Some call it funny math and others chalk it up to budget tricks, but no matter how you slice it, New Yorkers are being gas-lit, as Mayor Bill de Blasio and his entourage of City Hall harlequins continue down a destructive path of appeasing the Defund the Police movement and stripping the New York Police Department of $1 billion – a sixth of its annual budget – as the City sets to iron out its budget amid a $9 billion deficit.
The NYPD cut of $1 billion proposed by the Mayor includes reductions to overtime, contracts, and non-personnel expenses, and the cancelation of the July cadet class, and it moves funds to other needs. Some officers will be reassigned from administrative to patrol duties. Summer youth programming will gain from the Mayor’s proposal with a variety of programming for over 100,000 children costing $115 million, $116 million for education, and $134 million for family and social services. The public housing and parks program will be granted $450 million, taken from a planned 116th Precinct in Southeast Jamaica, and be given to a youth recreation center in Roy Wilkins. A separate $87 million will be allotted for expanding broadband capabilities in City housing. The Mayor noted that his redistribution vision was heavily influenced by the George Floyd protests that continue to rock NYC, and that civilians and community groups will have a prominent role in enforcing new measures.
But for many that wasn’t enough.
In September of 2011, the action group Occupy Wall Street (OWS) with their slogan “We are the 99%” overtook privately-owned Zuccotti Park in New York City’s Financial District for two and half months, raising awareness for social issues and overall economic inequalities. For over a week now, an encampment akin to that of OWS has chosen the archway of de Blasio’s office, City Hall, and its adjacent City Hall Park as its “headquarters.” The cry to divest from the NYPD is heard loud and clear on these pathways 24/7, since the first hundred protesters began to set up shop on Tuesday, June 23, for their Occupy City Hall crusade.
The site that began with blankets on the grass and sporadic speeches now boasts hammocks and tents, a voter registration drive, community library, free food, and of course a smartphone charging station, alongside an organized effort to make signs depicting a clear message: The NYPD must be abolished, and the community must be funded. Organizers of the occupation have assembled Wi-Fi, laundry services, a de-escalation team, and medics – all around the clock. The community library – The People’s Library for Black Lives – displays radical literature, highlighting the ideas of Black indigenous authors, and hosts various reading groups throughout the day.
However, a Jewish activist who visited the location noted, “The protestors are not there to voice a peaceful message; they want to tear things apart.” Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said there were “incidents of vandalism,” “graffiti on some of the statues,” and “attempts to damage some cameras” used by police. A protestor was arrested for punching an officer in the face. Then there is the pronounced Palestinian flag flying beside a lighted projection of a raised fist, synonymous with the Black Lives Matter Movement. “Defund the NYPD” is projected above the City Hall Park archway, showcasing the clear motives of the group. The area has self-imposed security enforcement and sporadically blocks out the media, but police are never allowed in. Early Tuesday morning, June 30, just hours ahead of the release of the Mayor’s budget plans and the ultimate City Council vote, a tense standoff with law enforcement ensued. With batons in hand, officers pushed back with force, causing tensions to quickly rise. Three arrests were made.
The space, dubbed the “City Hall Autonomous Zone” has round-the-clock speeches, with orators demanding elected officials listen, and occasional bouts with police, as organizers call the origins of our police regulations to be from the Black Codes and slave patrols. The police stand guard in riot gear, and many of the protestors are also clad in military-grade attire. Expletives are commonplace in all messaging, and the unwillingness of the Mayor to approve their demands has drawn the bulk of the protestors to call for the Mayor’s immediate resignation. The opposition realizes that the local government has fallen victim to the mob and is ruled by government-by-hashtag, referring to the social media trends for #BlackLivesMatter and #DefundNYPD, among others.
At his visit to the scene, the Jewish activist recalled how those gathered were not satisfied with the impending closure of Rikers Island, New York City’s largest jail; they are now calling for no new detention facilities to be erected.
After the NYPD’s budget cut was announced by the Mayor on Monday, the crowd, whose hatred for the NYPD knows no bounds, called the plan a bait-and-switch and a paper-thin excuse for the change they desire. The Mayor’s plan would benefit public housing and youth centers, as roughly a half-billion dollars would be transferred from the NYPD’s construction and major projects budget. Other cuts aim to undo the work of the late 1990s under Mayor Rudy Giuliani and bring back school safety agents and traffic enforcement to the divisions they were once under, the Department of Education and Department of Sanitation, respectively. The Homeless Engagement Unit is proposed to be transferred out of NYPD control, as well.
In the hours leading up to the City Council vote, a grassroots call to have elected officials vote against the budget was launched. Personal phone numbers for Council Members were distributed as demonstrators took matters into their own hands, petitioning volunteers to hound politicians. One abominable politician who sang to the chorus of the occupiers was none other than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The self-described Democratic Socialist released a statement urging people to continue the fight to defund the police, calling the current budget proposal “a disingenuous illusion.” AOC described the Mayor’s proposition as playing with “budget tricks or funny math,” and further demanded, “defunding police means defunding police,” insinuating her seriousness in completely abolishing the NYPD.
With gun violence rampant around the City, protestors intent on ruining our Police Department, and $87 billion and countless lives at stake, the City Council and Mayor have quite a bit of work ahead.
By Shabsie Saphirstein