A drone captured video of what appears to be inmates burying coffins in a mass Hart Island grave as the new coronavirus spreads across New York City.
About a dozen detainees can be seen stacking coffins in a trench as a former inmate narrates his experience on the “Hart Island detail” in the video taken April 2 and published Sunday. The island off the shore of The Bronx was mentioned by Mayor Bill de Blasio as a possible site for temporary burials of people killed by COVID-19.
Hart Island is the nation’s biggest burial ground with more than a million graves, most of which hold people who were too poor to pay for funerals or who had no family members. Rikers prisoners have long been asked to volunteer to perform the burials.
Narrator Vincent Mingalone, who says he served six months on Rikers Island for disobeying a court order, expresses concern that the Department of Correction won’t have enough volunteers to complete burials.
“Now I think it’s going to be slim pickings,” Mingalone says. “A lot of inmates for minor crimes such as I had, they’ve all been released because of this pandemic.”
A white Department of Correction truck is parked next to the trench in the video and a bulldozer is seen pushing dirt over the graves.
City Hall officials said no coronavirus victims had been buried on Hart Island as of Tuesday, according to the New York Post. Nothing in the video shows who is being buried or what they died from.
As of Tuesday night, the city’s official figures show 3,544 people have died from the coronavirus.
On Tuesday, de Blasio said, “If there was ever going to need to be a place for burial, it would be Hart Island where burials are already done.”
But he denied a report in The Intercept that Rikers Island inmates would be involved in burying COVID-19 patients in mass graves.
“And then there was a question of whether inmates from Rikers Island would be used,” de Blasio said. “The answer’s categorically, no.”
Before the pandemic hit, de Blasio signed an executive order releasing the island from Department of Correction ownership and putting it under the control of the parks department, effectively freeing the bodies of more than one million New Yorkers buried in unmarked graves.
Said Hart Island Project activist Melinda Hunt, “Their bodies will now be respectfully buried.”
The Hart Island Project did not immediately respond to Patch’s request for comment.