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Petition launched to change name of Rikers Island amid slavery connection

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RIKERS ISLAND — A new petition is in motion to have the name of Rikers Island changed amid the namesake family's deep ties to slavery.

Richard Riker was the head of a prominent family and presided over New York City criminal court system from 1815 to 1838.

Several historians including Eric Foner, author of "Gateway to Freedom," and Jacob Morris, head of the Harlem Historical Society say Riker actively supported southern slavery.

They say when bounty hunters from the south came to New York City to find and capture runaway slaves. Riker allegedly used his position in the courts to speed up the process of fugitive slaves being sent to the south. Judge Riker even collected a kickback fee from bounty hunters for each slave he helped sent back to slavery.

Even more troubling, historians suggest bounty hunters came to NYC and often kidnapped the children of free black New Yorkers.

Morris is in the early stages of his petition. PIX11 reached out earlier to the Department of Correction for a statement regarding the petition but have not heard back yet