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How Will a Tense Legislative Session Impact Your Rights?

What are the prospects for lawmakers avoiding further roll backs to bail reform and raise the age and for ensuring greater police accountability?

New York’s legislative session kicked off last month and already there are political fireworks. Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul and Democrats in the state senate clashed over the Governor’s pick to lead the state’s highest court. Judge Hector Lasalle was voted down by the Senate Judiciary Committee, making Hochul the first governor to lose her bid to appoint the state’s top judge.

This battle sets the stage for what is sure to be an especially contentious legislative session. How will this early skirmish impact the legislative priorities we care about most? What are the prospects for lawmakers avoiding further roll backs to bail reform and raise the age and for ensuring greater police accountability?

Transcript

[00:00:00] Simon: New York’s legislative session kicked off last month and already there are political fireworks. Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul and Democrats in the State Senate clashed over the Governor’s pick to lead the State’s highest court. Judge Hector LaSalle was voted down by the Senate Judiciary Committee, making Hochul the first Governor to lose her bid to appoint the state’s top judge.

[00:00:47] This battle sets the stage for what is sure to be an especially contentious legislative session. How will this early skirmish impact the legislative priorities we care about most? What are the prospects for lawmakers avoiding for the rollbacks to bail reform and Raise the Age, and for ensuring greater police accountability?

[00:01:05] We’ll get into all this and more in just a moment. First, I’d like to ask you to please download, subscribe, rate, and review Rights This Way. It will help more people find this podcast. And now I’m joined by two guests. Lee Rowland is the Policy Director for the NYCLU, and Michael Sisitzky is an NYCLU Assistant Policy Director. Lee, Michael, welcome back, making your triumphant returns to Rights This Way.

[00:01:34] Lee: Thanks Simon.

[00:01:35] Michael: Thanks so much, Simon.

[00:01:37] Simon: Yes, truly great to have you. So, first I wanna start by talking about what happened last month, in January, with regards to Judge Hector LaSalle.

[00:01:47] So, Governor Hochul picked LaSalle for the New York Court of Appeals. She nominated him. And the Court of Appeals is the State’s highest court. And months before Hochul made the nomination, progressive groups warned the Governor that if LaSalle was nominated, they would oppose his confirmation. She nevertheless made that nomination and the Senate voted him down and now that’s where we are.

[00:02:11] So , Lee can you actually break that down into a little more detail and, and just explain the implications for this and what exactly happened.

[00:02:18] Lee: Surely, and it’s definitely the right place to start because it shows some of the cracks and the battle lines between the Governor and the Legislature, which all happened right at the beginning of this state legislative session. And I think for those of us who are Albany watchers, we’re anticipating a pretty wild and wooly session in part because this is the note that it got off on.

[00:02:39] As you mentioned in the fall, the Governor had the opportunity to nominate a new judge for New York’s highest court. And, especially in light of the losses of our constitutional rights at this Supreme Court, we’re really mindful that who’s on our top court really matters here in New York because we can ratchet up rights, and even if we’re losing them at the federal level, New York can be a leader. And that requires a high court that is representative of New York and is going to read our state constitutional rights and individual rights broadly in favor of civil rights and civil liberties. We, as the NYCLU, do not take formal positions supporting or opposing individual nominees, but we did back in the fall, ourselves, and in chorus with many other groups, note that this nomination was an opportunity to diversify our high court, which is almost exclusively made up of career prosecutors and firm lawyers. Folks, we don’t have a single public defender, anyone with legal aid experience. And so there were stakes to this nomination. And progressive groups were, I think, really tuned in unusually to the selection of a high court nominee.

[00:03:47] And what the process is, is that the Governor nominates someone out of a list given to her by a nominating commission and then it goes to the Senate. And Governor Hochul had LaSalle in mind for her nominee. She shopped it around to groups, including labor unions who told her, and we know this from New York Times reporting and others, they told her in no uncertain terms, he’s not an acceptable nominee.

[00:04:07] He has some opinions in his past that the unions believed were anti-union. And he didn’t represent progressive values to really make the court more representative of the people of New York. And so, even though she knew she was picking a really big fight, she went ahead with it. And right at the beginning of the legislative session, which began in the first week of January, this was on the top of the legislature’s agenda, which is basically convening a Senate hearing on Justice LaSalle.

