Reforms Include Repealing 50-a; Banning Chokeholds; Prohibiting Race-Based 911 Calls; and Appointing Attorney General as Independent Prosecutor for Police Involved Deaths
Following Killing of George Floyd, Governor Proposed the ‘Say Their Name’ Reform Agenda to Reduce Inequality and Reimagine the State’s Criminal Justice System
Signs ‘New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative’ Executive Order Requiring Local Police Agencies to Develop a Plan Based on Community Input by April 1 to be Eligible for Future State Funding
On Friday June 12, 2020, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed the ‘Say Their Name’ Reform Agenda package following the killing of George Floyd and an ongoing pattern of police brutality against minority communities across the nation. These landmark policing reforms will help reduce inequality in policing and reimagine the state’s criminal justice system. The reforms include:
- Allowing for transparency of prior disciplinary records of law enforcement officers by repealing 50-a of the civil rights law;
- Banning chokeholds by law enforcement officers;
- Prohibiting false race-based 911 reports; and
- Designating the Attorney General as an independent prosecutor for matters relating to the civilian deaths.
AUDIO of today’s remarks is available here.
A rush transcript of yesterday’s remarks is available below:
Good morning everyone. It’s a pleasure to be in New York City today. We have an exciting day. Have some special guests with us. Let me introduce them before I introduce the dais. We have Gwen Carr with us, who is the mother of Eric Garner. We have Valerie Bell with us, who is the mother of Sean Bell. We have Hazel Dukes who is the president of the NAACP, and is my second mother, for many years. She takes credit for me on a good day, and she disciplines me on a bad day. With me on the dais, we have from my far left, we have the speaker of the New York State Assembly, Carl Heastie, we have Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. I want to applaud them for fast action on the bills that we’re going to be talking about. I want to thank the advocates, I want to thank Gwen car, Valerie Bell, Hazel Dukes, who’ve been working to get these reforms done for a long, long time, and I’m glad you could be with us today. And to my right is Reverend Al Sharpton, who I’ve known all my adult life, and I want to applaud him on not his activism, because his activism has always been extraordinary, but his effectiveness as an advocate, because it’s about making change, that’s what the activism is about. And he has made significant and positive change on this issue and many others.
Let’s go through some of the facts on today. Today is day 104 since the COVID virus started, it’s day 19 since Mr. Floyd was murdered. We have two separate situations, and we’re dealing with them as separate situations, but there’s also a convergence between the two. We see that in the protests, et cetera, and we’re worried about the COVID virus in the middle of this situation. And all of this is happening at a truly stressed time in this country, the politics is on high speed and is divisive, we have racial tensions in this nation. So it’s one of the most difficult situations we’ve had in modern political history. When it comes to the reopening, the number for us to watch now is the daily testing number. We’ve been talking about a lot of numbers over the past couple of months, the hospital number, the ICU number. The number to watch now is the daily testing number. We do 50,000 tests per day, okay, more tests than any place in the country. Those 50,000 tests tell you immediately what’s happening with the infection rate.
We’re starting to reopen. we watch those daily testing numbers to see what’s happening. And they’re on a website, I tell the government leaders all the time, study these numbers, look at what’s behind them. But for example, New York City was at 1.5 percent, which was the infection rate from the testing, then 1.7, yesterday it was 1.5. So we’re watching those numbers, you’ll see a little up and down, but if you see anything significant, then we would have to really take a deeper look. You can look at where it is in the boroughs. The boroughs have very different infection rates. One of the sad facts in this is the lower income communities, higher percentage minority communities have a higher infection rate. That’s another symbol of the injustice in our society. They have less healthcare coverage. You see some zip codes in the outer boroughs, twice the infection rate of the city. The city’s about 19 percent infection rate. You have some zip codes up to 50 percent infection rate. So, we’re paying special attention to those.
Number of lives lost is 42 yesterday. You see the overall trend on this is down, and the numbers are probably at such a low level that I don’t know if they’ll drop much more than where we are. But this is also far away from where we’ve come. We wish all the families who lost loved ones that they find peace and we’ll remember them in our prayers. You can see the journey over the past 100 days. We went right up the mountain, the number increased quickly, and then it took us a long time to come down.
