Ramadan 2023

The 29–30-day long holiday of Ramadan begins on March 22nd. Ramadan is celebrated during the 9th and holiest month of the Islamic calendar. During this month, Muslims believe that God gave the Qur’an to the Prophet Mohammad and instructed him to carry God’s message. Ramadan is a period where Muslims strengthen their relationship with God. Through fasting daily from dawn until sunset, Muslims gain a greater understanding of the lives of people who are disadvantaged.


Muslims have a long history in the United States that dates to the African slave trade. Scholars estimate that around 30% of the Africans brought to the US during the slave trade were Muslim. Black Americans made up most of the Muslim population in the US before the Civil War. Today, Muslim America is one of the most diverse Muslim communities in the world. For example, around 30% of Muslim Americans are Asian, 20% are Black, and there is a growing population of Muslims with Latin American heritage. This can be seen through the cuisine during Iftar, breaking fast, that represents the various Muslim communities and cultures in the US. This intersectionality is a beautiful aspect of Muslim America.


However, Islamophobia is increasing in the United States. This acceleration was partially driven by the events of September 11, 2001. We see and hear hateful rhetoric from business and political leaders today. This language only emboldens people to harm the Muslim community and challenge their rights and freedom in the US.

Eid al-Fitr

April 21st, is Eid al-Fitr, a holiday which concludes the holy month of Ramadan. As Muslims around the world celebrate Eid al-Fitr, we honor the important contributions of the Muslim community in New York City. This is also a time to remember our blessings as Ramadan is a holiday devoted to charity and generosity. Zakat al-Fitr is a “charity of breaking the fast” – “zakat” is one of the 5 pillars of Islam – that is to enable less fortunate people the ability to celebrate Eid al-Fitr. As Ramadan concludes on Eid al-Fitr, we remember Muslim communities struggling with poverty and enduring conflict around the world.


Islamic Relief USA is an organization that helps Muslim communities in the US and around the world. Zakat on Eid al-Fitr is one of their biggest sources of donations. See here for more information.


Queens Defenders wishes everyone who celebrates a happy and blessed Eid al-Fitr.

Statement Against Laws and Bills Targeting Black and LGBTQ+ People

Queens Defenders stands with the Black and LGBTQ+ communities.


The United States is seeing a continued effort to erase the history of Black people. These bills and laws thwart progress by eliminating or making illegal education curricula, Black fraternities and sororities, and diversity and inclusion programs. The goal of these efforts is to further racist policies that segregate, hinder development, and promote white supremacy. While this is not new in the United States, it is still jarring and horrifying.


There are over 300 anti-LGBTQ+ bills percolating in state legislatures around the country. Laws that involve hate against LGBTQ+ people have recently been enacted in various states, and many of these laws specifically target the transgender community for harassment and dislodging from our society. These bills and laws restrict education, entertainment, family autonomy, and health care for the LGBTQ+ community.


Black and LGBTQ+ people are our coworkers, friends, family, and clients. We stand firmly against hate and lies. Many of us may request learning to understand how to help Black and LGBTQ+ people, and we will provide professional development opportunities for those who wish.


We will not compromise QD’s commitment to the respect and dignity for all our Black and LGBTQ+ community members. Queens Defenders stands behind the right for all Black and LGBTQ+ people to exist free from oppression and hate.

Women's History Month & International Women's Day | 2023

March is Women’s History Month. International Women’s Day began as a legal movement for labor rights in the early 20th century. After International Women’s Day was commemorated on March 8th, the month of March became Women’s History Month. The legal profession in the United States has been shaped by trailblazing women, and we are all indebted to the contributions of women as we strive for equality and justice. I encourage you to review this website, as the American Bar Association has highlighted a variety of women in the legal field to celebrate.


The fight for gender equality continues. Prison rates for women continue to rise and mass incarceration has a devastating impact on women. Click on this link for Vera’s report. As segments of our country attempt to strip health care rights away from women, the disparity in health care for Black women is abysmal, which is noted by the maternal mortality rate being more than double for Black women. Additionally, trans women face a grim reality in the United States as their health care and safety are challenged. This is especially the case in NYC as trans women endure increasing violence at Rikers.


March 8th is International Women’s Day, a time to highlight & acknowledge the achievements women have made to our society and the legal profession. A theme for International Women’s Day in 2023 is to #EmbraceEquity. At Queens Defenders and beyond, we aim to recognize how people start from different places. We then employ equitable action and programs to create meaningful opportunities and inclusion. This cannot be achieved without focusing on gender equity for all women.


Queens Defenders centers its mission and values around fighting for justice in an equitable and inclusive way, and justice for all women is at the heart of our work.

Black History Month and QD's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Values

During Black History Month, we reflect on the contributions of African Americans on our history and culture. The accomplishments of Black Americans are grand, and the United States owes an incalculable debt to the successes of Black Americans. Please note that Queens Defenders has a library of Black history books in the 3rd floor conference room.


A theme for Black History Month 2023 is resistance. Black Americans have resisted slavery, lynchings, racial terrorism, ongoing forms of segregation and harassment, and police killings. At Queens Defenders, as we mourn the death of Tyre Nichols and countless Black Americans who have suffered at the hands of police violence, we challenge ourselves to celebrate the accomplishments of Black Americans while fighting to uproot racism and oppression in the criminal legal system and beyond. We challenge ourselves to not relegate this work to the month of February. In the spirit of continual work to replace racism with inclusion, Queens Defenders has updated its values for diversity, equity & inclusion, including our devotion to working from an anti-racist and anti-oppression lens. Please see here:


  1. Diverse: QD represents and appreciates the differences in our community.
  2. Equitable: QD provides everyone with the opportunities to succeed. This recognizes that marginalized groups continue to endure discrimination and oppression. Advantages and barriers mean that not everyone starts in the same place.
  3. Inclusive:
    • All QD team members feel a sense of belonging.
    • QD is actively inviting the participation of all.
    • QD is creating avenues of growth and development for all.
  4. Anti-racist and anti-oppression lens: We identify racist and oppressive practices and replace them with diverse, equitable, and inclusive ones.