[00:04:33] And that happened two weeks ago, they voted him down. As a result, the Governor has not gone back and nominated a new person off the list. Instead, she’s kind of doubled down and said she might sue the State Senate because they actually did not give him a full hearing on the floor as opposed to just in the Judiciary Committee.

[00:04:50] So, it’s hard actually to overstate the degree of chest pounding that’s gone on here between the Governor and the legislature. It’s a really high temperature for the session to be starting off at. And I think it also has a lot of implications for the kind of fights that we’ll see over policy between the legislature and the Governor for the rest of the session.

[00:05:11] And I think it’s fair to say it has a lot to do with criminal justice. It has a lot to do with labor law. And people who are Albany watchers are frankly baffled that this is the kind of hostile tone that the Governor seems to have chosen to enter the 2023 legislative session with.

[00:05:27] Michael: So, Lee mentioned the prosecutorial background of LaSalle being a factor that came up in this process. And it was really interesting to see how that played out because we’ve been down this road before. The New York Court of Appeals has historically been very friendly to law enforcement and to prosecutors.

[00:05:46] And that may be in no small part because of the fact that the court has had so many prosecutors who have actually been elevated to positions on that court. And when we’re looking back at the names that were presented to Governor Hochul in the fall, as to potential nominees, there were seven names on there.

[00:06:03] There was only one person on that list who was a former prosecutor and that was Justice LaSalle. And that ended up being her pick. And that is, again, a bridge too far for a lot of folks who have been advocating for more diversity in backgrounds and perspectives, in terms of judicial nominees, to make sure that we are not always stacking the deck in favor of law enforcement, like we’ve seen play out in the past. And I’m thinking back to one of the more recent nominations that went through the Court of Appeals was Madeline Singas, uh, who was a former prosecutor from Nassau County. There were folks raising concerns there about the fact that we continue to nominate and appoint folks with a prosecutorial background.

[00:06:40] And folks raised, you know, those concerns then. They did not motivate the Senate to really take those to heart and push for someone with a defense background or a civil rights and advocacy background instead. This time it was different. The record of Justice LaSalle as a former prosecutor and in terms of decisions on issues impacting the criminal legal system actually were front and center and motivating a lot of senators as they were reviewing his record.

[00:07:07] So we saw, for instance, consideration paid to decisions that he had joined that were siding with prosecutors in preventing someone from appealing a conviction after they had pled guilty. When later, evidence came to light that actually weighed in their favor. We saw numerous cases that were brought up about the Justice’s decisions on police misconduct cases where Justice LaSalle had joined opinions that gave immunity to law enforcement for excessive force, for other rights violations.

[00:07:40] And the fact that there was now a real willingness on the part of the Senate to take seriously the makeup of the court with respect to not just giving a rubber stamp to prosecutors, it’s I think, a signal that there may be some appetite in the legislature of this session to take a more assertive line in protecting the rights of New Yorkers who enter the criminal legal system, and to pushing back on some of the de facto deference that is given to prosecutors and folks with the law enforcement background in terms of shaping the narrative, in terms of evaluating policy proposals.

[00:08:16] So that was something that really stood out this time.

[00:08:20] Simon: Right. And another thing that stood out about this nomination is it came, you know, just a couple months after the US Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, and so people’s attention to this Chief Justice nomination in a way that I, think was significant and unique.

[00:08:36] Speaking of the Supreme Court striking down Roe, Lee, I wanted to touch on something that just happened this month but actually relates to the Dobbs decision striking down Roe because the Equal Rights Amendment was just passed for a second time in January. But it was first passed in the week of that decision of the Supreme Court’s decision.

[00:09:01] And I would love to get your thoughts on what it means that the ERA just passed, what the ERA does, and kind of where we go from here. And I will also say that what Lee’s gonna say is, is sort of an abbreviated version. We have a whole episode that we did that was largely focused on the Equal Rights Amendment.

[00:09:21] So, for folks really wanting to get into the details, we will link to that in the show notes. But Lee, I’ll go to you now to kind of catch us up on where we’re at with the ERA.

[00:09:30] Lee: Absolutely. And Michael explained why our high court, the New York Court of Appeals, matters so much when it comes to the rights of criminal defendants in particular. Lots of those cases go up there. But we’re also in a moment where, I think, it’s obvious to us that the Supreme Court and frankly much of the country is turning back the clock on individual rights.

[00:09:54] We absolutely saw the loss of our abortion rights, with Roe overturned in Dobbs. At the same time, by the way, the Supreme Court struck down New York’s concealed carry rules involving guns. So we kind of had a double whammy here in New York in rights that we’ve tried to create that have been lost or struck down at the federal level.

