No New Jails NYC: Ford Foundation President, Darren Walker Requests A Meeting

4 min readSep 27, 2019


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Ford Foundation President, Darren Walker has requested a meeting with No New Jails NYC after community organizers and Ford fellows publicly mobilized against Walker’s support of jail expansion, In Defense of Nuance.

In the statement, Walker states his support of the city’s jail expansion plan while also inferring that No New Jails and other activists are extremists for opposing expansion. The Ford Foundation and Walker are part of a cohort of foundations who wield wealth as power, including the New York Women’s Foundation, the Open Society Foundation, the Osborne Society, and more found on our Follow The Money behind the jails map.

Community organizations and grassroots collectives have spent decades confronting manipulation and extraction by the Ford Foundation. In NYC, groups like Take Back the Bronx and Decolonize This Place have pushed back on the foundation’s artwashing and contribution to an increasingly gentrified and policed NYC. Just recently, Decolonize This Place led a victorious fight to push Warren Kanders — a war profiteer with Palestininan blood on his hands, as well as a profiteer of state violence, amassing wealth from selling tear gas that chokes our efforts at liberation from Ferguson and Baltimore to Tijuana, Standing Rock, and beyond — off the board of the Whitney Museum and predictably Darren came running to the rescue to defend capitalism and reframe grassroots protest as a discussion about diversity. Over and over again, the Ford Foundation has suppressed popular dissent.

On Thursday, we announced an action to be held at the Ford Foundation headquarters at 320 E. 43rd to bring our message directly to the doorstep of the organization. Soon thereafter, the Ford Foundation quietly closed down their gallery and exhibition of “Utopian Imagination” for the day of our protest. We know Ford will bow to grassroots pressure and take Darren’s statement down, but before that happens we want to outline what extreme really means. It is extreme to say you want to close Rikers Island then support a jail plan that has no legal guarantee to close Rikers at all, and only commits to building more jails. It is extreme to support a jail plan that will force thousands of people from all the other jails onto Rikers Island indefinitely. It is extreme for President Darren Walker to call for “nuance” while supporting a jail plan he helped create as part of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform and is currently funding through Ford Foundation. Frankly, it is extreme to defend capitalism.

Lessons from Dr. Angela Davis

We are disgusted by the Ford Foundation’s long history of undermining liberation, but we are strengthened by Dr. Angela Davis’s unrelenting commitment to abolition for decades. These jails, the tallest in the world, will rezone and gentrify neighborhoods, giving a “gift” to real estate developers. We fight to fund NYCHA and use our resources to end homelessness, not build jails that are toxic to those held in them and their communities. We oppose jails because we know our environment will not be habitable much longer if we keep building toxic institutions.

We are in a land use battle and while we fight to build sustainable communities instead of jails, our people around the world fight for their land in Puerto Rico, Haiti, and Brazil. Finally, alongside our Indigenous allies we maintain that no one has the right to build a single jail on Lenape land, especially after the death of Layleen Polanco.

Demands to meet

As we explain in the Close Rikers, We Keep Us Safe guide, there are multiple ways to shut Rikers Island down with no new jails. We call on Ford Foundation employees to join Ford Fellows and stand up against this latest attempt to control movement and build jails. It is time to stop funding social justice and put it into practice. Join our fight. The jail building era is over. Our abolitionist framework not only calls for divesting from the carceral state but for a massive reinvestment in community needs on terms set by those at the frontlines who have been most harmed by the prison-industrial complex. 8.5 billion+ dollars is the amount slated for investment in new jails. This amount should be redirected to our communities.

That is our priority. If Darren wants to discuss why he disagrees, we will meet on the following conditions:

First, we join over 200 Ford Fellows calling for President Walker to retract his statement and to stop all funding for new jails. In addition, we will meet with representatives from the Foundation, as long as it is a public meeting before the Oct 17th jail vote to tell New Yorkers why he opposes the fight to Close Rikers with No New Jails and the decades of funding ‘black capitalism’ at the expense of our Black liberation.