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State/Local

The Week Ahead

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 12/13/2014 - 5:07pm

'Tis the season, and Wednesday brings the state's version of holiday gifts: The 2014 Regional Economic Development Council awards ceremony at The Egg. The rest of the week brings more cheer — if you're into public hearings and that sort of thing. Take a look:

MONDAY

• Hospitality industry trade associations preview their testimony before the state Department of Labor Wage Board's public hearing at noon in The Well of the Legislative Office Building, Albany.

TUESDAY

• The state Gaming Facility Location Board will meet at 9:30 a.m. in Manhattan, but there will be no siting decisions. The board will likely quickly enter executive session to discuss the "financial history and employment history of particular persons or corporations" seeking to develop and operate a casino. Friday's meeting notice came less than a day after the Wall Street Journal published an in-depth story on the federal investigation of Och-Ziff Capital Management Group, connected through Och-Ziff Real Estate to the proposed Hard Rock Hotel and Casino on the Hudson River.

• The state Joint Commission on Public Ethics meets at 10:30 a.m. at their offices on Broadway. The meeting will be webcast at http://www.jcope.ny.gov

• The Assembly Social Services and Oversight, Analysis and Investigation committees hold a joint hearing on homeless service in New York state at 11 a.m. in Hamilton Hearing Room B, Legislative Office Building, Albany.

• Tipped workers hold a news conference at 11:15 a.m. outside the governor's office on the second floor of the Capitol in advance of a noon public hearing by the Department of Labor's wage board, which is considering a minimum wage increase for this segment of the workforce.

WEDNESDAY

• The Assembly Higher Education Committee holds a hearing on the state tuition assistance program at 10 a.m. in Roosevelt Hearing Room C, Legislative Office Building, Albany.

THURSDAY

• The Assembly Transportation Committee holds a hearing on the state Department of Transportation's two-year capital program at 10 a.m. in Roosevelt Hearing Room C, Legislative Office Building, Albany.

• The League of Women Voters of Albany County holds a holiday luncheon with state Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk at noon at the Normanside Country Club, 150 Salisbury Road, Bethlehem. Cost is $25. For reservations, contact Julie Elson at jelson510@earthlink. See www.lwvalbany.org for details.

FRIDAY

• The Assembly Economic Development, Job Creation, Commerce and Industry Committee holds a hearing on the 2014-2015 state budget's impact on the agencies and programs under the purview of the committee at 10 a.m. in Roosevelt Hearing Room C, Legislative Office Building, Albany.

• The Assembly Agriculture Committee holds an oversight hearing on the 2014-2015 state budget for the state Department of Agriculture and Markets at 11:30 a.m. in Hamilton Hearing Room B, Legislative Office Building, Albany.

— Casey Seiler, Matthew Hamilton and NYSNYS.com

Categories: State/Local

Cuomo gets bill for M/C workers

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 12/13/2014 - 12:07pm

Albany

For the second consecutive year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has received a bill that would establish a commission to consider raises for "management-confidential" public employees.

Cuomo vetoed a similar measure in 2013, saying that the issue should be taken up in the state budget process. It was not and the governor approved a 2 percent raise for M/C workers in June — the first increase since 2008 for most workers in this non-unionized classification.

The bill would set up a commission similar to one that sets salaries for New York judges.

While there's no guarantee the measure won't be vetoed again, Budget Director Robert Megna last month wrote to the Organization of Management/Confidential Employees to say that austerity measures in recent years had helped the state recover from the 2008 recession. The state is anticipating a surplus in the near future.

"The surplus now puts us in the position to consider how to address M/C compensation going forward," Megna wrote.

"We are exploring ways to address the issue in the context of the upcoming Executive Budget and, as always, we are working with all of the State agencies to ensure that they have the staff that they need to meet their agency's mission."

Categories: State/Local

Union removes council leader

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 12/13/2014 - 12:07pm

Albany

The executive board for the state's second-largest public labor union voted Friday to overturn an ethics hearing panel's controversial decision to clear a downstate council leader of wrongdoing for spending union money at stores and restaurants.

