Queens Defenders’ DOVE advocates, Marissa Bernowitz and Angelina Rosado joined NY State Assembly Member Khaleel Anderson to support the Purple Alert Law and the Destini Smothers Law on Thursday, March 24th. This important legislative briefing was supported by multiple organizations dedicated to advocating for Domestic Violence victims, including Returning Hope, Ladies of Lavender, Vanguard Medicine, and Queens Defenders. All of these organizations were brought together due to the tragic story of Destini Smothers, and the failures in the system that led to her death.  

The briefing was intended to educate state elected officials on the urgency of providing proper support for domestic violence and abuse victims, survivors, and their loved ones. To emphasize this, Assembly Member Anderson had two separate panels present important views on the impact of domestic violence. This started with a panel of Impacted Advocates including Angelina Rosado, Founder of Returning Hope and DOVE Advocate for Queens Defenders, and Shavona Warmington, Ladies of Lavender, who had a passionate discussion about being a domestic violence survivor and the failings of a broken system.  

Following the emotional conversation in the Impacted Advocates Panel, Marissa Bernowitz of Queens Defenders and Christina Blackburn from Vanguard Medicine began to speak about the issue from an “expert” viewpoint. Both panelists are also dedicated advocates who are themselves survivors of domestic violence. Christina Blackburn comes from the medical side of these cases, demonstrating how we can change our procedures to limit the traumatization of victims by starting in the doctors office. Marissa Bernowitz, Executive Administrator and DOVE Program Coordinator at Queens Defenders, explained the community impact of domestic violence. As a life long member of the Rockaway community, she gave voice to Destini Smothers’ story and how it resembles many domestic violence cases across the country.   

Queens Defenders is very proud to support impactful legislation that will make a difference in the communities we serve. Individuals can support this legislation and find more information on the NY State Senate Website: information on the Purple Alert Law can be found here and more information on Destini Smother’s Law can be found here. 


Marissa Bernowitz’s full comments from the briefing:  

“Good morning and thank you for including us in this briefing. My name is Marissa Bernowitz, Executive Administrator and the DOVE (Domestic and Other Violence) Program Coordinator at Queens Defenders – a nonprofit legal services organization providing high-quality indigent criminal defense representation in Queens County since 1996. I am also a survivor and witness of multiple versions of domestic violence throughout my life — psychical, emotional, and others. To everyone here and watching today: know you are not alone. I am not alone either.  

In 2017, Queens Defenders established our DOVE program which provides an array of crucial services to address domestic violence throughout the borough of Queens – from emergency assistance to public education campaigns. Our program is made up of peer advocates and professionals to address, educate, empower, and provide support to those affected by domestic and intimate partner violence. Personally, as a longtime peer advocate for domestic violence survivors and victims alike, and now through my work at Queens Defenders, we are proud to support the Purple Alert Systems Law and the Destini Smothers Law brought forward today.  

I spent a good portion of my young adult life living in the same neighborhoods and buildings Destini Smothers grew up in — Edgemere, Far Rockaway. Destini was the same age as my younger siblings when she went missing. Destini and I may not have grown up together but the ties to our community bind us.   

And our lived experiences and the impact domestic and intimate partner violence has had on our lives echo one another’s stories.  While my story has led me to deliver this testimony today, the same cannot be said for Destini and others like her whose lives were abruptly and violently cut short by domestic violence, and a system that failed to protect her.  

Destini’s story is one that needs to be told, heard, and in this case pave the path to establishing laws that can save the lives of people having gone through something like her, like me, and like and countless others.   

For any person who goes “missing,” and especially when there is domestic violence involved, law enforcement agencies must be required to collaborate, and provide real support to families and loved ones reporting missing persons, and activate an alert system that gets the attention, resources, and dedication it deserves.  

Domestic Violence cases are frequently misunderstood, and typically unreported, causing agencies to either do double work or to work without all the facts and information.  This causes large aspects of the cases to be missed. These miscommunications happen more in Black and brown communities, where we consistently see biases lead to victims and their families being unheard, unbelieved, and ignored.  I am left wondering if Destini would be here today if we had better systems in place address these serious gaps.  

Through Queens Defenders’ outreach programs in Far Rockaway and Southeast Queens we see, and actively work to address, the rampant inequality in the level of resources given to communities of color.    

We need strong, targeted laws in place to protect individuals impacted by domestic violence – especially women of color whose stories are often ignored by our society and media or buried in the back pages.  Destini’s story should have been front and center, but few even know her name.  We are calling on you all to change that today.  To honor Destini and the countless individuals whose stories led to the same tragic end.     

With laws in place to cover all missing persons affected by domestic violence, this may not happen again. In Destini’s case, her family advocated to every agency imaginable that she was a victim of ongoing domestic and intimate partner violence; she was not just a missing young lady.   

She was a missing mother, daughter, and woman of color who was abused for years. Her family’s worry that the history of violence indicated that she may have been seriously harmed was disregarded, dismissed, and not taken seriously when first reported to law enforcement.   

Their concerns were greatly minimized when they were not allowed to file a missing person report until eight days after she went missing.   

There were no law in place that required law enforcement to even take a report, let alone collaborate across one state!   

This vital law is aimed at preventing this from happening to someone else.   

We are hopeful that the issues seen in Destini’s case will be addressed in the Purple Alert Systems Law and the Destini Smothers Law. Community work and activism can only do so much when working against ineffective systems that are not up to date with what is currently known about how to address criminal cases of domestic violence.   

I urge you to support the Purple Alert Systems Law and the Destini Smothers Law, as these important pieces of legislation are critical first steps in addressing domestic violence and keeping those in our community safe.  

Thank you for your time and consideration of these two important pieces of legislation.”