Ramsey Orta picks up his cell phone and records one of the most atrocious and tragic events in history: the death of Eric Garner on July 17, 2014. Garner was a 43-year-old African-American father choked to death by New York police officer Daniel Pantaleo, with his last words: "I can't breathe".
The video he recorded changed Orta's life forever. Since then, Orta's security has been compromised till this day. From being followed by police officers to arrest tactics, which he describes were ways for them to retaliate against him, Orta has been living in constant anxiety. Nonetheless, the criminal justice system has never ceased to target and harass people of color like Orta and Garner.
Even in jail.
On October 3rd, 2016, Orta was sent to Rikers Island after striking a plea deal to serve four years in jail on unrelated charges. His disappointment with police work and frustration in feeling powerless against the criminal justice system did not, however, obscure his sense of optimism and determination to succeed in his future. With the support of his family and friends, Orta went into jail with a very positive mindset hoping to use his time in jail as an educational period in which he would get his high school diploma, obtain some college credits, and be ready to tackle any hurdles that come his way by the time he is released.
Unfortunately, the emotional abuse suffered from his encounters with law enforcement is following him behind bars. In fact, the last few days he has served so far have been stressful for both Orta and his loved ones. From not being able to be properly accommodated for his needs to the recent slashing of two officers in his facility, Orta's time at Rikers in the past couple of days have already stirred anger, worry, and fear among his supporters, especially his wife.
Orta's wife, Bella Eiko, has spoken with Orta a few times since Monday. Orta informed Eiko that he was not able to go to the commissary despite being housed in time to be able to go there. Originally, Orta had $420 with him to spend on books, food, and phone calls but he was only allowed to have access to $20 to spend on books. It is unclear when he will be able to access the remaining $400.
Additionally, Orta refused to eat the food and has only consumed juice, due to a previous incident he encountered in Rikers. In 2015, he was arrested and incarcerated in Rikers for alleged drug charges. During his time in jail, Orta discovered rat poison in his food and decided to only eat snacks from his commissary. Understandably, Orta is less trusting of the meals served in prison. As a result, he has not been able to eat because of his denied access to spend money in the commissary. He informed Eiko that Orta's request was blatantly ignored.
Eiko has also been unable to effectively communicate with the guards properly due to their unresponsiveness. Several supporters besides Eiko have attempted to contact Rikers. However, they have reported complaints about the operator's rude responses, abrupt call hang ups, and refusal to let family members speak with the supervisor.
In light of recent events related to police brutality, mainstream media has focused on how racism is deeply embedded in the criminal justice system. Nevertheless, this discourse has not delved into the underpinnings of the system. It ironically forces people to keep fighting for their own life to only be trapped in corruption. This has caused immense anxiety for Eiko as she continously tries to bring awareness and justice for Orta.
In her words, "I find myself trying to dive into how I can help him... I'm trying to otherwise keep myself busy. My three year old certainly helps with that. But it hurts. I know they say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but there's this pain associated with forced separation of someone you love especially when it's someone you spend your every day with. I definitely feel this pain. I feel this constant anxiety and fear for his safety coupled with intense powerlessness. I'm sure anyone who has a loved one incarcerated can relate to this."
Currently, there is only one valid fundraising effort for Ramsey Orta. You can find updates and instructions on how to donate on ramseyorta.info.