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Capital Region News

#ReleaseMarquis Campaign Rallies At Albany City Hall

Members of the Release Marquis Campaign rallied at Albany City Hall last night, calling for the Common Council to  unanimously pass a Raise The Age Resolution.

Community and faith members showed up in support of Marquis Dixon, who was sentenced to nine years in an adult maximum security prison for stealing a pair of sneakers when he was 16. The case, a flashpoint in the city in recent months, hinged on a gun Dixon was said to have used in the theft but that never been produced.

The group was at City Hall to push the Common Council to pass a resolution favoring raising the age of criminal responsibility.  Organizer Sean Collins is with Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration:  "And in the resolution it talks about, it calls on local law enforcement officials and agencies to utilize their discretion they have, use greater discretion to provide more leniency and more compassion in the system, and do what they can now, even though there isn't a law on the books to divert 16- and 17-year-olds away from prisons."

Alicia Barraza's son was arrested at 17 and given 4 to 12 years of prison time.   "He did about three and a half years of prison time, and several times they put him into solitary confinement. The last time he was in solitary confinement he took his own life. And that was over a year ago."

The #ReleaseMarquis Campaign has been urging District Attorney David Soares to recommend a lesser sentence as Dixon's appeal moves forward. Marquis Dixon’s mother Aisha Dixon had stern words for Soares:   "Well, to David Soares, because he was the D.A., and I don't have anything against him. My only thing is nine years, it's harsh."

Dixon thinks a one-year sentence would have been acceptable. She wants Soares to "wake up."    "You know, the kid got his sneakers back. My son never had a gun. But because that's what the district attorney wanted him to plead guilty to. They wanted him to plead guilty to a charge. He pleaded guilty to the sneakers, because they found the sneakers. He is guilty of the sneakers. They came to my house with a search warrant. There was never no gun in my house, he never had a gun. But to charge my son with first degree armed robbery, don't you gotta be proven guilty? So you're innocent, my son is innocent to a gun!"

Soares’ office did not immediately return a call for comment, but released a lengthy statement on the case in August, saying in part:  “Mr. Dixon did not simply “steal” or “take” a pair of sneakers; he mugged an innocent young man at gunpoint.  Had he merely “stolen” or “taken” a pair of sneakers from a retailer and received a 9 year sentence, I too would be in line with protesters calling for justice.  But the facts are the facts, and I don’t have the luxury of changing them. Having said that, I understand the frustration of those taken aback by his sentence.”

The #ReleaseMarquis Campaign wants the age of criminal responsibility hiked and views the Common Council's  unanimous passage of the #RaiseTheAge Resolution as a victory.  Council Member Leah Golby says the action sends a very strong message to state legislators.   "Particularly to the state Senate, who did not pass the Raise The Age legislation this year, and it's something that needs to be passed. New York State is one of only two states in the entire country that treats 16-year-olds as adults and that has to change."

Aisha Dixon says prison is no place for a teenager.    "If the inmates want to take over Coxsackie prison, they can do it. There's more inmates than there are workers there. Young kids minds aren't developed all the way like that, so of course they're gonna try to go different ways and they're easily influenced, you know their focus spans is short and they're trying to fit in.  But you can't fit in inside a prison. You can't fit in. But you have you know, older guys, that'll come on and take you under their wing. No."

Dixon told rallygoers she remains hopeful the DA will change his mind. 

David Soares' full statement:

I want to take the opportunity to address the protests outside of the Judicial Center on Monday regarding Marquis Dixon, a young man convicted by a jury of his peers of an armed robbery.   

First, let me be clear:  Mr. Dixon did not simply “steal” or “take” a pair of sneakers; he mugged an innocent young man at gunpoint.  Had he merely “stolen” or “taken” a pair of sneakers from a retailer and received a 9 year sentence, I too would be in line with protesters calling for justice.  But the facts are the facts, and I don’t have the luxury of changing them.

Having said that, I understand the frustration of those taken aback by his sentence.  My office, mindful of all the facts and circumstances of the case, offered Mr. Dixon a chance to plead guilty to a lesser charge for a far lesser sentence than he ultimately received.  He rejected that chance.  What’s more, after hearing all the facts at trial, including evidence that Mr. Dixon lured a young man to a parking lot at night and threatened him with a gun, a jury of 12 people found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and a judge thought a greater sentence was appropriate.  I cannot criticize the judge’s decision.  Sentencing is his right under the law.  I will continue to respect the court’s decision.

Of course, advocates of Mr. Dixon are not under the same restrictions that I am.  They have the right to voice their frustration.  I support that right.  I also believe that it’s vital for us to engage in this kind of dialogue in order to improve the lives of all members of our community, young or old, black or white, rich or poor.  For my part, I will also continue to support the dozens of initiatives designed to curb violence in our communities.  

My fervent hope is that those dedicated to criminal justice reform will join me in making our communities a safer and more hopeful place to live.

David Soares

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