Queens criminal justice reform advocate’s demands on those running for the open Queens District Attorney seat fell mainly on deaf ears yesterday as the two perceived frontrunners – Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and City Council Member Rory Lancman – were no shows.
The five DA declared candidates include Katz, Lancman, public defender Tiffany Caban, former Judge Gregory Lasak and State Attorney General’s Office prosecutor Jose Nieves.
Organizers of the event said all the DA candidates were invited, but told they could not speak. Caban and Nieves did watch the demonstration and listened to the coalition’s demands.
The rally, dubbed the District Attorney (DA) Accountability Launch, was held on the steps of the Queens County Criminal Court, 125-01 Queens Blvd. in Kew Gardens.
The organizations who made up the coalition were predominantly composed of people of color. A theme among the speakers was how the retiring current DA Richard Brown unfairly targeted minority communities.
“The current Queens DA Richard Brown, is a tragic example of the deeply rooted moral corruption of our criminal justice system. Brown wants to keep Rikers Island open, requests absurdly high bail, and fails to hold police accountable for brutality,” said Clarise McCants the criminal justice campaign director of the Color of Change. “He comes from the tough-on-crime era wherein prosecutors and police exploit racism and inequality to extract guilt from innocent people. As he departs, Color of Change and our partners are coming together as a community to demand change, hold prosecutors accountable and root out the corruption in our criminal justice system.”
“The new Queens DA has to be accountable to survivors. Promises of reforms are not enough. We demand accountability,” said Hafiza Omar, a Queens resident, and member or Survived and Punished NY. “We demand that our future Queens DA commit to declining to prosecute survivors of domestic violence, sexual or gender-based violence whose arrests were related to acts of survival.”
Thus far the announced candidates include City Councilmember Rory Lancman, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Staff Attorney Criminal Defense Practice Tiffany Caban, Gregory Lasak and State Attorney General’s Office Special Prosecutor Jose Nieves.
Groups did not publicly endorse any of the potential candidates for DA. However, some individual members, such as Derrick Hamilton from Family and Friends of the Wrongly Convicted, did have his own opinion.
After his wrongful conviction, and eventual release in 2011 Hamilton became interested in crime reform. To his note, Lancman has been working towards the same for years. He said that he wants a DA whom you can “hold to the fire,” not just someone who is going to claim progressive reforms while they campaign, said Hamilton.
“We exist because the DAs aren’t transparent about anything. We want a DA that isn’t afraid of accountability. We want a DA that will do quarterly town halls. We want a DA that will release all their data — the bail, the charges, the demographics on all cases, like Kim Foxx did in Chicago,” said Jon McFarlane of Court Watch NYC. “We want a DA to release a list of cops who have provided false testimony. We want a DA that answers our questions.”
These are the coalition demands for DA accountability:
- Zero tolerance for police misconduct, brutality, corruption, perjury, and other criminal conduct.
- Reform pre-trial practices that drive mass incarceration.
- Implement an approach to sentencing that recognizes and seeks to eliminate systemic oppressions and prioritizes transformative justice over penalizing, disciplinary action.
- Decline to prosecute charges that are disproportionately used to criminalize Queens residents who are low-income, people of color, youth, LGBTQ and/or survivors of interpersonal violence.
- Protect immigrant communities.
- Improve transparency and accountability of the DA’s Office.
- End nepotism in Queens County.
- Champion racial, economic and gender justice in Queens
Advocate groups in the coalition were the Blue Horseshoe Foundation, Bronx Freedom Fund, the Center for Popular Democracy, Color of change, Court Watch NYC, DSA Queens, Five Boro Defenders, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Justice Committee, JustLeadership USA, Make the Road NY, New Queens Democrats, Neighborhoods Against White Supremacy, Queens United Independent People, Rockaway Youth Task Force, New York Civil Liberties Union, Survived and Punished, WOMANKIND and VOCAL-NY.