A pro-bail reform teleconference Tuesday morning was invaded by online racists who directed the n-word and other hate messages at state and city lawmakers speaking out in support of a state measure that has eliminated cash bail on most offenses.
As Brooklyn Assemblymember Latrice Walker discussed her support for the bail law — which conservative lawmakers, moderate Democrats and Gov. Andrew Cuomo want to repeal — at least five conference participants began posting the racist messages in the chat window. Forum organizers shared screenshots of the racist messages with the Eagle.
“CRY MORE [N-WORD] LOL,” wrote one participant as Walker, who is black, spoke.
“hey black [n-word],” said another. “[n-words] or naw,” added a third.
Other elected officials on the panel included Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Assemblymembers Catalina Cruz, Harvey Epstein and Joseph Lentol.
The white supremacist webinar attendees continued posting racist messages until a moderator turned off the comment option in the Zoom conference. Moderators decided to forgo a question-and-answer session with audience members because of the invective.
“[N-WORD] CRIMINALS NEED TO DIE IN PRISON,” wrote one attendee before the comments were turned off. “I HOPE [N-WORD] CRIMINALS GET CORONAVIRUS.”
Bail is set to ensure defendants have a financial incentive to return to court, but the system that was in place in New York contributed to decades of deep racial and income disparities in the criminal justice system. Low-income defendants — particularly people of color — were held in pre-trial detention while wealthier people charged with the same offenses could afford their bail and return home to fight their charges and await trial.
Those disparities fueled the effort to change the bail system last year.
Cruz, a Queens assemblymember who supports the bail reform law that took effect Jan. 1, said racism has informed much of the backlash to the measure — though it is typically less transparent than the messages of hate posted during the teleconference.
“It is not about ‘Let’s protect victims, the safety of out community,’” Cruz said. “This is about the perception that we are siding with quote unquote criminals.”
Opponents of the current measure, including many lawmakers who supported it last year, say they fear bail reform will lead to more crime. There has not yet been enough data to determine whether that is the case, however, and Cruz said opponents have aligned themselves “with the racists who are out supporting” the repeal.
Event organizer Katie Schaffer, the director of advocacy and organizing with the Center for Community Alternatives, said the coordinated messages by a number of online racists reminded her of a Facebook group called “Repeal Bail Reform,” first reported by City & State in February. The group featured several Republican operatives and law enforcement officials as well as avowed white supremacists representing various fringe groups, like a white nationalist militia group known as the Three Percenters.
“This seems to us another incident that demonstrates the way the anti-bail reform movement is driven by a racist backlash to a civil rights victory,” Schaffer said.