Demand an end to racial injustice in NYS policing now! [Extend EO203]
Honorable Andrew Cuomo, Honorable Leticia James, and Honorable Thomas DiNapoli, Comptroller
We are asking you to sign this petition in support of the four demands relating to Executive Order 203 (EO203) as listed in the letter written by the civil rights lawyers, Michael H. Sussman, Esq. and Luisa Fuentes, Esq., and summarized here:
1. A compliance officer must be appointed for each region throughout New York State
2. The time frame must be extended from April 1st to November 1st for completion of the work
3. Police departments must provide information requested by committee members without foil or subpoena
4. Municipalities must also be transparent, allowing access to all police policies and procedures, instances of police discipline and complaints against police officers and agencies.
As implementation of the order has been very uneven, these demands are needed to allow necessary oversight and enforcement of the order. EO203 has great potential to impact the lives of so many who live and work in NYS and those that visit. Due to multiple issues found with the implementation of the order, as listed in the letter referenced, the order's intent is too easily circumvented. If the demands are not met, the only conclusion we can make is that the order was only intended to quiet the unrest across the state with no goal of true change.
Take action now by signing onto their letter! Demand a complete and lasting end to racial injustice in New York State police departments!
Honorable Andrew Cuomo, Honorable Leticia James, and Honorable Thomas DiNapoli, Comptroller
From: [Your Name]
Hear us Now! Racial injustice in policing in NYS must be identified and corrected!
As a signer of this petition, I am endorsing the letter below, sent to you by the civil rights lawyers, Michael H. Sussman, Esq. and Luisa Fuentes, Esq.
To: Honorable Andrew Cuomo, Honorable Leticia James, Honorable Thomas DiNapoli, Comptroller
From: Michael H. Sussman, Esq., Luisa Fuentes, Esq.
As civil rights lawyers, we applauded your decision to direct New York State governments to undertake serious review of policing practices with an expressed focus on identifying and correcting practices which represent racial bias and cause significant racial disparities in all indicia associated with policing in our state.
Unfortunately, implementation of your Executive Order has been very uneven, and we strongly suggest that you extend the April 1, 2021 deadline to November 1, 2021 and that you appoint high- ranking regional officials to provide guidance and oversight to engage those most affected by policing and racial disparities in the EO 203 process.
We have reviewed the activities of representative counties, towns and villages in the Mid-Hudson Region and see these trends:
1. Some municipalities like Newburgh, Port Jervis and Middletown have viewed the Executive Order as a trigger for self-congratulation and recapitulation. They have adopted “top down” implementation strategies, with their police chiefs taking center stage and effectively pronouncing that all is “well,” and that each city should be proud of their police. This “top down” approach seems contrary to your Executive Order. In Port Jervis, for example, a “citizens” panel was formed on January 12, 2021, reviewed a report created by the Police Department on January 15, 2021 and approved it within a week. The failure to solicit genuine community involvement disserves the objectives of the Executive Order. In Middletown, though a broadly diverse group was convened, a review of its report shows domination at its meetings by the police chief and District Attorney who vigorously defended the status quo. Again, this defeats the purpose of the Executive Order.
2. Troubling characteristics of the “top down” approach include the following: the ensuing reports are [a] not evidence-based, [b] do not squarely deal with issues of race and [c] have been developed without providing any real opportunity for those who have been adversely affected by discriminatory police practices to express their concerns. In each regard, its is apparent that those running the process have pre-ordained its outcome: minimal change and cosmetic/rhetorical bows to “implicit bias” and “diversity” without engaging in any awakening process. Reading the completed reports one finds barely any meaningful reference to the treatment people of color have experienced in the respective communities.
3. The region does feature other approaches: while Dutchess County developed a top down “plan” which it then distributed to all law enforcement agencies/municipalities in the county, Kingston City’s report, written after a process dedicated to listening to those directly affected by police misconduct, squarely confronts racial disparities, attempts to understand how and why they are expressed and proposes solutions. It is not self-congratulatory in tone and offers a blueprint for other reviews.
4. In terms of Accountability in police departments, many police unions and departments are utilizing their police union collective bargaining agreements to skirt around the Repeal of 50-A. Some New York local governments are creating an avenue for police officers and their unions to try to block or obscure the release of civilian complaints and other disciplinary records despite a new state law meant to ensure they are public. Specifically, in places such as the Town of Hyde Park and Village of Wappingers Falls in Dutchess County have entered into written agreements with their local police unions, granting officers the right to object to the release of their disciplinary records or personnel file before they are provided to the member of the public that requested them. The Town of Fishkill also adopted a similar policy after negotiating with their union.
5. The issue of race, racism, institutionalized racism in policing and the US’ history of White supremacy has not been discussed in and among many of the area committees. In places such as the Town of Warwick, Villages of Maybrook, Montgomery and Walden the Town Executives, Police Chiefs and/or mayors hold the very wrong belief that EO 203 is solely about “police reformation and reinvention” and not about the need for such DUE TO SYSTEMIC RACISM AND THE MURDER OF BLACK PEOPLE BY THE POLICE. The failure by those who have created and coordinated committees are apparent in the make-up of the committees in that there is/are:
a. Few, if any people of color/Black people on the committees. There are other municipalities, like the Town of New Paltz and in the Ulster County Justice Reform Commission, where on the surface communities of color have been appointed but there has been little meaningful engagement, empowerment and inclusion of community stakeholders in decision-making. Refusal to share research, data and a lack of community dialogue characterizes many of these groups’ processes;
b. Far too many police representatives on the committees; and
c. A lack of representation of the immigrant and migrant communities (and a lack of resources and information about the law, process and activities of the committees in languages other than English;
6. There has been a shocking failure of communities and community leaders abiding by the actual requirements of EO 203. Many committees have an excessive number of police and District Attorney representation on the committees yet fail to have a representative of the local Legal Aid/Public Defender Office. There was a distinct failure of committees to utilize evidence-based research in analyzing existing policies and procedures and making change recommendations.
