Press Release: DA Candidate Diana Florence, Da Homeless Hero +Others Host Deep Dive into Crimes of Power v. Crimes of Poverty
Panelists: Diana Florence, Jacob Smith, Barrie Smith and Shams DaBaron
NEW YORK, NY – On Monday, Diana Florence- candidate for Manhattan District Attorney- hosted a conversation on Crimes of Power v. Crimes of Poverty about homelessness, re-entry, and criminal justice reform. Reverend Jake Smith from the Parish of Calvary St. George, moderated the discussion which included Da Homeless Hero Shams DaBaron and Barrie Smith, Laborers Local 79 Sergeant at Arms.
To watch the full conversation: https://dianaforda.com/webinars/
The conversation kicked off with a focus on the way people dehumanize those experiencing homelessness and poverty.
“For many people, the issue of homelessness- while many New Yorkers face it day in and day out and see it on the street- it’s oftentimes seen as something othering. People think about the homeless as a choice. As if anyone wakes up one day and says ‘today I decide to be homeless,'” said Reverend Jake Smith, the Rector at the Parish of The Calvary St. George.
“I didn’t want to be known as ‘a homeless guy,'” said Shams DaBaron, the Homeless Hero. “When I say the Homeless Hero, it represents that hero on a journey, those who go through these trials and tribulations, and then we come to this point where we are transformed.
The conversation segued into the importance of jobs and proper services.
“I was able to put my son, my family into a home. Coming from the projects, I never thought it would be something I could do with two violence felonies on my back. Belonging to Local 79 allowed me to become a working class person into the middle class stream,” said Barrie Smith, Sergeant-at-Arms at Laborers Local 79. “Poverty is not something one chooses, no one wakes up and wants to be broke. But the union uplifts us, and that we belong in the middle class and to be able to live where we work.”
“The DA office needs to delineate that homelessness, addiction, poverty are not crimes, said Diana Florence. “Fraud existed and lived in Housing Court. When we have unchecked fraud in other sectors, a cycle starts. Rent stabilized apartments are destabilized, go into market rate, people can’t pay for their apartments, which eventually leads to gentrification and homelessness. This leads to disenfranchisement.”
In the conversation, Reverend Smith stated that The Parish of The Calvary St. George helped found Alcoholics Anonymous and conceived of the twelve-step program. DaBaron- a recovering alcoholic- has been vocal against the possible move to the Downtown Radisson Hotel in part because the entrance into the hotel goes through a bar.
DaBaron said, “Being in recovery and being engaged in outpatient groups and mental illness, it’s to say there is nothing wrong with that. I am able to take the tools that I am getting and actually apply them to real life. In advocacy, it comes at you, and I’m processing it in a more positive way because I don’t need a drink to cope with my current reality and can be proactive.”
Diana is running on a platform of PACT: Power, Accountability, Community, and Transparency. PACT prioritizes prosecuting “Crimes of Power”, being accountable and transparent about the decisions made, and working side-by-side with the community (read more below).
“We’ve been gaslighted into what should be and shouldn’t be prosecuted. It’s really interesting when you start to question it. Why is it that a kid who steals an iPhone goes upstate for felony larceny, but an employer who steals $12,000 in wages goes to the Department of Labor? When we talk about what are Crimes of Power, we need to be redefining what is criminal, and we need to use the criminal justice system to hold accountable those who abuse their power.” said Florence.
Diana Florence began her career as a prosecutor 25 years ago in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, focusing on domestic violence cases, then complex frauds and corruption in the Special Prosecutions Bureau and Labor Racketeering Unit, and later becoming the head of the first of its kind Construction Fraud Task Force. She won landmark convictions against companies and individuals for defrauding 9/11 charities, corruption, domestic violence, wage theft, and deadly work conditions. She has taught trial advocacy for over two decades to lawyers in the DA’s Office and has lectured investigators and lawyers from around the world on topics ranging from inter-agency cooperation to prosecuting fraud, racketeering and workplace homicide.
As an ADA, Diana held powerful interests accountable by prosecuting developers and corrupt corporations for cheating workers and taxpayers. In an historic case against Harco Construction, she ultimately secured justice for the family of a 22 year-old construction worker, Carlos Moncayo, who was buried alive at work. Using the existing criminal law, Diana charged the corporations and site supervisors, who had been repeatedly warned of hazardous conditions, with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide for Moncayo’s death. As a result, she drafted legislation (A10728) named after Carlos Moncayo, known as “Carlos’ Law” that would establish higher fines for corporations for endangering workers’ lives.
Diana has made prosecuting wage theft a centerpiece of her career, notably working alongside IronWorkers Local 361 to secure $6 million in stolen wages and back-pay from AGL Industries. Diana subsequently wrote a bill (A06795) with Assemblymember Catalina Cruz (D-Queens) to reclassify wage theft as the more serious crime of larceny. Other jurisdictions- like the Pittsburgh City Council and Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner- subsequently created similar prosecution models for wage theft.
Diana has worked side-by-side with community based groups, unions, workers centers, and government agencies to create an innovative prosecution model heavily rooted in broad based participation. She is also a fluent Spanish speaker.
Diana Florence wants to make a new PACT (Power, Accountability, Community and Trust) with New York that puts people first. PACT prioritizes prosecuting “crimes of power”, being accountable and transparent about the decisions of the DA, and working side-by-side with community stakeholders.
As an ADA, Diana created an innovative model of collaborative prosecution known as co-enforcement. Co-enforcement is based on knowledge instead of assumptions. It relies on collaboration with community partners to determine what justice looks like which then drives the priorities of investigation and prosecution. It starts with working alongside advocates, labor unions, tenants, worker centers, elected officials, industry groups, community leaders – the very people who are affected by crimes of power to ascertain the needs and values of the community. Using co-enforcement, the Construction Fraud Task Force Diana led built a trusting relationship with the community it served and together achieved success.
Born in Manhattan, Diana is a long-time resident of Kips Bay where she lives with her husband and two children. Diana graduated with Phi Beta Kappa honors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, receiving a BA in Art History with a concentration in Spanish as well as her law degree.