The executive board of the Public Employees Federation also voted to remove the council leader, Deborah J. Lee, from their union for at least three years as punishment. In addition, the board voted to ask PEF's umbrella union to conduct a forensic audit of the finances of the Rockland County PEF union that Lee has headed for many years.

PEF President Susan Kent had faced internal criticism for her handling of the matter, including allegations that PEF leaders asked the Rockland County district attorney's office not to probe the matter. Kent denied that anyone from PEF's headquarters asked the district attorney's office to let the union handle the matter internally.

Jane Briggs, a PEF spokeswoman, said Kent recognized the matter was a "very divisive issue" in PEF but "feels that she fulfilled her obligation to make sure all the processes were followed properly (and) that Ms. Lee got her due process.

"She is looking very forward to having the healing process begin and moving forward to do the important work that needs to be done for PEF members," Briggs added.

Tensions flared in the union recently when a five-member hearing panel appointed by Kent determined that Lee's alleged misuse of a union debit card did not amount to a misappropriation of funds.

The ruling shocked many members of PEF's executive board, including some who questioned whether the hearing process was flawed because the panel's members are politically aligned with Kent.

Lee headed a PEF council that represents nearly 800 government workers, including many nurses. Her fellow union members accused her of misusing a union debit card to make thousands of dollars in improper purchases, but PEF's Secretary-Treasurer Carlos Garcia said Lee needed to pay back only $5,100 in "questionable charges."

Members of Local 235, most of whom work at Rockland Psychiatric Center, challenged Garcia's ruling. They said their internal audit indicated Lee may have misspent more than $30,000 in improper expenditures, including regular purchases at grocery stores near her home.

Two PEF members from Rockland County presented the allegations to the Rockland County district attorney's office earlier this summer, but the office took no action. They said prosecutors told them that there was no criminal case because unnamed sources at PEF's headquarters said the charges were authorized, and PEF would deal with the matter internally.

Kent denied that exchange took place.

Internal PEF emails shared with the Times Union show that last December a PEF vice president, Wayne Spence, questioned why the case was not reported to a law enforcement agency. Spence, who has declined to comment, raised his concerns in a Dec. 16 email sent to Garcia, Kent and five other PEF officials.

A day later, Garcia responded in an email that the "guidance I was given was something to the effect that our obligation is to follow our internal process to first determine whether or not there are any 'irregularities.' ... That process is under way so it is premature and unnecessary to bring in law enforcement."

PEF's general counsel, Lisa King, then responded in an email that PEF's obligation was to recover the money. "There is no requirement to seek criminal prosecution," she wrote.

Questions about Lee's use of the union debit card surfaced last year when members of her local union began questioning her alleged failure to file detailed expense reports. In internal complaints filed with PEF, the local union officials said Lee refused to hold council meetings more than once a year and shared little or no paperwork on her expenses. They couldn't audit her expenditures, the union officials said, because Lee was the only person who could appoint an audit committee.

blyons@timesunion.com518-454-5547@blyonswriter

Categories: State/Local

Gaming board to meet Tuesday

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 12/13/2014 - 1:07am

Gaming site board will meet on Tuesday

ALBANY — The state's Gaming Facility Location Board, which had expected its next meeting to be its last, on Friday said it will convene on Tuesday morning in Manhattan.

The agenda suggests that the panel will go into executive session to consider "the financial history and employment history of particular persons or corporations" among the slate of applicants for up to four upstate casino licenses. The board has held similar executive sessions to weigh data from the 16 proposals that remain in the running — including Capital Region projects pitched in Rensselaer, East Greenbush, Schenectady and at Howe Caverns.

The location board, a subsidiary of the state Gaming Commission, still plans to hold its final meeting in Albany on Wednesday, Dec. 17.

— Staff report

Categories: State/Local

Around NY

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 12/12/2014 - 1:07am

Teachout's return on 'New York Now'

Don't miss this week's episode of "New York Now," an award-winning co-production of WMHT and the Times Union. Highlights include:

WMHT's Matt Ryan looks at headlines, including Zephyr Teachout's return to the Capitol to assail charter schools and the deep-pocketed political donors that back them.

TU state editor Casey Seiler looks at the legal tug of war between the State Liquor Authority and Empire Wine, the Colonie retailer that sued the regulator after being cited for shipping to consumers in states where such transactions are illegal.