Public Defenders and Civil Legal Services Providers Call for Increased Funding to Ensure High Quality Representation and Other Critical Services for Low-Income New Yorkers


Public Defenders and Civil Legal Services Providers Call for Increased Funding to Ensure High Quality Representation and Other Critical Services for Low-Income New Yorkers

(NEW YORK, NY)New York’s leading public defender and civil legal service providers called for increased funding in the City budget, highlighting the dire impact underfunding has wrought on their ability to meet the needs of low-income New Yorkers.


Not only have chronic underfunding and contracting issues led to widespread attrition, but if unaddressed this year, New Yorkers will be further marginalized and disconnected from critical services,  reinforcing bias in the legal system and eroding public safety.

Citywide Criminal Defense Budget Demands

New York’s leading public defenders – The Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn Defender Services, The Bronx Defenders, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, New York County Defender Services, and the Queens Defenders – are requesting $125 million from the City for Fiscal Year 2024, which is subject to change should Albany allocate sufficient funding to local defender offices for these purposes, to:

  • increase salaries to properly compensate staff for their critical work and to allow people to meet their living expenses;
  • meet existing discovery needs, including hiring additional staff and technology improvements to collect, store, organize and share the evidence on cases;
  • assure caseloads meet standards and are reasonable for attorneys and other staff;
  • guarantee top quality legal representation for the people we represent and provide additional services, such as social workers;
  • combat ongoing attrition so that cases are not transferred from one attorney to another, which is contributing to court delay.

Citywide Civil Legal Services Budget Demands

Dozens of civil legal services providers who administer critical housing, eviction, immigration and other related work are calling on the City to provide at least $300 million in increased funding in the Fiscal Year 2024 budget to:

  • increase all civil legal services providers’ baselined contracts;
  • increase providers’ capacity to represent all eligible people who come through New York City Housing Court;
  • fund salary increases for staff to address unprecedented attrition and to attract prospective hires;
  • bridge the funding shortfall that undercut providers’ ability to administer essential civil legal services work.

Citywide Family Defense Budget Demands

New York’s family defense legal providers – Brooklyn Defender Services, The Bronx Defenders, Center for Family Representation, and Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem – are requesting an additional $30 million in the FY24 budget for lawyers for parents. This is above the $50 million that is baselined in the current budget. This money will:

  • ensure workload meets statewide standards and is reasonable for attorneys and other staff;
  • ensure parents are represented by qualified counsel with the expertise, time, and resources necessary to dedicate to these important cases;
  • combat ongoing attrition to reduce transfers which interrupt representation and contribute to court backlogs;
  • provide critical social work and parent advocate services.

“Defenders and civil legal services providers are just as much a part of the legal system as the prosecutors, police, corrections, and others in law enforcement,” said Twyla Carter, Attorney-in-Chief and CEO of The Legal Aid Society. “When one side is overwhelmingly funded and one is severely underfunded, people suffer, and injustices flourish, disproportionately affecting low-income New Yorkers of color. The City can still do right by our organizations and our clients by prioritizing our needs in the Fiscal Year 2024 budget to ensure that the New Yorkers and the communities we serve receive the legal representation that they need.”


“When we are underfunded, it doesn’t just undermine our mandate to provide legal and support services, but the legal rights of every New Yorker,” said Justine Olderman, Executive Director of The Bronx Defenders. “Every day, thousands of New Yorkers come through our doors fighting to stay in their homes, reunite with family, and access services they need. Yet the City’s inability to meet its funding and contracting obligations, while touting the high quality representation and services we provide, is a slap in the faces of struggling New Yorkers. New York’s actions must match its rhetoric. We demand fair funding in this year’s budget.”


“By chronically underfunding public defenders, Gov. Hochul and Mayor Adams are keeping a thumb on the scales of justice – a scale already weighted against the Black and Brown people disproportionately represented in our country’s criminal and civil legal institutions due to systemic racism,” said Alice Fontier, Managing Director of Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem. “Public defenders provide the services that create true public safety. We keep families united, connect our clients to a wide range of much-needed services – such as childcare, mental health treatment and job training – and help people stay in their homes. It makes sense not only morally but economically to adequately fund the essential services we provide to our fellow New Yorkers.”


“An investment in New York City’s public defenders is an investment in our City’s most marginalized and vulnerable citizens,” said Lori Zeno, Executive Director of Queens Defenders. “Public defenders know better than most the insurmountable impact a criminal charge can have on a person’s ability to maintain employment, housing, keep their family together, and more. We call on the City to recognize the vital role our Attorneys and Social Workers play in mitigating the impact of a criminal charge on someone’s ability to live a productive, fulfilling life by adequately funding the services we provide in the Fiscal Year 2024 budget.”


“Failure to properly fund public defense not only threatens New Yorker’s legal right to counsel, it jeopardizes the well-being of the thousands of people who rely on our services each year. Public defense organizations are an essential resource to low and no-income people facing extremely harsh outcomes in the legal system, such as imprisonment and long-term family separation. Every person we represent deserves an attorney who has the time and resources to be fully prepared for their case.” said Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services. “The City has the ability to assure justice in the legal system by properly funding our offices in the coming fiscal year and we urge them to do so.”


