Families of New Yorkers Killed by Police Meet with Gov. Cuomo after Bringing Demand for Special Prosecutor to Protest outside of Albany Office
Families call for governor to issue executive order to achieve reform; Cuomo makes pledge to act in absence of legislative action
Albany, NY – The surviving family members of New Yorkers killed by the police over the past decades brought their demand for a special prosecutor for police killings directly to Governor Cuomo’s Capitol office in Albany. The group, which had sent a letter to the governor in February demanding he issue an executive order to authorize the establishment of a special prosecutor and requesting a meeting, had been frustrated by a lack of action and meeting cancellations by his office. Their press conference outside of his office resulted in a subsequent meeting with Governor Cuomo, in which they described the injustices of the systemic failed accountability, called for the governor’s leadership to implement true reform through his executive authority, and reiterated opposition to his “independent monitor” proposal.
The family members who participated in the meeting provided a joint statement following the meeting:
“We had a positive meeting with Governor Cuomo today, and he committed to continue working with us and meet with us again within a month. Local district attorneys have a fundamental conflict of interest in holding police departments – in which they are interdependent on a daily basis – accountable to the law when they kill civilians, something President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing acknowledged in its recent report. Governor Cuomo pledged that he would issue an executive order to authorize the appointment of a special prosecutor in police killings if the state legislature failed to act by the end of this session. We remain committed to demanding an executive order for a special prosecutor for all police killings, because establishing prosecution that is independent and external of local DAs is the only way to resolve the conflict of interest that has systemically failed to provide justice in these cases within our state and across the nation.”
The family members in the meeting included: Constance Malcolm, mother of Ramarley Graham; Valerie Bell, mother of Sean Bell; Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner; Hawa Bah, mother of Mohamed Bah; Carol Gray, mother of Kimani Gray; Cynthia Howell, niece of Alberta Spruill; Shaina Munoz, niece of Jayson Tirado; and Natasha Duncan, sister of Shantel Davis;
“Our state needs a special prosecutor to solve the conflict of interest with district attorneys handling these cases against police officers,” said Constance Malcolm, mother of Ramarley Graham. “We want justice and accountability so that no more families have to experience the heartbreak and pain of unjustly losing a loved one to police violence, like me and so many other mothers, fathers, and family members. That can only occur when we end the current injustice that provides police officers with impunity to kill Black and Brown New Yorkers.”
Across the nation, the police killings of people of color – primarily Black and Latino – continue week after week, but yet a sense of urgency is missing in Albany. It has been widely recognized that local district attorneys – who collaborate with and depend upon police departments on a daily basis – have a systemic conflict-of-interest which is an overwhelming impediment to justice in cases where police unjustly kill civilians.
“Even though my son's case went to trial, there was no conviction,” said Valerie Bell, mother of Sean Bell. “During the trial, it felt as though my son was the one who had been indicted, not the police officers who killed him. There is a conflict of interest when DAs prosecute the police officers they have to work with and rely on every day, and I believe this is why there was no justice for my son.”
“Even though my son's murder was caught on video, there was still no indictment,” said Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner. “This just shows you why we need to governor to sign an executive order for a special prosecutor today.”
“Officer Sean Sawyer shot and killed my uncle Jayson Tirado in Oct. 2007, fled the scene and waited 19 hours before turning himself in,”said Shaina Munoz niece of Jayson Tirado. “The District Attorney's Office failed to get an indictment. Had the tables been turned we'd be behind bars no questions asked. This is an example of why it's imperative that we get the Governor to sign an executive order for a special prosecutor.”
President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which released recommendations from community and law enforcement stakeholders across the country, endorsed these demands by recommending the use of prosecutors who are independent and external of local district attorneyswhen police kill civilians.
“The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing made recommendations that agree with our call for a special prosecutor," said Kadiatou Diallo, mother of Amadou Diallo. “Governor Cuomo can and should be a leader for the rest of the country by immediately signing an executive order to create a special prosecutor.”
At a New York State Assembly hearing on criminal justice reform in March, advocates called for comprehensive reforms – a package of more limited reforms proposed by Governor Cuomo in his budget plan were omitted from a final spending plan. Valerie Bell – the mother of Sean Bell, who was unjustly killed in a 2006 police shooting where 50 shots were fired – testified at the hearing about the need for a special prosecutorand how it was a more significant reform than the proposal to create an “independent monitor.”
“It’s a no-brainer,” said Natasha Duncan, sister of Shantel Davis. “We can’t have the district attorneys and police working together and expect the system to be fair and impartial. It’s going on three years and I still haven’t heard a thing about what the Brooklyn DA is doing for my sister’s case.”
“The Governor needs to put politics aside and think about the lives of our children,” said Carol Gray, the mother of Kimani Gray. “He needs to be human for a moment and realize that lives are at stake and that families deserve answers.”
“It’s necessary for the Governor to sign an executive order to create a special prosecutor because the district attorneys don’t do anything,” said Hawa Bah, mother of Mohamed Bah. “The system is broken and only protects police officers. We can’t live like this.”
“Since the killing of my son, Nicholas Jr., 371 more lives have been taken by those sworn to protect in New York," said Nicholas Heyward Sr., father of Nicholas Heyward Jr. “I want to meet with the Governor along with other parents who lost children to police killings, who have seen no justice or accountability. A special prosecutor is very much needed to ensure fair process.”
“The District Attorneys and the police are bed fellows,” said Cynthia Howell, the niece of Alberta Spruill. “We need someone without the same conflict of interest, who’s outside the local bed of politics.”
Twenty family members of eighteen New Yorkers killed by the police wrote to Governor Cuomo in February, demanding that he issue an executive order to establish a special prosecutor for all cases of police killings. The New York City Council Progressive Caucus also wrote the governor in support of this reform, while national civil rights organization, ColorOfChange, launched an online petition directed at Governor Cuomo to call for its implementation.