United States: Brooklyn District Attorney Tells Attorney General Jeff Sessions 'Brooklyn's Decriminalization Is A Success'
While the Trump administration advocates for a draconian stance on drugs by pushing for harsh criminal penalties, Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez's declaration advocates for a pragmatic approach to the war on drugs.
By Michael Bachara
Earlier this month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a return to federal drug policies of the 1980’s, policies which end in mass incarceration.
In an opinion piece published on Sunday for City and State New York, Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez as was critical of AG Jeff Sessions for his barbaric stance regarding the failed drug war.
Gonzalez wrote, "My views on this issue are shaped by my work as the district attorney in Brooklyn and the 22 years that I’ve worked in the office. While keeping the people of Brooklyn safe is my top priority, I also know that we are never going to incarcerate ourselves to safety and we are never going to change our communities by only putting people in prison."
Gonzalez believes that drug use should be treated primarily as a health issue.and trying to solve the drug problem by imposing ever-harsher penalties in drug cases was a misguided strategy.
In 2014, then-Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson made history in New York by announcing that his office would no longer prosecute cases involving the possession of small amounts of cannabis.
The policy, which Gonzalez wrote and implemented, was a commonsense step forward for law enforcement Brooklyn. It freed up police officers and prosecutors to focus on serious threats to public safety.
In the fifteen years prior, arrests and prosecutions for the possession of small amounts of marijuana skyrocketed in New York City. In Brooklyn, studies showed that black people were nine times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people – despite the fact that there is virtually no racial disparity in cannabis use.
"While Attorney General Sessions is now directing federal prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges in every case, we did the opposite. We examined each case on its merits and determined the charge that would hold offenders accountable, provide justice to victims and their families and provide the opportunity to rehabilitate offenders and return them to their families and communities," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said he has worked to avoid triggering mandatory minimums – the opposite of what Sessions is now requiring – because he strongly believes that justice requires each case to be judged on its merits, and each person accused of a crime to be seen as an individual, and to receive the sentence that is appropriate under all the circumstances of the case.
Gonzalez declaration concluded, "Our experience in Brooklyn shows why Attorney General Sessions’ announcement is so misguided. Public safety does not require us to adhere to an outdated and ineffective "tough on crime" approach. Instead, we need to be smart on crime, which is what we have done in the Brooklyn District Attorney's office."
According to the 2011 ACLU report 'The War on Marijuana in Black and White, Between 2001 and 2010, there were over 8 million cannabis arrests in the U.S. One arrest every 37 seconds.