By Phineas Rueckert
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez surprised shoppers at a market in Elmhurst on Tuesday when she stopped by to discuss district issues, including justice reform proposals.
During her visit to the Elmhurst Greenmarket, Ocasio-Cortez spoke with the Eagle about the Queens district attorney race, the city’s plan for closing Rikers Island and the movement to decriminalize sex work.
“I think it’s something that I think should happen, but we have to be very careful about it,” she said about decriminalizing sex work. “So I think that it actually is a conversation that we need to have.”
“From my perspective I’m always concerned about commodifying bodies, but also I don’t believe that people who are in that position should be criminalized,” she added.
She did not take a specific position on the city’s plan to close jails on Rikers Island and open new detention centers in each borough except Staten Island, but she said she supports the efforts of the No New Jails movement. The No New Jails coalition advocates for closing Rikers and diverting jail money into supportive services, education and investments in communities of color that are disproportionately impacted by the justice system.
“I know there’s a lot of momentum behind No New Jails and I think that it’s definitely a goal that we’d like to achieve,” she said. “I’ve seen and heard that advocates are putting together a plan for how we actually make those small populations feasible without building new jails, but that’s something that we’re continuing to take a look at and happy to engage in further conversation on it.”
The plan to close Rikers depends on the city’s ability to significantly reduce its jail population. New York City’s five DAs have a big role to play in that effort.
Ocasio-Cortez endorsed public defender Tiffany Cabán in the Democratic primary for Queens district attorney and said the race for DA highlighted important reform issues. Cabán trails Borough President Melinda Katz by just 60 votes following a full countywide recount.
“During the race there were a lot of really important conversations from ending cash bail to really altering how we approach sex work in the borough,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “I think that it’s important that these conversations continue, especially when we’re dealing with the legacy of the previous DA that was very punitive and in many ways contributed to a much larger issue of mass incarceration.”
Ocasio-Cortez visited the greenmarket slightly after 10:30 a.m and greeted surprised constituents while her staff handed out fliers and “Know Your Rights” pamphlets about how to proceed during an encounter with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
“This is a huge part of what we’ve done in terms of organizing, in terms of outreach,” Ocasio-Cortez told the Eagle. “When I talk about building that grassroots resiliency this is what that looks like: us going to where people are instead of relying on people coming to where we are.”
She said “Know Your Rights” campaigns in Queens have been effective, but said that immigration laws need to be overhauled to stop unjust raids.
“One of the things that we have to do, especially when it comes to organizing and protecting our undocumented neighbors, is that we have to work with trusted community organizations,” she said.
“The long term solution is really changing our immigration law,” she added.