The Reporters Roundtable has analysis from Karen DeWitt of New York State Public Radio and Jon Campbell of Gannett News Service on what the Eric Garner case means for the legislative session ahead, and the return of hydrofracking to the front burner.

"New York Now" airs at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. and 11 p.m. on WMHT Ch. 17.

Thruway Authority chairman resigns

ALBANY — The billionaire appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to oversee the Thruway Authority has resigned as the agency deals with the fallout from how it handled last month's massive snowstorm in western New York.

Howard Milstein, in a letter, said it's an appropriate time to step down as chairman and return to his other philanthropic and businesses interests, which include Manhattan real estate.

Milstein's resignation was effective Nov. 30. His departure from the unpaid position, came as the authority faces criticism over the four-day closure of 132 miles of the Thruway during the storm that shut down much of the Buffalo region the week of Nov. 17.

—Associated Press

Categories: State/Local

Cuomo calls for review of legal system

Albany Times/Union - Fri, 12/12/2014 - 1:07am

Albany

Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants a "comprehensive review" of the state justice system after a grand jury's refusal to indict an NYPD officer in the Eric Garner chokehold case.

In two interviews on Thursday, Cuomo said that while a federal civil rights investigation into Garner's death is needed in the short term, changes should be discussed in the upcoming legislative session to reverse widespread public distrust of the police and courts.

"I think we need a comprehensive look," he said on WCNY radio's "Capitol Pressroom." "This is about race relations. This is about police training and better training. This is about transparency. This is about accountability. This is about diversity in the police force. It's all of the above.

"It's about the grand jury process and possible reforms to the grand jury process," he continued. "It's about cameras on police. It's about the laws concerning a police officer and their right to effect (an) arrest. I think we should have a comprehensive review. ... The change of venue comes up, the DA's role and procedure comes up."

Asked if he would consider assigning special prosecutors to grand jury cases, Cuomo alluded to a Missouri grand jury's decision not to charge a white police officer in the shooting death of a black teenager and said, "I don't think there's going to be any one answer. This is not just Eric Garner. It's not just Missouri. It's bigger and broader and with a fundamental genesis."

Other elected officials were contemplating legislative fixes on Thursday, as protests were expected for a second night in New York City and elsewhere.

Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said she had asked her staff to look into the idea of requiring special prosecutors for cases involving police-related deaths of unarmed people. Critics say regular prosecutors are too close to law enforcement officials to properly handle such cases. Like Cuomo, Stewart-Cousins cited a need to review the entire legal process.

Assemblyman Karim Camara, chair of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus, agreed with the idea of considering special prosecutors, and said that changes in police procedures should also be discussed.

Others expressed conditional support for the current system.

"From my experience as a former prosecutor, the grand jury process works well most of the time," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chair John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope, in a statement. "If one's motive is to politicize and/or intimidate the grand jury process, then it does not work."

Garner's death was captured on video by a bystander and prompted calls for police to use body cameras. The NYPD said it will start a body camera pilot program on Friday. Other local departments in the state, including the Saratoga Springs Police Department, already use them. Stewart-Cousins said increased funding would put the cameras in more departments.

The last major overhaul of the state justice system was the repeal of the final vestiges of the Rockefeller Drug Laws in 2009, when legislative leaders agreed midway through the session to change prison sentences imposed on drug offenders and to expand drug treatment programs. The changes concerned penalties that had been roundly criticized as disproportionately affecting minorities.

Camara, a Brooklyn Democrat, said a legislative agenda targeting the justice system wouldn't be assembled in haste, or rushed into a special session that might take place sometime this month.

"We're not just doing it in response to the death of Eric Garner," Camara said. "We have not taken sufficient steps since the death of Amadou Diallo, since the death of Sean Bell, since the death of Ramarley Graham, since the death of Trayvon Martin. We have not taken significant steps since these deaths.

" ... Even if we did something today, we're still late," Camara said. "Now we're playing catchup to reform both criminal justice systems and law enforcement systems."

mhamilton@timesunion.com • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Scott Ritter paroled in online sex case

Albany Times/Union - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 1:07am

Albany

Scott Ritter, the former United Nations weapons inspector who was arrested and imprisoned for unlawful contact with a minor, has returned to Bethlehem.

