Last Friday, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the “Say Their Name” Reform Agenda, a slate of bills that include the repealing of 50-a, banning chokeholds by law enforcement officers, prohibiting false race-based 911 calls, and designating the attorney general as an independent prosecutor for civilian deaths.
At the bill-signing ceremony, Cuomo called the legislation the “most aggressive reforms in the nation.”
“Police reform is long overdue, and Mr. Floyd’s murder is just the most recent murder,” he said. “This is not just about Mr. Floyd’s murder. It's about being here before, many, many times before.”
Repealing section 50-a of the Civil Rights Law means police officers, firefighters and correction officers will no longer have their disciplinary records shielded from the public.
Other bills in the reform agenda include clarifying that a person not under arrest has the right to record police activity, establishing the Law Enforcement Misconduct Investigative Office within the Department of Law, requiring courts to compile and publish demographic data of low-level offenses and affirming New Yorkers’ right to medical attention while in custody.
“Year after year after year, black people in the United States have suffered from racist police brutality,” State Senator Zellnor Myriesaid. “Too many families have had their loved ones slain at the hands of police, only to see the same police who robbed their family of life walk away scot-free.”
The central Brooklyn lawmaker noted that he attended a peaceful protest against police brutality at the Barclays Center this month where he was shoved, struck, pepper-sprayed and ultimately handcuffed by the police.
Myrie said the deaths of black men “loomed large” in his mind while he was attacked. He thought about that experience when he voted in favor of the legislative package.
“This is truly a watershed moment,” he said. “With these bills, we begin the process of healing.”
Assemblywoman Diana Richardson was also pepper-sprayed at that same protest. One of her bills makes it a civil rights violation to call 911 based on a person’s race, national origin, gender, religion and other protected classes.
The most recent example was Amy Cooper, a white woman who called 911 on a black birdwatcher in Central Park after he had asked her to comply with dog-leashing rules.
This piece of legislation “had laid dormant in Albany for years,” Richardson said, but was finally signed into law by Cuomo on Friday.
“No longer will people be able to use the 911 system to endanger others without consequence,” she said.
State Senator Michael Gianaris added that the package of legislation represents the “first steps to acknowledge and begin to fix our broken system of law enforcement.”
“While there is more work to be done,” he said, “I am proud New York’s legislature is the first to act in response to the latest of many tragedies our country has seen.”
On Friday, Cumo also signed an executive order to require all local governments and police departments to develop a plan that reinvents and modernizes police strategies and programs.
Police departments will be tasked with formulating a plan that addresses the use of force by officers, crowd management, community policing, bias awareness, de-escalation, restorative justice and community-based outreach.
The plans must include a “transparent citizen complaint disposition procedure” as well, Cuomo said. If the proposals are not offered for public comment and enacted into local law by April 1, police departments will not be eligible for state funding.
“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,” he said. “We’re not going to be a state government subsidizing improper police tactics.”
Cuomo added that the breach of trust between community and police must be “restored and repaired.”
“The only way to do it is to get in a room, get to a table, let everyone say their piece,” he said, “and let’s figure it out community by community all across the state.”
Reverend Al Sharpton praised the executive order as a model that has “raised the bar on how we deal with policing.”
“This is a new level that all other 49 governors ought to look at,” he said.