Cuomo Eulogy: To Honor Carey Gabay We Must Continue March For Justice

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This morning, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo delivered the eulogy at the funeral and celebration of the life of Carey Gabay at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Brooklyn. Gabay, 43, was a victim of random gun violence on September 7 and fought for his life until he passed surrounded by loved ones on September 15. Gabay was a member of the Governor’s administration for four years, first as Assistant Counsel to the Governor and most recently as First Deputy General Counsel at Empire State Development.

Let’s begin by giving praise to the Lord. First, to Reverend Trufant and the staff here at the Emmanuel Baptist Church, we thank you very much for organizing this ceremony as quickly as you did. Let’s give them a round of applause for all their good work.

To Trenelle Gabay, who has been welcoming and as the Reverend said, courageous all through this terrible tragedy. Let’s give her a round of applause for her strength and her beautiful words. To all of Carey’s family, our prayer is with you and we hope that you find some peace in the aftermath of this tragedy.

To his extended family that is here from state government where Carey spent a lot of time – some would say a little too much time – but we have the Governor’s office, we have members of the Legislature, we have members of the Empire State Development Corporation. Alphonso David is here, who has been a great friend to him and a great friend in the bad days. Mylan Denerstein, former counsel who loved Carey and worked with him hand in glove. Liz Fine from ESD and Howard Zemsky and dozens more who are here today, we consider ourselves his extended family – some would refer to us as his extended dysfunctional family to which I say, it’s still family. And if it wasn’t for dysfunctional family, some of us would have no family at all, Trenelle. To those of you who met Carey during 43 years and loved him because to have met him is to have loved him. We hope you can come to terms with this apparently senseless loss.

I think the question all of us ask this morning is the same – and the question is why? Why would God take Carey Gabay? Why would he take a caring, loving – why would a caring, loving God break the heart of his young beautiful wife Trenelle, and his mother Audrey, his sisters Crystal and Stephanie? Why would a God made of love torment his brother Aaron and his stepfather Rupert? What was the wisdom in taking Carey – this bright light, this shooting star, this beautiful young man with a heart of gold?

I met Pope Francis this week. A big part of me wanted to ask Pope Francis the same question. Pope, why? Why would God take Carey?

We have no answers. The Lord gives us no answers. Instead, the Lord gives us faith. The Lord says: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

But still, we search for a reason. Some rationale to help us make sense of us – to help us find peace. To allow us to sleep at night. The way I sleep at night is that I believe Carey’s life and death were not in vain but a powerful message that has touched thousands in this city, state and nation. People far and wide have heard about Carey and what happened and the message is clear. Carey’s life and Carey’s death are a telling story with a timely message and a call to action.

His death was one of the most tragic pointless examples of the rampant violence that is spreading like a cancer through our society – especially in our poorer communities – and especially in our communities of color. His death – no his murder – showed a disrespect for life so base that it didn’t even care who it struck down. A violence so rampant that it targets at random.

For Carey Gabay to be a victim of gun violence – how absurd. He’s not a gang member, he’s not a criminal, he’s not a drug dealer, he’s not involved in a turf war, but the most innocent of innocent victims. And that’s the message that people have understood. It has gotten that bad.

The violence has become so brutal, so aimless, that the most innocent can be struck down anytime anywhere.

There was Newtown Connecticut massacre where 20 children – ages 6 and 7 years old – went to school one morning, kissed their mother and father goodbye and never came home, killed by a deranged young man with an assault rifle. Charleston, South Carolina, where nine people in church reading a bible shot to death by a madman racist. Twelve people in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Last month, Allison Parker, a 24-year old reporter, shot dead so her sick killer could post a video. Seven people were shot and killed in this city last weekend.

And Carey Gabay, 43 years old, making a difference in life, married, hoping to start a family, ducked down for cover, from shots he never caused from a shooter he never saw and never got up. Why?

Well maybe that’s the way it is everywhere. Maybe there’s nothing you can do about it. If only that were true. It’s not. In England, there are only 62 deaths per year from a firearm. In this country, there are 11,000. That is the message of Carey’s murder. That there is a senseless, brutal, violence that exists today that destroys families and strikes down good young people in their prime. That no one is safe and that we all should be worried and angry and that we should all be committed to doing something about it.

And then there was the message of Carey’s life, which is a much different message. A black man growing up in the Bronx in the ‘80s, living in public housing, the Boston Secor Homes. A product of an inner-city public education was a prescription for a young man who could find trouble. Growing up in the ‘80s in public housing in the Bronx, there were many paths a young man could follow and most of them were the wrong path.

But Carey’s life told a different story – that a young man with drive and values could still make it – could still make the American Dream a reality. And he could work himself up and out, not just of public housing and poverty, but that he could reach for the stars. Yes, he could even go to Harvard University. Carey’s life said “the sky was the limit.”

Carey’s life said to an entire generation, “young man, you don’t have to take to the streets, you don’t have to sell drugs to make a living, you don’t have to join a gang for a sense of belonging, and you don’t have to hold a gun in your hand to feel like a big man. You can accomplish and achieve and make something of yourself and you can overcome your obstacles.”

