As a state and as a nation, we are facing a growing and unprecedented gun-violence and mental-health crisis that has completely shaken our most basic sense of security. The horrific events that have taken place recently, especially the mass shootings in New York City, Buffalo and Texas earlier this week, have devastated communities and forced us to pause as we engage in once-taken-for-granted activities like dropping off our children at school or going shopping to feed our families. We must fix this crisis now.
Mass shootings like the ones we have seen in recent weeks are, in part, a symptom of inadequate mental-health care. Anyone who so casually devalues life and has built up the hatred necessary to commit such heinous acts clearly needed help that they obviously did not receive. This must be addressed.
The lack of available mental-health services is both a funding and human resources issue. Before we can properly fund and fill those shortfalls, we must be able to identify and pinpoint them. It’s going to take a comprehensive effort by elected officials, public safety officers and local governments to identify gaps in these services and develop a sustainable plan to bolster their availability across New York state. With that information, we can work toward concrete solutions.
There are also ways to protect our students and keep our communities safer through immediate legislative action. To that end, the Assembly Minority Conference previously proposed an emergency Temporary Commission on School Safety and Security. The tragic events we see unfolding before us on a seemingly regular basis certainly necessitate such a commission. We said then, this “needs to take place sooner, rather than later,” and unfortunately, later is now.
As envisioned, the bipartisan group would work toward establishing uniform standards for all state schools and have representation from the executive, Legislature, Office of Court Administration, Division of Criminal Justice Services, State Sheriffs’ Association, local Police Benevolent Associations, NYSUT, the United Federation of Teachers and New York State School Boards Association. This type of collaborative effort would allow stakeholders in each segment of public safety and education to develop a comprehensive, replicable plan.
While in the aftermath of tragedy, there will be a rush to create new laws, regulations and requirements in response. And effective, common-sense ideas should be considered. But there should be an equal priority placed on enforcing the laws that currently exist. On issues of public safety we see too many laws ignored or disregarded. We have tools that have gone unused. For example, members of the Assembly Minority Conference have called on Gov. Hochul and state leaders to immediately hold a meeting of the state Domestic Terrorism Task Force, which despite being established in 2020, has not yet met nor issued any recommendations or reports. In a recent letter to the governor, I urged the task force to hold its overdue first meeting and begin its work. Now, more than ever, we need a plan in place to protect ourselves.
Additionally, we must continue to support our law-enforcement community and provide them with the resources they need to do their jobs safely and effectively. In New York, we are blessed with one of the bravest and most dedicated law enforcement communities in the world. The Buffalo Police Department, for example, was reportedly on the scene of the supermarket shooting earlier this month in less than two minutes. These officers – especially Aaron Salter, a retired Buffalo Police officer who was killed after he confronted the gunman – are heroes, and they are our greatest defense against the evil individuals who threaten our families. We must continue to 2022give them the same support and dedication they provide us.
We are, again, a nation in mourning. While there is no shortage of debate about what measures will be put in place and how to eradicate the horrors of domestic terrorism, we can all agree something tangible, effective and immediate needs to be done. This problem is not going to go away on its own, and I am calling on my fellow lawmakers and all government officials to come together, get to work and fix this – whatever it takes.
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