Advocates Hold Vigil for Rikers Inmate Who Died in Prison
NEW YORK—About a dozen advocates for the fair treatment of the incarcerated gathered on Thursday, demanding that prosecutions be made for the death of Bradley Ballard, a 39 year-old mentally ill inmate at Rikers Island who died in September 2013 after spending seven days in solitary confinement, deprived of his medication.
“My brother is locked in a cell,” the group sang softly in front of the Bronx district attorney, Robert Johnson’s office. “As long as these prisons exist, we’ve got to be here to resist.”
Diagnosed as a schizophrenic, Ballard was discovered in his cell naked and unresponsive, covered in feces, and his genitals severely infected, according to an Associated Press report. During the seven-day period, prison guards peered through his cell window to check on him occasionally, but they did not enter the cell until it was too late. In June, the medical examiner’s office ruled his death a homicide.
The group of advocates, known as the New York City Jails Action Coalition, includes over 30 legal, advocacy, and faith organizations; formerly and currently incarcerated people; and their relatives.
About a dozen of them handed out fliers and urged passersby to sign a petition calling on the Bronx district attorney to prosecute Rikers Island employees who are responsible for Ballard’s death.
Five Mualimm-ak, program director of the Incarcerated Nation Campaign, said the coalition formed shortly after Ballard’s death to seek justice for the inmate, and has been appealing to authorities for the past year. Vigils were organized throughout the city for Ballard; Thursday’s was the second one held in front of the Bronx DA Robert Johnson’s office.
Mualimm-ak said they plan to protest here every month until the office takes real action. “We want to put pressure on the Bronx DA to do his job and prosecute the people responsible,” he said.
This past weekend, the coalition got its first response from Johnson’s office. In Johnson’s letter, dated June 27, he said his office was still investigating the case, “having only recently received the medical examiner’s report.” Johnson declined a request from the coalition to meet with him.
On Thursday, advocates attempted to present the over 1,000 petition signatures to Johnson’s office, but the security desk denied them access into the building and the DA did not send anyone to receive them. When they asked if they could leave the petition at the front desk, security guards told them it would get thrown out, according to Mualimm-ak.
The advocates left the building having not delivered the petitions.
UPDATE: An earlier version of this article had less detail about the attempted delivery of petitions to the DA’s office by the advocates.