Village Justice Tom Liotti
Every four years we have a race for District Attorney. The rhetoric and pandering goes on and on. This year is no different. Candidates are rightfully telling voters what they plan to do to stop heroin overdoses and to prosecute drug dealers. That’s all good but aside from that, within two months before Election Day, we have not heard much else from the candidates.
Some prosecutors today are very different. I am referring to District Attorney Cyrus Vance in Manhattan. He is leading the way nationally to focus on the root causes of crime. It is no longer enough for prosecutors to tell us how tough they are or will be. We have learned that just building more jails is not the answer to reducing crime.
There are hardened criminals who may be sociopaths but most crime occurs because of poverty, unemployment, mental illness and drug and/or alcohol addictions. Add to this mix the terrorists who are brainwashed to believe that anyone not a Muslim is a devil and we have recipes for recidivism and higher crime rates.
So where do we go from here to get past the discussions about “choke holds” and “stop and frisk?” Isn’t there more that we can do to stop crime from occurring aside from just being angry about it? It is nice to say that someday we’ll repel the interests of the NRA by getting guns off the streets but of course we know that this is not likely to happen anytime soon. It is pretty much like the City of New York trying to kill the more than one million rats residing there.
Since jails cost more than programs, why can’t we begin to send fewer people to jail? Should the election for District Attorney be decided, as it has been in the past, on crime statistics, the number of convictions and jail sentences imposed? This is not a cure for crime but what is?
District Attorney offices should be commended for the people that they do not put into jail but instead help them to go into drug, alcohol and programs for the mentally ill. They should be commended for finding jobs and providing more and better educations in our worst neighborhoods. We need prosecutors to break away from the conventional thinking that created many of these problems in the first place such as mass incarceration brought about, in part, by the Rockefeller Drug Laws which caused more than 70,000 inmates in our state’s jails, but 22,000 of them were addicts and not dealers.
Smart prosecutors today see the need for reform. Yes, there seems to be corruption all around us, on Wall Street and our government offices. Prosecutors make names for themselves by prosecuting elected officials. But, even politicians are entitled to the presumption of innocence and the practices that we see today of contributions allegedly in return for favors is nothing new. We do not reform a system simply by prosecuting officials who are merely doing what others have done since our Republic was founded. If you want to be fair to everyone, then do away with campaign contributions. Let politicians run on their records alone instead of being marketed or sold like a package of cigarettes.
We have heard that candidates for District Attorney in Nassau will each raise more than $1 million for political signs, slogans and other advertisements. Is this really the basis for electing anyone? If candidates for office have not established their name recognition by the time they declare their candidacies, why do we want them? The election for District Attorney should not be decided on the basis of who has raised the most money or run the best name recognition campaign. It should be decided on the basis of the records of the candidates and the new ideas that they bring to the table to stop crime.