I was invited to participate at a media event in support of New York’s Fair and Timely Parole Act and the Elder Parole Bill as part of a 2021 Crime Victim’s Rights Week event on April 22, 2021. I was in an amazing lineup of speakers (mostly other women of color!) who broke down why so many of us who are survivors of violence want to see these laws pass.
Since this was for Crime Victim’s Rights Week and I knew legislators would be part of the event, I wanted to highlight their role in allocating money to resources that can support families affected by murder.
You can watch a recording of the full online press conference here. Here are my comments as I originally wrote them.
Thank you for including me today. I was born and raised in New York City, and when I was in between my sophomore and junior year at Stuyvesant High School in 1985, my brother was murdered, shot in the head at close range.
It was not here in New York City and I’m not going to go into all the details right now, except to say that eventually two people served sentences of 18 and 21 years for the crimes connected to his murder.
To describe it as a devastating loss to my family isn’t even enough. We were broken, and my mother was never the same again.
My brother, who was 20 years old when he was killed, lost the whole life he had ahead of him.
My whole adulthood I’ve been talking and listening to other family members of murder victims.
And, there’s one concern shared by most family members I have ever met: we want to support each other and we want there to be fewer families going through what we’ve gone through. We all generally agree that we should do anything and everything to prevent as many murders as possible.
Now, we don’t all agree about how to prevent violence, but we agree that it’s worth doing. On a basic level, I think it starts with making rational decisions about what situations put people at risk of violence and what interventions reduce violence in our homes and communities.
For decades, we’ve been fed a diet of easy answers: more cops, more jail beds, more prisons, more punishment. But we know that these things don’t equal safety. For my family, the long sentences people received for my brother’s murder didn’t translate to healing or support for our lives without my brother.
Now I will say that since the 1980’s we’ve seen more spending on survivor services, but it’s never matched the sort of money I’ve seen spent on punishment. Punishment gets the big bucks, then survivor services get the leftovers. I was on the staff and the board of a domestic violence program for years and we were always watching our pennies. There just isn’t enough investment in survivor services and there can’t be when we put them in line after punishment.
It comes down to being realistic about what survivors need and what will actually make a difference to serve survivors and prevent more violence.
When we’re talking about Elder Parole, and Fair and Timely Parole, these bills are about realistic assessments for safety. It’s about making decisions about why we’re keeping people in prison based on the present, not the past. It’s about fairness to the individual people involved, and I hate to put it in these terms, but it’s also going to save money. Money that then can be going to communities for prevention interventions and for survivor services that people need.
Before the murder of my brother, I would have said “lock ’em up and throw away the key.” But that was before I actually had to go through the experience of being in a family broken apart by murder, where most of my family members struggled to ever get support.
Now I see that the “lock em up” attitude means throwing away people, and throwing away money that we need for resources for survivors of serious and violent crime. I am one of the growing number of family members of murder victims who want systems that invest in real safety and support for our families, not just unending punishment.
We’re going to keep showing up, demanding real action for safety, and not just unending systems of punishment. Today, that means standing up for the Fair and Timely Parole Bill and the Elder Parole bill, and I hope both those bills pass in this session.
Thank you,April 22, 2021
I included a screenshot of me Zooming into the press conference (with my COVID-hair) and behind me is a picture of my brother as a young boy. He and other members of my family are always with me in spirit as I speak up for new ways of defining justice and prioritizing healing.
You can join other events in support of Fair and Timely Parole or Elder Parole, this campaign is fierce and ongoing. I sincerely hope that 2021 is the year we win these changes so incarcerated folks can get home to their families, and we can start allocating more resources to everyone for healing from and preventing future violence.