NEW YORK CITY – New York’s bail reform push is facing new calls for reform on its own, coming from crime victims who braved a cold, gray Monday morning rain to send prosecutors a pointed message.
“There are thousands of all kinds of criminal elements walking free in our streets,” said activist Madeline Brame. “I try not to get too upset, I try not to get too fired up, but I have no choice.”
Brame’s son, U.S. Army Sgt. Hason Correa, survived deployment in Afghanistan only to be murdered in New York City in 2018. Police say a gang of four men and a woman pounced on him, stabbing him to death. He has since become a symbol of the fight against bail reform, since one of the suspects in his killing was sprung from jail awaiting trial.
“Anyone who is a victim of any crime, from the senior citizen who gets mugged for their cellphone for $30, for the woman who comes home from work and steps into the elevator and gets raped, for the 93-year-old man who is walking down the street and gets punched in the face by someone who has 103 prior arrests, there is something wrong with this picture,” Brame said.
She and other crime victims’ families and criminal justice advocates rallied at Manhattan criminal court to protest New York’s lax bail reform law, and to put pressure on progressive Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg to abandon policies that critics have said are too lenient to criminals.
“Victims’ rights should not be a political issue,” activist Jennifer Harrison, of the group Victims Rights NY, told the crowd. Harrison’s boyfriend was stabbed to death.
“Victims are Republicans and Democrats. We’re independents, we’re Black, we’re Brown, but at the end of the day, we all bleed the same color and our hearts still ache the same pain. Our tears never stop shedding. So, what happened is, New York waged a war. One party really, waged a war on our families and victims.”
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The New York City Police Department reported that overall crime was up 38% in January 2022 compared to January 2021, and the city has been shocked by the cold-blooded killing of two police officers, allegedly by a convicted felon on probation, as well as several other murders committed by suspects with criminal records or out on bail.
“It is just, everything is just out of control. It’s just, too many good people are dying from bad people, causing these problems here and people want to live knowing that they’re safe, going out in the streets,” said Frank Siller, the founder and head of the charity Tunnel to Towers.
Siller was not part of the protest, but his charity has now stepped up to help Correa’s family.
Tunnel to Towers has provided homes for Gold Star families and financial assistance to families of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. The foundation was started to honor Frank’s brother, New York City firefighter Stephen Siller, who on 9/11 went to the World Trade Center towers on his day off, by running with his fire gear through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel from his firehouse in Brooklyn to ground zero. Stephen was killed. The foundation is giving Correa’s family a “Legacy Award” as a way to honor him and help his widow and three young children.
“The thought that he came back and lived in New York, and this is what happens on the streets of New York, is disgusting. If that’s the word, it’s disgusting,” Siller told Fox News.
“We’ll be sending them $5,000 a year for a few years to help them with everyday expenses because it’s the least that we can do,” Siller said. “We better start respecting all law enforcement that give us society. Without them, we have no society. We just don’t have it. It’s time we rise up as a country and as communities and back these men in blue and say, ‘Thank you for your service.’ And this is a small way that we can say that.”
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Since the controversy exploded over Bragg’s new progressive criminal justice policies, which saw a variety of crimes reduced from felonies to misdemeanors, he has tried to quell the furor. He now has said all armed robberies will be prosecuted as felonies, for example. But, critics said Bragg’s apparent change in some areas was not enough.
“Fix the system,” said Phil Wong, rhea head of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance of Greater New York. He cited “a court system in which a judge allows almost a revolving door where criminals walk in and they walk out in a matter of hours,” and told the gathering that prosecutors not enforcing the law “is crazy.”
Other groups, however, claimed bail reform has helped keep 200,000 New Yorkers out of jail.
“Bail reform in New York has been an extraordinary success for public health and safety,” the group Justice Not Fear responded.
The nonprofit group noted an effort to misrepresent the advantages of bail reform, calling the claims “fear-mongering.”
“Nearly 200,000 people have been spared any chance of the trauma, destabilization, and deadly conditions of pre-trial incarceration,” the group claimed. “Over 97% of those released were NOT rearrested for a violent felony,” and, “nearly all released to fight their case while free were NOT rearrested for a charge involving a gun.”
Despite that, critics said bail reform has released dangerous criminals preying on citizens and endangering first responders.
One of the most recent examples they cited was the death of 37-year-old William “Billy” Steinberg, the assistant chief of the Forestburgh, New York, Fire Department. He was killed in the line of duty on Jan. 15 fighting an arson in the upstate town. Investigators said a repeat arsonist who was out on bail after allegedly committing two previous arsons sparked the latest fire.
Tunnel to Towers increasingly has seen some of its efforts go to police officers and first responders who have given the ultimate sacrifice.
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“These families are worried about whether their loved ones are going to come home, and all too often, they don’t come home, because they’re murdered in the street, protecting us,” says Siller. “At the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, we made a promise to every law enforcement member in America, that if you go out, you give your kids a kiss good-bye and you don’t come home, we’re going to take care of your family. We’re going to give them a mortgage, a mortgage-free home. We’re proud of that work.”
The suspect in Correa’s murder, who is out on bail, is due back in court next month.
Fox News’ Ben Evansky contributed to this report.