After my son’s death nearly nine years ago, I became an outspoken advocate for police reform and social justice. It was the best way I could honor my son, Eric Garner, and help ensure no other mother had to live through that kind of ordeal again. It’s a fight I will never give up because the work will never be done, even as we make progress.
But as a mother, I also know that communities of color want safety along with justice. We want safe streets for our children to go to school. We want the subways to be safe, and we want to be able to go to the store without fear. It’s no surprise to me or most mothers in our communities that polls show that Black and Brown communities do not feel safe, and crime is high on our list of concerns.
For our elected leaders, all this has posed a challenge. Our young people who make a mistake should not have to sit in jail simply because they are poor, waiting on a trial that never seems to come. There is little “justice” for our people in that criminal justice system, and the burden falls hard on people of color.
That’s why we stood with our elected leaders in Albany as they fought for and delivered reforms that changed the system. These were important changes, meaningful changes, that were designed to ensure Rikers was not used to carry out sentences for people charged with a crime but never convicted. They changed the bail laws and the discovery laws that dictate the time frames that district attorneys have for prosecuting cases — and they were right to do it.
But we also know that legislation like this needs to evolve, guided by common sense, so we can keep making it better. Just like the work for police reform will never be done, neither will the work making sure our criminal justice system is truly just. So our leaders made some modifications last year, and they were helpful, but we should not be so proud that we can’t acknowledge that this work must continue this year.
While I know that communities of color feel the crime issue every day, we should be guided by facts. We learned recently, for example, that 1,700 repeat offenders are responsible for a disproportionate amount of violent crime in New York City. That’s a powerful statistic and it tells me that there is a relatively small group of people who want to take advantage of the changes we made to the laws. They know they can get back on the street quickly and will likely have their charges dismissed because of the discovery timelines. So they commit more crimes, and the cycle repeats.
We also have learned that in Brooklyn and Queens, more than 60% of misdemeanor crimes get dismissed because of the tight timelines in the discovery laws. And in the Bronx, the assistant district attorneys staged a walkout recently to protest the overwhelming burden the caseload and the timeframes have created for them.
Last election, Republicans tried to take advantage of the crime issue. They tried to convince us that our leaders do not care about public safety. The good news is that our communities saw through the political attacks. We won’t be fooled by slick TV ads. But we also won’t be told that the issues we face aren’t real and that there is nothing more to do.
I join the Rev. Al Sharpton and NAACP President Hazel Dukes and countless other Black and Brown leaders from across our city who are standing with our elected leaders, reminding them that we will not allow attacks on their commitment to public safety to go unanswered. But also standing with them as they make additional changes to the criminal justice system in the never-ending effort to make it better.
Safety and justice. We can have them both, and we should never stop working to ensure we have both. That’s how I can honor my son and keep faith with my community. I know our elected leaders are up to this challenge. I urge our leaders in Albany to act now, together and in concert with our community leaders, to more effectively deal with repeat offenders and to give our district attorneys the tools and the time they need to be effective and fair.
Article written for New York Daily News https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-oped-safety-and-justice-go-together-20230305-mw2axbwaljhqtabn7p52qckvq4-story.html