Almost a year ago, New York state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins stood on the floor of the Senate chamber and shared some of her own family’s experience with policing.
Speaking as a mother and grandmother of Black children, the highest ranking legislator in New York said that she worried about members of her own family when it comes to interacting with police.
“Over the last few days and weeks, Bruce Springsteen’s song 'American Skin (41 shots)' keeps coming into my head, a haunting song that speaks to so many tragic moments that we have experienced," she said at the time. "A song written over 20 years ago about the killing of an unarmed Black man. Amadou Diallo.
The chorus is a haunting accusation. It goes 'it’s no secret my friend, you can get killed just for living in your American Skin.'"
When asked if the conviction of Derek Chauvin, the officer who killed George Floyd, changed that calculation, she said no.
“Frankly no. I would wish that I could say that everything’s fine," Stewart-Cousins recalled. "But I think we’ve all watched circumstances unfold. Even as the Chauvin trial was going on, there was Daunte Wright who was killed in a police interaction."
But, she said that doesn’t mean there haven’t been positive changes.
“There is more conversation, there is more legislation, there is more of a collective drive to try and change policing,” Stewart-Cousins told Capital Tonight.
She also underscored her belief that there is a role for policing.
“We want to make sure the everybody gets out of an interaction safely, and nobody is the judge, the jury, the executioner, none of that,” she said. “But there’s still a lot more to do.”
Last week, state Attorney General Letitia James proposed changing the legal bar for when police officers may use deadly force “from one of simple necessity to one of absolute last resort."
When asked if she supports the bill, the Senate Majority Leader didn’t commit.
“We are looking it seriously,” she said. “We are trying to get to a point where every interaction doesn’t lead to lethality, and I think A.G. James is trying to get there too.”
Stewart-Cousins was also asked about a decision by James to present both sides of the Daniel Prude case to a grand jury, which ultimately acquitted the officers involved.
“You know, I will not second guess what the attorney general decided to do as it relates to this particular case,” she said.
Stewart-Cousins was quite positive about the police reform efforts put into place by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“I spent time with my own Westchester County executive and legislators talking about the work that the police reform community had done, and they engaged communities. They had 50 recommendations that they could do that would enhance policing. That’s important. I thought that was an important conversation,” she said.