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Black, Latino leaders step up action, warnings after Baltimore riots

ALBANY - African-American and Latino members of the Legislature said Wednesday that while they don’t condone the riots in Baltimore, the same violence will hit New York unless Albany fixes the same education, economic and criminal justice failures that sparked the conflict.

“The tide of history seems to be changing,” said Assemb. Jeffrion Aubry (D-Queens), who is chairman of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus.

“Things that were only discussed among the caucus are now being discussed by members broadly and around the country in places where they never seemed to be concerned about what happens in minority communities,” Aubry said. “We think that’s an opportunity, and now is the time.”

As they spoke, police and National Guard patrolled the streets of Baltimore after days of peaceful protests turned to violence against police and property following the nation’s latest death of an African-American in police custody. Freddie Gray, 25, died on April 19, a week after his arrest by Baltimore police.

“When we look at what’s happening in this country, it is sad to see the psychotic level that racism has reached in this country,” said Assemb. Philip Ramos (D-Brentwood), who is a retired Suffolk County police officer. He explained that it is irrational for some people to question the abuse of minorities by police when it’s increasingly captured on video.

The caucus said it will seek to force Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to appoint special prosecutors in police confrontations because they said local prosecutors who work closely with police have a conflict of interest. Legislators will also seek more funding and programs to provide jobs and better education in minority communities; end the practice of prosecuting 16- and 17-year-olds charged with violent crimes as adults; provide better job training in and after prison; expunge some prisoners’ records to give them a better chance at jobs; and strengthen civilian review boards to better monitor police.

A frequent critic of Cuomo said he will push the caucus to do more than it has in the past when many of these same demands were never passed or signed into law.

“We have to radicalize,” Assemb. Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn) said in an interview. While not condoning the violence in Baltimore, he said: “It’s inevitable ... We need to explain it, not condemn it.”

“Change is going to come because of the violence, not the peaceful protest,” Barron said. “That’s the bottom line.”

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