“The rights of New Yorkers are in jeopardy if civil legal services providers and public defenders are not adequately funded,” said Lisa Rivera, president and CEO of New York Legal Assistance Group. “For New Yorkers experiencing poverty and marginalization, especially in our BIPOC communities, our services are not optional: they are the difference between a secure home and homelessness, between having food on their tables and going hungry, between building a life free of violence and being forced back into danger, and much more. We cannot continue to meet the needs of our clients while the City chronically underfunds our work and delays our contracts. The City must fairly fund civil and defender legal services in the Fiscal Year 2024 budget so that the rights of New Yorkers are protected.”


“Every New Yorker deserves a fighting chance, especially low-income New Yorkers who are just one step away from extreme poverty, homelessness, food instability, deportation, and life-threatening health issues,” said Raun Rasmussen, Executive Director of Legal Services NYC. “But without adequate funding for civil legal services providers and public defenders, these communities don’t stand a chance. Like other providers, we are fighting to meet the growing needs of New Yorkers looking for a lifeline, especially struggling families trying to restabilize coming out of this pandemic. New York City must do the right thing and meet the funding needs of its first-line defenders so that every New Yorker can access the legal services and resources they need to thrive.”


“Civil legal service providers and public defenders provide access to justice for the most vulnerable New Yorkers,” said Tiffany Liston, Executive Director of Mobilization for Justice. “This crucial work for New Yorkers in crisis is underestimated and underfunded. We call on this City to live up to its promise, and provide adequate funding in the Fiscal Year 2024 budget for the sake of the most marginalized communities and the advocates that fight for them.”


“Equal justice for all cannot be a reality until there is sufficient funding provided to civil legal service providers and public defenders to enable them to provide critical legal services to those most in need,” said Jessica Rose, Executive Director of Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A. “Current funding falls far short of what is needed to build and sustain adequate staffing at our organizations to meet the demand for our services.”


“Our city’s public defender system is at a crisis point,” said Stan Germán, Executive Director of the New York County Defender Services. “Our lawyers are living in the most expensive city in the nation on a legal salary that is not proportionate with other attorneys in the field. Meanwhile, as our city increases police presence on the streets and subways, and the court system continues to send more of our indigent residents – mostly Black and Brown men – to Rikers Island, legal representation for our most vulnerable is left with the heavy promise of juggling crushing caseloads and the Sisyphean task of managing excellent representation for every client. We are not asking for pay equity that is aligned with the salaries of big law firms. We are asking for a living wage increase so that we are able to recruit and retain excellent attorneys for our clients who deserve nothing but our very best.”


“Last year, CAMBA Legal Services provided legal assistance to more than 8,700 individuals in the areas of immigration, foreclosure prevention, consumer law, and housing,” said Janet Miller, Executive Vice President of CAMBA Legal Services. “Without adequate funding for the network of individuals and organizations providing this kind of critical support to struggling New Yorkers across the five boroughs, these vulnerable individuals and families will be left without meaningful access to justice to protect their rights and secure their futures. Investing in free legal services is key to social justice. It is also a critical investment in our communities and our shared future.”


“Legal services ensure access to life-saving healthcare, accessible housing and transportation, quality education, permanent immigration status, and healthy neighborhoods,” said McGregor Smyth, Executive Director of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “But New York has chronically underfunded the hard-working people that provide these critical services. New Yorkers deserve better. In its FY24 budget, the City must commit to funding fairness and contracting reform to ensure that these organizations have the resources they need to succeed.”


“Legal aid attorneys offer life-changing representation to vulnerable, low-income families who otherwise have the deck stacked against them. But lately, our city’s legal services have been stretched too thin, as attorneys and staff continue to transition to the private sector due to crushing workloads, insufficient resources, and low pay,” said Council Member Shaun Abreu. “We have the blueprint to retaining talent in the public sector and ensuring all New Yorkers can exercise their inviolable right to legal counsel. Now, it’s time to act on it: we need to increase funding to legal services organizations, revamp our city’s contracting process so payments are sent on time, and do everything in our power so that legal counsel remains a right, not a privilege.”


“The work of  New York City’s public defenders and civil legal services organizations is indispensable to the countless marginalized New Yorkers they serve,” said Council Member Kevin C. Riley. “Action is needed now to address ongoing issues with urgent investments, not budget cuts or underfunding. Cutting funding to an already overwhelmed system not only seeks to further disenfranchise low-income families and communities of color, but it also exacerbates the lack of resources, staffing, and support our providers need to meet the City’s high-demand for critical services. I stand with my colleagues, public defenders, legal service agencies and all advocates to demand improvements to infrastructure and advancements that empower defenders and providers to better serve our city.”


“Every day, public defenders and civil legal service providers serve my constituents at risk of eviction, deportation, losing their public benefits, and other issues facing New Yorkers experiencing poverty,” said Council Member Tiffany Cabán. “As a former public defender myself, I know all too well what a formidable disadvantage they would be at without such advocates, and what it means for advocates to forgo higher-paying jobs in order to serve our communities. Their ability to support my constituents is directly related to their own financial stability. If they are worried about making rent, affordable health insurance, or navigating an unmanageable workload — or worse still, if they’re leaving their jobs entirely — their clients will bear the brunt. It’s time we honored the vital work performed by our public defenders and civil legal service providers.”


“The compounding crises that we are addressing in the city are interrelated — as a tenant faces eviction and housing costs soar, they turn to organizations like Legal Aid for representation,” said Council Member Carmen De La Rosa. “The most vulnerable New Yorkers are calling on us to fund the vital social services that they depend on to survive in our city. We cannot talk about reducing recidivism rates, equal access to representation, and harm reduction without funding competitive benefits for our legal workers.”


