Racism and the Public’s Trust: One More Stain on the Brooklyn DA’s Office
Every so often a racially offensive image comes across my computer screen that stops me cold. These images, so powerful and telling, that they assault my sensibilities as a human being, a Black and Latino woman and a member of a community that suffers unduly, and is mistreated in our society, for no other reason than the color of our skin. These types of images elicit outrage and compel me to speak up; like in these instances: Brooklyn NYCHA Jail Playground, Proenza-Schuler, NY Post Racist-Violent Obama Image, NYC Newsstands Vendors.)
This is an urgent commentary for all, but especially people of color who find themselves caught up in the criminal justice system. It is a perspective missing from this story of racial offense, inflicted by a public servant in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office. I ask you to take the time to read, word-for-word, sentence-to-sentence until the end.
I am profoundly troubled – and you should be too – that injustice, simply, has become the way of life for people of color. And, that when such offenses are tossed our way, we accept them, say and do nothing, and go on waiting for the next offense. Also as appalling, is the greater community’s blindness, apathy and typical reaction to minimize the offense.
Full Disclosure: I worked for Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes from 1999 to 2002, as his Deputy Director of Public Information. My objective in this feature commentary is to raise questions and present a perspective ignored in news coverage of this story. If this incident had to happen, I wish it were in another District Attorney’s Office.
This is a longer than usual piece because of the gravity. Beyond the sensational reporting of these images, a broader picture of what this incident tells us about race, the criminal justice system, public institutions, ethics, leadership, accountability, public trust and apathy requires a drilling down.
- What we know about the origins of these racially charged images and the person behind the production.
- A necessary, straightforward overview of the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office – a powerful public institution in the criminal justice system.
- The lens of a woman of color that is too often a perspective ignored, dismissed.
- What should happen? Real talk about consequences and accountability from public servants. If not for ethical reason, then think pragmatically.
- Silence and apathy when these offenses occur is why they happen or are minimized. Where is leadership?
Last week, these repugnant, racially charged images surfaced in media news reports. They are the thought and production of Justin Marrus, an Assistant District Attorney (ADA) in the Office of the Brooklyn District Attorney in Kings County:
This is what we know about the images and ADA Justin Marrus
In 2006, Justin Marrus, then a college student, produced and posted these images on the social networking website Facebook. These images remained posted on Facebook until July 9 this year, when they were taken down from his page after surfacing on the news website, Gothamist. For six years, ADA Marrus kept these pictures posted for the public to view.
ADA Marrus happens to be the son of the Honorable Alan D. Marrus, a sitting Kings County Supreme Court judge, who presides over criminal matters in Brooklyn, where many cases coming out of the District Attorney’s office are tried. ADA Marrus graduated from New England Law School and has worked in the Brooklyn DA’s office for less than one year. He lives with his parents in their Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn home. To stage, act and produce the rape simulation picture, it is speculated that Marrus used his father’s access to holding pens-jail cells located in the courthouse, near courtrooms. It is my understanding that only authorized personnel are permitted access to holding pens.
That is what we know about ADA Justin Marrus and the images he produced.
In a statement to BBN, and to other news outlets, District Attorney Charles Hynes said he will not terminate ADA Marrus and is satisfied with his apology to him. “I have concluded after an appropriate inquiry that ADA Justin Marrus who produced a childish, stupid and insensitive prank while in college six years ago was not guilty of a pattern of racist thought,” the District Attorney said in an email to BBN.
I disagree with the lenient treatment of this matter and expect a greater, more consequential reaction from stewards of a public institution in the criminal justice system.
The images are indeed an indicator and pattern of racist thought and action. If the word ‘racist’ is too harsh to stomach, then I will use the term ‘implicit bias,’ that targets and objectifies one group of human beings – Black people. Racist or biased, the end result is the same in the criminal justice system, where Black and Latino people are disproportionately impacted.
To me, the elaborate production shown in these racially charged photos, despite the six-year production time lapse, is telling and rises to the level of immediate termination. ADA Marrus is not a trusted public servant. His arrogance, entitlement and privilege are further demonstrated in his failure to even remove the images until last week (that failure is as if he produced the images today). Not all past offenses can be attributed to “youthful indiscretion” or reduced to a “prank.” Toilet papering a neighbor’s yard is a youthful indiscretion and prank.