But where we are today is a pivotal point in this entire situation with the coronavirus. You see states all across the nation where the infection rate is going up dramatically. You have states now that reopened that are scaling back their reopening. That’s how bad the spikes are. Yesterday, 21 states said they had increase in COVID, 14 the new highs. Today, 23 states, 15 states hit a new high. We’ve seen these numbers increase before. We’ve been here. This is déjà vu. We have to be aware, and we have to be alert.
You look at what’s happening to these states, they reopen and then the number goes up which is common sense on one level. The number came down because you closed everything down. When you reopen and you increase activity, don’t be surprised when the infection rate goes up, unless you were very smart and disciplined about the way you reopened. That is the whole difference here. But the states that are having trouble reopened, and everybody wanted to reopen, reopen fast, there were protests, reopen fast, everything is fine. I had one person on the street tell me I can’t see the virus, can you see the virus? There is no virus. I mean people had all sorts of theories. States that have reopened too quickly or uncontrolled are now starting to close down.
So we are the exact opposite. We, since we’ve reopened, the number has continued to go down, believe it or not. We reopened. It continues to go down because we’ve been disciplined in our reopening, and that’s what we have to continue to do. This is a website where the founders of Instagram now track the rate of transmission of states across the nation. New York State, the lowest rate of transmission, meaning the virus is spreading at the lowest rate in the State of New York, of every state in America, that is incredible. We were the number one state in terms of infection, number one in the nation, number one on the globe per capita, and now we’re the last state in terms of rate of transmission. That is because New Yorkers stepped up, they were smart, they were disciplined, they did what they had to do, and we have to stay there. We have to stay there. Now is no time to forget what got us here. We have to stay smart.
On the civil unrest, I said from day one that I stand with the protesters. I believe this is the moment to put forth a real federal reform justice agenda. Yes, we have to do criminal justice, yes, we have to do police. The injustices are more fundamental than that in truth. Let’s talk about education equality because we have two education systems, one for the rich and one for the poor, and that is true. And you want to talk about justice, opportunity for all, why does one child who happens to be born to a poor family have a second rate education to children who are born in wealthier communities? Why do you still have child poverty in this nation? How do you justify that? The affordable housing need is all across the country because the federal government went out of the affordable housing business. I was the former Housing Secretary for the federal government. It was the one responsibility the federal government used to undertake. It was never states and cities. Public housing was federal, Section 8 certificates were federal, Section 8 project base was federal. Federal Housing Administration, FHA, that was federal. They just ended that business, and then you wonder why we have an affordable housing crisis.
And criminal justice reform should be done on a national level. And the House has been very aggressive on reform, the Congress, and I applaud them for it. But New York State is the progressive capital. We never sit back and say just what the nation should do, we show the nation what it should do. We lead by example and we lead by getting it done. We are a state of action and that’s us at our best. A great member of the New York State assembly who then went on to the Congress, a great pioneer, Shirley Chisolm: “You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, you make progress by implementing ideas.” Implementing ideas, getting things done, action, results, not just talking, not just advocating, but actually articulating your ideas and then getting action done so you change reality for people. We’ve gotten to a place where people think talking is enough. Talking is not enough. Being angry is not enough. Being emotional is not enough. How do you transition that to action and change and results? And that’s what we’re doing here today. The New York State legislature has quickly passed the most aggressive reforms in the nation. I’m going to sign those bills in a moment. 50-a reform so there’s transparency. We’re banning chokeholds. Attorney general as special prosecutor. Ending false race-based 911 reports.
I want to applaud the leaders who have done great work. These are tough times to be in government. There’s a lot of issues, a lot of crises, a lot of demands, and they got it done, and they got it done quickly. I want to thank the bill’s sponsors who have done a great job and actually came to resolution, and I want to applaud them. I also want to applaud the advocates who have been fighting for this for years. I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve had, how many rallies they put on, how many events Reverend Sharpton put on, keeping the message out there, insisting, advocating, protesting, demonstrating which results in today and the change we’re making today. So I want to applaud all the mothers, especially Gwen Carr, Valerie Bell, and, again, Reverend Sharpton for his great work on this.
