Brooklyn DA Thompson touches base with Clinton Hill seniors
Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson keeps a map of Brooklyn in his office, with color-coded marking where shooting incidents have been reported.
“The pins equal gun violence,” he told members of AARP’s Clinton Hill Chapter 2197, meeting at Emmanuel Baptist Church last Friday. “The blue pins represent shootings, the red pins represent homicides.”
“Most of the shootings are in the north,” Thompson said, pointing to the hundreds of pins clustered in north and central Brooklyn.
“But in Bay Ridge last year there was not one shooting,” he said. “More of this map should look like Bay Ridge.”
Members of Chapter 2097 murmured in agreement as Thompson made his case about his office’s work to ratchet down gun violence in Brooklyn and undo wrongful convictions.
Though violent incidents in Clinton Hill have declined, most attending the meeting have fairly recent memories of the sound of gunfire echoing in the night – including Thompson, who lives two blocks from the church.
The Brooklyn DA’s Office is one of the largest in the country – third behind L.A. and Chicago, Thompson said. With 1,200 employees, 500 prosecutors and more than 100,000 cases a year, the office “is important to the country, not just the city,” he told the seniors.
Thompson has restructured the office in several ways. One change focuses on the small percentage of people responsible for the most shootings, whom he called the “drivers of crime.”
Drivers of crime are “young men in and out of the system all the time, and we don’t pay attention to them,” he said. Thompson said his office was building a data base of this group in order to hit them with “the highest charges possible” to keep them off the street.
At the same time, the office has a “number of programs” to rehabilitate young people, he said. The Emmanuel Baptist Church plays a role in one called Project Redirect, a rigorous program lasting 18 months, where offenders wear ankle monitors, attend school, meet with members of the DA’s Office and make their court dates.
Another piece of the problem is guns coming in from the south, Georgia in particular. Besides making undercover arrests of the gun dealers in the city, the DA’s office is following the gun trail to the end of the line, Thompson said.
In one memorable case, the Brooklyn DA shut down a smuggling ring involving Delta Airline employees and past employees who snuck guns into New York City in carry-on luggage.
Part of his restructuring includes the creation of a Violent Enterprise Unit, which combines gang and narcotics units into one. “I hope to get the gangs off the street, from the Latin Kings to the Gates Avenue Mafia,” he said.
Thompson also described his work undoing wrongful convictions. In a well-known case, Jonathan Fleming served almost 25 years in prison for murder. But law enforcement had hidden evidence showing he was in Florida at the time of the shooting.
“My team discovered a receipt taken from his wallet – a hotel bill from Disney World. We never turned over the receipt to his lawyer and the jury never saw it. I moved to vacate his conviction,” Thompson said. “We flew him to Brooklyn and we freed Mr. Fleming from prison.”
Sadly, “His children had grown up and his relatives had died.”
Throughout his talk, Thompson received calls of approval from the crowd. He got a round of applause when he vowed, “I give you my word – I’m not opening jail cells and letting murderers out. I have an obligation to get justice done.”
Arlene Markarian, chief of the Elder Abuse Unit, told the attendees that there are places seniors can go for help if they suffer abuse from a family member with, for example, a drug habit or with a mental condition.
“Most people – parents, grandparents — don’t want to go to the court,” she said. “People can talk confidentially to staff at the Family Justice Center at the DA’s office. We don’t report to law enforcement units unless you want us to.” The Family Justice Center is on the 15th floor at 350 Jay Street. Call 718-250-3820 or visit BrooklynDA.org.
Anthony Barosi, director of the DA’s Action Center, said people can reach out to the office for a number of problems, including landlord/ tenant disputes. “You can walk into the center, call, send a letter – come in, we’d love to see you.”
“We’re witnessing the graying of America,” said District Leader Olanike Alabi. Thompson is “a child of God,” she said. “He appreciates and respects the contributions of seniors.”
Thompson said his appreciation stemmed from the dedication of his mother.
“When my father walked out, there were three kids. She prayed for us, she fought for us. In 1973 she joined the NYPD and served 21 years. Because of her, I stand before you now as Brooklyn’s DA.”
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