Statistics have shown that “Every 28 hours a young black man is killed by police and “Only 2% of police are indicted. On December 14, 2012, twenty children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. By January 15, 2013, Governor Cuomo signed state legislation that gave New York some of the toughest gun laws in the nation. If “Black Lives Matter”, we should expect the same zeal in passing legislation for oversight and a State Wide Special Prosecutor in the 2015 legislative session.
The unfortunate death and subsequent investigation and the decision of the Grand Jury not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner have echoed many concerns in the Black, Hispanic and Immigrant Communities as it relates to the perceptions and attitudes of Law Enforcement and the Justice System in the state of New York.
Any Law Enforcement Officer, who has the power to arrest and use deadly force and has received comprehensive training by certified institutions of Law Enforcement and goes into a community and abuses the authority that they have been empowered with, is in essence, a criminal themselves.
The Grand Jury process as it relates to bringing charges against Law Enforcement has little or no true transparency. From a realistic perspective, blood, marriage or a loyal bond of friendship often times relates Law Enforcement officers. Whether District Attorney’s want to admit it or not, the District Attorney’s office are presented with the challenge of investigating an officer who is related. The municipality has to investigate an officer who they consider ”one of their own” and the municipality has to also decide how they can proceed with its investigation in a manner that will preserve its relationship with that police officer and police department.
Based upon the challenges that municipalities encounter, the only logical choice is to request aid in the form of a Special Prosecutor or Federal Intervention.
Unfortunately, when municipalities do recognize the need for transparency, the call has fallen to death ears by Governor Cuomo and our State Legislators. A letter, dated May 29 and signed by the entire council of Newburgh N.Y., came at the response to the death of Michael Lembhard, a 22-year-old killed in 2012, during a confrontation with police.
The council’s letter claims a close working relationship between police and prosecutors undermines the credibility of the district attorney’s investigation.
“It does not matter that the DA’s office does an outstanding job of investigation; the results will not be trusted. By definition the relationship causes a conflict of interest,” the letter says.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo denied the council’s request for a special prosecutor.
Its time to call into action state legislation that requires oversight of investigations of law enforcement. To remove this burden, the legislation must require in the event of an investigation into police misconduct or criminality, local authorities must contact state authorities. The legislation must create a Statewide Independent Investigative body that will investigate any incident from the onset of the collecting of evidence and the interviewing of witnesses, which are two of the most critical pieces of an investigation. Resources must be provided to municipalities to meet these standards and expectations required by the legislation.
Implementing a Statewide Independent Investigative Unit will eliminate the perception of injustice within the law enforcement ranks and ensure that both the officers and the alleged victims receive a fair and impartial thorough investigation, which will uncover the truth based on the evidence, which may resolve so many unanswered questions while continuously building trust between law enforcement and the community they claim to protect and serve.
As a national organization of Black Law Enforcement Professionals, we join the many organizations and elected officials calling for Governor Cuomo to act. These issues underscore the need for a systematic change and true accountability of transgressions of Law Enforcement agencies in the method of instituting a permanent State-level Special Prosecutor to investigate and prosecute cases that involve alleged police brutality and police misconduct; especially those considered “High Profile” cases. There have been too many incidents involving law enforcement with too many questions and not enough answers. We are calling for more transparency within the system to protect both our law enforcement officers and the citizens in the community in which they serve.
Damon K. Jones, New York Representative, Blacks in Law Enforcement of America