Families of New Yorkers Killed by Police, Community Organizations, Mark the First Day Special Prosecutor Law Takes Effect
Today marks the enactment of the hard-fought law to codify and strengthen the special prosecutor’s office in New York State that investigates all killings by police and deaths in police custody. The law passed in June 2020 as a part of the Safer New York Act a package of bills championed by Communities United for Police Reform’s (CPR) members and partners, including families of New Yorkers killed by police.
The law, that takes effect today (A1601/S2574), strengthens the special prosecutor’s office, centralizing jurisdiction of most killings by police in the state attorney general’s office, providing greater transparency into investigations, and removing the inherent conflict of interest created when local District Attorneys’ offices are empowered to investigate and prosecute police officers with whom they closely work. The passage of this law, and its enactment, are due to the tireless organizing of communities to end police secrecy and demand police accountability.
In 2015, CPR members and partners including families of New Yorkers killed by police such as Iris Baez, mother of Anthony Baez; Constance Malcolm, mother of Ramarley Graham; Hawa Bah, mother of Mohamed Bah; Valerie Bell, mother of Sean Bell; Kadiatou Diallo, mother of Amadou Diallo; and Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, ran the campaign that forced Governor Cuomo to issue executive order 147 initially establishing the special prosecutor.
Below are community groups and families’ responses to the enactment of the law codifying the office of the special prosecutor today:
Loyda Colon (they/them), Executive Director of the Justice Committee: “The enactment of this Special Prosecutor Law today is historic: It is the result of years of statewide organizing with our multi-sector coalition and would not have happened without the leadership of families who’ve lost loved ones to police, some of whom - like the mothers of Anthony Baez and Amadou Diallo - have been calling for a special prosecutor for decades. We fought for this law to address the conflict of interest district attorneys have when prosecuting cops, who they work with every day. Our aim was to ensure transparency and better treatment of families by locating all police killings and deaths in custody in the jurisdiction of one office that does not rely on local police departments, versus that of many separate District Attorneys, with their individual whims, biases, and political ambitions. These goals will only be realized if the current and future attorneys general conduct transparent, thorough, timely, and impartial investigations of ALL cases of police killings and deaths in custody and treat families with respect and compassion. We will be watching and will organize to ensure this, just as we fought Governor Cuomo to get this bill passed and won."
Constance Malcolm, mother of Ramarley Graham: “It has been a long hard road to get to this moment, but the families never stopped fighting. There were many years Governor Cuomo tried to undermine us and pass weak special prosecutor legislation, but we organized against this and won. Now we are going to keep fighting to ensure the Special Prosecutor Law gets implemented right. We are putting Attorney General James and all attorneys general in the future on notice: The families will not settle for sloppy or snail-paced investigations that are biased towards the police or get closed without prosecutions of officers who have unjustly taken New Yorkers’ lives.”
Iris Baez, mother of Anthony Baez: “The implementation of the Special Prosecutor Law is a victory for the families who’ve lost loved ones to the police and all the organizations that fought for this legislation. It’s also a victory for our communities and all New Yorkers. We, the families, call upon the Attorney General to implement and enforce it to the fullest extent. Don’t just rubber-stamp this law and then cut corners. All killings by police need to be investigated thoroughly and impartially.”
Hawa Bah, mother of Mohamed Bah: “When my 28-year-old honor student son, Mohamed Bah, was murdered in his own home it led me to fight on the frontlines for police accountability, including for the special prosecutor law. The District Attorney did not do their job properly in Mohamed's case. That is why I fought to pass this law - it was for Mohamed's legacy and so future generations do not have to face what my family faced. The Attorney General should make sure there is full transparency in all police killing cases. All officers involved in unjustly killing New Yorkers should be prosecuted.”
Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner: “The mothers of Anthony Baez and Amadou Diallo have been calling for a special prosecutor for police killings since the 90s. Building upon their work, in the wake of my son's murder, I joined with other New York families who have lost loved ones to the police to organize for and win the special prosecutor executive order in 2015. We have been fighting to improve upon it ever since. Thanks to thousands of New Yorkers rising up in the streets last year, the leadership of the families, and the many organizations that have been standing with us, today New York has the Special Prosecutor Law - which we must now fight to ensure is fully implemented.”
Valerie Bell, mother of Sean Bell: “The families have worked hard for this Special Prosecutor Law. It’s an important step but there is much more to do because the system still fails us. We need the Attorney General to ensure this law works for the change we need for accountability and transparency.”
Kadiatou Diallo, mother of Amadou Diallo: “We are relieved to have this bill become a law for fighting police violence against New Yorkers because that’s what all the organizations and families have been demanding. Our children’s lives were robbed but because of all our efforts, their legacies will live on. I sincerely thank all the organizations who sponsored this effort and, more importantly, the families who advocated for this to happen.”
Sala Cyril, Lead Organizer, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement: “The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement has been demanding independent prosecution of the police who harm our communities for decades. We thank our many coalition partners who have fought with us winning this important step. We recognize this is just one component of our broader multilayered demand to divest from policing and mass incarceration, while investing in real health and safety for all New Yorkers. As we move forward, accountability mechanisms like this must be combined with efforts to completely reimagine and transform public safety.”
Juan Cartagena, President & General Counsel, LatinoJustice PRLDEF: “For too long police have operated with impunity in New York and across the county when they harm and kill people of color. Accountability for every actor in the criminal legal system is long overdue. This includes police who harm, mayors who hire police chiefs, judges who rule by rote, and prosecutors who work with police on a daily basis and then are called upon to investigate and charge them when they violate criminal codes. Too many families with loved ones long buried, have been denied transparency and accountability when grand juries that otherwise return indictments whenever prosecutors seek them, fail to indict police who harm. We welcome the creation of the special prosecutor to bring some accountability to New York’s criminal legal system.”
Adilka Pimentel, Lead Organizer, Make the Road New York: “The enactment of the special prosecutor law is the result of years of tireless organizing led by the mothers and families of New Yorkers murdered by the NYPD and communities most impacted by police brutality. Our youth leaders led this fight for our organization because they know future generations will not be safe from police abuse without organizing. This is a step towards more accountability and transparency, but we know there is a lot more work to do to end police brutality and we will continue to fight!”
In 2015, family members of New Yorkers killed by police, and Communities United for Police Reform’s members and partners, secured the establishment of a special prosecutor’s office in New York State to investigate and prosecute killings by police by executive order 147. Following the establishment of the special prosecutor by executive order, CPR members and partners continued to fight to protect and strengthen this office, after consecutive proposals were made to roll back the executive order during the state budget process every year between 2016 and 2019.
Last year, in June of 2020, the NY State Assembly and Senate passed the Special Prosecutor Bill (97 to 47 in the Assembly, 45 to 17 in the Senate) as part of the Safer New York Act. The special prosecutor bill came from CPR members and partners, in consultation with the families whose loved ones had been killed by the NYPD and its lead sponsors were State Senator Jamaal Bailey and State Assembly Member Nick Perry.
About Communities United for Police Reform
Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) is an unprecedented campaign to end discriminatory policing practices in New York, and to build a lasting movement that promotes public safety and reduces reliance on policing. CPR runs coalitions of over 200 local, statewide and national organizations, bringing together a movement of community members, lawyers, researchers and activists to work for change. The partners in this campaign come from all 5 boroughs, from all walks of life and represent many of those most unfairly targeted by the NYPD.Topics: Safer NY Act Special Prosecutor