2018-05-30 / Editorials

Letters to the Editor

Chill On Pot Arrests

A copy of this letter was received at
the offices of the Queens Gazette.
May 21, 2018
Hon. Richard A. Brown
Queens District Attorney
125-01 Queens Boulevard
Kew Gardens, New York 11415
Re: Marijuana Prosecutions

District Attorney Brown,

We are witnessing a sea change in the public’s perspective on marijuana use. The debate among New Yorkers that was once constrained to whether medical marijuana should be legal in our state has since morphed into a reexamination of the personal and public safety risks posed by its recreational use, if not full legalization.

Despite fundamental changes in sentencing guidelines for small quantity drug possession, as well as the greater use of discretion by law enforcement during encounters with individuals possessing or publicly smoking marijuana, black and Hispanic/Latino residents continue to be disproportionately arrested or summonsed compared to whites, who commit the same offenses, which is why we urge you to take immediate action to effectively end your office’s prosecutions for low-level marijuana offenses, including arrests and summonses for smoking in public.

Within these disparities are the inherent pitfalls associated with being processed through the criminal justice system, which can diminish one’s prospects for academic or professional advancement and increase the likelihood of reincarceration.

In New York City, nearly 17,000 people were arrested for low-level marijuana-related offenses last year, of which 14,530 were people of color. Among that population, 48 percent were black and 38 percent were Hispanic/Latino.

These inequities are particularly glaring in the New York Police Department’s 105th Precinct where the number of marijuana summonses issued in the neighborhoods of Queens Village, Cambria Heights, Laurelton, Rosedale, and Springfield Gardens has led the city nearly every year for over a decade. They comprised 9 percent of the city’s total in 2016, and last year’s amount was the highest of any command in the five boroughs— 2,199.

Additionally, the department’s 103rd and 113th Precincts were among 38 citywide precincts with the highest rates of marijuana-related arrests between 2014 and 2016.

Specifically, 416 such arrests occurred in the neighborhoods of Jamaica and Hollis in 2016, consisting of 82 percent of the black and Hispanic/Latino population there.

Your fellow colleagues, District Attorneys Cyrus Vance Jr. and Eric Gonzalez, recently communicated they would work with Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD to make substantive changes to the conditions under which their offices will prosecute future low-level marijuana cases, with the intended goal of reducing such prosecutions.

The mayor himself is now indicating the NYPD will stop making arrests for smoking marijuana in public in favor of summonses, and he is also laying the regulatory groundwork in preparation for the eventual legalization of recreational marijuana by the state.

We implore you to consider the damage suffered by the men and women of color in Queens who have been unfairly persecuted under a conspicuously biased approach to policing and embrace a policy overhaul similar to the ones currently underway in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and ultimately citywide, without delay.

As more insightful data becomes available, attitudes towards marijuana become more tolerant. Accordingly, our law enforcement and criminal justice policies should conform to that reality, and it is only appropriate that this transformation take place at home in Queens County, the most diverse in our nation.

Council Members I. Daneek Miller, Adrienne E. Adams, Donovan J. Richards,
Rory I. Lancman and Francisco Moya;
Assembly Members Clyde Vanel and Alicia Hyndman; NYS Senator Leroy G.
Comrie; and Congress Member Gregory
W. Meeks

DA Brown Responds

A copy of this letter was received at the
offices of the Queens Gazette.
May 22, 2018

Dear Legislators:

I have your e-mail of yesterday with respect to the enforcement of our criminal laws relating to the possession and public smoking of marijuana.

As you know, last week the police commissioner formed a 30-Day Working Group to review the police department’s enforcement practices and policies with respect to marijuana offenses. And in the meantime, we did our own preliminary study, which revealed that from May 1, 2017 to April 30, 2018, 75 percent of the 2,094 defendants arrested in Queens for public smoking of marijuana were issued desk appearance tickets and were not held in custody awaiting arraignment. Of those, 21 percent failed to appear on the scheduled court dates and warrants were issued for their arrest. Beyond that, of the 2,507 public smoking of marijuana cases disposed of during that period, 69 percent ended in an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal. Of the cases that resulted in any kind of conviction, only 2.4 percent resulted in a conviction of a crime as opposed to a violation. Thus, over 97 percent of the public smoking cases did not result in a criminal conviction.

