Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez on Saturday announced that a portion of Jay Street between Willoughby Street and Tech Place, which stretches between the Brooklyn DA’s Office and Brooklyn Supreme Court, has been named District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson Way in honor of the late district attorney who passed away five years ago.
Gonzalez said Thompson, the first African American DA in Brooklyn, had put in place “transformative reforms and radical changes to the criminal justice system.”
The resolution to rename the street was co-sponsored by Council Members Stephen Levin and Laurie Cumbo.
“The Great Ken Thompson had a bold vision of what Brooklyn could be, and I am proud to have known him as a mentor and friend,” Gonzalez said. “He was the first of what has become a wave of progressive prosecutors across the country and the reforms he enacted – such as the Conviction Review Unit, marijuana decriminalization and the Young Adult Court – have had an impact far beyond Brooklyn.
“Ken’s commitment to safety, equity and fundamental fairness continue to guide me and our office, and having this street co-named after him will serve as a daily reminder of these bedrock principles that guided him – and continue to guide us today,” Gonzalez added.
Lu-Shawn Thompson, Ken’s widow, said, “There are no words to express how I feel right now. I know Kenny would have been so proud and happy to have seen the street directly in front of his former office named in his honor. My children will have yet another example of the legacy and impact of their father. Through their father, they will know what it means to have a well lived life.”
Congressman Hakeem Jeffries said, “Ken Thompson was a groundbreaking district attorney who elevated the integrity and fairness of the criminal justice system in Kings County to unprecedented heights.
“He was a transformational figure in the fight for criminal justice reform nationally and a staunch defender of the safety and security of Brooklynites at home,” said the congressman, who represents the 8th Congressional District, encompassing parts of Brooklyn and Queens. “I thank everyone who made this street co-naming possible and applaud all the individuals who are carrying the legacy of my friend forward.”
Council Member Levin said, “I am honored to be here today in remembrance of a great man. We gather here – with friends, family, community leaders, elected officials – for the co-naming of Jay Street as District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson Way.
“Ken was a fighter all the way,” he added, stating that Thompson entered New York City government at a time when he was most needed.
“In the face of racial injustices and a myriad of challenging problems facing our city, he brought with him his expertise, candor, professionalism and vigor to a role in which he could be a public servant in the truest sense of the word,” Levin added.
Council Member Cumbo said, “District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson was an immense force for community service, hard work, justice and fair treatment under the law.
“His dedication to law and his strategic intelligence has resulted in his legal influence both federally and locally,” she said. “As Brooklyn’s first African American District Attorney, he provided a presence and mindset to help change and restore confidence in our criminal justice system.
“Kenneth P. Thompson is sorely missed, but his legacy remains,” she added. “And this street co-naming is a fitting tribute to the man who gave so much for the pursuit of justice.”
Following a career as a federal prosecutor and attorney in private practice, Thompson was elected to Brooklyn District Attorney in 2013, unseating a long-time incumbent and becoming the first African American DA elected in the borough.
During his short tenure in office, Gonzalez said he achieved a number of groundbreaking reforms.
“He established a Conviction Review Unit that quickly became a national model by exonerating over 20 wrongfully convicted individuals,” Gonzalez said. “To date, the CRU has vacated 120 convictions.”
Thompson was also the first DA to stop prosecuting low-level marijuana possession as nearly 90 percent of those arrested were Black or Latino.
“That decision was a controversial move back in 2014 but proved to be the first step in the march toward legalization, which became the law in New York earlier this year,” Gonzalez said.
He said Thompson was also the first to establish a program to vacate summons warrants for minor infractions like walking a dog without a leash or being in a park after dark, leading the city and other DAs to follow suit.
“His vision resulted in the dismissals of hundreds of thousands of old outstanding warrants that held many people back from receiving education, housing and other benefits,” Gonzalez said. “He created the first Young Adult Court to provide needed interventions instead of seeking convictions against defendants ages 16 to 24, an approach that was used as a template for the ‘Raise the Age’ legislation.
“He strongly believed that everyone had a right to be safe in their own neighborhood and served as a fearless leader on behalf of social and racial justice in this country,” the incumbent Brooklyn District Attorney added. “He was also a loving husband to his wife Lu-Shawn and an adoring father to his two children.”
Thompson was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2016 and passed away on Oct. 9, 2016.