Freedom’s True Price: The need for bail reform now.

In 2010, then 16-year-old Kalief Browder was accused of stealing a backpack. Because he could not pay bail, he languished in Riker’s Island for over three years of pre-trial detainment, subjected to punishing verbal and physical abuse and 400 days in solitary confinement. Then charges were dismissed, and Browder returned home. But, haunted by the trauma of his imprisonment–time served without a fair trial or conviction by a jury of his peers–he took his own life in June 2015, at the age of 22.

Kalief Browder was not the first, nor will he be the last, victim of a system that undermines the basic principle of “innocent until proven guilty” and questions the fairness we demand as a right from our criminal justice system.

Each year, tens of thousands of New Yorkers are locked behind bars for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. A closer look reveals that their incarceration does not result from a guilty verdict, but rather from a bail system designed with little thought for the havoc it wreaks on low-income families. Cells overflow with inmates who remain locked up because they lack the money to pay an arbitrary cash bail. Almost 40% of the Rikers population is there because of an outdated method of deterring flight risks. Men and women lose their homes, jobs, families, and basic civil liberties because of the size of their bank accounts.

At a June 17th hearing exploring our current bail system, the New York Civil Liberties Union issued these, among other findings, to the NYC Council Committee on Courts and Legal Services:

  • A September 2011 New York City Criminal Justice Agency Research Brief found that the difference in rates of court appearances for people held on cash bail and people released on their own recognizance is insignificant, reducing the argument for bail requirements altogether.
  • Cash bail discriminates along economic and racial divides. 87% of people offered bail of $1000 or less cannot afford it. Almost one-third of people offered bail of $500 or less cannot pay. Along those lines, almost 90% of those given bail instead of release are people of color.
  • The cost to taxpayers for this debunked system is immense. A May 2015 study by the Vera Institute of Justice calculates the cost of incarcerating inmates at Rikers at $571 per inmate per day. The New York City Independent Budget Office estimated the cost of holding people who are unable to afford bail at approximately $125 million per year.


The groundswell of support for reforms has led to tangible results on the local level, as entities like The Bronx Freedom FundBrooklyn Community Bail Fund, and the New York City Council have set in motion alternative mechanisms to cover bail for eligible individuals. Mayor de Blasio has championed change by announcing a $17.8 million plan allowing 3,000 more New Yorkers to await trial under home supervision instead of paying bail, hence avoiding pre-trial detention for non-violent offenders.

But state legislative action is required to permanently overhaul this unjust, for-profit system. We must again put pressure on Governor Cuomo to take up reforms first presented by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman in his 2013 Annual State of the Judiciary and further refined by the Pretrial Justice Institute, which has started a petition calling on the Governor to eliminate cash bail for all New Yorkers.

We urge you to sign the petition and contact your state representatives to show them that this priority deserves their attention. You can review NYCLU’s positions HERE.

Stay tuned. And thank you for your continued willingness to stand up and be counted on issues of fundamental fairness and justice.ABC_kalief_browder_jt_150609_16x9_992

LGBT Landmarks!

This year, we celebrate the recent designation of the Stonewall Inn as a New York City landmark. We also celebrate with the country the Supreme Court decision on Obergefell v. Hodges, which has opened the doors for full marriage equality across the nation.

In defending his marriage to his late husband, John Arthur, Jim Obergefell is a civil rights hero, a fighter for all of our equal rights. While we welcome this landmark victory on marriage equality, let’s remember that our struggle will not be over until our transgender brothers and sisters, who face legal discrimination and violence, have equal rights and protections under the law.

Let’s also reflect on the origins of NYC’s Annual Pride March: the now-famous uprising against routine police brutality against gays, lesbians, and transgender people. Today, in the face of unjust law enforcement, unequal justice, and often fatal, racialized police violence across the country, we recognize that the rights we now enjoy were first fought for by people who resisted, and brought to light, excessive force and illegal arrests.

Jim Obergefell and John Arthur on July 11, 2013, as they flew from Cincinnati to Baltimore to be legally wed. Their native Ohio still has a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The ceremony took place on the plane, due to John's limited mobility. Jim filed suit to have their marriage recognized in Ohio. John died of ALS on October 22, 2013.

Jim Obergefell and John Arthur on July 11, 2013, as they flew from Cincinnati to Baltimore to be legally wed. Their native Ohio had a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The ceremony took place on the plane, due to John’s limited mobility. Jim filed suit to have their marriage recognized in Ohio. John died of ALS on October 22, 2013.

 

No critically ill patient in New York State should suffer needlessly from lack of medical access.

This Tuesday, April 28th will mark the 298th day since New York’s medical marijuana bill was signed into law. But not one patient has yet received medication.  

That’s wrong–and dangerous, too, since many people, including children with violent seizures, are dying or suffering without the medical aid a simple plant now safely and legally available can provide.

We’re asking you to join Greater NYC for Change and our colleagues inCompassionate Care NY in demanding emergency access to medical marijuana this Tuesday, April 28th. CCNY is a statewide group of patients, providers, and organizations working together to relieve the suffering of thousands of seriously ill New Yorkers by establishing a carefully regulated medical marijuana program in New York. While that program is developed and implemented, we need your help. 

Here’s what you can do this Tuesday:

In New York City: Call the State Legislature in Support of Emergency Medical Marijuana Access! Tell leadership and your local state representatives that New Yorkers suffering from life-threatening or terminal illness shouldn’t have to wait until the full medical marijuana program is implemented. Call the legislators below–and then tell your friends and family members to do the same.