And Carey’s life said that when you have the skills and the education and the support that he had, you have a choice. With Carey’s credentials and experience, he could have done anything he wanted to do. He could have sat in a big law firm, made a million dollars a year, bought a big house in the suburbs, gone on vacation and bought expensive jewelry for Trenelle.

Or, he could say, “I want to use these talents to help other people and I believe that we can make this place a better place and I believe we can help one another and I believe I can make a difference and I believe that I have an obligation to make a difference.” The choice was to do for himself or to do for others.

Carey lived by the wisdom: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I?” Carey’s life was about doing for others. That’s what brought Carey to government. Carey believed that government service was a way to help people. That he could use the law and that he could use that Harvard education and that training to do justice.

Following the words in the good book when our Lord says: “But let justice run down like water, And righteousness like a mighty stream.” (Amos 5:24)

Carey’s life said it’s not enough to curse the darkness, one should light a candle. Carey’s life said Martin Luther King was right. The moral arch of the universe does bend towards justice, but that we have an obligation to make justice a reality and help that moral arch. Carey’s life says intelligent government action is a vehicle for justice – social justice, racial justice, economic justice. And he did just that. Carey made a difference.

In 2011, he drafted a bill that gave tenants more protection than any bill drafted in history. He worked on affordable housing plans that provided substitutes to failed public housing. He worked on anti discrimination bills because he knew from his own life experience is that we still judge people by color of skin rather than by the content of character.

He worked on the SAFE Act, which was the smartest, strongest gun control bill in the United States of America. And working together, he got it passed. Now, Trenelle says this isn’t the end, it’s just the beginning that will continue Carey’s mission. She said and maybe even pass a law. We’re going to do that and we’re going to do a lot more.

Carey’s action agenda was bold. A public education system that could take every boy from pubic housing to Harvard University and that didn’t settle for failed public schools with second-rate equipment and second-rate standards or politicians who protected the bureaucracy at the expense of the students. Carey saw decent housing for everyone, which was the promise this country made in 1949 – public housing that you could be proud of, not ashamed of. A job that pays a decent living minimum wage so if you work full time, you don’t live in poverty.

And a society that has more compassion and a government that has more competence than to allow homeless people to sleep on the street and children to sleep in the squalor of shelters. That this great, rich city of New York should hear the words of Saint Francis and not just nod at the Pope’s words, but act. Safe communities that protect innocent lives and at the end, put an end to senseless killing and the violence that allows gangbangers, criminals and the mentally ill to get a gun too cheaply and too easily.

And Carey’s life said this is our responsibility – each one in this church today – to do something about it. To take a stand. To be committed. That the status quo is not okay and it’s our place to stand up. That too many are suffering and too many are dying and we must recall the words of Fannie Lou Hamer’s that we are sick and tired of being sick and tired and it’s time that we do something about it.

Carey said apathy is the enemy; it is part of the problem. We must speak up. We must act up and we must say we’re not going to take it anymore. The killing has to stop. The spread of gun violence has to stop and it has to stop now. That our leaders should be judged by their deeds and not by their words.

That it’s not enough for New York State to pass a gun law and close the front door when the guns are coming in the back door. When the guns can come up from Virginia or South Carolina for anyone willing to take a car ride. That this nation’s leaders have to show the resolve to end this scourge once and for all and demand real gun control nationwide.

It’s time for our national leaders to say that this is their top priority, to save lives of their constituents, with the same gusto and the same commitment that the far right pursues their agenda. If the far right is willing to shut down the government because they don’t get a tax cut for the rich, then our people should have the same resolve and threaten to shut down the government if they don’t get a real gun control law to stop killing of their innocents.

The resolve to say that we should be investing in young people and their future before their futures are lost. That a system that will pay as much to keep a 20-year old in prison cell as it cost to send Carey to Harvard University is an absurd injustice.

Carey’s life has impacted thousands about what is wrong with society and how to make it right.
And Carey’s life said loudly that each of us should recognize our obligation, one to the other, and our role in the ongoing crusade of justice. Now, I never asked Pope Francis why Carey Gabay was taken. But then again over the past two days, I heard the Pope repeatedly speak about a young man who grew up in poverty and raised himself up and lived a life of love and selflessness, a life based in principle and sacrifice and values, a life of innocence and love, a life that was taken wrongfully, violently and tragically. A life that was ended very early. But it was a life that sent a message that touched and inspired many, and still does today and a spirit lives on and inspires all of us.

And maybe I didn’t have to ask Pope Francis after all. Carey Gabay is a testament to the fact that it’s not the number of years you live that determines the quality of your life; it is the impact of one’s life and it’s how one’s life was lived that counts. And because Carey is not gone. He is here today and his spirit lives in me and in you, and in you, and in you, and in you and in the thousands of people who have heard that message and will carry it with her.

And that, my friends, makes it easier for me to sleep at night. I hope it makes it easier for you.​

God bless you.
 

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