tahanie aboushi

Tahanie Aboushi is a civil rights attorney and has worked as a partner at her family’s law firm since 2010. She has a unique understanding of the plight the criminal punishment system causes families and communities of color, as her own father was sentenced to 22 years in prison when she was 14 years old. Aboushi is a native New Yorker born into a Palestinian immigrant family and believes that the issues she is advocating for in this race are not encapsulated by the term “progressive,” but more fundamentally about human rights and the quality of each human’s life. She is running as a decarceral prosecutor intent on shrinking the footprint of the Manhattan DA’s office, as well as its over-reliance on prisons and jails. She is also one of the only candidates calling for a 50% reduction to NYPD’s budget.

Aboushi plans to use the position to respond to society’s failures with a holistic approach. She explained, “[A]ll past DAs have been copies of each other, with draconian, abusive, and racist policies.” She will seek out like-minded individuals as members of her staff, promoting an idea that District Attorneys should be partners with the community and work to see them thrive. Aboushi plans to hire assistant district attorneys with various legal expertise and backgrounds, and hopes to bring in a diverse staff that is trained in other areas of the law that impact the Manhattan community, including immigration and civil rights lawyers, as opposed to those with strictly prosecutorial backgrounds.

Aboushi is a strong advocate of working collaboratively, yet during our interview she failed to appreciate that social workers, defense attorneys, and prosecutors all have different obligations and objectives based on their unique roles. Her unapologetic approach to transforming policing and uprooting the District Attorney’s office was a breath of fresh air, but throughout the interview it was apparent that she lacked a plan to garner buy-in from the players in the system she will ultimately have to rely on in order to successfully transform the office. 

Aboushi impressed us with the number of commitments made during our interview that were  favorable to the communities we serve. She was attentive to our experiences as public defenders but needed explanation of important practices and issues specific to the Manhattan DA’s office and the harms they cause. Aboushi’s background as a civil practitioner is not a bar to this elected office, but it was clear that she had not put in sufficient effort to bridge gaps in her knowledge prior to or during her campaign.

It is notable that Aboushi’s platform has further developed since our November interview and that she has been receptive to feedback from various groups. She is clearly dedicated to divesting from the criminal punishment system and investing in communities. Nonetheless, it is concerning that she frequently lacked a clear understanding or vision for accomplishing her decarceral objectives and has too often led from behind by adopting the policies of other candidates in the race.

Defunding the DA and Prosecutorial Accountability

Aboushi is calling for the complete overhaul of the Manhattan DA’s office. Though she wants to prosecute certain crimes she believes have been under-prosecuted by this office, such as  white collar crimes, wage theft, housing violations, sex crimes, and abuses against immigrant communities, on day one she plans to orient the DA’s office away from prosecution. Aboushi stated that she wants to get the prosecutor’s office out of the way in order to reduce harm to the communities it serves. She will reduce the DA’s budget, including reducing its yearly hiring, reinterview those currently employed, and disconnect the office from law enforcement agencies. 

Aboushi wants to pave the way to abolish prosecution by utilizing social workers, public defenders, teachers, and civil rights attorneys as members of her team. She is critical of the lack of a holistic approach in the Early Case Assessment Bureau (ECAB), a place where charging decisions are quickly made after arrest. However, her solution of bringing in more social workers and specialists to assist in assessments would be inconsistent with constitutional principles, including the right against self-incrimination and the right to counsel. We have yet to see a plan for how this conflict will be addressed. 

 

Rubric Category: Least harmful approach: will shrink the power and reach of the office

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Combating Systemic Racism

Aboushi believes her office must acknowledge the significant role that district attorneys play in systemic racism in every step of the criminal process. As District Attorney, she will no longer tolerate or enable discriminatory police practices. She values transparency and commits to releasing data relating to disparities in prosecution. Aboushi committed to never request no-knock warrants and will add increased scrutiny of all warrants her office seeks. 

Aboushi’s strategy is often over-reliant on the use of services and programs for our clients, programs which often fail to add real value to their lives and only create additional hurdles and forms of surveillance upon Black and Brown communities. 

 

Rubric Category: Least harmful approach: will shrink the power and reach of the office

combating racism candidate positions

 

 

Policing the Police

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Aboushi plans to drastically change the close working relationship that currently exists between the Manhattan DA’s office and the NYPD, citing her work suing the NYPD as a civil rights attorney as proof of her commitment. She believes her office can serve as a watchdog over the police. On her quest for accountability, she will examine law enforcement units in which the DA is deeply embedded and withdraw where necessary.  

Aboushi will refuse to work with police who have histories of misconduct. To ensure objectivity, she has committed to using an independent prosecutor when her office seeks to prosecute a police officer. She refuses to credit or use the gang database, and described it as a “warehouse for civil and constitutional violations.” She plans to utilize cure violence programs to aid in crime prevention.

