Lawmakers rally for slate of criminal justice reform bills
by Benjamin Fang
Jun 10, 2020 | 3328 views | 0 0 comments | 271 271 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Queens Borough Hall BLM Protest
Rally attendees put up their hands as they chanted, “Hands up, don’t shoot.”
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Hundreds of people gathered on the steps of Queens Borough Hall last Thursday to rally in support of policing and criminal justice reforms as protests continue over the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

Dozens of lawmakers, brought together by the State Legislature’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus urged for the passage of a slate of 13 bills in Albany, headlined by the repeal of 50-a, a law that prevents the disciplinary records of police officers and other law enforcement officials from being made public.

State legislators coordinated the rally to coincide with simultaneous events throughout the five boroughs, Long Island and four upstate cities.

“We are united in support of police reform,” said Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman. “We are gathered on one accord.”

Assemblyman Jeff Aubry called on attendees to “stand up and change society so we are not subject to watching our brothers and sisters slaughtered meaninglessly” on the streets.

“We’re tired and we’re not going to take it anymore,” he said. “America must change. We must make it happen now.”

In addition to the repeal of 50-a, lawmakers called for passing bills that would make falsely reporting an incident to 911 a hate crime, establish the office of the special prosecutor within the Attorney General’s office, and the Police STAT Act, which would collect data on the impact of police activity.

Other legislation includes the Right to Monitor Act, which codifies the right to record police activity, establishing local independent oversight of police, and the “Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act,” which establishes the crime of aggravated strangulation.

Finally, state legislators are pushing for bills to ban racial and ethnic profiling by police officers, impose criminal liability for failure to obtain medical care for a person in police custody, and expand the use of body cameras for state and MTA police.

At the rally, State Senator John Liu said when police officers do wrong, the public deserves to know.

“For too long, because of 50-a, police officers who did the wrong thing have not been held accountable,” he said. “It’s not just about punishing the ones who did wrong. It’s about making sure no one does wrong in the first place.”

Liu, who led a march from Cunningham Park to Borough Hall prior to the rally, admonished people who say “All Lives Matter.” He urged them to embrace the phrase “Black Lives Matter” and understand why the term was coined in the first place.

“We say ‘Black Lives Matter’ because it’s always a black life handcuffed, disabled, on the ground and choked to death,” he said, “over and over again.”

The state senator noted that six years ago, Eric Garner was choked to death by a police officer on Staten Island. Like Floyd, Garner uttered, “I can’t breathe” before he was killed, and the incident was caught on camera and shared widely.

“Unfortunately, it’s not a new phrase,” Liu said.

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who also spoke at the rally, criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo for moving aggressively to protect property during the recent protests.

Although he agreed that protecting property and making sure people feel safe are important, Williams called on the mayor and the governor to “keep that same energy when you’re talking about black lives.”

The public advocate said instead of adding more police or instituting a curfew, they should have put out a response to address the pain and anger people are feeling across the country.

“Please, keep on protesting,” Williams said to the crowd. “There has to be, sometimes, disruption to the status quo.”

After the rally, hundreds marched down Queens Boulevard to Jamaica Avenue to “Sean Bell Way” in Jamaica. Bell was killed by NYPD officers in November 2006 after leaving his bachelor party on the day before his wedding.

Councilwoman Adrienne Adams, who represents the area, remembered Bell as a father, a soon-to-be husband and a baseball player.

“He was killed in a hail of bullets for nothing,” she said.

Destiny Hamilton, president of the NAACP’s New York State Conference Youth and College Division, noted that in 2019 nearly 1,100 people were murdered at the hands of the police. This year saw a similar trend, she said.

“We’re going to put an end to that,” she said. “We’re going to continue to exercise our constitutional right to assemble, to freedom of speech and our right to vote.”

Hamilton and other young leaders led a moment of silence and kneeling for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time that Minneapolis police officers held their knees to Floyd’s neck before he died.

After the moment of silence, State Senator James Sanders said while it’s “nice” that police officers sometimes kneel with protesters, it’s better when officers make sure fellow cops don’t put their knees on anyone’s neck.

“Character is who you are when no one is watching,” he said. “If you want to be a good cop and you see injustice, you stop it, blue wall of silence or not.

“To our mayor and governor, we don’t need your sympathy we need your action,” Sanders added. “Sympathy won’t save a life, actions will.”

Councilman Donovan Richards concluded the march by noting that de Blasio has proposed a drastic cut to the budget of the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD), including the defunding of the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), given the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, the mayor only wants to cut 1 percent from the NYPD’s budget, he said.

Richards said the City Council plans to pass legislation banning the use of chokeholds by the NYPD and another piece of legislation to create a standard of discipline. The “Right to Record Act” will also pass the Public Safety Committee, which he chairs, he said.

“We have to agitate, participate and legislate,” he said. “Collectively, we will get there together.”

At a daily press briefing last week, Cuomo called for the passage of his “Say Their Name” agenda in the legislature.

The package of proposed measures include reforming 50-a, banning chokeholds by law enforcement officers, prohibiting false race-based 911 reports, and designating the attorney general as an independent prosecutor for deaths of unarmed civilians caused by law enforcement.

“Police have to do their jobs, but they don’t have the right to abuse, to hurt, to use unnecessary force,” Cuomo said. “They’re going to be held accountable.”

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