Governor Andrew Cuomo (518) 474-8390
Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (518) 455-3171
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (518) 455-4800
Chair of Senate Health Committee Kemp Hannon (518) 455-2200
Your local state senator and assembly member

In Albany: Take Part in Advocacy Day and a Press Conference in Support of Emergency Medical Marijuana Access at the State Capitol, 10 AM – 4 PM! Lawmakers in Albany need to hear from New Yorkers who care about medical marijuana. Join in a press conference and meetings with legislators to explain the urgent need for emergency access for critically ill patients and to voice your concerns with the limitations of the medical marijuana program being implemented by the Cuomo Administration. Experienced advocates will show the ropes to those new to advocacy. RSVP to VOCAL-NY Statewide Community Organizer (and GNYCFC Advisory Board member) Anna Saini.

Your calls take only minutes. Stand up for New Yorkers in need now!

This Year in Albany Budgeting

Albany Budgeting

Photo credit: Gili Getz

At 2:50 am on Wednesday, April 1st, the New York State Legislature approved yet another budget. And, just like in years past, there were some victories for progressive advocates, but also plenty of disappointments.

THE GOOD

This year’s budget includes $100 million in capital funds for NYCHA public housing improvements, as well as $4.5 million for new beds at youth homeless shelters. (Thank you, Miley Cyrus!)

The budget includes another $1.6 billion in education funding, including full funding of New York City’s universal pre-K. According to the New York Times, however, that funding is tied to major education reforms, “including changes to the teacher evaluation system, bonuses for high-performing teachers, and expedited procedures to remove teachers.”

THE BAD

Once again, the budget did not include funding for the DREAM Act, a devastating blow to immigration advocates and the thousands of undocumented children living in New York City. Low-wage workers were also left out in the cold, with no increase in the state minimum wage.

While some ethics reform provisions were included (such as mandatory reporting of outside income and stricter per diem regulations), there was no major campaign finance reform, nor did the legislature close the LLC loophole that allows wealthy corporations to skirt campaign contribution limits.

THE WTF?

Finally, according to the Times, “[t]hough the word “yacht” is never used, the budget contains a tax break for anyone in the market for a “vessel” valued at more than $230,000.” That’s right–if you’re an undocumented immigrant or a low-wage worker, you’re out of luck. But if you’re thinking about buying a yacht, no problem!

There’s still time left in the legislative session, and time for the Senate and the Assembly to take up these issues, though the chances of any major progressive victories in the next two months are slim with a Republican-led Senate.

But there is no rest for the weary: there will be a major battle coming up over New York City’s rent regulations, which are set to expire in June. Greater NYC for Change is committed to renewing and strengthening our rent laws, and we’ll be working with other advocates to lobby the legislature to protect tenants. We’ll also continue our efforts to increase the minimum wage and push for more transparency in campaign finance. We hope you’ll join us!

Women lead. Don’t be left behind!

Women Lead

Winning: It’s a woman thing.

Join us March 26th at Civic Hall – the new, beautiful co-working space for civic tech – for an evening of workshops and an engaging panel of women leaders.

Too often, women don’t see themselves running for office. Our speakers didn’t wait:Jane Swift, former Governor of Massachusetts, ran for State Senate (and won) at 25. State Assemblywoman Nily Rozic was elected at only 27.

Women Lead is an intensive evening that includes women who have run for office, are in office, and are leaders in the political arena.  We have teamed up with groups across the city to bring you a power-packed night with first-hand stories, practical tools and skills, and a great new space to network. After the panel, attendees will join breakout workshops on press/media, digital organizing, fundraising, and more.

Check out the full list of speakers below:

Jane Swift, Former Governor of Massachusetts
State Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, New York’s 25th District
City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, New York City’s 6th District
Nomiki Konst, Founder and President of The Accountability Project
and former Congressional candidate in Arizona
District Leader Jenifer Rajkumar, Lower East Side
Moderated by Heidi Sieck, Chief Operating Officer, Civic Hall

This event is organized with VoteRunLeadVeracity MediaCivic Hall, Republican Majority for Choice, Women’s Information Network NYC (WIN NYC), Greater NYC for ChangeRoosevelt Institute Campus NetworkEmerge AmericaShe Should Run, Rising Stars, and Manhattan Young Democrats.

It’s Getting Warmer

Countdown to Paris

Climate Change is Here.

Superstorm Sandy left an indelible mark on our city, our neighbors, and our lives.

Yet, in the months since, as the waters receded, homes were rebuilt, and we returned to our daily routines, its warnings of the devastating impacts of our warming climate were often forgotten or pushed to the back of our minds as more immediate needs overtook us.

Neglected or ignored, climate change is still here, and we still must take drastic steps to avert more severe and frequent local and global impacts. This is why the next Global Climate Summit to be held in Paris in December 2015 is so crucial to achieving international consensus and finding a path forward to lowering our reliance on fossil fuels.

Our friends at 350NYC have organized a timely panel discussion titled “Countdown to Paris: Update on Global Climate Treaty Negotiations.” The panelists include:

  • Jeffrey Salim Waheed, Deputy Permanent Representative of Maldives to the United Nations
  • Reinhard Krapp, Minister, Permanent Mission of the Federal Republic of Germany to the United Nations
  • Tamar Lawrence-Samuel, Associate Research Director at Corporate Accountability International
  • Sean Sweeney, Trade Unions for Energy Democracy
  • Helen Rosenthal, Council Member for District 6 in the New York City Council

Come hear about the progress already made toward a treaty, what’s left to do, and what we can realistically expect from the negotiations this December.

When: Thursday, March 19th, 7 to 9 pm
Where: New York Society for Ethical Culture, 2 West 64th Street at Central Park West