By ignoring requests for meetings with District Attorneys, Mayor de Blasio has hampered law enforcement reform

By LOUIS FLORES

In spite of his central campaign pledge made last year to reform law enforcement in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has ignored repeated requests to have a group meeting with the city's five district attorneys, The New York Post has reported.

According to the report, the city's top municipal prosecutors have tried for seven months without any success to schedule a meeting with the mayor to discuss issues about their respective budgets and about public safety.

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown has been trying to meet with Mayor Bill de Blasio for seven months, but City Hall has been rebuffing requests for meetings, according to a news report. Source :  Official Photo/Queens District Attorney's Office

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown has been trying to meet with Mayor Bill de Blasio for seven months, but City Hall has been rebuffing requests for meetings, according to a news report. Source :  Official Photo/Queens District Attorney's Office

When contacted by Progress Queens, a representative from the Queens District Attorney's Office would not comment about the brusque treatment by City Hall.

When he was running for mayor last year, Mr. de Blasio, then the city's Public Advocate, campaigned on a main promise to end policing procedures that unfairly targeted people of color, the most notable of which was the New York Police Department's use of the tactic known as stop-and-frisk, which was found by a federal court judge to have been unconstitutionally directed at minority communities.  Before former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's third term came to a close, the city had already dramatically reduced the incidence rate of stop-and-frisk.  For example, during the third quarter of 2013, there were over 20,000 incident reports of stop-and-frisk, an 80 per cent. plunge from the corresponding reporting period for 2012, according to a report by the Associated Press.  .  Although some police reform activists suspected that the NYPD might have been deliberately under-reporting the number of stop-and-risks, by the time Mayor de Blasio assumed office, stop-and-frisk had, by and large, stopped being the focus of policing reform efforts.  

Advocates for police reform then shifted their focus to other unfair policing tactics that the new mayor seemed to defend or embrace as a replacement for stop-and-frisk, such as the police department's reliance on the Broken Windows theory of policing, which, like stop-and-frisk, has appeared to disproportionately affect minority communities.  The mayor's Vision Zero program to curtail traffic and pedestrian accidents on the roadways has also appeared to give police wider latitude to stop drivers and pedestrians without cause, albeit under the guise of "public safety."  

However, there is one other area where Mayor de Blasio has refused to make good on his campaign promise to reform law enforcement -- one in which policing still very visibly collides with race :  marijuana arrests.  On this issue, the mayor could give guidance to the city's five district attorneys to formulate a united city policy that would forego prosecution of low-level marijuana arrests as a result of worrisome racial disparities in such arrests, but by thus far ignoring the requests to meet with the city's top municipal prosecutors to discuss broader issues affecting public safety, the mayor has been contributing to an approach to marijuana prosecutions that police reform activists call arbitrary and unfair.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is allowing the city's top municipal prosecutors to treat low-level marijuana possession cases differently between the city's five boroughs, ignoring the racial disparities in such arrests and outraging advocates for law enforcement reform.  Source : CC 2.0 by Kevin Case/Wikipedia 

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is allowing the city's top municipal prosecutors to treat low-level marijuana possession cases differently between the city's five boroughs, ignoring the racial disparities in such arrests and outraging advocates for law enforcement reform.  Source : CC 2.0 by Kevin Case/Wikipedia 

In New York, Blacks are 4.5 times more likely than Whites to be arrested for marijuana offenses.  This racial disparity plays out across the city's five boroughs, and the racial implications of marijuana arrests expose the mayor as duplicitous by his resistance to the necessary overhaul in law enforcement that is required, if the mayor is going to be truly faithful to his campaign pledge to end policing tactics that unfairly target minorities.

Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson announced last July a new policy of foregoing prosecution on most low-level cases of marijuana possession.  In announcing his decision, D.A. Thompson specifically cited the unfair, racial disparities in marijuana arrests.  However, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton swiftly responded to D.A. Thompson's announcement by saying that the racial disparities in marijuana arrests would not alter the NYPD's approach to making business-as-usual marijuana arrests, according to a report by WNYC.  

Proponents for police reform seized on the D.A. Thompson's pull back on the war on drugs as an opportunity for Mayor de Blasio to launch a city-wide conversation amongst the city's other top municipal prosecutors that would address the racial aspects of low-level, nonviolent marijuana arrests.  However, activists' hopes were dashed when Mayor de Blasio refused to challenge Commissioner Bratton's embrace of an uneven and arbitrary approach to prosecution of minor marijuana possession charges across New York City.

Defenders of a strict application of drug laws point to the fact that the city's five district attorneys are independently elected by voters in each of the five boroughs, allowing each district attorney to autonomously set priorities for their respective office.  Some advocates for law enforcement reform denounce the reliance by elected officials of bad laws that mandate racial discrimination.  Elected officials in the United States have a long tradition of hiding behind the codification of discrimination, known as Jim Crow laws, to defend the prosecution of crimes that have disproportionately affected people along racial lines.   

Under growing public pressure, the mayor's office finally relented late today and agreed to a meeting with the city's top municipal prosecutors, according to updated Web report published by WNBC Channel 4 News.  A response is expected from Phil Walzak, the mayor's chief press contact, to various questions submitted by e-mail to the City Hall's press office, giving the mayor an opportunity to express his views on the contradictory approach to low-level marijuana prosecutions between the district attorneys for city's five boroughs.