Eight civil rights activists were arrested today when they blocked the doors to Governor Cuomo's Albany offices to protest his veto of the Justice Equality bill, which would have provided more state funding to pay court-appointed lawyers for indigent defendants, as well as a gravity knife reform law that would have decriminalized certain types of pocket knives and other criminal justice reforms.

About 40 protestors gathered outside Cuomo's offices at around 11 a.m. today, according to social services group VOCAL New York, which helped arrange the rally. They demanded that Cuomo, who claimed he vetoed indigent defense legislation due to lack of funds, support progressive revenue options like increasing taxes for top earners and closing the so-called carried interest loophole, which profits fund managers, at the state level.

@vocalnyc #protest at the capitol building in #albany

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In a statement, they argued these progressive reforms would help cover the $700 million needed for the aforementioned justice reforms:

The Governor vetoed the legislation just before New Year’s Eve, claiming it was too costly, too far-reaching and importantly, did not give his office final authority over the bill’s possible expenses. Placing the balance sheet above Justice is nothing new for the Cuomo, but it’s especially striking at a moment when the State is set to renew the millionaire’s tax, and could easily increases taxes on the top 1% of income earners so that justice could be afforded to all, not only those that can pay for it. New York’s income tax brackets are outdated and need to be adjusted to reflect the explosive income gains by billionaires and millionaires over the past few decades. New progressive brackets at the highest levels, as proposed by Assembly Speaker Heastie just this week, could yield $2.2 billion more per year than we are currently collecting. Closing the carried interest loophole at the state level and reform of wasteful, scandal plagued corporate subsidies and economic development programs could raise another $5 billion or more.

Everyone agrees that many New Yorkers are being robbed of their basic rights, and while there may be a debate about the best way to ensure that everyone - no matter their income - has an attorney with the appropriate resources to provide a zealous defense, it is the job of a progressive Governor to figure out a way to close the deal. Every day he doesn’t, thousands of New Yorkers, frequently the most vulnerable, are robbed of a fair shake.

Few other criminal justice reform proposals are possible without an adequately funded public defense; but many more are needed and Cuomo often stands in the way. He vetoed bi-partisan legislation that would resolve dramatic racial inequities in the enforcement of pocket knives, and has failed to show any leadership on meaningful reforms such as the right to a speedy trial, transparency in police oversight, and fixing New York’s criminal discovery laws, which rank among the worst in the Country. It’s time for Cuomo to lead on these important issues or to get out of the way.

Protestors also argued that Cuomo's overall criminal justice record was weak, citing the aforementioned gravity knife reform law they say would resolve the wrongful arrest of people in possession of work knives, and his failure to loudly support the Kalief Browder bill, which would ensure the right to a speedy trial.

Asked about the indigent defense bill veto earlier this month, Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said, "Until the last possible moment, we attempted to reach an agreement with the legislature that would have achieved the stated goal of this legislation, been fiscally responsible, and had additional safeguards to ensure accountability and transparency. Unfortunately an agreement was unable to be reached and the legislature was committed to a flawed bill that placed an $800 million burden on taxpayers—$600 million of which was unnecessary—with no way to pay for it and no plan to make one."

Regarding today's protest, Azzopardi told Gothamist the Governor's office was already invested in the financial reforms protestors were pushing. He provided us with the following a statement:

Expanding this administration’s landmark commitment to Indigent Legal Services statewide is in the budget, as is extending the millionaires tax. Likewise, decriminalizing marijuana is part of this year’s agenda and no governor has closed more New York prisons than this one. Performance art is good. Facts are better.

Still, a spokesperson with VOCAL NY told Gothamist that eight protestors physically blocked the doors to Cuomo's offices and were arrested about 20 minutes after they arrived.

"The protest began sharply at 11 a.m. The arrests happened fairly soon after," Jeremy Saunders, VOCAL NY's Co-Executive Director, told Gothamist. "I can only imagine it was because the Governor was right behind the glass doors. He was in his office."

Saunders says the protestors who weren't arrested headed to the Assembly Speaker's office and to Independent Democratic Conference leader Jeff Klein's office to deliver their statement and speak with staffers. "New York has a legal has obligation to provide adequate legal representation to everyone in need of it," Saunders told us. "They easily have way to raise resources. Not only that, they have the resources to do quite a bit more than that."