Moving forward, there is still more to do, and we’re going to do it in the state of New York. The truth is this, police reform is long overdue, and Mr. Floyd’s murder is just the most recent murder. This is not just about Mr. Floyd’s murder. It’s about being here before, many, many times before. It is about a long list that has been all across this country that always makes the same point, injustice against minorities in America by the criminal justice system. And today is about enough is enough. It’s about Fannie Lou Hamer, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” How many times do you have to see the same case before you do something? How many times? This was Eric Garner, this was Abner Louima, this was Amadou Diallo, the same case over and over and over and still no change. And Mr. Floyd’s murder, God bless this country for standing up and saying enough is enough. I respect them.
But it goes back certainly to Rodney King in modern times, and the truth is it goes back to Dr. Martin Luther King, 1968. It is systemic discrimination and injustice in this nation. That’s what it is. That’s what today is about. And the answer, there is no quick fix to this. There is no, “Well, stop tear gas. Well, change the uniforms.” That’s not what this is about, my friends. And it would be a mistake if we went down that path. This is systemic reform of police departments. This is sitting down and taking a look at exactly what they do and have been doing and looking at it through a new lens of reform and reinvention, because this has been 40, 50 years in the making. Providing police with military equipment, increasing the number of police, it goes back to the ’90s in the crime bills. Looking at the population explosion in our prisons, this was a long time in coming, and this is not about a press release that’s going to solve it. The way we really solve this is we say to every police agency in this state, I believe it should happen in the nation, sit down at the table with the local community, address these issues, get to the root of these issues, get a plan, pass that plan by your local government, and if you don’t, you’re not going to get any additional state funds, period. We’re not going to fund police agencies in this state that do not look at what has been happening, come to terms with it and reform themselves. We’re not going to be as a state government subsidizing improper police tactics, we’re not doing it. And this is how we’re going to do it.
I’m going to sign an executive order today. We’ll require our local governments and police departments all across the state, about 500, to develop a plan that reinvents and modernizes police strategies and programs in their community. They must formulate a plan. They have to address the use of force by police officers, crowd management, community policing, bias awareness, de-escalation, restorative justice, community- based outreach. They have to have a transparent citizen complaint disposition procedure so if you make a complaint, it’s not just yelling out the window, you find out what happened to that complaint. They should talk about appropriate equipment, what’s not appropriate equipment, and any other issue that that community believes is relevant. That discussion has to happen with the community participants in the room. That plan then has to be enacted into local law. Every city, every county, it has to be done by April 1. If it’s not done by April 1, and if it’s not passed, they’re not going to be eligible for state funding, period.
And, look, it’s simple. This is something that has to be done anyway because what we know is certainly true is there is no trust between the community and the police, that’s what the protests have said. There’s no trust. And if there is no trust, the relationship doesn’t work. If there’s no trust, the police can’t effectively police. If there’s no trust, the community is not going to allow the police to police. And there is no trust, or there is a breach of the trust, and that has to be restored and repaired. And the only way to do it is to get in a room, get to the table, let everyone say their piece, and let’s figure it out community by community all across this state. It will be statewide. No other state has done it, but New York State will lead the way because New York is New York tough, smart, united, disciplined, and loving.
With that, let me turn it over to our great Senate leader. I thank Andrea Stewart-Cousins very much for her leadership. I know we’ve worked long and hard over this past week. We’ve been working long and hard for a long time, but especially this past week. And it turned out great. Thank you very much.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins: Thank you.
Governor Cuomo: Senate leader.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins: Thank you so much, Governor. And thank you, thank you for your leadership. I’m certainly so happy to be here at this moment, at this historic moment and to share this with my colleague and partner in the Assembly, Speaker Heastie. And certainly to be always in the presence of Reverend Sharpton, who you know is an icon for all of us in this movement, as is everybody’s mother, Hazel Dukes who has been so clear in so many ways. And obviously in the presence of Valerie Bell and Gwen Carr, thank you. Thank you for being brave and strong.
