The chief prosecutor of New York City’s most populous borough, Brooklyn, is backing an effort to decriminalize prostitution, arrests for which, according to a state senator advocating for the change, disproportionately impact black women.
“I believe in decriminalization,” Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said during a “decriminalizing queerness” forum sponsored by the Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn, Gay City News reports.
Kings County, N.Y.’s top law enforcement officer expanded on his views in an interview with Gay City News following Thursday’s event:
“What I heard today has me thinking that the way we are dealing with trafficking cases is not effective,” he told the news site. “If people are afraid they are going to get arrested, maybe something outside of the justice system is better. I’m open to that.”
Decriminalization of prostitution and sex work, often prosecuted as a “loitering” crime, has been a key issue for New York State Sen. Julia Salazar, an issue that, according to statistics, disproportionately affects transgender and gender nonconforming people, as well as women of color.
Arrests on loitering, a misdemeanor charge disproportionately leveraged against trans women and women of color, increased in 2018 for the first time since at least 2012, surging 180 percent, according to data obtained by the immigration-focused news outlet Documented NY. A quarter of the arrests took place in Brooklyn.
“Across the city of New York, 94 percent of those arrested for loitering for the purposes of prostitution are black women, including cis and trans women,” Salazar, a Democrat, told Gay City News. “That’s a startling number and speaks to the racial profiling and gender-based discrimination as well that goes into these arrests.”
Gonzalez, whose office has recently taken steps to vacate the convictions of low-level marijuana offenders, said he was open to handling sex work cases like many marijuana cases are now handled.
“We don’t send them to [New York City’s jail complex] Rikers and we don’t make them plead guilty to get services,” he said regarding those charged with low-level marijuana offenses. “I’m very open to dealing with [sex worker cases] in the same way.”