“Our public defenders are the first line of defense for working-class residents against an increasingly hostile economic structure. They protect our neighbors from evictions, advocate on their behalf when their wages have been stolen, and represent them in court when they’re entangled in the criminal justice system. But chronic underfunding is putting their important work at risk,” said Council Member Shahana Hanif. “I’m proud to stand with the Legal Aid Society to call for a truly just budget. Underfunding and a dire lack of resources is overburdening the caseload of our public defenders, leading to increased burnout and worse outcomes for those they represent. In this budget fight, I am committed to getting our public defenders the dollars they need to represent our neighbors and keep working-class New Yorkers safe.”


“Public defenders are on the frontlines fighting for my constituents, and I stand with them as they urge the City Council to adequately fund the legal services our communities depend on,” said Council Member Alexa Avilés.


“Chronic underfunding of public defender and civil legal services organizations has directly harmed New Yorkers most in need.  We cannot achieve Right to Counsel for tenants facing eviction or reduce the population at Rikers if we fail to increase funding in order to retain and recruit staff for legal services organizations,” said Council Member Lincoln Restler.


The widespread underfunding of organizations that provide legal services in New York City has been developing for years and is now at a crisis level. This includes public defenders in criminal and family cases as well as attorneys who work on housing, immigration, employment, education, and benefits for hundreds of thousands of low-income people each year.


The City has failed to provide funding at levels that allow adequate staffing to meet contract requirements. In addition, basic cost increases, such as office rent and health insurance for staff, have not been covered. This forces organizations to reduce staffing in order to pay for office space and supplies, and meet other organizational responsibilities. There remains little room in the budget for well-deserved raises for staff as a result, even though these essential workers came to work throughout the pandemic and continue to show up in courts, jails, homes and communities every day.


Until now, public defender and civil legal service organizations have had to manage these budget shortfalls by choosing not to fill staff vacancies and delaying critical investments in technology that are needed in today’s digital age. Unfilled vacancies result in higher caseloads for staff who remain. This is unfair to clients whose cases are transferred to an attorney who is not fully familiar with their case. It is also increasingly impossible to keep track of documents and video evidence on cases due to the inadequate storage solutions that cannot be upgraded without significant financial investment.


New York City has always been an expensive city which has been difficult for staff at non-profit legal service organizations. With increasing inflation over the past year, many staff have had no choice but to leave their jobs or work more than one job, while still carrying high caseloads. The impact of skyrocketing inflation, and the likely return of student loan repayments combined with the cost of living in New York, is untenable for people who work for the public good as attorneys, social workers, paralegals and other administrative, and technical service staff. Many are forced to leave the public sector in order to make a living wage in New York City, leaving a wide gap in the experience needed by the complexity of the cases and circumstances involved for many of the people represented by these legal services organizations.


According to internal data collected from local public defender offices including The Legal Aid Society, The Bronx Defenders, Brooklyn Defender Services, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, Queens Defenders, and New York County Defender Services, attrition rates are at a double digit level, and in some cases up to roughly 25 percent. Some report increases in attrition of approximately 70 percent to more than 200 percent compared to last year. Without a significant increase in salary, there will be continued attrition and loss of invaluable and irreplaceable staff.


These funding needs, combined with well-documented delays in contract registration and payments, have created a crisis for legal services in New York City. Defenders are a major counterbalance to  many racially and ethnically biased enforcement policies and outcomes that take place on a daily basis. Inadequate funding hampers their ability to continue to make a difference for individual people and families, most of whom are BIPOC and reside in under-resourced communities. If left unaddressed, these funding issues will further marginalize hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and disconnect them from the legal, civil, and social services they need to survive and thrive. True public safety comes from investments that keep people in their homes, in their jobs, and with their families. The City must meet the demands made today.


Joint Statement in Response to Council Speaker Adrienne Adams State of the City Address Remarks on Funding for Public Defender, Civil Legal Services Organizations


Joint Statement in Response to Council Speaker Adrienne Adams State of the City Address Remarks on Funding for Public Defender, Civil Legal Services Organizations

(NEW YORK, NY) – The Legal Aid Society, New York County Defender Services, Brooklyn Defender Services, The Bronx Defenders, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, Queens Defenders, Legal Services NYC, Mobilization for Justice, New York Legal Assistance Group, Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, Urban Justice Center, NMIC and CAMBA Legal Services, TakeRoot Justice released the following joint statement in response to City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams’ State of the City address remarks on funding for public defender and civil legal services organizations:


“We applaud Speaker Adrienne Adams for addressing the dire funding crisis plaguing New York City’s public defender and civil legal services organizations in her State of the City address.


“For years, our funding needs have largely been ignored, and now we’re faced with widespread staff attrition and mounting operational costs that threaten our ability to deliver the robust legal representation that millions of New Yorkers rely on each year.


“We are talking about New Yorkers who face houselessness, food insecurity, joblessness, incarceration, racist policing, family separation, and deportation. We are talking about New Yorkers most impacted by the pandemic, by poverty, and other crises affecting the city.


“When we are underfunded, it doesn’t just affect us, but the legal rights of every New Yorker. Because of this, we have successfully fought for years to expand legal counsel and support services to people beyond the legal system, to prevent system involvement in the first place.


“This is progress that the City likes to tout as indicative of our national leadership, but the chronic failure year after year to correct an arduous contracting process that plagues countless nonprofits throughout New York creates major cash flow challenges that make it near impossible to meet payroll, purchase critical services or pay vendors on time, resulting in late fees and higher vendor prices and disqualifying us from lines of credit.


