Posted on February 18, 2022

Don’t Make a Federal Case Out of Gun Possession; It Harms Black and Latino New Yorkers

Ian Marcus Amelkin, New York Daily News, February 14, 2022

Mayor Adams’ plan for curbing gun violence calls for the NYPD to bring more gun cases to federal prosecutors in order to take full advantage of stiffer penalties available in federal court. This approach would expand a Department of Justice initiative launched in the 1990s called “Project Triggerlock.” As President Biden prepares to meet with Mayor Adams, both men should remember the mistakes of the past: getting “tough” on crime through harsher sentences is a failed policy that must not be revisited.

Gun violence is a serious and enduring problem, but transferring more gun cases to federal courts to is not the solution. Not only is it wrong to assume that longer sentences deter crime, but they will harm New Yorkers by undermining Biden’s efforts to “root out systematic racism in our criminal justice system.” Project Triggerlock has disproportionately punished poor people of color and undermines important New York constitutional and legal protections.

My colleagues and I at the Federal Defenders of New York, Inc. represent the vast majority of defendants charged with gun possession in the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York, which include all five boroughs. Between 2015 and 2021, 77% of our Triggerlock clients have been Black and 97% have been people of color. These numbers are atypical for federal prosecutions. Over that same time period, only 20% of federal defendants nationwide were Black (although a majority of federal defendants were people of color). Most of our Triggerlock clients were arrested in the Bronx, which has the city’s highest percentage of Black residents — while Manhattan and Staten Island, which have the fewest, continued to prosecute its gun cases in New York courts.


Our clients are also significantly harmed by federal bail and sentencing practices. Nearly 77% of our clients charged with Triggerlock cases between 2015 and 2021 were detained before trial, despite the presumption of innocence and strict monitoring that accompanies federal pretrial release. {snip}

Federal courts also lack many of the alternatives to incarceration programs available in New York courts. These programs provide defendants with important services, including substance abuse and mental health treatment, and housing, education and vocational assistance {snip}

{snip}We cannot go backward in our ongoing quest towards racial equity and criminal justice reform. {snip}