Ritter was paroled from state prison in Pennsylvania in September. A call to his home wasn't returned on Thursday.

A vocal critic of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Ritter has resumed his trenchant writing on U.S. policy in the Middle East: He has authored at least three online articles for Huffington Post since October, including one warning that the creation of a U.S.-backed "Free Syrian Army" represents a "figment of American creative thinking."

Ritter, 53, was an intelligence officer in the Marine Corps and then a weapons inspector for the U.N.

Upon leaving the U.N., he criticized the organization for not enforcing disarmament in Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War.

But as the U.S. was preparing to invade in 2003, Ritter gained prominence for his contention that the country had no real weapons of mass destruction.

Later the same year, Ritter made headlines when news surfaced that he had been caught in a police sting in 2001.

Police said that he had tried to lure a 16-year-old girl — actually a Colonie undercover officer posing online — to a Burger King in Menands. That case was later adjourned in contemplation of dismissal — essentially dropped — and the record was sealed. At the time, Ritter suggested that the case was a smear campaign designed to silence him.

Less than a decade after that arrest, Ritter found himself in similar legal trouble.

He was convicted in 2011 in Monroe County, Pa., after Barrett Township police presented evidence that in 2009 he had masturbated in front of a webcam being viewed by an undercover officer who was posing as a 15-year-old girl.

Ritter reportedly went by the handle "delmarm4fun."

Though the case dragged on — a New York appellate division court at one point ruled that some of the evidence was inadmissible — Ritter was convicted on six counts, including felony unlawful contact with a minor. Sentenced to up to five and half years, he was sent to Laurel Highlands state prison in Somerset County, Pa., in March 2012.

Records show that the Pennsylvania parole board in June concluded Ritter had demonstrated positive behavior; had a "motivation for success" and had completed the programs needed for release.

Under the terms of his parole, Ritter can't possess weapons, must refrain from alcohol, and has agreed to drug testing and "outpatient sex offender treatment."

He can't have contact with anyone younger than 18 without approval from parole officials.

rkarlin@timesunion.com518-454-5758@RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

No personhood for Tommy

Albany Times/Union - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 1:07am

Albany

Tommy the chimpanzee is not a legal person in the eyes of a state appeals court.

The Appellate Division of state Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously affirmed a lower court decision to deny granting a writ of habeas corpus for the 26-year-old ape, who has been living in Montgomery County.

Judges generally issue writs of habeas corpus to demand that a prisoner be produced to determine if the person's imprisonment is legal.

On Oct. 8, Steven Wise, a Florida attorney who heads the Nonhuman Rights Project, made the argument to five appellate justices in Albany that courts have recognized ships, corporations, holy books and even a river as "persons" who can sue or be sued. And he argued that Tommy was a prisoner in his own home.

Wise never accused Tommy's owners, Patrick and Diane Lavery of Gloversville, of violating any laws, but brought the court action against the couple arguing that Tommy was being held against his will in a cage in a warehouse-type building. Wise argued that no chimpanzee would ever choose to live in the conditions in which Tommy is kept. The animal suffers as much in solitary confinement as would a human being, Wise contended.

On Thursday, the justices disagreed.

"Needless to say, unlike human beings, chimpanzees cannot bear any legal duties, submit to societal responsibilities or be held legally accountable for their actions," wrote Presiding Justice Karen Peters, who was backed by Justices John Lahtinen, Elizabeth Garry, Robert Rose and Michael Lynch. "In our view, it is this incapability to bear any legal responsibilities and societal duties that renders it inappropriate to confer upon chimpanzees the legal rights — such as the fundamental right to liberty protected by the writ of habeas corpus — that have been afforded to human beings."

Peters left little doubt where she stood.

"(Wise) requests that this court enlarge the common-law definition of 'person' in order to afford legal rights to an animal. We decline to do so, and conclude that a chimpanzee is not a 'person' entitled to the rights and protections afforded by the writ of habeas corpus," she wrote. "Not surprisingly, animals have never been considered persons for the purposes of habeas corpus relief, nor have they been explicitly considered as persons or entities capable of asserting rights for the purpose of state or federal law."

