A true sanctuary city

TINA LUONGO | 12/15/2016, 10:52 a.m.
Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Mark-Viverito recently joined the chorus of other elected officials throughout the country reaffirming ...
New York City Pixabay

Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Mark-Viverito recently joined the chorus of other elected officials throughout the country reaffirming their commitment to sanctuary policies protecting immigrant communities. We applaud this loud stand for justice and will continue our crucial work here in New York City as the city’s public defenders.

But, saying we are a sanctuary state and city must also mean that every facet of our criminal justice system supports protecting the rights of all New Yorkers—especially those now most vulnerable in a Trump administration. This support includes police policies and practices; prosecutorial standards on charging, bail and plea offers; and other consequential areas that have historically disenfranchised many in our city.

Here are a few suggestions on how we can really stand proud together:

Enact gravity knives reform legislation

Governor Cuomo must enact bipartisan legislation that properly redefines common folding knives. Every year, innocent New Yorkers are unjustly arrested and prosecuted because of the ambiguity over the classification of knives in New York State. A common pocket knife, sold in Home Depot and Lowes to hard working people, can often lead to a criminal record because of an erroneous classification as a “gravity knife.” These knives are tools and should not make you deportable. If this bill is vetoed, stores will continue to sell these knives, and police will continue arresting Black and Brown people for purchasing them.

Improve police/community relations

With the loss of federal protections from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights arm looming, Mayor de Blasio must work to reform NYPD policing practices. Marginalized communities need to feel safe with their police forces. In cases such as that of Daniel Pantaleo, swift action, discipline and timely termination will work to create trust in communities that are still reeling from incidents of police brutality. When an individual such as Eric Garner can lose his life for selling loose cigarettes, New Yorkers need to know that improving police and community relations is one of the city’s top priorities.

Pass the Right To Know Act (Int. 182)

Under the leadership of Speaker Mark-Viverito, the City Council has passed much needed legislation reforming our criminal justice system. Outstanding, though, is action on the Right To Know Act, an important bill that would obligate police to identify themselves and to notify civilians of their constitutional right to refuse a search. This law is critical and central to police transparency and accountability. We implore the Speaker to bring this bill to the floor for a full body vote posthaste.

A call to the district attorneys

Finally, our district attorneys need to acknowledge that there is no low-level crime that should lead to deportation or incarceration at Rikers Island. Systematically jailing individuals and requesting extortionate bail for low-level crimes does nothing for public safety. District attorneys’ bail requests and plea policies set precedent and direct judges in courts across the city.

Remain steadfast on detainer law

In the past, ICE detainers were a persistent and prevalent issue in the representation of non-citizen New Yorkers in criminal court. As a result of the detainers, many non-citizen New Yorkers were placed in deportation proceedings even though they had no prior criminal record and were before the court for noncriminal offenses. As federal courts and many state attorneys general began to question the constitutionality of state and local authorities’ enforcement of civil immigration detainers, the City Council passed detainer laws that restrict the cooperation of the New York City Police Department and Department of Correction with ICE and thereby brought reason and compassion to enforcement of the immigration laws within the City of New York. We urge New York City to continue to protect the rights of its non-citizen residents by standing behind its detainer law.

These suggestions are only a snapshot of the pressing issues we need to address in the coming days, weeks and months. The road ahead will not be easy, but if we unite for justice for all, then, and only then, are we truly a sanctuary.

Tina Luongo is Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice at The Legal Aid Society.