Crime and Safety

Albany rewarded criminals at the expense of New York’s blacks and Hispanics: DA

Mark Twain once said, “History never repeats itself, but it often rhymes.”

In New York State we suffer from one of these rhymes.

In 1973, New York was facing an epidemic of drug use, and solutions came from two main lines of thought.

The sensible approach was addiction treatment.

However, the conservative ideologists of our state took a more politically expedient path to virtue, demonstrating their “cruelty towards crime” by criminalizing drug addiction.

The Rockefeller drug laws, as they became known, took away judicial discretion by imposing mandatory minimum sentences for minor crimes, which had a disproportionately negative impact on minorities.

If the abolition of judicial discretion to denote ideological virtue sounds familiar, you are hearing one of the historical rhymes that Twain was referring to.

Albany rewarded criminals at the expense of New York’s blacks and Hispanics: DA
David Soares has criticized the state’s bail reform laws.

“Reforms” such as the 2019 Bail Repeal Act, promoted by liberal ideologues, have produced remarkably similar results: the introduction of “least restrictive condition” analysis once again robbed judicial discretion, affecting minorities disproportionately.

The oppression of people of color under the Rockefeller drug laws inspired my first campaign in 2004.

Despite the difficulties, over the next few years, I worked with legislators to change these laws, which eventually led to the closure of prisons in New York and its transformation into a model for reform as the safest large state in the country.

In the 19 years since my first election, my position on public safety has not changed.

I still acknowledge that healing and distraction should be an integral part of any pragmatic office.

However, the Overton window has shifted, and the new ideological group has all but erased the dialogue around the very group I’m fighting for: the victims, who, unfortunately, are disproportionately black and brown.

In 2017 and 2019, New York passed the Raise the Age reform, bail reform, and disclosure reform. The confluence of these three bills equals, if not exceeds, the harsh results of the Rockefeller drug laws.

Instead of over-punishing minor infractions of the law, the new ideology universally treats defendants as a new class of victims, resulting in minimal accountability for their actions.

As for Raise the Age, one particular case stands out:

In Albany, 16- and 17-year-olds were arrested last year on their way to a drive-by shooting.

New York State Capitol
The Bail Repeal Act of 2019 is blamed for the rise in crime in the city.
POOL/AFP via Getty Images

More than 100 rounds of ammunition and two illegal guns were confiscated.

However, both teenagers were then sent home to the same environment that led to their criminal behavior. What message does this send to our youth?

With regard to bail reform, if the risk of the defendant escaping is the only consideration allowed in arraignment, is the message simply “Your violent history is irrelevant”?

With respect to disclosure reform, if burdensome requirements force prosecutors to spend most of their energy on the most serious cases, resulting in procedural dismissals of other serious but less important cases, what message does that send to criminals?

Reacting to the actual impact of these laws is a symptom of cognitive dissonance. Legislators allegedly took these measures to help minorities.

However, these laws only help defendants. What does this say about their attitude towards minorities?

Vice President Nelson Rockefeller
In 1973, the Rockefeller drug laws were passed.
Getty Images

In New York, the crime rate increased by 47.5% compared to the periods prior to these reforms.

It’s the same with black and brown victimization.

The city of Albany (more than 100,000 residents) had 205 confirmed shootings, 96 casualties, 147 weapons seized, and 110 arrests, according to local law enforcement data for 2022. There were also 19 homicides in 2022, compared to a 5-year average of 12.

An objective observer of cause and effect can only conclude that the Legislature viewed the security of blacks as a necessary sacrifice to achieve the abstract goal of “justice” for criminals.

Instead of signaling a willingness to listen to subject matter experts, they offered resources to retrain judges, which demonstrates both ignorance and arrogance in an attempt to defend their statutes.

This callous indifference to people who commit crimes in the inner city calls into question how important black lives really are.

Despite my tone, I don’t believe all is lost. I believe that we have reasonable legislators who are drowned out by the loud voices of the complacent.

Winston Churchill said that “the wickedness of the wicked was aided by the cowardice of the virtuous.”

Crime and victimization in New York City will continue to thrive due to inaction or “minor fixes”.

I implore those who now silently agree to find the courage to stand up for what is right, despite the potential political consequences.

David Soares is the Albany County District Attorney.

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