Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo delivered remarks at the National Action Network King Day Public Policy Forum.
AUDIO of the remarks is available here.
PHOTOS of the event are available on the Governor's Flickr page.
A transcript of Governor Cuomo's remarks is available below.
Thank you. Thank you very much. Happy King Day to everyone. To Reverend Al Sharpton, I applaud his voice, his courage, his conviction, his advocacy. He has made this state a better state. Let's give him a round of applause. We have Michael Hardy who we've heard from, who's a great counsel, who works with my counsel. I want to thank Michael Hardy. Let's give him a round of applause. I have with me, my counsel, who works a lot with Michael. They've done some great, great legislating together. I want to introduce Alphonso David. Can you stand up? Alphonso comes up with all the great ideas in my office. My grandmother said once if you think too much, your hair will fall out. So I don't think too much, but Alphonso when he started with me, he had a full head of hair. I want you to know that. So we are doing our part. We have Paul Persaud, who the Reverend was good enough to recommend to me. He's been a great asset to the State of New York. Let's give him a round of applause. And we have my colleagues, Speaker Carl Heastie, who's doing a great, great job in Albany. Let's give him a round of applause.
The Reverend said it. The Reverend's been saying it. These are difficult, difficult times that this country is going through. And if we're not careful, these are transformative times. Normally when you say transformative, you mean for the better. I mean for the worse in this case. When I was HUD Secretary, we did a lawsuit during the Clinton Administration where we sued the KKK. And they were doing a TV show down south. It would run every week. And on the TV show, it was a panel. There were six people behind the panel with the confederate flag. And they were there with their hoods and everything. And the person right in the middle called himself a Grand Dragon or an Old Dinosaur or something like that. But he would be right in the middle. And they would just spew hate on this show. And the man in the middle had no hood. His name on the screen - just bold, open, brazen. And what they would say was horrendous. They were breaking the law, the fair housing law and that was the action of the case. I said, "how long has this show been on?" They said, "Show's been on for years." I said, "Well why hasn't anyone said anything for years? How has this gone on for years?" There was a boldness, and a silence at the same time. You look at what's going on in Washington now. It is the same pattern of division and discrimination, situation after situation. Started with the wall, right up front in the campaign, "I want a wall. I want those people out. I want these people in." It's DACA now, we want young immigrants. "They have to go. We don't want them in our country." Charlottesville, you want to talk about boldness? They didn't even bother wearing hoods anymore. They didn't even cover their faces and afterwards, the response was, "Well some of the white supremacists are good ones." No, no, by definition it is an oxy-moron. You can't have a good person that wants to do evil. That is not good and that is what happened in Charlottesville.
It is the conversation in the White House last week, where the President of the United States condemns nations, countries, millions of people - Haitians, Salvadorans, Africans - at a White House meeting. And then by the way, they lie about it. They lie about it. They come out, two Republican senators say, "I don't recall that being said." Sounds like Watergate. I don't recall. To the best of my recollection. It's not a Democrat, Republican thing because one Republican Senator came out and he did hear it. So it's not a hearing test. The other Republican heard it, but two of them they didn't hear it.
There are special words that you remember when they're said. Like the word aardvark—if somebody says aardvark in a sentence, you remember. I have an aardvark. You would remember that. My daughter is a cyclops-you would remember that. You remember when someone says those countries S-H and that person is the president and you're sitting in the White House. You remember that. And if you don't remember that, that's even worse. That's even worse. Because that means you are not outraged at the statement. And you should have been outraged as an American. 1999, Coretta Scott King, God rest her soul, asked me to do the Martin Luther King speech at Martin Luther King's church in Atlanta. And I was so honored, I worked for weeks on the speech. And I read everything. And the more I read about Dr. King, the smarter he was and the more fascinating he was. "The moral arc bends toward justice." Yes, but it's not a natural bend. It's not a rainbow. Dr. King's view was there would be a constant crusade and a constant force of good and decent people who were outraged at the injustice and they provided the force to bend the moral arc. Our outrage, our activism—is more important now than it's ever been.
On two tracks—number one, stand up and condemn what they're doing in Washington because it's vile and repulsive and ugly and un-American. And second, lead by example and let's improve our place where we are. Now as the Reverend said, we started out basically about the same time, same place. Somehow over the years, he's gotten younger and better looking, I don't know how he worked that out. But I'm sure it's connection with the Lord because other connections I have. But we have done a lot of good work together. And I am proud that I'm going to go down in the history books for closing more prisons than any other Governor in the history of the State of New York. I'm proud that we're the first that offer college -- which says every child, if you can get into college, you're going to go to college whether or not you can pay. Rich or poor, you get in, you're going to go - only in the state of New York. Highest Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise goals in the nation, more funding for affordable housing, more funding for education, first state to pass the $15 minimum wage, first state to pass Paid Family Leave. toughest gun control law in the nation, and the first and only prosecutor in the nation for police misconduct in a situation that requires investigation.
But to be honest, discrimination still exists. We know that. It's institutionalized. It's all through society. There's wage discrimination. There's age discrimination. It's employment discrimination. We have people in substandard housing today and it's not a coincidence that they happen to be poor and minority. We have failing public schools today in the same neighborhoods that have been failing for decades and it's not a coincidence that they are poor and minority communities. We want to be focusing this year on criminal justice and changing the perspective is not about being tough on crime, it's about being smart on crime. And bringing justice to the justice system. We have with us today Akeem Browder, brother of Kalief Browder. You want to talk about a situation that is repugnant to everything we believe in? 16-year-old Kalief Browder goes to Riker's Island on the accusation of stealing a backpack. Sits in Riker's Island for three years. Abused, solitary confinement - the pain caused during incarceration caused him to take his life because he had to stop the pain. Sixteen years old. How do you justify that? How do you justify that? Well maybe that's the only case. No, no. That is the rule, not the exception.
Over 75 percent of the people in Rikers have been convicted of nothing. Nothing. Seventy-five percent. Upstate jails, 60 percent. Convicted of nothing. The Constitution guarantees a speedy trial. Kalief sat there for three years. The Constitution promises no cruel or inhumane treatment. Solitary confinement for a 16-year-old for an extended period of time is cruel and inhumane. That's what has to be stopped. We had the federal government come in here to tell us that Rikers was a federal rights violation. Yes, it violated the federal civil rights. It also violates the laws of the State of New York.
Now we have a 10-year plan to close Rikers Island. And I say 10 years is too long. 10 years is too long. How many thousands of Kalief Browders would go through Rikers in 10 years? 10 years can be two mayors from now, three city councils from now. Who knows what'll happen. I'm not implementing a lot of Governor George Pataki's plans, who was one of my predecessors. JFK, John F. Kennedy, 1961 said we're going to go to the moon and it'll take 9 years. It can't take ten years to build a decent jail facility when it takes nine years to get to the moon. We have to get out of Rikers and we have to get out of Rikers now and end the abuse once and for all.
And we have to stop the injustices that brought us there. Lady Justice, the symbol of justice, she wears blindfolds, holds scales of justice. The point is your color doesn't matter, your place of origin doesn't matter. She's blindfolded. Only the merits matter on the scales. Really? Then why do we have a bail system that says it's how much money you have that determines whether or not you can get out? And what's happening now is if you can't pay the bail, you sit in jail; If you can make the bail, you get out. That's not justice. That's two forms of justice, one for the rich and one for the poor. Most of the crimes and misdemeanors are non-violent felonies, we want to change the law this year, get rid of the money, and the judge decides either you're a significant risk to public safety, in which case you stay in, or you're released on your own recognizance. Whether you're rich or poor, you're black or white, same standard.
We have people sitting in jails for years. Meanwhile our court system operates half a day. Nine to 12, 9 to 1 if you're lucky. How do you leave people sitting in jails and not even have your court rooms operating? They get paid a full salary for a full day's work, we want those courts operating full day 9 to 5, period.
New York is one of only 10 states where the defendant doesn't have to be presented any evidence until the day of trial. So you can be sitting there for years, you don't know who's charging you with what, what evidence you have, on the day of trial they hand you a big box of paper. You don't even have a chance to prepare. We want to change the law, 15 days after arraignment that prosecutor has to tell that person what they have and why they have it.
The silver lining to what's going on in Washington is people are energized and people are mobilized. Dr. King's formula was good and decent people will activate themselves and will do justice. This is the time for good and decent people to activate themselves and stand up and say we reject what is going on in Washington, we acknowledge the discrimination that still exists. And we're going to make this place a better place. We're not going to allow it to continue in Washington. And we're going to show you the positive example in New York by doing the good progressive measures we have, fighting discrimination everywhere we see it, and this year making the criminal justice system a fair criminal justice system so Akeem Browder's brother did not die in vain.
Thank you and God bless you.