[00:10:13] So, we have an opportunity in this moment for New York to be a leader. I remember when I was a kid in school we used to call the states laboratories for reform. That’s how our republican constitution was set up. And look, I work at the NYCLU. My view of what states can do is ratchet up rights. So when we’re talking about the opportunities for the state to be laboratories of reform, it means recognizing things like the loss of our individual rights in the Dobbs case, and finding places where New York’s Constitution can step into that breach. And so right after the Dobbs opinion came down, we had been working for some time here at the NYCLU and in broad community with lots of folks to amend our New York State Constitution to do the opposite of turn back the clock on our rights.

[00:11:02] The last time we amended our equal protection language and our state constitution was at the very beginning of the 20th century. We certainly didn’t have a kind of robust vision of equality like we do now in 2023.

[00:11:16] Our existing constitutional language only protects people from discrimination based on race or religion, and that’s not enough. We lead complex lives. Many of us are not just one category of protection. And we need to expand that.

[00:11:34] So, under our state constitutional rules, an amendment to our state constitution has to pass through the legislature twice in identical form and then it goes to the voters on the ballot. So, what happened last week at the end of January is we got it passed forward the second time by the legislature.

[00:11:52] The first time was right in the wake of Dobbs when it really, I think, resonated for legislators that New York had to step up into the breach left by the Supreme Court. And going to the voters in 2024 will be an opportunity to vote for an equal rights amendment to the New York State Constitution that will now comprehensively prohibit discrimination based on someone’s race or religion.

[00:12:13] Those are the existing categories as well as ethnicity, national origin, disability, and sex. Boy, that one’s a hundred years overdue, right? But our protection of sex explicitly includes pregnancy, pregnancy outcomes, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and reproductive autonomy.

[00:12:36] So, we have been explicit and specific that the right to equality based on sex includes who you love, how you present yourself, and what you choose to do with your body when it comes to reproductive rights. Whether that is birth, a miscarriage, abortion, no one should be criminalized by the outcomes of a pregnancy.

[00:12:57] And so, it’s a reproductive rights amendment. It’s a civil rights amendment.

[00:13:01] And now we’ve got it. For all of us who live here in New York in 2024, we’re gonna have an opportunity to push back against the way rights are going on the federal level. And we’re gonna have a chance to vote for a gold standard Equal Rights Amendment in New York.

[00:13:15] We’re writing down that abortion right explicitly. We’re making it part of a broader stand for equality and against discrimination. And of course, once we pass it, and I hope we do, that amendment will be interpreted by our high court. And we want a high court that is progressive, representative, that reflects the different types of experiences that New Yorkers have had, so that we get a robust interpretation of our Equal Rights Amendment that protects everyone.

[00:13:42] And we have a very different result here in New York than we’ve seen on the federal level. So the ERAis an amazing win in and of itself.

[00:13:49] And I think Michael is right to say this level of attention to the court is new. And it absolutely has to be because individual rights and liberties really are, in large part, up to the states now and New York’s gotta commit.

[00:14:01] Simon: And so the Equal Rights Amendment was definitely one of the big pieces of the early session. But another thing that continues to sort of rear its head here as we start to step into budget negotiations – which, the budget is supposed to be passed by April 1st, usually they kind of push that to a week or two after April – but as we head into these sorts of budget negotiations, which always have, you know, big policy changes shoved into the budget, we are once again hearing calls to roll back bail reform, which ever since it was passed has been the subject of severe and relentless attacks. Last year’s budget included changes designed to increase the number of legally innocent people who are held pretrial.

[00:14:48] And again, for those who are interested in really detailed discussion of this law and the rollbacks that happened in 2022 and 2021, we did a whole episode on bail reform and, and we’ll link to that as well. But, for now, let’s talk about, quickly, what happened last year and sort of set the stage for what the Governor is calling for this year.

[00:15:08] Michael: So, I can start on this. I mean, I think we’re at this place now where the topic of bail reform in Albany is the most predictable conversation in Albany. It’s come up every session since the historic bail reform of 2019, which, you know, to be clear, was just a recognition of the fact that whether or not you are detained pretrial should not depend on the size of your bank account.

[00:15:33] It is fundamentally unfair to allow people to buy access to their freedom while condemning people who do not have financial resources to being locked up in Rikers Island or in any of the other jails around the state, simply because they cannot afford to buy their release. And that’s what the bail reform legislation of 2019 was all about, was recognizing that fundamental unfairness.

