Rally for justice reform

March 17, 2015
Legislative Gazette

Community groups and families of those killed by police officers joined state legislators Tuesday outside the Senate Chamber to stress the importance of police accountability and transparency.

Support for a special prosecutor in any case involving an unarmed civilian killed by a police officer, which is currently supported by both the Assembly and the governor, was rabid among advocates at the rally Tuesday. Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposal mandates an independent monitor be present in these cases who would have the power to recommend a special prosecutor if an indictment is not handed down.

They are urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to go a step further and issue an executive order that establishes a special prosecutor within the attorney general's office for these cases as soon as possible.

"What do we want? Police reform! When do we want it now? Now!" was shouted frequently at the press conference on the third floor of the Capitol.

"Ask Cuomo to put a special prosecutor in place," said Iris Baez, the mother of Anthony Baez who was killed 20 years ago by an NYPD officer who placed Baez in a chokehold. "The district attorney makes a technical error and we pay the consequence."

Assemblyman Jose Rivera recalled appearing at a similar press conference 20 years ago where he opposed chokehold practice by the NYPD in light of Baez's son's death, an incident similar to the case of Eric Garner, but without video evidence.

"They could indict a ham sandwich but they could not indict this officer," said Rivera, further drawing attention to his support for the need for a special prosecutor.

"We just want justice," said Assemblyman Michael Blake, D-Bronx. "I am not wrong because of my skin color. I am not a criminal."

"Where peaceful means for justice fails, violence is inevitable," said Assemblyman Charles Barron, D-Brooklyn, who added that victims are more likely to be blamed than the culprit.

In addition, the governor's justice reform proposal also includes hiring more minorities in police departments, requiring police officers to wear body cameras to record interactions with civilians, allowing the district attorney to release closed grand jury information without approval from the judge, and placing an independent monitor in such cases who can recommend whether a special prosecutor is necessary.

Topics: Special Prosecutor