New York State Senate Paves Way for Universal Access to LifeSaving Treatment, Activists Urge the Assembly for Immediate Passage

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 12, 2019

Contact: Jasmine Budnella, 720-480-5262, jasmine@vocal-ny.org

New York State Senate Paves Way for Universal Access to LifeSaving Treatment, Activists Urge the Assembly for Immediate Passage

In response to the NYS Senate’s passage of the three bills that will lay the foundation to Universal Access to Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) to many New Yorkers–for those on Medicaid and those incarcerated–VOCAL-NY has released the following statement attributable to Jasmine Budnella, Drug Policy Coordinator.

“Today, the New York State Senate took historic action against our state’s devastating overdose crisis that will save countless lives, and ensure the most marginalized New Yorkers will not be denied access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT).  The passage of these bills voiced to the thousands of families in mourning, and the thousands of New Yorkers who have experienced tortuous withdrawals in jails and prisons across the state–they are seen, they are heard, and they will no longer be forgotten or denied lifesaving treatment.

The Assembly must ensure that the most marginalized New Yorkers– from the Bronx to Buffalo, from county jails to upstate prisons–are worth saving and must be able to access MAT. The Assembly has the moral obligation to fulfill the commitment the Senate made today. In this historic moment, it will not be lost on New Yorkers or their families if the Assembly fails to move the state towards saving lives.”

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VOCAL-NY Reacts to Rent Proposal and Vows to Continue Fight for Housing Justice

For Immediate Release
Wednesday, June 12, 2019
Contact: Paulette Soltani, 775-340-2359, paulette@vocal-ny.org

VOCAL-NY Reacts to Senate, Assembly Proposal on Tenant Protections, Vows to Continue the Fight for Housing Justice for All New Yorkers

New York, NY – in response to the two-house deal on rent reforms announced by the State Senate and Assembly, VOCAL-NY released the following statement, attributable to Nathylin Flowers Adesegun, community leader at VOCAL-NY and homeless New Yorker.

“After years of rising homelessness across New York State, the Senate and Assembly have come together to pass a housing proposal that centers Black and brown low-income New Yorkers. VOCAL-NY stands with the Housing Justice for All Coalition and the State legislature for taking these critical steps to end displacement, harassment and injustice against vulnerable tenants across our state. As someone who became homeless at 70 years old by being evicted from my rent-stabilized apartment, I believe this bill would have helped me.”

“With 89,000 people living in homeless shelters, this bill signals that New York State will not continue to function under the influence of the real estate lobby.The housing movement is taking back its power to protect tenants from losing their homes and to ensure that formerly homeless people never face displacement again. We are calling on Governor Cuomo to sign the bill.”

“We are proud to stand with tenants, housing activists, homeless New Yorkers, legislators, and all others who believe that housing is a human right. While these reforms cannot be understated, we know there is more work to do in our state to ensure that everyone has a safe and permanent home. With the Housing Justice for All Coalition, we will continue to fight for no-cause evictions, the elimination of IAIs and MCIs, the passage of Home Stability Support, and more, so that every New Yorker can finally be stably and safely housed in our state.”

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Advocates Demand that Democratic Leadership Deliver on Progressive Promises

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE June 3rd, 2019 9am EST

Contact: Yatziri Tovar, 917-771-2818, Yatziri.tovar@maketheroadny.org

Paulette Soltani, 775-340-2359, paulette@vocal-ny.org

Black and Brown Communities Lay Out Must-Have Policies to Cuomo, Heastie, Stewart-Cousins for End of Legislative Session

Call on Cuomo to Stop Efforts to Divide-and-Conquer Legislature, Urge Heastie and Stewart-Cousins to Deliver on the Progressive Agenda that Put Them in Power

New York, NY (June 3, 2019)—With just three weeks remaining in New York’s state legislative session, leading community organizations representing Black and Brown working-class people across the state today laid out their must-have policy priorities. The following statement to Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie was signed by the following groups and statewide coalitions: Alliance for Quality Education, Citizen Action of New York, Community Voices Heard, Drug Policy Alliance, Housing Justice for All, Long Island Progressive Coalition, Make the Road New York, New York Communities for Change, Urban Youth Collaborative, and VOCAL-NY.

