Recently, New York’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus reaffirmed its intention to pass legislation requiring a special prosecutor to be used for cases involving the death of an unarmed civilian by a police officer. The Assembly has passed a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Keith Wright several times over the past 15 years that would allow for a special prosecutor for police misconduct. That bill and several others, including one recently introduced by Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and a forthcoming bill by Assemblyman Karim Camara, are seen as key remedies of reform.
Over the past 15 years, 179 people were killed by NYPD officers, yet there were only three indictments. Caucus members, while acknowledging that most police and district attorneys act out of respect for the law and duty to serve, feel they have an obligation to fix this broken system. Members of the caucus are united in the belief that the 2015 legislative session must result in the passage of a bill that requires local district attorneys to be replaced by a special prosecutor.
Assemblyman Karim Camara, chair of the caucus, stated, “We have been seeking police reforms for many years now. The tragedy and travesty we saw in Staten Island should be a wake-up call to those who have resisted change in the past. The members of the caucus will not sit quietly and allow this to be swept under the rug. We will not accept anything short of real reform that will significantly improve trust between law enforcement and the citizens of New York.”
Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins stated, “All New Yorkers have a fundamental right to be treated equally and with respect by our state’s criminal justice system. When an unarmed civilian is killed due to actions taken by law enforcement personnel, serious issues must be addressed, and a special prosecutor focused solely on such situations is the best way to ensure justice is served. I thank the members of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus for joining with me to call for the implementation of a permanent special prosecutor, and I hope that my fellow state leaders will work to reform the criminal justice system and pass this legislation immediately.”
State Sen. Bill Perkins stated, “From Ferguson to Staten Island, our communities are crying out for justice and rightly demanding transformative and concrete solutions to a crisis born of police misperceptions and institutional racism. Presently, one thing is exceptionally clear: The investigation and prosecution of police officers who kill unarmed and innocent human beings must be truly independent, detached and without local bias. The call for an independent prosecutor is an essential step toward ensuring true justice for those who have been senselessly killed at the hands of police officers while concurrently ensuring that all residents of our city and state have an equal right to live, breathe and make their lives matter.”
Senate Latino Conference Chair Adriano Espaillat stated, “The current system has failed to deliver justice for communities of color time and time again. If we don’t act swiftly, we are doomed to repeat the outcomes we’ve seen in Ferguson and here in New York. When law enforcement officers are accused of criminal misconduct, there should be no question that an impartial prosecution is assured. Empowering the attorney general to take on these emotionally charged cases is the best way to ensure this.”
State Sen. Gustavo Rivera stated, “The recent cases resulting in the death of unarmed African-American men like Eric Garner have brought the shortfalls of our criminal justice system to the forefront and further damaged the public’s trust in law enforcement and justice. I am committed to fighting, along with my colleagues in the caucus, to ensure that we enact reforms that improve how our criminal justice system interacts with communities of color in an effort to prevent future injustices.”
State Sen. Kevin Parker stated, “As a legislator, I believe we must advocate for our community, and for our fellow New Yorkers and the young African-American and Latino men, youths and children who have been the victims of inappropriate use of deadly force by law enforcement across our country. I urge you to stand up and be heard during this important public dialogue over the misuse of deadly force by law enforcement against our community for far too long, and to support the legislation we are introducing to address this defining crisis of 2014—an apparent reckless disregard for human life because of racial profiling or stereotypes—in a manner that will pave the path to valuing Black and Latino lives, all of our lives, because we are God’s children, and all of our lives matter.”
State Sen. Jose M. Serrano stated, “The public’s confidence must be restored in our criminal justice system’s ability to fairly investigate and prosecute deadly incidents involving the police. The introduction of this legislation will reform this process and allow for greater transparency and fairness. This is an important step toward creating greater equality and justice. I am proud to stand with my colleagues as we fight to ensure integrity in our criminal justice system.”
Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright stated, “I am energized now more than ever to continue the fight for true criminal justice reform for those in my community and across New York. The measures I’ve introduced have been supported by my colleagues in the caucus, and the time has come for the rest of the state Legislature to stand with us. We are at a crossroads of where we will go as a society, and New York state must be a leader in achieving reform.”
Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes stated, “We salute and thank our great law enforcement officials who put their lives on the line every day to keep New Yorkers safe. I am looking forward to the 2015 legislative session to sponsor and support equitable legislation that protects the public and provides repercussion against the small percent that abuse their authority and prompts the public to not trust the majority of officers.”
Assemblyman Marcos A. Crespo stated, “The time has come to own up to the problem of trust in our police community relations and the judicial system as it relates to cases of excessive force by police leading to the death of unarmed civilians. For years, the caucus and the Hispanic Task Force have advocated for and championed these proposals to no avail. This is no longer acceptable. We must have a thorough discussion of the various legislative proposals and deliver real reform that can move our communities forward, that respects our officers as well as our community residents.”
Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez stated, “The sort of systemic failure which has led to the historically-low number of indictments of those killed by NYPD officers is simply unacceptable. In the 2015 session, I will strongly push for Assemblyman Wright’s legislation, as well continuing my push to significantly improve leadership diversity and strengthening the ties of NYPD to the community.”
Assemblywoman Annette M. Robinson stated, “I offer my strongest endorsement urging Governor Cuomo to appoint a special prosecutor to oversee all cases involving shootings by police officers against civilians. On the heels of the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases, grand juries under the auspices of local district attorneys cannot present fair and impartial prosecution in such cases. Especially as it pertains to the Eric Garner case, the decision by the grand jury on Staten Island not to indict the police officer with such overwhelming evidence against him, is unacceptable. A special prosecutor with no ties to local police enforcement is the direction we must take for fairness and justice. I again urge the governor to appoint a special prosecutor.”
Assemblyman Sam Roberts stated, “As part of the caucus, it’s our responsibility to make sure the voices in our community are heard in Albany and when vital legislation is before us. One of our top priorities in 2015 is to rebuild the trust between our communities and law enforcement, and restore confidence in the justice system. Requiring a special prosecutor when there is a death of unarmed civilian by law enforcement is part of that strategy.”
Assemblyman Michael Blake stated, “The system is broken and not working for the people. This proposal is the first step in that change, as it would lessen the understandable pressure a DA has during cases involving police while also giving the people the sense of that there is the best chance for fairness and justice. Until we as legislators enact permanent change, I support this effort because the justice system should not be a place where it is just for some of us.”