Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined other Queens Democrats Thursday in calling for installing solar panels on Rikers Island as part of an urban renewal plan that would find alternative uses for 413 acres after the infamous prison there is closed in 2026.
"We can make sure this land is never used for any other atrocity again."
—NYC council member Costa Constantinides
Due in part to Ocasio-Cortez's popularity, the scheduled forum at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights saw a line to get into the event that stretched around the block, resulting in a number of people being shut out of the event.
The Democratic congresswoman went outside to talk to some of those turned away, holding what she described as an "impromptu session on the street" to discuss next steps for the island.
"If you put just 25 percent of Rikers Island and cover it in solar panels, we can close every toxic power plant in New York City that was built in the last two decades," said Ocasio-Cortez.
I’m thrilled so many community members came to our #RenewableRikers town hall, but sadly some folks couldn’t make it in.— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) June 7, 2019
So we held an impromptu session on the street.
NY14 is fired up + ready to #CloseRikers, and take it back for the public good pic.twitter.com/2cKQ3qnzHL
In April, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to shut down Rikers in 2026, a year earlier than previously projected. The Queens community is debating the right next steps for the land, and Thursday's event was part of that ongoing discussion.
While Ocasio-Cortez was the main draw at the center, she wasn't the only prominent Democrat at the event. New York City council member Costa Constantinides, whose Climate Mobilization Act, described as the "largest single carbon reduction effort that any city, anywhere, has ever put forward," passed in April, was on hand as well to promote converting at least part of the island to renewable energy production.
In comments two weeks before the event, Constantinides described closing Rikers as a "moral imperative" for communities that see loved ones languish in the facility. Constantinides also said that shutting the prison down "presents a unique opportunity to also get power plants out of those same communities, correcting another historic injustice."
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On Thursday, Constantinides told the crowd that reclaiming Rikers was a priority—and that the community should be looking to the future for the use of the island.
"We can make sure this land is never used for any other atrocity again," said Constantides.
"It's time for us to think how we can get climate justice for the same communities that were torn apart by the criminal justice system, emblematic in Rikers Island," Constantinides added.
Ocasio-Cortez, during her meeting with constituents outside of the event, sounded the same themes of community and tied the climate to issues of privilege and social justice.
"Our right to clean air and access to clean water always falls along lines of income, along lines of privilege," said the congresswoman. "We need to make sure that no child is subjected to asthma because of the family they were born in and the zip code they were born in, and that no person should get lead in their water because they couldn't afford to live in a high-rise apartment."
"These are not luxuries," Ocasio-Cortez added, "these are rights."
Watch the full town hall: