Governor Cuomo: "It's not demonstration for the sake of demonstration. It's not protest for the sake of protest. It's protest to make change. What change do you want? And what we're doing in New York is saying, we're going to take that moment, we're going to institutionalize it."
Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo was a guest on MSNBC's Deadline: White House with Nicolle Wallace to discuss the landmark "Say Their Name" policing reform agenda package he signed.
AUDIO is available here.
A rush transcript of the Governor's interview is available below:
Nicolle Wallace: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a package of police reform bills today that he calls the most aggressive in the country, including the banning of chokeholds by police and the repeal of a decades-old law-making complaints against police officers public for the first time in decades. Cuomo also signed an executive order to allow New York police spending only if local governments and agencies can address forceful policing and implement bias awareness training and restorative justice practices by April 1. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo joins us now. Governor, take me through what all of the reforms do.
Governor Cuomo: Pleasure, good to be with you, Nicolle. Two different packages, if you will. Number one, we signed bills into law that were passed by state legislature, that do as you said, ban chokeholds, more transparency in disciplinary measures. We have the attorney general in this state as a special prosecutor because I believe there's always been an inherent conflict between the local DA and the police. I signed an executive order to that effect about five years ago. In perception, if not in realty, right, how do you have that local district attorney handling a sensitive investigation about the police? So, we signed those bills into law. Second, I issued an executive order that says every police department in New York, and the local governments, have to sit at a table, with the local community, and come up with a reinvention plan for their police department. We've all seen what has happened. What the protesters are basically saying is, enough is enough, they want change, and there's no trust between the police and the community. And if there's no trust, if the relationship is violated, then it doesn't work for anyone, right. You can't be policing a community that doesn't trust you and if you're the community, you're not going to have the police that you don't trust actually serving that function. So, we have 500 police departments, let that police department get reinvented, reformed through the lens of that community, Nicolle, and they have to pass a new plan as a law, and it has to be done in nine months so this can't be going on forever. And if they don't, by next April, then there won't be any state funding.
Nicolle Wallace: Let me ask you, so these bills, my colleague, the Rev Al Sharpton, described these reforms as a model for the other 49 states. You were clearly ready; the state legislature was ready. Can you just talk about the role that public opinion shifting around these issues played in making this legislation go through? When I heard you speak passionately about this story happening over and over again. It could have been passed after Eric Garner was murdered. It could have been passed after, you name the other cases. Why now?
Governor Cuomo: Nicolle, it's a great point. Look, first, change comes when the planets line up, right, but you have to be in a position to seize that moment. Carpe diem, seize the day, carpe momentum, seize the moment. I passed the New York gun safety law right after Sandy Hook, right, because Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut, people said enough is enough. You seize that moment for change. Why after Mr. Floyd's death and not Rodney King, and not Amadou Diallo, and not Abner Louima, and not Sean Bell, and not Eric Garner? I don't know why. Maybe it's the cumulative effect, maybe the video was so horrendous in this case, maybe there was just breaking point because of everything that was going on with the isolation of the COVID virus. I don't know why this moment. But it was this moment that the people erupted and said something has to be done. Fine, now the planets are lined up, come with the change. Reverend Sharpton said today, demonstration, legislation, reconciliation. It's not demonstration for the sake of demonstration. It's not protest for the sake of protest. It's protest to make change. What change do you want? And what we're doing in New York is saying, we're going to take that moment, we're going to institutionalize it. Put that community at the table with that police department and make the changes you want made to restore the trust. What equipment, what's the use of force policy, what should the staffing ratio be, what should the budget be, what should civilians do, what should police do, how should they handle a crowd? Just design the police department the way you want it and let's get on with a relationship of trust. Do it by department because there is no one size fits all, but give them a deadline, Nicolle, otherwise this will be a conversation that goes on ad infinitum.
Nicolle Wallace: Have you heard from Joe Biden today about taking your reform package and making it a part of the national platform? He said he didn't support defunding police but very much an advocate of the reforms you signed into law.
Governor Cuomo: I didn't speak to Mr. Biden about it today. But look, you have these hyperbolic political chants. Everybody agrees that you need a public safety function. That has to exist. But the taxpayers are not going to pay for a public safety function they don't trust. That's what we learned. Okay, then let's actually seize the moment and let's redesign the police department. It's been 50 years incoming. Redesign it for 2020, then fund it, and force the community and the police to sit down and make that decision, force the local community to redesign it and pass a law, and use the state funding as an incentive, sanction to get them to actually do it. We're in this political environment, Nicolle, they shouldn't use tear gas, they shouldn't use rubber bullets - it's not a one-off. This is 50 years. It's the fundamental injustice of the system. It's called racism. It's called the militarization of the police. That's what has to be resolved.
Nicolle Wallace: You talked about the hyperbolic nature of the debate. You're right, people are not really that far apart in not wanting to see militarized police forces in every city in this country. But The New York Times today describes Donald Trump basically as a cultural relic. Is he doing harm at this moment where you want 76 percent of the public that wants to see the kind of reforms you signed?
