Credit: María Venegas

By Alfonsina Venegas

On Thursday, a dozen people gathered outside New York Criminal Court in Manhattan to protest the inaction of District Attorney Cy Vance toward reform of the criminal justice system. Representatives from the #FREEnewyork campaign, a state-wide effort to end the jail crisis in New York, as well as JustLeadershipUSA, stood with banners to demand Vance leave the District Attorneys Association of New York (DAASNY).

They asserted that the association “has opposed criminal justice reform for decades.” The protesters said they were “calling on Cy Vance to support critical bail discovery and speed trial legislation in Albany.”

“Since when has it become a crime to be black, brown, or poor?” shouted Al Johnson, one of the campaign organizers. “We are here to hold our elected officials accountable and to send a message that our communities have been disproportionately devastated by the antiquated, unjust and unfair laws that govern cash bail, discovery, and speedy trial. ”

As the others cheered his words, the African-American activist went on: “Mr. Vance, although you claim to be progressive, the organization that you have aligned with has opposed every bit of progressive legislation that will advance justice and equality in our state. DA Vance, despite claiming to support reform, you have lobbied against critical legislation that will eliminate money bail, and protect pretrial liberty and stop the withholding of evidence and to act true on speedy trial laws. Your claim of being progressive sharply contrasts with your apparent loyalty to DAASNY.”

Protesters believe that the DAASNY uses fear rather than facts to block progressive reforms to the criminal justice system. They maintained the DA should use his powers for the good of all his constituents, especially those who are directly impacted. “People languishing in jail at Rikers Island waiting for their trials, are being abused. They get mentally and physically abused by the system!” shouted a woman standing behind a #FREEnewyork banner.

The activists entered the court building, took the elevator to the 7th floor, and delivered their letter to the office of the District Attorney. They shouted, “Free New York!” as the clerk there listened to them with an air of impatience.