As adversaries of the District Attorney, Five Boro Defenders‘ (5BD) members have a deep understanding of the unbridled power of the prosecutor and are witnesses to the daily harms it inflicts. With this unique perspective, working groups of 5BD members created election guides for the District Attorney primaries in Brooklyn (2017); Queens (2019); Manhattan (2021). These guides are not the opinion of 5BD as a whole, but of each working group, largely made up of practitioners in New York City criminal courts.
These Guides Are Not Endorsements
As public defenders and students of abolition, we do not embrace any candidate for District Attorney. The role of the prosecutor, no matter how “progressive,” will always be harmful to the communities we represent because of our fundamental belief that prosecutors do not deliver justice. Justice comes from accountability within the community. Prosecutors do not make us safe; safety arises when a community that has its basic health, economic, housing, and educational needs met.
We witness daily the harm created by the racist and dangerously retributive policies of New York City District Attorneys in the name of the “People of New York”–policies which reinforce and contribute to the continuing harm of racist policing and mass incarceration. The role of the prosecutor in our legal system, no matter who they are, is a role that harms individuals and communities. With this in mind, we recognize that some candidates are likely to cause more harm than others. The aim of this guide is to inform voters and would-be endorsers as to where we, as practitioners, believe candidates fall on a harm to community scale.
We Want to Shrink the Power of the DA
The DA decides who to charge, what to charge, what kind of alternatives to incarceration to offer, and what length of sentence to seek. A position imbued with this much power and discretion is downright dangerous. While certainly a “progressive prosecutor” is a better alternative to a traditional law-and-order prosecutor, too often these self-styled “progressive” candidates want to maintain their discretion and power while simply reorganizing and redirecting it. We want to end it. No one politician should wield such extraordinary power.
We want to defund and shrink the power of the DA in service of our mission to abolish the DA, just as we fight to defund and abolish the police. We want to divest from the prison industrial complex and ensure that funding goes directly to support communities through community led initiatives like violence interrupters, safe injection sites, community and youth centers, public health sites, mental health resources, child care, public schools, and after-school programs–in short, resources that will make communities safer and ensure that communities thrive, free of jail and prison walls.