It is also worth noting that the 10 states plus the District of Columbia that have legalized recreational marijuana and the over 20 states that have legalized medical marijuana all continue to ban the public smoking of marijuana.

In my view, the wisest course for all of us at this point is to allow the police commissioner’s working group to do its job. I am confident that the resulting report will help shape our determination of what is best for our city.

Be assured that, in the interim, we will treat all who are arrested for violating our criminal laws relating to the possession and public smoking of marijuana fairly and respectfully.

Richard A. Brown
District Attorney

Rights Or Obligations?

To The Editor:

Self-sustaining self-reliant citizens are the foundation of a free society. Our Declaration of Independence declares and the Constitution guarantees our right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generating actions. The right to life does not mean others must provide you with the necessities of life.

The progressive left rejects these concepts and has resurrected and embraced the failed misguided notions and promise of a utopia as articulated in article 25 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

In the interest of an honest, sincere debate, can anyone address the following concerns without reverting to invective and name-calling?

Food, clothing, homes, medical care, do not grow in nature. These are goods and services produced by men. Who will supply these goods and services? Who will pay for them?

If some men are entitled by “right” to the products and work of others, it means that those others are deprived of their rights and property. No man has the right to impose obligations, unrewarded duties or involuntary servitude on other men. There is no such thing as a “right to enslave.”

Entitlements, welfare, an expanding list of rights including health care, food and housing is not freedom; that’s dependency. Those aren’t rights; those are rations of involuntary servitude.

Ed Konecnik

Summit May Not Happen

To The Editor:

Things are starting to look as though the planned summit between the leaders of North Korea and the US may not take place after all. With all of the recent negative rhetoric that has once again surfaced between the two countries, how can its leaders even meet with each other? The situation on the Korean peninsula still remains tense, and with the prospects of the summit not taking place, we may be right back to square one regarding that part of the world. Both countries must work very hard to attempt to salvage this summit meeting, because it is essential that communication remain open between them in order to prevent conflict from breaking out, which would be disastrous for the entire world.

John Amato
Fresh Meadows

Reflect, Pay Homage

To The Editor:

I applaud NYS Senator Michael Gianaris for the extension of background checks for gun permits, am glad that the children who participated in the bicycle race won gold medals, am not happy at the cancellation of the North Korean summit talks, and I am glad that police will be out on the roads and streets on Memorial Day weekend to prevent accidents.

That 77-year-old man who drove the bus in NJ that had that fatal accident had violations against him; background checks must be performed, since children’s lives were in his hands.

I am glad that Harvey Weinstein will be charged with the crime of abusing women.

The moral fiber is tearing at the seams. We should not consider Memorial Day a time for fun picnics and sales; Israel’s Memorial Day is an important time for reflection and paying homage to all who served and who died in the line of duty.

Thank you, Gazette for everything you publish that enlightens and educates us.

Cynthia Groopman
Little Neck

Parrot Society Of Silence

To The Editor:

Bravo Mr. Phedon Phedonas and Mayor of Paphos for speaking out against corruption publicly—you have our respects!

Bravo for standing up against those criminal elements and corrupt officials that have ruined this beautiful island;

Bravo for doing what our elected spineless, petty politicians and governments have miserably failed to do all these years—to clean out this perfumed garden full of weeds;

Bravo for doing the right thing, resisting pressure from those that prefer coverups and turn a blind eye to illegalities in their own communities and region rather than stopping it;

Bravo Mr. Mayor, for turning your back on a parrot society of silence full of diplomas and degrees but zero social consciousness or anthropotita to do the right thing;

Bravo that the stable-stench in the Paphos region is finally being cleaned with a hint of fresh air in the horizon! This is a Revolution of the Mind in progress and thanks to you, people are now speaking out for the good of the community;

Like a rolling snowball that gathers size and speed, it will soon grow to clean out this beautiful place neglected for so many years, and that cannot be a bad thing!

