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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VOCAL-NY Commends Speaker Heastie’s Support of Ending Money Bail, Await Legislation

For Immediate Release:

January 31, 2019

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

In response to remarks made by New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, today at Trinity Church Wall Street, VOCAL-NY released the following statement, attributed to Civil Rights Campaign Director Nick Encalada-Malinowski.

“This morning, New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced his “100% support” for the full elimination of money bail in New York State. We commend Speaker Heastie for taking the morally just position, and look forward to forthcoming legislation from the Assembly codifying this commitment. With strong support for the proposal already in the Senate, the legislative path to eradicating our money-based bail system has never been more clear. However, the details of any legislation eliminating money bail will be important. We will remain vigilant to ensure that any bill also protects due process and, most importantly, dramatically reduces the number of New Yorkers who cycle through County jails through out the state year after year.” – Nick Encalada-Malinowski, Civil Rights Campaign Director, VOCAL-NY.

The Speaker’s full remarks are available here: https://www.trinitywallstreet.org/social-justice/bail-reform

New York Senate Bill Eliminating Money Bail: https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2019/S2101

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An Open Letter to All NYS Legislators Challenging Them To Take Action on the Overdose Crisis

Good Morning New York State Lawmakers,

Yesterday drug policy activists, mothers who have lost their children to overdose, and service providers from across the states performed an act of civil disobedience outside Governor Cuomo’s office to demand the piloting of the five Overdose Prevention Centers (OPC)—also known as safer consumption spaces–and 13 people took an arrest in the name of those who have died.

Since Governor Cuomo’s first term, over 20,059 New Yorkers have died from an overdose, and although he claims that New York is a national leader on our state’s overdose crisis, deaths continue to rise. There have been seven consecutive years of increasing overdose deaths, and overdose is taking more New Yorker’s lives than suicides, homicides, and traffic accidents combined.

The Governor is right, ‘we must do everything we can to fight the overdose crisis,’ but he has continually underfunded and half-step policies that will turn the tide on overdose deaths. We need bold leadership—leadership dedicated to evidence-based, compassionate public health solutions.

Today we are calling on you to be bold leaders in our fight to save lives.

  • Become a cosigner and support the Safer Consumption Services Act(S498/A60), and tell Governor Cuomo to move forward with the five OPC pilots, one life lost is too many.  OPC are one solution that will save lives, and we must urgently implement these pilots.
  • Become a cosigner and support medication-assisted treatment insideall NYS jails and prisons (S8914A/A833). People entering incarceration are forced to inhumanely withdrawal often with no aide, and people leaving incarceration are 40 times more likely to die of an overdose the first two weeks of release. Rhode Island legislated medication-assisted treatment inside prisons and jails and saw a decrease in overdose deaths last year. This will save lives.
  • Fight for significant funding dedicated to solutions that work. The Governor has not allocated any new money to the overdose crisis. Instead, the $200 million the Governor claims is going to the crisis is supplanted funding. And, the $3.75 million dedicated to medication-assisted treatment is not also new funding and isn’t explicitly stated to be used for medication-assisted treatment, but correctional health. To reduce overdose deaths, our state must really invest in proven public health interventions.
  • Reject Governor Cuomo’s wrongheaded criminalization approach to fentanyl. Last year, the Senate Republicans’ Heroin Taskforce proposed an amendment to the NYS public health low to schedule fentanyl analogs as controlled substances. Governor Cuomo has proposed the same amendment, which will allow law enforcement to arrest and prosecute anyone that manufactures, sells, and possess fentanyl. These criminalization approaches do not reduce overdose deaths or decrease drug use. Instead, the open the door for drug induced homicide laws where friends and loved ones who use drugs together not only suffer the loss of their loved one, but face a prison sentence. Further, last year, over half of the overdoses in NYC were fentanyl-involved.

We look forward to working with you all to end overdose in New York. To end this crisis, we need each and every one of you—we need you to be the bold leaders.

Sincerely,

Jasmine Budnella

Drug Policy Coordinator, VOCAL-NY

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STATEMENT: Formerly Incarcerated NYers Speak Out on Missing Piece of Cuomo’s Discovery Plan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 17, 2019

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

In response to Governor Cuomo’s State of the State address and Policy Briefing Book as it pertains to Discovery Reform in 2019, VOCAL-NY released the following statement, attributed to Eileen Maher, Community Leader at VOCAL-NY.

