By Cailin Garcia
NEW YORK – Manhattan’s nine district attorney candidates this week debated policies they would enact as district attorney—with more than 3,000 viewers tuned into the Facebook livestream to hear candidates tackle questions about pressing criminal justice issues, including racial justice, gun violence, police accountability, and gang policing.
The virtual debate was hosted by George Joseph, an investigative reporter for Gothamist and WYNC. CUNY Law Professor Babe Howell joined Joseph in presenting questions to the candidates, who were each given around 30 seconds to one minute to respond.
“Right now, we are in the middle of a nation reckoning over race in the criminal justice system. Protests over the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have raised fundamental questions about the role of law enforcement in our society—and those questions have started to be directed at prosecutors,” said Joseph during opening statements before the debate.
“The Manhattan District Attorney’s office is one of the most prominent prosecutor’s offices in the country… If one of these candidates takes the seat in 2021, he or she could transform the role of the DAs in our criminal justice system, if that is indeed what voters want,” Joseph stated.
The nine candidates present at the forum included Diana Florence, Tahanie Aboushi, Alvin Bragg, Tali Farhadian Weinstein, Janos Marton, Lucy Lang, Dan Quart, Eliza Orlins, and Liz Crotty. Incumbent DA Cyrus Vance Jr. was not present and has yet to announce if he plans to seek a fourth term.
“Overcharging is completely unethical if and when it is designed to cause an outcome that the facts do not support, hard stop. And it’s immoral even if it is supported by the facts, if it is done only to achieve a plea,” said candidate Orlins, the only public defender running for DA.
When asked about how the district attorney’s office can better support the victims of domestic violence, sexual violence and shootings who wish to testify, almost every candidate mentioned working closely with existing community programs and non-profits to ensure the safety and comfort of victims.
“Our system, the prosecution system, has historically focused and exerted energy on punishing the accused versus supporting the victims, victims of all crimes, not just domestic violence. So we have a $750 million budget, it’s time we used it to provide support services, more than just the hotline and the website, but childcare, mental health resources, housing support, and anything else that might help them get through the system and anything comes after the system,” said candidate Aboushi.
“We must leverage already existing community resources,” said Bragg. “I’m a Sunday school teacher and a little league baseball coach. We have the structures within our communities, we have the infrastructures there, we just need the district attorney’s office to join in.”
In the yes-or-no question round, candidates seemed to be in agreement on several issues. All nine candidates committed to releasing the Manhattan DA’s records on NYPD officers with potential credibility issues and promised to end the “trial tax,” or the practice of seeking longer sentences for defendants who refuse to accept plea deals.
All nine candidates also committed to implementing a gun diversion program modeled after the program used by the DA’s office in Brooklyn.
Disagreements began to arise when candidates were asked if they would continue to prosecute gang conspiracy cases if elected. Gang conspiracy cases have been a hot topic among many civil rights activists, who criticize such cases for targeting large numbers of Black and Latinx youth.
Marton, Orlins, and Quart said they would end the prosecution of gang conspiracy cases. Bragg, Farhadian Weinstein, Florence, and Crotty, on the other hand, said that they would still be taking on such cases as DA.
Lang made the specification that she would only seek convictions for traffickers and Aboushi simply responded, “It depends.”
When asked by community leader Taylonn Murphy, whose son was allegedly wrongfully convicted in a conspiracy case, how they would revamp the DA office’s conviction integrity program, candidate Crotty described creating a unit staffed with both prosecutors and defense attorneys.
“The necessary thing in the conviction integrity unit is to bring in all different sides,” said Crotty.
Quart disagreed with Crotty’s policy, stating, “We will not have former prosecutors reviewing the work of other district attorneys, that is a recipe for nothing to change.”
The livestream was then opened to questions from the community, which covered topics such as gang databases, prosecution of corrupt police officers, and homelessness. The full livestream can be accessed on the Gothamist Facebook page.
To sign up for our new newsletter – Everyday Injustice – https://tinyurl.com/yyultcf9
Support our work – to become a sustaining at $5 – $10- $25 per month hit the link: