mailmanThe horrifying and unnecessary killing of George Floyd has, again, exposed the deep, long-standing flaws in our society and in our justice system. The officer responsible for George's death has been charged with 3rd degree murder, and this is a good start, but it will not bring him back, nor will it stem the pain, fear and trauma of the long history of violence against people of color. Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sandra Bland, Amadou Diallo, Eric Garner, the list goes on. Too many have died wrongfully at the hands of the police. These wanton killings are telling people of color: you are less than fully human. You don't have the same rights as other citizens. And unless, or even if, you are compliant in the face of pain, fear and chaos, you can be killed by the police. End of story. This is completely unacceptable.

How do we prevent this from ever happening again? There are specific things we can do in the area of criminal justice. We must review and rebuild our training programs for police to make sure they don't in any way encourage the "warrior" mentality, where people of color are seen as the enemy rather than as members of the community There must be mandatory training on recognizing one's own biases and de-escalating conflict. Recent court cases have found police departments within New York State have "engaged in a pattern and practice" of racial profiling, despite its unconstitutionality. If elected, I will fight to pass bill A.4615a, which prohibits racial and ethnic profiling by police departments, requires adoption of an anti-racial profiling policy by police departments and provides a way to review complaints, requiring collection of data on police and civilian interactions for the state Attorney General to review.

We are facing a crisis of inequality in our state, exacerbated by the pandemic, falling more heavily on communities of color. We must address long-term structural inequalities and work to provide good jobs, affordable housing and access to healthcare for all. Only by providing equal opportunities and basic human rights to all can we rise out of these entrenched inequalities. Education is one of the keys to undoing inequality. I will work everyday, as your Assemblymember, for properly-funded public schools with Universal Pre-K, so every child has a strong shot at success in school, and for more funding for New York's very successful Opportunity Programs in higher education which provides mentoring to students. I will work to help create good jobs for students coming out of our schools so they stay in New York, including supporting the MWBE Program to make sure people of color and women can start and maintain successful businesses.

Martin Luther King Jr. said that "True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice." Tackling the systemic racism in a long history of racist police practices is the first step towards restoring civil rights for all Americans. We must confront our history of violence, beginning with the abuse of power shown by police across the nation and fanned by corrosive rhetoric from federal elected officials. It will take a lot of work. But ultimately we can reshape our society to be one we want to live in and raise our families in, replacing fear, racism and distrust by offering "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Jordan Lesser
125th Assembly District Candidate
Ithaca, NY