Why Are Celebrities Pushing to Repeal Statute 50-A?

Rihanna, Mariah Carey, and Ariana Grande are all calling for action.

Update: The New York Senate voted to repeal section 50-A of the Civil Rights Law in a vote on Tuesday afternoon.

Back in the 1970s, New York passed statute 50-A, which keep police disciplinary records (among other things) locked away from the general public. 50-A, part of New York's Civil Rights Law, came to the spotlight after the death of Eric Garner and now, celebrities and politicians are pushing for a repeal. In the wake of Black Lives Matter protests and mounting evidence of police violence, including the death of George Floyd, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York Senate majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie received an open letter and a petition pushing for reform.

NBC New York notes that Governor Cuomo said that he would sign the repeal of 50-A, which is expected to be passed this week as part of the "Say Their Name" reform agenda.

"Their records will be available," Cuomo said. "It is just parity and equality with every other public employee."

Rihanna Diamond Ball
Steven Ferdman / Stringer

The open letter has been endorsed by Rihanna, Ariana Grande, Mariah Carey, the Jonas Brothers, and hundreds of other notable names in the music and entertainment industries. The artists and actors urged their followers to sign, as well. The letter, in full, reads:

We mourn the killing of George Floyd and the unnecessary loss of so many black lives before his. We must hold accountable those who violate the oath to protect and serve, and find justice for those who are victim to their violence. An indispensable step is having access to disciplinary records of law enforcement officers. New York statute 50-A blocks that full transparency, shielding a history of police misconduct from public scrutiny, making it harder to seek justice and bring about reform. It must be repealed immediately.

It is not enough to chip away at 50-A; this boulder in the path of justice has stood in the way for far too long and must be crushed entirely. It is not just a misreading of the statute; it is not just an inappropriate broadening of its scope. It is the statute itself, serving to block relevant crucial information in the search for accountability.

We were pleased to hear the Governor’s statement that 50-A should not prohibit the release of disciplinary records. But, clearly, it is not enough. 50-A has been used far too often in the past and, without repeal, it will continue to be used to block justice. When the Legislature returns this week, we urge members to recognize the moment, take one loud, bold, and meaningful step in addressing this systemic problem, and swiftly repeal 50-A.

Thank you.

50-A prevents personnel records of police officers, corrections officers, and firefighters from being made public, NPR notes. Governor Cuomo assured his followers that the state would be working to repeal the statute this week.

The latest reform joins the banning chokeholds and criminalization of false, race-based 911 reports. NPR reports that both of those repeals passed this week.

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