This is a crucial moment in the movement for criminal justice reform in this country. As a candidate for the NYS Assembly, I would also like to discuss my experience as an assistant district attorney for over 20 years.
Unfortunately, our system is bogged down with low-level non-violent crimes that should not be in the criminal justice system at all. Back in 2009, while working at the New York County District Attorney’s office, I pushed to have Assistant District Attorneys focus on crimes that impacted victims, not minor crimes such as jumping turnstiles and possessing marijuana. What is now called decriminalization is something I have been fighting to implement for over a decade.
For too long, the NYPD has been the default, handling every problem. If there is a traffic or noise issue, the NYPD responds. Uniformed NYPD officers are at every school entrance. If a person is having a mental health crisis, we ask the NYPD to respond. We have to rethink how we deal with these social issues because sending officers with guns is a terrible way to respond to most situations.
The inequity is jarring. Economically secure families avoid the criminal justice system by using civil courts, private mental health counseling, or drug programs to deal with difficult problems. Our poorer neighbors do not have that privilege; they have no choice but to turn to our flawed criminal justice system.
I am proud of my record as an ADA and want to make what I have done clear and explain my priorities if elected to the Assembly.
I pushed to change the criminal justice system from the inside and made progress, but many of the needed changes have to be handled legislatively. I left the criminal justice system two years ago and went to work to help elect progressive politicians. I pushed to change the metrics from measuring punishment by years in jail to successful changes in behavior. Restorative justice and alternatives to incarceration are crucial. To make these changes, we must rethink what the purview of the criminal justice system should be and what other systems should be developed to serve other needs.
I have fought to bring justice to victims. I have encouraged them to come forward, held their hands, and guided them through a harrowing process. I worked with transgender sex workers who were beaten and robbed at gunpoint, picked by their attackers, thinking that they would neither seek justice nor receive it. I often met people on the worst day of their lives, when they had been beaten, robbed or had a family member killed. They deserved justice.
I worked with Keila Pena and her family for many months to seek justice for her brother’s murder.
As an ADA, I focused on criminal enterprises and determining the true cause of gunpoint robberies, shootings, and murders. I believe these are the types of serious crimes that our criminal justice system should be focused on. Unchecked, there is an endless cycle of violent retribution that can hold entire neighborhoods hostage.
Drug dealers use guns, not collection agencies, to settle debts. A 911 report of shooting can be derailed if no one wants to testify about what happened. These investigations can take months, requiring in-depth knowledge of the parties, the community, and the ongoing criminal enterprise. In 2006, I started a program in which ADA’s focus on specific neighborhoods, requiring assistant district attorneys to have granular knowledge of the neighborhoods. Then, they can understand the root causes of crime in the neighborhood and address those issues with a better understanding.
In short, I have seen the best and worst of the criminal justice system from the inside, and believe I am uniquely qualified to help fix these inequities.
Candidate for NYS Assembly District 34Criminal Justice