Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson died from cancer on Sunday just a few days after publicly announcing his illness. Thompson, who took office in 2014, was considered a leader among NYC district attorneys in taking reckless driving seriously. In 2015 Transportation Alternatives spoke with Thompson about street safety and traffic justice. Streetsblog reposted this interview from TA’s Reclaim magazine.
As Brooklyn District Attorney, Ken Thompson is determined to make New York City’s streets safe and just. Reclaim sat down to discuss how he thinks that change is going to happen, what inspired him to get involved and where the fight for livable streets is going.
What put this issue on your radar?
I’ll tell you what put it on my radar. There was an incident in November of 2013 in my neighborhood. It involved a young child named Lucian Merryweather. He was only nine. It was November. It was a Saturday. It was a clear day. It was a beautiful day. He was walking down the street with his mother and his five-year-old brother. They were on the sidewalk near DeKalb Avenue. A man named Anthony Byrd ran him over and killed him.
I have a daughter who is ten and a son who is eight. I felt for the parents of Lucian Merryweather. And so I believe that we can do better as a borough and a city in making our streets safer.
I met with Lucian Merryweather’s parents after I took office. It might have been January of 2014. It was shortly after I took office. No matter what I said to them, they were inconsolable. I will never forget that meeting — just like when I met with the father of Mohammed Uddin, the 14-year-old brilliant young boy from Brooklyn Tech, who was killed in November of 2014.
I believe there’s a greater role for district attorneys to play in keeping our streets safe. I think that, in the past, some have argued that when these incidents happen, they’re an accident. Quite often, the victim is blamed for the incident without a real full-blown investigation. I think we need to change that. That is what motivated me as a father, as a concerned citizen and as the D.A. That is what prompted me to act.
And then I had Council Member Brad Lander, who I have great respect for, reach out to me. He brought Mohammed Uddin’s father to see me. Mr. Uddin cried through that whole meeting. Brad and I had some follow up conversations about what we could do. The takeaway was that we should bring folks together — safety advocates, members of the NYPD, members of my office and others — to see if we could do better in Brooklyn. That’s what we’re trying to do with the Driver Accountability Taskforce we created.