By Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change.
It’s not a secret: the Trump Administration’s policies are ravaging our communities, causing damage that will take decades to rectify. Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, is doing what he’s done forever: stoking racial tensions, pitting communities and classes of people against each other, all in the search of his misguided and narrow brand of “justice.”
At a time like this New Yorkers need a champion to stand up to Trump and Sessions. We need leaders who will say “no” to this extremism. We need to be courageous enough to tell the President and the Attorney General that keeping communities safe is about knocking down barriers, not doors. We fight crime by building relationships, not a conviction record or a quota system.
Unfortunately, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance is a lap dog to Trump and Sessions on his best day. And on his worst? He’s a cheerleader for their destructive and divisive policies.
Vance’s failed record – which for years flew under the radar – is becoming much better understood. Vance infamously failed to pursue a well-founded sexual assault case against Harvey Weinstein, and likewise refused to charge Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. for lying to prospective customers. And in both cases, he received thousands in campaign contributions from attorneys for Weinstein and the Trumps.
For years, Vance aggressively enforced New York’s “gravity knife” laws, winning harsh prison terms against New Yorkers who carry common pocket knives – with 84 percent of defendants in these cases being minorities. And he’s worked to intimidate and prosecute peaceful protestors and Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street activists in low-level summons cases.
But that only scratches the surface.
Cy Vance – along with Attorney General Jeff Sessions – is now more regularly employing high-tech tactics to surveil the communities he’s supposed to serve.
- Vance is at the tip of the spear of one of Sessions’ priorities: so-called predictive policing, or the idea that law enforcement can “fight crime” by using the same technologies that Amazon does to sell us goods. They pop information into an algorithm – including if a crime has been committed in your neighborhood or if you’ve been stopped by the police before – and the computer is supposed to predict if you’re going to commit a crime, and then ratchet up surveillance on you.
Sound familiar? It should. These are the same arguments that were made for the failed and unconstitutional stop-and-frisk program. What it is is a 21st century version of what they’ve been doing for years: coming up with excuses to target black and brown neighborhoods, stopping young men of color.
- They’re also working together to weaken the privacy protections your smartphone and other devices have – all in the name of solving crimes. Privacy technologies are employed to protect your texts and emails, financial documents and medical records. These documents are encrypted to ensure only you and the person you’re sending a message to, see it. But Sessions and Vance want to force tech companies to create a way to let the government see these messages, too. They ignore that creating a “backdoor” would also allow hackers a way into our phones.
- And Vance inked a taxpayer-funded contract with a shady data mining company linked to Cambridge Analytica and the Trump campaign. The company specializes in analyzing patterns of online behavior to…you guessed it. Fight crime. It’s strategies like this that lead to rap lyrics used in court against an alleged gang member.
In the era of Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions, we deserve much better. Communities and groups across our city – including the organization I represent – have redoubled efforts to protect our most vulnerable, fight against economic oppression and resist the disastrous, and often racist, policies coming from Washington.
New Yorkers deserve a district attorney who is willing to stand up to Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions. Someone who will protect the values of working families and fight for residents in underserved communities. Instead we have Cy Vance – a district attorney who is in cahoots with the Trump administration at every turn. We can do better.
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