Clergy Arrested as ‘Moral Mondays’ Protests Legislative Corruption and Inaction
16 arrested as faith & community groups say broken Albany system leaves majority of NYers behind
ALBANY (June 15, 2015) - Sixteen people were arrested Monday afternoon at the Capitol as more than 100 faith, labor and community leaders gathered for a ‘Moral Mondays’ vigil to protest what they called Albany’s broken system, which leaves New York’s families, students and workers to struggle needlessly. Clergy and advocates held 16 Moral Mondays rallies at the Capitol this year, calling for a range of policies, including more funding for public education and anti-hunger programs, an increase to the minimum wage, an end to long-term solitary confinement, and tax reform. Gathered outside the Senate chamber Monday, leaders of the protest said that this legislative session has only highlighted Albany's rampant corruption and preferential treatment of a wealthy few at the expense of the majority of New Yorkers.
Rev. Shannan Vance Ocampo, leader of the Albany Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (USA) said: “The dysfunction in our legislature is frustrating to begin with, but the inability to advance policies which serve the common good is devastating for the people of our communities who continue to struggle in the most unequal state in the nation. As leaders of faith communities, we know this first-hand because we are at the front lines of help and service to these communities which have been long ignored and exploited. Hunger and poverty won’t take a break at the end of the session, and families will continue to bear an undue burden as the rich enjoy tax breaks and advantages bought through campaign contribution loopholes. As people of faith, we have a moral imperative to demand our elected officials work to serve every person in our state, and not just their wealthy benefactors. We can stand in no other place than here as faith communities because we stand for all people and believe in the equality and dignity of all people. We will continue to oppose an immoral state budget with all that we have. We will not be silent."
Emily McNeill of Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State said: “I am getting arrested today because poor, working and middle-class New Yorkers can’t afford for us to continue down this path, where the rich get richer and the rest of us struggle to get by on less and less. We can’t afford for our democracy to be bought and sold. We can’t afford for our elected officials to so easily violate the oaths they took to serve the common good. And we can’t afford not to come together to demand real change. This is about more than any one party or issue - it’s about all of us, and the future we will all share.”
Participants cited the legislature’s failure to pass property tax reform and legislation to end the use of long-term solitary confinement and the practice of treating 16 and 17-year-old offenders as adults. They also said the state’s minimum wage and funding for public education and anti-hunger programs remain inadequate.
Joe Paparone of FOCUS Churches of Albany, said: “The increase in demand and decrease in donations that we’ve seen at food pantries across the state isn’t going to stop at the end of the legislative session. The FOCUS Churches of Albany and Hunger Action Network of New York State are calling on the Governor to use some of the State’s remaining unallocated surplus funds to fully support these hunger programs. The request of an additional $16.5 million would mean food pantries won’t have to turn people away, and families and children won’t have to go hungry in our state.”
Ariele Perez-Wallach of Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration said: “It is shameful that New York remains one of only two states to prosecute 16 and 17 year olds as adults. The recent tragic suicide of Kalief Browder is an indictment on our justice system, exposing the injustice hundreds of youths in our state are victims of every day. Keeping youth in adult prisons is devastatingly ineffectual, increases recidivism, and does nothing to keep our communities safe. It is past time for New York State to provide appropriate services to the youth of our communities.”
Stacy Ellis, a McDonald’s employee in Albany, said: “This morning a lot of my fellow workers are at the Wage Board hearing in New York City, fighting to win $15 for fast food workers. But no matter what happens with the Wage Board, we are going to keep standing up and speaking out. This fight is about more than just us. It's about all workers, and that's why I'm here calling for a minimum wage increase for everyone."
Ron Deutsch, executive director of the Fiscal Policy Institute said: “Early this year, the Governor and legislative leaders said that working and middle-class homeowners would finally get $1.7 billion in much-needed property tax relief. That did not happen -- but once again the legislature did manage to provide tax breaks targeting the wealthy. Albany's priorities are backwards, and it’s time for struggling property tax payers to hold our leaders accountable for their broken promises," said Ron Deutsch, executive director, the Fiscal Policy Institute.”
Vincent Commisso, adjunct faculty at SUNY Albany, and one of those arrested said: “The increasing use of adjunct labor at colleges and universities across the country is part of a wider movement towards low-wage, contingent labor, shared in other sectors such as fast-food, retail, home health care, and other service professions. While these fields have been notoriously difficult to unionize, recent victories for adjuncts in many area colleges have shown that collective bargaining is an essential right and tool for workers to resist exploitation. We stand in solidarity with all low-wage workers seeking to improve their lives and professions, and push back against ongoing exploitative labor practices.”
Christopher McNabb, organizer, National Religious Campaign Against Torture said: “The tragic suicide of Kalief Browder is a shocking and heartbreaking reminder of the ongoing torture that is occurring every day in New York State prisons. Though solitary confinement longer than 15 days has been found by the United Nations to constitute torture, New York routinely imprisons people in such conditions for months and years at a time. This is immoral and a shameful indictment of our criminal justice system. As people of faith, we call on the legislature to immediately end this state-sponsored torture, and institute humane, rehabilitative, and appropriate services, by passing the HALT Solitary Confinement act.”
Rev. Dr. Paula Gravelle, executive director, New York State Council of Churches, said: "Preet Bharara is not the only one keeping a close eye on our elected officials. We are paying attention, too - not only to what our legislators are doing, but to what they are not doing. They are not acting in the best interests of the vast majority of New Yorkers, and we are going to continue to voice our grievances until they do.”
Organizers said that faith-led Moral Mondays protests would continue after the end of session and into next year.