Pols hold virtual criminal justice town hall and want 50-A repealed

Assemblyman Michael Blake and Assemblywoman Nathalia Fernandez held criminal justice town hall with Queens Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz.
Photo by Silvio Pacifico

With the recent killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of the police and countless others in the past, elected officials and citizens want cops held accountable.

On Thursday, Assemblyman Michael Blake and Assemblywomen Catalina Cruz and Nathalia Fernandez held a virtual criminal justice town hall, where they reflected on the past 10 days of riots, violence and the Floyd murder.

“We have a responsibility right now to change this world,” Blake said emotionally. “Stop looting, burning and busting up our stores. You go back 99 years in Tulsa, they didn’t just kill black people, they burned our businesses.”

The pols stressed the need to repeal 50-A, which is scheduled to be voted on next week.

On June 1, 85organizations and elected officials sent a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo asking him to pass Senator Jamaal Bailey and Assemblyman Dan O’Donnell’s bill to fully repeal 50-A, which would allow the public to see the personnel records of police officers, firefighters and corrections officers.

“The blatant police violence experienced by New Yorkers is unacceptable. The continued police secrecy in New York enables that police violence and allows abusive officers to continue to act with impunity,” the letter stated. “We should be able to look up the misconduct and disciplinary records of every officer who mass-pepper sprayed, assaulted, blatantly covered their badge numbers and engaged in other abuse of authority and violence against New Yorkers.

Instead, we are left in the dark and abusive police officers are given special rights and shielded because of 50-A. The time to pass a full repeal of 50-A is now.”

Assemblyman Blake was quite emotional when speaking. While Blake did not condone the rioting and looting and said he wanted people to be peaceful, he felt acts of injustice towards people of color by law enforcement needed to end.

“They’re sick and tired of black people being killed,” he said.

The assemblyman said the last 10 days were some of the worst he had ever witnessed. That is why he, Cruz and Fernandez and many of their colleagues want 50-A repealed.

“If you are going to hire someone you should probably know if they made mistakes in terms of that career,” Blake said. “The mayor had the audacity to say cops showed discretion even though they drove cars into the crowd.”

Blake spoke about his firsthand experience with racism. He recalled that in high school a police officer drove in the opposite direction on Moshulu Parkway and made him and his friend get out of the car because he heard them yelling.

In 2016 he was thrown against a gate by a cop and was only let go because another officer recognized him.

“I want you to respect me and my brothers,” he said.

Fernandez echoed his concerns.

In 2018 she introduced legislation that would make an officer criminally negligent if someone died while in their custody, but it was deemed too harsh. Now, in the wake of George Floyd, she has reintroduced it and hopes it gains more traction.

“It’s about accountability,” Fernandez said. “Our officers will act different. They’ll try to save our lives and not end our lives.”

Activist Marvin Mayfield, who was a key advocate in ending cash bail, was the guest speaker. Mayfield thanked the elected for inviting him and said the city and country are in unprecedented times.

He called on Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio to come together and bring peace to New York.

However, he stressed the issues of people of color being targeted are nothing new, and that the issues are more visible now because of technology. Mayfield added the police should be defunded, not militarized.

“The times we’re in right now are really disturbing,” he said. “Nothing has ever changed without the voices of the oppressed rising up and we will not accept the lynching of modern day black people. We will not submit to white supremacy. We need legislators who don’t cave into fear mongering and racist agenda.”

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