Ken Thompson campaigned on a platform of criminal justice reform in his bid to become Brooklyn’s top prosecutor. He made some notable changes early on: exonerating several wrongfully convicted men, promising not to prosecute low-level marijuana possession and holding events purportedly to help people clear past warrants.
However, his recommendation of no jail time for Peter Liang, the now ex-NYPD officer who killed Akai Gurley in 2014, reminds us that Thompson is still a prosecutor whose leniency toward cops represents little change. Liang was sentenced to 5 years’ probation and 800 hours of community service last week after Judge Danny Chun embraced Thompson’s recommendation and reduced Liang’s conviction to criminally negligent homicide. Liang had been convicted by a jury of manslaughter, and faced up to 15 years in prison. Both are felonies.
Thompson insisted that jail time wasn’t necessary since the case was about justice, not “revenge.”
Thompson’s decision sheds another light on how his office actually works for low-level offenders in Brooklyn. According to some public defenders, the office has dished out a pretty punitive form of “justice” for some other people — most whom are from low-income communities of color.
- A 24-year-old black man in Brooklyn was offered 2 to 4 years jail time for alleged possession of marijuana and fraudulent credit cards.
- A 51-year-old Latino was offered 3 to 6 years behind bars after he was found drunk at a construction site and accused of stealing tools.
- A 34-year old black nurse was offered 6 months in jail for misdemeanor assault, which she denies.
Those examples don’t include the countless poor people arrested in shoplifting cases who sometimes spend weeks in Rikers because Thompson’s office requests and gets bails everyone knows those arrested can’t afford.
After Liang’s sentencing, seven activists were arrested after protesting outside of Thompson’s home in Clinton Hill. They were drumming and chanting Akai’s name and pushing the #ByeKen message to have Thompson thrown out of office like Chicago activists did with prosecutor Anita Alvarez, who was not elected for a third term.
Thousands of people in Brooklyn, including the activists arrested last week, have spent more time in jail than Peter Liang. If that’s “justice,” I want no part of it.
Josmar Trujillo is a trainer, writer and activist with the Coalition to End Broken Windows.