Tiffany Cabán

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Tiffany Cabán (born July 24, 1987) is an American attorney, politician, and political organizer who has served as a member of the New York City Council for the 22nd District since the 2021 New York City Council election. She won the Democratic primary for the seat after the incumbent, Democrat Costa Constantinides, retired. She was a candidate in the 2019 Democratic primary for Queens County's District Attorney in the State of New York, which she narrowly lost to Queens Borough president Melinda Katz.


  • When people ask me for a book recommendation - just one book - this is the one I recommend. Until We Reckon (by Danielle Sered) has been such an incredible resource.
    • March 9, 2021 on Twitter

Interview with Democracy Now (2019)[edit]

  • Every day in court was just a constant reminder that our justice system is the single most powerful driver of the continued oppression of our black and brown, our low-income, our immigrant, our LGBTQIA+ communities. But one thing that’s also glaringly obvious is that if you have money, if you have the right political ties, if you pad the right pockets, you can get away with doing a lot of harm in our communities.
  • I’ve been practicing criminal law in Manhattan and seeing District Attorney Cy Vance sort of come out with these so-called progressive policies, and recognizing that, you know, there’s a big fat asterisk next to those policies. And my clients, who were the exception to the rule before, continue to be the exception to the rule afterwards. One of the things that stands out to me, or I’ve told a lot during this campaign, is, when he said he wasn’t going to prosecute turnstile jumps. You know, a week later, I picked up a turnstile jump that we litigated for a year and went to trial on. And it was a perfect example of what’s wrong with our justice system, that we’re making decisions that overcriminalizes our black and brown and poor communities, that doesn’t serve public safety.
  • I think that we’re in this really special moment in time where we’re seeing decarceral prosecutors, committed to keeping people rooted in their communities with access to resources and supports, be elected all around the country. We’re seeing defense attorneys being elected into these positions all around the country, and also being able to navigate relationships with police departments that, you know, coming in, were sort of adversarial, just based on the things that they were talking about.
  • We could be partnering and working on LEAD initiatives, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, things that we’re seeing in Seattle, up in Albany, that are working, that give police officers the opportunity to make the decision not to make an arrest and just to provide support. And in places where they’re doing these things, they’re seeing violence between officers and civilians go down exponentially.
  • When you’re on the ground in court every day, you recognize that some of these programs and the way that they are put into place do more to destabilize rather than stabilize and heal. And so, being able to kind of pinpoint those things and say sometimes it’s even better just to have people out of the system, period, so that we’re not criminalizing poverty, mental health, substance use, or criminalizing already marginalized communities, like our queer communities of color.
  • Being endorsed by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, you know, folks like her, like Senator Jessica Ramos, Senator Julia Salazar, for me, it moved me in a way that said, “Well, I can do this. I can enter this space and have an impact.” Because, you know, as a 31-year-old queer Latina from a working-class family, never in a million years did I think that I would be entering a space like this. But I feel not only that I have the right experience, but that we are so well equipped to get the job done.

Interview with Jacobin (2019)[edit]

