By David Brand
Dozens of criminal justice reform advocates gathered on the steps of the Queens County Criminal Courthouse to officially launch the Queens for DA Accountability coalition at a rally Monday afternoon.
The activists, including representatives from VOCAL-New York, Color of Change, Make the Road, Rockaway Youth Task Force and Court Watch NYC, braved frigid, windy conditions to outline the policies and practices they want to see implemented by the next Queens District Attorney.
“It’s no secret that the criminal justice system disproportionately impacts youth of color like myself,” said Malachi Davidson, membership engagement organizer at Rockaway Youth Task Force in a statement. “We’re here to demand the next district attorney treats us like youth and gives us a fair shot at justice.”
Kathy Garcia from Make the Road New York’s Trans Immigrant Project called on the next DA to consider the impact of prosecutorial policies on defendants’ immigration status.
“Our people should be able to walk the streets of New York without fear,” Garcia said.
The coalition announced eight overarching demands, each with a number of related objectives. The demands include “zero tolerance” for police misconduct and brutality, reforming pre-trial practices by ending money bail and instituting open discovery, ending “nepotism” in the DA’s office and declining to prosecute several specific low-level charges including trespassing, petty larceny, drug possession and shoplifting.
During the rally, several speakers criticized the policies of Queens DA Richard A. Brown, who has held the office since 1991 and announced he would not seek re-election earlier this month.
“For too long, the Queens DA has been one of the pillars that supports police injustice,” said Danny Kim from the organization Justice Committee.
“For 30 years, the Queens Criminal Courthouse has been a revolving door for people of color,” added Jon McFarlane, a volunteer with Court Watch NYC, which monitors racial disparities in New York City courts.
Five District Attorney candidates have registered with the state Board of Elections for the Democratic primary, which will likely take place in June after the state legislature passed a slate of voting reforms, including a measure to combine the state and city primaries on the same day.
The five DA candidates are public defender Tiffany Caban, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Councilmember Rory Lancman, former Judge Gregory Lasak and State Attorney General’s Office prosecutor Jose Nieves.
DA candidates were not invited to speak at Monday’s event, but at least two, Caban and Nieves, watched the demonstration and listened to the coalition’s demands.
“If I weren’t running, I’d be up there with a sign,” Caban said after the event. “We have to hear the community’s voices and that’s the approach the DA’s office needs to be taking.”
Nieves said the speakers echoed many issues he has included in his campaign platform, such as ending the school-to-prison pipeline and establishing an independent conviction review unit.
“I was very impressed by the coalition, their eagerness and their commitment to making a statement against the mass incarceration tactics of the DA’s office,” Nieves said. “The DA’s office needs to engage with the community.”