In our interview, Aboushi committed to not using conspiracy charges against members of alleged gangs, and she recognized the harm these prosecutions have caused within her own community.  However, at an earlier forum, she did not make this commitment. When asked what changed, she explained that she was previously using a broader definition of “gang,” e.g., the “rich and powerful.” Aboushi also stated that she may bring conspiracy charges to prosecute individuals accused of violent crimes beyond Manhattan’s borders. 

 

Rubric Category: Least harmful approach: will shrink the power and reach of the office

policing the police candidate positions

Abolishing Cash Bail and Pretrial Detention

 

Aboushi pledges to end cash bail, but plans to use bail alternatives such as various forms of supervision and remand (pre-trial incarceration without possibility of bail) for charges involving violence or harm to a person. She will also take into account the wishes of the victim where relevant.

Aboushi’s views on bail often did not square with the presumption of innocence, and though she admits risk factors can be racist, she has not proposed a mechanism to remove bias when making determinations about supervision or remand.

Aboushi committed to offering the option of a preliminary hearing to detained individuals, and agreed not to ask for pre-trial supervision on people charged with misdemeanors.   

 

Rubric Category: Harmful approach: will maintain scope of power but redirect prosecutions, e.g., the “progressive prosecutor”

abolishing cash bail candidate positions

Ending the Criminalization of Poverty, Mental Illness, and Substance Use

Aboushi recognizes that substance use and mental illness are public health issues that should not be addressed by prosecutors. She supports the legalization of marijuana and the decriminalization of controlled substances. Though she supports safe injection sites, she believes there is an oversaturation in Harlem. 

Aboushi emphasizes services and believes that alternatives to incarceration should be the last resort rather than the most lenient option. However, we are concerned that her office would remain overly engaged with the community in lieu of simply not prosecuting. For instance, her “decline and diversion policy” recognizes the harms of prosecution, but still fails to remove DA discretion by creating a mere presumption to decline to prosecute instead of a firm commitment. 

Aboushi puts forward a more cooperative model of prosecution that seems entirely foreign to the adversarial process of the criminal and supreme courts. Though Aboushi states that individuals won’t be questioned without an attorney present, her diversion plan lacks logistical planning for how attorneys would be assigned prior to charging or how they would be able to prepare clients for such meetings. 

 

Rubric Category: Harmful approach: will maintain scope of power but redirect prosecutions, e.g., the “progressive prosecutor”

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Support for Decarceral Outcomes and Sentencing

Aboushi has committed to declining to prosecute a list of crimes, including crimes of poverty, crimes that do not harm other people, crimes manufactured by the police, drug possession, and sex work. However, as noted earlier, this list creates a presumption of declining to prosecute, but stops short of full decriminalization. 

She commits to listening to the victim and seeking accountability while also attempting to avoid incarceration. She plans to prosecute sex crimes meaningfully where there is adequate evidence and investigation to support it. 

As for prosecuting youth, Aboushi supports raising the age of criminal prosecution to 23 and is open to including individuals up to 25 years old. She recognizes these matters are better handled in Family Court. 

Though it is unclear in which circumstances her office will recommend a prison sentence, Aboushi doesn’t believe in death by incarceration and has adopted a sentencing cap of 20 years for all crimes. She will fight to end mandatory minimums, and she supports certain forms of early release, including elder parole, for those who are incarcerated.

 

Rubric Category: Harmful approach: will maintain scope of power but redirect prosecutions, e.g., the “progressive prosecutor”

support for decarceral outcomes candidate positions

Commitment to the Presumption of Innocence 

Aboushi believes that her “decline and diversion policy” will aid in reducing the day-to-day harm caused by the system by preventing it from the onset. She plans to respond to any “woeful conduct” by a prosecutor with termination and disclosure to the NY State Bar.

Aboushi also committed to never depriving an individual of their right to a jury trial when charged with misdemeanors, as has been the practice under Vance, and will support the repeal of Criminal Procedure Law 340.40(2), which permits bench trials on B misdemeanors in NYC. She also recognizes that there should be distinctions made between different types of warrants and commits to not seeking a warrant where the circumstance has nothing to do with the substance of crime, i.e. for a missed court date. 

 

Rubric Category: Harmful approach: will maintain scope of power but redirect prosecutions, e.g., the “progressive prosecutor”

presumption of innocence candidate positions

Correcting Past Harms

Aboushi did not hesitate to make commitments that will dramatically reduce the harm upon the communities most impacted by the Manhattan DA’s office, though it appeared she was not always familiar with the issue or the reason we asked for the commitment, as she has primarily worked as a civil practitioner.   

Aboushi plans to use a holistic approach within her conviction review unit, moving away from the perspective of the prosecutor and bringing in different voices. She committed to supporting all pending legislation aimed at ending mass incarceration and decreasing harm within the criminal punishment system.

 

Rubric Category: Harmful approach: will maintain scope of power but redirect prosecutions, e.g., the “progressive prosecutor”

correcting past harms candidate positions

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