Tag Archive | "activism"

Grassroots Groups Rally for Open Discovery

Discovery for Justice members rallied in front of the Bronx Supreme Court. (HAN ZHANG / The Bronx Ink)

Protesters rallied for a fairer judicial process in front of the Bronx Supreme Court.                      (HAN ZHANG / The Bronx Ink)

More than 50 people rallied outside the Bronx Supreme Court on Monday morning, demanding changes to New York state law that, they claim, would make the judicial process more just and efficient. The revisions protesters championed would require prosecutors to share evidence they have gathered about a crime with the accused and his or her attorneys during the pre-trial “discovery” period.

The rally organizer, the reform group Discovery for Justice, was joined by other advocacy groups, labor unions, public defenders and elected officials.

Demonstrators called on the state legislature to repeal Criminal Procedure Law 240, which lays out the current rules under which the prosecution may withhold evidence from the defense until the moment a trial begins. They urged legislators to enact Criminal Procedure Law 245, which, they say, would expand access to information for prosecutors and defenders alike, reduce the high number of false guilty pleas in plea bargains, decrease the possibility of wrongful convictions, and speed up the trial process. New York is one of 13 states that has not adopted  such policies, known as “open discovery.”

“We need to make sure that our prosecutors and our defense teams are operating on the same playing field,” said City Council member Andy King, who represents District 12, the northeast section of the Bronx, and marched at the front of the demonstration. “It should be about justice. It should be about the truth. Not about who can win a case because winning a case doesn’t always hold the right person accountable.”

The council member said he was going to introduce a resolution urging the repeal of Criminal Procedure Law 240 at the City Council meeting on October 7.

Over the past 10 years, different versions of the revised law have passed the majority Democratic New York State Assembly, but expired without being taken up by the Republican dominated State Senate, according to public defender Susannah Karlsson.

Before Monday’s rally started, members of Discovery for Justice gave out out leaflets near Hostos Community College on East 149th Street in the Bronx. The flyers bore an image of a blindfolded man standing in darkness behind bars, his hands gripping them tightly. Bold letters jumped off the page: “Withholding evidence equals injustice. Open and early discovery of evidence equals justice.”

Lined up behind a ten-foot-long banner with the image of the blindfolded man on it, marchers left Hostos at 11 a.m. and headed toward the Bronx Supreme Court. They all wore black T-shirts with the same image on it. As they marched, the group chanted in English and Spanish, “The people, united, will never be defeated. El pueblo, unido, jamás será vencido.” Waving his fist, King led the chants in a booming voice, his white shirt collar and bow tie showing beneath his black T-shirt.

About 15 minutes later, the group arrived at the Bronx Supreme Court on East 161st Street. On the steps of the somber, tall courthouse, also known as the Hall of Justice, representatives of unions, clergy members, and veterans gave speeches calling for an end to the injustice and unfair treatment of  innocent people. New Yorkers who had been wrongfully arrested or convicted and their advocates testified about the damages the current system allows and spoke of the urgency of an open discovery law.

Jeffrey Deskovic, who was wrongly convicted of rape in 1990 at the age of 17 and was exonerated after 16 years in prison, said that open discovery would have prevented his ordeal.

His attorneys never knew that there were three complaints filed against the medical examiner whose fraudulent testimony was key in wrongfully convicting him, Deskovic said.

In New York State, from 1963 to 2014, 16.73 per cent of all the cases of exoneration involved people wrongfully convicted because of evidence withheld through lack of open discovery, according to data complied by Dannielle Hille, a member of It Could Happen to You, an advocacy group working against wrongful convictions.

Inside the courthouse, Judge Robert Rorres expressed some caution.

“I believe in open discovery,” he said, “but we just can’t throw the door full open and turn over every piece of paper. There have to be some common sense and balance.” Judge Rorres said that medical records and material that reveals irrelevant misdemeanors should be handled delicately.

Opponents often charge that open discovery would reveal the names of witnesses and expose them to harm. A letter signed by Frank Sedita, the president of the District Attorney Association of the State of New York, asserts that open discovery would be “disastrous, especially given the increasing frequency of witness intimidation.”

Public defender Karlsson said the confidentiality issue should not be a hindrance to open discovery. “When there is a safety issue, we defense attorneys will probably consent to holding back sensitive information under certain circumstances,” she said.


Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, Featured, Politics, SlideshowsComments (1)

Occupy Bronx, Day One


Picture 1 of 17

The Occupy Wall Street movement headed north to Fordham Road on Saturday, officially enveloping the city’s poorest borough in its now global call to close the income gap in the United States.

Nearly 100 Bronx participants gathered near Fordham University, saying their borough’s residents represent the poorest Americans, and they have been silent for too long.

“I was born and raised in the South Bronx,” said Maribel Vasquez, Fulbright Scholar who wants to see change in her neighborhood.  “It wasn’t until I left that I realized I was raised in the poorest congressional district of the United States.”

Vasquez believes that Bronxites need to be more vocal about poverty, lack of affordable housing and subpar educational options. Saturday’s participants included residents, members of local non-profits, students and professors from Fordham University.

And Occupy Wall Street organizers are happy to expand. “We hope to be in every borough by the end of the week,” said Erik Maldonado, who was born and raised in Kingsbridge and has been a part of the populist movement aimed at the financial district that is galvanizing anti-corporate protests in cities across the U.S., Europe, Asia and South America.  “It is time for the Bronx to join this movement.”

With the highest unemployment rate in New York City and nearly 29 percent of residents living below the poverty level, organizers believers Bronx voices are a vital part of this movement.

Jonnie Rosado, 35 from Parkchester has four sons in school and is attempting to go back to school herself. But as she foots the bill for her son’s classroom supplies and pays for her own tuition, she doesn’t feel the government is supporting her family in getting an education.

“Here in the Bronx we are falling through the cracks,” said Rosado. “I have friends who work three jobs and still can’t make ends meet.”

Occupy Bronx protestors plan to meet every Saturday morning at 11a.m. in Fordham Plaza. Their game plan is to first participate in a general assembly meeting to discuss the Bronx’s unique position in the movement and then take the Fordham Road subway downtown to join the rest of the protesters on Wall Street.

On Saturday, police began to gather near the end of the rally on East Fordham Road and Webster Avenue.

Spectators watched the protestors walk by with mixed emotion. One older woman clapped her hands as they passed. “We support you,” she yelled. Others looked confused and took flyers that said, “Don’t let the one percent take another cent,” and posted Occupy Wall Street’s coming events. Sidewalk vendors appeared pleased at the prospect of new customers as they attempted to sell the protesters gold jewelry and apples and bananas from fruit stands.

“Join us, you are one of us,” yelled the group as they entered the subway station at Fordham Road and Jerome Avenue. Police held the emergency doors open, letting protesters ride for free.

We have had enough,” said Jason Emmanuel, 37. “The Bronx has been left behind and it is time for our voices to be heard.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, FeaturedComments (1)

The possible closing of post offices in the Bronx feels like government abandonment to some

17 post offices in the Bronx, reports WNYC News, are slated to be closed. Many Bronx residents rely on the post office to pay bills, rent, and keep in contact with family in other countries. The removal of post offices would disrupt the daily workings of the neighborhood, simply making life harder for some. The USPS encourages users to conduct business online, but internet access is a luxury  for many Bronx residents. “It sends the wrong message to this community and others like it,” said Miquela Craytor, Executive Director of Sustainable South Bronx, ‘It says that you don’t matter, that you are not valued.”

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