Tiffany Cabán, a candidate for district attorney in Queens who has earned the endorsement of New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and supports decriminalizing sex work, said that the criminal justice system unfairly punishes people of color and queer communities and that the job of district attorney needs to be about more than just policing.
“We can’t have tolerance for crimes motivated by hate and things like that, but we also need to reckon with the fact that our justice system is one that disproportionately incarcerates our queer communities and especially our queer POC communities,” she said in an interview with BuzzFeed News’ AM to DM on Tuesday.
Cabán, who identifies as queer, noted that she felt it was a “really, really powerful thing to be running as a queer Latina” during the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.
Cabán said prosecuting is about public safety and stabilizing neighborhoods rather than punishment. Criminal justice reform, according to Cabán, is not a revelation or pivot but consistent with what public defenders have always known and fought for.
“I think that is why we are seeing so many more defense attorneys being elected into these positions. Because I think our communities recognize what public defenders, what defense attorneys bring to the table,” she said.
Cabán said she is “strongly opposed” to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s agreement to place an additional 500 officers in New York City’s subway and bus systems. “It is just a continuation and incentivization of criminalizing poverty in our city,” Cabán said, noting that if a driver doesn’t pay the parking meter, the worst they get is a ticket, but people are arrested for avoiding public transportation fares.
“There are so many better ways to have better public safety outcomes rather than continuing to criminalize poverty, mental health, and substance use disorder,” Cabán said.
She said crimes are committed every day that are not prosecuted, comparing jumping turnstiles with turning off renters’ heat in the winter. Cabán said that reprioritizing crimes and building relationships with police can help. She discussed empowering police to have options other than arresting, like providing access to resources instead, which she said has caused violence between police and civilians to decline exponentially where it has been implemented.
Although Cabán’s lack of prosecutorial experience has been challenged, she said she has the “exact right kind of experience,” both as a public defender and through her experience growing up in a low-income neighborhood that was over-policed and low in resources. She said those experiences are what brought her to public defense work.
“(My campaign) is something that started with four women sitting around a table saying, ‘We are going to change the system,’” Cabán said.