Photo courtesy of Andrea Bichan/VOCAL-NY
Dozens of criminal justice reform advocates took to the steps of the Queens Criminal Court Monday to demand change at the DA's office.

Dozens of justice reform advocates spent much of Martin Luther King Jr. Day rallying on the steps in front of the Queens Criminal Court in Kew Gardens Monday.

Braving freezing temperatures, a new coalition of grassroots organizations and advocates from around the five boroughs announced on Jan. 21 the launch the Queens for DA Accountability Coalition in order to fight for de-carceration and radical reforms in Queens, now that Queens District Attorney Richard Brown has announced he won’t seek re-election to an eighth term in office.

“A new day is coming to Queens and so is a new district attorney. The importance of a DA cannot be understated: they have enormous authority in every phase of a criminal case, both here in Queens and around the country. They initiate investigations, determine what charges to file and decide whether to offer a plea bargain,” Color of Change Criminal Justice Campaign Director Clarise McCants said. “Brown wants to keep Rikers Island open, requests absurdly high bail, and fails to hold police accountable for brutality. He comes from the tough-on-crime era wherein prosecutors and police exploit racism and inequality to extract guilt from innocent people. As he departs, Color of Change and our partners are coming together as a community to demand change, hold prosecutors accountable and root out the corruption in our criminal justice system.”

Queens is the fourth-largest county in the United States, with the largest immigrant population, and activists point to Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s shocking upset in last June’s Democratic Primary — when she defeated incumbent Congressman Joseph Crowley, the 4th ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives — as a historic grassroots win to build on.

“Queens deserves better. If we love Queens for the beauty of our diversity, food, culture, histories, we must love and protect survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence too,” Survived and Punished NY member Hafizah Omar said. “We must ask more of institutions that target survivors in poor communities of color and we must hold them accountable. At Survived and Punished NY. we organize to free criminalized survivors of gender-based violence, from prison. This work would not be necessary if district attorneys did not prosecute survivors in the first place. The new Queens DA has to be accountable to survivors. Promises of reform are not enough. We demand accountability. We demand that our future Queens DA commit to declining to prosecute survivors of domestic, sexual, or gender-based violence whose arrests were related to acts of survival.”

Other demands called for at the rally include zero tolerance for police misconduct, brutality, corruption, perjury and other criminal conduct. The want reform of pre-trial practices that drive mass incarceration and implement an approach to sentencing that recognizes and seeks to eliminate systematic oppressions and prioritizes transformative justice over penalizing disciplinary action.

“Dick Brown is not trying to get re-elected and we have an opportunity to elect a DA that will change the entire office, but that’s not an easy job,” VOCAL-NY Leader and Queens resident Carl Stubbs said. “You don’t change 30 years of corruption, lying and punishment just like that. No matter who wins office, we’ll be out here every day, protesting, demanding a better DA who cares about our community. This work is not about an election, it’s about getting all of Queens to fight for our rights.”

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