Ken Thompson campaigned on a platform of criminal justice reform in his bid to become Brooklyn’s top prosecutor. He made some notable changes: exonerating several wrongfully convicted men, promising not to prosecute low-level marijuana possession and holding events purportedly held to 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 has been sentenced to 5 years’ probation and 800 hours of community service after Judge Danny Chun embraced Thompson’s recommendation and reduced Liang’s conviction to criminally negligent homicide. Liang had been convicted of manslaughter by a jury and faced up to 15 years in prison.
Thompson insisted that jail time wasn’t necessary because the case was about “justice,” not “revenge.” His decision sheds light on how his office works for low- level offenders. According to some public defenders, the office has dished out a pretty punitive form of “justice” for some other people — most of whom are from low-income communities of color. Some examples:
n A 51-year-old Latino with no felony record was offered 3 to 6 years in jail after he was found drunk at a construction site and accused of stealing tools.
n A 34-year old black nurse also with no felony record was offered 6 months in jail for misdemeanor assault, which she denies.
These don’t include the countless people arrested in shoplifting cases who sometimes spend weeks in Rikers because Thompson requests and gets bail amounts 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 Gurley’s name and pushing the #ByeKen message to have Thompson thrown out of office as Chicago activists did with prosecutor Anita Alvarez, who was not re-elected.
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.