By Tyronda James
Supporters surrounded Rev. Lewis Stewart, president of United Christian Leadership Ministry of Western New York, July 28 at First Church of God, 334 Clarissa Street, Rochester, New York for a press conference surrounding the New York State Sheriffs’ Association Ten legislative proposals. Stewart said the proposals are regressive and will have a negative impact on communities of color and were written to reinforce systemic racism and white privilege.
“If you wish to observe systemic racism in its brutal nakedness and unequal outcomes, these proposals certainly demonstrate it,”said Stewart.
“By the very fact that you created these proposals reveal that Black lives do not matter to you, nothing matters, but maintaining your own power and privilege.”
The Sheriffs’ Association presented the proposals July 15. They include:
- increasing resisting arrest to a Class E felony;
- making failure to retreat a Class D felony;
- increasing levels of seriousness for assaulting a police officer by one degree and making them crimes that require bail;
- making aggravated harassment of a police or peace officer a Class D felony;
- deeming crimes against police officers because of their status hate crimes;
- making it a Class D felony to falsely accuse a police or peace officer of wrongdoing;
- making it a Class D felony to dox (publish private information on the internet with malicious intent) a police or peace officer because of their status;
- making it a Class E felony to stalk or surveille a police or peace officer with no legitimate purpose;
- providing a $500,000 benefit for police officers who are seriously injured or die in the line of duty; and
- making May 15 a state holiday to honor police officers who have died in New York and proposing an annual ceremony at the Police Memorial Wall in Albany on the Monday closest to May 1.
Ashley Gantt of Free the People Roc and civil rights organizer with the American Civil Liberties Union said she learned of the proposal weeks ago, after a press conference bringing the new proposals to the floor.
“It included things like resisting arrest now being a felony. And we know historically, resisting arrest is whatever the police say it is,” she said. “As well as things like a videoing a police officer within 25 feet and now making that a felony. And we know, again, people use that to protect themselves and really use it as evidence and their cases.
“These new proposals are an extension of white supremacy. It is a tunnel for white supremacy. Sheriff Todd Baxter recently said that he wanted to come against white supremacy and dismantle racism. And this has really been a pipeline to racism and white supremacy. And we just strongly come against it.”
Stewart said that UCLM has sent letters to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and numerous other government officials, including New York Attorney General Leticia James and Assemblymen Harry Bronson, asking for the proposal’s rejection. There is a scheduled Zoom meeting in August at the request of Baxter.
Stewart said the work needed to be done cannot be accomplished in a month or a year. That it is a lifetime of work. “I’m 74 years old and I’ve been dealing with this a lifetime. So there’s more work to be done.”
“We’ve come some ways, but what we have addressed are the outward symbols of racism. We did not really address the systemic and structural and institutional power of racism.”
Voting in November is crucial, said Stewart, “but remember that voting is not the panacea. The community must continue to raise their voices in the neighborhoods and the communities. We have to get out there and cry against a power that is cruel and inhumane.”
Gerald Franklin, advocate and long-time supporter of Stewart said, “What it is, it’s anti-black, it’s black control. It’s basically going back to the slave control mentality.”
UCLM believes if these “oppressive measures” become legislation it would mean an increase in mass incarceration increase, the public would no longer record police conduct or misconduct for fear of being arrested, complaints would not be filed against police officers due to fear of retaliation, the law would continue to uphold systemic racism, justify use of force, encourage retaliation by the police, and more.
“Until racism and institutional racism and structural racism is eradicated from every institution in the United States. There’s more work to be done,” Stewart said. He said the State Senate has already rejected the passing the NYSSA proposals and is now calling on State Assembly to do so as well.