It was with great trepidation that I read Congressman Lee Zeldin’s op-ed on RiverheadLOCAL regarding New York State’s new bail reform law.
My concerns were well-founded.
In this piece, Zeldin makes an anecdotal, hearsay case against bail reform to fit a desired, predetermined narrative. Specifically, that bail reform enacted at the beginning of 2020 has released a dangerous flood of recidivist criminals into our state and communities here on Long Island.
He makes an anecdotal, hearsay case because the fact of the matter is there are no numbers to support his narrative.
There are no numbers Zeldin can cite because there literally are no numbers yet.
There are no numbers to demonstrate the recidivism rate for those released under the new bail reform law vs. the recidivism rate previously.
There are no numbers to demonstrate that those released under the new law commit violent crimes at a rate higher than those previously released on bail.
There are no numbers — so Zeldin must rely on hearsay, anecdotal, highly publicized, sensationalized instances of recidivism to “prove” his case.
As an attorney, Zeldin surely realizes this is folly.
Indeed, under closer scrutiny, Zeldin’s case falls apart. The “proof” cited in at least two of the cases he has cited has been subsequently demonstrated to be misleading in the least, wholly erroneous or at worst may instead involve judicial or prosecutorial failings.
In his article, Zeldin offers the case of Jordan Randolph as evidence. As unfortunate as this case is, recent evidence refutes that the incident involved bail reform at all and that the judge had the option to set bail, but failed to do so.
On Twitter, Zeldin has advanced a similarly erroneous narrative involving the murder of Wilmer Maldonado Rodriguez.
This case has proven exceptionally problematic and as the facts are made publicly available, it is clear that bail reform legislation was not at fault at all, but rather a judicial or prosecutorial failing may have lead to Rodriguez’s death.
As NBC4 New York’s Greg Cergol clarifies, “Within a day (officials) conceded that any such link was factually incorrect (emphasis mine) and that the bail reform laws had nothing to do with the attack on Rodriguez.” Civil rights advocates in Nassau County have called upon police officials and elected officials to apologize for their deliberate mischaracterization of the incident.
Zeldin has been made aware of the facts about this case, but as yet has refused to delete the Tweet in question. He continues to advance purposeful disinformation in service of his own predetermined conclusions and distortion of the truth advanced by law enforcement.
In addition to the officials in Nassau County, Zeldin should apologize.
Ultimately, this is a debate we must have and one victim of recidivist crime is one victim too many. However, we must have numbers to make well-reasoned decisions on bail reform and any necessary amendments to the law because, as the two cases cited make abundantly clear, jumping to conclusions and citing anecdotes as evidence is a fraught exercise and is not suitable for policymaking decisions.
Until such time as we have these numbers, Zeldin should restrain his rhetoric, stop the race-based fear-mongering his position engenders, cease citing erroneous, anecdotal evidence as proof of anything and realize that he represents ALL of New York’s First Congressional District.
Especially those who lack the resources to afford cash bail in the first place.
Steven Kramer is a poet, writer and political activist. He is a lead member of Indivisible North Fork. He lives in Riverhead.
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