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Video, Audio & Rush Transcript: Governor Cuomo Delivers Remarks at the Raise the Age Evening of Action

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo recently delivered remarks at the Raise the Age Evening of Action at the Central Synagogue in New York City.

VIDEO of the Governor’s remarks are available on YouTube here and in TV quality (h264 format) here.

AUDIO of the Governor’s remarks are available here.

PHOTOS of the event will be available on the Governor’s Flickr page.

Audio Photos

A rush transcript of the Governor’s remarks are available below:

Thank you very much. Thank you. Choices, choices. Do I go to the right microphone or the left microphone? I’ll take the left one, if you don’t mind. What a beautiful evening, what a great congregation.

First, to Whitney Tilson, thank you very much for that kind introduction and thank you for the work that you do. Let’s give Whitney a round of applause. To Jim St. Germain. Is he something, or what? What a great, great powerful story. From Jim St. Germain is the first time I heard of the Shabbos Goy Immunity Program. I think we should write that into the state law. And to Robert DeLeon, God bless you for overcoming all that you’ve dealt with. I also want to thank and applaud Mari Hinojosa and Joanna Pressman, and Rabbi Buchdahl and Rabbi Kolin and Rachel Timoner for all of the great work they’re doing. Let’s give them a round of applause.

I want to begin this evening with a little context on the issue that we are addressing. This is a difficult time. Not just in the state but even more in the nation. And it’s a frightening time in this nation when you think about what is going on and you feel what is going on among people.

The United States of America is 240 years old, but in many ways, we are still a work in progress. This was a nation that was started with a unique promise. This was a nation that said we could take people from all around to globe and bring them to one place and forge one community. It was never done before. Other countries are one race, one religion. We said we could take people from all over, focus on their potential, develop their potential and we can forge one community. In many ways, our diversity is our strength. But that diversity is also a double-edged sword because it can be manipulated, distorted and turned into a weakness. You have people who would say the differences among us should be demonized. And you can take that diversity and you can turn it.

When you look around at what is going on in the country today, in many ways, the fabric of American society is under tension like it hasn’t been in decades. And you can see the cords that connected us are fraying and you can see small tears that are visible. The anti-immigrant sentiment, the anti-Muslim feeling, the African-American anger, the fear of terrorists, the distrusts of our criminal justice system, the economic anxiety, these are all pulling us apart. Anti-Semitism has reared its ugly head and is increasing at an alarming rate like nothing I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. There have been more than 100 anti-Semitic attacks in this nation just over the past few months. Right here in the state of New York hardly a week goes by without a threat or an incident all over the state. Urban areas, rural areas, suburban areas.

I recently went to Israel last week just to say to our brothers and sisters in Israel that this is not representative of New York. This is not who we are. We have taken unprecedented actions. We put together a special unit of the State Police, posted rewards, we have hotlines, and we’ve made it clear that when we find the people who are behind these threats, we are going to prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law, period. But what is important is that we understand what is causing the tensions because you can never solve a problem that you don’t understand. You could never solve a problem that you ae unwilling to admit. Some people will say it’s the inequality that’s causing the tension. It’s the economic inequality. I think it’s actually worse than that. We’ve always had economic inequality. We’ve had the rich, the middle class and we’ve had poor people. This is different. In the old days, there were differences in economics, but people believe they could do better, that there was a path forward. People believed their children would do better, than there was a path forward. Today, more and more people feel there is a gnawing fear that our future has dimmed and there is a galling sense that an unfair duality has beset society. And we see this duality everywhere. It is in the economic system.

You have a middle class, where in real wages, they are where they were 20 years ago. They went through the 2007 housing recession. The bankers that caused the recession have recovered on tax collars and the middle class homes in many cases, aren’t worth what they were in 2007.

We see the duality in higher education. If you could afford a good college, or an expensive college, you get the best education on the globe. If you need financial help, you graduate with a duality that is staggering.

We see the duality in public education, K-12. You have two education systems. Not public and private. It’s rich and poor. You go to a school on the rich side of town, and those first graders, they are on the internet. You go to a school on the poor side of town, and the most sophisticated piece of electronic equipment they have is the metal detector to walk through on the way to class.

