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Column: Hopeful DAs Get a Forum (New York Metro)

By Donna Lieberman — In two weeks, Manhattan residents will begin the process of electing a new district attorney. As the top elected criminal justice official, the DA has a profound impact on our civil rights and liberties. That is why the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Justice Action Center at New York Law School, Common Cause NY and nine other nonpartisan civil rights organizations got together to host a DA candidates debate exclusively on civil rights and liberties.

All three candidates agreed to participate in the debate, which will be moderated by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Les Payne at 7 tonight at New York Law School. Less than a week out, candidates Leslie Crocker-Snyder and Cy Vance, Jr. dropped out. Candidate Richard Aborn will take part.

Voters should know where the candidates stand on enforcement of drug laws and campaign finance laws, civilian oversight of police misconduct, the police presence in city schools, and the due process rights of criminal defendants. Here are some of the questions we would like all the candidates answer:

  • The NYPD is on track to make 600,000 stop-and-frisks this year. Eighty percent of those stopped are black or Latino; 90 percent are innocent. What is your view of this practice? What role should the DA’s office play regarding it?
  • There’s been a 10-fold increase in marijuana arrests over the past 10 years, from 3,000 a year in the 1980s and ’90s to 35,000 a year now. Though government studies show that whites use marijuana more than blacks or Latinos, 90 percent of those arrested are black or Latino. Is this troubling? What role should the DA have in addressing it?
  • Several thousand police patrol New York City’s schools and students are sometimes arrested for minor infractions, such as writing on the desk or wearing a hat. Would you prosecute children for noncriminal acts?
  • The Gay City News regularly reports about police entrapment targeting the LGBTQ community. How would your office address these concerns?
  • New York’s criminal procedure rules are extraordinarily restrictive and deny defendants important information about the evidence against them until the trial has begun. As DA, would your office share information sooner, allowing defense lawyers time to prepare? What, if any, reforms are needed?

Our forum will go on as scheduled — I hope all of the candidates will attend.

Donna Lieberman is the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

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