ALBANY — Two days after state lawmakers voted to permit the disclosure of police disciplinary records, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for greater systemic reform in the face of racist policing policies.
Cuomo gave a full-throated defense of the Black Lives Matter movement and said police reform needs to address decades of systemic racism, not just individual police procedures. The governor, who made his comments on police reform at the end of his daily coronavirus briefing, also applauded reopening efforts amid declining COVID-19 cases at the state Capitol in Albany on Thursday.
As protests continue to roil cities across the nation, Cuomo said he agrees with the Black Lives Matter movement and questioned why the criminal justice system kills a disproportionate number of African-Americans.
“[Black Lives Matter] is saying, ‘Why does this system devalue black lives?’” Cuomo said. “Why are they only black lives who get violated by the system?”
Cuomo’s comments came on the heels of the state Legislature’s passage of a series of police reforms, which included the creation of a new office to investigate law enforcement misconduct and the repeal of the law known as “50-a,” which shielded police officers from the disclosure of disciplinary records under the state Civil Rights Law.
State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-35, called the reforms long overdue.
Protests across the country created the political climate to challenge policing policies that people of color have long accepted as part of their daily lives, Stewart-Cousins said during a radio interview Thursday morning.
“This momentum is so deep and so vast that there was no way that any of these bills that, some of them had been hanging around for years unable to move, that we were not going to move right now and strike while the iron is hot,” Stewart-Cousins said.
The governor echoed the majority leader’s assertion that the moment has come for comprehensive change. Small reforms, such as banning tear gas or removing police officers from schools, will not bring about the change that is needed, Cuomo said.
“This is inherent racism, this is decades and decades of injustice, even in our lifetimes,” he said.
The governor, who called on protesters and police officers alike to wear masks while out in the streets, praised the state’s reopening efforts and called attention to New York’s declining rate of new infections.
The state is testing around 50,000 people a day for COVID-19, Cuomo said, with an average of 1.2% of daily tests coming back positive for the virus.
In the Capital District, that number is even lower, with the rate of new positive cases hovering below 1% over the past week, according to data released by the Cuomo administration.
New York City’s average rate of new infections remains higher than in other parts of the state, with around 1.7% of tests coming back positive since the city began phase 1 of reopening on Monday.
Cuomo praised his constituents for following the state-mandated guidelines for reopening and noted that new cases continue to drop even as many regions around the state approach phase 3 of reopening.
Five regions - Central New York, Finger Lakes, Mohawk Valley, North Country and Southern Tier - have been cleared by public health officials to begin phase 3 of reopening Friday.
Phase 3 allows indoor restaurant service and personal care services to resume with social distancing and other restrictions on capacity.
Cuomo said the state’s phased reopening is the right approach.
Nearly half of all states, including California, Texas and Florida, have seen COVID-19 cases spike precipitously as they move to reopen businesses and public spaces. Not New York, the governor said.
“All across the country, New York is the outrageous exception,” said Cuomo.