The Laverys could not be reached.

Wise told the Times Union he has already started to appeal the appellate ruling to the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, which would need to agree to hear the case.

"We think the (appellate) court made some serious legal errors," Wise said in a phone interview. "We think we have a reasonable chance of getting it reversed."

Natalie Prosin, executive director of the Nonhuman Rights Project, said the Appellate Division wrongly denied the writ of habeas corpus and ignored the "fact that the common law is supposed to change in light of new scientific discoveries, changing experiences, and changing ideas of what is right or wrong."

Prosin and Wise said the court's decision contradicts a 1972 decision in the case of Fordham University law professor Robert Byrn, an anti-abortion activist who sued he New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation on behalf of all fetuses scheduled for abortion. Byrn argued that unborn children were human beings.

The court's decision, which preceded Roe v. Wade and upheld abortion rights, stated that "upon according legal personality to a thing the law affords it the rights and privileges of a legal person."

Wise noted the decision said fetuses were human but not necessarily persons, which he said undermines the Appellate Division ruling Thursday.

"We, of course, never argued that Tommy was a human being because it's clear that the Court of Appeals says that being a human being is not enough to be a person," Wise said. "In fact, it doesn't have anything to do with being a person — and that being a person has to do with various public policy arguments."

The three-member board of the Nonhuman Rights Project includes Wise, his wife, Gail Price-Wise, and renowned primatologist Jane Goodall.

On Dec. 3, 2013, Wise argued on Tommy's behalf before Justice Joseph Sise in Montgomery County. Wise asked that Tommy be sent to a special sanctuary in Florida — Save the Chimps — which offers a lake, islands and chimpanzees, as well as conditions as close to the wild as can be replicated in the U.S.

You make a very strong argument," Sise said. "However, I do not agree with the argument only insofar as (habeas corpus) applies to chimpanzees. Good luck with your venture. I'm sorry I can't sign the order, but I hope you continue. As an animal lover, I appreciate your work."

In October he made the case before the justices who appeared highly skeptical of his arguments.

"A legal person is a legal concept," he said. "It is not a biological concept."

Wise is making similar arguments in Niagara Falls, Long Island and in other states on behalf of chimpanzees, as well as elephants. On Tuesday, Wise argued before an appellate court in Rochester arguing for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a chimpanzee named Kiko.

rgavin@timesunion.com518-434-2403@RobertGavinTU

Categories: State/Local

In Support of Council Efforts to Diversify City Schools

Gotham Gazette - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 12:00am

Council Chambers during Thursday's packed hearing (photo: @MarkLevineNYC)

There is no more important factor than classroom diversity to assure quality education and a just society for our children. I commend the New York City Council for its courage in addressing this issue since we know that actions to correct segregation are almost as painful and politically dangerous as a failure to act.

Recently, I have discussed the need to adjust the Department of Education's policies around the placement of so-called "over-the-counter" students; single-test admissions to the city's elite high schools; and the school choice system.

On Thursday, I testified at the City Council, expressing wholehearted support for legislation to require the DOE report each year on diversity in the city's schools (Int. 511) and calling on the DOE to officially establish diversity as a priority in admissions policies and practices (Res. 453). These are necessary steps to focus the Department of Education's attention on schools and school processes that limit diversity. Every time a selection procedure fails to provide for diversity of academic, economic, geographic, racial, linguistic, gender, and ethnic populations, the DOE should have to justify not just the reasons for disproportionate inclusion of certain groups but why others are excluded.

We know from studies of student progress that all gain from exposure to difference. Even if, in a given school, test scores go up or down, individual student scores do not decline and the humans behind those scores infinitely profit from diversity's cognitive, affective, and social benefits. If the administration is serious about reducing pressure on test scores, that will have the beneficial effect of reducing pressure on principals to pre-select high scoring students.

When we ignore the importance of diversity in the name of privilege or identity, we take a step backward in fulfilling the American promise. Current crises of racial polarization, income inequality, and sexual predation are tied to the limited opportunities and demographic isolation inherent in segregated school settings. Int. 511 and Res. 453 put the Council squarely on record promoting those goals.

