Shaun King: Nobody belongs at Rikers – not even Harvey Weinstein

I loathe Harvey Weinstein. And not just in some generic way – he was violent and abusive to people I’ve come to know. He literally encouraged Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign to target and harass my dear friend, the late Erica Garner, as she became an effective campaigner for Bernie Sanders. I saw his emails to the campaign and it terrified Erica. And, as of yesterday, Harvey Weinstein is now a convicted sex offender.

I am nothing but glad that he is being held accountable for his abuses. Period. But soon after the world realized he was being sent to Rikers, as all convicted men in New York City are, the conversation went somewhere that I just cannot support. I understand it. Revenge is primal.

Harvey Weinstein has used his white privilege, wealth, and power to assault women and ruin their lives for decades. And he was able to do it over and over and over again because powerful people had no intention of ever holding him accountable. And so when the news got out that Harvey Weinstein was on his way to Rikers, I saw people begin saying all over social media things that I refuse to say. And I’ll explain why in a second.

People began saying they hoped Harvey Weinstein would be put in solitary. They hoped he’d be beat down. They hoped the guards would turn the other way. They hoped he’d be raped and get a taste of his own medicine.

For a moment, as the online mob grew, the word “Rikers” was literally the top trending topic in the world. And it was mainly just people celebrating that somebody like Weinstein was finally going to experience the hell that Black and Brown New Yorkers have experienced since before I was born.

And again, I get it. The man did very bad things, but let me try to explain why I can’t join in.

Last year, after generations of chewing people up and spitting them out, the city of New York voted to officially close down Rikers Island Correctional Facility. It’s going to take years to fully shut it down, but it’s a hell hole. Year in and year out, tens of thousands of New Yorkers are taken there, but nobody emerges the same.

And it’s literally a 1-in-a-million chance that somebody like Harvey Weinstein ever has to suffer there. The people that get beaten and battered and raped and stabbed and slashed aren’t rich white executives. In fact, before Harvey Weinstein could even get to Rikers they took him to the hospital instead. So as I write this, he’s not even there.

But I can tell you who is – thousands of poor Black & Brown young people, people suffering through mental illness and drug addiction, but are getting the most brutal form of incarceration instead of treatment.

So I can’t cheer Weinstein going to Rikers. Because I know it’s almost never him, or men like him, and the systems and structures that people want to chew him up, will rarely do that. Instead, it will be happening to the most marginalized men among us.

And let me close with this thought. It’s why I don’t cheer on white supremacists getting the death penalty. Listen, something awful in me sometimes wants those men to die. I admit it. I don’t like feeling that way, but I don’t have a soft spot in my heart for Dylann Roof.

But again, what I know is that it’s not normally white supremacists that are being executed. Instead, Black men, poor Black men to be more specific, are the most likely to be executed. So when I cheer on the execution for a man that’s the exception, and not the rule, I am basically cheering it on for everybody else as well.

Part of being a modern day abolitionist is having actual principles that are centered on the fact that the whole damn system of mass incarceration needs to be torn down. It still does.