[00:15:57] So, what we’ve seen is a continued practice of people blaming bail reform for causing pretty much every societal ill in a way that just does not line up with reality. And as a result, we’ve seen rollbacks to, uh, those historic wins from 2019. So, we saw expansions in 2020 of the types of offenses that could render one eligible for being held on bail pre-trial. Last year, we saw changes to allow for increased ability to detain people on certain gun possession charges. We saw increased ability to detain people who are accused of having “serious harm” to someone, expansions of ability to hold people on low level theft charges.

[00:16:47] So, that rollback has unfortunately happened in prior sessions. And now it’s rearing its head again with proposals to once again try to deprive people of their fundamental rights simply because they have been accused of a crime.

[00:17:03] So, what we’ve heard now are proposals from the Governor to make it easier for judges to impose bail.

[00:17:10] What that means is that if a court can ensure that a defendant is going to return to court by releasing them on their own recognizance, by imposing some kind of monitoring or check-in requirements, if that’s all that it’s going to take to get someone to court, then that’s what they can impose.

[00:17:27] What the Governor has proposed is to do away with that framework for certain offenses and say that judges don’t actually have to be bound by what is the least restrictive means to return someone to court. If they want to set bail in their discretion, she wants to allow that to happen. That is a fundamental attack on the constitutional rights of criminal defendants.

[00:17:50] And it’s also something that does not actually address the concerns that have been born out with data, which is that people actually are returning to court even when they are released without bail. That is what the data shows us, that has simply not happened. But that has become the issue that is, now, at least in this session, one of the focal points for where the lines may be drawn there. And one of the other factors that has often come up is this idea that there is a need to treat criminal defendants differently based on their perceived dangerousness.

[00:18:20] Again, there’s not anything in the data to suggest that there is any benefit to public safety by allowing judges to make those discretionary calls. What we do know is that when you have more judicial discretion over imposing restrictions based on perceived or suspected dangerousness, or if judges are going to have more discretion to assign bail to someone not withstanding any least restrictive means restrictions, we’re going to see more people of color be locked up pretrial at rates wildly disproportionate to white counterparts.

[00:18:57] And that’s something that exists now. It’s going to worsen if these proposals end up moving forward. And it’s something where we’ll be looking to the legislature to act as a counterweight here and push back on any additional rollbacks to their historic win from 2019, which we hope that they have every interest in preserving at this point because frankly, it’s been rolled back enough.

[00:19:23] Lee: And I think it’s really worth underscoring, Simon, if I can, something Michael said, which is that last year a lot of the narrative about rolling back bail reform was about, well, judges need to consider dangerousness. Right? Which, the point of bail is to get a criminal defendant back to court, period.

[00:19:41] Full stop. It is worth noting again, these are legally innocent people. Right? And we are in a situation where bail reform allows, where cash bail, basically permits the criminal legal system to hold you as a legally innocent person because you are poor. Okay? Those are the stakes we’re talking about here.

[00:19:59] Last year, the pushback was about, oh, we need to consider dangerousness. This year, as Michael said, the pushback is, oh, we don’t need the least restrictive test to, you know, in what we impose to get someone back to court. Number one, there is zero evidence – zero – that bail reform has contributed to an increase of crime.

[00:20:17] The efforts we have seen to roll back bail reform, which is a basic core constitutional right and moral imperative, have been based on BS arguments that have been inflated by media, and, particularly the New York Post, fear mongering nonstop about bail. But, you know what? During the time that they claim crime rates have gone up in certain areas after bail reform, major crimes are seriously down, including murder. But no one is crediting that with bail reform, right? So, I just, it’s really important to underscore the shenanigans with numbers. They are not credible. It is pure fearmongering to give prosecutors and DAs and police more power, but also that we’re now seeing a successive series of arguments about why we need to roll it back.

[00:21:01] And I think this year’s is so insidious. The idea that you wouldn’t want a judge to use the least restrictive means to make sure a legally innocent person comes back to jail is basically saying the quiet part out loud, which is we want tools to punish people living in poverty, even though they’re legally innocent, to keep them in jail.

[00:21:22] You know, the folks who are trying to push back bail reform don’t have the numbers on their side. They certainly don’t have morality on their side. And instead, we see a constant string of exaggerated and overblown fear mongering and that is not how we should be making public policy.

