Standing in front of PS 75 in Bushwick last Thursday, gubernatorial hopeful Cynthia Nixon painted that picture as she unveiled her criminal justice platform.
Nixon noted that the state spends $22,000 per child per year in public schools, but $70,000 per prisoner annually. If New York was its own country, she said, it would have the sixth highest incarceration rate behind Russia.
“Imagine what we could do with that money, if we were to invest it in people early,” she said. “If we were to use it to lift people up rather than lock people up.”
One item in her “Justice for All” platform is repealing Statute 50-a, which would allow police misconduct records to be made public. Nixon said her policy is that after someone is shot or killed by police officers, the names of the cops must be released within 48 hours of the incident.
The insurgent candidate also wants legislation that ends “harmful and needless” arrests of low-level, ticketable offenses, such as riding a bike on the sidewalk, being in a park after dark or even selling loose cigarettes, which is what led to Eric Garner’s death in Staten Island.
Nixon also called for eliminating the cash bail system. She noted that on any given day, there are 25,000 people in New York’s jails, but 70 percent of them are there awaiting trial because they cannot afford bail.
The cash bail system has allowed for people with money, such as Harvey Weinstein, to “walk free” while those who cannot pay, such as 16-year-old Kalief Browder, are stuck in jail.
Browder, who was accused of stealing a backpack, spent three years on Rikers Island while awaiting trial. He was often beaten, spent more than 800 days in solitary confinement, and eventually took his own life after his traumatic experience.
“In New York State, we have two systems,” Nixon said. “One legal system for the poor and people of color, and another for wealthy white people who can afford to buy their freedom.”
Finally, Nixon called for the closure of Rikers Island on an “expedited” time frame, rather than the 10 years that Mayor Bill de Blasio has supported.
“Ten years is too long to wait,” she said. “We must move faster to close this chapter in our city and state’s history.”
Rather than spending money on jails, the gubernatorial candidate wants to invest more in public schools, including $4.2 billion on the lowest-income school districts. Her education platform includes a $361 million plan to expand pre-kindergarten and make college free for another 170,000 students.
At her announcement last Thursday, Nixon was joined by State Senate candidate Julia Salazar, a community organizer and democratic socialist running against incumbent lawmaker Martin Dilan to represent north Brooklyn.
Salazar said PS 75 is owed $800,000 in funding by the state, due to a lawsuit from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity that determined that schools were owed billions of dollars in foundational aid. According to Salazar, her district should have received $56 million in additional funding.
She added that how schools use that money is also important. Rather than spending it on school safety officers, Salazar suggested providing more counselors in public schools.
“When we fail to fully fund our public schools, we fail to give our students the resources they need,” she said.
The announcement didn’t come without protest. Hecklers interrupted the press conference, calling Salazar a “liar” after a report emerged that the candidate was initially registered as a Republican.
At one point, speakers were forced to pause and use the “people’s mic,” a strategy popularized by Occupy Wall Street demonstrators that involves repeating the speaker’s words to amplify the message.
Nixon and Salazar supporters, including members of the community group Make the Road New York, chanted, “The people, united, will never be defeated.”
Brooklyn Councilman Antonio Reynoso, who backs the two insurgent candidates, accused Dilan’s campaign of sending the protesters to interrupt the press conference.
“If the opposition campaign spent half the amount of time getting people out to protest fighting for schools, maybe we would have our $23 million for schools in this district,” he said.
Reynoso called Dilan a “half-stepping Democrat” who is entrenched in establishment politics, rather than an activist like Salazar.
“Politics as usual, and the same old Democrats do nothing while our students are struggling in these schools,” he told the disrupters, “but you’re out here protesting. Get out of my face with that nonsense.”
Dilan, in response, shot back at both his challenger and the Brooklyn councilman.
“I was providing assistance in Puerto Rico while Reynoso was parading around my district with a Republican from Florida that he endorsed,” Dilan said.