A woke New York City assemblywoman has been starving herself for over a week to protest any proposed changes to the state’s controversial bail reform laws.
Latrice Walker, 42, a Democrat who represents one of New York City’s most dangerous neighborhoods – Brownsville in Brooklyn, started her hunger strike on March 20 after Gov. Kathy Hochul proposed changes to the laws in her budget proposal.
‘I am prepared to go on a hunger strike to make sure that this does not happen,’ she told Gothamist that day. ‘When our rights are under attack, what are we going to do? Stand up and fight back.’
At issue to Walker is the governor’s plan to give judges greater discretion to lock up criminals based on whether or not they’re repeat offenders – claiming that it is ‘dangerous’ to once again allow judges to assess the danger that certain defendants pose to others, even as crime rates in the Big Apple rise nearly 45 percent.
She explained her motivations in a Facebook Live on Monday, saying that one of her cousins died while being incarcerated, and noting: ‘It’s too dangerous for us to allow a judge to look at young people, predominantly from our communities to be able to say “You’re dangerous, and you’re not, so you need to be incarcerated, reprimanded and you don’t.”‘
Walker also called the judicial discretion proposal ‘racially bias and discriminatory,’ and has organized rallies at the Capitol opposing it.
Judges currently may only set bail to ensure the accused returns to court for trial.
But supporters of judicial discretion note that prior to the bail reform laws being passed in 2019, judges had using bail to detain those they consider a public safety risk though the law did not explicitly allow it.
Since then, they argue, crime rates have only increased – with the New York Times reporting that the number of people who were facing violent felony charges, were released to await trial and then were charged with committing another violent felony rose to 320 in the first quarter of 2021 – compared to 259 in 2020 and 160 in 2019.
New York City’s crime rate has spiked over the last few years. The New York City Police departments stats show that felony crime jumped almost 60 percent in February since the same time last year.
Mayor Eric Adams complained that crime in the city is out of control and hampering the city’s economic recovery after the pandemic.
‘The most important city on the globe has become the laughingstock of the globe. And the dysfunctionality of our city has cascaded throughout the entire country,’ he said earlier this week.
Adams was one of the first politicians to propose rolling back criminal justice reforms instituted before the pandemic.
Brownsville, Brooklyn Assemblywoman Latrice Walker has been on a hunger strike for a week, protesting changes in bail reform that she spearheaded in 2019
Gov. Kathy Hochul wants to allow judges to consider a defendant’s risk to the community’s public safety in setting bail, a standard that is allowed in most states and in federal law
Walker was one of the key architects of the state’s bail reform law, telling the Gotham Gazette in 2018 she believed the criminal justice system punished poor people – and saying bail should not be part of the picture.
‘Bail is supposed to just ensure a person’s return to court,’ she said. ‘We know that the Constitution declares that it’s not supposed to be cruel, unusual and it’s not supposed to be punishment. And I think that’s the term many people forget about New York’s bail system.’
She added: ‘It bewilders me when I see attorneys, judges and the like say to me, even across the state of New York “Well there has to be some system or something put in place that will ensure bad people didn’t get put back into the streets.”
‘But that’s not what bail is about, and that’s why I’m here.’
She said that she would continue on her hunger strike as long as ‘dangerousness’ is included in Hochul’s criminal justice changes.
‘My ultimate stance is with respect to dangerousness,’ she told Pix 11 News. ‘If we can have a conversation to remove that, we can go back to business as usual.’
Besides allowing judges to consider the public safety risk of the defendant being free until trial, Hochul has also proposed extending the deadline for when and how much evidence prosecutors must turn over to defense lawyers.
The governor also wants minors charged with gun possession to be tried as adults and expand the use of involuntary commitment for mental health reasons. Some offense that have been handled with police summonses will be handled with arrest and criminal prosecution.
Walker, a former aide to Congresswoman Yvette Clark (D-Brooklyn), won her seat in the state legislature after her successor William Boyland Jr. was convicted of bribery charges and forced to resign.
Born and raised in Brownsville herself, Walker beat out seven other Democratic candidates, including Ineisha Williford, who was backed by then-Borough President Eric Adams.
She failed to garner the endorsement of the labor-backed Working Families Party.
She sits on the board of the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators, a charity with the mission to dole out scholarships to needy students. In 2019, it was found that the group spent $500,000 on lavish parties and networking events, but went two years without giving out any tuition money, the New York Post reported.
The group also failed to file tax returns that year.
Walker also chairs the state Assembly Election Law Committee, which oversees the scandal-scarred New York City Board of Elections, despite having close ties to at least four employees there.
She, she admitted to having one relative on the board, but denied the connection to the others to the New York Post.
‘They’re Republicans,’ her spokesman told the paper. ‘She would in no way assist Republicans.’
The governor’s reform has been rolled into the annual budget and will be voted on Friday.
She told Pix 11 News that she’s been feeling light-headed lately because of the lack of nourishment and took the train to the state capital to avoid driving.
‘My spirits are still high,’ she said. ‘I do a lot of praying and fasting. I check my blood pressure. My blood pressure is still great, so my fight will continue.’