New York City lawmakers are holding a high-stakes debate on the city budget as activists demand a $1 billion shift from policing to social services and the city grapples with multibillion-dollar losses because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The City Council was meeting Tuesday, with a midnight deadline to pass a budget ahead of the fiscal year that begins Wednesday.
It comes with protesters camped outside City Hall insisting that the city slash $1 billion from the New York Police Department's budget amid a nationwide campaign to “defund” police - a movement animated by outrage over the deaths of George Floyd and other Black Americans at the hands of police.
Protesters want money moved from policing to community and social programs, saying the shift would advance racial justice and curb a police force that the activists say has been given too much power.
“The methods that had been tried before were not working,” Leo Ferguson, a community organizer at Jews for Racial & Economic Justice told Haaretz. "This is a systemic problem and it’s time to do what many police reform advocates have been advocating for, for years – which is to cut the budget of the police departments and invest that money in communities.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday that he and council leaders had agreed on a $1 billion shift. The cuts would come from canceling the next police recruiting class of nearly 1,200 new officers, slashing overtime spending, redeploying officers from administrative functions to sustain patrol levels and moving responsibility for school crossing guards and some homeless outreach from police to other city agencies.
Money would go instead to education, social services in communities hit hard by the virus, and summer youth programming for over 100,000 young people.
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The bulk of the cuts are being made to the NYPD’s capital budget, including cancelling plans to build a new police precinct in Jamaica, Queens and instead using the money to build a community center nearby. The city is also planning to shift some police capital funding to install broadband internet in public housing complexes.
“We’re acting on that call for justice. I believe it is our mission to redistribute resources to those who need them the most,” the Democratic mayor said. “This is real redistribution.”
Activists, however, have said they won't accept any plan that merely shifts money around without making what they see as meaningful changes.
“No funny math. No budget musical chairs,” relatives of more than a dozen people killed by NYPD officers said in a letter Tuesday to the mayor and council. “We’ll know if you fought for our communities or whether you will let the NYPD continue to be treated as if they’re above the law, even in the budget.”
The NYPD budget is now around $6 billion, plus several billion dollars more in shared city expenses such as pensions.
The discussion comes as the city is grappling with what de Blasio has pegged at a $9 billion revenue loss because of the coronavirus.
For Brooklyn resident David Tenenbaum, the city needs to cut the NYPD budget because "we’re about to inflict massive amounts of pain on an already suffering city, and one way to sort of alleviate that would be to defund the NYPD.”
The city budget totaled nearly $93 billion when passed last June.