In qualifying my support for the third piece of legislation at hand on Thursday (Res. 442), I note my long and vigorous involvement in the federal complaint against the current Specialized High School exam which has a clear, shameful discriminatory impact against Black and Latino students.

The test also fails to meet modern standards of merit-based admission practiced by other selective high schools and colleges nationally. The exam's single great appeal is that it sorts quickly and numerically, inducing a test centered culture mired in racial bigotry. But to my mind the answer is not to amend New York State Education Law 2590-h(1)(b), which requires the test admissions practice, but to repeal it.

Why should the State Legislature be dictating selection procedures at all, setting in stone criteria which will always be, at best, imperfect? I prefer to devolve selection procedures to the city, without this strange legislative strangle-hold established by Calandra-Hecht in 1971.

***
David C. Bloomfield is Professor of Educational Leadership at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

Categories: State/Local

Renewed Supportive Housing Legislation is a Must

Gotham Gazette - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 12:00am

Staff from Goddard's Manhattan Outreach Consortium at the NY/NY Press Conference

On December 8, a press conference was held on the steps of City Hall on behalf of the Campaign 4 NY/NY Housing. Undeterred by the cold, housing advocates, politicians, and formerly homeless individuals gathered to make their voices heard and to show support while City Council Member Steve Levin introduced a resolution to urge the Mayor and Governor to sign a new NY/NY agreement that would create additional units of supportive housing over the next ten years. To date, both Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo have stated that they would support a NY/NY IV, but neither has taken the next step to sign an agreement.

Why do we need additional units of supportive housing?

NYC homelessness is at a record high and Goddard Riverside Community Center believes that housing is a human right. It is something that each New Yorker deserves and we must ensure access.

The number one cause of homelessness is not unemployment, it is not issues related to substance abuse, nor is it ramifications of mental health problems. The number one cause of homelessness in our city, and indeed our nation, is a lack of affordable housing.

NY/NY III, the 2005 City-State agreement that provided 9,000 units of supportive housing over ten years, expires next year. A new initiative, NY/NY IV, is necessary to ensure that the creation of supportive housing does not stop. Demand has certainly not stopped. According to the Campaign 4 NY/NY Housing, for every six New Yorkers hoping (and eligible) to get a home where he or she can have a stable place to rest, to shower, to prepare a meal for his family, only one will be granted access to that home. While this number is shamefully high, it will only continue to rise if a new agreement to build additional units of supportive housing is not signed soon.

For those more swayed by economic rather than social costs, supportive housing has been proven to be a cost saving measure at a time when city and state budgets are already tight. Homeless individuals utilize emergency services, hospitals, and the criminal justice system at higher rates than those who are not homeless. When the cost of using the shelter system is also factored in, the Campaign 4 NY/NY cites that placing an individual in supportive housing saves over $10,000 per year. By this logic, place ten people in supportive housing and save over $100,000. This model has also proven to be a sustainable one that will continue to save the city and state money as people remain housed. Of all of the clients placed into permanent housing through Goddard Riverside and the Manhattan Outreach Consortium in 2013, a remarkable 92% remain housed after one year.

As the adage goes, the measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable members. We've got some work to do.

***
Allison McCullough is a Program Director with Goddard Riverside Community Center's Manhattan Outreach Consortium. On Twitter: @goddardriv

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

Categories: State/Local

Reform Agendas Behind Garner Protests Emerge

Gotham Gazette - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 12:00am

Protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge (photo: Michael Nagle/European Pressphoto Agency)

You can only take to the streets in protest for so long before people start asking, 'what is it that you want exactly?'

And so it has gone with the rallies and marches in response to the non-indictment of Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo by a Staten Island grand jury called to consider charges against him in the July 17 chokehold death of Eric Garner.

Everyone knew that the loud immediate response was based on disapproval of the Garner decision, but as the protests continued toward what has now been a week, the inevitable questions emerged. Beyond "justice" for Garner, some semblance of which is now left to federal and internal NYPD investigations, it was not readily clear what concrete steps protesters were calling on officials to take.

On Wednesday, clarity arrived in the form of two very similar lists of demands put out by two coalitions of reform groups who have been at the forefront of organizing protests.

