Protesters call for release of detainees at Sunset Park federal prison

Activists gathered outside the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal jail in Sunset Park to demand detainees be let go, citing fears of people in danger of contracting COVID-19.
Photo by Paul Frangipane

Citing unsafe conditions and an inability to social distance during the coronavirus pandemic, dozens of protesters called for the governor to release detainees at Sunset Park’s Metropolitan Detention Center on Friday.

“Cuomo has the power right now to free ICE detainees, as well as incarcerated people,” said Teresa Shen, an organizer with the immigrant advocacy group Cosecha. “But he is not doing anything.” 

Chants of “Free them all” were met with loud, powerful bangs on the windows of the detention center from inmates — who, organizers noted, are mostly immigrants awaiting federal court trials to determine their freedom.

A woman makes noise with a pan and metal spoon to rally detainees of the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park. Photo by Paul Frangipane

The federal jail on 29th Street and Second Avenue claims the second-highest number of staffers infected with COVID-19 — the highly contagious respiratory illness brought on by the novel coronavirus — and organizers say Cuomo is putting lives at risk by continuing to detain people at MDC.

“He is just letting people die of COVID,” Shen said.

Literature handed out at the protest cited a study by former chief medical examiner for the city jails, Homer Venters, who The Intercept first reported found the prison to be ill-equipped to prevent the spread of the virus. The examiner visited the jail on April 23 as part of a lawsuit over the center’s poor conditions, according to the Gothamist

Activists covered their cars with signs to show to detainees inside the Metropolitan Detention Center.

Friday’s protest in Sunset Park was the last in a series of ongoing protests titled “#FreeThemAll Fridays,” organized by a coalition of advocacy groups pushing Cuomo on a series of demands — which also include establishing an emergency relief fund for undocumented immigrants, canceling rent and developing protections for all workers.

“Every week, we have been doing actions like this all over, starting at Cuomo’s office,” Shen said. “We have been going to different locations supporting different causes.”