We can do more to ensure that everyone is treated fairly in New York

New York state’s recent criminal justice reform law–which includes closing Riker’s Island, New York City divesting from banks that fund private prisons,  and ending the practice of trying 16 and 17-year-olds as adults–is a great stride forward, but as a state that has continually dragged behind in criminal justice, it’s not enough.

Demand accountability and transparency from our police

Eric Garner’s life was much more than his murder. While the world has recently been exposed to the horrors of senseless police violence, these actions are of no surprise to communities of color in New York, who have always borne the brunt of unconstitutional, targeted policies. We’ve been waiting too long for reform. Here’s what a second pass at this new legislation can do start repairing our communities and their relationships with the police:

  • Require statewide collection and public reporting of data of police departments, from misdemeanors to fatal interactions
  • Require state jurisdiction over violent crimes by the police and mandate the appointment of a special prosecutor in these cases, limiting the the ability of the Governor or local prosecutors to give special treatment to police officers
  • Eliminate cash bonds that keep the poor in jail and let the more well-off go free
  • Reform our criminal sentencing laws to emphasize rehabilitation
  • Abolish solitary confinement
  • Clarify when deadly force is allowed, and what the protocols are for use of it

We succeeded in getting police body cameras. Now let’s make them useful.

The newly-released police body camera law fixes some problems, but has a number of concerning flaws.

The NYCLU points out the law’s alarming gaps:

  1. It does not require that all investigative interactions be recorded, and in many occasions, leaves when to turn the camera on up to the officer.
  2. It does not ensure that officers will be appropriately punished for refusing to record interactions.
  3. Officers will be able to view any footage before writing their reports or making any statements, allowing them to tailor their story to what is on the recording.
  4. This footage will not be readily available to the public.

The NYCLU suggests that we also make sure that developing facial recognition technology does NOT get integrated into future police body cameras. This would be a gross violation of privacy rights and the right to be treated fairly if you’re stopped by an officer.

The Truth Behind Drug Arrests

The ACLU points out how although marijuana use is virtually identical between black and white citizens, black people are disproportionately arrested for it. In fact, New York has one of the largest racial disparities in the country when it comes to marijuana arrests — worse than Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, and, well — nearly all of the southern conservative states.

In New York State, Black people are 4.52 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.

Like other states, New Yorkers can propose an amendment to decriminalize, or even totally legalize, marijuana possession in personal use amounts. This move would reduce the costs associated with arrests and trials of people charged with marijuana possession, which our tax dollars are currently funding.  But more importantly, it would keep people out of jail and lead us toward a criminal justice system that no longer unfairly targets people of color.