Now remember, the education system was the ladder of opportunity. That’s what made America America. It said I don’t care who you are, how much money you have, but when you come to this country, we are going to work with you and we are going to give you an education that can make you anything from that public education system and it won’t cost you a penny.

The public education system was the great equalizer. Today, the public education system is the great divider because if you are on the wrong side of town, you can send your child to a school that is sub-standard and your child may never catch up. We have schools in poor communities in this state that have been failing for 20 years. Think about that. The pass rate for 20 years, generation after generation, going to the same school. And then you say to parents in those poor communities, well, your child has to go to that school. And that parent knows that sending their child to that school leads to a dead end. And the alternatives – charter schools, religious schools, new public schools – they were closed by the government bureaucracy.

We have injustice in the healthcare system, where if you can afford it, you get the best healthcare in the world. And if you can’t, God forbid you lose a loved one, you always have to question whether or not you could have afforded better treatment, their life would have been prolonged. And this was before the federal government does whatever it’s going to do to Obamacare and Medicare. And the issue of tonight, which is the most sacred of Democratic institutions, which is the criminal justice system, has fundamental injustices within it.

The criminal justice system – where skin color or wealth can determine innocence or guilt. The justice of the criminal system is profound. It starts first with the acknowledgement of the fundamental barbarism of a system that locks more people in cages in this country than any industrialized nation on the globe. 2.2 million Americans tonight in prisons. 70,000 New Yorkers tonight in prisons. Listen to this: one out of every three African-Americans will be incarcerated. One out of three. And the cost to keep a person in a jail cell is $60,000 per year - more than the tuition of Harvard University.

I was an ADA in Manhattan in Bob Morganthall’s office and I saw the same case, the same pattern, over and over and over. It’s what you heard from Jim and from Robert- it’s the same defendants, coming from the same neighborhood, the same housing projects, sometimes the same block, the same profile, the same story – broken home, no support, in trouble young, the trouble escalated- only the names and the faces change. Twenty years later, it is still the same pattern and our approach is still upside down and backwards. We still haven’t learned to invest in preventing the problem rather than treating the illness.

We must find more alternatives to incarceration, we must do more to employ minority youth and offer realistic careers. I am proud to be the governor who has closed more prisons than any governor in the history of the state - over 5,000 prison cells. I am proud to be the governor who has created more alternatives to incarceration than any governor in the history of the state. I’m proud to be the governor who is investing $1 billion in central Brooklyn, which is the most impoverished, distressed community in the state of New York which is a breeding ground of crime and we’re going to get ahead of the problem and invest in education and mentoring and tutoring and after school programs and programs at night.

But the issue you’re talking about tonight in many ways is the most graphic demonstration of our aggressive policies and of the injustice that is in our system. Just think about it. All the constitutional guarantees… all the rhetoric. But then you can have a young African American male who is arrested and subject to incredible injustices. We often hold people in jail for months and even years nearly on the accusation of a crime with no conviction. These jails can be hellish. This is contrary to every principle we hold dear – innocent until proven guilty – NOT. The right to a speedy trial – NOT. The right to effective representation – NOT. Today, the fight that’s going on in Albany is critical. I’m fighting for fundamental justice reform that the legislature has failed to enact year after year after year.

I want interrogations to be recorded so when you have an admission or you have a confession, the judge and the jury can see the condition and the context of those statements. I want bail to be set not just on the basis of the allegation, but also on the basis of the flight risk because if you don’t believe a person is going to flee, there’s no purpose in locking them up until you know they did something wrong.

Remember this – bail for a rich person is an inconvenience. Bail for a poor person is a mandatory sentence and that’s just wrong. I have proposed, and we are fighting to raise the age of criminal liability from 16 to 18 because this is a situation that is intolerable for all of us.

As you heard, only two states in the nation treat 16 and 17 year olds as adults. North Carolina and New York, and by the way North Carolina is in the process of changing their law as we speak. That would leave literally only New York. The law in New York is that 16 and 17s literally go to state prisons or jails treated as adults. The opposition, and I’m going to bring the letters back with me, of the state senate – why? Because politicians don’t want to look soft on crime. And if you roll back or say, well, this is something that’s going to benefit a possible perpetrator, that looks like you’re soft on crime. So the state senate has stopped it year after year after year.

