By Stephen Witt
You can’t get much closer to street level than District Attorney Kenneth Thompson did last night in coming to Coney Island’s Liberation Diploma High School for a Town Hall Summit.
The school, 2865 West 19th Street, is for students between the ages of 16-21 getting their last second chance to graduate with a high school degree. It’s located in an area with one of the highest concentrations of public housing in the city.
“Some of the students are young parents. Some are struggling with drug addiction. Some are homeless. Some are learning how to have a voice in the world where they will be recognized,” said Diploma High School Principal April Leong.
Thompson told the packed auditorium that he came to show the community he cares. He came armed with nearly his entire staff and a message: He is a tough but fair prosecutor. This, he said, was evidenced by his office getting 10 wrongfully people convicted of murder exonerated since he took office in January.
“There are two parts of Coney Island and one part is forgotten.” he told the crowd. “I’m here tonight to tell you you’re not forgotten.”
Thompson came as Coney Island has seen a 50% uptick in murders this year with nine as compared to six last year. Also up for the year, according to 60th Police Precinct statistics, are the violent crimes of rape (38%) and felony assault (8%).
Also in attendance were all the area’s elected representatives including Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krazny and City Councilmembers Mark Treyger and Chaim Deutsch.
Among the locals in the audience included Rev. Connis Mobley, pastor of the United Community Baptist Church, on West 27th Street and residents of several public housing complexes. One man, who identified himself as a street hustler, asked what could be done to help those forced to hustle on the street because of negative societal circumstances such as being an ex-felon.
Thompson said his office is only empowered to do so much, but did explain several DA programs that help youth keep on the straight and narrow, and assisting felons adjust after prison life, along with the (718) 250,2000 phone number for more information.
But the real winners of the evening were the many students in the audience, according to Leong.
“Having the DA come here was important because it allowed my students to understand that the next world is not as far away as they believe it to be,” said Leong. “It brings a reality that their transformations are worthy and their voices are supposed to be heard and that people are listening.”