A week after a “defund the police” protest became a full-blown occupation outside City Hall, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday he has a plan for the New York City police department budget to be slashed by US$1 billion.
The mayor, a Democrat, declined to discuss the sources of what he called “savings” for the nation’s largest police department, saying at a news briefing that the cuts are still being negotiated with the City Council. But he said spending on capital projects would be reduced by US$500 million and there could be changes to the department’s role in policing schools.
Money would be deferred to the city’s chronically underfunded public housing system and to youth programs, de Blasio said.
“The NYPD did a hell a good job in saying, ‘Ok, here’s a bunch of things we could do while still keeping this city safe,” he said. “We need to redistribute revenue to communities that need it the most. We know our young people are hurting.”
The budget talks come as hundreds of demonstrators have spent the past week camped out in City Hall Park and demanding police defunding following weeks of protests over the death of George Floyd and other Black Americans killed by law enforcement.
Organizers have called it “Occupy City Hall” — a nod to the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement a few blocks away in Zuccotti Park.
The group directed its demands — scrawled on colorful placards, a canvass of graffiti and a massive poster taped over a subway entrance — at de Blasio and Council Speaker Corey Johnson.
“We’ve done different levels of escalation to make sure we’re getting their attention,” said Jonathan Lykes, one of the movement’s organizers. “If they defund the police by US$1 billion then we have won — but that’s only our demand this week.”
The occupation has drawn protesters barely old enough to vote but also veteran activists like Debbie Williams, of Brooklyn, who described the movement as unlike any she’s seen.
“People’s eyes are opened now,” said Williams, who slept at the site Sunday and was cooling off Monday in a furnished area dubbed the “Chill Zone.”
“We’re seeing change,” she added, “but it’s not enough.”
The idea of slashing the NYPD’s budget, now around US$6 billion annually for operations plus several billion dollars more in shared city expenses, like pensions, seemed politically laughable even a year ago. Memories of the Sept. 11 attacks and the high-crime decades of the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s were too fresh.