On New Year’s Day in 2014, Kenneth Thompson made history by becoming the first African-American district attorney of the New York borough of Brooklyn.
However, by that time, Thompson had grown accustomed to making history and became a voice for the voiceless and the man looked upon by many New Yorkers as a mediator of the oft-volatile relationship between law enforcement and minorities.
Even prior to his work in the district attorney’s office, Thompson was a crusader for justice and his relentless work with Congress and high-ranking clergy members ultimately helped to convince the U.S. Justice Department to reopen the 1955 savage murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till.
Today, the life of Thompson, who died of cancer in 2016, is being immortalized in a book by another crusader for justice, Frederic Block, a Senior United States District Judge for the Eastern District of New York.
In the 388-page book, “Race to Judgment,” the main character, Ken Williams, is based largely on the life and career of Thompson.
“Early in my career, Ken Thompson tried one of his first cases in front of me as a federal prosecutor,” Block said. “I was impressed with his ability and immediately knew he was going places.”
“Since then, I followed his career with great interest as he rose to the pinnacle of the New York legal world,” he said. “‘Race to Judgment,’ my new reality fiction novel, which explores themes of corruption and misconduct in the Brooklyn criminal justice system, is loosely based on Ken’s career. It is dedicated to his memory.”
Block’s book tracks the rise of Ken Williams from assistant U.S. attorney to defeating veteran District Attorney Charles Hynes, who is identified as a corrupt Brooklyn DA responsible for a spate of phony convictions against black defendants.
Block draws from his more than two decades on the federal bench and tackles such cases as the 1991 Crown Heights riot that pitted African-American and Orthodox Jewish residents against each other during an especially tense time in Brooklyn.
When Thompson defeated Hynes in 2014, he also made history as the first challenger to defeat a sitting Brooklyn DA since 1911.
Thompson’s legacy lives on as the inspiration for the main character in “Race to Judgment,” and readers will recognize the close professional relationship between Thompson and Block, who hand-delivered a copy of the book to Thompson’s widow.
Block was appointed United States District Judge for the Eastern District of New York on Sept. 29, 1994, and entered duty on Oct. 31, 1994.
He assumed senior status on Sept. 1, 2005. Block received a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University in 1956 and an LLB degree from Cornell Law School in 1959.
During his 23 years on the bench, Block has presided over a number of high-profile cases, including the trials of former Bear Stearns hedge fund managers Ralph Cioffi and Matthew Tannin, Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff, Peter Gotti, Lemrick Nelson, and nightclub magnate Peter Gatien.
Earlier this month, Block’s decision in the 5 Pointz graffiti case received a great deal of media attention when he delivered a stiff fine to a building owner who destroyed the notable graffiti art at the 5 Pointz building in Queens, ruling that the owner was in violation of the Visual Artists Rights Act.
The 5 Pointz was regarded as a “graffiti mecca” where dozens of artists around the world contributed their valuable murals.
In Block’s story, Williams takes on more cases from the falsely accused, including JoJo Jones, who spends 16 years in prison for the murder of a Hasidic rabbi. Williams goes on to uncover more corruption in the DA’s office and soon receives death threats, his office is firebombed, and he’s arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge for disobeying a police officer.
“With ‘Race to Judgment,’ Block has not only created an exciting novel, but he also provides an insider’s look at the New York criminal justice system — from the deplorable conditions at Rikers Island [city jail], to the mistreatment of African-American prisoners to the practice of stop-and-frisk which has disproportionately targeted minorities,” said Kenichi Sugihara of SelectBooks Inc., the book’s publisher.