Cuomo strengthens oversight in killings of unarmed civilians by police

July 16, 2015 Anna Spivak
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Issued earlier this month, a new Executive Order—signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo—will now appoint the New York State Attorney General as a special prosecutor in cases involving law enforcement officers killing unarmed civilians.

The Executive Order, No. 147, will also allow the special prosecutor to review cases and gauge whether or not the civilian in question was armed or dangerous at the time of his or her death, according to the Governor’s office.

Cuomo, alongside community advocates and other elected officials who worked toward implementing the signing, held a conference about the order on Wednesday, July 8, where he addressed the public and spoke of the topic’s importance.

“This is a very good day,” Cuomo said at the conference. “It’s a day of action, it’s a day of fairness, it’s a day of justice, and it’s a day that I think should go a long way towards restoring people’s trust in our system of criminal justice and trust in government.”

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According to Cuomo, the order comes out of many months of work from families across New York City who have lost loved ones to police “injustice.”

In a joint statement, Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner—put in a chokehold and killed by a police officer in Staten Island; Constance Malcolm, mother of Ramarley Graham—fatally shot by an NYPD officer in the Bronx; Iris Baez, mother of Anthony Baez—who died of asphyxiation after an altercation with officers in the Bronx; Hawa Bah, mother of Mohamed Bah—shot nine times by officers in Manhattan after wielding a knife; and Margarita Rosario, mother of Anthony Rosario and aunt of Hilton Vega—cousins that were shot dead by officers in the Bronx said, “for decades, our families and those of other New Yorkers killed by police have faced repeated injustices, not only losing family members to police violence by those tasked with serving and protecting but also being failed by local district attorneys not holding officers accountable to the law for those deaths. Many of us have been calling for a special prosecutor for decades, so this reform stems from the legacies of New Yorkers whose unjust deaths go back a long time.”

The executive order, Cuomo explained to the families, will be in place as long as he, as Governor, wants it to be. However, alongside these families, he hopes to make the order into permanent law.

“I said I would appoint the Attorney General by executive order which I can do without a law to serve that role in the interim,” Cuomo added. “I am committed to passing a permanent law. [The families] want a permanent law passed and I agree. We are going to work together on that for next year.”

“In December, I stood with reform advocates and other public officials to call attention to the crisis in confidence related to the investigation of deaths of unarmed civilians at the hands of police,” added Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. “Governor Cuomo has issued an executive order to empower my office to investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute such cases. I can imagine no more important responsibility, and my office will handle these cases with the highest level of care, professionalism, and independence.”

Voices from across elected offices in the city chimed in on the matter, including local Councilmember Jumaane Williams, whose district saw two high-profile deaths in recent years—Shantel Davis and Kimani Gray.

“Thanks to the family members of Eric Garner, Ramarley Graham, Anthony Baez, Shantel Davis, Kimani Gray and other family members who have lost their loved ones to police brutality, we’ve taken another step toward restoring trust in the process of determining how officers involved in civilian fatalities are held accountable,” Williams said. “Governor Cuomo’s executive order is an important step toward mending poor police-community relations and will further advance the cultural-systemic shift needed within the NYPD.”

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