Having observed New York City traffic enforcement pretty closely these last three years as editor of Streetsblog, I can safely offer the following advice to would-be murderers: If you ever need to kill someone in New York City, do it with a car.
As long as you are sober and licensed, you can go ahead and run over a 4-year-old and his babysitter walking in the crosswalk and drive off with nothing more than a failure-to-yield summons. You can plow your 2008 Ranger Rover into a bike commuter at a busy intersection and count on the NYPD only to interview the passengers in your vehicle, your buddies, before closing the case and letting you drive home despite numerous prior convictions on your driving record. You can rip down the narrow streets of Lower Manhattan at 60 mph, kill a woman, flee the scene, refuse to take a Breathalyzer test and get a plea deal for a mere eight weekends in jail because the victim happened to have a couple of drinks before she got in the way of your speeding Mercedes SUV. You can even let your van slam into a class of preschoolers walking on the sidewalk with their teachers, kill two of them, traumatize the rest, and be assured that the NYPD, the District Attorney and the local media will treat the case not as manslaughter or negligent homicide, but as an "accident."
When a construction crane falls or a New York Giants wide receiver accidentally discharges his gun, New York City's law enforcement community flies into a frenzy of justice-seeking. But when the killing is done by a sober, licensed driver, you can pretty much hear crickets chirping at the District Attorney's office. Though the total number of traffic fatalities and injuries has declined in recent years, for the friends and families of the 271 people killed by automobiles on New York City streets in 2007, the concept of "traffic justice" was virtually non-existent.
With Manhattan's 89-year-old District Attorney Robert Morgenthau finally stepping down, this year's campaign to succeed him is a great opportunity to make sure the next DA is committed to doing a better job of protecting New Yorkers from reckless and negligent drivers. Streetsblog met with Manhattan District Attorney candidate Leslie Crocker Snyder to learn more about where she stands when it comes to traffic justice.
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Though Snyder acknowledged that she has "never been an expert in traffic-related issues" she said the horrific killings of preschoolers Diego Martinez and Hayley Ng in Chinatown have brought these issues to her attention and she is "learning more."
She believes the Manhattan DA's office has become "stale and reactive" and non-responsive to community concerns with the same man at the helm for 35 years. Rather than ignore traffic fatalities as Morgenthau has done, Snyder would bring killer-driver cases before grand juries. "I would want a grand jury to know the law of criminally negligent homicide, vehicular assault and reckless endangerment," she said.
Even when the law prevents her from pursuing criminal prosecution, Snyder said, "I would meet with the families. I would hear their grief as a mother" and, at the very least, explain to them what her office can and can not do for them. "You have to be a human being and acknowledge that these families must be going through hell."
Snyder said that the biggest traffic safety complaint she hears from community leaders these days is not about reckless motorists but "bicyclists being dangerous" and "messengers running us over." If she is elected DA, she invites livable streets advocates to educate her on the issues and "meet with me regularly and make sure I'm staying on top of it."
Here is an edited transcript of my interview with her: Read more...