As we know, you need both the senate and the assembly to pass a law and then you need a governor to sign it. I’m looking forward to signing this bill but we have to get it through the senate. Now putting aside the fact that psychologists will testify that 16 and 17 years old, often are not mentally mature, the reality of putting a 16 or 17 year old in the same facility as hardened adult criminals is on its face cruel and unusual.

We know what happens. 16 and 17 years olds are 5 times more likely to be sexually assaulted. 2 times more likely to be assaulted by staff. 36 more times likely to commit suicide. And as if it couldn’t be any worse, 34 percent more likely to be recidivists than if they’d gone to juvenile facility.

It is the story that you heard from Jim and Robert. A juvenile facility provides the support services, treats them as an adolescent, give them the help they need to turn their lives around.
You go to a jail or a prison with no services, every lesson you learn is bad. And your ability to turn your life around is set back, and certainly not moved forward. And not only is it cruel, it’s unnecessary. 86 percent of the 25,000 16 and 17 year olds incarcerated have been accused of committing non-violent crimes. These are not violent, hardened criminals. There is no way to treat them that way.

Now I wish this was an intellectual conversation. But I’ve sent too much time in prisons and in jails to pretend that any of this is intellectual or abstract. This is human, it is real, it is graphic, and it is ugly. The confluence of these evil currents come together in New York City in the East River, in a place called Rikers Island.

Rikers is New York City’s jail. It is savage, inhumane, and revolting. 7,000 inmates are held there. Many of them 16 and 17. Many of them waiting for years just to have their day in court. And many of them subjected to being beaten, raped, or even killed. The facts on Rikers Island are these. 80 percent of the people on Rikers Island haven’t been found guilty of anything. They’re waiting for their day in court. 80 percent. And while they’re there, the abuse, the assault, is unbelievable.

And just over the past year, 246 assaults by staff, 1,400 inmate on inmate assaults. There are many examples of lives that have been ruined. Kalief Browder, and we’re honored to have his brother here today. 16 years old. Accused of stealing a backpack by another young man. Just accused. Arrested and waiting for 3 years in Rikers, 2 of them in solitary confinement. It broke him. He was released, and he committed suicide. Because that’s what it can do to you.

17 year old Asad Giles, from the Bronx. Had been accepted to college. He was accused of a crime. His family couldn’t afford the $100,000 bail so he had to wait in jail. He was in jail for 2 years awaiting trial. When he got to trial he was acquitted. Two years later. 17 year old Kenneth Creighton. Spent five years waiting for a trial, and the trial was then dismissed, 5 years later. And the stories go on and on and on. It is so bad that the federal government brought a civils rights action against Rikers Island and the city and appointed a federal monitor to oversee Rikers operations, because of the abuse and because of the violence.

Now the question you have to ask yourself is how did we allow this to happen? How did we allow this to happen? Well in some ways it’s the old painful story. These are poor people who are members of minority groups who have long histories of being discriminated against. They’re powerless. They don’t vote. They don’t contribute to political campaigns, they can’t afford fancy lawyers, they don’t have powerful friends, they can’t post bond, and they’ve been abused by our society.

Now many have called for New York City to close Rikers Island and to open smaller facilities that are more manageable, the same way we’ve done with large housing projects that showed that they were too large to manage and we broke them into smaller projects. The same thing we’ve done with our public education system, taking big schools and breaking them into small schools. A jail that’s 7,000 people is too large is too hard to manage, so people have said to the city let’s have smaller jails that are more manageable.

The city to date has said they can’t do it. It’s too hard. Well you know what, impotence is not a defense for me. And New York City can accomplish anything it wants to, when it wants to, it just needs the political will. And it is an outrage in New York City to allow Rikers Island to exist.

Let me close by saying this: these are turbulent times, these are threatening times. They are times of unrest and confusion. There are a lot of negative feelings and those negative feelings can make a toxic cocktail and that anger can be vented and that anger can be challenged. People can be guided and people can be misguided. You could take that anger of people and you can channel it. It’s very easy to channel it against people who are different. “You know, the different people – those new immigrants – they’re the different people. People with a different religion – they are a different people. Jewish people are different people and we have to get rid of the different people because that’s our problem. If we get rid of the different people, then we will be in a better place.”

