Protesters and advocacy groups are bashing the newly passed city budget for not going far enough in defunding the NYPD. But a number of Black City Council members have pushed back, saying many Black Lives Matter activists don’t represent Black communities and they described a campaign of harassment in the leadup to the Council vote.
When it came down to a budget vote opposed by the Black Lives Matter movement, some of the deal's most vocal defenders were Black Council members, who said many of their constituents may want police reform, but still actually want a police presence in their neighborhoods.
“They don’t want to see excessive force. They don’t want to see cops putting their knees in our necks. But they want to be safe," said Vanessa Gibson of the Bronx's 16th Council District. “My working-class people, my homeowners, my tenants, my neighbors — they are not out there screaming and yelling, because they have to work.”
"These are individuals that have never been seen before, active before,” added Laurie Cumbo, who represents Brooklyn's 35th District.
Councilwoman Cumbo said the protesters weren’t actually reflective of her community, and accused so-called newcomers and outsiders of not recognizing the work of community leaders who’ve spent years on the front lines.
“Work under the existing leadership of the communities that are already there," she said. "This takeover is very similar to many of the movements that we’ve seen in colonization.”
"We have fought for police reform and more funding every single budget cycle," said Alicka Ampry-Samuel of Brooklyn's 41st District. ”This debate is not new to me. What is new are the additional voices of concern added to the conversation, which at times have overshadowed our fight.”
“When those with privilege put down their torches and return home, our Black, Latino and Asian communities will remain,” said Adrienne Adams, councilwoman from the 28th district.
Angry over a budget they said only made superficial changes to the department — and accusing lawmakers of using budgetary tricks to make the agreement seem more substantial — Black activists fired back Wednesday. Some said Council members were unresponsive.
“How would you know what to vote for, what are we asking for, when you wasn’t answer the phones, when you’re not answering texts," asked Constance Malcolm, an advocate and the mother of Ramarley Graham, an unarmed Black teenager killed by police in 2012. "So I don’t get what they’re saying, that it’s not the people from the community. I’m from the community."
“For years, many of our organizations have been calling for things like the removal of police from schools, and it felt like there was a convenient excuse to not take more radical action,” said Ashley C. Sawyer, director of policy at Girls for Gender Equity.
It remains to be seen what the next step in the police reform conversation is, for both activists and lawmakers. Both sides are looking ahead, however, to next year’s municipal elections, in which a majority of the City Council will be turning over due to term limits.