Brooklyn needs a new district attorney, according to candidate Kenneth Thompson.
“I am the father of a young son who is 6, growing up in the city, so the abuse and the misuse of stop-and-frisk is not some sort of academic exercise for me,” he told the AmNews. “It is very real to me, and I think we need to have new leadership in the Brooklyn district attorney’s office to deal with these practices for the sake of all of our children, to make the streets safer and stronger.”
He is declaring that after 23 years in the seat of the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, it is time for Charles “Jo” Hynes to hand the keys over to a newcomer–him. “I am getting a great reception in the streets wherever I go, from Coney Island to Crown Heights,” Thompson said. “The one consistent theme is, people want a new district attorney”
Thompson officially announced his run two weeks ago, and now the former federal prosecutor is in uber election mode, pressing the flesh, having street corner debates, attending forums and churches, and getting those all-important PR shots. He says that he is “focused on the real problems like rising gun violence, cyber crimes, wrongful convictions and prosecutorial misconduct.” Seasoned and ready, Thompson makes no mention of fellow Hynes challenger Abe George however.
“Look at these wrongful convictions coming out of the district attorney’s office that we are learning about almost on a daily basis. I believe if the there are serious allegations of prosecutorial or police misconduct that led to someone’s wrongful conviction–I don’t believe that the district attorney should investigate claims like that. I believe those claims should go to an independent prosecutor such as Attorney General Eric Schneiderman or a separate prosecutor, because we have to restore public confidence in convictions coming out of the Brooklyn’ district attorney’s office. I would send those cases out of the office for thorough independent review.”
The son of Clara Thompson, one of the first female NYPD officers to patrol the city, Ken Thompson too pursued a career in law enforcement. As a federal prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn, he investigated and prosecuted a wide range of criminal cases, including the 1997 Abner Louima case. In private practice, he took on assault cases such as hotel housekeeper Nafissatou Diallo, who accused French politico Dominique Strauss-Kahn of abusing her in the Sofitel Hotel in Manhattan.
When it comes to police and Black community relations, Thompson is quick on the draw. He cites his involvement with the prosecution in the Louima case.
“Here a young man was taken to a bathroom in the 70th Precinct and tortured with a broken broomstick. The community was up in arms; 8,000 people marched across the Brooklyn Bridge. I was the one who gave the opening statement. I am the one who drafted the indictment. I am one of the main prosecutors who investigated the case.”
Nonetheless, Thompson noted optimistically, “I believe until this day that the relationship with the police and the Black community can be improved. I think one of the ways is to deal with stop-and-frisk.
“I think it is overused in Brooklyn, in New York City, but it can be a valuable law enforcement tool if it is used in the right way. Hundreds of thousands of Black and Latino men have been stopped on the streets of New York City, mostly in Brooklyn, who have done nothing wrong, and so clearly, the tactic of stop-and-frisk is not being applied in the correct way.
“We all want guns off the street,” he continued. “We all want crime to come down, but it is very, very important to respect the civil rights of people in the community. So I can’t sit idly by and remain silent if I become Brooklyn district attorney as Joe Hynes is doing. Hynes says stop-and-frisk is a police decision that’s not his concern. I disagree with that. A number of young men are being stopped and frisked without any basis of reasonable suspicion–and they are being told to empty out their pockets, and sometimes they might have small amounts of marijuana on them; and they are brought into the system, and they are being given criminal records–so generations of young men are being wiped out. How are they going to get jobs later? How are they going to go to college? How are they going to take care of their families?”
Emphasizing his point, Thompson said, “I believe when the tool of stop-and-frisk is done wrong, it only undermines the relationship between the police and the community. I believe when you stop-and-frisk innocent people unjustly, it plants seeds of resentment; and the police and the community must be able to work together.”
The solution he offers is that “all my [assistant district attorneys] must be trained to thoroughly assess stop-and-frisk cases to make sure that they were based on reasonable suspicion. It can’t be based on a hunch.”
He quotes the ongoing case of Floyd vs. City of New York, in which Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin asked lawyers for the city, “Why are so many people being stopped because they are suspected as having guns-and no one has any guns?”
Thompson said he would train his staff to know that police have to show what “constitutes reasonable suspicion–that they are armed and dangerous, they see a handle of a gun–to make sure these cases presented to the office are valid. I would work with police officers to make sure they are trained. Judge Scheindlin said that police officers are so poorly trained that they are stopping people first, then trying to determine reasonable suspicion. That is the exact opposite of what the Supreme Court said. So I would work with whoever the new police commissioner is and the Police Department and make sure that people in the community understand what their rights are on stop-and-frisk and what the Supreme Court said.
“That’s why we can’t afford to have Jo Hynes saliently sitting at his desk on this issue,” he added. “The community needs to have leadership in the Brooklyn district attorney’s office … and that’s what I intend to give ’em. I intend to support the police when they are right, and support the community at the same time–I don’t think they are mutually exclusive.”
Hynes’ office did not respond to an AmNews request for comment.