Snuffleupugus Due Process
The public outrage over murders of Eric Garner in Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson highlights the struggle I have as a public defender between being an advocate for my individual clients and an activist for a cause. I’m part of a group of public defenders in NYC that works through that tension by meeting together as the Five Boro Defenders. At Five Boro Defender meetings, public defenders and civil rights attorneys from Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens and Staten Island commiserate, strategize and share knowledge. In response to recent news events, we’ve set up a Twitter account giving individual public defenders an anonymous cover to report on specific examples of systemic injustice.
Last week’s comments by our mayor, Bill DeBlasio inspired us to whip up a Twitter-storm. DeBlasio, who campaigned as a critic of Stop and Frisk and an ally to the poor, advised New Yorkers recently: "When a police officer comes to the decision that it's time to arrest someone, that individual is obligated to submit to arrest…They will then have every opportunity for due process in our court system."
The best response I could come up with after reading that quote was “WTF?” In an article for Vice, Natasha Lennard, managed to articulate my outrage better. She writes, “De Blasio's comments support a system in which citizens, particularly young black citizens, are forcibly taught that any behavior except total docility and subjugation can and will be punished.”
In New York City Criminal Courts, even total docility and subjugation are not rewarded with due process. In my experience due process is like the old-school Snuffleupagus on Sesame Street. Judges humor our clients clients by pretending it exists, but it’s never actually seen.
To give the mayor and the media a taste of the due process that awaits those who patiently submit to arrest, Five Boro Defenders has begun tweeting the experiences of our clients using the hashtags #NotDuePro and #Submit2Arrest. Five Boro Defenders provided context in the following statement:
We will continue tweeting the frustrating experience of clients, like Eric Garner, who seek justice from the courts for years for low level offenses. We are moved to this virtual action one month after Eric Garner's needless murder having seen hundreds of clients like Eric come through the system, often bloodied, only to be frustrated by the limited justice available only to clients either able to pay or able to sacrifice years of court appearances to fight their case. We also disagree with the mayor and commissioner that filing lawsuits is a solution. Last fiscal year, the comptroller's office reported that NYC spent $137.2 million taxpayer dollars compensating New Yorkers for NYPD's bad arrests and other misconduct. The rising costs of civil rights violations fails to deter police misconduct. What we call for is real accountability for false arrests and misconduct, more resources for criminal defense attorneys all over the city to fight for justice and an end to broken windows arrests, which flood our courts and wastes our resources on non-criminal cases.
Five Boro Defenders encourages all NAPD members to follow us @5BoroDefenders and share your stories with about #notduepro and what happens when people #submit2arrest.