Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Saturday that he supports statewide measures to ban police chokeholds and end the secrecy that shields the public from finding out about cops who are disciplined.
"No chokeholds. No chokeholds," Cuomo said during his morning briefing from Albany. "How many times do you have to learn the same lesson?"
Cuomo's comments come after a wave of protests following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who was handcuffed and died in Minneapolis after a police officer allegedly placed a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes. "It's also day 15 of the civil unrest after the murder of Mr. Floyd and now we're dealing with the two situations simultaneously. In many ways, they both compound each other. It's not just the protest, it's protests happening during the COVID situation.
Cuomo said he would support repealing the 1976 law that keeps police officers' disciplinary records secret from the public — one of the nation's strictest such laws.
The state law, section 50-a of the Civil Rights Law, shields police disciplinary records, personnel files and related material from public disclosure. The law prevents disclosure of cops’ histories even from criminal defendants — except in rare circumstances.
"We're going to act in the State of New York. Transparency of disciplinary records for police officers - what they call the repeal of 50-a. Which, by the way, what 50-a says is the records of police officers will no longer be exempt from disclosure so the records of police officers will be like every other public employee. They'll be like teachers; they'll be like CSEA employees or DC-37 employees in New York City. Their records will be available. If people make complaints about them, they will be in the record and they will be released. Ban chokeholds. We went through that with Eric Garner. How many times? But pass a law that says that." Cuomo said.
Opposition to the law has been seen at local protests. Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced his intent to sign a set of bills on criminal justice reform introduced by the New York State Legislature. The reforms will include:
- Allow for transparency of prior disciplinary records of law enforcement officers by reforming 50-a of the civil rights law;
- Banning chokeholds by law enforcement officers;
- Prohibiting false race-based 911 reports and making them a crime; and
- Designating the Attorney General as an independent prosecutor for matters relating to the deaths of unarmed civilians caused by law enforcement.
Gov. Cuomo went on to say, "This is a difficult time. People are angry. People are angry on multiple issues. And feelings are intense on multiple issues. So, in the midst of it, you have to find out what's right, rather than what's politically expedient. And I want to praise the Senate Leader and the Assembly Leader, the Speaker for their leadership. And I hope we have a good productive week this week. But this is not about what an individual state can do. It's actually broader than that. New York State will take this legislative action— and I hope it then becomes a model for other states to follow."