ALBANY — Civil liberties advocates gathered in Albany Monday said they see new energy in their movement because of the election of President Donald J. Trump and some of the policies he has pushed: policies they see as intolerant of individuals’ rights.
“Before the election, I never dreamed I’d be in Albany with 1,000 people and signs that say, ‘Dissent is Patriotic,'” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, the state affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Lieberman and others spoke during an hour-long outdoor rally in West Capitol Park, taking a chilly break from lobbying legislators inside, where they were pushing for adoption of five pieces of legislation that ranged from new protections of abortion rights to reform of the state’s criminal defense system for the poor. Supporters were bused in from around the state for the day.
The “Justice Does Not Compromise” rally was planned as the largest statewide gathering ever by the NYCLU, but chilly temperatures likely held attendance down.
“Trump has awakened a sleeping giant, and it’s the American people. That’s encouraging for us,” Lieberman said after the rally. Other speakers included Gwen Carr, whose son, Eric Garner, was choked to death in 2014 by New York City police officers.
The NYCLU positions, all of which support specific pieces of proposed state legislation, including proposed laws would extend discrimination protection for the gender-nonconforming, offer new privacy protections and enhance police transparency and accountability.
The NYCLU has advocated many of the same positions for years and won favor for some of them from the Democratic-controlled Assembly, though the bills have stalled in the state Senate. Lieberman and others said the state needs to step up, given the legislative atmosphere in Washington.
“With a president and Congress whose agenda is driven by hate, fear and bigotry, we are facing the biggest threat in the history of our democracy,” Lieberman said.
Andrea Miller, of the National Institute for Reproductive Rights, said the state needs stronger protections for reproductive rights, including a law guaranteeing the rights the Supreme Court granted in its Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, as the proposed Reproduction Health Act would do.
“In our law, abortion is a crime, with exceptions,” Miller said. “That isn’t right.”
Jonathan Gradess, executive director of the New York State Defenders Association, spoke up for a bill to have the state take over indigent legal defense costs now borne by counties. That bill passed both houses of the Legislature last year but was vetoed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo because of cost concerns.
“It’s past time to get things fixed.” he said. “If New York is to stand as a barrier against Trumpism, this is a place to start.”
Carr’s son died after police on Staten Island placed him in a chokehold while arresting him for selling loose cigarettes. No officers were charged. It was one of several deaths of black men in confrontations with police that sparked outrage that year.
Carr said police need to be held more accountable for their actions in dealing with the public, including accounting for actions that could be racial profiling.
“If you’re stopped for being a person of color or being black, we need to know that,” she told the crowd.
The rally ended with chants of “The people, united, will never be defeated.”