Statement from the Attorneys of Color Caucus of the Association (ACLA) of New York Legal Aid Attorneys
When NYPD officer Peter Liang was convicted of manslaughter for shooting an unarmed man in a stairwell in Brooklyn, the Brooklyn District Attorney recommended a sentence of probation. When poor people enter the subway without paying, the same District Attorney’s office frequently recommends jail time. Disgusted and outraged by the disparate treatment between our clients and Officer Liang, Legal Aid attorneys protested outside of the Brooklyn DA’s office on Monday, May 2nd, in a demonstration led by the Attorneys of Color Caucus of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys. The Caucus issued the following statement:
We stand here today for our clients, and all communities suffering the injustice and indignities caused by the actions of the NYPD and supported by the criminal justice system. As public defenders, we represent poor and working class communities that are predominantly people of color. We represent young Black and Latino men, who are overwhelmingly impacted by racist policies, such as Stop and Frisk and Broken Windows. They represent the majority of arrests in New York City.
From this perspective, we express our outrage and disappointment at the disparate treatment and consideration given to Peter Liang, treatment that is never given to our clients.
Akai Gurley joins a long list of young men of color infamously murdered or assaulted by the NYPD, including Eric Garner, Ramarley Graham, Amadou Diallo, Patrick Dorismond, Anthony Baez and Abner Louima. Yet police officers are almost never indicted -let alone convicted-for their crimes, and when they are finally convicted for their crimes, they are given special treatment in sentencing by District Attorneys and judges.
Rarely does the District Attorney’s office ever recommend probation after obtaining a guilty verdict after a jury trial. More often than not, irrespective of the charges, violent or nonviolent, the DA’s office recommends jail time for our clients. That is especially true in crimes involving serious physical injury.
In his letter to Judge Chun, D.A. Thompson listed a number of reasons why mitigation should be considered in giving Peter Liang sentencing. He listed the lack of Liang’s criminal record, and considered the reasons for confinement and rehabilitative needs of the defendant. The last paragraph of that letters states: “There are no winners here…we believe the sentence we propose is fair and just under the circumstances of this case.”
Our clients are human beings and deserve that same consideration that the District Attorney’s office showed Peter Liang in their sentencing recommendation.
To this end, we stand here today to demand the following:
We demand fair treatment in sentencing of the clients that we represent. The District Attorney’s office should consider their rehabilitative needs, as they considered it in Liang’s case.
We demand that the City and District Attorney’s office fully fund and expand alternatives to incarceration, such as the YCP Program, CASES, and the Fortune Society.
We demand the City and District Attorney end the Broken Windows theory of policing. Broken Windows is a repressive approach to policing that promotes quality-of-life arrests as a way to deter other crimes. After so many years, it is clear that this theory of policing has been utilized to justify the harassment and incarceration of poor communities and communities of color, resulting in thousands of arrest warrants for unanswered petty summons tickets. Under these policies, warrants and incarceration are the City's default rather than exception. We demand an end to vertical patrols in public housing. We demand an end to racist policies that create disproportionate arrests of young men of color.
We also demand an end to the D.A.’s policy of Operation Spotlight. Operation Spotlight is a term used by the D.A. to characterize individuals who have been arrested multiple times for misdemeanor crimes. Their policy is to recommend a year in jail, regardless of whether all those prior arrest resulted in a conviction. These clients are often charged with jumping the turnstile, minor drug possession, shoplifting, and other non-violent misdemeanor crimes. Operation Spotlight does not take into consideration any mitigating factor of the alleged crime, the needs of the individual, or the circumstances of the case.
We demand an end to the mass incarceration of Black and Latino communities.
We demand respect and recognition that Black and Latino lives matter. The disparate treatment Peter Liang received, as an officer of the New York City Police Department, who killed a young black man, is a reflection of the organized hostility toward poor communities of color. The criminal justice system continues to send a clear message every day that Black and Latino lives are of less value. We cannot support any system that devalues Black and Latino lives. We cannot support any system where jail replaces schools, where jails replace programs to end poverty, and where jails replace fully funded public health programs.
Our clients are human beings and they deserve the same consideration that the District Attorney’s office showed Peter Liang.
· The Attorneys of Color Caucus (ACLA) of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys (ALAA)
· ALAA, Local 2325 Executive Board
· UAW Region 9a NYC CAP Council
· National Conference of Black Lawyers, NY Chapter
· Five Borough Defenders