On December 21, 2013, Janine Howard, a 40-year-old Rikers corrections officer, wasreportedly shot in the face by her husband, Brian Martin, another corrections officer, after a domestic dispute in their home on Long Island. Howard suffered permanent nerve damage and critical injuries that necessitated the complete reconstruction of her jaw and her eye socket, the placement of plates in and around her mouth. Martin, who has a history of violence, was immediately arrested, and pled not guilty to charges of attempted murder last January.
But, at a Downtown Manhattan law firm on Friday, the story was what happened afterward.
Sitting with a few reporters, myself included, Corrections Officer Benevolent Association President Norman Seabrook, Mercedes Maldonado, Howard’s lawyer, and Howard passed around copies of a petition that was filed against the Department of Corrections and Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte on Tuesday, alleging that the agency in charge of Rikers unlawfully terminated Howard once she returned to her job this past December, without any reason given whatsoever.
A recent series of lawsuits over gun violence in a Nevada state prison just outside Las Vegas have turned the spotlight on the sheer number of triggers being pulled at the facility. Somehow, guns have been fired more than 200 times over a recent five-year period, according to records uncovered by Nevada State Senator Richard S. “Tick” Segerblom.
High Desert State Prison made the news earlier this month when a lawsuit was filed in state court on April 7. The suit, filed by the family of slain inmate Carlos Manuel Perez Jr., accused guards at the facility of creating a “gladiator-like” combat situation in which two cuffed prisoners—Perez and Andre Jay Arevalo—were allowed to fight before a guard opened fire on the men with a shotgun, killing Perez and wounding Arevalo.
More troubling than the isolated incident is the fact that a lot of shootings happen at High Desert, which is the largest facility in the state system. According to numbers given by Segerblom to the AP, there were 215 shots fired at the prison from 2006 to 2011—compared with only 124 in the state’s 21 other prisons over the same period.
“It shows how viable our culture is,” said Northern California rapper Iamsu.
Even Fab 5 Freddy, one of hip-hop’s founding fathers, is down with it. “There’s going to be things that we disagree with, but it’s just good that they made an effort to put our culture on a world stage,” wrote the legend to me in an email. “Empire affirms the power of this urban culture that grew out of the hood and extreme poverty here in New York.”
With Empire, hip-hop’s past and present, from Sugar Hill Gang to Frank Ocean, have made it to the mainstream not just through abstract stories, but with direct references. “They cleverly alluded to scenarios that have taken place in real life,” Fab 5 Freddy wrote. Even if “at times it’s more like where the business was in the late ’90s and early 2000s, when record sales still dominated.”
In August, the US Attorney’s office described what it saw on Rikers Island as a ” deep-seated culture of violence” against teenagers. It was a portrait of doom at New York’s most notorious detention complex that ultimately led to a federal lawsuit against New York City and plans to end solitary confinement (starting next year) for teenagers held there under the age of 21.