One group, operating under the rallying cry of "This Stops Today" (after words spoken by Garner before his death) is actually made up of organizations known as Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) that have been calling for systemic criminal justice reform for years. On Wednesday, the This Stops Today movement announced the start of an "11 Days of Action" initiative (11 being the number of times Garner cried "I can't breathe" as he was dying with Pantaleo and other police officers on top of and around him). It also released an 11-point list of demands.

Some of the agenda is Garner-specific, but most aspects, such as an end to Broken Windows policing, are more broad and deal with long-term criminal justice reform issues. In a press release, This Stops Today explained that it aims to "intensify pressure on Mayor de Blasio, NYPD Commissioner Bratton, and other officials to implement real police reform and accountability measures."

Even before these lists were published, most who've been paying attention knew that calls to end Broken Windows policing were central to the critiques of the NYPD exacerbated by the Garner case. Broken Windows, for which Bratton is an apostle, dictates a strict focus on preventing and responding to low-level crimes because, the theory goes, doing so prevents major crimes. Garner was known to illegally sell single cigarettes and had had many run-ins with the police before the one that ended his life.

"Mayor de Blasio should end broken windows, and other discriminatory and abusive policing practices," reads part of point six of the This Stops Today agenda.

Meanwhile, Justice League NYC, another coalition responding actively to the Garner tragedy, released its own 10-point plan Wednesday at a high-profile event on the steps of City Hall that featured bold-face names such as Russell Simmons, Common, and Nas. The fifth point in Justice League's agenda reads "An immediate end to NYPD's "Broken Windows" Policing, which overwhelmingly targets black and brown communities with aggressive quality of life policing and enforcement tactics that could escalate to excessive force as in the case of Eric Garner."

Though they are not said to be directly coordinating, the two movements agree on quite a bit. Along with calling for an end to Broken Windows policing, both demand accountability for Pantaleo and other officers involved in Garner's death; an expedited federal investigation into the incident; the use of a state-level special prosecutor for similar cases; and city passage of the Right to Know Act. [see the two lists of demands side-by-side below]

The groups are calling on de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to support the Right to Know Act, two bills that would mandate certain communications from police officers when interacting with civilians in specific circumstances. De Blasio has not expressed support for the legislation and Mark-Viverito, who supported it in the past, has also demurred. No city council committee hearing has yet been set for initial vetting of the bills.

To be sure, de Blasio and Bratton have taken steps to alter policing, reduce arrests, and curb stop-and-frisks. They are putting the police force through retraining with a focus on bettering police-community relations and are implementing a body camera program to improve police conduct and increase accountability. More money and effort is also being put toward mental health treatment.

The mayor and commissioner argue that the NYPD can continue an assertive policing style while doing so without racial bias and while improving relations with the communities officers serve. Advocates want more.

Those calling for greater change cite stats that show racial disparities in arrests, stops, and incidences of police brutality. They want, as Justice League NYC puts it in its sixth point, "An end the criminalization of young people in the NY school system." Citing the so-called "school-to-prison pipeline," they recall that de Blasio "made this a hallmark of his historic campaign, but has yet to adopt necessary reforms." The City is due to release a new school discipline code soon, but advocates have been waiting months.

And, of course, as the Garner case has brought front and center, these reformers and protesters want more accountability for officers who injure or kill civilians. To this end, the City Council announced the first two steps in its policy response to the "Eric Garner incident" on Wednesday, including increasing opportunities for New Yorkers to file complaints against the NYPD.

State officials also come into play, with groups calling on the governor, attorney general, and state Legislature to take action. Governor Andrew Cuomo has promised a full review of the state's criminal justice system, and there is already much discussion and a couple of bills related to changing grand jury transparency laws and, more controversially, prosecutorial jurisdiction in cases where police officers kill.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has requested that Cuomo give him the power to prosecute cases when police officers kill unarmed civilians, something advocates support and the governor has said he's reviewing. Legislators have outlined bills to create a Special Prosecutor for these purposes, which Schneiderman and advocates support, but local district attorneys do not.

Police union leaders have been livid, expressing anger over what they see as a lack of support from elected officials such as de Blasio and Mark-Viverito, and unfair vilification by reformers.