“The City must establish new contract protocols that allow automatic payments without arduous vouchering procedures and faster contract registration once the City budget is approved.


“A budget is a reflection of values, and we hope that the adopted budget in June addresses both our lack of funding and the City’s contracting policies. Anything short of this outcome will have catastrophic consequences for the New Yorkers we serve.”



Joint Statement on Mayor Adams’ Fiscal Year 2024 Budget Testimony Before the New York State Legislature

February 15, 2023

Redmond Haskins, The Legal Aid Society, (RHaskins@legal-aid.org)
Daniel Ball, Brooklyn Defender Services, (Dball@bds.org)
Anthony Chiarito, The Bronx Defenders, (AChiarito@bronxdefenders.org)
Lupe Todd-Medina, New York County Defender Services, (LToddmedina@nycds.org)
Emily Whitfield, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, (ewhitfield@ndsny.org)
Brian Schatz, Queens Defenders, (bschatz@queensdefenders.org)


Joint Statement on Mayor Adams’ Fiscal Year 2024 Budget Testimony
Before the New York State Legislature

(NEW YORK, NY) – The Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn Defender Services, The Bronx
Defenders, New York County Defender Services, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem
and Queens Defenders issued the following joint statement in response to Mayor Eric Adams’
Fiscal Year 2024 budget testimony before the New York State Legislature:

“Defenders statewide are desperately in need of additional staffing and technological resources to
collect, store, access and work with evidence in an increasingly digital era, while at the same time
facing an unprecedented staffing and attrition crisis.

“We echo the call from Mayor Adams, as well as New York City Council Speaker Adrienne
Adams, that a significant allotment of funding from Albany in the upcoming budget is required to
address our hiring and retention needs, and help ensure that we, along with others in the criminal
legal system, are able to access discovery – the sharing of documents and other evidence – in a
timely and meaningful way.

“However, we reject efforts to remove a well-established provision of law requiring that judges
consider the ‘least restrictive’ alternative in bail-eligible cases. This change will only lead to
confusion and the pretrial caging of more New Yorkers in deadly local jails. The route to public
safety is achieved by increasing investments in community-based mental health and other services,
not in rollbacks to New York’s bail or Raise the Age laws.

“As the budget process moves along, we will continue to work with lawmakers to secure the
desperately needed funding our offices require to fully represent people facing incarceration, loss
of employment, eviction, deportation and other devastating consequences of the criminal legal



March 1, 2023 – NEW YORK CITY – This morning, the NYCLU, advocates and elected officials rallied outside of City Hall demanding transparency and accountability from the NYPD Strategic Response Group (SRG) just before the City Council held its first-ever oversight hearing on the unit. Following months of advocacy from the NYCLU and individuals impacted by SRG violence, the hearing took place after multiple postponements and the NYPD refusing to testify.


The NYPD Strategic Response Group (SRG) is a violent, overfunded, and unaccountable unit of the NYPD. notorious for its abuse of protesters, particularly those standing up for racial justice. Despite promises from the NYPD that the unit would not be deployed at protests at its 2015 founding, the SRG has consistently threatened, attacked, and arrested protesters, drawing condemnation from international human rights organizations, and litigation brought by the NYCLU and Legal Aid Society. Advocates and elected officials urged City Council to disband the SRG and reinvest its millions in funds back into our communities.


“The New York City Council must provide the leadership our city needs to reduce the size, scope and power of the NYPD, including by disbanding the reckless SRG,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Today, New Yorkers who survived SRG violence are finally able to exercise their right to question the SRG’s conduct at a City Council oversight hearing. City lawmakers must disband the SRG and its funds should be reinvested to serve, and not harm, New Yorkers. Militarized police forces do not belong in our streets.”


The SRG is a voluntary unit that attracts officers seeking action. They escalate violence against protestors rather than facilitate First Amendment activity. Their members have higher substantiated misconduct complaints and allegations of excessive force than the NYPD as a whole. The SRG uses tactics including the use of bicycles as weapons, excessive force when making arrests, and deployment formations that give rise to injuries, violence and false arrests, like kettling. The NYPD offers no transparency on the funding, staffing, and deployment of SRG in our communities. 21 City Council members issued an open letter in support of disbanding the SRG.


With at least 700 officers and a budget that has ballooned from $13 million to over $100 million dollars since 2015 with no public oversight, the SRG is trained to suppress protestors, especially those demanding racial justice. SRG training documents define two type of protestor crowds: “peaceful” and “violent.” Examples of violent crowds include the “BLM movement, Occupy Wall Street, and Anti-Trump Demonstrators.” These trainings include guidelines for the deployment of sound cannons and tactical formations to trap and mass arrest protestors. There is no focus on First Amendment protections or de-escalation strategies, and a clear bias against those calling for racial justice.


The NYCLU’s database of NYPD CCRB misconduct complaints shows that SRG officers in the database receive an abnormally high number of misconduct complaints compared to non-SRG officers:

  • Of officers who were named in at least one complaint while in SRG, the median number of complaints since 2000 is six – double the median number of complaints received since 2000 for all officers on the force.
  • 11% of misconduct complaints against SRG officers were substantiated by the CCRB, compared to 7.1% of complaints against all NYPD officers.
  • The SRG also has a pattern of targeting people of color. Of those complaints that included a victim’s race, the impacted individual was a person of color 91 percent of the time. Sixty-six percent of victims were Black, 21 percent were Latinx, and nine percent were white.


