Senators Op-Ed: From Advocating For Harlemites To Stopping Human Trafficking

April 4, 2024

By Senator Cordell Cleare

For three days out of every week, I am in session in Albany, as the Harlem State Senator for the 30th District.

The 30th distrcit includes West Harlem, East Harlem, and parts of the Upper West Side; I am completely immersed again in passing legislation regarding the day-to-day issues that affect the various communities. 

In 2023 alone, I wrote and introduced 238 Bills; 22 to help our beloved seniors; 57 to provide justice and equity; and 21 to provide affordable housing.  Of these bills, 43 passed The Senate and 17 bills passed both houses. 


My Harlem office has an open door policy, which means that my constituents can–and do, walk in, or call for assistance on a variety of issues from: increased housing insecurity affecting all levels of society;  to helping our seniors get the services they need (I am the Chair of the Committee on Aging); to the burgeoning migrant crisis impacting the neighborhoods–and demanding funds for resources from the city, state, and federal government.

We need to identify important issues and seek solutions in Albany for the people. Community-building is our raison d’etre.

On March 16th, 2024, with brooms and garbage bags in hand, we hosted a clean-up of the busy 116th Street Corridor in Harlem. We were joined by many residents, businesses, volunteers, our new New Yorkers (migrants and asylum seekers), community partners; and city agencies such as the FDNY, the Department of Health, and the Sanitation Department.


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 This was a wonderful event aimed to boost pride and community involvement to keep our neighborhoods clean and tidy.

In the same lane of One Harlem helping Harlemites, my office recently hosted four coat drives, food, toys, and health screening services for our ‘new’ New York neighbors. 

We celebrate achievement too, for example, the opening ceremony of Apollo stages on 125th Street, Harlem’s latest grand cultural venue. I was happy that my Bill 2315 passed out of the senate to honor our esteemed elder Willie Mae Goodman. We are always engaging and supporting our young people in and out of school activities across the board.

But, so many issues still do not receive the spotlight that they should.

In December 2023, Governor Kathy Hochul finally signed the Reparations Bill which I co-sponsored. A chosen commission will now look into remedies to address New York State’s considerable involvement in the use of enslaved Africans. 

My office, United States Senator Kristen Gillibrand, and other elected officials and activists held a press conference in February, asking President Joe Biden and his administration to de-schedule–and thus further decriminalize marijuana. This would go a long way to lift a restrictive legal and economic burden off of many members of our Black and Brown communities.

Almost ignored is the following topic of Human Trafficking, which is not as far away as the average New Yorker may think. It can be on the darkened streets of certain known areas in NYC, or it could be people on trains selling candy or asking for donations for sports teams. It can be the young people asking for money daily on the street corners. The abhorrent exploitation comes in many forms. 

That is why I am determined to help victims of this life-destroying vice. Too many of our youth fall victim to predators who engage in this practice of vile manipulation for monetary gain. 

On Monday 18th, March, I was a guest at Bethel Gospel Assembly’s virtual briefing on Human/Sex Trafficking.

I reiterated that I have been working on the issue of Human Trafficking since before I got elected. As a community leader—I saw things, heard stories, and was even part of a number of interventions. One of the things that troubled me deeply is that the preponderance of victims are Black (40%) or other people of color. I feel it is my duty to look out for them.

As a legislator, I made it my goal in 2022 to eradicate Human Trafficking and introduced 14 Bills.

Many of my bills have become law, including two that will spread awareness and empower survivors; and one that will explore the connection between social media and human trafficking and propose solutions to shut down this pipeline.

To this end, my office, alongside other elected officials, advocacy organizations, activists, and the Manhattan D.A, Alvin Bragg, held a press conference on the topic of “Extending the statute of limitations for Sex Trafficking offenses, and reviving actions barred by the existing statute of limitations.”

I was proud to stand with steadfast partners on this issue; D.A. Bragg,  Assembly Bill Sponsor, Jeff Dinowitz, Sonia Ossorio of the National Organization for Women (NOW-NYS), advocates, and most importantly–survivors, like Melanie Thompson.  

D.A. Braggs noted that due to so many variables, effective cases of Human Trafficking prosecution are very challenging to bring in a timely, meaningful, and preventative manner.    

Thus, the S.349-B bill will empower District Attorneys all over the State to be able to effectively prosecute the most heinous, and grievous acts of Human Trafficking, in a way that will not only hold people accountable but help change the system.  This bill would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for Sex Trafficking, and extend the window for survivors to file lawsuits, to parallel other changes we have recently made in law.  

As the bill co-sponsor, Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz said, “The only people who would be against this bill are the Human Traffickers.”

As an elected official, representative of my community, a mom, daughter of Harlem, and a tireless activist–I completely support Senate Bill 349-B—legislation, which I proudly and adamantly co-sponsor. It would ensure that effective and lasting prosecution will take place and that survivors will receive our full measure of support and justice.

It is estimated that there are over 1 million people who are victims of Human Trafficking in the United States at this very moment. Stronger, more proactive laws are an absolute necessity to deal with this scourge. Traffickers prey upon the vulnerable and operate in the shadows—a five-year statute of limitations is misguided, counterproductive, and does not serve survivors or the cause of justice well at all.

This bill passed the Senate unanimously in 2023, so I think advocacy time is best spent calling and engaging with our members in the Assembly, including Speaker Carl Heastie’s Office.

“… with the community behind us …”

My hope is that we will pass it this year—this time, in both houses, and I believe with the community behind us contacting their state and federal elected officials – it can and will.

Cordell Cleare

New York State Senator Cordell Cleare was raised in Harlem and her family has lived there for four generations.   Cleare is a product of the New York City public schools, including Brooklyn Technical High School.  Today, she is best known for her fight for Reparations, Truly Affordable Housing, Quality Schools & Equitable Education, Access to Healthy Foods as well as Economic, Environmental, Restorative and Racial Justice. She entered the New York State Senate on an express train from Upper Manhattan, bringing fresh ideas and legislative proposals to make New York, the state of the whole people. https://www.nysenate.gov/senators/cordell-cleare

Photo credit: HWM.


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