Advocates, lawmakers urge Cuomo to appoint special prosecutors

March 17, 2015
Josefa Velasquez
Capital NY

ALBANY—Dozens of advocates were joined by black and Latino lawmakers for a rally outside the Senate chambers in the Capitol on Tuesday, asking Governor Andrew Cuomo to appoint a special prosecutor when a civilian dies during police interaction.

Iris Baez, mother of Anthony Baez, who died in 1994 after an apparent chokehold during a police encounter, urged Cuomo to sign an executive order to appoint a special prosecutor as soon as possible.

“It's easy to stand in front of a camera and make a long-winded speech,” Senator Bill Perkins, a Democrat from Harlem, said after Baez concluded. “But it's very hard to stand in front of a camera as a mother of a victim of the kind of injustices taking place. A special prosecutor is not the answer-answer. It will not resurrect the dead, but it may prevent other types of unfortunate incidents from happening.”

During his annual State of the State address earlier this year, Cuomo proposed a seven-point plan to address criminal justice reforms, in the wake of the death of Eric Garner and protests over a grand jury's decision not to indict the officer who was restraining Garner when he died.

Among the recommendations, which included hiring more minorities as police officers and equipping officers with body cameras, Cuomo proposed an independent monitor who could, in turn, appoint a special prosecutor if a local district attorney fails to secure an indictment in the case of a civilian death.

“We need someone to come in from outside of the district and look at the evidence and make sure that the evidence is properly handled and that the case is handled judiciously as we can possibly make it,”said Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson, a Democrat who represents parts of the Bronx and Westchester.

Hassell-Thompson, who is the ranking Democrat on the Senate judiciary committee, said local district attorneys are too close to investigations to act independently.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman asked Cuomo for the power to investigate and prosecute cases in which police kill unarmed civilians, but the governor has yet to grant that request. 

As the deadline for the state budget looms, the Senate and the Assembly have yet come to an agreement on the governor's proposals.

Senate Republicans, who control the chamber, have had a more cautious approach to criminal justice reforms, holding hearings on the subject before they commit to any package of reforms. 

“We have so many of our colleagues that have amnesia right now,” said Assemblyman Michael Blake, a freshman from the Bronx. “They seem to forget what is going on. ... I'm tired. I'm sick and tired of black and brown young boys losing their lives for doing absolutely nothing wrong. I am not a criminal because I am black, I am not a thug because I am Latino. I'm not wrong because of my skin color.”

Assemblyman Charles Barron, an outspoken freshman from East New York, had grimmer words for the advocates.

“Warning, America. Warning, New York," he said. "When peaceful means for justice are not respected, violence seems inevitable. And when this nation explodes, don't blame the victims.”

CORRECTION: This story initially misstated the name of one of the speakers at the rally. She is Iris Baez, not Inez Baez.

Topics: Special Prosecutor