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Cuomo signs bills and ups the stakes for police reform


Governor Andrew Cuomo signed several police reform measures into law Friday, and says he’ll withhold state funding from local police departments if they do not submit proof that they have worked with their communities to reconfigure their forces. Guests at the ceremony included the mothers of young African American men killed in a police encounter, and the Reverend Al Sharpton.

The bills include repealing a section of the civil rights law known as 50-a, that was used to keep police disciplinary records secret. The state’s Attorney General will have a new unit to investigate allegations of police misconduct, and police chokeholds as a means of restraint will be banned.

“The New York State legislature has quickly passed the most aggressive reforms in the nation,” Cuomo said.

Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the first African-American woman and first woman to lead the chamber, calls it a “day of reckoning.”

“It’s a move to bring justice to a system that has long been unjust,” Stewart-Cousins said.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who is the first African-American Speaker, says the murder of George Floyd while in a chokehold by Minneapolis police brought about a moment that he wishes had come earlier, when others died in police encounters, including, Amadou Diallo in 1999, Sean Bell in 2006 and Eric Garner, in 2014.

“Watching a man being suffocated by strangulation, crying for his deceased mother, I think struck a nerve ,” Heastie said.

Cuomo is taking an additional step, in an executive order It requires every police force in the state by April 2021, to work with local governments and community leaders and complete a plan for better operations going forward. Cuomo says those who fail will be cut off from state aid.

“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,” said Cuomo. “We’re not going to be, as a state government, subsidizing improper police tactics. We’re not doing it.”

The new laws and the executive order was praised by long time civil rights advocate the Reverend Al Sharpton, who recounted how Cuomo, as HUD Secretary under President Bill Clinton in the 1990’s, attended a march organized by Sharpton when the cause was not politically popular.

“To say that every mayor must come up with a plan along these areas, or they would withhold state money, is a model for where we ought to be dealing with 21st century civil rights in this county,” Sharpton said. “This is a new level that all 49 other governors ought to look at.”

The executive order says issues that communities and their police departments must address include police use of force, crowd control practices, bias training and transparent methods for citizen complaints.

Karen DeWitt is Albany correspondent for WXXI News.