[00:21:38] Simon: Right. And, and it’s not just bail reform that’s on the chopping block, as you say, Lee. It’s, also Raise the Age. There are calls to repeal or further water it down, that the laws – it’s called Raise the Age law – and Michael, can you first explain what that is and the threats it faces.

[00:21:56] Michael: Sure. So, before 2017, New York was one of just two states that, as a rule, prosecuted 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in adult criminal court. So, despite the fact that they were legally children, these were young people that were being put into a criminal legal system that is fundamentally incapable of addressing the root causes of why they’re there in the first place.

[00:22:22] And it’s so mismatched with what young people actually needed and respond to in terms of their development as young adults. We know that people’s brains are not actually fully formed until the age of 25. You know, addressing issues like their cognitive skills, their reasoning, their character, and their personality traits.

[00:22:42] These are all things that are still actively in development for the first 25 years of a person’s life. And yet we had decided and we’re operating under a system where we’re not going to account for the fact that 16- and 17-year-olds are still developing as people. They’re still figuring out who they are, their decision making processes.

[00:23:00] We are still going to send them into a system that is designed for adults, to punish adults based on adult decision making. And this was a system that was not actually working to benefit public safety. In the system that we had operated on prosecuting young people as adults, the outcomes were that young people, once they were released from incarceration, had higher rates of recidivism.

[00:23:26] They were more likely to face violence within carceral facilities. They were not actually getting the supports that they need to address any of the underlying causes that landed them in the criminal legal system. So, what Raise the Age was intended to do was tailor our criminal legal system to not impose those lifelong and devastating consequences on young people, but to instead send young people to family courts, to systems that were better structured to offer noncriminal interventions that could address root causes, that could get people into programming, that is not going to saddle them with lifelong criminal conviction that is going to set them on a path where it’ll be that much more difficult for them to reintegrate into society and to actually have a chance at a real life following their touches with the criminal legal system.

[00:24:20] So, Raise the Age did exactly that, it raised the age of criminal responsibility in New York. And what we’ve seen since then are a lot of the same fear mongering that comes up in the context of bail reform, that comes up in any kind of conversation following a victory on criminal justice reform. There is now a push to roll back these hard-fought wins and to allow young people to once again be sent into a criminal court that is fundamentally a mismatch for what is needed to address the problems in these cases.

[00:24:54] And, in particular, a lot of the concerns have been raised about, you know, what do we do about young people who are found in possession of guns or firearms? There’s this push to bring up the specter of gun violence as somehow a justification for, once again, treating young adults as criminals.

[00:25:13] And it’s kind of the approach that, you know, it comes up in the bail reform context. It comes up here. Folks have identified the issue as somehow not enough criminalization, not enough penalties, instead of actually identifying, well, what are the actual problems in communities that we can be better serving, better addressing, to make it less likely that a young person would feel the need to have a gun in the first place.

[00:25:37] So, you know, some of the things that we can focus on instead of this push to re-criminalize young people on gun possession charges is actually to look at what are the factors at play? Are there enough supports for public education funding for social workers, for healthcare, and communities that are addressing some of the root causes of why a young person might feel that they need to have a gun in the first place?

[00:26:02] You know, we know from studies that young people who are most likely to be caught up in these systems. Are young people who fear for their own safety. They don’t see a lot of support for meaningful infrastructure in their neighborhoods, in their communities, to provide for a sense of community wellbeing.

[00:26:20] They’ve been victims themselves of violence or their family members have been. And they’re also in communities that frankly don’t have any trust that law enforcement is actually there to protect them. So, there are so many issues that we can be solving through alternative investments to actually make communities more robust, more safe, more healthy, that are actually speaking to the root causes here and actually setting young people up with the investments that they need to thrive.

[00:26:49] Simon: And Michael, we’re recording this just days after the video of Tyre Nichols being viciously beaten was released to the public. And that video footage offers another reminder of the stakes around transforming policing and the need to do that as quickly as possible. We did a whole episode with you as one of the guests on policing.

[00:27:15] But I did want to just touch base with you about the prospects for any sort of policing reform passing this year, either as part of the budget or, um, a stand-alone legislation.

[00:27:28] Michael: Yeah. Thanks for raising that, Simon. You know the police killing of Tyre Nichols in Memphis was horrific. It was tragic and sadly I think what we saw there is also not surprising.

