steel toe doc martens holding firm on stance on ‘Broken Windows’ warrants
Six months after District Attorney Michael E. McMahon called the dismissal of outstanding “Broken Windows” era arrest warrants unfair, supporters of the plan continue to call on the prosecutor to join the rest of the city in issuing blanket amnesty a move that would affect thousands of Staten Islanders.
Over the summer, McMahon refused to join the city’s four other district attorneys, when they chose to dismiss hundreds of thousands of outstanding warrants.
All those warrants were 10 or more years old, and were issued when individuals failed to answer summonses for low level offenses from the city’s “Broken Windows” era of policing.
Violations committed included riding a bicycle on the sidewalk, or staying in a park after closing hours.
A spokeswoman for the state court system said 32,709 of these warrants were active, as of Jan. 30, 2017. She said that some of these would have been excluded from dismissal by the NYPD.
A spokesperson for the police department said information on how many of those warrants would have been excluded, would require a Freedom of Information of Law request, which can take months to answer.
When the warrants were dismissed, Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown said the most “flagrant violators” were excluded after the NYPD vetted the list, and that they may still face prosecution, if apprehended.
McMahon declined comment for this story, but previously said he thought the mass dismissal of these warrants was unfair to people who answered for these types of violations.
“As a civic leader and neighborhood activist for over 30 years, I have worked tirelessly to protect the quality of life on Staten Island and I believe that part of my responsibility as district attorney is to continue to protect that quality of life,” he said in a written statement in July.
Michael Sisitzky, lead policy counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union, said it was wrong to assume people chose not to answer for these summonses, especially those living paycheck to paycheck.
“I don’t think its fair to assume that New Yorkers didn’t want to comply with these summonses and show up,” Sisitzky said. “There’s just so many barriers that make it particularly challenging for low income New Yorkers to respond to these cases.”
Many of these people would have had to spend an entire day in court, even if they intended to pay the fine. That isn’t always feasible for those responsible for the care of children or the elederly, Sisitzky said.
Cesar Vargas, a Staten Island lawyer and community advocate, said McMahon’s stance isn’t fair to the people with these warrants, who are overwhelmingly black and Latino.
“It’s about ensuring, if you stayed out of trouble, and, obviously, the offense was nonviolent, then you should definitely have a chance to end it,” Vargas said.
Sisitzky said people with these warrants hadn’t committed another offense, or even had contact with an officer, because they would’ve been arrested if their name were run through a database after being stopped by a cop.
“If they had one of these warrants issued that would’ve been flagged for law enforcement, so in many cases, this really is people who did not have another encounter with an officer during this 10 year period,” he said.
McMahon has touted his “Fresh Start” events that offer people with these types of warrants the opportunity to clear their name.
A spokesman for McMahon’s office confirmed that the last of these events was held in November 2016. He said one was planned for 2018, but that a date hadn’t been determined.
There’s no system in place to let New Yorkers know about their outstanding warrants, so people might not even know they have these warrants, Sisitzky said.
“There’s simply no public safety benefit to continuing to subject people to the potential of lifelong consequences for offenses that are so minor, that they aren’t even crimes,” he said. “It makes sense to address (the warrants) in a broad based approach.”
Vargas said these warrants create a backlog in our legal system, and take away from issues law enforcement should be focusing on. He hopes McMahon reconsiders his stance, and keeps his campaign promise of promoting justice.
“The reality is that election season is coming up. 2019 is around the corner, and the misconception that this a very red borough. I think that’s playing into the decision,” he said.