You know, we are at a moment of reckoning, there’s no question about it. And I am just so thankful that I have a historic role at this moment. I have an opportunity of leading 40 Senate Democrats who unanimously decided this was the time. You know, many of my colleagues will sit and stand on the floor and certainly colleagues who are younger, and they’ll talk about the hip-hop and give verses. For me, I remember in 1999 when Bruce Springsteen, you know, the working-class hero, did 41 Shots, American Skin. When that happened in 1999, I thought that that was the moment where people outside of black and brown communities were finally going to get the message that bad things were happening. And that refrain, you can get killed just for living in your American Skin, I thought would ring a note, but it didn’t. That was right around Amadou Diallo, that’s why he did that. And so here we are after the horrific murder of George Floyd, we finally got it. But every parent, every mother who looks like me understood that scary notion with our kids, with our husbands, with our brothers. I got that call when my son, my youngest son was only 18 years old and he was quote unquote on the wrong side of the town, he was stopped, he was frisked. The next thing I know after we’re out of the police station, we’re in the emergency room because he has a fractured nose. Thank god I was able to bring him home. I ache for Gwen, Valerie. I understood that.
And I want to be clear, you know, obviously every police officer is not a bad police officer. My brother, bobby, was a police officer. He was a transit officer. He worked for New York City Transit. He went in there because he wanted to help his community. He spent about six years there. He was 24, he is a Marine, Vietnam vet, went into the police department and came out within six years because he was convinced that the department, that the system was designed so that every young black man would have a record. He knew. He was a good cop, he worked with good cops, but he couldn’t change that. And you knew the system couldn’t change itself.
And so here we are. We know this isn’t a cure, as the governor said. We know that this is the beginning, but it’s a move to bring justice to a system that has long been unjust. And, again, I thank you for being a partner for making sure that we take to heart this moment that has taken too long to come to. And I thank all of the people in the streets and the leadership of the families to make this happen. So, thank you, Governor.
Governor Cuomo: Thank you, Senate Leader. And you’re exactly right. It’s good to be part of the solution, and I’m proud of New York, and I’m proud of what we’ve done together. Speaker Carl Heastie, pleasure to be with you, my friend.
Speaker Carl Heastie: Thank you, Governor. And let me first thank everyone here for being a part of this historic moment, but it’s a moment I wish that we never had to deal with. And, you know, when I was first elected Speaker of the Assembly on February 3, 2015, I had said that of all the great things that I would be a part of and working with the Governor, and working with Leader Cousins, that nothing would mean more to me, and I felt my legacy and who I was as Speaker of the Assembly would mean nothing to me if we didn’t make these systemic changes in how communities of color were policed and judged.
And here we are so, I really want to thank the advocates- I know we have two of the mothers here- but I want to thank all of the mothers who aren’t here with us. And I want to point one out in particular, Constance Malcolm was the mother of Ramarley Graham, who is, as you know, a constituent of mine. I’ve gotten very close to her. I was there with her and her family throughout the entire time. And I was recently asked in an interview you know, why now? Why did it happen now with George Floyd? Leader Cousin said we thought every time it happened-when it was Amadou Diallo it was time. When it happened with Anthony Biaz, we thought it was time. When it happened with Eric Garner, we thought it was time. When it happened with Sean Bell, we thought it was time. When it happened with Ramarley Graham we thought it was time.
But for some reason, I think what people viewed- I think it just touched a nerve in every person because it wasn’t just a people-of-color issue. It wasn’t just the families, I think, watching a man being suffocated by strangulation, crying for his deceased mother. I think struck a nerve for us even in the Assembly I actually thought that the bill was going to be Democrat versus Republican. We have many, many Republicans voting for these bills because I think the entire world has just said enough is enough is enough is enough. How much more bloodshed had to happen for the consciousness and the heart of this nation to finally open up and say, ‘we need to do better and we need to be better,’ and I think that that moment has come. But it doesn’t just end there, you know?
