Underneath the roar of the Jackson Heights subway line on Thursday stood Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner. A coalition comprised of immigrants, Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ activists and the formerly incarcerated helped elect Krasner to his post in 2017 and the former civil liberties and criminal defense attorney was on hand to see if the same grassroots model that brought him to office is replicable in Queens.
“I am thrilled to be able to endorse Tiffany Cabán,” Krasner said from the podium, referencing the young public defender who, in her bid to be Queens’ next top prosecutor, is giving the borough’s political machine a run for its money. “Change has been a long time coming in the DA’s office but it is finally here. I want everybody who truly cares about criminal justice reform to register, to plan on it, to get out, to vote and to make sure that everyone they know votes too.”
Also on hand lending a voice for Cabán was Akeem Browder whose brother Kalief hung himself after a three year stint in Rikers as a teenager. Police accused Kalief of stealing a backpack but he refused to confess. After his brother’s death, four years ago Thursday, Browder became an activist.
“I am here,” he said, “because if my brother had a real DA in office, if my people, or people like my brother, had someone to understand that this is not about punitive law but also [about being] rehabilitative,” he would still be alive.
Cabán herself addressed reporters, undeterred by the trains thundering above.
“Every single day in court has been an affirmation,” she said, “a reminder of the fact that our criminal justice system continues to be the single most powerful driver of the continued oppression and marginalization of our black and brown communities, our low-income communities, our immigrant, our LGBTQIA communities.”
Cabán highlighted the goal that has been the center of her campaign since it began: changing and reinterpreting laws that contribute to inequity in the criminal justice system.
“I have spent my entire career representing over a thousand people trapped in our racist, classist justice system,” Cabán said. “It’s going to take a public defender. But more than that, the public defender’s approach: bringing in our communities, bringing in those who are directly impacted by our policies to fundamentally transform the status quo and the metrics of success within our district attorneys’ offices.”
Krasner’s endorsement adds an extra stamp of legitimacy to Cabán in a crowded field where virtually all candidates have cast themselves as reformers. Will voters choose the real thing? We’ll know when the results of the Queens Democratic primary for district attorney are in on June 25.