N. Jamiyla Chisholm, Colorlines, June 30, 2020.
The original version of this article appeared in Colorlines and can be found here.
Following a major tug-of-war between New York City public officials and activists, Mayor Bill de Blasio finally agreed to cut $1 billion from the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) massive budget Tuesday (June 30), NBC New York reports. The NYPD cut is part of an $88.1 billion proposed budget “that includes deep cuts to the police department and other city agencies,” de Blasio told NBC New York.
On June 29, nearly 40 faith leaders in New York City, from a variety of denominations, signed a letter to de Blasio and the New York City Council to demand that the city divest at least $1 billion from the NYPD for the public health and welfare of Black and Latinx New Yorkers, among other divestment calls. It reads in part:
The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others by police, as well as the loss of over 17,000 deaths due to the Coronavirus in our city, has made it clear that systemic and structural racism is a public health emergency in our Black and Latinx communities. There is a great opportunity in this moment to create legislation and implement a FY 2021 budget that honors all those Black and Latinx lives whose breath has been stopped by police brutality, and all those gasping for air in communities that are living the daily impact of underfunding and neglect.
The letter was sent in advance of the city’s July 1 budget deadline and also asked that the Mayor cancel the recent creation of his social-distancing ambassadors’ program, calling it “misguided.” The faith leaders asked for a meeting with the mayor to discuss their plan on how to protect Black and Brown communities. In response to the public pressure he’s been facing around police violence—heightened since Eric Garner’s killing by NYPD in 2014—de Blasio seemed to downplay the need for reform, while quietly ringing fear alarms around city safety.
“This has been the toughest budget that we’ve had to do as an administration here at City Hall. We’re in a whole different situation in fact than New York City has ever faced in our history. A health care crisis, an economic crisis, a disparity crisis, a budget crisis all wrapped into one, and on a massive, massive scale,” de Blasio told CBS2 on June 29. “I have to feel in my heart and soul the city will be safe, you know, I’m very concerned about the uptick in shootings.”
But de Blasio’s position, and proposed budget, have faced boatloads of criticism.
Anthonine Pierre, spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) responded via press release on June 29:
Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Johnson are using funny math and budget tricks to try to mislead New Yorkers into thinking that they plan to meet the movement’s demands for at least $1 billion in direct cuts to the NYPD’s almost $6B FY21 expense budget and reinvestments of over $1 billion to communities. This is a lie and the movement isn’t falling for de Blasio and Johnson’s budget tricks that are protecting and giving special treatment to the NYPD, refusing to even institute a full hiring freeze on NYPD uniformed officers—all while continuing to decimate the social safety net, threaten future layoffs that are not police, cutting non-police hate violence prevention initiatives, and refusing to take care of elders, youth, Black and other communities of color most devastated by the pandemic and ongoing police violence.
New York City public advocate Jumaane D. Williams threatened via tweet today that he would use his charter powers to block the vote from moving forward because it “ignores some of the most critical elements of reducing NYPD funding and redefining public safety.” A tweet from New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) went further, saying the current proposal ”gives the illusion of making $1B in cuts to the NYPD, but in reality it simply moves officers to other departments and fails to reinvest in communities.”
Crystal Walthall, executive director of Faith in New York, who was one of the dozens of faith leaders who signed the aforementioned letter yesterday demanding that the city respond to calls-for-action with good faith, also expressed dissatisfaction in de Blasio’s decision to Colorlines today (June 30):
“This ‘fake cut’ is just moving around money to make it seem like something is happening, and it is unjust. If our budgets are moral documents, why isn’t the mayor making the moral decision to keep our community’s hands out of an unjust system?” asked Walthall. “We are not asking for symbolism. We are asking for a real defunding and real reinvestment into our impacted communities.”
If only someone could remind the mayor of 2013, when he promised real police reform.