SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — Last Friday Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation leading the nation in police reform. Among the regulations signed into law by Cuomo was the right to record police activity, spelled out in the New Yorker’s Right to Monitor Act. Although already protected by the First Amendment now citizens are protected by state law and are within their rights to record police activity. This comes in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police.
Civil rights attorney Alan Rosenthal says documenting police activity plays a key role in seeking justice.
“Whether it’s Eric Garner, any of those, none of those cases would have seen the light of day without the benefit of videotape,” Rosenthal said. “So being able to document is a very important tool for citizens to protect themselves, protect their community, to keep police in check.”
But Syracuse has a grim history with recording and photographing police, dating all the way back to the 1970s.
In 1979, Dennis Collins, a black photojournalist was beaten by police for photographing police misconduct. Collins spent six days in intensive care and was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. The Collins case was followed by protests in the streets of Syracuse and the founding of the group Citizens United Against Police Brutality. The group later went on to fight for Raul Mora, 49, who was beaten to death by four Syracuse police officers in 1981.
The bill signed by Cuomo marks a significant step for police reform in all of New York. But for Syracuse this has been a long time coming according to Rosenthal.
“We’ve been at this along time right, so the Collins case dates back to 1979, so more than 40 years. And It’s important to see this movement today, in historic perspective,” Rosenthal said. “What has gone on in a small city like Syracuse, what is our history? How have citizens rallied together?”