Four Placards From the Protests Against Jail Expansion in Chinatown, NYC


In the fall of 1982, New York City was under court order to close the Men’s House of Detention on Riker’s Island, one of several jails on Riker’s. At the same time, the city government sought to c lose the Spofford Juvenile Detention Center in the Bronx. In order to house all these new prisoners, the administration of Mayor Ed Koch proposed a new jail in downtown Manhattan, next to the older “Tombs.” Though the New York Times Editorial Board and other New York liberals supported the plan, the community came out strongly against the proposed expansion.



Citizens’ Coalition for Lower Manhattan formed to organize against the new jail, planning demonstrations, producing bilingual protest signs like those in the collection, and writing to the New York Times editors to make sure their voices were heard. These signs were even captured in a photograph published in the New York Times about the mobilization.



As the city debated the expansion, Mayor Koch responded to Chinatown protestors with his infamous retort, “you don’t vote, you don’t count”, a moment often cited as impetus for the beginning of more Chinese-American representation in NYC politics, including the creation of the Chinese American Voters Alliance and the eventual candidateship of John Liu for mayor.

The nine-story North Tower was finally built, but not before 12,000 people took to the streets in protest, one of the largest demonstrations in the history of Lower Manhattan.

Exceedingly rare artifacts for a pivotal and watershed moment in Asian-American political participation in New York, now in the news again with the current protests against further jail expansion downtown.

[Chinatown] Citizens’ Coalition for Lower Manhattan. Four Sandwich Board Placards.

NY: [1982]. Four placards, each 17 1/2 x 22 1/2″, each printed in black on various colors of paper card stock, each with a cord handle attached to holes punched at the upper margin. 

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