[00:27:42] And that’s because we still have not learned the lessons from so many police killings of largely black men that our continued reliance on police is what keeps landing us in these situations where our only answer to any kind of issue of community concern has always been this default of more law enforcement, more policing. How do we expand their scope? How do we do new training? How do we look at more programs to improve policing or do these kind of very small reforms that are geared towards trying to address bad apples or not recognize the fact that the problem here is that we have so overinvested in policing that we are going to continue to see these cases of horrific unfathomable killings until we actually grapple with the fact that policing has gotten so out of control in their scope, in their funding, in their powers.

[00:28:43] And until we address those over investments in policing at the expense of communities, we’re going to keep having these conversations and keep asking, how do we prevent something like this from happening again?

[00:28:54] Recently, we saw in New York City, Mayor Adams put out his preliminary budget proposal for fiscal year 2024. And there are dramatic cuts to social services, to homelessness services, to housing, to libraries, to education. And there’s almost no impact on the NYPD’s budget. So, we have seen in this proposal no real ask for the NYPD to get their own out-of-control spending under control. This is an agency that has recently been reported, uh, to be running hundreds of millions of dollars over their overtime budget. And this is something where we need to reassess just how much we are relying on law enforcement to play roles that they’re fundamentally not well suited to play.

[00:29:40] Simon: And I know we had talked before we started recording about the fact that Tyree Nichols was killed by officers who were a part of a specific police unit. And there are similar types of units in New York, aren’t there?

[00:29:55] Michael: You know, what we saw in the case of Tyre Nichols was a killing by the horrifically named Scorpion unit of the Memphis Police Department. Which, you know, versions of this type of unit exist in a lot of police departments throughout the country. They are aggressive anti-crime units that are basically sent in to communities with a very explicit, very militarized focus to aggressively and often brutally enforce criminal laws and even low level quality of life offenses too.

[00:30:29] And this is something where we see similar iterations of this in New York City. There was the revival in recent years of anti-crime units now called Neighborhood Safety teams in New York City that are officers with an aggressive anti-gun and broken windows mandate. We see it in the unit of the NYPD called the Strategic Response Group.

[00:30:51] Which is this hybrid counterterror and anti-protest unit, which the marriage of those two functions should raise a lot of alarm bells for folks, that we’re thinking about response to protests as somehow being on the same page as counterterrorism. But this is the unit that we have seen play a lot of similar roles for the Scorpion unit.

[00:31:10] They are sent out to aggressively crack down on protestors demonstrating for racial justice, they are trained in biased and violent tactics when it comes to responding to protests, and they’ve also now been deployed to “high crime” precincts to supplement the NYPD’s quality of life initiatives and anti-gun initiatives.

[00:31:33] So, these are units that we are sending out that are highly militarized, that are aggressive by nature, that are being sent primarily to Black and Brown communities. And we know what happens when we send units like this out into the public. They act in ways that are leading to dramatically biased enforcement against Black New Yorkers in particular.

[00:31:51] And these are units that simply should not exist. So, one of the efforts that we are leading locally in New York City is the campaign to disband the Strategic Response Group because of its violent nature, because it actively harms public safety.

[00:32:06] Simon: And what sort of legislation are we looking at or working on at the state level?

[00:32:12] Michael: You know, again, it’s hard for folks to really move out of this mindset of just being reactive to the latest instance of police violence and abuse.

[00:32:22] But it’s where we need to go. So, one of the things that we are hoping to do is get us to a place where we build in an infrastructure where we are preventing harm from happening in the first place. So, there are a couple bills that are on our agenda that I think speak to some of those issues. One of which, Simon, we’ve talked about before, which is a bill to dramatically limit the use of no-knock warrants by police under New York law.

[00:32:52] So, these are warrants that are overwhelmingly used by police investigating drug possession offenses. They allow police to barge into a person’s home in the dead of night without announcing themselves, use battering rams to break down someone’s door, throw flash bang grenades to distract and sometimes burn people.

[00:33:15] And of course, in 2020, we saw just what happened with this type of warrant, with the tragic killing of Breonna Taylor. These are warrants that have no business being used, because of their inherent danger.

[00:33:28] So, there’s legislation that we are supporting that would prevent the use of these warrants in drug possession cases, impose real restrictions to make sure that these types of raids are not happening going forward, period, to try to make sure that we are not allowing these types of harms to continue to impact another person in the future.

[00:33:50] So, I think one of the other areas that we’re again recognizing is trying to find those functions that we currently assign to police that should be assigned elsewhere.

