Mayor William de Blasio

City Hall

New York, NY 10007


Re:  Avonte Oquendo, a minor


Dear Mr. de Blasio:


Forty years ago, this month, I joined the “War on Poverty” as a foot soldier.  My first assignment was as a “poverty lawyer” at Harlem Assertion of Rights in Harlem. I had admired Cong. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. since my college days at Howard University.  My vision was to continue his “17 Point Plan” which is now a part of the Congressional Record.


It did not take long for me to observe that racially-motivated violence was running amuck in New York City.  I had also personally observed that law enforcement agencies would not take criminal complaints by Blacks who accused whites of perpetrating hate crimes unless whites were informed of their “right” to file a cross-claim.  Prosecutorial discretion would always put the Black person in the “hot seat” without a paddle.


Despite the marches and protests from the Black community, law enforcement agencies were not willing to give an inch.  Civil disobedience, alone, was not going to do the “trick”.  Black attorneys were “keeping their noses clean” to be eligible for the one, municipal judgeship that was available to them.  Black police officers were only assigned to predominantly Black and Latino police precincts.


By 1984, I had saved enough “pennies” to secure office space in Brooklyn for a law office and to acquire a modest law library.  My mission was to end racially-motivated violence in New York. A “poverty lawyer” is barred, by law, from ending racially-motivated violence.  See Compromise of 1877.


Despite the relatively high rent, I chose 16 Court Street in Brooklyn because of its proximity to the courts and access to law libraries. This would be a “public interest” law firm.  A lawyer needs “tools of warfare” and some “starch in his back”.  Unfortunately, Black lawyers were not at war with white supremacy.  They sought accommodationism.


In December 1986, I received a call from Chris Griffith, the brother of the late Michael Griffith who had just died at the hands of white supremacists in Howard Beach.  He stated that I was the only lawyer in New York who could get justice for his family.  This meant indictments.  Ready or not, I had to stand up to New York State with all Black leaders rooting for the “Empire State”.  This was no small feat.


Fortunately, I had already developed legal theories about how to obtain justice in racially-motivated cases of violence including Trayvon Martin in Florida. These theories would, predictably, ruffle feathers in the judicial system and, ultimately, the New York Legislature would illegally “bar” me from all courtrooms in New York on a bill of attainder.


The upside was that it would break the “glass ceiling” and force New York to acknowledge the feasibility of appointing a special prosecutor and a special grand jury in racially-motivated cases.  On the other hand, Blacks would gain greater access to the courts.  Hate crime legislation would result from an unpopular, legal posture.  In the end, I would become a casualty of my own legal theories.


As a result of criminal prosecutions in Howard Beach, several white supremacists went to prison.  This was followed by aggressive, criminal prosecutions in Bensonhurst.  I was the chief counsel for the family of the late Yusuf Hawkins.  Former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes knew that I was not in the mood to tolerate any racially-motivated murders.  These white supremacists were also indicted and prosecuted for the heinous acts in Bensonhurst.


Prior to 1986, Blacks had limited access to the courts.  It was off-limits for a Black person to accuse a white person of any crime in New York.   After May 1990, these remedial changes had reverted back to pre-1986.  Now Blacks are back to square one and only “hush money” is available to Black victims.  Even immigrants have greater access to the courts than Blacks who are supposedly “citizens”.


Until Black voters single-handedly put you in Gracie Mansion, the streets of New York City were relatively safe for Blacks minus “stop, question and frisk”.  Since November 5, Blacks have witnessed the senseless murder of Avonte Oquendo in Queens.  The NYPD is speechless.  All of this has already happened on the watch of Police Commissioner William Bratton.


It is hard for me to believe that one man could arrest racially-motivated crimes in New York City for more than two decades and the mayor of New York City is powerless to act in 2014.  Obviously, your office is sending out the wrong message.  White supremacists now believe that they are back in business and especially since the Black community is without a “watchdog”.

The correct message would be to invoke the Criminal Procedure Law and the Executive Law in order to impanel a grand jury and appoint a special prosecutor.  When a medical examiner labels a death as a “homicide”, a grand jury investigation must follow.  Emmett Till’s death was labeled a “homicide”.  A kangaroo trial followed in 1955.  This was Mississippi and not New York City, however.


You have failed to call for a grand jury investigation in the death of Avonte Oquendo which should have been automatic.  Since the Queens County district attorney’s office has refused to follow the law, you have refused to call for the appointment a special prosecutor.


Once the New York Legislature granted mayoral control of public schools in New York City, it also means that you are the custodian of all children in public schools in New York City.  The buck stops at City Hall.  By law, a custodian must exercise a degree of care.


In 1976, court officers in New York were still unaware of the belated ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that segregation in courtrooms was unconstitutional.   Court officers would give white lawyers preferential treatment including in the calling of cases and Black lawyers were banned from sitting on the front bench which was reserved for “white attorneys”.


The Brooklyn Disciplinary Committee retaliated for my protesting the disparate treatment that was being routinely accorded to Black attorneys despite the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. I was also subject to a criminal prosecution. This is institutionalized racism.


You should use your authority to declare Penal Law § 140.50 unconstitutional and end racism in New York’s judicial system. “Stop, question and frisk” is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution.  It is still being enforced by the New York Legislature.  Your stipulation, filed in federal court to end “stop, question and frisk”, is nugatory.


News reports have noted that more than ten percent of all students in New York City are being sexually abused by school personnel. This percentage is unacceptable.  Criminal Procedure Law § 190.85 must be invoked to investigate the safety of our children.  There has to be grand jury action and a grand jury report.  This matter should be of great concern to your mayoralty.


One person can make a difference.  I made great sacrifices to ensure that Blacks and Latinos would be entitled to the equal protection of the laws and to access to all courts.  With all of the resources that are in your possession, Avonte Oquendo should still be with us or you should be focusing on the breakdown of the educational apparatus which should have kept him safe.  White children are guaranteed “safe streets”.  Black and Latino children should be accorded the same benefit.

Very truly yours,

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