June 12, 2020 / 4:18 PM / a month ago

New York's Cuomo links municipal funding to police reforms to fight racism

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday said he would end funding for local governments that fail to adopt reforms addressing excess use of force and bias in their police departments by April 2021.

FILE PHOTO: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference at LaGuardia Airport's new Terminal B, during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York City, New York, U.S., June 10, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Cuomo said he would sign an executive order mandating that municipalities “reinvent and modernize” their police departments to battle systemic racism.

“That should be done in every police agency in this country,” Cuomo told a press conference, after weeks of nationwide protests following the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis.

He spoke alongside the mothers of Eric Garner and Sean Bell, unarmed black Americans who died in confrontations with New York City police.

Garner’s death on a Staten Island sidewalk came after a white officer used a deadly chokehold on him during a 2014 arrest. His dying words, “I can’t breathe!”, became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement decrying police killings of unarmed black people.

Floyd, 46, handcuffed and lying face down on a Minneapolis street while an officer knelt into the back of his neck for nearly nine minutes, also cried out “please, I can’t breathe,” before falling silent and still.

Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, praised the executive order at Cuomo’s news conference, calling it “a model for where we ought to be dealing with 21st century civil rights in this country.”

Cuomo also signed a bill on Friday to repeal a decades-old law that shielded police officers’ disciplinary records from the public, part of a package of police reform measures advanced by the Democratic-controlled state legislature this week.

“If there’s no trust, the community is not going to allow the police to police. And there is no trust, or there is a breach of the trust, and that has to be restored and repaired,” Cuomo said.

Tying state dollars to “systemic reform of police departments” is the only way to achieve dramatic changes to battle racism that protesters have been urging for decades, Cuomo said. About 500 local police departments will be affected, he said.

“Sit down at the table with the local community, address these issues, get a plan, pass that plan by your local government. And if you don’t you’re not going to get any additional state funds,” Cuomo said.

Reporting by Gabriella Borter and Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Tom Brown

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