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Eric Garner’s mother urges repeal of NY police disciplinary records secrecy law

NEW YORK — The mother of Eric Garner is urging New York lawmakers to repeal a law used to keep the disciplinary records of police and correction officers secret.

Gwen Carr, mother of the late Eric Garner, wipes away tears after speaking to the press outside the U.S. Attorney’s office following a meeting with federal prosecutors, July 16, 2019 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The U.S. Justice Department announced they will not bring federal charges against NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner. Pantaleo put Eric Garner in a chokehold for 15 seconds while arresting him on suspicion of selling single cigarettes from packs without tax stamps. Wednesday is the 5th anniversary of the death of Garner. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Gwen Carr says the law endangers New Yorkers and makes it close to impossible for her to fight for justice. The 2014 chokehold death of her son became a national rallying cry against police brutality.

“We need to repeal and end the law that protects officers who kill our children and our loved ones,” she said, testifying Thursday at a hearing in New York City on a legislative proposal to repeal the law.

She was joined by other mothers whose sons have died in encounters with police officers. They argue the law shields officers with past misconduct from public accountability and prevents the release of basic information, such as what past discipline an officer has received.

“The public needs this information. This is about public safety,” said Valerie Bell, the mother of police shooting victim Sean Bell. “Hiding this information means that officers who are repeat offenders are allowed to keep their jobs.”

New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill has said he supports changing the law so the public is notified about officer discipline. Police unions oppose changes, arguing the release of such records could put the safety of officers at risk.

The law, known as 50-a, also applies to correctional officers and firefighters.

The state’s Committee on Open Government has for the law’s repeal or revision for years. Enacted in 1976, the law was put in to prevent defense attorneys from subjecting officers to harassing cross-examinations with irrelevant information in their personnel file, according to a 2018 report from the committee.

But, the committee says courts have since allowed police departments to shield “virtually any information” that might play a role in a future decision to retain or promote an officer.

A hearing schedule shows the NYPD and the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board were scheduled to speak. But state Sen. Jamaal Bailey, who is sponsoring the repeal proposal, said he was told just before the hearing they would not be testifying.

“I am disappointed by that,” he said.

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