There are still many other issues of systemic injustice and systemic racism that people of color have to deal with. It’s education and health disparities and these are all things that we have to continue as Government to be a part of. Government is supposed to be problem solvers. When society can’t fix things that’s what government is supposed to come in and chart that costs so this is just a very it’s an emotional day. But I was also asked in one of the interviews, ‘how emotional was I when we actually passed the bills?’ I said I was actually more emotional when my house and Andrea’s house agreed on the bills because that’s when we knew that we were going to be able to get it done. At that point, it was just the mechanical process of getting the bills passed but when we agreed on the package of legislation that the Governor has said he is going to sign, that’s when I was emotional because growing up as a young black man there’s a lot of times that had not-so-positive interactions with the police. I’ve had not so positive interaction with the police even as a Speaker the Assembly. They didn’t know I was a Speaker and I never mentioned anything. So when growing up when you heard the stories of Anthony Biaz and Sean Bell and Eric Garner, as a black man I felt, you know, that could be me and I think that that is the reason why this is really started to really hit at the hearts of people that- like I said, enough is enough is enough is enough.
So I’m happy that we are here where we are today but we still have so much more work to do and again my heart just goes out to all of the families, all of the mothers who had to suffer through this. Constance Malcolm said to me that every time this happens- and I’m sure Ms. Carr and Ms. Bell would agree, every time when this happens you relive what happened with your son again and again. So we’re hoping that what we’ve done will not have other families have to go through what these families have gone through. So I’m just happy that Assembly was able to be a part of the solution. Thank you, Governor.
And also but I just want to mention too, Reverend Sharpton who you know who was a leader on this was ridiculed for this. You know sometimes is difficult standing alone but you know what Rev, after 30-something years of you know leading this, you know, you are not alone. You know leaders sometimes have to be alone, Jesus was alone and so I just want to thank you for your leadership throughout all these years.
Governor Cuomo: Well said. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Can you put up the list again? The Speaker said and Senate Leader said, why now? What happened now? Why not 1999? That is the question. To me I hear, “Why did it take so long?” But I think it wasn’t just about Mr. Floyd’s death. I think it was the cumulative impact and I think all the names on that list did not die in vain. I think it took that repeated articulation to get the country to this point. Reverend Sharpton— on every one of those situations— was out there making this point all over the country. All over the country. And finally, finally, the country heard! But the reason we’re here today, make no mistake, is because Rev. Sharpton and good people across the country, were out there making the point every time over and over and over again.
So, Eric Garner did not die in vain. Shawn Bell did not die in vain. It took— it took a number of lives, unfortunately. it took a number of injustices, unfortunately. But each one was a part in getting to today and it was Rev. Sharpton standing up and making sure the people of this nation heard every time, every injustice happened. And that— that Reverend— is a special ability, a special contribution, and it happened year after year after year and we all respect your effort. We thank you for what you’ve done. We thank you for your voice, which the nation has heard. This state has heard. And not only did we hear you— we’re going to make a difference and this state is going to make a difference and I believe it’s going to be a difference that will resonate across the nation. Because what we’re doing here, making every police agency come to the table with the community— that should be done in every police agency in this country. Together we’ll make it happen. Reverend Sharpton.
Reverend Al Sharpton: Thank you, governor. Thank you to the speaker and to the Senate majority leader. Let me first say— this is a great day for advocates and though I appreciate the speaker’s words— as I stood on many of these marches and protests, there were many that will never sit next to the governor that marched, many will never have their names called. It is a great day for them, advocacy groups that are not as known as the National Action Network, but advocated anyway, so I sit here for them as well. Some of us may not even get along, but it’s a victory for all of us and we must monitor to make sure it is done.
I’m glad that Hazel Dukes is here, who has gone to jail with me in some of the protests around this issue. And I’m most glad for the mothers, who— no matter what we do— will always have an empty seat at the family dinner table and the holidays. I’ve talked to the mothers at every holiday. I spoke at Ramarley Graham’s funeral, I did the eulogy, I did the eulogy at Gwen Carr’s son’s funeral, Eric Garner. I spoke at Shawn Bell’s funeral, as I did this week at George Floyd’s funeral. So, I’ve gotten to know their pain. I don’t just lead the protests, but I work with the families and it is not an issue to them. And I’m glad that we see what we see.
