Human rights activists publicly scolded New York City’s district attorneys at a Tuesday rally in Lower Manhattan, blaming them for a slew of wrongful convictions made in the last half decade.
Members from a coalition of advocacy groups such as Families of Wrongfully Convicted and Vocal NY congregated in front of City Hall on Broadway and Murray Street to demand that incoming Mayor Eric Adams, along with Governor Kathy Hochul, Attorney General Letitia James, and the members of the New York City Council, address the conviction review process.
“It is estimated that there are thousands of people in our prisons that are wrongfully convicted, maybe even more if they’re 2.5 million people in prison, 10% are to be wrongfully convicted. Our concern right now is the district attorneys in New York and the elected officials who have not stepped up. The district attorney Conviction Review Units have been abysmal. They promised a lot but they haven’t produced,” Lonnie Soury, co-founder of Families of Wrongfully Convicted said.
Those with sons and daughters and brothers and sisters who they believe are serving time for crimes they did not commit joined the rally hugging photographs of their loved ones and even dressed in shirts with the faces of those behind bars printed on the fabric.
Forming a circle in the frigid air, they lampooned all five borough district attorneys for what they said was a failure to look into and overturn cases of the wrongfully convicted through the “nonfunctional” Convictions Review Units (CRU), save for Queens DA Melinda Katz, whom they applauded for her work in the last 18 months.
“Melinda Katz has stepped up and she met with us before she was elected. She opened up a wrongful conviction unit. They have exonerated or overturned eight convictions in 18 months,” Soury said.
However, no more punches were pulled when it came to the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Staten Island District Attorneys.
Straight from the mouths of those who have wallowed in prison for decades for crimes they were later cleared of, several exonerated individuals aimed to show politicians in local government the importance of examining the current state of the conviction review process by sharing their stories.
“We’re here demanding that elected officials do their job. That’s right. Over $300 million was spent on wrongful convictions the last few years, yet the mayor hasn’t said one word about wrongful conviction,” said Derrick Hamilton, who spent 21 years in prison. “We are not here to play games. We are here to make demands. Eric Adams, we love you. We actually want you to lead in this department.”
Officially, a New York City mayor lacks the power to order prosecutions or criminal case reviews, though the official may advocate publicly for greater action from the boroughs’ district attorneys, which are under state control.
Gerald Barn, who spent 5 1/2 years behind bars after being wrongfully convicted, agreed – and even went as far as to allude to the city’s crime issue is, in part, to wrongful convictions. That reality, he said, compels some young children to take up arms when their mothers and fathers are arrested.
“You want to come to our neighborhoods and talk about gun violence. But what about the violence that’s coming out of your office, right? You’re putting felonies on innocent people. You’re taking the fathers out of the homes. No wonder the crime is rising in this damn city,” Barn said.