"There's a crisis we have in the city that nobody's really talking about, and that's the crisis of 1.2 million open warrants," said Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson during an AM radio appearance on Sunday. "If you're stopped and you have a warrant out, you're going to be put in handcuffs and brought to central booking, and I think that central booking should be reserved for folks who are committing gun violence or sexual assaults."
Of those 1.2 million open warrants, more than 260,000 are in Brooklyn. Most are for low-level or "quality-of-life" offenses, like drinking in public, spitting on the sidewalk, and public urination. All of these factor large in Commissioner Bratton's Broken Windows approach to policing, and have a tendency to land New Yorkers—more often than not, men of color—in jail for failure to pay a small fine or respond to a court summons.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito came out in favor of decriminalizing minor offenses this spring, and certain tabloids have since fear-mongered up the possibility of a urine-soaked city—arguing that Mayor de Blasio is tailspinning back to the Bad Old Days.
In an effort to chip away at the million-plus outstanding warrants, DA Thompson held his first Begin Again event this Father's Day, to adjudicate low-level offenses. More than a thousand New Yorkers lined up outside of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Clinton Hill, where a judge presided over a makeshift courtroom. According to the DA's office, 670 warrants were cleared over the course of the weekend.
Victor Serra of Brownsville brought five pink warrant slips to the event, with associated fines ranging from $25 to $100. "One of them was for tapping a hydrant," he said. "I was just drinking water, and they wrote me up for that. I didn't have any tools. It was just open." For another, "I'm fixing my belt, they wrote me up that I was urinating in the street."
Serra's neighbor Jerry Walker was on line with an open container ticket. "They [the NYPD] need a quota, so they go around harassing people that they recognize," he said.
The second Begin Again event is planned for this coming Saturday, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at St. Paul Community Baptist Church, located at 818 Schenck Avenue in East New York. Warrant holders from all five boroughs are invited to attend.