I joined the civil rights movement as a teenager. I grew up a boy preaching in Brooklyn. When I was 13, I became part of Dr. King’s branch here. We were told, “you start with demonstration to lead to legislation and then reconciliation.” Without the legislation, the demonstration is just an exercise. We work out every morning— the governor and I. This is not exercise; it is to change things and by signing these bills, it is bringing about the change. What made Dr. King’s movement effective was that there was a John Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson or a Hubert Humphrey that [inaudible] and what this assembly speaker and this majority leader in the Senate is doing is legislating what we demonstrated about. We’ll monitor it and make sure that it is enforced, but we had nothing to enforce, which is why we had to keep going. These bills needed some substantive change, so we won’t be sitting here, going over this after the next funeral and after the next situation. Let me also say, though, about this governor, to give the executive order that he has given— let us be very clear. There is no governor in this country that has said what he said this morning. He and I are debating sometimes, but he has, in many ways, done things that even I did not expect. To say that every mayor must come up with a plan along these areas or they will withhold state money, is a model for where we ought to be dealing with 21st century civil rights in this country. Make no mistake: this is a new level that all other 49 governors ought to look at, because to say, “I want to see mayors deal with this” and “I want to see city councils deal with this,” is one thing. But to say, “we’re going to hold funds— means that he means it.
I’m not surprised, because let me explain, even though he and I have debated on different things throughout the years— 20 years ago, when I called a march in Washington on the anniversary of the March on Washington and Coretta Scott King presided over that march— the widow of Martin Luther King— the only member of President Clinton’s cabinet that would come to the march was Andrew Cuomo and he stood with me when I was much fatter and much more controversial.
Don’t laugh, Andrew, we’re on television. So he has stood with us when it was not politically wise to stand with us. As Martin the third and I are doing a march this August 28th, Andrew Cuomo, and I, and Martin Luther King III has come here for Andrew, he has been on these issues when he was attorney general, when he was a cabinet member and now as governor. But he has raised the bar on how we deal with policing with this executive order, so I was very happy to come to be part of watching him sign these laws that these mothers, and these advocates, and many further to the left than me would appreciate.
But I am beyond happy to be here when I heard the executive order, because now, not only have we made an announcement, Andrew Cuomo has raised the bar, and I hope every governor in this country will be asked today whether or not they’re going to do what he just did. Somebody has to raise the bar. Then we can say to the Floyd family and others that you really have seen a new day, and we’ve turned a new way in this country. And I think that he has done that and Andrew Cuomo knows that when I don’t think he did whatever, I will tell him. He has gone beyond even my expectations. So enjoy these few minutes. But I think this is a great day.
Governor Cuomo: Thank you. Thank you very much, reverend, thank you so much, and really, you’re right. We do go back a long time, but I tell you, my friend, today is because of you, and your activism and all those years, and finally the people of this nation heard, so God bless you. I’m going to sign the bill in this new socially-distant. Congratulations, the bills are signed. Thank you. Thank you. Let’s give them a round of applause.
Valerie Bell: We want to say something for a minute. To give thanks to our lord and savior, Jesus Christ, as we stand here today. All the honor and glory goes to our lord and savior, Jesus Christ. I want to thank Governor Cuomo for what he has done, not only for me and Ms. Carr, but for all the mothers and allies who represent us doing the work that needs to be done. We had a vision, we had the voice, and the victory is won. So our allies, Justice Committee, CPR, and all others who stood with us, I want to thank you all, and continue the work you’ve been doing to make this a better place. Thank you so much.
Governor Cuomo: God bless. Thank you very much, thank you all very much. Thank you.
Gwen Carr: My sentiments exactly, what Valerie just said, and I appreciate the governor, the speaker, the majority leader, Reverend Sharpton, all who make this possible, all the committee leaders, the CPR, the Justice Committee, everyone who helped on this campaign. It was a long time coming, but it came, and thank you, thank you all very much.