Jan. 23, 2019 By Nathaly Pesantez
A new coalition of grassroots organizations and criminal justice advocates is demanding sweeping changes to the Queens District Attorney’s office in pursuit of transformative justice reforms across the board.
The coalition, Queens for DA Accountability, launched its campaign at the steps of Queens Criminal Court in Kew Gardens earlier this week, where members released their demands for decriminalization, decarceration, and more accountability in the Queens DA’s office among other issues.
The nearly 20 groups in the effort say their focus is on district attorneys, given their influence over the criminal justice system.
“District Attorneys are elected officials who have immense discretionary power over the everyday decisions in courtrooms that often lead to harmful outcomes, particularly for people of color,” reads a statement on the coalition’s website, followed by, “They have the power to either transform the system and end mass incarceration or exacerbate its harm on our communities.”
The coalition singled out Richard Brown, who has served as Queens District Attorney since 1991 and faced criticism over the years, especially from progressives, for his tough-on-crime approach. The office, for instance, still prosecutes minor offenses like marijuana and fare evasion charges.
“The office reflects the by-gone tough-on-crime era and has not kept pace with progressive reforms that have characterized the new modern era of prosecution in the United States,” Queens for DA Accountability wrote on its webpage.
With Brown retiring from office at the end of the year, the groups say the time for a new era of accountability is now.
The coalition lists eight demands so far in its vision, some specific and others highlighting broad aspirations.
It demands “zero tolerance” for police misconduct, reforms for pre-trial practices, a sentencing approach that “prioritizes transformative justice over penalizing, disciplinary action,” and to decline to bring charges that are disproportionately used against low-income, people of color, and other vulnerable minority groups.
Other demands call for an end to nepotism in Queens County, for racial, economic and gender justice to be championed, and for immigrant communities to be protected.
The coalition, which also hopes to end cash bail and eventually reduce incarceration rates in the borough by 50 percent, notes that its list targeting the tangle of issues in Queens’ justice system is based on recognizing systemic oppression and other pervasive inequalities at play.
Events, continued civic engagement, and community organizing are just some of the ways Queens for DA Accountability will work to change the system.
The coalition is made up of groups including Make the Road NY, New York Civil Liberties Union, Rockaway Youth Task Force, Neighbors Against White Supremacy and more. For a full list a more information on Queens for DA Accountability, visit the coalition’s website.