“Governor Cuomo, Speaker Heastie, and Leader Stewart-Cousins: Black and Brown communities across the state are deeply suffering. From the affordable housing crisis that makes displacement and homelessness a daily reality to immigrant families being torn apart to the mass criminalization and incarceration of our loved ones, young and old, we are hurting badly. We write to demand that the three of you, as the leaders of state government, take urgent action before the end of the legislative session to address these needs. In particular, we submit to you the following policy proposals that must be adopted before you adjourn in June:

  • Rent: New York must pass all nine bills in the Housing for All Platform to expand and protect tenants’ rights across the state, including good cause eviction legislation that would ensure all tenants have basic protections;

  • Marijuana: New York must legalize the adult use of marijuana to stop the ineffective, racially biased, and unjust enforcement of marijuana prohibition and to create a new, well-regulated, and inclusive marijuana industry rooted in racial and economic justice, which will generate tens of millions in tax revenue and over ten thousand new jobs;

  • Driver’s Licenses: New York must restore access to driver’s licenses for all qualified drivers, regardless of immigration status;

  • Climate Justice: New York must pass the Climate and Community Protection Act to ensure the strongest enforceable renewable energy standard, and a just transition for front-line communities;

  • School to Prison Pipeline: New York must pass the Safe and Supportive Schools Act to end school push out of students of color and keep students in classrooms and out of the criminal justice system;

  • Criminal Justice Reform and Police Accountability: New York must pass the HALT Solitary Confinement Act, repeal 50-a, and complete Parole Reform; and

  • Fair Elections: With big money in politics often impeding legislation that would benefit working-class people of color, a diverse, pro-public financing commission on campaign finance should be seated without further delay, and the Legislature should introduce bills this session to prepare to address any Commission shortcomings.

“In the weeks to come, our members will have a continuous presence in Albany and in districts across the state to ensure that these bills are passed before the end of session. We urge you to work together, as leaders committed to improving the lives of all New Yorkers, and with us as partners in these critical efforts and ensure they become law.

“Governor Cuomo, we demand that you cease your reckless efforts to block and water down these issues, and call on you to finally listen to our communities. We urge you to allow the legislature to do its job and legislate, rather than undermining and threatening legislators and shamelessly attacking the Senate. We see, and are appalled by, your crude attempts to divide and conquer the legislature. Stop getting in the way of justice for our communities.

“Speaker Heastie and Leader Stewart-Cousins, we urge you to focus your efforts on reaching agreements between legislators. We are confident that each of the policies enumerated above has sufficient support to pass your respective legislative chambers and become law, providing enormous benefit to our communities.

“In the beginning of this legislative session, both of you led efforts to pass important legislation, including laws to safeguard women’s reproductive health, advance voting rights, ensure equal access to higher education for immigrant youth, overhaul a discriminatory pretrial legal system, and more. These new laws showed how new leadership in Albany can uplift and center the lives of New Yorkers that have been not only ignored but denied basic rights and protections. But, following years of obstruction by the Senate Republicans and Governor Cuomo, and with a white supremacist in the White House targeting our communities, we must go much further.

“Your party controls both chambers of the legislature because your members won support in their communities–and especially in working-class communities of color–by supporting bold, progressive legislation. Now is the time to follow through, proceed to floor votes on these proposals, and turn them into the law of the land, so that New York can stand as a beacon of respect and dignity for all.”

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Available for further comment:

  • Marijuana Legalization: Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director, Drug Policy Alliance, 646-209-0374, KFrederique@drugpolicy.org
  • Drivers Licenses: Javier H. Valdes, Co-Executive Director, Make the Road New York, 917-679-2971, Javier.Valdes@maketheroadny.org
  • Rent: Jonathan Westin, Executive Director, New York Communities for Change, 917-637-9501, jwestin@nycommunities.org
  • Safe & Supportive Schools: Rosemary Rivera, Co-Executive Director, Citizen Action of New York, 585-520-6542, rrivera@citizenactionny.org
  • Climate & Community Protection Act: Lisa Tyson, Director, Long Island Progressive Coalition, 516-749-5074, ltyson@lipc.org

 

 

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Advocates Slam Senate Democrats Unanimous Passage of Deadly Republican-Era Fentanyl Bill

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE  May 31, 2019

Contact: Jasmine Budnella, 720-480-5262, jasmine@vocal-ny.org; Dionna King, 646-481-3127, dking@drugpolicy.org

In response to the NYS Senate unanimously (57-0) passing a bill to schedule fentanyl as a schedule I substance in the NYS Penal Law (S1652A) to facilitate the criminal prosecution of individuals for the possession or sale of a fentanyl analogue–and stating that an individual can commit a crime “knowingly” even if they do not have knowledge of the exact chemical structure of the fentanyl analogue, VOCAL-NY and Drug Policy Alliance have released the following statement attributable to Jasmine Budnella, VOCAL-NY Drug Policy Coordinator and Dionna King, Drug Policy Alliance Policy Manager.