As thousands have flooded streets, stopped traffic, and shut down bridges and tunnels, the NYPD has taken a largely passive approach under Bratton and de Blasio's direction, providing extensive leeway for protest activity that is technically illegal at times.

Collective action will continue, groups will apply further pressure for change in the names of Garner and others who have come before and after. The results of the NYPD's internal investigation into the actions of Pantaleo and his fellow officers will be coming. Other cases will be litigated. The fight for reform will march on.

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
@TweetBenMax
email: bmax@gothamgazette.com

 

This Stops Today

 

Below are 11 demands to #ChangetheNYPD from organizations involved in #11Days of Action:

Justice League NYC


WE DEMAND THE FOLLOWING:

  1. Mayor de Blasio should insist on full accountability for all NYPD officers responsible for killing Eric Garner and Akai Gurley and all officers who brutalize New Yorkers.

  1. The immediate firing of Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo and all officers responsible for the death of Eric Garner.

  1. Department of Justice should convene grand juries to federally indict officers responsible for the killing of Eric Garner, as well as other NYC cases such as Ramarley Graham.

  1. The State of NY will appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate and prosecute all criminal cases involving the use of force, including deadly force, by police officers, and in particular, immediately appoint a Special Prosecutor in the wrongful death of Eric Garner.

  1. Governor Cuomo should issue an executive order directing the Office of the Attorney General to serve as special prosecutor in cases involving civilians killed by police officers.

  1. The City and State of New York Draft Legislation to clarify the rules of engagement between the police and the community to make illegal the use of lethal force, including the chokehold, except to protect against serious, imminent physical injury to the police officers or the public.

  1. Governor Cuomo should veto legislation (S7801/A9853) that would allow New York police unions to make police disciplinary policies subject to contract negotiations.

  1. NYC create a comprehensive NYPD Training Program for ALL officers - to include crisis intervention, harm reduction and de-escalation skills - to eliminate racial bias and police brutality.

  1. New York City should end the NYPD Commissioner’s exclusive authority over disciplinary decisions for officers in cases of abuse, misconduct, excessive and deadly force.

  1. An immediate end to NYPD's "Broken Windows" Policing, which overwhelmingly targets black and brown communities with aggressive quality of life policing and enforcement tactics that could escalate to excessive force as in the case of Eric Garner.

  1. Mayor de Blasio should end broken windows, and other discriminatory and abusive policing practices. This includes enforcement of low-level offenses, discriminatory arrests for violations (non-criminal offenses) and enforcement of possession of small amounts of marijuana; blanket surveillance of Muslim communities; and political activists.

  1. An end the criminalization of young people in the NY school system.  The “school-to-prison pipeline” targets primarily youth of color and has created a generation of youth growing up incarcerated. Mayor de Blasio has made this a hallmark of his historic campaign, but has yet to adopt necessary reforms.

  1. Mayor de Blasio should work with the City Council to pass the Right to Know Act to protect New Yorkers’ rights and improve daily interactions between NYPD officers and New Yorkers.

  1. US Attorney General Eric Holder expedite the federal investigation into the death of Eric Garner.

  1. Court-ordered stop-and-frisk Monitor Zimroth and Mayor de Blasio should give organizations led by and for communities impacted by discriminatory and abusive policing a formal role in NYPD reform.

  1. Immediate passage of the Right to Know Act.

  1. The Department of Justice should launch an investigation into broken windows policing and the use of force policies and practices of the NYPD.

  1. NY State and all localities engage in complete transparency in regards to profiling, and search and seizure practices, and to provide all public data on other police practices including summonses, arrests and detention practices.

  1. NYPD Inspector General Philip Eure should issue a report on use of deadly and other excessive force, to include review of disciplinary outcomes in these incidents.

  1. We call on Mayor Bill de Blasio, Governor Andrew Cuomo and NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to meet with Justice League NYC in order to explore all avenues to make viable implementation of the above demands as immediately and efficiently as possible.

  1. The NYPD should publish quarterly and annual reports of summons and misdemeanor arrests, as well as use of force, based on race, gender, age, precinct, and other demographic data.

 

 

 

 

Categories: State/Local
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