“Two of the NYPD officers involved in my son’s murder were from the Strategic Response Group. Hyper militarized units like the SRG do not make us safer. These officers come into our communities as if they are going to war. They escalate rather than de-escalate and all too often resort to excessive force. Rather than continuing to pour tens of millions of dollars into the SRG, this dangerous unit must be disbanded and those funds must be invested in services like quality mental healthcare that our communities need and deserve,” said Eric Vassell, father of Saheed Vassell, a New Yorker who was killed by the NYPD on April 4, 2014, and member of the Justice Committee.


“The Strategic Response Group is an example of a notoriously violent NYPD whose dangerous tactics are a threat to the safety of New Yorkers. The SRG should be disbanded and the millions of city dollars dedicated to this unit should be redirected towards community safety solutions,” said Ileana Mendez-Penate, Program Director, Communities United for Police Reform.


“The Strategic Response Group has a long track record of violently suppressing peaceful protests, in violation of both Constitutional and human rights. It should be disbanded. A healthy democracy has no room for a militarized force that brutalizes civilians and stamps out dissent. It erodes trust in leadership and delegitimizes our government in the eyes of the people. Unaccountable to New Yorkers and counterproductive in our City’s shared pursuit of public safety, the SRG has no place in our city,” said Council Member Chi Ossé.


“In both 2021 and 2022, the NYPD stationed phalanxes of SRG troops near the endpoint of our annual Queer Liberation March. In both cases, SRG used the flimsiest of excuses to escalate into violence. Were it not for the de-escalation skills of our volunteer marshals, the SRG would have escalated the situation to the point of scores of serious injuries. They function as a roving occupying army treating New Yorkers attending non-violent protests like armed enemy combatants. While they claim they are “peace officers,” the only violence ever committed at any of our marches have been instigated by NYPD officers and SRG. The SRG must be disbanded and the NYPD needs to give all its officers a re-education on the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights,” said Jay W. Walker, the Reclaim Pride Coalition.


“The United States has a long and tethered history in its mission to suppress non-violent protests by the people, and NYC is no stranger to that historical violence. The Strategic Response Group (SRG) is nothing more than a militarized arm of the NYPD whose sole mission is to quell non-violent civil disobedience by utilizing some of the most painful and harmful methods at their disposal. The SRG must be disbanded in the wake of hours of captured video and testimony by protestors who this violent group of officers took an oath to protect and serve,” said Jon McFarlane, a leader with VOCAL-NY’s Civil Rights Union.


“The people have the right to protest and gather, to exercise their first amendment freedoms without being intimidated,” said Council Member Shaun Abreu. “The NYPD Strategic Response Group has been deployed in a way that undermines this principle. Sending the SRG to peaceful protests is an unnecessary and inappropriate use of police resources, and we must put an end to it.”


“This week, we finally have an opportunity to hold the Strategic Response Group, a notoriously violent NYPD unit, accountable for its abuses. From unlawfully and unnecessarily brutalizing peaceful New Yorkers, to draining taxpayer dollars upwards of $90 million, it’s time to end this City-sponsored violence, disband the unit, and reinvest these dollars immediately into community safety,” said Council Member Jennifer Gutiérrez.


“For years, the Strategic Response Group has been at the forefront of the NYPD’s war on our City’s Black and brown residents. They have beaten protestors and harassed everyday residents with impunity. Today, the Council takes the first step in dismantling their reign of terror,” said Council Member Shahana Hanif. “Our oversight hearing today is a long overdue step in moving toward a City without the SRG. Rather than arming cops with riot shields and legal amnesty, we should invest in housing, healthcare, and education. I’m proud to stand firm with the dozens of community organizations and progressive allies who dare to dream for a City rooted in care, not cages.”


“I stand with my colleagues and all New Yorkers in my support of the disbandment of the SRG. We must protect the right to protest free of fear to maintain a healthy and open democracy,” said Council Member Althea Stevens.


“The SRG is the poster child for mission creep,” said Council Member Tiffany Cabán. “At the unit’s inception, New Yorkers, still traumatized by the September 11th attacks, wanted protection from terrorism, and were instead given an unaccountable squadron that does everything from violently cracking down on legitimate protests to evicting our homeless neighbors from their encampments. Relatedly, over the years, SRG’s headcount has also ballooned to multiple times its initially-intended size. The time is long past to disband this unit and redirect its funding to evidence-based public safety strategies, from mobile mental health services to overdose prevention centers to violence interruption programming.”


“The NYPD Strategic Response Group’s aggressive tactics contribute to a culture of police brutality while empowering bad cops to act with impunity,” said Lori Zeno, Executive Director of Queens Defenders.  “146 officers were recommended for discipline by the Civilian Complaint Review Board following the 2020 George Floyd protests alone, yet the NYPD continues to shield them from accountability.  Public safety has never been achieved by putting needlessly aggressive police units on the street to target demonstrators.  We demand the SRG be disbanded, and funding redirected to initiatives that address the needs of clients targeted by our criminal legal system including mental health and substance use treatment, access to safe and affordable housing, education and job training, and meaningful diversion programs.”


“The Strategic Response Group is a notoriously abusive unit in the NYPD, with a long history of inflicting egregious violence and surveillance primarily on New Yorkers exercising their First Amendment rights,” said Jackie Gosdigian, senior policy counsel with Brooklyn Defenders. “We must disband SRG and instead redirect funding towards community investments that actually create safety for New Yorkers, such as housing and education.”


“The SRG is not known by New Yorkers as a so-called ‘counter-terrorism unit.’ The SRG is known for brutalizing New Yorkers who are exercising their First Amendment Rights. Time and time again, the SRG abuses people who are protesting for Racial Justice, and for Black Lives. We have seen events with under 30 people attacked by 100 SRG officers. Whether protesters are in the streets, or on the sidewalk before a march even begins, the SRG attacks. It is time to disband this violent, anti-Black unit,” said Equity for Flatbush.


