Anger Boils Over at Town Hall on Chinatown Jail Plan

Many who attended the town hall held signs of opposition to the proposed jail, which would straddle the Civic Center and Chinatown. (Photo by Carl Glassman via Tribeca Trib)

Chinatown residents continued voicing their fury at a city proposal to build a new jail near the neighborhood as part of the mayor’s plan to replace Rikers Island with a detention facility in all boroughs except Staten Island. About a month ago, Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou held an “emergency meeting” in response to the city’s announcement on the 80 Centre St. jail proposal during which community leaders and members criticized the city for planning a new jail without reaching out to the community.

On Aug. 12, a town hall meeting organized by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council member Margaret Chin “descended into a shout fest,” reports Tribeca Trib’s Carl Glassman, as residents voiced their ire at city officials. They filled the auditorium of P.S. 124 holding signs with messages such as “Chinatown is Overjailed” and “Don’t let Chinatown become Prisontown,” and chanting “No jail! No jail!”

Brewer and Chin, “who are crucial to the plan’s approval,” did not take a position on the proposed selection of 80 Centre St. for the jail. While they stressed that the community did indeed have a right to give their input, Brewer pleaded with the audience to listen to the officials while Chin emphasized, “The process is just beginning,” that it is not a done deal.

Residents gave their reasons for opposing the jail.

Given their turn, opponents formed a long line to speak. “It will destroy the Chinatown economy,” said one. Traffic, air quality from the construction and crime were also voiced as concerns.

“Why can’t a 40-story courthouse and correctional facility be put [on Rikers Island]? said another speaker.

Several people said they suspect a plot to turn a jail-free Rikers Island into a real estate bonanza. “What developer is being given promises?” said Aura Rosenberg of Chatham Towers. “It’s right near LaGuardia Airport.” (Kaplan has said there are no plans for the island once the jail is closed.)

Zoning would allow 80 Centre Street, a sprawling building that straddles the Civic Center and Chinatown, to rise as high as 432 feet—more than 40 stories—and many worry about the shadow it would cast across Baxter Street on Columbus Park. “The trees will suffer, the plants will die and the community will die with them,” said Joe Mirabella, a Chatham Towers board member.

Another audience member accused de Blasio of being “racist against Chinese,” comparing the jail proposal to another recent plan that infuriated members of the Chinese community. Go to Tribeca Trib to find out what that was, and to hear more from residents and the city officials present at the meeting.

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