Episode 51 - Tiffany Cabán is a Game Changer

<span style="display: inline-block; width: 0px; overflow: hidden; line-height: 0;" data-mce-type="bookmark" class="mce_SELRES_start"> </span>

Transcript, Web links and Credits below.


Today I want to tell you about what I think is the most important election in the nation this summer, and tell you even more about the game-changing woman in the race.

As you may have heard, we had an ACTION STEPS victory last night. Elizabeth Lederer, who was the lead prosecutor in the Central Park Five case, just resigned from her role as a professor at Columbia Law School. Thousands of you helped make that happen. I’ll give you an update on that as well. We’re not just here to change the news, we’re here to change the world!

Let’s dig in.

This is Shaun King and you are listening to (The Breakdown)!


Back in April when we started this podcast, on our very first episode, I talked about one clear way that we can change the world together. It’s actually a big part of my daily life. Alongside some amazing organizers, we started a political organization called Real Justice. Our primary mission is to oust the worst district attorneys in the nation and replace them with compassionate, reform-minded leaders who are committed to changing the entire justice system from the inside out.

I’m proud to report that on Tuesday we won our first two elections of the summer. In Arlington, Virginia and in Fairfax County, Virginia, we won major elections. We ousted a horrible DA in Arlington and literally replaced him with a lifelong civil rights attorney, Parisa Tafti. Parisa is an amazing woman. She has actually been a longtime attorney for the Innocence Project and now runs the justice system in Arlington. Think about that. A civil rights attorney for the Innocence Project, whose mission it is to exonerate people who’ve been wrongly convicted of crimes, now runs the local justice system there.

That’s what DA’s do. Every county in the nation has a district attorney. We have about 2,400 DA’s and they are 95 percent white, 81 percent male, and overwhelmingly conservative. They are the gatekeepers of the entire system. Ninety-five percent of all criminal cases come through their offices.

They are the local CEO’s of mass incarceration and have the power to change so much. I want to share a new statistic with you – even though the United States has 2,400 district attorneys, a new study determined that over 50percent of the people who are currently incarcerated in this nation were charged and convicted in just 125 of those counties. In other words, half of all incarcerated people were prosecuted by one of 125 DA’s and the other half were incarcerated by the remaining 2,250 of them.

What that means is that if city by city, county by county, we can impact who the DA’s are in the 125 largest counties in the nation, we impact half of the justice system. Just five percent of the DA’s lock up 50 percent of the people.

This June 25th, we have what I think is the single most important election of the summer, and maybe of the entire year. I’d love for each of you to consider volunteering or donating to make a difference in this race. It’s that important.

On June 25th, Queens, New York elects its first new District Attorney in two generations. I need to explain to you how big this is. Let me break it down.

(Break it down music)

New York City is really a collection of five different cities.We call them boroughs, but they are really just cities. Together, the five of them make New York City the largest city in the nation. The five boroughs are my home borough, Brooklyn, Manhattan, The Bronx, Staten Island, and Queens.

Here’s how big they are: if each borough was its own independent city, Brooklyn would be the 3rd largest city in the nation, and then the 4th largest city in the nation would be Queens. They are that big, and guess what’s also that big? The systems of incarceration that come out of those cities.

When you hear about Rikers Island, which is one of the most notorious jails in the nation, in the world really, it’s these boroughs that are sending people there. One hundred thousand people a year are sent through Rikers. The budget is nearly $1 billion per year, and an astounding 85 percent of the people there have never even been convicted of a crime. They are just there because they can’t afford bail.

In Queens, one woman is running that I believe in with my whole heart. She is what I call a peer hero. She’s younger than me, but I actually look up to her. She’s just 31 years old, she’s a lifelong public defender, she’s an organizer at heart, and her name is Tiffany Cabán. No other candidate in the race can hold a candle to her. I have to say this because what we see more and more is that politicians are learning how to sound progressive without actually being progressive. Then when people fall for it, they elect these politicians to office and find out that they just stand for the same old status quo as the last person.

