NEW YORK CITY — A group of protesters pushing to close Rikers Island chanted "exercise leadership" and waved signs outside Mayor Bill de Blasio's Park Slope gym Friday — with one of the demonstrators following the mayor inside and confronting him during his stretching routine.
Darren Mack, a member of the #CLOSErikers campaign who spent 20 years behind bars after being arrested at the age of 17, approached de Blasio while he was on all fours on a blue mat inside the gym and tried to hand him an annotated copy of a report released last month by Judge Jonathan Lippman, which featured several recommendations that were not included in the mayor's “Roadmap to Closing Rikers Island” released last week, according to a video released by the protesters.
But Mack got waved off by the mayor, who was decked out in cargo shirts and a T-shirt, as he stretched his lower back.
"We'll talk later," de Blasio said, before a mayoral security officer escorted Mack out of the gym, according to the video.
“The voices of people directly impacted by Rikers and our allies brought us to this point and it must be those same voices at the table discussing any plan to reach the finish line,” said Mack, a former Rikers inmate. “We want transparency. We want inclusion. Anything less than that is not progressive. A 10-year plan is not progressive. This is a fundamental issue of justice here, and it would be fundamentally wrong to delay it that long.”
De Blasio said Friday at an unrelated press conference that he didn't appreciate his private time at the gym being violated.
"I've been going there now for three and a half years as mayor. It’s the first time that particular type of thing happened."
"You can’t disrupt other people in the middle of their private time. That’s just obvious," de Blasio added, telling NY1's political reporter, Grace Rauh, "I don’t know if you go to the gym. I hope you do."
He added that he didn't know if Mack was a YMCA member, but if he was, "then they violated the rules of the Y[MCA] and aren’t allowed to be there anymore."
A spokeswoman for the mayor's office said the administration agrees that the jail "should be closed as soon as possible."
"Before we close Rikers, we need to bring down the population," spokeswoman Natalie Grybauskas said. "The Lippman Commission agrees that a 10-year timeline is realistic for getting off the island. Collaboration with all stakeholders — including the state and the courts — will be crucial to achieving this timeline.
The protest came a week after de Blasio called on City Council members to step up and volunteer to find space in their neighborhoods to house inmates in order to take the pressure off of Rikers, saying the project would not succeed without their help.
This week, Councilman Steven Levin suggested expanding the Brooklyn House of Detention in his district to help share the burden, admitting it might not be popular with his constituents.