Governor Cuomo: I don't think he's relevant to this conversation. I think the people who listen to the President listen to the President and they always have. They probably always will. But I don't think he's relevant to this conversation. I think he discredited himself with his actions right in front of the White House. I think using the military to set up a photo op, using a general, using a cabinet secretary, to bring in military forces to clear peaceful protesters was disgusting. I think they should be ashamed in the military for being part of that political stunt. It violates everything we believe as Americans. So, I think his credibility on this issue was gone as of that moment.
Nicolle Wallace: He's also dealing himself out of relevance on the coronavirus front. We opened up as a city on Monday. I'm a resident of New York City so I was very happy about that. How is it going? How are our numbers holding up? Do you have any concerns about the size of the demonstrations?
Governor Cuomo: You want to hear something remarkable? New York State had the worst situation in the United States when we started, when it came to COVID, right? The highest number of cases per capita in this country, per capita on the globe - that was New York. No fault of our own. The virus came from Europe. Nobody told us. Everybody said the virus was coming from China. They were wrong, wrong, wrong. It was in Europe. But that's why we had the number of cases. The flights came from Europe. But we had the worst-case scenario. Today we have the lowest transmission rate in the United States of America. I mean, that's remarkable, what the people of New York did. They went from the worst case to the lowest level of transmission of any state in the United States. But you look around, Nicolle, it's frightening. You see 21 states are seeing increases. 15 states hit a new high. Reopen, reopen, reopen. Yeah, reopen, all those people come out, you increase the activity, there has been very little control, very little monitoring and the spike is back. So, who did you really help on this whole plan of expedited reopening? Reopen because you want to. It's good for the economy. You saw the Dow Jones go up. You will see the Dow Jones come down just as fast, if that spike goes up. The spike goes up, the Dow Jones goes down - it's an inverse. And we've seen it over the past couple days and it is happening all across the country. So, I'm just hoping that we keep our discipline in New York and we keep that rate of transmission down. But it is a frightening place for this country once again.
Nicolle Wallace: I'm old enough to remember when I believe it was Florida and maybe one other state that was warning against people coming from New York, warning them about us and asking to us quarantine when we traveled to their states. Have you given any thought to asking people from any of the states spiking, to take their temperatures or to quarantine or do anything when they come back into our state?
Governor Cuomo: Well, wouldn't that be karma? Wouldn't it be karma if I went out and said, "I'm thinking of quarantining. I won't let those people from Florida come in. You know, they have a very high infection rate in Florida. I don't want them coming here." I think I would do it just one morning, just for the enjoyment of it. But no, I would not do that.
Nicolle Wallace: Well, the cases are a black box, really.
Governor Cuomo: By the way, the President of the United States talked about quarantining New York and New Jersey. Don't forget that.
Nicolle Wallace: I remember. I remember.
Governor Cuomo: He talked about having enforced quarantine. Not since the Civil War - they were talking about blocking access to New York. You want to see a second civil war, you would have if they did that.
Nicolle Wallace: I have one more question for you. Are you in a position to make any projections or share any of your expectations about whether or not the school year will start in September? In any part of the state?
Governor Cuomo: September? My crystal ball does not go that far.
Nicolle Wallace: It's coming. I know. Moms and dads want to know.
Governor Cuomo: Yeah. Well, I don't. I only have a 30-day crystal ball. It was the discount crystal ball. I can't see September. I'll tell you when we get a little closer. Look, our numbers are coming down. Other states are going up. Does that wind up infecting us? Who knows. When it comes to opening schools, I want to have the best facts we can and let's get a little closer and then I'll get a new crystal ball.
Nicolle Wallace: All right, this is within the skill set of your crystal ball - West Point tomorrow. Should the cadets be permitted to wear masks if they want to?
Governor Cuomo: Why wouldn't you let them wear masks? Is this another political photo op, and we don't want the cadets wearing masks in our photo? It can only help. Most states that are responsible are working very aggressively. West Point happens to be in a state called New York where I signed an executive order saying wear masks. West Point is in New York, right? So, of course they should wear masks. And why don't we just stop with these military connotations in political events? What we saw in Washington was military interference in a political event. And you come back with West Point after that? I mean, you want to talk about not learning the lesson, right? The General said it was inappropriate. The Secretary said it was inappropriate. Okay, so now we'll use West Point. I understand. At least wear a mask when you're doing your photo op.
Nicolle Wallace: I hope so. I hope if they want to, they're allowed to. Governor Cuomo, thank you for joining us on your big news and all the news of the day. It's always great to spend some time with us. When the fall school year comes into focus, we want to hear any predictions. I think parents are feeling a lot of angst about the summer and the uncertainty about the fall. So, thank you for fielding our questions. And thanks for spending some time with us.