That is corrosive. It is a cancer to the American society, but it is also a powerful, powerful message to people who are desperate. We have to stand up against them. We have to end the injustices. We have to show people once again, that what is bothering them – the problems in society – can be fixed. We are New York. We recognize an injustice and we solve an injustice. Just like economic stagnation.

That’s why we raised the minimum wage to a living wage of $15.00.

We must treat all people equally and that’s why we said you can’t treat straight people different from gay people when it comes to marriage.

Yes, we must all have quality schools. That’s why we have to stand up to government and say that when a school is failing for 20 years, enough children have been left behind. Close the school, open a new school, because every child has to have hope that public education will take them up the ladder.

That’s why we proposed in this budget free college for families earning up to $125,000, so every child who sleeps tonight knows that they can be a success, you can have hope, you can dream. it doesn’t matter if you have a rich mom or a rich dad because you can go as high as your talent can carry you because New York will invest in you and give you a college education.

That’s why in the wave of this anti-immigrant furor, we must lock arms with the immigrant community because we are all immigrants in New York and we live by this nation’s founding premise and enduring promise – E Pluribus Unum – out of many one.

That’s why we must stand up and condemn these acts of anti- Semitism. This is New York. The Jewish community is a vital part of New York. New York is not New York without the Jewish community and New York will not tolerate any anti-Semitism in our community.

That is why we have to say to the state legislature, enough is enough. You pass Raise the Age this year. You want to show that you’re tough on crime, make the difference and actually help people get out of this cycle of crime rather than put them in prison.

That’s why we have to say with one voice - that’s why we have to say with one voice: we must end the nightmare that is Riker’s Island because New York is better than this and we are not going to tolerate one more day. It is a statement and a condemnation of our values and who we are and we want it ended and we want it ended now – don’t tell us you can’t do it because you can when there’s a political will.

Last point, I promise. We know. We know that this is the right thing to do. How do you battle injustice? By providing justice. In Catholicism, Pope Paul VI said if you want peace, work for justice. In Judaism the practice is Tzedakah, informally translated as charity. Literally meaning justice. Do justice. Jim St. Germain, Tikkun Olam, where you see injustice – it is your obligation to reach out and heal and to reach out across the divide. Every religion – a perfect love. Buddhism, every religion, basically comes down to the same point - treat others as you would have them treat yourself. And the answer is love and love beats hate.

That is the message and at this time, when this nation is going through this period of soul searching – which it is – and we’ve seen it, and we’ve seen it politically, and you can feel it and you can feel the anger. New York can set the example. Why? Because New York was always the laboratory of the American experiment in democracy. It started here. This nation said we can bring people from all over and bring them to one place and forge a community. You know what? We did it. 18 million people from all across the world we come together on one piece of land and we say we don’t see colors, and we don’t see religion, we see just commonality in humanity, we believe that your success is my success, we work together to invest in each other because we believe in the concept of community. That there’s a cord that connects me to you, to you, to you – and that cord weaves a fabric and we are all connected and when one of us is raised, we’re all raised by that fabric. When one of us is lowered, we’re all lowered by that fabric. Your destiny is my destiny – your child’s destiny is my child’s destiny and that a nation that is wondering, is the answer anger? Is the answer separation?

No the answer is unity. The answer is love. And the answer is compassion. That’s what made New York, New York. And when they say well I don’t think it works – come spend time in the greatest state on the planet called New York. Show them what 18 million people can do when they choose love and cooperation and mutual support and forged community of just people. Make these changes, make New York more just, it is up to you. You know where change comes from? Not from the governor, not from the senate, it comes from the person in the mirror. When you get up in the morning and you look in that mirror, that person is responsible for change. Yesterday was Purim from the book of Esther.

Let us commit ourselves tonight to stand up strong and tall, voices loud to fight the good fight, to make a change, and change comes from the places you least expect it. You are the vehicles for change. Our young people are the vehicles of change and now is the time to make it happen and you can do it if you stand and you fight you can change these laws. It can happen. It can happen in three weeks if you wage the fight. Thank you and God bless you.


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