[00:34:01] And one of those areas that we know police are not well suited to is responding to people who are experiencing mental or emotional distress. And that’s an area where there’s legislation that we’re working on at the state level, again, in response to another instance of a tragic killing of a Black New Yorker by law enforcement, Daniel Prude.

[00:34:24] And we’re advocating for a bill called Daniel’s Law, which, Lee, I’ll pass it over to you if you wanna explain a bit about what Daniel’s Law is and how it fits into our advocacy around trying to reduce some of the harms that we see from policing.

[00:34:38] Lee: Absolutely. And, unfortunately, Daniel’s Law is yet another example of the reactivity, frankly, of our criminal justice and policing policy, w hich itself is a tragedy. I think it’s just fair to say it plainly. Daniel’s Law is a bill that we have supported and are working on in coalition with activists and healers and mental health professionals, particularly from Rochester and upstate in the wake of yet another police killing here in Rochester, New York. The Rochester PD killed Daniel Prude in March of 2020 after his brother called 911 to report that he was having, what was likely a, a substance or mental health crisis.

[00:35:27] He was not engaged in any crime or anything that we generally consider to be the subject of a law enforcement response. But because we live in a state that has so funded police as the de facto first responders to every kind of crisis, a bunch of officers showed up, and instead of treating him like someone in distress who needed care and compassion, they, you know, yelled at him, tased him, put a spit hood over him and pushed his naked body into the snow.

[00:35:59] And he was killed by those officers instead of given a connection to the care that he needed while he was having a mental health crisis. And that’s unfortunately not an outlier. Half of the people – a full 50% of people – killed by police are disabled. And that includes having a mental health disability.

[00:36:18] This is not something that we could or should ever want to train into police, right? This is not a matter of police being inadequately trained to deal with someone in crisis. It’s the fact that police should never be responding to public health matters in the first place. If I have a pain in my abdomen, I’m not gonna call a dentist, I mean, it’s just actually a matter of making sure we invest in sensible budgets and resources for people that give New Yorkers, right, the services and care they need. And we have fallen down again and again on that job when it comes to mental health here in New York. And instead of investing in broad mental health services, you know, access to care, whether that be prescriptions or therapy, instead we’ve just thrown more cops at the problem.

[00:37:05] And that hasn’t made anyone safer. It hasn’t made anyone more stable. What it’s done is compounded an existing mental health crisis by also adding unnecessary death to it.

[00:37:15] And Daniel’s Law would be a solution that would basically require localities, cities, to respond to people in mental health crisis with mental health responders. And that would be a way to ensure that rather than look at every problem as a criminal law problem, we actually connect people to care, that get at the root of whatever crisis they’re suffering and put them in a place so it doesn’t recur, we don’t continue to put cops in situations that they are simply not designed for, and it ensures that longer term we actually get people connected to the services and care that give them a chance of succeeding and being healthy in society without risking going through the revolving door of a criminal system that gives them no relief and provides no public safety to anyone else.

[00:38:02] And so, Daniel’s law is one of the wonderful legislative solutions currently in Albany to really give a flinty eyed look at how much we are overfunding police response in areas that don’t result in broader public safety for us as New Yorkers, and actually, to the contrary, create unnecessary trauma, suffering, and sadly and tragically death. And we have to change the way we’re doing things by actually reducing those contacts in the first place, reducing opportunities for law enforcement to escalate with people experiencing a mental health crisis, and just stop.

[00:38:36] Simon: Thank you for that, Lee. And so, as we wrap up, I just wanted to get from both of you. A sense of what people who are listening to this, who are interested in supporting the legislation, the policies that we’ve been talking about on this episode, what can they do? And, and Lee I’ll all start with you.

[00:38:58] Lee: Well, first of all to folks who are listening, thanks, right, ’cause you’re already tuned in and caring about what’s going on in Albany. Which here in New York is the place where the legislature goes to set the rules that govern all of our lives, right? So, we’ve already taken step one, which is kind of paying attention.

[00:39:15] And folks should know, this is the moment that the state legislature convenes between January and June. They’re going till June (I believe) 9th this year. So, it’s a limited time window. And between now and April 1st, it’ll all be money and budget talks. Basically they’ll take a little spring break then, then they’ll be back in May and June to do more public policy.

[00:39:36] And there are so many ways that folks who care about civil rights can get engaged. You can of course become a volunteer member, a donor with the NYCLU, and we work in broad coalition with folks across the board who are fighting. Our allies, community members, directly impacted folks who are fighting for all the policies that Michael and I kind of glossed today.

