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Doing the Right Thing

Boston College Law School students cut to the chase in their October 6 encounter with Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark. Clark is the first woman district attorney of Bronx County and first African American woman district attorney in New York State.

What’s the hardest part of her job? they asked.

“Knowing whether I’m doing the right thing,” Clark replied.

Clark was on campus on to meet with students about careers in public service, and to recruit for job openings that she’s seeking to fill as she implements her vision for criminal justice reform, starting with repairing the breakdown of public trust in law enforcement.

Figuring out the right thing to do as DA is tough, Clark told students, and she offered as an example, an actual case that crossed her desk.

A woman in the Bronx was raped in her apartment. She managed to call her husband, who rushed home, encountered the rapist in the elevator, and beat him to death with a tire iron.

Clark was faced with the question of whether to prosecute the husband, who had no prior history of criminal activity or violence. He and his wife were Muslim immigrants living legally in the US; a criminal conviction would result in his deportation. The rapist had a long history of crime, and the rapist’s sister, while recognizing that he did not deserve to die the way he did, understood the damage he had done to the victim and her family, and did not insist on prosecution.

It was a tough call but Clark decided to dismiss the charges, offering a real-world lesson in mercy, justice, and the awesome power of prosecutors.

Clark, who grew up in the Bronx, spent sixteen years as a judge in various New York courts. She is widely respected for her even-handed approach to justice.

Among her first moves after becoming DA last January was partnering with the Bronx Legal Aid Society to help 270 people have 355 warrants vacated—primarily summonses for consumption of alcohol or trespassing.

She has also created a prosecution bureau assigned to the New York prison on Rickers Island, which she has called “the worst neighborhood I have.” Her stated mission is a swifter response to lawlessness, no matter who the perpetrators are.

Photograph by Christopher Soldt, MTS, BC

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