Politics

How this New York island became a mass grave

This story was produced in collaboration with THE CITY and Columbia Journalism School’s Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism as part of THE CITY’s ongoing collaborative project, MISSING THEM, to commemorate every New Yorker killed by Covid-19. The reporters for this story from THE CITY and Stabile are: Haidee Chu, Jacob Geanous, Téa Kvetenadze, Cassidy Jensen, Josh Merchant, Savannah Tryens-Fernandes and Megan Zerez.

Hart Island, a small piece of land off the Bronx in New York City, reappeared in national headlines in April 2020 as New York City became the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States. Messages from the island’s cemetery showed trenches filled with pine coffins sending shock waves around the world. However, these mass burials during the pandemic are only the most recent in Hart Island’s long history.

Hart Island’s Pottery Field Cemetery dates back to 1869 and has served as the burial ground for over 1 million New Yorkers for over 150 years. Over the years, infrastructure problems and a lack of reliable public access have earned Hart Island a bad name.

A 2021 analysis by the Columbia Journalism School Stable Center and THE CITY found that over 2,300 New Yorkers were buried on Hart Island in 2020. That’s more burials than any year during the AIDS epidemic, another recent health crisis.

Stabile and THE CITY also found that New York City is well on its way to burying one in ten Covid-19 victims on the island.

The analysis reveals who are more likely to be buried on Hart Island: Black and Latinx residents, frontline workers, and those with little access to health care.

Check out the video above to understand how this relates and what happens next with Hart Island. You can find this video and all of them Vox’s videos on our YouTube channel.

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