Rihanna, Ariana Grande, and Meek Mill are among the high profile artists, record labels, music executives, and managers who have signed an open letter demanding that New York state repeal statute 50-A — a written law that hides police misconduct from public scrutiny, making it harder to seek justice and bring about change.
In light of the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many others, there is renewed pressure for officers with a history of misconduct to be taken off the streets. The letter is being sent to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has advocated for reforms to 50-A.
What is statute 50-A?
50-A is a section of the New York Civil Rights Law that deems the “personnel records” of police officers, firefighters, and corrections officers remain “confidential and not subject to inspection or review” without the officer’s permission. It was passed in the 1970s to protect the personal information of officers who testified in court and to prevent “harassment” by criminal defense attorneys.
According to The Nation, the senator who sponsored the bill later admitted that 50-A was never intended to block the public disclosure of police misconduct.
It is considered one of the three most restrictive statutes in the country in shielding police disciplinary records from the public. Organizers argue that it sets a broad precedent that allows the police to conceal nearly all police records from public view, exempting officers from transparency standards applied to other public officials.
What does it mean in practice?
When Eric Garner was killed in 2014 after being placed in a chokehold by officer Daniel Pantaleo, the city refused to disclose the disciplinary history of the officer, due to the statute. In the intervening years, the interpretation of the law has expanded at the insistence of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration.
It also means that if a police officer testifies in a case, there’s no way to know if they’ve lied in prior testimonies. Additionally, when the press is reporting on police violence, there’s no way to know if the officer has a pattern of misconduct.
What would happen if it were repealed?
“If 50-A is repealed, it can make it easier for public officials who oversee the police force to have those individuals fired, suspended, and properly reprimanded so they no longer are out on the streets working,” Assemblyman Carroll told Refinery29. “But you won’t know those things and won’t be able to do that if all of these records are sealed and secret.”