By Ned Meiners
MANHATTAN – Too often the pursuit of public safety and decarceration are thought of as opposing trends. In New York, one candidate for District Attorney would like to upend that sentiment.
This week, New York State Assemblyman and candidate for Manhattan District Attorney, Dan Quart, released his Public Safety Plan, promising to ensure the safety of all residents of the city, vigorously prosecuting gun violence and sex crimes, while also scaling back mass incarceration.
“As District Attorney, I will go to work every day to keep New Yorkers safe. We do not have to choose between a fairer and a safer city: we can, and we must, choose both.” said Quart.
The candidate continued, “From getting justice for survivors of sexual assault, to prosecuting hate and violent crime, to addressing the rise in gun violence our city has seen, my office will always be committed to ensuring the safety of all New Yorkers.”
Manhattan is currently home to a contentious race for District Attorney. In March, incumbent Cyrus Vance, Jr. said he would not seek reelection amid allegations that he failed to prosecute wealthy, politically-connected defendants, such as Harvey Weinstein and members of the Trump family.
Quart is a native of the Washington Heights neighborhood, and represents the East Side in the State Assembly. He is one of New York City’s most notable pro-bono criminal defense attorneys.
In his statement, Quart laments a “two-tiered” system of justice when it comes to sexual assault in New York City. For too long the District Attorney failed to prosecute wealthy and powerful men, such as Jeffrey Epstein, for sex crimes.
As District Attorney, Quart said he would pursue such cases wherever there is evidence that a crime has been committed, regardless of the perpetrator. In 2019, he called out the New York
Police Department for under-reporting cases of rape. He called the departments behavior a “severe breach of trust.”
Quart also makes curbing gun violence in New York a top priority. While he will prosecute such cases to the fullest extent of the law, he also stresses the need for mental health and employment services to combat the problem.
According to the candidate, “Charges and prosecutions do not address the underlying causes of the ongoing rise in gun violence.” The Assemblymen’s plan “will support public health solutions, including heavy investments in community-based violence prevention programs that have been proven to work.”
As a criminal defense lawyer, Quart argues that, while safety is a necessity, communities of color may be wary of more prosecution, adding, “Our approach to prosecution for the past decades hasn’t made us safer, but it has trapped largely Black and brown Manhattanites in a cycle of mass incarceration.”
To protect marginalized groups, he promises to expand hate crime prosecution in Manhattan. The statistics in New York City are alarming; In 2020, there was a 10 percent increase in hate crimes against Black Americans and a staggering 1,900 percent increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans.
Quart has a track record of supporting hate crime legislation. In the State Assembly, he voted to include gender identity under the hate crime statute and supported the creation of New York City’s office to prevent hate crime.
As District Attorney, he plans to investigate hate groups and hate crimes, but is quick to note he will take into account wishes and preferences of the victims in such cases. In keeping with his commitment to decarceration, Quart would prioritize restorative justice and avenues other than prison sentences.
In his Public Safety Plan, Quart also has a robust program for working class New Yorkers that targets an often undocumented and far too prevalent form of theft: wage theft, which is the practice of underpaying workers or not paying them at all.
The plan states, “The Department of Labor estimates that over $1 billion in wages are stolen from New Yorkers every year– wage-theft takes on many forms, and the victims of this are often immigrants, women, and people of color.”
In order to address the problem as District Attorney, Quart would build a task force staffed by lawyers experienced in construction and labor law and meet with a council of labor leaders to identify potential wage theft violations and unsafe practices.
As Assemblyman, he has been an ally of labor. He supported a legislative staff union in Albany and has joined workers and unions, like 32BJ, to demand that contractors are paid minimum wage.
Quart also wants to enhance investigation and prosecution of cyber-crimes, such as identity theft and email scams, which overwhelmingly affect small businesses and vulnerable communities. Currently, it is believed that only one percent of such cases are prosecuted nationally.
The defense lawyer sees a more equitable future for New York, where all residents can seek justice for such crimes.
According to candidate Quart, “Our current Manhattan District Attorney has chosen to focus his efforts on prosecuting high-profile cases while abandoning everyday New Yorkers who are the most vulnerable victims.”
New Yorkers will decide at the polls on June 22.
Ned Meiners is a Legal Studies student at City College San Francisco. Originally from Maine, he currently resides on Bernal Hill in San Francisco.
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