Victory for Police Accountability Activists: Governor Appoints Special Prosecutor

This week, North Star Fund donors can join in a monumental celebration. The families affected by police violence and the activists that our network of donor activism has supported for decades achieved a paramount victory on the social justice front: Governor Cuomo signed an executive order to appoint an independent, special prosecutor to investigate killings by police.

North Star Fund donor dollars bolstered grassroots groups in New York City—including the Justice Committee and Communities United for Police Reform (CPR)—in their campaign for an independent prosecutor for these cases. New York is the first state in the nation to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate deaths at the hands of police, a testament to the tireless advocacy of the families of the victims, the organizations that stood by them, and the funding of donors like you.

"If we had a special prosecutor at the time of my son's death, I think it would've made a tremendous difference, but now we're asking for a special prosecutor for other families," Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, told reporters.

The failure of a Staten Island grand jury to indict the police officer implicated in Garner’s death last year led to nationwide outrage and protests. It also drew attention to a systemic flaw in the prosecution of cases of police brutality: the conflict of interest that arises when local district attorneys are required to prosecute police officers that they consistently work with on other cases.

In the following year, grassroots activists banded together to resist this obstacle. Their hard-won victory is the result of real investment in grassroots police accountability organizing.

“North Star’s support played an important role in this,” said Yul-san Liem, co-director of the Justice Committee, in an email to North Star Fund.

Three months ago, Governor Cuomo promised victims’ families that he would sign an executive order for a special prosecutor if the state legislature did not appoint one. Over the past week, grassroots organizations campaigned tirelessly alongside the families to ensure that the governor did not backtrack on his promise. At one point he indicated that certain loopholes may be included in the executive order—including a predetermined time limit on the special prosecutor’s role, and a limit on the investigations to only include instances where the victims were considered “unarmed.”

In response to these limitations, Carr and Constance Malcolm—the mother of another victim of police violence, Ramarley Graham—wrote an editorial in the New York Daily News.  

"We know that whether or not someone is in fact armed and dangerous is often in dispute," the women wrote in the piece. "The killing of Walter Scott in South Carolina, and the false initial police reports that he was fighting the police officer …. [are] a clear demonstration that police departments' accounts can drastically differ from what actually happened."

On Tuesday, the Justice Committee—made up primarily of family members of people killed by police—and their allies from Communities United for Police Reform rallied outside the governor’s midtown office on followed by a meeting between Carr, Malcolm, and Cuomo that afternoon.

The following morning, Cuomo signed the executive order that these families have been struggling towards for decades—a fight that has been consistently funded by North Star Fund and its donor activists. Your donations allowed our city’s grassroots organizers to champion not only the executive order for a special prosecutor, but an order free of loopholes that would have endangered its impact.

Through the power of years of grassroots organizing, community activists convinced Cuomo to agree to a prosecutor that would investigate cases beyond those including unarmed civilians, including altercations in which there is a question of whether or not the victims were armed.

“We remain committed to ensuring that the special prosecutor has adequate resources,” said Priscilla Gonzalez, organizing director of CPR, in response to Governor Cuomo’s order, “and supporting the families in their goal of moving our state towards passage of strong legislation that establishes an independent prosecutor for all cases of police brutality and killings.”

This week marks a momentous and historic victory for social justice and police accountability, but there is still more work to be done. North Star Fund remains committed to supporting the ongoing work of our hardworking grantees in the national movement for police accountability. 

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