“As one of the leading organizing groups in New York City we have experienced first hand the extremely violent practices of the Strategic Response Group, a manifestation of one of the worst characteristics of the New York Police Department. We need to immediately disband the SRG and prioritize investing in our communities and developing non carceral solutions to public safety instead of relying on the same violent strategies that have continuously harmed communities. Especially those that are Black, people of color, and low income communities. Enough is enough and we must do better!” said Frantzy Luzincourt, Co-Founder & CEO of Strategy for Black Lives.


“The Strategic Response Unit is a stain on New York City and its existence represents government sponsored harassment. New Yorkers have the right to gather and protest peacefully without being intimidated by the police. Disbanding the SRG unit is not just the right thing to do, it’s the right thing for public safety,” said Robert Willis, Justice Advocate Coordinator at LatinoJustice PRLDEF.


“The SRG already ensures that critics of police power have no right to public protest. Now the same violent volunteers – with their secret budget, their riot gear, their shields, bikes, Punisher skulls and Trump patches – will be occupying those communities that the wealthiest city in the world exploits most. Mayor Adams is draining these Black and brown neighborhoods of resources to advance gentrification and privatization, and he’s betting that he can control the resulting fallout with overwhelming force. He will lose this bet. Police can’t solve our problems: resources, community self-organization, and alternatives to policing can. And since we ourselves have suffered the SRG’s violence, we will keep fighting until the SRG is gone,” said Crown Heights CARE Collective.


“I’ve been part of many actions where we are fighting to keep our neighbors housed and the SRG has descended on us like animals. They instigate violence against tenants defending their homes against eviction. When they attack, they attack indiscriminately. I have seen them attack people of all ages, including elderly New Yorkers. They are completely indiscriminate in who they hurt in their hurry to protect capital and the financial interests of Eric Adams and all other landlords,” said Zara Cadoux, Steward of the Crown Heights Tenant Union.


“The NYPD’s Strategic Response Group, notorious for its racism and violence, is typical of the City’s response to the growing effects of disinvestment under the Eric Adams austerity regime.  Rather than give people homes in the midst of a housing crisis, Adams is sending SRG riot cops into Black and brown neighborhoods most at risk of displacement to ensure that real estate tycoons continue to profit off the backs of everyday New Yorkers. The City Council must disband the SRG and reinvest its funds directly into communities targeted by police violence and chronic disinvestment to truly treat the root causes of harm in our city,” said the NYC-DSA Racial Justice Working Group.

In Response to Reporting on Local Mental Health Courts, Defenders Call on Albany to Codify the Treatment Not Jail Act

February 27, 2023


Redmond Haskins, The Legal Aid Society, (RHaskins@legal-aid.org)
Lupe Todd-Medina, New York County Defender Services, (LToddmedina@nycds.org
Daniel Ball, Brooklyn Defender Services, (Dball@bds.org
Anthony Chiarito, The Bronx Defenders, (AChiarito@bronxdefenders.org
Emily Whitfield, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, (ewhitfield@ndsny.org
Brian Schatz, Queens Defenders, (bschatz@queensdefenders.org)


In Response to Reporting on Local Mental Health Courts, Defenders Call on Albany to Codify the Treatment Not Jail Act

Legislation Will Improve Public Safety by Providing Robust Community Treatment to Those Who Cycle in and out of the Criminal Legal System Due to Untreated Mental Health and Substance Use Challenges 

(NEW YORK, NY) – The Legal Aid Society, New York County Defender Services, Brooklyn Defender Services, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, The Bronx Defenders and Queens Defenders, in response to a New York Daily News feature story on New Yorkers who have benefitted from citywide Mental Health courts, called on Albany lawmakers to codify mental health courts into law through the Treatment Not Jail Act (TNJ)


TNJ is transformative pending statewide legislation that would improve public safety by allowing justice-involved  New Yorkers with substance use, mental health diagnoses and other disabilities to have an off-ramp from the criminal legal system to obtain treatment, support and stability in their communities, as an alternative to incarceration. 


Specifically, TNJ would:

  • expand the already-existing authority of judges to grant judicial diversion, extending eligibility not just to those with underlying substance use issues but to New Yorkers who become entangled in the criminal legal system due to their untreated mental health conditions;
  • update the current charge-based eligibility restrictions which present arbitrary and overly restrictive barriers to treatment for people whose underlying substance use or mental health condition contributed to their involvement in the criminal legal system;
  • adopt a “pre-plea” model, already used in many courts in New York State, which allows applicants to participate in court-mandated diversion programming and access treatment without requiring them to plead guilty first;
  • incorporate due process protections, procedural justice, harm reduction,person-centered principles, and other treatment court best practices, leaving treatment decision-making to healthcare professionals, not lawyers, and encourage clinically effective forms of treatment, rather than outdated and ineffective punitive measures.


Learn more about the Treatment Not Jail Act:


“It has never been more apparent that jail only serves to undermine public safety, including the individual safety and well-being of those trapped in this crisis of Rikers Island,” said Tina Luongo, chief attorney of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “The Treatment Not Jail Act offers an urgently needed pathway to treatment for thousands of people who are languishing in jail with mental health diagnoses, developmental disabilities, and substance use disorders. We call on the Hochul Administration, Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and Speaker Heastie to immediately enact this critically important law.” 


