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Queens Chronicle

Grassroots groups criticize DA Brown

Demand replacement not seek to prosecute a multitude of offenses

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Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2019 10:30 am

A coalition spent Martin Luther King Jr. Day criticizing Queens District Attorney Richard Brown and making demands of whoever his replacement might be on the steps of the Queens Criminal Courthouse.

Queens for DA Accountability, made up of grassroots groups and borough residents, considers Brown a “relic of the tough-on-crime-era that the city and country is trying to move beyond.”

One of the demands is that the next district attorney declines to “prosecute charges that are disproportionately used to criminalize Queens residents who are low-income, people of color, youth, LGBTQ and/or survivors of interpersonal violence.”

Some of those crimes include drug possession with intent to distribute, shoplifting, all offenses related to sex work, operating a vehicle with a suspended or revoked license, trespassing and misdemeanor school-based arrests.

“It is no secret that the current DA policies disproportionately impacts young people of color in Queens,” said El Aset Sweet, a youth organizer with the Rockaway Youth Task Force.

Sweet also spoke about how minorities and youth are treated by the system, as she believes they are “often viewed as criminals and not afforded presumptions of innocence. Our actions are criminalized and not seen as normal youth behavior.”

She asserted that the district attorney has the “power to single-handedly decide the outcome of your life.”

Another speaker was Hafizah Omar, of Survived & Punished, a group that organizes to decriminalize efforts to survive domestic and sexual violence.

“In Queens, for decades, Richard Brown and his office has used their tough-on-crime policies and biased experts to prosecute and criminalize survival efforts,” Omar said.

She added, “We know these policies are fundamentally racist, antifamily, antitrans/queer, antiwoman, antiblack, antipoor and anti-immigrant. Queens deserves better. We love Queens for the beauty of our diversity, food, culture, histories. We must love and protect survivors too.”

Derrick Hamilton, who spent more than 20 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted in a murder case, spoke out against younger people being incarcerated.

“The youth has came here today and said young children shouldn’t be in prison,” Hamilton said. “That’s something that’s backed by scientists. Scientists have established that young people’s brains don’t develop until they’re 25, so why do we have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of prisoners in New York State right now who went in at 15, 16 and 17 years old?”

Danny Kim, a program assistant with Justice Committee, which fights police violence, also criticized Brown.

“For decades, DA Brown has decided which Queens residents are caged and who gets to walk free and all too often it’s the NYPD officers who end up walking free,” Kim said.

He added, “Killings by police of course are just the tip of the iceberg. NYPD officers regularly subject our communities to brutality and harassment. They lie on official reports to cover up their abuse. They commit perjury and there’s almost never any accountability for these crimes.”

Kim believes Brown to be the culprit.

“For too long, the Queens DA has been one of the pillars that support systemic police violence against our communities,” Kim said. “Today Queens communities are coming together to declare we will not allow this to continue.”

Jon McFarlane of Court Watch NYC said, “I’ve seen my friends and family get railroaded in Queens Criminal Courthouse for minor crimes. I watched as prosecutors requested sky-high bails, forcing people to survive on Rikers Island for months and years because they couldn’t afford to pay bail before standing trial. For 30 years, Queens Criminal Courthouse has been a revolving door for people of color and now we finally have a chance for something different.”

Kathy Garcia of Make the Road New York said the police target transgender residents. “And then they treat us like we were not human,” she said.

Asked for a response, a spokesperson for Brown said in an email, “We believe that the Queens District Attorney’s Office is one of the best in the state. The District Attorney has been in the forefront when it comes to domestic violence prosecutions and assisting victims of domestic violence. Also, there are virtually no individuals currently being held on Rikers Island solely in regards to a marijuana or turnstile jumping arrest.”

In his end-of-the-year message several weeks ago, Brown noted that the Office’s Domestic Violence Bureau “maintains the highest domestic violence conviction rate and the lowest dismissal rate of any other prosecutor’s office in the City.”

He also cited a summons warrant forgiveness event in late October. More than 350 summonses were adjudicated for the approximately 400 residents who attended the event. Individuals with outstanding summons warrants for various low-level offenses, including disorderly conduct, consumption of alcohol in public, trespassing or unlawful possession of marijuana, could have their cases resolved without fear of being arrested.

In his retirement statement, Brown also addressed helping immigrants.

“In order to protect our immigrant population I created an Office of Immigrant Affairs to assist them in accessing and navigating our criminal justice system.”

Brown will not be seeking re-election when his seventh full term is up at the end of the year.

He has served as Queens district attorney since 1991.

Several candidates are in the running to replace him.

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