Anyone with a heart or a conscience cannot help but be simultaneously horrified and outraged by what we’ve seen in the past two weeks; indeed, by the still continuing pattern of violence against communities of color. Make no mistake about it, the murder of George Floyd by four police officers in Minneapolis was far from an isolated incident.
The public response to the killing, the anger that erupted, was understandable and, for the most part entirely appropriate and peaceful. The police response to the protests, incited by President Trump and the right wing extremists he has appointed to government positions, was not.
Particularly disappointing, indeed, outrageous, was the response of the City of New York to the protests. In response, as President of the LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York, in addition to participating in a number of protests and rallies, I worked, along with three other attorneys, to draft the following letter, which this past weekend was circulated to the various Bar Associations in our area for signature before being delivered to New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, Police Commissioner Dermott Shea and the heads of the various unions representing New York City Police officers.
Not only do black lives matter; if we fail to raise our voices – and cast our votes – to support and uplift that message, we will have failed in our most basic duty as citizens.
Re. Policing Protest while Protecting Civil Rights
Dear Mayor De Blasio,
We are a coalition of bar associations, civil rights organizations, and legal organizations highly concerned with the apparent misuse of the New York Police Department and the equally apparent command failures and patrol officer level misconduct seen in the past week. We write to you demand a meeting with you, Police Commissioner Dermott Shea and the heads of the Police Benevolent Association, the Sergeant’s Benevolent Association and the unions representing more senior officers in order to resolve the obvious violations of federal, state, and local law, including the U.S. Constitution, Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §1983, and our own New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y.C. Admin. Code §8-107 et seq.
The videos of NYPD officers brutally suppressing peaceful protests calling for racial justice have been horrifying. They include misconduct not just by patrol officers, but also by those wearing white shirts. Officers have engaged in vicious crackdowns, unprovoked attacks, and unlawfully arrested hundreds of peaceful demonstrators under the pretense of an unlawful curfew. For example, between May 30th and June 2nd:
8. June 2, 2020, NYPD officers swarm and attacked peaceful protestors including local activist Marti Gould Cummings after gathering at Stonewall to honor the lives of black transgender victims of police brutality. (https://www.broadwayworld.com/article/Shaina- Taub-and-Marti-Gould-Cummings-Recount-Their-Experiences-Being-Arrested-in-NYC- Protests-20200605)
This list is far from comprehensive of the incidents of police brutality that have roiled the city. Indeed, with every day that passes, more horrific accounts of NYPD misconduct emerge. In addition, protestors who are being arrested are languishing in Covid–ridden jails, without due process or access to legal representation.
In a disturbing trend, numerous NYPD officers have been observed intentionally turning off their body cameras and covering their badge numbers with black tape to make it difficult for them to be identified and held accountable for their actions.
In many instances, this officer misconduct has been a direct result of command level decisions which have placed the public in danger.
Mr. Mayor, we respectfully submit this letter directly to you in an attempt to meet and resolve these issues rather than calling for resignations or initiating an official third-party complaint of misconduct against the NYPD. We request that your urgent response and immediate action.
CC: NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea, NYPD Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch, Sergeant’s Benevolent Association President Ed Mullins
Healthcare and COVID-19
Everyone says they’re for it, but there’s limited consensus on how to build a system that protects everyone. You hear a lot of right wing complaining and claims of “socialized medicine” every time the concept of a single payer system is raised, but the fact is that single payer has been recognized as the best option by almost every major interest group, and this has been true for years. Kristen Browde knows this well, having served as a Trustee on a nationwide union/multi-employer health plan for more than a decade.
Major corporations, major unions, most, if not all, progressive political leaders have endorsed the idea of some form of single payer, whether under the current banners of “Medicare for All” or the New York Health Act. The only holdouts – and they are big ones – are in the insurance lobby and some parts of the medical provider world.
Single payer systems spend only a fraction of what health insurance based systems spend on overhead. That means more money is available for providing care.
The current pandemic has only made the need for single payer more obvious. Imagine the bills facing those that emerge from hospitals having survived the battle of their lives, or, worse still, the bills faced by families who lost people. I have to echo the comment made by Joe Biden, that every American deserves the peace of mind that comes with knowing they have access to affordable, quality health care.
The Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, was an attempt to get there but Republicans and lobbyists badly damaged it before it became law, and since then, Republicans have been trying to dump people out of the system.
If elected I’ll work non stop to find a way for New York State to lead in protecting its citizens through providing single payer, because we know that here, as in so many areas, we have to do it, because Washington won’t.
Fighting for Stronger Common-Sense Gun Laws
I'm honored that Moms Demand Action has designated me a Gun Sense Candidate for 2020. I’ve worked with that organization and the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, and the need for more common sense actions to limit the damage caused by gun violence was what originally motivated me to get into this race.
Although New York has some of the strictest gun safety laws in the nation, there are still too many ways for these weapons to fall into the hands of very dangerous people. We need to create common-sense solutions to the devastating scourge of gun violence that has affected our nation and threatens our state. That’s why I am supporting a ban on the manufacture and importation of Ghost Guns in our state. Currently, our state allows individuals who would normally be restricted from buying a gun to purchase kits that contain the parts to make a gun at home. With no serial numbers on these guns, law enforcement agencies are completely unable to trace them. I will continue to fight for stronger common-sense gun laws by supporting the removal of any loopholes from background check regulations. Additionally, I will support Governor Cuomo’s newly proposed legislation that prevents anyone who commits a serious crime in another state from buying or possessing a gun in New York. This measure will save lives in our communities and prevent the escalation of gun violence.
