It’s been a while since we’ve thought about New York City’s stunning inability to keep dangerous individuals behind bars.
We’ve all had other things to deal with, for better or worse (actually, much worse), so Gotham’s tendency to treat its jails as if they had revolving doors on the cells hasn’t been a high-priority to-do item.
And yet, the problem still exists. Thanks to New York state’s laws against requiring cash bail unless a crime is a violent felony, combined with New York City’s notoriously liberal criminal justice standards, you can be set free without posting a cent of bail even if you’re charged with hate crimes.
That’s why 29-year-old Jordan Burnette is back out on the street despite the fact he’s been hit with 42 charges — including several hate-crime violations — after allegedly committing nine attacks in 11 days on four separate Jewish communal buildings in the Riverside section of the Bronx, according to the New York Post.
On Saturday, the Post reported, police took Burnette into custody after he was caught riding against traffic on a bike stolen from Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel.
Prayer books from the congregation had been found doused in hand sanitizer and dumped “in a nearby wooded area,” the complaint against Burnette stated, according to the Post.
Video evidence showed Burnette covering the books in the liquid and then throwing a rock into the windshield of a minivan, according to the Post — and other video from vandalized synagogues indicated Burnette was involved in those attacks, too, the newspaper reported.
Burnette, the Post reported later, told police he’d only been stopped “because it’s a Jewish neighborhood,” because apparently exercsing the right to remain silent isn’t his strong suit.
However, thanks to New York’s Bail Reform Act of 2019, it was likely he’d just end up back out on the street, with district attorneys not even asking for bail.
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“Given the number of attacks, we probably would have asked for substantial bail before January of 2020,” Assistant District Attorney Theresa Gottlieb told the judge during a Sunday arraignment hearing.
“The legislature did not include hate crimes in its revision of bail reform and, under the law as it exists today, this is not eligible,” she continued. “We will not violate the law.”
Instead, Judge Louis Nock ordered Burnette held on $20,000 bail, saying the “shattering of glass” made the vandalism a violent felony. Nock reportedly also demanded, earlier in the day, to know why the district attorney’s office wasn’t seeking bail on Burnette.
“I’ve taken a very close look at the law,” Nock said in court. “Given the gravity and the number of charges he’s facing, this court is inclined to set bail.”
Burnette’s lawyer, Morgan Everhart, told the judge that “according to the bail law, none of the charges in this case apply” and that “[t]hese are all nonviolent charges.”
“I appreciate your effort. I hope I am correct,” the judge told Everhart.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t.
On Sunday night, the Post reported, Judge Tara Collins granted Burnette supervised release. It wasn’t clear why Burnette had another hearing Sunday, the Post reported, or what Collins’ grounds for releasing him were.
However, Republican U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, who is challenging New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in next year’s election, had no problem seeing the cause.
After terrorizing the Bronx Jewish community, vandalizing synagogues, & stomping on religious freedom, Jordan Burnette was just caught & charged. Under NY’s terrible new cashless bail law, he’s already back on the street. This law should’ve never been passed & signed by Cuomo! pic.twitter.com/5qFFTD8bQu
— Lee Zeldin (@leezeldin) May 3, 2021
Regrettably, as much as I appreciate Judge Nock’s novel interpretation of the statute, Judge Collins’ decision apparently hews far closer to both the letter and the spirit of the law. No matter how good you believe the intentions of bail reform in New York are, the implementation has been nothing short of disastrous, with no provisions for holding suspects with extensive criminal histories or those charged with serious non-violent felonies or hate crimes.
Some of the legislation’s failures in Gotham are merely absurd. For instance, an alleged thief named Charles Barry served up a bit of criminal justice comic relief after a series of statements to reporters after his bail-free release following his 139th lifetime arrest last February. (It was his sixth arrest since the no-bail statute had been adopted the previous month.)
“Bail reform, it’s lit!” Barry said. “It’s the Democrats! The Democrats know me and the Republicans fear me. You can’t touch me! I can’t be stopped!”
Before he was fully processed, he was even more loquacious: “I’m famous! I take $200, $300 a day of your money, cracker! You can’t stop me!” Barry told a reporter (apparently forgetting the prior 138-ish times he’d been advised of his right to remain silent).
Many of the high-profile failures of bail reform are no less risible. In December of 2019, the city faced a rash of alleged anti-Semitic attacks, according to the New York Post. While the law had yet to take effect, New York City’s courts were already behaving as if it had — and only one suspect was held in the eight attacks, due to the fact most of them didn’t cause injury and didn’t rise to the level of the violent felonies covered under the bail law.
In one case, the alleged attacker swung a handbag at an Orthodox Jewish mother while screaming, “You f***ing Jew, the end is coming for you!” In another incident, a woman was charged with assaulting two Hasidic Jewish women while yelling, “F-U you, Jews!”
“Yes, I was there,” she reportedly told police. “Yes, I slapped them. I cursed them out. I said ‘F-U, Jews.”
And just last month, with reports of anti-Asian bigotry and attacks on the rise, Judge Nock was forced to release a man charged in a hate-crime case that involved an alleged attack on an undercover Asian cop.
“My hands are tied because under the new bail rules,” Nock said, according to an April 18 report in the Post. “I have absolutely no authority or power to set bail on this defendant for this alleged offense.”
No matter what bail reform’s value might be as a concept, New York’s bail reform laws are uniquely bad in execution, particularly in regards to hate crime cases. That fact may have disappeared from the headlines since Charles Barry announced how “lit” bail reform was in February, but the problem — and the threats it engenders — remains.
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