story talking about how the cops/jail/law enforcement costing someone their life. Being homeless shouldn’t be a crime for which capital punishment is the penalty.
Jerome Murdough, 56, and former Marine, was cold last month. Unwilling or unable to go into a shelter in NYC, he found a stairwell in a brick building strewn with garbage, human waste and graffiti. Doing the only practical thing he could on a frigid night in New York City, he found an air vent and tried to get some sleep. That’s when the city’s finest stepped in. Finding him asleep on the vent in the stairwell deep inside a public housing project complex, they arrested him for trespassing and took him to jail. The magistrate ordered him held on $2500 bail and, being homeless, he couldn’t pay it. So into the cell he went.
The jail was having their own problems with the environment that night. It seems the furnace was stuck on high and they couldn’t or wouldn’t find anyone from maintenance to come in on a frigid night in February to turn the heat down.
Murdough was alone in his 8 x 10 foot cell when he was cooked to death. The system failed him. In many ways, the system sentenced him to die because he was homeless.
The bureaucracy has more breakdowns than just furnace issues. First, the cops should’ve gotten him some help. It was determined later that Murdough had many previous meetings with the police, so they knew his history. He had been ticketed for trespassing before. The judge could’ve recognized that a homeless man who is sleeping on a vent probably doesn’t have any money, so the $2,500 bail was easily out of reach for the homeless veteran.
Riker’s Island, the giant, antiquated jail that serves New York City was an oven that night and no one thought to check in on the homeless, mentally ill man.
And he cooked to death in his cell.
Rikers Island is a 413 acre piece of dirt in the middle of the East River between Queens and the Bronx. The world’s largest penal colony with over 12,000 prisoners, Rikers makes the next largest, which is in Europe, Fleury-Merogis Prison, sitting on 180 acres and home to 3,800 prisoners, look small. People pass through Rikers every day. Some are going to see the judge for their court date, some are waiting transfer to state prisons where they will complete their sentences and a small portion do their time, a year or less, on Rikers.
Others who stay on Rikers are people who cannot afford bail set by the judge or they are too mentally ill to be sent to one of the other city jails. Rikers is a place where hope goes to die and futures are forgotten. Overcrowded and barren of any humanity, Rikers Island has long been the victim of a failed get-tough-on-crime attitude that says “…lock ‘em up and forget about ‘em.” A failed penal colony in the midst of a failed justice system, Rikers has been the target of activists, protests, documentaries, and progressive legislators. Nevertheless Rikers still stands, inmates are still put into solitary cells and forgotten.
Some of them are cooked to death just for being homeless.
Editorial By Jerry Nelson