[00:39:58] Obviously, we’ll keep you guys updated, you know, at NYCLU about what we’re doing, but substantively here’s the message I would love for voters to be giving to their elected representatives, which is, number one, frankly, a thanks for responding to the Supreme Court’s revocation of our rights.

[00:40:19] Most importantly for us, you know, the right to control your bodily autonomy. Particularly when you’re pregnant and get an abortion. But also in pushing back on the Supreme Court striking down our concealed carry rules. I mean, this was a legislature that last year recognized the gravity of the moment, called themselves into special session, and responded to those threats.

[00:40:40] And I think it’s important for legislators to hear that folks care. And we’ve noticed that where the Supreme Court has let us down. New York has an opportunity, I would say a duty to step into that breach and protect the individual rights of New Yorkers and people here in New York. They started doing that over the summer and they’ve kind of perfected that by passing the Equal Rights Amendment again.

[00:41:01] This year, in January, by starting off the session with that, so that we as voters can improve our state constitution. So there’s, there’s some good news here, our legislators are paying attention. They’re seeing the role that New York can play in our kind of national fight for ratcheting up civil rights.

[00:41:17] And I think, apropo the, the second part of our conversation, to tell legislators, right, to carry the message, whether yourself to their offices or, you know, seeking out coalition advocacy or opportunities for citizen activism, is to say we need to rethink how we do budgets. And most importantly, to stop literally throwing money at police officers without a broader look at what our society needs, fundamentally, and legislators actually need to hear this. They need to hear we care about the state constitution, we care about our high court, and we care about budgets that are moral documents. And get people the services and the rights they’re entitled to. There are so many bills you could individually support, but I think those are the themes that we’d love legislators to hear, which is, thank you, you’re taking it seriously. New York has an opportunity. You guys have a duty. Let’s ratchet up civil rights here. And part of that is rethinking the way that we have just funneled money into the criminal justice system instead of thinking about how we keep people out of it, right, by meeting their needs on the front end. And that’s what we’re trying to push in Albany and we’d love everyone’s help in echoing that chorus.

[00:42:28] Michael: Yeah, I mean, I think Lee hit the right notes in terms of what lawmakers need to hear, and for folks who are interested in advocacy around some of the more particular affirmative bills that we’re trying to push forward, we definitely encourage folks to take a look at the extensive list of issues that we’re working on in the legislative agenda, which we have on our website for the 2023 session.

[00:42:51] And you’ll see, you know, we’ve talked a lot about, in this conversation, some of the, the fear mongering, the concerns about rollbacks on some of our hard fought criminal legal system wins. But I also hope folks take a look at the proactive agenda that we have, which is hopefully really inspiring to folks.

[00:43:08] There is a lot of opportunity to really drive the law forward in really impactful and hopeful ways to make New York actually a more fair and just state. We’re going to have a lot of tough conversations heading into the state budget on April 1st, around not just the funding issues that, you know, folks tend to associate with the budget, but also a lot of these substantive discussions around what the criminal legal system is going to look like, what programs to help New Yorkers experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity look like, what the mental health infrastructure in the state looks like.

[00:43:47] So these are all conversations that folks can be having now with their elected officials to say, these are the issues that matter. This is the type of New York that I want to see reflected in our state budget, in state law. And that, you know, that kind of outreach, it sounds like a little cheesy, folks reaching out to lawmakers and saying, here’s what I wanna see, but it does actually matter. It impacts people. Lawmakers want to hear from their constituents about the issues that matter to them.

[00:44:17] They need to know that this is an issue that actually matters to New Yorkers that motivates them to take action. So, definitely encourage folks to take a look at the issues that we have laid out there to contact their lawmakers and say, here are some red lines that I have drawn about the issues that matter to me.

[00:44:35] I hope they matter to you, and I hope these are the fights that you’re willing to actually have to make sure that we are actually advancing a positive vision of public safety, of justice, of community safety and wellbeing in New York.

[00:44:50] Simon: And we will definitely link to our legislative agenda in the show notes. And with that, Lee and Michael, thank you so much for coming back to Rights This Way.

[00:45:01] Michael: Thank you, Simon.

[00:45:02] Lee: Thank you, Simon.

[00:45:04] Simon: And that does it for our first season of Rights This Way. But stay tuned because we will be back soon with more. Follow us @NYCLU on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for the latest.

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