Alumnus and Brooklyn DA Kenneth Thompson’s Death Mourned

Alumnus and Brooklyn DA Kenneth Thompson’s Death Mourned

Alumnus and Brooklyn DA Kenneth Thompson’s Death Mourned

John Jay College mourns the passing of alumnus Kenneth Thompson (B.A. ’89), Brooklyn District Attorney, on Sunday, October 9, 2016.

President Jeremy Travis said: “We are proud of all our alumni, but took special pride in the public service career of Ken Thompson, from his service as a federal prosecutor pursuing a case of police brutality to his historic election as a reform-minded District Attorney in Kings County committed to restoring public faith in the criminal justice system.  His many friends at John Jay cheered as he tackled these challenges of justice.  Ken often made clear that he was deeply indebted to John Jay for his professional accomplishments, and he showed his gratitude by giving back to the John Jay community in countless ways.  He was a founding member of the Advisory Board for the Pre Law Institute.  The PLI honored him as Outstanding Alumnus at Law Day in 2006.  He was selected as one of the “50 at 50,” a group of prominent alumni honored at our 50th Reunion.  He was the lead speaker in our yearlong “Bridging the Divide” initiative, co-sponsored with the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, designed to find new ways to improve police-community relations. His lecture electrified the students and faculty in attendance.  He was proud of John Jay and we are proud of him.  Now, his young life of so much promise has been cut short.  We will never know how much he might have changed the world, but have a sense that the future held greater opportunities for him.  In these difficult days, 0ur thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and colleagues.    

“On a personal note, I feel I have lost a good friend and ally in the struggle for justice.  Ken was always there for me and John Jay.  He generously asked me to serve on his transition committee, and I was impressed by his sincere commitment to making the Kings County District Attorney’s office a model for the country. There can be no greater tribute to his vision than the realization of that dream.  Ken Thompson will be missed.”

Thompson received his bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from John Jay in 1989. John Jay was a natural choice for him, he noted, because of its interdisciplinary approach, its diverse student body and the opportunity to learn from experts.

Earning his law degree in 1992 from the New York University School of Law, Thompson made history with his election as Brooklyn’s District Attorney in 2014 — the first African American to hold that office. Previously, as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Thompson helped prosecute the New York police officer convicted of torturing Haitian immigrant Abner Louima in 1997. As special assistant to the Undersecretary of the Treasury for Enforcement, he helped investigate the 1992 federal raid on the Branch Dravidian compound in Waco, Texas.

As District Attorney, Thompson launched a unit to examine past criminal convictions, winning exonerations for the accused in at least 10 cases. He also organized a Violent Criminal Enterprises Bureau, which seeks to dismantle violent, armed drug gangs and other organized crime activities. He was considered one of the most progressive district attorneys in the country.

As the son of one of the first female police officers assigned to patrol New York streets, Thompson had a lifelong love for law enforcement.  His upbringing and education informed his remarkable career and his dedication to defend victims of discrimination, prejudice and injustice. He credited the part John Jay played in his thinking. “Being a prosecutor and law enforcement official requires versatility and an understanding of a wide spectrum of subject matters,” he observed. “It was at John Jay where I first learned how to relate questions of history, social science, biology and government to issues of criminal justice.” 


Kenneth Thompson, John Jay alumnus (B.A. ‘89) and District Attorney of Kings County (Brooklyn), helped launch the yearlong Bridging the Divide initiative when he delivered the 25th annual Lloyd Sealy Lecture on Sept. 29, 2015. Speaking before a capacity audience in the Moot Court, Thompson‘s keynote address focused on “The Role of Law Enforcement in Ensuring Justice Is Delivered.” Among those on hand for the milestone event, which was co-sponsored by the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), were (l-r): Tiffany Wheatland, Adjunct Professor of Africana Studies; C. Jama Adams, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Africana Studies; District Attorney Thompson; Gregory A. Thomas, National President of NOBLE; Rulisa Galloway-Perry, Chief of Staff to President Jeremy Travis; Delores Jones-Brown, Professor, Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration; President Travis. 

Click here to watch the video of Thompson’s address

Remarks of President Jeremy Travis at the Memorial Service for Kenneth Thompson

Christian Cultural Center, Brooklyn, NY
October 15, 2016
Ken came of age at John Jay.  He followed his mother to become a student at John Jay as she had been.  He initially pursued his childhood dream to follow her pioneering example and join the New York City Police Department.  While a student at John Jay, he came to realize that he had other ambitions in mind, to study law and use the law as his weapon in the cause of justice. Read full remarks.

Reflections from the College Community

I read with devastation the news of the passing of D.A. Ken Thompson, one of our black male rising stars, with a life cut short at its pinnacle. It is‎ a profound reminder of why we have to learn to do better by each other.
Delores Jones-Brown,
Professor, Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration 

Ken Thompson’s death is indeed devastating — so much promise and so many accomplishments already. 
Jane P. Bowers,
Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs 

I was both shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson, a rising star in criminal justice reform. Being a fellow JJCCJ alumnus (albeit, older) of Kenneth's made me extremely proud of that association as he dove full force into his critical and challenging position with such a progressive set of reforms.
Peter J. Mancuso Jr.
(B.A. ’76, M.A. ’79)

So shocking, so sad. Ken came to my classes every semester until last year, and we had no idea he was not well. Condolences all around.
Blanche Wiesen Cook,
Distinguished Professor of History and Women’s Studies 

I am deeply saddened by the untimely death of my colleague, friend and fellow John Jay College Alumnus, District Attorney Ken Thompson. I was first introduced to Ken by his pastor, Reverend A.R. Bernard at the Christian Cultural Center, after he and Keith Beauchamp fought a successful battle (with the assistance of Senator Charles Schumer) to get the DOJ to reinvestigate the 1955 racist torture and murder of Emmett Till (a 14 year old black boy).  When Ken took on a challenge he fought tirelessly; throughout his career he made a difference and wasn’t afraid to go against the status quo. He fought for justice and understood mercy, as well. He came, he fought, he changed the game and he will truly be missed.
Teresa Coaxum (B.A. ’94, M.P.A. ’08)
Region II Advocate,
U.S. Small Business Administration

Related News Coverage

Newsday
October 16, 2016
Funeral held for Brooklyn’s top prosecutor Ken Thompson

New York Times 
October 10, 2016
Despite Ken Thompson’s Short Stint as Brooklyn Prosecutor, Agenda May Endure