 

“The passage of S1652A proves that the blue wave that put the Senate Democrats in power  is useless to the families across the state who have lost their loved ones to a preventable overdose, or to the thousands more who are suffering with a substance use disorder. We have heard for weeks that New York State Senate is suffering from ‘criminal justice fatigue,’–puzzling given that passing legislation, including to repair the harms of the mass incarceration era, is a job that they asked to do. We have been told that our decade-long efforts to pass lifesaving bills are unlikely, even in the midst of the deadliest overdose crisis ever.  And yet, the Senate has no trouble unanimously passing a failed drug war bill that helps no one and perpetuates harm and death.

Not only did advocates work to block this Republican-era legacy policy from being included in the NYS budget, we spent time educating the Senate on how scheduling fentanyl will increase incarceration, further criminalize a public health issue, undermine lifesaving policies like the Good Samaritan Law, and will inevitably increase overdose deaths across New York.  We’ve waited far too long for the Senate to be Democratic controlled, only to be fighting the same tired and deadly policy proposals that the Senate Republicans gave us for years.

Instead of passing counterproductive and archaic bills, New York State can lead by passing bills that are proven to save lives:

  • S2161/A833A (Bailey/Rosenthal): Expand Medication Assisted Treatment to all NYS Prisons and Jails
  • S5935/A7246A (Harckham/Rosenthal): Establishes that all FDA approved forms of medication assisted treatment prescribed for alcohol and opioid dependence shall be covered by Medicaid available under the preferred drug program
  • S4808/A2904 (Harckham/Quart) Amends the insurance law, in relation to prohibiting certain insurance policies from requiring prior authorization for certain medications used in the treatment of substance use disorders; and to repeal certain provisions of such law relating thereto
  • S875/A1634 (Rivera/Gottfried): Decriminalization Syringes and Expand Access to Public Health Tools”

 

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Gravity Knife Sanctions Finally Lifted, Formerly Incarcerated Advocates Rejoice

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 5/30/19

Contact: Nick Encalada-Malinowski, 347-259-4835, nick@vocal-ny.org

In response to Governor Cuomo’s signing of Assembly Bill 5944, removing criminal sanctions associated with possessing gravity knives, VOCAL-NY released the following statement, attributable to VOCAL-NY Community Leader Mark Moses.

“As someone who was arrested and spent time in jail for carrying a knife I used as a construction worker, I think this law should have been repealed long ago. That said, I’m glad the Governor finally signed this law so that others coming up behind me don’t need to go through what happened to me.”

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As Marijuana Justice Stalls, Racist Medical MJ Company Contributes Big $$$ in Albany

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 5/29/19

Contact: Jeremy Saunders, 917-676-8041, jeremy@vocal-ny.org

Racist Medical Marijuana Company Uses Campaign Donations to Line Its Pockets–Meanwhile, Marijuana Justice Stalls

In response to coverage in lohud on MedMen-related political donations to advance their business interests, VOCAL-NY released the following statement, attributable to Jeremy Saunders, VOCAL-NY Co-Executive Director.

“A NY marijuana trade group was recently quoted saying, “(MedMen) didn’t resign…we threw them out” due to racist and homophobic remarks by MedMen’s CEO. But Senator Diane Savino and Governor Cuomo are still taking their campaign contributions in a transparent effort to put more money in MedMen’s pockets while the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act stalls–and 20,000+ jobs, increased tax revenue, investments in Black and Latino communities, and opportunities for minority-owned businesses stall with it.

What makes this even more egregious is that MedMen is already turning a tidy profit in New York while our communities continue to suffer from disenfranchisement and criminalization. Despite VOCAL NY’s years of advocacy to bring medical marijuana to New York, our members are still unable to access this needed medication. Any attempts by MedMen or anyone else to separate medical marijuana from a mandate to bring adult use online is a direct attack on marginalized communities.

While race is playing a critical role in this legislative session, the acceptance of campaign donations like this–and the inability for the Senate, Assembly, and Governor to pass popular marijuana justice legislation–illustrates just how serious the Albany Democratic Leadership is about policy change that impacts Black and Latino communities.”

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Advocates Respond to Speaker Heastie’s Massive Out-of-District Contributions, Demand that He Pass Progressive Legislation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 5/23/19

Contact: Andrea Bichan, andrea@vocal-ny.org, 551-427-6280

In response to today’s NY Daily News coverage of a Reinvent Albany report that Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie “raked in $763,686 during the last election year, but only a single $50-donation came from a constituent of his district”, VOCAL-NY released the following statement attributed to VOCAL-NY Lead Organizer, Jawanza Williams and HIV/AIDS Campaigns Coordinator Jason Walker.

