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Watch: Formerly-Incarcerated New Yorkers Call For a People’s DA in Queens

Erin Sheridan Jan 22

Retiring Queens DA Richard Brown. Source Queens DA Office.

Longtime Queens District Attorney Richard Brown’s recent announcement that he would retire at year’s end has set the stage for the first competitive primary for his office in nearly three decades.

For activists, the wide-open race to replace Brown — a  “tough on crime” prosecutor who zealously sought convictions and harsh jail sentences at all costs — offers a long-awaited chance to reset the priorities of the DA’s office in one of the largest and most diverse counties in the country.

On Monday, members of a newly formed coalition, Queens for DA Accountability, celebrated Martin Luther King Day by staging a launch party in front of the Queens County Courthouse in Kew Gardens. Nearly 60 activists braved freezing temperatures for 45 minutes, bringing attention to Brown’s complicity in sending more people to Rikers Island for misdemeanors than any other district attorney in New York City.

Attendees as young as 15-years-old spoke to a crowd of press in the hopes of educating Queens County and beyond on the value of decarceration, decriminalization and transformative justice. A woman whose conviction led to her deportation to Mexico shared her story, as did trans community members, formerly incarcerated residents and multiple men of color who were exonerated after serving up to 14 years in prison.

There is a growing field of candidates in the race including Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Queens City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows), former Queens County judge and prosecutor Greg Lasak and career public defender Tiffany Caban. The winner is almost certain to come from the Democratic primary, which was originally scheduled for September but will likely come in June due to election reforms in Albany.  

As the race unfolds, Queens for DA Accountability will seek to create a movement that centers black and brown, transgender and non-conforming, indigenous, immigrant, migrant, and other community members disproportionately impacted by mass incarceration in the New York City area. The testimonials shared on Monday were moving and indicated that the fight to elect progressive DA’s across the country is well-rooted in Queens, where the push to replace Richard Brown will be backed by the coalition’s diverse membership and its community ties.

Member organizations:

Color of Change
Make the Road NY
Rockaway Youth Task Force
VOCAL-NY
America’s Future Foundation
The Bronx Freedom Fund
Court Watch NYC
Democratic Socialists of America — Queens
Five Boro Defenders
Gay Men’s Health Crisis
Justice Committee
Just Leadership USA
Neighbors Against White Supremacy
New Queens Democrats
New York Civil Liberties Union
Queens United Independent People
Survived & Punished
WOMANKIND