  • We’re at a time where people are open to redefining what the role of the DA is, because historically it has served a function to punish the poor. It’s been one that has disproportionately criminalized our black and brown and working-class immigrant communities. There is an incredible opportunity for harm reduction by bringing in somebody with more leftist analysis, saying “Hey this isn’t about convictions and sentences, this is about public safety, this is about fairness.” There’s some potential to shape the office, so that it really is a driver for protecting the very folks that have been disproportionately, negatively impacted by our system. It can be, when you have an independent, progressive person at the forefront, a vehicle for holding bad actors accountable who are profiting off of others’ disenfranchisement.
  • When DA Krasner accomplished what he did in Philadelphia, it really pushed the Overton window.
  • I am a queer Latina from a low-income community. I grew up in South Richmond Hill, Queens and my parents grew up in Woodside housing projects. We’re talking about communities that have been historically over-policed, over-criminalized, but also resource-starved. When we talk about the injustices done by our system, it’s not just people who are accused of crimes, it’s survivors and victims as well. It is a situation of certain folks not having access to the same resources and protections as other folks. My story wasn’t one that I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and got to be a lawyer and got to do all these great things. Really there’s not much that separates me from my clients. What separates me — the only thing that I can point to besides chance and luck — is the fact that my dad got a union gig out of high school. That was game-changing in terms of my access to an education, to health care, to therapy so that I could have reparative experiences around my own trauma that then could lead to a lot of different things like criminal justice system involvement. It’s important to have somebody with that background. Who recognizes that a lot of times, what drives crime or unsafe conditions is instability in people’s lives. Stability, in things like housing, health care, education, equals public safety. These are things that we all should have a right to access. We should bring that perspective into our district attorney’s office and say “Hey, if what we’re supposed to do here is promote public safety, then we should be investing resources in the communities that have suffered because of other people benefiting at their expense.”
  • We have taken public health issues and punted them to a criminal justice system. What we should be doing instead is going to the root causes of the instability. You can tie it back to the bad actors who are destabilizing entire communities that then drive crime, whether it is low-level quality of life crime or violent crime. It’s all connected. As a public defender I represent clients who the system criminalizes for their substance use disorder, rather than prosecuting a doctor who’s overprescribing opioids. Or it prosecutes a client who is seeking shelter, rather than a bad landlord who’s unlawfully evicting or a predatory lender who’s stealing somebody’s home. I represent people who are accused of stealing from their employers when in fact their employers are misclassifying workers, stealing their wages, taking advantage of our undocumented communities, preventing people from unionizing. When you think about it that way it’s a no-brainer, right? These are things that seem intuitive, but again there are people profiting off of this. That really the reason why those types of prosecutions aren’t prioritized, and they should be.
  • If the goal is public safety, then we should be doing whatever it takes to say, “How do we make sure this harm doesn’t happen again and how do we keep people safe?” The answer is not, overwhelmingly, to just throw somebody in a cage and then throw them back out on the street after whatever the sentence is. Where they’re not in a position to thrive.
  • It’s personal to me. I think about my grandfather. My grandfather was a guy who was incredibly physically abusive to his family. To the point where my grandmother left him and my mom dropped out of high school to take care of the family. When I got older, and he was dying — essentially, he was drinking himself to death, he struggled with alcoholism — my mom let him back into our lives. And for me, he was the most patient, kind, funny person … I loved him to death. He’d play the guitar for me, he’d tell me these wild, fantastical stories. When I got older I thought about this abusive husband and father, and this really incredible grandfather, and recognized that they were just so equally true. He was somebody that could have been cycling in and out of our criminal justice system, but it wouldn’t account for the fact that he was a Korean War combat veteran, he came home with PTSD, self-medicated with alcohol. And where were our systems in place to support him so that he could support his family? So that he could do things differently? I see that with my clients all the time. There will be somebody that is getting into fights and the DA says “Hey, we gotta throw this person in jail.” My answer is “Well you’ve thrown him in jail two or three times, he comes back, he’s still engaging in this behavior, we’re not changing behavior. Let’s learn about him instead. He has a trauma history, he is somebody who was abused badly as a child. All that was modeled for him were really unhealthy relationships. Why can’t we invest in support services, why can’t we give him access to therapy?” Because that could change behavior rather than throwing him in jail, which obviously isn’t working. Tying it back in to my personal story: what was modeled for my parents, certainly, were unhealthy relationships. Then what were modeled for me were really unhealthy relationships. It is only through access to things like therapy that have allowed me to be able to navigate relationships in a healthier way than those who came before me in my family tree. Now I recognize that we should be taking a holistic trauma-informed approach to address violence.
  • We should be talking about why we don’t have safe staffing in our hospitals, why we don’t have more resources, why we aren’t creating environments that allow people to access care. Rather than saying “Hey, we’re going to criminalize you and throw you into the criminal justice system.”
  • Rikers Island, our jail here, is the largest mental health provider in our state. It’s horrific. You get released from Rikers Island, you get a couple days’ worth of medication, and then you’re on your own. The amount of money we’ve spent to incarcerate folks could all be reinvested in comprehensive mental health care access.
  • DAs get to decide what our metrics of success are. But “success” has been defined as convictions and sentences, right? That’s got to change. The metrics should be reducing recidivism, decarcerating, applying the law fairly across racial and class lines. The police department is typically going to make arrests that the DA’s office supports, that it is going to then take and prosecute. So, I think that it is a mechanism for informing the police department what kind of offenses they should be focusing on. Also, with the resources that the DA’s office has, there’s an opportunity to reinvest in our community. The DA’s office does have those resources, so that police officers aren’t the first responders in situations where they really shouldn’t be.
  • The second that you introduce somebody to the criminal justice system you are injecting a ton of destabilizing and stigmatizing factors that continue to perpetuate the barriers that those folks are experiencing.
  • If you want to target true trafficking, then you have to fully decriminalize so that you’re creating a space where survivors and victims can access health care services, can feel comfortable cooperating with the district attorney’s office or law enforcement. Doing anything to drive the behavior underground just increases the risk of harm and violence. You can’t take the middle ground and say “Well, I’m not going to prosecute sex workers but I’m going to prosecute their customers.” Again you are creating an environment where there’s still a fear of decriminalization and there’s serious destabilization.
  • My campaign and democratic socialism are very much in line because we are talking about popular control of resources, right? We have a criminal justice system that is profiting off of breaking black and brown bodies, low-income communities, our immigrant communities, our LGBTQIA communities. When we talk about what this office could be, there is a real opportunity to put some change in place that moves us forward in terms of reaching racial, social, and economic justice. To reinvest resources in things that are basic rights, and promote public safety and public health.
  • You cannot separate our criminal justice from housing, health care, and education. You just can’t.

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