Hawkins Calls for Truth and Justice Commission re Mass Incarceration
Supports Criminal Charges in Killing on Eric Garner
Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate for Governor, called for an end to the war on drugs and the establishment of a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission to address the impact of mass incarceration on people of color.
Hawkins spoke at a Criminal Justice Candidates Forum at the NY Society for Ethical Culture in Manhattan Thursday evening. He was joined by his running mates Brian Jones for Lt. Governor, Ramon Jimenez for Attorney General, and Theresa Portelli for State Comptroller. Green state Senate candidate Carl Lundgren also spoke.
Among other criminal justice issues raised by Hawkins and the Green Party candidates were: establishment of a statewide Public Defenders Office; legalization of marijuana; Broken Windows policy; justice for Eric Garner; raising the age of adult criminal responsibility to 18; banning solitary confinement; educational opportunities for prisoners; assistance to help ex-offenders find employment and housing; and alternatives to incarceration.
"The goal of the Commission is to create a venue to explore the ways the state’s drug policies and justice system generally have lead to high incarceration rates and, in effect, legal discrimination against those with criminal records — especially within the black and Latino communities," said Hawkins.
"There are tens of thousands of collateral consequences of incarceration -- from lack of access to public housing, to ineligibility for college loans, to being denied the right to vote -- that have effectively dropped record numbers of Black and Brown people into a legal black hole, into second class citizenship. We have to end the war on drugs and talk about reparations for lives that it has destroyed," added Brian Jones, the Lt. Governor candidate.
The Green Party has long advocated for the legalization of marijuana and an end to the war on drugs. The War of Drugs has been a failure. It hasn't reduced substance abuse, but rather has created a culture of violence fueled by profits from the drug trade, similar to the crime wave that accompanied the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920’s. Hawkins said the tepid changes to marijuana laws advanced by Governor Cuomo, including for medical marijuana, were grossly inadequate.
“Prohibition and the resulting 'drug war' have unjustly incarcerated countless individuals and scarred communities, often along racial and class lines, while draining resources from society," said Hawkins.
A 2013 report by the NYCLU documents how NY's drug laws discriminate against people of color. The greatest racial disparities occur in Kings County (Brooklyn) and New York County (Manhattan), where black New Yorkers are more than 9 times more likely than whites to be arrested for possessing marijuana. One in eight black men in their twenties are locked up on any given day. 75% of people in state prison for drug conviction are people of color although blacks and whites see and use drugs at roughly the same rate. In NYS, 94% of those imprisoned for a drug offense are people of color.
"It is time for NYS to consider drug use as a public health issue rather than a criminal justice issue. Along with this approach, we must demand amnesty for the millions of people damaged by this misguided war on drugs so they can be part of a healthy and sustainable society," said Theresa Portelli, the State Comptroller candidate from Albany.
The Green Party candidates also said they stood with community residents in calling for justice for Eric Garner, whose death was ruled a homicide by the coroner.
"Those who killed Mr. Garner should be criminally indicted and the legal system should be allowed to determine the level of innocence or guilt. We also need a truly independent Citizens Police Review Board with the authority to correct misbehavior by law enforcement members," said Hawkins.
"This incident and the tragic death of Eric Garner point to a truly broken criminal justice system. The only solution is to acknowledge that it is broken and invite the whole community to create a new public justice system which can not only protect but equally important not inflict harm on our people or our community," added Portelli.