Thank you Mr. Mayor…
Andreas C. Chrysafis

Cuomo Overly Optimistic

To The Editor:

While the “LaGuardia Airport Construction Reaches Major Milestone” (Richard Gentilviso, May 16), Governor Cuomo continues to be overly optimistic concerning building the accompanying AirTrain. In 2016, New York State awarded a $14.6 million contract to Parsons Brinckenhoff for design and engineering. In 2017, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey added $55 million, bringing the total amount of their approved project funding to $70 million. This funding is just seed money which will finance the start of a very long journey.

In early 2014, Governor Cuomo said the estimated cost for construction of the La- Guardia AirTrain would be $450 million. At the time, this was based upon a planning feasibility study. Over four years have passed since Cuomo announced this project with little progress to date. There are no environmental documents or any preliminary design and engineering efforts necessary to validate any actual construction costs. The environmental review process will be further delayed. More time will be needed to look at new proposed concepts of building the Air Train over the Flushing Bay Promenade or Flushing Bay. Building the AirTrain over one of these two concepts versus the original option of using the Grand Central Parkway median could easily add hundreds of millions to overall construction costs and another year or more for construction completion.

I previously wrote that the anticipated final potential cost for La Guardia Airtrain could end up several hundred million dollars above Cuomo’s estimated figure of $450 million. I also predicted that the promised completion date of 2019 was unrealistic. Both have proven to be true. The Port Authority 2017 - 2026 capital budget plan lists this project at $1 billion. There is only $70 million available to date leaving a project financial shortfall of $930 million needed for actual completion. No one has identified the source of these additional dollars. Costs will be further refined as the project progresses thru the environmental review process, preliminary and final design, award of construction contracts followed by change orders to the base contracts during construction.

Cuomo’s belief that this will provide a “one seat ride” for those traveling to and from La- Guardia Airport isn’t borne out by the facts. There will be significant conflicts when the LaGuardia Airtrain is built and open for service with connections to both the Mets Willets Point subway and LIRR stations. Why would any LaGuardia Airport-bound travelers with luggage attempt to squeeze into already-packed am and pm rush-hour 7 subway and LIRR trains? Cuomo apparently never considered how this issue will be resolved when contemplating this project. Cuomo in 2014 promised that the LaGuardia AirTrain would be up and running within 5 years, by 2019. Now he has said this will occur by 2021. Even this date appears unrealistic. Completion of the environmental review, preliminary and final design and engineering may require another three years. You will be lucky if construction begins in 2022 and completed by end of 2025.

There is no room to run additional trains in or out of Penn Station during either am or pm rush hours via the East River tunnels with connections via the Port Washington LIRR branch to any LaGuardia AirTrain. This conflicts with Cuomo’s promise to have the MTA LIRR introduce a new frequent service between Penn Station and Mets Willets Point LIRR Station. No mention of a similiar service from Grand Central Terminal once LIRR East Side Access is achieved in December 2023 or later. Three of four East River tunnels running inbound during am and outbound pm rush hours have very tight spacing between trains. One tunnel is shared by the LIRR, New Jersey Transit and Amtrak for reverse train movements with equally tight spacing during rush hours. There is no platform capacity at Penn Station to accommodate any additional trains during rush hour. Penn Station is currently operating at 100 percent capacity during both am and pm rush hours. If one of the four tunnels is temporarily out of service, the result is numerous delays and cancellation of trains.

Completion of the 7 subway line Communication Based Train Control followed by implementation in early 2019 will only result in increasing the number of trains per hour from 30 to 32 in each direction during rush hour. After that, the MTA NYCT no longer has any other opportunity for increasing rush hour capacity.

A true one-seat ride could be accomplished by simply extending the N and W subway lines from their current terminus at Astoria/Ditmars Blvd or via Grand Central Parkway to LaGuardia Airport. This (alternative) previously died due to local community opposition.

To build a train to the plane from the Mets – Willets 7 station and LIRR station to La- Guardia Airport within five years for $1 billion is a planner’s dream. In reality it will be a nightmare for both taxpayers and riders. You read it here first in the Queens Gazette, that there will be cost overruns of several hundred million and multi-year delays in construction before reaching beneficial use.

Larry Penner
Great Neck

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