Credit: Pat Arnow

Special to the AmNews

Gov. Andrew Cuomo outlined his “Fairness for All” plan, which he said is a directive to restore and improve police-community relations in the wake of recent anti-police brutality protests across New York City and the assassination of two NYPD officers last month.

Cuomo, who was re-elected last November to a second term, unveiled the seven-point plan in his annual State of the State address. It aims to provide more protections for police officers and oversight for cases in which unarmed civilians are killed by officers.

“The promise of equal justice is a New York promise, and it is an American promise,” Cuomo, a Democrat, said in Albany. “We are currently in the midst of a national problem where people are questioning our justice system. And they’re questioning whether the justice system is really fairness for all and if it’s colorblind. It’s a problem in reality and perception.”

Alluding to the Eric Garner decision, in which a Staten Island grand jury failed to indict a NYPD officer for the Garner’s chokehold death, and the subsequent fallout, Cuomo emphasized, “People have to trust the justice system.” The governor called for a statewide reconciliation commission on police-community relations, the recruitment of more minorities into police departments statewide and ethnic data on police actions across New York.

He also urged support for police departments. Cuomo vowed to fund replacement bulletproof vests, body cameras and bulletproof glass for patrol cars in high crime areas, an initiative, he said, that will increase the safety of officers.

The other provisions in the seven-point plan Cuomo outlined may pave the way for the appointment of an independent monitor in coming months, who would review cases in which a grand jury failed to indict an officer who killed an unarmed suspect. The independent monitor, who will have access to protected grand jury information, may recommend that the governor appoint a special prosecutor to take over the case. In addition, Cuomo said district attorneys might issue reports if a grand jury decides not to indict. District attorneys will still have jurisdiction to prosecute cases of fatal shootings by police.

The governor’s plan has been welcomed by the Brooklyn and Manhattan district attorneys, who publicly announced their opposition to requests, made to Cuomo last month, to strip away power from local prosecutors to investigate and prosecute cases in police-involved civilian fatalities.

The president of the state’s District Attorneys Association, Frank Sedita, accepted the governor’s move for more transparency in grand jury proceedings

“We believe these changes proposed by the governor would improve the system and improve the public’s confidence in the system,” said Sedita. “Accordingly, the association enthusiastically looks forward to working closely with the executive branch and the Legislature to work out the details of the proposal.”

Cuomo’s move came in response to Garner’s chokehold death. The 43-year-old was approached by police for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes on Staten Island and was later placed in a chokehold, a maneuver banned by the NYPD in 1993.

Garner’s July 17, 2014, altercation with police was caught on camera, and he could be heard telling officers, “I can’t breathe,” 11 times. He died moments later. His death triggered waves of anti-police brutality protests nationwide, which became more intense after a grand jury declined to indict the officer last month.

In the wake of the non-indictment, two NYPD officers were assassinated by a mentally ill man as they sat in their patrol car in the Bedford–Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. Before carrying out the attack, the man used the hashtag “#RIPEricGarner” on Instagram. Police union leaders and retired NYPD officers blamed Mayor Bill de Blasio for the deaths, accusing him of fostering anti-NYPD sentiments by allowing “anti-police protests” to take place across the city.