Caribbean legislators in Brooklyn have generally welcomed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to appoint Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as a special prosecutor in cases where an unarmed person dies at the hands of a law enforcement officer.
“Their hard work paid off! 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,” said Councilman Jumaane Williams, representative for the 45th Council District in Brooklyn.
“I would like to thank each of them for their resilient advocacy and strength,” added Williams, stating that his district has dealt with two high-profile deaths in recent years, one including the unarmed Shantel Davis and the second of Kimani Gray, “where many witnesses did not corroborate the officer’s account.
“I witnessed first-hand the pain of a family and community that had no faith that the system would be fair,” he continued. “In each case, I also witnessed families in pain trying to steer an understandably frustrated and tired community into constructive actions for change.
“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 (New York Police Department),” he said.
But Williams said this is only the beginning, stating that New York City still “struggles with a clear lack of racial diversity in our police force and legal system.
“So it’s my hope that Attorney General Schneiderman recognizes this discrepancy when appointing special prosecutors for these cases,” he said. “It is also important to note that the executive order was written in a way that should not strain an officer’s ability to act in life threatening moments.”
Williams said Cuomo “deserves credit. Still, so much more work needs to be done, including extending this executive order for more than one year.”
Williams, who has fought for better police practices, said he will continue advocating for improved police-community relations, adding that he will work with city and state elected officials, as well as with the family members of police brutality victims, “to build on this victory and holistically improve our public safety system for all.”
State Assemblywoman Diana Richardson, representative for the 43rd Assembly District, who traces her roots to Aruba and St. Martin, said she was also pleased by the Cuomo’s executive order.
“While this is a first step in rebuilding trust in the criminal justice system, it is still clear that we need a comprehensive, thorough review of the entire process, and needed reforms must be enacted into law during the next legislative session,” the newly-elected official said. “Until then, we must remove any possible conflict of interest and make sure there is an independent review of these horrible incidents. We need reform, and we need transparency in the prosecutorial process.
“Part of rebuilding trust in the criminal justice system is ensuring that any family that has to deal with a loved one being killed by law enforcement is confident that the case will be fairly investigated,” Richardson added.
“No family should have to live denied of justice in the case of a slain loved one, and no police officer should have to bear the burden of suspicion for the actions of another cop,” she continued. “While we work toward a permanent state law that appoints an impartial special prosecutor in these situations, I believe the action announced today is a necessary first step in ensuring that everyone is treated equally under the law.”
“Today, I applaud the governor’s appointment of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as a special prosecutor via executive order,” said Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte, representative for the 44th Assembly District.
“Given the recent cases where an unarmed person has died at the hands of a law enforcement officer, this executive order is a vital first step in rebuilding trust in the criminal justice system,” said the daughter of Haitian immigrants. “It’s clear that we need a comprehensive, thorough review of the entire process, and I look forward to reforms being enacted into law during the next legislative session.
“Until then, it is necessary to remove any possible conflict of interest and make sure there is an independent review of these horribly tragic incidents,” she added. “I want every family that has to deal with a loved one being killed by law enforcement to be confident that the case will be fairly investigated.
“The interim step to appoint an impartial special prosecutor for these situations, I believe is a necessary first step in ensuring that everyone is treated equally under the law,” Bichotte continued. “Even though this is a step in the right direction, I share the disappointment of the families and the advocates that the order does not encompass all police-related civilian deaths — only cases in which the victim is unarmed or those cases in which it is determined whether or not the victim was armed and dangerous.”