Although the battle to defund the police in New York City was set back by the June 30 approval of a budget that left the NYPD’s annual $6 billion mostly intact, the New Yorkers occupying City Hall began July with renewed energy in the fight for abolition.
In the final, muggy hours of June 2020, a month of global uprisings against police terror and of envisioning safety without cops, dozens of protesters at Occupy City Hall—the area wedged between the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge and City Hall Park—were glued to a projection of the City Council’s live-streamed budget hearing.
The Council approved a fiscal year 2021 budget whipped together by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Speaker Corey Johnson. It’s the product of “funny math and budget tricks,” said a spokesperson from Communities United for Police, the advocacy organization behind the #NYCBudgetJustice Campaign, in response to the proposal, which was made public on the eve of the vote.
Instead of truly shrinking the number of current law enforcement officers in the city, the approved budget re-shuffles so-called school safety officers and homeless outreach officers out of the NYPD’s purview—instead lodging them under non-law-enforcement agencies. Notably, a previous version of the budget intended to increase the number of uniformed homeless outreach NYPD officers. The Department of Homeless Services is meanwhile seeing a $3.5 million cut to its “Street Programs,” according to the passed budget modifications.
Seventeen councilmembers objected to these maneuvers and voted against the budget. “This budget is not a victory for the people. Teachers and social service providers are going to lose their jobs, but not one cop will be fired because of this budget,” tweeted Brooklyn Council Member Carlos Menchaca on June 29.
Opponents of the budget, including occupants and protesters, noted the cruel irony of the re-direction of less than half-a-million dollars from the NYPD towards the Education Department. “Refund the people,” including students, teachers and social workers, has been the co-demand of #DefundNYPD protestors. Yet New York’s segregated system is receiving this particular injection of funds to maintain police in schools mostly attended by students of color—not for teaching and student support. All the while, more than 100 counselors are being pulled from schools in predominantly Black neighborhoods of the South Bronx and Brownsville.
“Why don’t you give us those resources to flourish like you want us to, apparently?” said one Black student activist at a June 29 rally in Washington Square Park before hundreds marched downtown to Abolition Park at City Hall. “You’re already making those priveliged students get flourished, giving them whatever they want. But we can’t have … nurses, we can’t have guidance counselors, social workers. But we can have cops, by the many, by the plenty, by the dozens. We’ve asked for counselors, nurses—begged for less police. We are demanding now. We are demanding you fund our schools properly.”
In the early hours of July 1, a general assembly was convened at Occupy City Hall to deliberate the next moves of the occupation—which was originally convened by VOCAL-NY, a prominent drug user activist organization, but has since been guided by decentralized leadership and direct action groups, like Warriors in the Garden. With the opportunity to block the budget’s approval gone, the week-old community reckoned with the question of whether to continue building its commune-style space, which has been offering occupants political information, free food and safe shelter—things to which some occupants, like those who are unhoused, wouldn’t otherwise have access.
They decided to hold the space despite the passage of the budget. Discussion will now center on how to continue expanding and developing a space that is free of cops and provides community supports and safety.
Despite a miss at intervening in the city’s budget, the movement to abolish the police in New York City has become networked and fortified in way never previously seen.
Photograph during the June 29 march to Occupy City Hall from Washington Square Park