OPINION: Why I'm supporting Melinda Katz for Queens DA

Minister Kirsten John Foy delivers the eulogy for Ramarley Graham, 18, who was shot in his home by a police officer who mistakenly thought he had a gun, in 2012. AP Photo/John Minchillo

Minister Kirsten John Foy delivers the eulogy for Ramarley Graham, 18, who was shot in his home by a police officer who mistakenly thought he had a gun, in 2012. AP Photo/John Minchillo

By Minister Kirsten John Foy 

On Tuesday, voters in Queens are going to choose a new District Attorney for the first time in decades. This election is an incredible opportunity to bring much-needed criminal justice reform to nearly 2.5 million residents of our city and the choice for who can do that cannot be clearer. Melinda Katz is by far the best candidate to reform the criminal justice system in Queens and keep our neighborhoods safe.  

I’ve been leading efforts to end discriminatory policing and mass incarceration, working with survivors and victims of broken windows policing including the families of Eric Garner, Sean Bell, Akai Gurley, and Saheed Vassell to name a few. I myself was the victim of these tactics in 2011 when Jumaane Williams and I were handcuffed and arrested walking down the street at the West Indian Day Parade. Justice for us hasn’t always come swiftly. Even today Queens leads the city in arrests for low-level marijuana possession, and nine out of ten of those charged with this offense in Queens are black or Latinx.

Changing this system is going to take a skilled administrator with deep ties to communities throughout Queens: someone who can not only listen to our concerns, but know how to work the levers of power to effect change. 

Melinda Katz is the best candidate to do this. The next DA in Queens is going to have their work cut out for them. District Attorneys may have a lot of power to change the justice system, but the system often pushes back. Melinda has a career-long track record of taking on powerful interests and changing the system to fight for those she represents. Whether it’s big developers, health insurance companies, or Donald Trump, she’s always stood up for those who lack power to make sure they had someone on their side.

Her plans for the DA’s office continue that pattern. She’s the only candidate in the race who has put out detailed proposals to make sure the office is diverse and equipped to stick up for tenants, protect immigrants, reduce gun violence, fight domestic violence, and more. Other candidates are offering rhetoric while she’s offering action. 

One of Melinda’s core promises as DA is a pledge to involve community members and groups in every step of the justice system. Her plan to end cash bail involves partnering with drug addiction and mental health treatment services so that defendants can get help while they await trial and have better access to Alternatives To Incarceration programs.

Her plan to reduce gun violence centers around empowering Cure Violence groups and other programs that give young people a sense of community to end the cycle of violence. As the Borough President, she’s spent years working with these groups and building up relationships throughout Queens. Successfully reforming the justice system depends greatly on rebuilding trust with the DA’s office. Melinda can bring that mutual trust into the office starting on January 1. 

As a lifelong public servant Melinda has the vision and leadership required to take the helm and steer the DA’s office in the right direction. As a single mother she has the sensibilities needed to reverse corrosive criminal justice practices that destroy families.

As a former legislator she has the expertise to bring a different perspective and new resources to the DA’s office. And as the Borough President she has built strong bonds and relationships in Queens to help heal communities. In a field of candidates promising change, Melinda Katz is the only one I know and trust to deliver on this promise. 

Minister Kirsten John Foy is a civil rights advocate and Northeast Regional Director of the National Action Network.