John Legend’s reenactment of the “Spider-Man” smooch during Sunday’s “Lip Sync Battle” made it clear the singer knows how to have a good time, but when it comes to matters of mass incarceration, he ain’t fooling around.
On Monday, he sat down with #CLOSErikers campaign founder Glenn Martin and fellow prison reform crusader Darren Mack ― both of whom have been previously incarcerated at Rikers Island ― along with New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito for a panel at The New School in Manhattan. The event, titled “Power of the People,” was hosted by the #CLOSErikers and #FREEAMERICA campaigns, and stressed the urgency of the facility’s closure.
After the panel, Legend spoke with HuffPost about why he chose to get involved in the fight to close the complex as well as his reaction to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s March 31 announcement of his 10-year plan to shut Rikers down.
He said the “Power of the People” agenda was slightly different prior to the mayor’s commitment to close the island.
“[After the announcement] I got a news flash from my team saying: ‘Change of plans. We don’t have to push him in this direction exactly. But we still have a lot of work to do,’” he told HuffPost. “I’m glad we’re here to celebrate it and also glad we’re here to reconvene so we [can] talk about what we need to do next.”
Legend, who has been actively engaged with the two campaigns that hosted the event, said he became involved with #CLOSErikers in particular because of the uniquely devastating nature of the jail.
“Rikers [is] a particularly awful place, particularly inhumane, particularly destructive,” he said. “And for us to close that place is going to mean lives will be changed, lives will be saved and communities will be improved because of it.”
He added that an important precedent could also be set given the facility’s location in New York City.
“NYC is the largest city in this country and a lot of the change that’s going to happen in criminal justice reform is going to happen on a city and state level,” he said. “I think New York is an important testing ground for the kinds of things we want to change nationally.”
While he acknowledged that the campaign had been successful in persuading the mayor to agree to close the facility, he thinks there’s room for improvement where the 10-year time span is concerned.
“We can do it faster,” he said.