RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Demonstrators across the country are demanding changes to policing, and some state and local governments are heeding those calls. Lawmakers in New York's Legislature passed a first wave of bills yesterday. NPR's Brian Mann has been following this and joins us now. Brian, Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he'll sign these bills into law. What's going to change?
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Well, maybe the most dramatic change is going to be a law making chokeholds illegal when used by police. In some cases, it'll be a felony. A lot of police departments across New York state had already banned this procedure, but now it will be a criminal offense. And this measure was named after Eric Garner, a black man who died in 2014 after he was placed in a chokehold by a white officer. His dying words, I can't breathe, were recorded on a cellphone video. They became one of the rallying cries of the Black Lives Matter movement. And yesterday, state Senator Brian Benjamin, who represents Harlem, said this reform just had to happen.
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BRIAN BENJAMIN: We, unfortunately, have not been providing safety for African Americans in this country, period. What this bill does - it says, you know what? We're going to try to move closer to a system where everyone feels safe in this country.
MANN: And one remarkable thing yesterday, Rachel, Republican senators who've blocked similar reforms for years in New York, they voted with Democrats on this. It passed unanimously.
MARTIN: So this happened really fast. Is it all driven by the marches and demonstrations?
MANN: Yeah, George Floyd's death was the big catalyst, for sure. But we also had this violent incident last week in Buffalo, N.Y., where a 75-year-old man was pushed to the ground by police. That also caught on video, created a ton of momentum.
And then one other thing that's a big deal driving this in New York. In 2018, democrats took control of the state Senate in New York for the first time in years. And for the first time ever in history, black lawmakers lead both chambers of the state Legislature here, so there are politicians in Albany with a lot of power who say they really get what the protesters are talking about. Yesterday, state Senator Luis Sepulveda, who represents the Bronx, he said many people of color have a deeply troubled relationship with police.
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LUIS SEPULVEDA: Not only the death of black and brown men and women, but the utter humiliation - utter humiliation - of many of us. When I was 19 years old (ph), I was arrested because a police officer didn't like the way I looked at him. I have a brother who was beaten up by a police officer. We remember this.
MANN: So lawmakers acted yesterday. They also passed measures banning racial profiling, requiring police departments to collect data that might reveal bias in policing. And today, they're expected to go further, approving a controversial measure that would make disciplinary actions against police far more transparent. One important note, though - there is nothing on the table in New York right now that would defund or significantly dismantle whole police departments, which is one of the things protesters have been calling for.
MARTIN: What do police unions, police organizations say?
MANN: They're furious. The head of the New York State Sheriffs' Association issued a statement rejecting the idea that there's systemic racial bias in policing. He called the idea disgusting. Police plan to hold a big rally later today here in New York, but they've seen many of their Republican allies vote against them on some of these measures. It's a big shift, and it puts those police organizations in perilous territory politically.
MARTIN: NPR's Brian Mann reporting today from upstate New York. Brian, thank you. We appreciate it.
MANN: Thank you, Rachel.
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