The Fight Against Amazon Continues + Cash Bail Reform

A note to our readers: The Thorn has switched from Mailchimp to Substack so we can keep delivering you local New York politics news from a socialist perspective with fewer administrative costs. Starting in January 2022 our new issues can be at along with how to subscribe. This website will serve as an archive of our past issues.

Local News:

  • NYC-DSA’s No Amazon Community Forum took place in Astoria on Monday, with a packed house and lines wrapping around the block. The forum was put on by NYC-DSA, through members of the Queens branch, in coalition with CAAAV, Chhaya CDC, Desis Rising Up & Moving (DRUM), Queens Neighborhoods United (QNU), Socialist Alternative (SAlt), and Whole Worker. The group heard from speakers on issues of housing, labor, immigration, corporate welfare, and Amazon’s impact on Seattle which included DSA members as well as a Queensbridge Houses resident, tenant organizer, undocumented youth and restaurant worker, CUNY student, and Whole Foods workers among others. It was covered a bit in the New York Times.

  • The New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) made public the city’s bid for Amazon. In the proposal, the state’s economic development agency, Empire State Development (ESD), offered to assist Amazon in obtaining property through eminent domain. NYCEDC President James Patchett testified at the first of three hearings on the Amazon deal convened by NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

  • Governor Cuomo and Mayor De Blasio announced the creation of a citizen advisory committee (CAC) to gather and provide input on Amazon’s investments in areas such as workforce and infrastructure. The 45-member committee includes Long Island City residents, the local Community Board’s Land Use chair, and the President of Queensbridge Houses Tenant Association. Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer (Long Island City, Astoria) declined to participate. The CAC, announced a day before the Council’s hearings on Amazon, will meet quarterly beginning in January.

  • With the Amazon deal still being criticized, workers at an Amazon fulfillment center in Staten Island announced their plans to unionize.

  • Disturbing video surfaced of a security guards and NYPD officers tearing a 1-year-old baby from his mother’s arms at the Human Resources Administration office in Brooklyn. The mother, Jazmine Headley, was then arrested and held in Rikers over the weekend, before the charges were dropped and she was released. Mayor De Blasio was criticized for his slow response before ultimately echoing the PBA’s statement by blaming HRA officials for the incident. An internal NYPD investigation concluded there was no wrongdoing by any police officers.

  • A pay-raise committee imposed a ban on outside income for state legislators. However, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie indicated that he will resist the outside income recommendation on the grounds that it oversteps the purview of the committee, while warning that such a policy would result in the retirement of several assembly members.

  • Seventeen members of CUNY’s faculty union were arrested after disrupting a board of trustees meeting to demand a fair contract.

  • 1199 SEIU, the largest healthcare union in New York State, has announced its support for the New York Health Act, but other key healthcare unions and public sector unions remain undecided or even resistant to the bill.


  • The full list was released of incoming Democratic State Senate committee and subcommittee chairs, including DSA-endorsed Julia Salazar as Chair of the State Senate Women’s Health Subcommittee.

  • Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez (Washington Heights, Inwood) and Council Member Eric Ulrich (Ozone Park, Rockaways) both announced their candidacies for Public Advocate.

  • Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr, a potential 2021 mayoral contender, has proposed cutting property tax rates in order to incentivize property owners from not raising preferential rents.

In-Depth: Cash Bail

Under New York’s current bail regime, tens of thousands of people are held on Rikers Island each year simply because they can’t afford to buy their freedom. New York Democrats from Governor Andrew Cuomo to Senator-elect Julia Salazar have come out in favor of some kind of bail reform, and there is a good chance that reform legislation may pass in the next legislature.

When a person is accused of a crime in New York City, it is not uncommon for months or years to pass before the case is resolved. In the meantime, some defendants are released and told to show up for court dates; others (including those charged with the most serious crimes, like murder) are held in jail without any bail being set. But in about 40,000 misdemeanor and felony cases each year, a judge sets bail, and whether the person (or their friends and family) can come up with the money determines whether they’ll be free or jailed pending trial. In most cases the bail amount is over $10,000. In 2017, only 13% of people were able to make bail at their first court appearance.

The past few years have seen increasing recognition among New York Democrats that the bail system is in need of reform, especially as wealthy defendants like Harvey Weinstein have been able to buy their freedom ($1 million in his case), while others accused of much lesser offenses are confined on Rikers Island. In his State of the State address last January, Cuomo proposed ending cash bail for people charged with most misdemeanors and other lesser offenses, as well as some people charged with felonies. Although the Republican-controlled State Senate failed to act on the proposal, the Democrat-controlled State Assembly did pass a similar bill in June. Many of the newly elected Democratic senators support ending cash bail.

The Cuomo-Assembly plan has significant limits. For one thing, it would leave cash bail in place for most “violent felonies,” which is a scary-sounding term that includes many offenses that are not in fact violent. Many offenses involving possession or sale of guns are considered “violent felonies,” for example, even if no gun is ever fired. However, the principle behind abolishing cash bail—that your freedom pretrial shouldn’t depend on how much money you can pay—applies equally regardless of what you’re accused of, from turnstile hopping to assault. Kalief Browder, who was locked up on Rikers Island for nearly three years without a trial, was facing a robbery charge that qualified as a “violent felony,” though he maintained his innocence. The large majority of criminal cases don’t involve “violent felonies,” so the Cuomo-Assembly plan would have the effect of ending  cash bail for most people in the system, even if not all. It would shrink but not eliminate the bail bond industry, which lobbies for increased criminalization and incarceration.

Cuomo’s plan also includes a “five-day detention” component, under which a judge could jail someone pretrial for five days in specific types of cases. After the five days are up, the defendant would either be released on conditions or kept in jail. This provision would apply to domestic violence cases, including misdemeanors. It would result in some people being detained pretrial (for at least five days) who would currently be released, and it might be challenged as unconstitutional.

There is some other encouraging language in the Cuomo-Assembly bill which seems to say that even people who do face bail couldn’t have it be set at an unaffordable level, and people put on ankle bracelets wouldn’t have to pay for the (high) cost of electronic monitoring. In other states, however, similar language is often disregarded, and the details of the implementation will be left to judges and prosecutors who are accustomed to sending poor defendants to Rikers. And as Michelle Alexander recently argued in the Times, we should be wary of replacing incarceration with “e-carceration,” in which digital monitoring and restrictive conditions are imposed on people who might (or might not) have been sent to jail under a cash bail regime.

While it appears likely that some form of bail reform may pass the next legislature, it is unclear how closely it will resemble Cuomo’s proposal. The measure passed by the Assembly this year had no Senate co-sponsor, and the Assembly sponsor, Latrice Walker, is running for Public Advocate in the upcoming special election. Two other bills that would eliminate cash bail entirely had sponsors in both houses of the legislature: Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell (also running for Public Advocate) and Senator Michael Gianiaris, and Assembly Member Dan Quart and Senator Jose Serrano, respectively. Gianaris is poised to be Deputy Majority Leader in the new Senate. Even if prospects appear good for some sort of positive reform, we should be mindful of last-minute changes. In California this year, a bill to eliminate cash bail was amended at the last minute to greatly increase pretrial detention, and the advocates and organizations that had been pushing for its passage were unable to stop it.

Contribute to The Thorn

We welcome submissions of in-depth articles, comics and illustrations from anyone in DSA. Whether you want to write for us or just know of stories we should be covering, please get in touch.

Subscribe to The Thorn

The Thorn is a weekly update on what's happening in local New York politics from a socialist perspective. Please sign up with us to receive an email every Monday morning.