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New York State Lawmakers Approve Police Reforms Aimed To Protect People Of Color

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

New York state lawmakers today approved more sweeping police reforms designed to protect people of color from racial bias. The changes were driven by the massive street protests that began with the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. But as NPR's Brian Mann reports, the anger and the outrage have been building for years.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: In 2012, Ramarley Graham was shot and killed in his home in the Bronx by a New York police officer. His mom Constance Malcolm says when she lost her boy, the criminal justice system didn't seem to care.

CONSTANCE MALCOLM: He was only 18 - 18 years old. He was murdered in front of his younger brother and his grandmother. It took me five years of non-stop organizing and protesting to get officer who shot and killed him off the force, off the NYPD.

MANN: The officer was forced to resign, but criminal charges were dropped. Malcolm kept pushing for many of the changes approved by lawmakers over the last 48 hours. The reforms include a ban on chokeholds, the appointment of special prosecutors in cases of alleged police violence and a new requirement that police departments track arrest data to detect patterns of racial bias.

MALCOLM: So we can know how many New Yorkers are killed by police in a way that all families have a chance at some kind of justice because we never got any, you know? We never got any.

MANN: Law enforcement will also have to provide more mental health and medical care to those in custody. The most controversial reform is being pushed through today. Sponsored by State Senator Jamaal Bailey from the Bronx, it repeals a law that kept police disciplinary records in New York secret.

JAMAAL BAILEY: This is something that will go a long way in building up the public trust. And I think that's something that we certainly need now more than ever in our society.

MANN: Law enforcement groups oppose the measure, saying officers' personal information might be revealed to the public, putting them at risk. Bailey says he crafted the bill to make sure that doesn't happen.

BAILEY: This is about transparency and accountability and creating a public trust. This is not against law enforcement, and I think that people are starting to finally see that this is the case.

MANN: But the state's powerful law enforcement organizations rallied against these measures again today, describing them as an attack on police. Pat Lynch, head of the New York City Police Benevolent Association, condemned the officer who knelt on the neck of George Floyd.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAT LYNCH: Eight minutes is wrong. There was no struggle. There was no reason. It was wrong. We denounce it, and we have from the beginning.

MANN: But Lynch, whose organization has long resisted policing reforms, blasted lawmakers in Albany, accusing them of coddling criminals, leaving police vulnerable and making neighborhoods more dangerous.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LYNCH: For our legislators to then demonize police officers as if we're the problem, as if we broke the window, as if we caused the violence, that is absolutely outrageous.

MANN: While police and their Republican allies say these reforms go too far, some protesters marching over the last two weeks wanted bigger changes.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Hands up.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Don't shoot.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Hands up.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Don't shoot.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Hands up.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Don't shoot.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Hands up.

MANN: They carried signs calling for police departments to be defunded or dismantled altogether. None of New York's reforms go that far, but they do mean far more public scrutiny of racial bias and violence among police. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signaled he'll sign these bills.

Brian Mann, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHOENIX'S "DEFINITIVE BREAKS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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