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Elmont residents, officials call for police reform

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Mimi Pierre-Johnson, of Elmont, has marched in protests against police brutality since George Floyd died under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer on May 25. But on June 3, she decided to take her activism a step further, and created an online petition calling for Nassau County police officers to wear body cameras.

“It’s important to protect everyone involved,” Pierre-Johnson said, explaining that body cameras are used by law enforcement across the country to provide “a factual record of what occurred in all encounters between police officers and civilians.”

Without them, she said, there is no accountability for police officers’ actions. She recounted how her son-in-law was once stopped by a police officer while he was on his way to see a movie, and said the officer told him that he “looked like a good boy” because he was wearing khaki shorts and boat shoes.

“We live these things every single day,” Pierre-Johnson said of the larger black community, adding, “As a human being with a soul and a heart, you know what’s happening is wrong.”

As of last Friday, the petition had more than 400 signatures. It can be viewed at https://bit.ly/2Xzh3xY.

This isn’t the first time body cameras have been proposed for police in Nassau County. In 2015, then County Executive Ed Mangano and former Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter proposed purchasing body cameras for 31 officers who patrolled predominantly minority communities, like Elmont. But members of the Nassau Police Benevolent Association and the Superior Officers Association filed a complaint with the state Employment Relations Labor Board, saying county officials excluded the police unions from its discussions of the program, and it never moved forward.

Now, however, county officials are once again in the process of negotiating collective bargaining agreements with police unions, which, Legislator Carrié Solages said, should include a renewed discussion of the body camera program.

Solages and Legislator Siela Bynoe sent letters to County Executive Laura Curran earlier this month. Bynoe, a Democrat from Westbury, wrote that the collective bargaining process “presents the best chance to bring law enforcement on board as a willing partner,” and Solages, a Democrat from Valley Stream, noted that the transparency the body cameras provide could “save the county money in litigation, and protect our police officers from false allegations.”

In response, Michael Fricchione, a county spokesman, said that Curran’s administration “is in favor of exploring any tool that will increase transparency and safety.”

The state’s efforts

State officials are also doubling down on their efforts to pass police reform legislation.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo tweeted last Friday that he would work with members of the State Legislature this week to pass a “Say Their Name” reform agenda, including revising Section 50-a of the state Civil Rights Law to allow for greater transparency of police officers’ prior disciplinary records, banning chokeholds, prohibiting false race-based 911 reports and designating the attorney general an independent prosecutor in matters relating to the deaths of unarmed civilians at the hands of law enforcement.

Additionally, members of the state’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus have proposed a legislative package comprising a dozen bills that would increase transparency, create more oversight of police departments, ensure that suspects get medical attention, establish strangulation as a crime in the state and ban police from using racial and ethnic profiling. 

All of these bills are currently sitting in committees.

“This is not sexy legislation,” Assemblyman Phil Ramos, a Democrat from Suffolk County who chairs the caucus, said at a rally to increase support for these bills on June 4, “but these are things that are necessary to dismantle and take down that blue wall of silence.”

Floyd’s death is just the latest incident of police violence against black people in the U.S., activists say, and as a result, black legislators and residents say they are worried about the fate of their children. “It pains me to think that one day he walks out the door and he might not return, and not by the hands of an accident, but by the hands of a police officer,” Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, a Democrat from Elmont, said of her young son. “The notion that anybody has to prove their humanity is disgusting,” she said, adding, “It hurts me to know that we all, in this great country, do not have access to peace, justice and liberty.”

Solages said that change must happen before another black person loses his or her life, and Assemblywoman Taylor Darling, a Democrat from the Village of Hempstead, said there could be “no bad apples” in the police department.

To ensure that happens, they are advocating for the full repeal of Section 50-a. The provision makes all police officers’, firefighters’ and corrections officers’ personnel records “confidential and not subject to inspection or review” except by court order. “We don’t want to reform 50-a,” Solages said. “We want to repeal it.”

The law prevented the New York Civil Liberties Union from getting records from the Nassau County Police Department that it requested under the Freedom of Information Law. “It’s time for a real cultural change by and for the police, and for those who need their protection,” said Susan Gottehrer, director of the Nassau County chapter of the NYCLU, “and it’s time for oversight and accountability.”

But in order to get these bills passed, Gottehrer said, legislators need to gain support in the State Senate. “If you’re marching with protesters,” Gottehrer said, “you’d better be in [the Capitol] legislating tomorrow.”

Nia Adams, a community organizer for the Long Island Progressive Coalition, said that the repeal of Section 50-a is “the least” state legislators could do, and added, “Today and tomorrow and every day, black lives matter.”