Hundreds Facing Arrest Turn Out for 'Begin Again’ Amnesty Program

A church in Brooklyn has become a different kind of sanctuary. Hundreds of people facing arrest for missing court appearances are taking advantage of a program at the church to get fresh start. NY1 Criminal Justice Reporter Dean Meminger spoke to many of them and he filed the following report.

People normally dread appearing in court. However, on Friday, when the court came to a church, it was a blessing for these defendants.

Hundreds turned out at Emanuel Baptist for a program appropriately called Begin Again - which offers a second chance of sorts.

"Summons turn into warrants, and I don't need that," said one participant.

People with outstanding arrest warrants for minor crimes like disorderly conduct or possession of a small amount of marijuana had a chance to stand before judges and have their cases dismissed.

"I rode my bike on the sidewalk two years ago. I got a notice and a summonses. I ignored it," said one woman.

"They said the park was closed but the gates were not closed. Normally the gate will be closed if it's closed," said another.

The initiative by the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office comes amid a spirited debate about how New York should treat certain low level crimes.

There are about 1.2 million arrest warrants for people in the city charged with such offenses. Most of the warrants were issued for missing court dates.

Defense lawyers and court officials say it is a staggering number that has a disproportionate impact - hurting people seeking employment, credit or housing.

"This is not a soft on crime initiative. I don't want people to report this that we are being soft on crime. I am extremely aggressive on those who carry guns and create violence in our community and they should be incarcerated," said Adams.

"I had a warrant so I thought I could come here and clear one warrant, but they said I have a warrant and a ticket. So they said I could do both today. So, you know, that's a good thing," said one man.

Officials running the court program inside the church say for all people who show up, 99 percent of their summonses and warrants will be tossed out.

The program continues Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Emmanuel Baptist Church on Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn.

One participant said, “And you’ll be happy, and you will have your final disposition like I got - and I'm happy.”

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