“Just weeks ago we were called “brainwashed” “Uncle Toms” in the New York Times by allies of Speaker Heastie who were angry that we protested his sudden refusal to support publicly-financed elections. A handful of well-paid lobbyists and organizers-for-hire were quoted defending the Speaker as a leader dedicated to the interests of his Bronx constituents, and painting us as traitors who would disrespect “progressive” Black leadership.

Today’s report is vindication for us and all other members of the Black left who are sick and tired of the constant roadblocks, red tape, and corruption in Albany. It turns out that $25,000-a-plate dinners are just the tip of the iceberg–there are 763,686 reasons to protest, and 763,686 reasons why the Speaker’s allies are so sensitive to criticism of the Speaker’s leadership. No New Yorker of any race, class, or ethnicity would deny that the massive amount of corporate contributions the Speaker receives influences the issues he cares about. He has ignored critical issues like homelessness and overdose that disproportionately impact his district in the Bronx. He has backed down against Governor Cuomo on major issues like marijuana legalization despite the restorative impact it would have on Black and brown New Yorkers and their communities. And while he talks tough about his support for eight of the nine most critical demands for tenant reform, all eyes should be focused on whether they are actually passed through the Assembly.  The Speaker will get our respect when he starts passing this crucial and lifesaving legislation.”

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VOCAL-NY Joins Calls to Repeal 50-a, Publish NYPD Misconduct Records

For Immediate Release

May 17, 2019

Contact: Nick Encalada-Malinowskinick@vocal-ny.org 347-259-4835

In response to New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s call to repeal Civil Rights Law 50-a, which would allow public disclosure of records relating to police misconduct, VOCAL-NY released the following statement, attributable to Roger Clark, Community Leader at VOCAL-NY.

“Right now, in NYC, there is no transparency with the disciplinary process of NYPD. And officers are not held accountable for lying at trial. that behavior must be exposed and eliminated, which will remain impossible while 50a is on the books. We agree with Speaker Corey Johnson that 50a MUST be repealed in Albany this year,” said VOCAL-NY Community Leader Roger Clark.

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Community Groups and Legal Organizations Call on New York City’s Five District Attorneys to Immediately Release to the Public Any So-called “Bad Cops Lists.”

For Immediate Release: May 3, 2019,  12:00PM

Contact: Nick Encalada-Malinowski, nick@vocal-ny.org, 347-259-4835

NYC’s District Attorney’s are Failing Their Obligation to Hold Police Accountable, Leading to Unjust Prosecutions And Frustrating Efforts To Remove Dirty Cops from the NYPD

Secret Lists of Police Officers Who Have Lied in Court, Falsely Arrested People, Or Committed Other Forms Of Misconduct, Must Be Made Public

New York, NY — It is no secret that holding police accountable is a challenging goal for the people of New York City. One possible method of accountability comes through the Courts, where cases stemming from arrests by members of the New York Police Department are adjudicated. A significant and growing majority of cases involve only police as witnesses and so their credibility is paramount to everything that happens during a criminal case. Unfortunately, it is difficult, if not impossible for people accused of a crime to know whether the officer that is planning to testify against them is credible or has a history of lying in court, of falsifying arrests or arrest records or other misconduct. District Attorneys, however, have access to this information but choose to withhold it from the person accused and their attorneys until they are forced to do so. That isn’t right. It leads to people taking plea deals in cases where police officers may have falsified evidence and also allows bad acts by police officers to go unchallenged and even rewarded. District Attorneys should not be covering up the bad acts of their law enforcement colleagues.

Quotes:

“The criminal legal system demands accountability from people who are arrested and charged with crimes, whether they have committed them or not. But if you’re a police officer – the rules don’t apply. This is one of the key reasons why there is zero trust between directly-impacted communities and the NYPD. To make matters worse, District Attorneys are withholding information about officers who have lied in court, falsified evidence or engaged in other misconduct – while allowing them to testify in courts and send people to jail and prison. This is unacceptable and must come to an end.” – Stanley Fritz, NYC Campaigns Manager, Citizen Action of New York