Additionally, many committees have failed to provide the policies and procedures of the police as a whole to even those on the committees who request this information. Police members control the dissemination of the policies and procedures to focus on the specific issues they wish to discuss. There has also been a consistent and intentional failure to provide requested information to committee members (disciplinary histories of police, complaints requested, racial makeup of police department, racial stats of vehicular stats, racial stats of arrests, etc.).
7. There has also been a shocking lack of transparency in every part of the process from the advertising of the boards and the dissemination of information on EO 203, to the creation of the boards and the utter lack of public participation prior to the creation of the boards down to the “public” sessions. There has been a consistent failure of municipalities to advertise/inform the public about EO 203, what it is, what it means, or how to get involved, leading to a dearth of participants of color on the Boards who actually wanted to be there and participate in this momentous moment of police reform within their communities while allowing a plethora of White, politically powerful, pro-police people onto the committees who gleefully espouse a “lack” of racism in their respective departments.
8. Due to COVID-19, the majority of the meetings have been held virtually on platforms such as Zoom. These Zoom meetings allowed for an extra layer of disenfranchisement by requiring people to send in their questions or comments via email – then never reading the email, having people put their questions in the “chat” boxes and then having their questions ignored. People have been muted mid-sentence, or bounced off calls when the people leading the meetings did not like what the person had to say. Usually, the person being silenced was a person of color. Even more egregious was a lack of translation services available during the Zoom meetings/sessions so that non-English speaking community members could be a part of the process.
9. Many citizens from around the Mid-Hudson Valley attempted to engage with local government and police departments, as early as mid to late June, in an attempt to get involved in the process. They were either wholly ignored or told they would be “gotten back to later” and later never came. Many community members begged the police departments to create surveys/questionnaires to be disseminated to the public asking their views on policing in general, and their local police departments, more specifically. Upon information and belief, one (1) jurisdiction, Saugerties distributed such a questionnaire to its community members, but also had said questionnaire translated in Spanish for non-English speaking neighbors. Out of nearly 80 eligible jurisdictions in the Mid-Hudson Valley, having only one (1) send out a questionnaire to gather data about how the community feels about its police department is an excellent and pointed example of how little these committees truly value the essential voices of their community members.
10. Finally, many municipalities have barely begun any serious review process, or commenced a review by their current chief executive officer, lawyer and police chief, a farcical exercise which bears little resemblance to the purpose of the Executive Order. Such reviews will only exacerbate the problem, showing a high level of defensiveness to scrutiny and manifesting the rigid control those in power wish to exercise.
In closing, many white Americans would like the focus on police reform to go away without any substantial results. That outcome will not only frustrate the victims of such abuse, but predictably make tragic events more likely. If your executive order does not lead to actual self-evaluation and a process by which those in power listen to those adversely affected by decades of control, the process will have been for naught and George Floyd’s death in vain.
We need stronger executive leadership on this issue now and believe you have the capacity and strength to provide it. THEREFORE, we are requesting you, Your Honor, Honorable Attorney General James, and the State Comptroller review our humble requests below, to help ensure compliance not only with the written word of Executive Order 203, but with the heart of the intent: to eliminate the racial inequities and disparities in policing, especially with relation to communities of color, those with mental health and substance abuse issues, and other marginalized communities. Please enact the below, requested changes to prove that indeed, BLACK LIVES MATTER to the government of the State of New York.
1. APPOINT COMPLIANCE OFFICER(S) FOR EACH REGION TO ADDRESS QUESTIONS/CONCERNS/ISSUES/LACK OF COMPLIANCE THROUGHOUT THE MID-HUDSON VALLEY.
2. EXTEND THE TIME FRAME FOR ALL MUNICIPALITIES TO COMPLETE THEIR WORK TO BEYOND APRIL 1, 2021 TO NOVEMBER 1, 2021.
3. REQUIRE POLICE DEPARTMENTS TO PROVIDE INFORMATION REQUESTED BY PANELISTS WITHOUT NEED FOR FOIL/SUBPOENA.
4. REQUIRE MUNICIPALITIES TO CREATE WEBSITES FOR THE EO 203 COMMITTEE THAT CONTAIN SURVEYS FOR THE PUBLIC TO TAKE, PROVIDE INFORMATION ON SESSIONS, PROVIDE PUBLIC ACCESS TO ALL POLICIES AND PROCEDURES OF THE POLICE, PROVIDE TRANSPARENCY ABOUT POLICE DISCIPLINE AND COMPLAINTS.
Thanking you in advance for your anticipated attention to these important issues and requests.
The groups signing below have been deeply involved in local efforts to properly implement your Executive Order and support the demands made in this letter.