That’s not Tiffany.

I want to play a clip for you that I think is so badass. This week on the biggest news station in New York, Tiffany had a debate with all of the candidates, and it was brought up that some people, mainly older white men, were saying that she wasn’t ready for the job and couldn’t handle it.

Let me play you her response.

(Tiffany Cabán clip)

Let me tell you what!!! That’s who we want in office. In every city, in every county in the nation. And I want to invite you to take a BIG action step for today.

(Action Steps Music)

As soon as you can, go to CabanForQueens.com, and I’d love for you to sign up to volunteer. As crazy as it sounds, if you can, please even consider making a trip to New York to volunteer. I’d love for you to donate to her campaign, even it’s just $5. Every little bit matters, and the establishment is fighting so hard to keep this position. We need Tiffany to be the next District Attorney of Queens.

This week, I was moved almost to tears when my friend and brother Dr. Yusef Salaam, one of the exonerated members of the Central Park Five, endorsed Tiffany. Imagine that – a man who was railroaded, wrongly charged, wrongly convicted for a crime he didn’t commit by district attorneys – now believing so much in somebody that he actually endorses a candidate for district attorney.

So go now to CabanForQueens.com, consider volunteering and donating, and let’s change the justice system from the inside out.

That actually brings me to my closing story of the day – some good news that is actually deeply connected to what we just talked about. On Episode #47 of The Breakdown, we had Action Steps for the Central Park Five case. One of them was asking you to call and email the Dean of Columbia Law School and the staff of Columbia Law School and demand that they fire Elizabeth Lederer, the horrific lead prosecutor of the Central Park Five.

Well, if you haven’t seen it, I’m glad to report that last night, under pressure from the Black Law Students Association and from local activists and from all of you, she resigned from Columbia Law School. And no, that’s not enough, but dammit, it’s something. People need to understand that when you mistreat us, when you mistreat our children, when you abuse us, you will have consequences. You will feel our heat and our anger. You will not get away with abusing us without us making your life difficult.

If you heard episode #46 where I break down the Supreme Court case Imbler vs. Pachtman, you will know that Elizabeth Lederer is not going to go to jail over this case or over any case because prosecutors have absolute immunity.

So whatever justice we get, it’s going to have to be us chasing it down, like we just did, and making it ourselves.


Thank you all for making it all the way through this episode of The Breakdown!

If you haven’t already subscribed to our podcast, we’ll be right back here every single weekday, breaking down important news stories and issues, and we’d love for you to subscribe on your favorite podcast apps like Apple Podcasts or Spotify. Please share this podcast with your friends and family. Our next goal is to get to 100,000 subscribers and we won’t get there without you! Have you left a review yet? On Apple Podcasts we now have over 8,000 5 star reviews, but we’re aiming for 10,000 – so we still want to hear from you so please leave your best review when you get time.

Thank you so much to the nearly 30,000 founding members of The North Star whose generosity even makes this podcast possible. Love y’all and appreciate you so much.

If you love this podcast and want to support our work – or want to see the show notes and transcript for each episode – we’d love it if you considered becoming a founding member of our community at TheNorthStar.com. There we not only have our podcasts, but hundreds of original articles and stories and commentaries from some of the leading scholars and thinkers and journalists in the world.

Lastly, a shout out to our Associate Producer Lyssandra and Podcasting Director and Senior Producer, Willis, for their hard work on this and every episode.

Take care everybody.



Produced by Willis Polk II

Additional Instrumentation by Christian “Idrys” Shannon, Lance “Lance Fur” Powlis & Markeith Black

Additional Engineering by Amond “AJ” Jackson for Salem Psalms Library

Additional Vocals by Garnett “Natti” Bush &amp; Jason Coffey

Scratches by Kenny “DJ FlipFlop” Vanderberg