“We demand that New York City’s DAs publish the list of police officers that have lied, abused their power, and illegally locked up New Yorkers without consequence. Unjust policing and resulting prosecutions devastate lives, families and communities. I and many of the Black and brown people I grew up with have experienced this type of abuse and DAs have turned a blind eye. We denounce the DAs’ practice of solely relying on police as witnesses and we call on DAs to stop giving cover to police officers with a track record of lying to lock people up. Given the rampant malfeasance on the part of police, this is clearly a systemic issue—and given that people are being prosecuted and incarcerated due to system-wide lying by police—DAs have a moral obligation and an obligation to their profession to make the dirty cops list public.” – Vidal Guzman, Community Organizer, JustLeadershipUSA and the #CLOSErikers campaign

“I personally experienced the result of District Attorneys keeping information about police officers who commit misconduct secret. I was arrested and the police officers in my case perjured themselves and my case was dismissed. Those officers had done the same in previous cases as well. Even the judge in my case said we cannot condone police officers who lie in court — if we do we are not safe.”– Dwayne Lee, Community Leader, VOCAL-NY.

“Prosecutors have a specific obligation to scrutinize and protect the public from officers who can’t be relied on in court. If the government has a list of officers they don’t trust, they should disclose that to the public. Prosecutors have tremendous power. They must use that power to pursue justice, not convictions at any cost. Justice requires transparency. Justice is done with prosecutors are honest with the public and disclose when law enforcement officers commit transgressions – especially when those same officers provide the evidence that results in criminal convictions,” – Elizabeth Sack Felber, Supervising Attorney, Wrongful Conviction Unit, The Legal Aid Society.

“It is impossible to achieve justice when arrests and convictions are premised on the word of bad actors within the NYPD, especially when their problematic records are shielded from the communities they police. Brooklyn Defender Services is calling for all DA’s offices to immediately release the names and records of officers who are known to have a history of misconduct. It is time that members of the NYPD who harm New Yorkers are held accountable,” – Maryanne Kaishian, Staff Attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services.

“Creating a list of police whose testimony should not be trusted – but refusing to share it – is yet another way District Attorneys and law enforcement insulate themselves from any real accountability. DAs rely on statements by police officers to make charging decisions, decisions that can destroy peoples’ lives. District Attorneys should make this list public, especially since recently passed bail reform measures in New York rely on the NYPD to implement the law and divert thousands of New Yorkers from pretrial detention. Accused people shouldn’t be detained pretrial under any circumstance, let alone unnecessarily detained based on the word of a police officer who has a history of lying in court, falsifying arrests or other misconduct.” – Peter Goldberg, Executive Director, Brooklyn Community Bail Fund

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STATEMENT: VOCAL-NY Calls to Stop Money In Politics and Lift Roadblocks to Progressive Change

Today, VOCAL-NY joins allied organizations to protest outside of NYS Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s high-dollar fundraiser for the “Speaker Heastie PAC.” In response to the news that the demonstration will be counter-protested by supporters of the Speaker, and to calls from allies to urge us to reconsider our participation, VOCAL-NY released the following statement, attributable to Jawanza Williams, Director of Organizing at VOCAL-NY

Advocates for Low and No-Income New Yorkers Call to Stop Money In Politics and Lift Roadblocks to Progressive Change

“As a Queer Black New Yorker living with HIV who joined VOCAL-NY five years ago as a homeless member from the Bronx, I could not be more proud to be a part of this work, where I fight for just policies that uplift me and the tens of thousands across the state who are the most marginalized. Like many New Yorkers, it is my dream to run for office one day and give back to the communities that took care of me–but that would not be possible without the proposed public donor match that was blocked in this years budget. For 20 years, VOCAL-NY has been committed to uplifting the voices of this State’s most marginalized–the homeless, the incarcerated, the criminalized and stigmatized by drug use, and those living with HIV/AIDS–to build a people’s movement for radical progressive change. The events of today prove that now more than ever, New York needs fair elections that are free from corporate and Big Donor influence in order to build the power of vulnerable and everyday New Yorkers and tear down systems of oppression and injustice. We will now and forever be committed to these ideals.

Our obligations are first and foremost to the thousands of VOCAL-NY members we organize in chapters across the state, and the memories of hundreds more that we have lost over the last two decades–people who were forgotten, neglected, locked in cages and left to die, and who rose up demanding to live, and then to thrive in the State of New York. And while we have won many victories, New York remains in crisis, with record homelessness, record overdose deaths, and communities across the state that are gentrifying in violent and harmful ways. For many years, the power of big money in Albany has been a direct roadblock to the common-sense progressive victories that would save lives, including support for the homeless, universal rent control, a Green New Deal, marijuana justice, progressive tax policy, and more. That is why it is our moral duty to stand up today in support of a fair elections and against money in politics–as we have so many times in the past–to be seen, to live, and to thrive.”

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