Cuomo’s Discovery Reform Proposal Ignores Critical Issue of Evidence at Arraignment

“It’s great that Governor Andrew Cuomo has acknowledged the need to reform New York’s archaic discovery laws. However, the proposal the Governor put forward on Tuesday has a significant, glaring omission – not requiring any evidence at all at arraignment or anytime within 15 days. It’s outrageous to suggest that a fair system does not require prosecutors to prove anything or show any real hard evidence in order to bring a case into court or to hold someone in jail. You can lose everything if you are incarcerated for 15 days – your job, your kids, your health can suffer because you aren’t getting good care. The consequences are especially severe for low-income people. For as long as prosecutors remain the gatekeepers of evidence, there must be some requirement that they turn certain things over at the commencement of a criminal case.” – Eileen Maher, Community Leader at VOCAL-NY.

Background: It was a huge week for Discovery Reform in New York State with the introduction of a new bill supported by both the Senate and the Assembly and the NYT coming out in support of the effort.

1)         New Bill: https://nyassembly.gov/leg/?default_fld=&leg_video=&bn=A01431&term=0&Summary=Y&Memo=Y&Text=Y

2)         NYT: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/15/opinion/new-york-texas-criminal-justice.html

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STATEMENT: Activists Challenge Cuomo’s Claim to be “National Leader” on Overdose, as NY sees 200% Rise Over 9 Years

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 15, 2019

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

In response to Governor Cuomo’s State of the State address and Policy Briefing Book as it pertains to his plan to take on the unprecedented overdose epidemic in 2019, VOCAL-NY released the following statement, attributed to Jasmine Budnella, Drug Policy Coordinator.

Drug Policy Activists Refute Governor’s Claim to be Leading the Fight on the Overdose Crisis

“In December, Governor Cuomo citing FDR said, ‘that you cannot spell progressive without ‘progress.’ You can’t be a politician who speaks and raises peoples’ hopes and then accomplishes nothing.’ The set of policies the Governor laid out today are neither progressive nor progress, and will raise hopes and accomplish nothing while New York’s overdose rates continue to increase.Governor Cuomo is correct about the scale of the crisis—there has been a 200 percent increase in opioid overdose deaths since 2010—but his ideas for interventions are watered down, under-funded and ultimately half-steps that do not go far enough. While he claims New York is a national progressive leader, Vermont, one state away, implemented a plan over 10 years ago making them a true national leader in treatment access—which lead to a decrease in overdose deaths. The Governor’s measly investment in medication-assisted treatment (MAT) access in prisons similarly pales in comparison to Rhode Island’s legislated access of MAT in prisons and jails, a notable cause of reduction in their state’s overdose deaths. He failed to use this opportunity to announce his support for a pilot program to create Safe Consumption Spaces (also known as Overdose Prevention Centers) in New York State, a commitment he has seemingly forgotten.

The continual grandiose promises of new dollars being allocated to the crisis are fabrications of funding that is redirected and recycled. The most atrocious effort proposed by the self-proclaimed ‘progressive’ leader is the very proposal the Republican-led Senate Heroin Task Force pushed for last year—scheduling and criminalizing fentanyl analogs.  Not only has criminalization proven to be ineffective and rooted in failed drug war tactics, this approach actually risks increasing overdose deaths.

It’s a new day in Albany, and we will not allow our Governor to tout rhetoric and quotes while our communities continue to die at historic rates.

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STATEMENT: Drug Policy Activists Acknowledge Mayor de Blasio for Committing to Stand Up to the DOJ & Provide Legal Cover to Overdose Prevention Centers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

December, 5, 2018

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

Drug Policy Activists Applaud Mayor de Blasio for Committing to Stand Up to the DOJ & Provide Legal Cover to Overdose Prevention Centers

In response to POLITICO’s breaking news that New York is moving closer to green-lighting Overdose Prevention Center (OPC) pilot programs, also known as safer consumption spaces, in New York City, and Mayor de Blasio’s commitment to defend OPCs if threatened by Trump and the Department of Justice (DOJ), VOCAL-NY has released the following statement, attributable to Jeremy Saunders, Co-Executive Director.

“Mayor de Blasio has shown national leadership by publicly stating his commitment to use his political pulpit to stand up to the DOJ, and that OPCs have strong legal standing. While other politicians have pointed to the DOJ’s position on OPCs as an excuse for inaction, the Mayor has clearly stated that saving lives is more important to New York City, and he will not allow federal interference in this mission. US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s argument against OPCs is rooted in fear mongering, inaccurate data and a complete lack of evidence. The most recent DOJ statement appears to cite a study that was retracted (because of concerns in its methodology), and it fictitiously suggests that OPCs increase crime when studies–including the retracted article–illustrate the opposite and continually state that these sites save lives. Across the country, there is recognition that we cannot arrest our way out of this problem and Mayor de Blasio’s public stand against the DOJ proves he is committing to action, not rhetoric.”

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