‘Sammy’s Law’ Hunger Strike Begins at State Capitol

Amy Cohen has begun her hunger strike for safety in Albany. Photo: Families for Safe Streets
Amy Cohen has begun her hunger strike for safety in Albany. Photo: Families for Safe Streets

They’re starving for action.

Two mothers whose children were killed by reckless drivers have begun a hunger strike that they’ll continue until Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) brings to the floor a long-stalled bill that would allow New York City to set its own speed limits.

One of those grieving moms is Amy Cohen, whose 12-year-old son Sammy Cohen Eckstein was killed just steps from his Brooklyn home in 2013, and for whom the bill, Sammy’s Law, is named after. Cohen says the pain and sacrifice she plans to endure over the next few days is nothing compared to what her son went through.

“People ask, ‘Won’t it be hard to not eat anything for a couple days?’ And I share that everyday is already very hard. In the first two years after Sammy died, I hardly ate. Truthfully, I thought if we just all starved, I wouldn’t have to live this life anymore,” said Cohen, outside the Assembly chambers on Tuesday morning. “Sammy experienced so much pain because … the car went right over his torso. If he can endure that pain and struggle for his life for five hours, and not make it, I can make a few days without food.”

The law, which was first introduced in 2020 by state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal (D-Upper West Side) would allow New York City to set speed limits below 25 miles per hour. In the lower house, Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal (D-Upper West Side) is carrying the bill. It would not automatically change the speed limit, it would just authorize the city to do so.

But passing what Cohen calls a “no-nonsense” bill has proven to be an uphill battle. After winning majority support from the City Council last month as part of what’s called a “home rule” message, which should have cleared the way for state legislators to pass the life-saving measure, several members of the lower chamber expressed reservations about the bill during a private conference with Heastie last month.

As a result, insiders have said that Heastie won’t push the bill to the floor for a vote before session ends this week — which would deal another crushing blow to advocates, who have hit a different roadblock each year. Last year, for example, the City Council failed to pass a home rule message; in 2021, the bill died in the Assembly after passing in the Senate. This year’s legislative session ends on Friday.

And rather than outwardly coming out against the bill, opposing members are hiding behind a veil, refusing to put their names on a public vote — some of whom had even signed onto it as co-sponsors.

“You guys rarely see me cry. But I’m just angry, angry that some assembly members reach out to our community when we lost a member to say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m here with you,’” said Fabiola Mendieta-Cuapio, whose 5-year-old son Bryan was killed by a driver in 2006, and who is joining Cohen in the hunger strike. “But now, when we need your support, when we need you to be transparent, you’re hiding. That’s not OK. We need to pass Sammy’s Law today, no more excuses.”

But their efforts have not entirely been in vain. Over the course of the first day of the hunger strike, at least half a dozen new pols have signed onto the bill, including Assembly Members Yudelka Tapia (D-Bronx), Al Taylor (D-Bronx), Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn (D-Flatbush), and Brian Cunningham (D-Crown Heights), according to Rosenthal and advocates.

And late Tuesday afternoon, the Senate passed Sammy’s Law with 55 votes in favor and seven against.

Heastie has not responded to requests for comment.

This is a breaking story and will be updated.