On Friday morning, I woke up with the words of Bruce Springsteen’s 41 Shots (American Skin) running though my mind. Shortly thereafter, during Governor Cuomo’s briefing at which he signed police reform legislation, I heard NY State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins quote the same song. When I searched for a video of it to share as part of this post, I came across a recently created and powerful montage of images and lyrics. This kind of synchronicity is a reminder to trust the messages that are received in all kinds of ways.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: Time for police reform
Today is day 104 since the COVID virus started. It’s day 19 since Mr. Floyd was murdered.
Where we are today is a pivotal point in this entire situation with the coronavirus. You see states all across the nation where the infection rate is going up dramatically. You have states now that reopened that are scaling back their reopening.
On the civil unrest, I said from day one that I stand with the protestors. I believe this is the moment to put forth a real federal reform justice agenda.
The New York State Legislature has quickly passed the most aggressive reforms in the nation. We’re banning chokeholds. Attorney General as Special Prosecutor. Ending false race-based 911 reports.
I’m going to sign an executive order today. We’ll require our local governments and police departments all across the state to develop a plan that reinvents and modernizes police strategies and programs in their community. They have to address the use of force by police officers, crowd management, community policing, bias awareness, de-escalation, restorative justice, community-based outreach. They have to have a transparent citizen complaint disposition procedure, so if you make a complaint, it’s not just yelling out the window. They should talk about appropriate equipment, what’s not appropriate equipment, and any other issue that that community believes is relevant. That discussion has to happen with the community participants in the room.
That plan then has to be enacted into local law. Every city, every county, it has to be done by April 1. If it’s not done by April 1, and if it’s not passed, they’re not going to be eligible for state funding, period.
I am just so thankful that I have a historic role at this moment. I remember when Bruce Springsteen did 41 Shots, American Skin. When that happened, in 1999, right around Amadou Diallo, I thought that that was the moment where people outside of Black and Brown communities were finally going to get the message that bad things were happening. And that refrain, “You can get killed just for living in your American skin,” I thought would ring a note. But it didn’t.
And so here we are—after the horrific murder of George Floyd, we finally got it. But every parent, every mother who looks like me, understood that scary notion. With our kids, with our husbands, with our brothers. I got that call when my youngest son was only 18 years old. And he was, quote unquote, on the wrong side of the town. He was stopped. He was frisked. And next thing I know, after we’re out of the police station, we’re in the emergency room because he’s got a fractured nose. Thank God I was able to bring him home.
I was recently asked on an interview, why now? As Leader Cousins said, we thought every time it happened, when it was Amadou Diallo, it was time. When it happened with Anthony Baez, we thought it was time. When it happened with Eric Garner, we thought it was time. When it happened with Sean Bell, we thought it was time. When it happened with Ramarley Graham, we thought it was time. But I think watching a man being suffocated by strangulation, crying for his deceased mother, I think struck a nerve.
And for us, even in the assembly, we have many, many Republicans voting for these bills because I think the entire world has just said enough is enough is enough is enough. How much more bloodshed had to happen for the consciousness and the heart of this nation to finally open up and say, “We need to do better and we need to be better”? And I think that that moment has come.