Reducing Our Property Tax Burden
It’s no secret that the residents of Westchester pay not only the highest property taxes in New York State, but across the United States. With an average single-family home paying more than $17,000 per year, I will not allow the people of Westchester to be taxed out of their homes. As your Assembly Member, I will fight to ensure that we make the property tax cap permanent and reduce this harsh financial burden. When the Trump administration limited deductions for our state and local taxes, he unjustly targeted the hardworking people in our community. That is why when I am in Albany, I will continue to push for the local property tax cap and vehemently oppose Trump’s attacks on SALT.
Further, STAR rebates are essential to providing financial relief for homeowners in Westchester. While we have the best schools across New York State, many of our families are overburdened by these taxes. It will be a top priority of mine to ensure tax fairness. I will fight to simplify, expand, and spread awareness of the benefits of STAR rebates to our community, especially to our senior citizens, who are entitled to enhanced benefits under the STAR program.
Safeguarding Our Environment
Protecting and passing down a safe and healthy environment to our future generations is one of my highest priorities. That is why as your Assembly Member, I will fight to ensure we have strong environmental protections in place to create a greener Westchester for many years to come.
Westchester is known for the beauty of the Hudson River and the Long Island Sound, which is why I’m fighting to safeguard our waterways. Protecting our waterways is critical to not only public health, but also our economy, as the Hudson River is home to ships, tankers, and barges that travel daily. That is why I support Governor Cuomo’s proposal to ban the use of single-use Styrofoam food containers. Styrofoam contributes heavily to the pollution of New York waterways, litters our streets, harms our ecosystems, and poisons our animals.
In 2019, New York State passed historic climate protection legislation, known as the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA)--but we are not done yet. To meet the ambitious goals outlined in the CLCPA, we must pass legislation that promotes clean fuel policy in New York. I will support the implementation of a statewide low carbon fuel standard. New York is almost entirely dependent on petroleum-based fuels for the transportation economy, which makes up 34 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. Not only does dependency make our economy one dimensional, but these emissions are detrimental to the health of our children and the elderly. I believe we can reduce these emissions by adding incentives for solar, wind and geothermal power, promoting the use of electric vehicles and increasing capacity on Metro-North.
To hit the goals of the CLCPA will require a substantial investment in renewable energy. Current plans call for replacement of the electricity generation capacity being lost by the closing of Indian Point with gas fired turbines, and in addition to requiring dangerous natural gas pipelines, each of those turbines will substantially increase emissions and contribute to global warming. That’s unacceptable.
We can and we should replace the jobs lost by the closing of Indian Point with jobs building and maintaining new, green, renewable energy facilities.
Ensuring Our Schools Have Resources They Need
When this campaign began the concern I planned to address was making sure the schools of our district maintained their excellence by ensuring that we got our fair share of state aid to education. And while that fair share is important, the budget disaster caused by the COVID-19 virus has reshaped the battle.
As a Westchester parent whose younger son is still in my town’s public schools, I’ve always been proud that we have some of the best schools in the state. That’s why many of us moved here.
But the state budget disaster means that we’re going to have to fight to maintain the quality of our schools, and instead of working for new advances we’re going to be battling to keep as much of what we have as we can. As our next Assembly Member, I will fight to ensure that our schools have the resources they need by receiving our fair share of state aid and keeping our kids healthy and safe. This includes maintaining the funding not just for academic programs, but for extracurricular, sports, music and arts programs. Additionally, supporting improvements to the Safe School Drinking Water Act is crucial to the wellbeing of our kids and to keeping Westchester a great place to live and raise a family, and I will work to pass this legislation.
Protecting Equality + Enhancing Women’s Rights
The 2019 legislative session was historic for women’s rights. As many states across the country are actively restricting women’s right to choose, New York has expanded and codified these rights into law. Although we have many policies to be proud of, we have to continue fighting for women’s equality. Businesses have unfairly targeted women by forcing them to pay higher prices for goods that are nearly identical to products marketed towards men. In Albany, I will fight to pass the elimination of this “pink tax” and end gender-based discrimination in our economy.
Of critical importance, I am fighting to promote an inclusive and accepting Westchester. We must protect all New Yorkers from unjust and prejudice treatment on the basis of sex. That is why I will also fight to advance and codify the Equal Rights Amendment into the state constitution. This ground-breaking amendment will guarantee protection regardless of sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
Championing Our Shared Progressive Values
As Westchester Democrats, it is crucial that we work to make New York State the progressive beacon of the country. We have made progress in the last year with a slew of progressive legislation protecting and expanding women’s rights, immigrant rights, voting rights, LGBTQ rights, and gun safety laws. But there is more we can do, and I will be on the frontlines of this fight, from passing legislation to combat childhood poverty, promote the use of electric vehicles, protect victims of domestic violence, legalize gestational surrogacy, and reduce the cost of prescription drugs.
Fighting the Opioid Epidemic
The opioid epidemic has devastated our communities. According to the New York State Department of Health, there were 111 fatal overdoses in Westchester in 2017. These drugs are destroying our families and gravely endangering public safety. Deaths have only been exacerbated by the introduction of the synthetic opioid fentanyl. As our next Assembly Member, I will fight to pass a ban on fentanyl analogs by making them subject to the same criminal sale and possession penalties as other controlled substances. This is a necessary step in the fight to tackle this public health crisis.