In the wake of protests against the death of George Floyd, nine New York Democratic elected officials have at least partially reallocated their police and crime-related campaign donations, most of them to bail funds in New York City.
It all started with a 19-year-old college student from Queens.
Aaron Fernando, a rising junior honors student at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told CNN on Tuesday he began compiling police union campaign donations to New York Democrats the day before George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis last week.
When news of Floyd’s death gripped the nation, though, Fernando said he felt compelled to share what otherwise may have been a side project for his own personal use.
“I’ve been looking at state finance disclosures for candidates in New York and I was noticing a lot of police money, law enforcement money taken by Democrats claiming to be against it,” he said. “I was making this spreadsheet. Then (the death of) George Floyd happened – so many people responded and it got, like, a hundred likes in a couple hours? So people wanted to see this.”
Since sharing his “Who’s Taking Cop Money?” Google spreadsheet on Twitter on May 29, eight Democrats – including a state senator, state assembly members and New York councilmembers – have vowed to donate their police-funded contributions to bail funds or criminal justice reform organizations. Fernando said he requires these elected officials to send him proof of their reallocated money before updating his spreadsheet.
“Your contributors are a reflection of who you are,” he said. “I think it’s fair to ask politicians to take money that aligns with the values they espouse. If you’re going to fight to end solitary confinement in New York, you shouldn’t be taking money from corrections officers.”
New York Democratic officials respond
Among the most notable politicians to reallocate their campaign donations is New York State Sen. Michael Gianaris, who says he donated $16,650 in contributions to bail funds and mutual aid after Fernando’s spreadsheet made the rounds.
“I thought this was an important thing to do,” Gianaris said. “Others can decide for themselves. We’re held accountable by the people we represent. I’m the deputy majority leader and highest-ranking senator from New York City, so I have a special obligation to take a stand, given what happened and what we continue to see on the streets every day.”
Gianaris said even though the decision wasn’t a reflection on police officers on the whole, he’s received threats from police saying they will not respond to 911 calls if he should ever need to make one.
“It’s outrageous to suggest someone’s public safety should be put in danger,” he said. “We’re not in a political alliance with law enforcement. That mentality highlights that we have a systemic problem.”
Catalina Cruz, a New York state assemblywoman, said it was a mistake to take the money and that she is giving it to bail funds.
“Nobody questioned where I stood, but it was me proactively saying no one should question where I stood,” she said. “I’m not going to allow anyone to question where I stand – not even going to give it a chance. I said, ‘Let’s give back the money.’”
Others, such as Assemblywoman Karines Reyes, said she hadn’t even realized she had taken police contributions.
“The contributions don’t necessarily come from police officers,” Reyes said. “They come from an organization whose sole purpose is to protect police officers even when they’re in the wrong – oftentimes when they are in the wrong. And that is counterintuitive to accountability. There is no profession where you can kill somebody without being accountable.”
Reyes said her constituents made clear that they didn’t want their representatives taking police money anymore, which Fernando said he “never thought” would happen when he first made the spreadsheet.
“I couldn’t do anything without those people on the street,” he said. “Without those protests, it wouldn’t have had the momentum to take notice.
“Black Lives Matter was in the back of (politicians’) minds and now it’s pushed to the front,” he said. “That’s the way I see it.”