“Legislating mental health courts by passing the Treatment Not Jail act will equitably address New York State’s mental health crisis. We have a moral obligation to evolve our diversion court practices in the face of a changing public health, legal and scientific landscape,” said Katherine Bajuk, Mental Health Attorney Specialist at New York County Defender Services. “Due to ignorance and stigma about mental illness, too often people showing symptoms are met with a police response and incarceration.  This response is ineffective and costly. The Treatment Not Jail Act is the public health solution for this public health crisis. Ensuring treatment for individuals in need builds strong and healthy communities while keeping everyone safe.”


“People living with mental illness are suffering in New York City jails, unable to access needed treatment and care, with their stability, their health, and their lives in constant danger,” said Yung-Mi Lee, legal director of Brooklyn Defender Services’ Criminal Defense Practice. “The evidence is clear that we cannot incarcerate our way to mental wellness and public safety. The Treatment Not Jails Act offers another solution – diverting people with mental health and substance use issues away from the criminal legal system and towards community care and treatment. We urge Albany to enact this critical legislation this session.”


“It is a lie that incarceration makes us safer,” said Ann Mathews, Managing Director of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Bronx Defenders. “Caging people without treatment does nothing except cost the state millions each year so that people struggling with mental health or substance use challenges are exposed to the very violence and conditions they need to escape. We must invest in treatment, not jails or prison, if we are to have true public and community safety.”


“Public Defenders know more than most the barriers our clients face in living healthy, successful lives free from incarceration and the revolving door of the criminal legal system.” said Lori Zeno, Executive Director of Queens Defenders. “More often than not, they are facing significant issues that include mental health, substance use, housing instability, and the effects of life-long trauma. The Treatment Not Jail Act would provide the clients we serve with a fighting chance to learn valuable skills and coping mechanisms and shore up their support networks, ultimately leading to the stability and prosperity that has been out of reach for most of their lives.  TNJ is an humane, compassionate, and client-centered tool for New York’s legal system to employ in diverting individuals from ineffective punitive sentencing and mass incarceration.”


“Too often, our incarcerated clients with mental health and substance abuse issues languish in jail, denied treatment and cycled through the revolving door of Rikers Island,” said Alice Fontier, Managing Director at the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem. “New York’s current system fails all of us, and we must expand existing law to make our communities safer and healthier by passing the Treatment Not Jail Act to ensure that our clients have the resources and programming they need and deserve. Albany must prioritize the passage of this critical measure immediately.”


Governor Hochul's 2024 Budget Proposal Fails Vulnerable New Yorkers

Governor Hochul’s 2024 Executive Budget proposal sets a record for New York State spending yet fails the vulnerable New Yorkers we serve every day at Queens Defenders through our free legal defense services and housing assistance programs.

A budget proposal is a plan of action and an opportunity to address inequity. Unfortunately, this spending plan ignores our State’s low-income residents, further criminalizes poverty, and instead favors prosecutors, law enforcement, landlords, and real estate developers.

Bail Reform

The Governor’s budget appears to be more influenced by sensational headlines than what the data tells us – that there is no clear connection between recent crime increases and bail reform laws.  Eliminating the “least restrictive means” standard will remove safeguards on arbitrary bail decisions in favor of ensuring a low-level offender shows up in court.  What the citizens of New York will get with the Governor’s proposal is more pre-trial detention, more disruption to their lives, and with little to no impact on public safety.


Since the implementation of bail reform laws, rearrests within 180 days have only marginally increased, from 19% in 2019 to 21% in 2021.  An estimate from an Albany Times Union’s analysis suggests that as many as 80,000 New Yorkers may have avoided incarceration and went on to pose no recorded threat to public safety as a result of bail reforms.  We implore the Governor’s office to analyze how many people were able to keep their jobs and provide for their families because of these laws and consider that when making policy recommendations.

Funding for Prosecution vs. Defense

The Governor’s Executive budget proposal allocates $40 million in additional funding to hire new prosecutors and supplement changes to discovery laws.  Public Defender and legal services organization had hoped to see an equal increase to address our staffing and operational needs, but we are left out of this budget.  Further, only providing funding to district attorneys to address changes to discovery puts public defenders and most importantly our clients at a distinct disadvantage.


What we have painfully learned over the last several years is that discovery is not a one-way street from the district attorney’s office to our case files.  We must receive gigabytes of data, documents, video, recordings, and other media, organize it, view it, and then mount an effective defense of the clients we represent.  The Governor’s budget cuts public defenders out of the process, and leaves us at the whim of district attorney’s offices to develop their own systems and processes, leaving us only to react in whatever way our operating budgets allow.


This ultimately harms justice-involved low-income New Yorkers when their attorneys can’t rely on efficient and standardized systems for receiving discovery materials, as we will be constantly working from behind to respond to the systems impressed upon us by prosecutors.  In order to ensure true, equitable implementation of discovery changes, public defender and legal services organizations must have access to equal funding.


The Governor’s Executive Budget proposal addresses “affordable housing” largely through tax breaks for developers to build new units over the next decade.  What we are missing is an answer for the families living in the shelter system right now with a voucher on the verge of expiring, and a local real estate market that continues finding creative ways to keep them out of available units.


The national average for Emergency Housing Vouchers (EHV) that have been used to acquire affordable housing is 48.7%, while New York State lags at 27.5% and New York City at an abysmal 17%. Thousands of New Yorkers are literally waiting in shelters for a space to call home.  This budget does not offer solutions for closing this gap and helping New York residents acquire stable housing.


The Governor needs to include strategies and funding to address staffing problems at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and create protections for voucher participants to ensure they have equal access to stable housing and landlords are not discriminating against them in favor of market rate renters. New Yorkers languishing in shelters deserve action on this today, not in ten years.