Challenging Stefani Zinerman, who has spent years focussing on issues germane to her neighborhood, in the race for the primarily black 56th assembly district covering Bedford-Stuyvesant and Northern Crown Heights is a progressive Crown Heights resident, Justin Cohen.
Originally from Camden County, New Jersey, the self-proclaimed “political nerd” has had a love for politics since he was a little kid but the real turning point came for him when the news of Trayvon Martin hit the news screens.
“It had a big significance on me. It became clear to me that this was a major issue and I went through a crisis as to how I could help this. I started to reach out to my white friends and talk about it, which is what a lot of my black friends told me to do,” he told Kings County Politics.
Cohen emphasized his focus on promoting black right’s in his campaign. He has supported Campaign Zero after the death of Mike Brown, a black rights movement geared towards changing police-community relations by focusing on factors such as limiting police interventions and use of force.
He is also one of the founding members of Politicize My Death, an initiative whose shocking name demands gun law reform. Their website extends the offer for people to make a pledge that, in the case that they were victims of gun violence, their deaths could be used for political means to get gun laws changed. It also states clearly their opposition towards pro-gun lobbyists and the National Rifle Association.
“White people don’t experience racialized violence from the police as black people do,” Cohen said. To bring out this point further, Cohen helped found the WE ARE Educators for Justice, which focuses on white people coming together to deconstruct racism and help foster broader racial justice.
A new approach Cohen wants to take to help solve misdoings from the past would be to legalize cannabis and use the economic surplus as payments in reparations to victims of mass incarceration, an injustice he believes “morphed from Jim Crow which morphed from slavery.” Although admitting this proposal is very much in its beginning stages, Cohen thinks the first step would be to actively talk about this issue to the community to get a better idea on how experts should shape legislation in support of this.
“We shouldn’t be putting black people in cages. We need to invest in local non-for-profits that keep us safe without having to rely on policing and mass incarceration.”
Cohen said his campaign won’t be rolling out endorsements right now and instead will focus on continuing “working on grassroots, communities, and families.”
“This neighborhood is the home to the most creative people I know and it’s not reflected in our politics. I’m not asking people to trust me but to trust us,” Cohen said.
The primary is slated for June 23.