KING: Sweeping criminal justice reforms in New York prove focused, local activism makes change happen
In the past 10 days, New York has seen some of the most sweeping city and statewide criminal justice reforms in its recent history take place. These victories, first with the call to permanently close Rikers Island, the long embattled New York City jail, followed by the announcement that New York would finally raise the minimum age of criminal prosecution from 16 to 18, were hard earned all around.
Activists, politicians, charities, and volunteers from all over the nation have been lobbying to close Rikers and Raise The Age for several years now, but no year was as fierce or as organized as this year. All hands were on deck. Local charities banded together to form new alliances. Activists put aside stylistic preferences. Politicians announced they would not budge, or even vote for a statewide budget, if the reforms weren’t included. Hundreds of thousands of phone calls and emails were sent. Protests and marches continued.
It wasn’t pretty. The reforms aren’t perfect — they rarely are — but dammit, they got done. New York City plans to shut down Rikers and the state is going to Raise The Age.
First and foremost, these reforms are going to save lives and significantly narrow the school-to-prison pipeline in New York. New York still has countless criminal justice reforms it needs to address, but these affect the most vulnerable among us. This is why so many people fought so hard, for so long.
But what these past 10 days have also taught us is a profoundly valuable lesson. When concerned strangers from around the nation get behind a unified coalition of local activists and charities who are partnering with committed politicians — who are all laser-focused on one or two single, easy to understand issues — change is possible.
Many other variables were in play — including Gov. Cuomo’s dogged drive to actually get stuff done during what appears to be his pre-presidential campaign bid, and New York being in the nation’s largest media market, but I believe the people, above all else, made these changes happen. They convinced their elected officials that these reforms were not optional and many of those officials got the message and made it their own. It was a beautiful thing to see.
In the age of Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, we’re simply not going to see many criminal justice reforms happen on the federal level. Sessions is already fighting against basic reforms that were put in place for local police departments during the Obama administration. If we are going to see change happen, not only with criminal justice reform, but with a whole host of issues, ranging from living wage ordinances to bans on fracking, voter’s rights, and so much more, the fight is going to be local. And the victories are going to be local.
What just happened in New York is not an anomaly, but a sign of much more to come, city by city and state by state, as people organize beyond hashtags and trending topics. Don’t get me wrong, those things are useful tools. I use them. They make us aware of what changes are needed, and may even loosen the lid on the jar of change, but they don’t produce it alone.
I loathe that Trump is President. He’s dangerous and incompetent. He puts all in harm’s way, but at least we are fighting back and organizing in some of the smartest, most effective ways I’ve ever seen in my life.
Original link (NYDailyNews):