By Christina Carrega
Dozens of protesters marched in front of the Queens Criminal Courthouse in Kew Gardens on Tuesday to demand changes to prosecutorial policies and practices they say unjustly affect people of color.
“Let’s take a moment of silence for the hundreds of thousands of people prosecuted by the Queens District Attorney’s Office,” said a member of the newly formed Neighbors Against White Supremacy on Tuesday afternoon.
Richard A. Brown has served as Queens District Attorney for more than 25 years, but residents will have a chance to vote for a new top prosecutor next fall. Until then, however, members of Rockaway Youth Task Force, Color of Change, DSA-Queens, VOCAL-NY, JustLeadershipUSA, Court Watch NYC, Bronx Freedom Fund and 5 Boro Defenders say they want to raise awareness of the role of the prosecutor’s office among the general public.
“District attorneys have tremendous power and discretion in the criminal legal system and too often those tools are used in service of criminalization and incarceration, targeting vulnerable people — people experiencing poverty, people of color, LGBTQ people and others — while powerful people are not being held accountable,” according to joint statement from the newly formed coalition.
A group of about 50 demonstrators congregated in front of the criminal courthouse with signs that read “I Am A Human,” “I Am Not My Record,” “DA Brown: End Mass Incarceration,” “Queens DA Victimized Black And Brown And Poor Communities” and “89% of People in Rikers Are Black and Latino.”
“DA Brown still prosecutes blacks and browns for marijuana possession. I am tired of his tough on crime policies,” said Carl Stubbs, 67, a community leader with VOCAL-NY.
Member from each of the individual groups gave personal anecdotes about their experience with the criminal justice system at the hands of the Queens DA office. Others expressed that it’s time for the office to catch up to the other four district attorney offices and the rest of the country with criminal justice reform.
“As public defenders, we have seen how Queens District Attorney Richard Brown has used his power to maintain Rikers Island and tear communities apart over the last 27 years,” according to a statement by the 5 Boro Defenders. “From arraignment through trial, DA Brown helps fill the cells on Rikers with his insistence on prosecuting low-level misdemeanors, his coercive waiver and discovery policies, his treatment of those on probation and parole, and his refusal to join other New York City District Attorneys in establishing a conviction review unit.”
Brown vigorously contested the coalition’s allegations in an extensive statement that was provided after the protest.
“Of the approximately 8,200 defendants currently held on Rikers, only 151 defendants are charged with misdemeanors from Queens County. That is the lowest number of misdemeanor defendants of any of the major counties in New York City,” Brown said in a statement. “Not a single defendant from Queens currently on Rikers Island is being held solely for a misdemeanor marijuana or fare beating charge - NOT ONE.”
DA Election Day does not arrive until November 2019. So far, former Queens Criminal Court Judge Gregory Lasak and Councilmember Rory Lancman have announced their candidacies.
The 40-minute rally ended with chants of “Take Down Dick Brown” and “Justice For Queens.”