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Leonard Carter would be alive right now if New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo had listened to the thousands of experts and justice advocates begging him to show even a hint of regard for incarcerated people. I know during this pandemic it’s damn near a sin to offer even a mild critique of Andrew Cuomo but my calling on this planet, and the entire reason we built The North Star and The Breakdown podcast was to speak truth to power. Cuomo is the “power.”
For most of his time as governor, long before this pandemic, he has had a callous indifference to incarcerated people. His blatant refusal to use his clemency powers, now, and throughout all of his terms, is but one small bit of proof of this. I dedicate nearly an entire chapter in my new book to showing how impossibly difficult it has been across the years to get Cuomo to even pass tiny measures for justice reform. He hates it. He’s an old school, tough-on-crime, war on drugs, war on the hood, type of Democrat. His father was too.
For years, we all knew that Cuomo was going to run for President in this current election cycle. He telegraphed it for all New Yorkers to see. But here in New York, his approval rating and popularity were so low, that he regularly polled worse than other leading candidates in his home state. Once it was clear that he likely wouldn’t win New York, or anywhere else, he quietly bowed out. At the root of New Yorkers’ frustration with Cuomo has always been his inaction for justice reform and other progressive policies.
He holds good press conferences. And those press conferences, in the middle of this pandemic, have helped his approval ratings, but his actual policies on so many things are as terrible as ever — worse even. None more than his absolutely cold-hearted approach to incarcerated men and women in New York while the state has become the epicenter of the coronavirus.
Leonard Carter was one of at least 344 different New Yorkers that had actually been granted parole weeks or even months ago. Most of them are still incarcerated anyway. Every single activist and justice organization in the city has BEGGED Cuomo to release those men and women. We’ve begged Cuomo to release everybody who has less than six months left on their sentence. Leonard Carter was at the top of that list. I mean that literally. Actual lists of names of people who should’ve been released from prison to save their lives and keep them from dying there were given to Cuomo. Leonard Carter was on all of those lists. He had been granted parole for God’s sake.
Why didn’t Cuomo release him? What’s the justification for ignoring our pleas for the past month? As other governors who aren’t even in the epicenter of the coronavirus, like Andy Beshear in Kentucky, use their clemency and commutation powers to save lives, what New Yorkers know is that Cuomo is just being Cuomo.
This is how he always acts toward incarcerated people. He is unbothered. In his press conferences, when he gets pressed on why he’s doing so little, he plays dumb or avoids really answering the questions. I think the root of why this is is actually much more nefarious.
He’s a former prosecutor. He used to work in the District Attorney’s Office. He doesn’t really believe in our reforms. He doesn’t really believe in our pleas for help. He knows damn well people with days or weeks left on their sentences are going to die in New York’s jails and prisons. He doesn’t care. He never has.
And it just cost Leonard Carter his life.
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