Abe George wants to modernize the way things are run at Brooklyn's office of the district attorney, which he says has grown stale, reactionary and ineffective.
Recently, George stepped down from his position as Manhattan’s assistant district attorney to challenge six-term incumbent Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes, who plans to run again in 2013.
“Hynes has been more about politics and not justice,” George bemoans, pointing to recent allegations that Hynes softens prosecution of questionable sex crimes within the Orthodox Jewish community— a powerful voting bloc. He also claims that Hynes fails to adequately address the root of the growing gun violence in places like Brownsville, East New York and Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
“We’ve lost trust in DA Hynes, and that’s a huge problem for the community,” said George, a Sheepshead Bay native and Williamsburg resident. “My election will be about restoring integrity to the office.”
Abe George sat down with Bed-Stuy Patch to discuss some of the ideas that inspire his platform, including his approach to modernizing the D.A.’s office, his position on stop-and-frisk and how watching his parents break the cycle of poverty informs how he views social and economic advancement today.
Bed-Stuy Patch: You say you want to modernize the DA's office. In what way?
Abe George: Right now, Brooklyn has a zone system but there is no information sharing between one zone and another or information gathering from the street to the DA's office. In Bed-Stuy, you have a gang unit, a narcotics unit, a housing unit and the local precinct – all responsible for monitoring crime within the precinct. They all have their separate intelligence about what’s happening with crime. None of that information is collectively gathered. Then, on top of that, you have elected officials and school administrators who all have information as to crime problems. I want to form an intelligence unit that takes the existing zone system into the 21st Century so there are liaisons in my office with all the various community and police units that would have information as to crime problems so we could centralize this data and proactively fight emerging crime problems or focus on the people we think are the crime problems.
BSP: What’s your view on crime as it relates to economic development and breaking the cycle of poverty here in Brooklyn?
AG: My parents immigrated to Brooklyn from one of the poorest districts in India and struggled to overcome poverty in both countries. So they were constantly telling me and my siblings that we take things for granted. In my parents family, no one had made it past middle school and they had to wash their uniforms every day, pound them on a rock to dry for the next day. So they constantly stressed the importance of education. It’s so sad because a good deal of children here in Brooklyn find they cannot break the cycle of poverty; they go from cradle, grow up and then straight to prison. There are blocks in some Brooklyn neighborhoods where there are million-dollar blocks because the number of people in state prison multiplied by the $50,000 a year is equivalent to that cost. I think we need to shift our priorities. Money instead should be pumped into the neighborhood to create better schools and greater economic opportunity.
BSP: What is your position on Stop-and-Frisk?
AG: I think it can be an effective tool, but it cannot and should not be the only tool. It’s this drive to bring down crime numbers that you’re seeing this disproportionate number of stops without a real basis for criminal activity. The DA’s office has a lot of resources, investigative units, our own lawyers, we can do so much more in leading the charge in proactively fighting crime, besides relying on stop-and-frisk. It should not be the main approach to stemming violent crime. For those people are out there saying stop-n-frisk is not a problem, if their children were out there being stopped all the time, they’d have a different position.
BSP: Gun violence is a growing problem for residents of Central Brooklyn. Where do you stand on gun control laws?
AG: We need a citywide prosecutorial body to investigate and fight gun crimes—something we do not have right now. I think one thing the DA’s office can push for is to require that if you commit a crime with a gun, not only should the crime have a sentence, but there should be a consecutive sentence for having a gun. I’m not saying let’s take away the discretion for the judge to decide on mitigating circumstances. But it should be law that if you commit a crime and gun is used, there’s an automatic consecutive sentence. Also, the DA’s office should be trying to do whatever it can to stand up against the NRA. The NRA is one of the strongest lobbyists in Congress, and their influence has got to stop.
BSP: Hynes has been widely visible in the community over the years. Yet you have criticized him for playing politics and failing to be proactive. What do you plan to do differently?
AG: I would look at enacting programs and policies that work aggressively at being proactive instead of reactionary. For example, the programs Hynes has sponsored in the neighborhood that dismiss all warrants resulting from summons for minor offenses (Project Safe Surrender). That’s great. But rather than you coming in on the back end and saying, ‘You know what, I’ll get rid of those for you,’ we need to question first, why is it getting to a point where we have all of these outstanding summonses in the first place? Is there a disproportionate number of these being given out so that officers can get their numbers up? Why not use your resources to look into why it’s become a problem in the first place?
But when you’ve been in office as long as the current administration and have had no real competitive elections, there’s no drive to change anything or be progressive. As a result, you don’t see the kind of innovative ideas that you should see to fight crime. Maybe it’s time to start talking about term limits for the DA, maybe no more than four… It’s something the voters should talk about and vote on.
BSP: How would you, as Brooklyn’s DA, work to change the relationship between the African-American community and the criminal justice system?
AG: I think the first thing the DA needs to do is stand up and say stop-and-frisk is not treating the community in a respectful manner. As the chief law enforcement officer of the county, it’s the DA’s job to stand up in the community and say when a police officer is wrong. I’ve heard from Brooklyn law enforcement that trials where the evidence is based on police credibility, jurors have a hard time convicting. But that’s a direct result of the lack of trust that comes from policies, such as stop-and-frisk. We need more people in the community to step up and step forward. But because there’s that lack of trust, the information is not getting shared. So something’s got to give. We need a break in that cycle. We have to fight for our citizens. We have to increase the dialogue, engage the church community, and provide a direct pipeline to the DA’s office so they know if there’s a community-wide issue, we’ll stand up and speak for them.