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Syracuse Community Leaders Pushing Against Bail Reform Amendments

by Tyronda James

Syracuse Community Leaders gathered in solidarity before the Onondaga County Legislature in support of New York’s Bail Reform.

Among the community groups were representatives from Syracuse NAACP, Alliance Network, Syracuse NAN, and Center for Community Alternatives demonstrated outside the county courthouse.

Advocates say that the laws are working and amendments would do more harm than good.

“The state legislature did a really important service to the community by ensuring that people who are legally innocent are not languishing in jail,” said advocate Yusuf Abdul-Qadir, the director of the CNY Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

The rally and conference took place an hour before legislators met on Tuesday, February 4 where Republican leaders of the Legislature sought to roll back recent bail reforms policy.

As it stands now, cash bail requirements and pretrial detention have been eliminated for those accused of most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies.  Under the bail reform effective January 1, defendants who qualified for the policy were released. Some as early as the middle of December.

Legislator Vernon Williams Jr. says that he supports the bail reform bill.

“I think it’s a long-overdue process that needed to happen. I think the bill was never intended to keep people locked up and unfortunately, that affects a lot of black and brown people and communities,” Williams said.

“The bill affects black and brown communities more than the others. I’m not saying that it doesn’t affect other people, but it really affects that particular group of people. They need to stay strong, stand up, speak their minds, and say why bail reform is so important to the black and brown community.”

After demonstrations, legislators passed a resolution by strict party-line 10-6 vote to roll back the bail reform law. Recommending that state amend reform to restore judicial discretion in imposing bail for low-level offenses and to lengthen deadlines of discovery materials release from 15 days to 45.

“Giving the judge’s discretion, I’m against it because I think that’s what got us in this problem in the first place with bail reform. The resolution says that people are guilty until proven innocent. But we live in a country where people are innocent until proven guilty. People are getting locked up on the judge’s discretion. And I will never support something like that,” said Williams.

Opponents of the reforms say the New York version goes too far and puts the public at risk.

Williams said lawmakers are going off fears and what they think will happen. He says all of it is just fear-mongering.

“It’s a political issue that the other side wants to run on in 2020. And that’s what it comes down to. In a session, I said tell me how it negatively affects Onondaga County? No one can say. There are no statistics. There are no facts, other than a DA saying it’s more of a workload,” Williams said.

“So basically what we’re saying is that we’re going to compare workload versus people’s lives. And I’ll take people’s lives every day. I wish the Republicans on the other side would actually read the bill!”

Actor and activist Jesse Williams frontlines Justice Not Fear, a national campaign pledge to spread the truth about justice reform. Supporters can find additional information regarding Justice Not Fear at https://justicenotfear.org/.